"Street Guide to Gary Indiana (a post-industrial ghost story)"

by R.C.Wilson, Jr.

adapted for the stage by Richard Henzel

with original music by Jonathan Menchin and Margaret James Bell


Henzel as Prof. Reginald Scatterwell

I met Bobby Wilson in the theatre building at Kent State University in the fall of 1980, when I was 31. I was at Kent to perform my Mark Twain show, produced by my mentor and former high school teacher, James D. Thornton. James was at that time teaching English and Drama at KSU. I was walking down the hallway, when I heard a blues harmonica echoing off the polished floors and the bare walls of the building. I took my harp out of my pocket, and lo and behold, it was in the same key. I joined in with the unseen musician, answering his musical calls, and initiating a few licks of my own. As I rounded the corner, there sat this student in his late twenties, thick straight brown hair hanging down, almost covering deep set, half closed eyes. He was sitting on the floor, hunched over his harmonica, oblivious to the other students milling about the hall.

We finished our impromptu duet, and I introduced myself. It turned out that we had already heard about each other through James, who had raved to me about Bobby's poetry, and who had told Bobby about my Mark Twain show, which James has been directing from its first incarnation, in '68. Bobby came to my show, and afterward gave me a copy of his "Gary" book, which had just been published by Shelley's Press in Kent. It struck me as a cross between "Spoon River Anthology" and "Citizen Kane"--a series of monologues, a set of characters recalling the great industrialist, "Gary Indiana." The poems leapt off the page, and I began to hear a cast of a half dozen specific voices, recurring characters reminiscing about Gary.

I had just begun building masks at that time, using them as a member of a comedy group called "The Klein Family," and soon I was performing Bobby's poems in mask, and hearing certain poems in specific masks' voices. Jonathan Menchin, producer and director of the Kleins, improvised jazz and blues on the piano to accompany the poems, and the stage version of "Gary" was born. Jonathan and I performed the show at a variety of Chicago coffeehouses, poetry bars, and benefit shows from '80 to '83, when the Kleins broke up and Jonathan moved back to New York. Unfortunately, the music left town with him. A few months later, ace NPR recording engineer Rich Rarey introduced me to Margaret James, who, starting from scratch, wrote an entirely new score--and Margaret and I have worked together on a variety of projects since that time, from "Rap Master Ronnie" to Radio Ensemble Players' "Floatplane Notebooks" and "John Brown's Body". Bobby and I have stayed in touch too, and I have added new poems to the show as he has written them. He comes to Chicago occasionally, where we read his poetry about Gary Indiana (and other subjects) in Gregorio Gomez' poetry slams at Weeds Bar. Watch my home page for announcements of future performances of "Gary." BTW, Jonathan is back in Chicago now, where he's been providing the music for my Lord Buckley presentations at The Green Mill, Fitzgeralds', and other clubs. We also recently worked together at Second City Skybox in the Buckley piece "The Return of the Hip Messiah."


Here are some excerpts from
"Street Guide to Gary Indiana (a post-industrial ghost story)"
by R.C.Wilson, Jr.

copyright 1996 by Robert C. Wilson, Jr.

The Poet comments: "As a teenager in Akron, Ohio, I used to ride the buses with a broken flea market movie camera, shooting imaginary movies--mostly of construction and demolition sites, railroad yards, and long meaningful journeys down the remnants of the Ohio canal as it gurgled and oozed into the bowels of the city... Unfortunately, my fascination for the flashes of light off wine bottles at the ends of alleys never quite made the jump to fascination with lens settings or learning about film speeds and f-stops. I did eventually focus all this vague urge to create into an odd obsession with finding the ghost of the industrial heartland, whom I call Gary Indiana."


Before Gary Indiana
In the fifth century
When communal farms were popular
Barbarians came
One Wednesday morning
And left the known universe in shambles.
Towns crumbled into trailer parks
Progressive intellect vegetated
Except for a few minor visitations by the Virgin Mary
And other incidents of wheat ergot infestation
Nothing exciting happened.
Until necessity became the mother
Of Gary Indiana.


