Hank Bryant has been writing for 30 years, first as a student at Columbia College in Chicago, then as a Story Workshop Director in the Writing Department at Columbia College, and presently as a participant in Paul Pekin's Storyarts. Mostly he writes short stories, or he journals, and his pieces often depict the dunes where he runs, the people of Gary, Indiana, where he lives, and the fitness center where he works out. He has a commitment to spirituality, a center piece of his Recovery. He has been married and divorced twice, and he has three children from those marriages. He takes great pride in his childrens' commitment to their own spirituality and to the causes they espouse. Along the way he has earned degrees in social anthropology and psychology. He makes his living as a clinical psychologist. (11/11/97)
10/11/97 After chicken McNuggets and fries I get on the South
Shore, and sit down backwards. I write for a while on my laptop, thinking of the day, and the story I am working on, the internet, and 28 years of history. The train slips out of the station so smoothly I don't know we're moving until I see the lampposts sliding backwards. It's been a long time between rides on the train, especially backwards. The car and the toll road are too easy. Suddenly, I don't recognize anything. The old wooden platforms are gone, replaced by concrete ones, built to last a thousand years. I focus again on the laptop, but it seems unfamiliar, too. Have we stopped at 59th? Maybe not. I can't remember which side I'm on. Which side is the lake on? Am I riding forewards or backwards? I figure I'll know when we hit 115th, but we don't.
It's dark outside--no moon; no stars. They call Hegwish, and the man in front of me, a husky black man tells another passenger we're in Indiana now, but I know Hewgwish is in Illinois, the last stop, actually. Hegwish used to have an old wooden station, but that too has been replaced, by a brick station. We leave, after an entire family, all blond, has gotten off. I am surprised because the people getting off at Hegwish are usually dark-haired people of Eastern European descent, I figure. There is some sort of commotion at Hammond. A Black woman wearing bright robes and lots of jewelry gets on and sits across from me. The conductor comes down the aisle and asks the woman if she saw the guys , and I can't hear all of what he says, except that they had no shirts on, and the cops got them, and could she identify them. She says she really didn't see them close up. He asks a young white couple. The man has on tiny wire-framed glasses. The woman has on the colors of the American Flag, white stars on a blue background, and red and white stripes, and they say they can identify the guys. He speaks to someone on the intercom, asks if the cops want witnesses; he has a couple. The train slides off and up onto the embankment which runs by the toll road to Gary. Several Hispanic people get up, a couple whites, a couple blacks, and a very beautiful woman who looks very unhappy. I cannot begin to guess her ethnicity. Another blond family comes into the car as we near Clark Road in Gary, and I'm puzzled. But then I hear them ask if this is the car that goes to South Bend, and it makes sense again. They leave most of the cars in Gary, and only the first two continue on to Michigan City, and South Bend. When we slow down for Broadway Gary, it comes to me I'm oriented again. The woman in the colorful robes gets off, and I prepare to get up. This morning, the crossing at Lake Street was being repaired, and busses were waiting for the people. One of the passengers, a pretty woman whose little boy has been climbing barefoot over the back of the seats, asks if we get to take the bus again, and the conductor says "No," The little boy is disappointed, but I feel better. As usual, I wonder if my car will be there, but it is. they have torn up the entire platform for repairs, and I have had to park back opposite the bar. I drive home through the dark feeling pretty good about the day, despite its moments of disorientation. Copyright, Hank Bryant, 10/11/1997
THE HEALTHIEST MAN IN GARY (4/09/96)
Gary, Indiana. A warm October night. The wind blows the leaves and newspapers along Routes 12 & 20. The clouds are low, shrouding the superstructures of US Steel and blurring the torches which burn there day and night. The signs at the city limits welcome visitors to the "Steel City," and to the "Cross Roads of America." but its citizens know, despite mayoral propaganda, it is the murder capital of the world.
I work with kids in Gary. To break the ice with kids most places, I say, "Man, you shoot hoops?" or "Man, you work out?" but here, I say. "How many guys you know got killed?"
And the answer comes back, "Five" or "Six."
I say, "friends?"
The answer comes back, "Naw, man, associates." That's because in our town kids don't have friends. It hurts too much when a friend gets killed. And sometimes friends know too much and talk.
The taste of sulphur's in the air. I pull into the Shell station on 20, at Clay, not the one where the Gary man with the white mask, an ex-marine, if memory serves, shot the people, and then went on to shoot folks at various places in the city--at KFC on Broadway, at the cleaners on west fifth, at the toll booth. That was at Christmastime many years ago, and my daughter and I looked left and right before hurrying across the half-empty parking lots at Zaire and May's which had not yet gone out of business.
This is the Shell Station where it is reported Big Dog harrassed the clerk and got arrested. This is also the station where I made a nasty remark to the same clerk, and she laughed it off.
