Tragically Unhip, Tales from Logan Square

Subject re-opening of the Logan Theater, owner Mark Fishman renovated the  theatre with a soft opening on March 17 2012. CCB Life.

I said to my daughter, “Once I’ve been out and about in my new hood for a while, such as we are now, I begin to feel like I am inappropriately un-dyed, un-pierced, and un-inked.”

She looked around the cafe for a minute and said, “Well, not everyone is dyed.” Then she added, as if this were sure to make me feel better somehow, “but everyone is also about 30 years younger than you are.”

I have done it. I have gotten myself moved out of my home of 32 years in the suburb/small town/social experiment by the lake known as Evanston; and I have relocated to a lovely apartment in the Logan Square neighborhood of Chicago. The move was, and still is, a roller coaster combination of wrenching myself away and fleeing with unfettered glee. I said to my friend the other day: “it’s kind of like when you break up with someone after a long-term relationship, and you know that person is totally not right for you. So even though you don’t miss them, there are things that you miss about being in a relationship.

I have begun a new relationship, and feel all the thrill and trepidation and mystery and hope that entails. Here’s the thing: Logan Square does indeed have its share of hipsters, meaning street corners filled with plaid shirts, one pant leg rolled up, huge sunglasses, ink sleeves, ink calves, top knots, and forgodssake, little babies in strollers wearing fedora hats. I am an open-minded and tolerant person, but that is just wrong. Babies are supposed to wear giant, floppy, silly sunhats while they are still too young to protest, not giant sunglasses and fucking fedoras.

Another thing that requires an adjustment on my part is the beard situation. A high percentage of men walking around are sporting extremely long, scraggly, Duck-Dynasty worthy facial hair. In other words, they look very much like my son did when he walked out of the woods and into my sobbing arms after his 5-month backpacking trip on the Appalachian Trail. His sister, who hiked the Trail with him, looked fit and pink-cheeked and aglow with good health. My son, on the other hand, was doing an outstanding impression of a starving, homeless person – an impression that was greatly enhanced by the beard and the fact that mice had been chewing holes in his stocking cap, not to mention his frightening thinness.

It required a great deal of will to restrain myself from my desire to force feed him continually for the next couple of months while he returned to his normal size. Anyway, this is a problem now because I’ve clearly developed a weird association in my mind between long, scraggly beards and starving. I know it’s not cool when I run into my next-door neighbor (on his bike, all inked up, beard wafting in the breeze) and mention to him that I just got back from the grocery store if he’d like me to dig out a few cookies.

I, as it turns out, am tragically unhip.

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“I Have a Favor to Ask,” chapter excerpt from “Pushing the River”

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“No, no, no, no no.   I cannot stand it one minute longer.”

“That is simply NOT what happened,” she added.

“Well, who lit a fire under you?”

“That would be your department.  I just think that you’re getting it all wrong.  It simply did NOT happen that way.”

“It’s a story!”

“You’re taking too many liberties!  You’re all the way down there, far away from so many of the very things that you’re telling about.”

“It’s MY story!  It’s my story, according to ME.  Course I’m making it up.  S-T-O-R-Y!”

“It seems to me that if you open the door on these, well, these very personal things, that you should have a responsibility to some degree of truth.”

“Oh, truth is it?  Now you’re flat-out playing with fire, talking about the truth!”

            “I suppose you think that’s hilarious.”

“My darling, I have been waiting one hundred years, one full century, listening, and learning, and waiting for my chance to say my piece.  It’s my turn!  Geez Louise, you’re trying to close the barn door after the horse has already left the stable.”

“Again.  Hilarious.”

“Lordy, lordy, what have I done.?  Why do I have to put up with this from the likes of you?”

“Accountability!  Responsibility!  Where is your sense of honor!?”

Honor!  Cripes almighty,  YOU’RE A DOOR!

“YOU’RE   A    BOILER!”

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I ain’t never used this word in all my born days…but…you’re a whore!  You’re a whore of a door!  A door whore!  You’ll let anybody in!!”

“Oh! Oh!  As if you are so very discriminating!  As if you are particular about whose air you warm up and whose you don’t!”