Gary Indiana? Yeah, I remember him. He was one of those sandy-headed whelps used to scare my horse and make off with the apples that rolled off the back of my wagon. Nothing special about him, unless it was the way he had of getting other boys to do what he wanted. When a young feller come around on a fool's errand, old Gary was probably behind it. Just a regular boy as far as I could tell.
Now you got to understand something if you want to know why all these changes started happening. You see, back then when Gary and the others come along, we had what was known as Great Men. They'd begin as babies just like evryone else, but somewhere along the way the Call to Greatness come, and then, just like that, overnight, they'd be three times as big as regular men. One would step from a cab ten blocks away and the whole srteet would stop and stare. And when they come close by, you'd feel like a bug on the sidewalk.
You think I'm stretching I expect, but if a Great Man sat up in bed and thought "We could sure use another railroad around here," that same day Congress would convene and give him both Dakotas just as a down payment.
Steel mills sprung up overnight like shopping center parking lot carnivals. You'd be fishing, same as always, watching the Northern lights dance across the lake, or get lost in the lonesome dunes. Come back a week later and the sky is full of real fire; the lake is covered with oreboats loaded low with half of Minnesota; instead of sand dunes, there's black mountains of West Virginia coal. Bugs on the sidewalk, heh.
The Great Men stopped caring whether we were white or black, because they couldn't tell us from black and red ants; and if we fought like red ants and black ants so much the better, cause it kept us from ganging up.
That was the system the Great Men worked up, and it was a dandy. Men, vegetables, and minerals flowing in and out of the heart of Gary. Those were the wonder years, when everything worked.
Once, for a joke, Gary and the others ran a statue for President. They hired a sensitive Italian to pour the hot bronze soul of America into a saddle high atop his running mate. I don't remember which President it was, but I do know that they took every state except Ohio and Michigan where they lost to a two-toned favorite son with fins and power windows.
Now you come around here asking if I was smart enough to know that some snot-nosed apple stealing brat was going to grow up to do all of this, well, I'm not saying I didn't suspect it, but if I claimed to know, you'd call me a liar and leave me out of your book. Just say that I knew the boy, and that I knew all about Great Men. We all did. Why, we were practically born with that knowledge.


"The ground is full of writing,"
Observed Gary on one of our boyhood walks
Over the rubble on North America's ancient middle.
And he weighed each trademark of lost eastern brick kilns
Deciphering Pittsburgh for the few.
He took notice of weather beaten bridgemarks
His eyes embraced the building cornerstone
He kept on dusty shelves the rusted railroad spikes
While tossing arrowheads through trestle ties.
He crumbled from the bedrock sorted mason's sand
And knew each hillside cache of yellow clay.
What words he used were carefully chosen
The words he wrote are buried here today.


(sing) God Created the Universe in Seven of His Days...
(don't sing) then taped on a cardboard sign:
"be back in 5 of My Minutes..."

That was the Precambrian Period
nearly 4 minutes ago
god is talking to his bartender:

GOD: ...say, Joe, did you ever spend the best part of a week "spare parting" together a hum baby universe then go out and celebrate on the seventh day and forget where the hell you parked it?

GOD'S BARTENDER: Yeah! I hate when I do that!

GOD: Seriously, Joe, I'd hate to lose this one. It had all the makings. A little too much entropy in the transmission, and maybe a few black holes in the drive train, but fundementally sound...

GOD'S BARTENDER: Get you an aerosol can at the K-Mart, fix it right up.

GOD: No short cuts, man! And what good is it if I can't find it. The hell of it is, I was just gonna do a shot and get some smokes, so I left it double parked with the engine running...last time I did that, a garbage truck backed over at 15 miles an hour. Talk about your big bang...

GOD'S BARTENDER: Come on, you'll find it in the morning and decide to repaint it... Say, god, can you still talk like Fats Waller?

(god chuckles and visibly "lightens up," drops 2 small nuclear fusion reactions in the cigarette machine, and mugs his way into Fats Waller...the bar people listen up:)

GOD: "Yaz! Yaz! Give me radio AIR
and I'll fill it
one way or another!!

GOD'S BARTENDER: I love it! I hope you put a little Fats in this universe... By the by, Lucifer blew through town this week with some unbelievable dope.

(god really perks up)

GOD: Get me a taste?

GOD'S BARTENDER: You kidding? $55 a quarter ounce?

GOD: You had me going. I need to lay off anyway...

(god stumbles out without saying goodbye, humming "Ain't Misbehavin'" and starting a random search for our universe

whether he ought to find it
is one of the fundemental mysteries
of our faith


I know you won't believe me
but Gary spent his later years
coughing with the boys at Catholic High School football games
leaning on the railing
to keep the splinters from his double knit
his acid wit
reduced to repetitive erection jokes:
"So he strapped it down and kicked her teeth in."
was his last public statement.

Return to Richard Henzel's Home Page