Posts Tagged 'literature'

“Bagtime”

You might know about Ragtime.  That was a 1975 novel by E.L. Doctorow.  Set in and around New York City during the first decade of the twentieth century, it was notable for having several real-life historical people interact with the fictional protagonists.  Harry Houdini, Evelyn Nesbit, Booker T. Washington, Emma Goldman, and J.P. Morgan are among those celebrities who help drive the novel’s plot.

Bagtime was a novel published in 1977.  The setting is the Chicago of that day.  Bagtime also interweaves actual contemporary celebrities with its fictional characters.  The author is listed as Mike Holiday.

Before it was a novel, Bagtime was a serial.  It began running as a daily feature in the Chicago Sun-Times on August 9, 1976.  The real authors were two of the paper’s reporters, Bob Greene and Paul Galloway.

“We meant it to be a pleasant diversion, something to get us and the newspaper through the dog days of summer,” Greene/Galloway later wrote.  But Bagtime soon developed a cult following.

The story is told in the first person.  Mike Holiday introduces himself as a 26-year old with an A.B. in Sociology from Urbana, who now finds himself working as a grocery-bagger at the Treasure Island supermarket on Wells Street.  People tell him he looks like Chevy Chase.

Mike hears rumors that his ex-wife Chay has unwittingly become part of a bisexual thrill ring with various members of the White Sox and Bears.  He still has feelings for Chay, so he decides to delve more deeply into the matter.  Along the way he meets different women who are attracted to him.  He also meets Hugh Hefner, Walter Jacobson, Norm Van Lier, Jane Pauley, Arthur Rubloff, and the Beatles, among others.  The story moves through familiar locales of the time, with a rousing finale at still-new Water Tower Place.

Years later, co-author Greene dismissed Bagtime as “a stupid newspaper serial.”  It’s not great literature.  From a 2021 perspective, some of the stereotypes are cringe-worthy.  And unless you lived through the era, you’ll probably miss many of the in-jokes.  But when I stumbled across my old paperback copy, I had fun rereading it.  Bagtime is a marvelous piece of nostalgia.

It also seems to be a rare book.  None of the local libraries have it, and the one I found online has an asking price of $100.  So now my copy of Bagtime will be joining the 1950s baseball cards in the safe deposit box.

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