This is a couple miles from the place where the most recent Gary rapist lived in the transient hotel not far from the fitness center where I work out. I see the seediest people going in and out. His activities were limited by the radius he could bicycle. He was probably one of these men I see pedalling the old bicycles with the tiny front wheel and the the huge wire basket in front, stopping here and there to pick up up a bottle or a bolt. The mother of one of the kids I work with had been assaulted by one Gary Rapist. He assaulted her again and again upstairs while her son slept or woke downstairs--he would never talk about what he had heard. A woman I worked with told me she thought she knew who the Gary rapist was, the ex-lover who had molested her sons. It is a small, close-knit community, a small town, really.
Anyway, I pull into the shell station. There is a line at the window, and I see a cop, a white man, standing stiff and tall at the back of the straggling line of black people, a yard to two back and up on the step, trying to pretend he isn't watching every move out of the corner of his eye. I know that look. I worked with a reformed hit man in another city who looked straight ahead, but I could tell he was watching everything.I go up to the cop and see he's a state trooper, and I figure he's one of the 50 troopers the governor sent to help clean up the city. I ask, "Are you in line?" and he says, "Yeah," and I get behind him, but I give him lots of room in case he's as paranoid as the retired hit man.
Then, I see a man I recognize from the neighborhood and from Hudson Cambell, a short very dark man, a boxer who runs three laps for every two of mine and punches the bag so fast, his hands
are a blur. He nods and smiles and asks me if I still work out, and I say "Yeah, every day,"
His friend, a tall, brown-skinned man, comes up, and he tells him, "This is the healthiest man in Gary."
The tall man gives me a incredulous look, but my friend asks how things are at the club. I tell him aerobics has settled down, Shawn's back on Friday nights, though I had to work late and missed it tonight, and they've got some new equipment, but he wants to know how the locker rooms are, and I tell him the lighting's better and they cleaned it up. It's my turn at the window, and my friend says he's going to let me attend to my business but he's coming back to club as soon as they stop giving him so much overtime.
I say, "You gotta do what you gotta do," and he nods. I pump my gas, and I see that my friend and his friend, are on the other side of the same pump. His friend steps around the pump and says, "The healthiest man in Gary?" and I tell him I worked at it. He asked me my name, and I tell him, and he reaches for my hand and shakes it and said he's Wayne, and I nod. He asks me where I work out, and I tell him, and he tells me he's starting Monday, and I tell him I'll be looking out for him. I put the gas cap on and shut the lid.
I see some teenagers in the phone booth, and one of them calls to me, "Mr., you got a quarter." I fished for change and hand her a quarter. She's a pretty girl, light skinned with a narrow face and oriental eyes, and she says so sweetly, "Thank you," that I feel all warm inside as I drive home along the dark streets of Gary to catch the last few minutes of the Bulls game. (Copyright Hank Bryant, 04/09/96)
Still, I am Tina Turner's age. They all forgot my birthday... my sons, my daughter, even my mother; and I survived the day with only a little depression and hurt. Mother I worried about. Since she broke her hip almost a year ago and Dr. Baxley nursed her back to health, perhaps working too hard and for what--Dr. Kavorkian is one of my heroes--I have seen her fade and rebound, fade and rebound. That day almost a year ago, she said from the ER, "Hank, I don't think I'm going to make it this time," and I said, from the heart, "I love you and take care of youself." At the same time, I was not sure whether she was saying, "I think I'm ready to go."Indirectness is her way. That is why she loved the orient. That is why she insists that indirectness was imported from the orient along with the spices in the spice trade in the 18th century. (Copyright Hank Bryant, 10/10/97)
The rickety stairs run up the highest dune at Westbeach, not 168 steps, like the steps which run up Mt. Jackson at the state park, but maybe 135 or 40, then the boardwalk goes down and along with steps every twenty feet or so, are barely visible in the predawn light. The boards and the steps are bleached and warped, and the stringers are warped, and it is hard to tell if it is a step down, so I run along, tentatively, first hearing the wind in the white oaks and the jackpines and then, as I jog towards the tall dune which each year has moved a little or a lot, having swallowed up one of the boardwalks and moved on through the grove of white pines where the rangers have left a trail over the sand, I am back on the stairs which climb the final dune before the lake. I see the little pond where ducks sometimes swim in spring or fall, and to my right I see the breakers which appear three or four waves out into the lake, and rush up the beach, and at the end, I turn back to run back along the boardwalks and up the stairs towards the low clouds. A month ago I ran this course, and I walked slowly along the walks between the stairs, but this time, a month later, I run the long runs and take the stairs two at a time. I drop down into the woods and run along and kick it up the final set of steps 75 or 80. I feel the air in my lungs, and I know I've dropped a couple inches off my waistline, and I know that on the 19th I'm going to kick some butt.