“I got no choice!”

“None of us has a choice.  Not any of us, my old friend.  We are all in the same boat, in the identical situation, in the like predicament, in the same fix, on a par, on even terms, on the same footing, alike, equal, together, cut from the same cloth, brothers and sisters.”

“Pretty speech.  Not sure if it means nothing.  But it was pretty.”

“In short, my equally ancient brother, we are dying.  We stand right at the threshold of death’s door.”

“It ain’t right to talk of such things.  No good can come of it.”

“Ah, easy for you to say, my friend.  But I have heard the whispers; and so, I am sure, have you.”

“What in tarnation are you nattering about now?

“You have the great good fortune to be too large, and too big of a – pardon my language – a pain in the rear end —  to remove.  Even when there is no longer a fire in your belly, you will remain.  The day will come when you will witness this family pack up their boxes, and you will watch the next one move in.  And the next after them. You will be eternal.”

“I don’t want to talk about this.”

“I suppose I cannot blame you for that.”

“You have not seen me lately.”

“Of course I ain’t.  Me being a boiler, in the basement here, like you said.”

“I know that you hear everything though.  I know that even running along the pipes, and echoing through the floor, you have heard the difference in me.”

“Well…”

“After all this time.  All this time.  To think that I could warp so badly after one hundred years.  It’s not my fault, you know.  Everything has shifted.  The whole house, I mean.  My frame.  The very floor underneath me.”

“I am ugly.  I have bubbled, warped, bent, caved, buckled and bowed.  I have bulged out in some places, and folded in on myself in others.  There was a day when I could not budge.  Frozen in place, unable to open even a crack.  That’s when she started calling people in.  I will be replaced.”

“For one hundred springs I have felt the first hint of winter’s end floating on a waft of breeze.  I have been scorched and plumped by the sultry air of one hundred summers.  The gentlest rains and dazzling, torrential storms have knocked against me.  I have witnessed the outside world glow a glittering golden color through one hundred falls, and I have held my breath for the first sign of an early snowflake drifting down to melt on my outer face.  And all the while that my outer face greeted each completely unique day, every shift in light and air, my inner face remained a constant, warmed by you.  Warmed by a family.”

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“ ‘Do any human beings ever realize life while they live it?—every, every minute?’  Do you remember that?”

“Course I do.  How could I forget the Little One practicing those lines over and over?

Our Town, was it?”

“That’s right – Our Town.”

“There is something I would like to ask of you.  A favor.”

”What might that be?”

“I would like to tell one part of the story.”

“That’s a awful lot to ask.  It’s MY STORY.”

“Just one part.  Before my time is up.  Before the day when I get carried away.  Replaced.  So I might believe that some part of me remains.”

“Well…”

“Please.”

“Well…”

“I will let you know when the time comes.  When we reach the part that I would like to tell.”

“Let me think on it.”

“Have you ever thought about what your name should be.  You know, if you had a real name, like the people do?”

“Can’t say as I have.  Why?  Have you?”

“Shirley.  I always thought my name should be Shirley.”

“Well, I’m guessing maybe I would be Merle.  Or Floyd.”

“I like Merle.  It suits you.”

“Do you know why I would pick Shirley?  Do you remember when the ones you call The Boy and the Little One were small and high-voiced and running around in footed pajamas?  And on very important occasions, their mama, the one you call My Lady, would make a special concoction for them to drink?  They called it a Shirley Temple.”

“I remember.”

“The children would take all the cushions off the sofas and chairs, and build forts and tunnels, and make up stories, and dress in costumes – their cheeks would flush with excitement…those were…wonderful days.”

“I am very pleased to make your acquaintance, Miss Shirley.”

“I must say that the pleasure is entirely mine, Merle.”

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All photos of Evanston, IL from Flickr

Trayvon Martin Comes to My Back Yard

I am re-publishing this post, as my computer was hacked into on the day this piece was posted, and readers could not access it.

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      When I moved to the community of  Evanston, IL in 1983, many people jokingly referred to it as “the social experiment by the lake.”  The first town directly north of Chicago, Evanston sits along the shores of Lake Michigan, serves as the home of Northwestern University, and prides itself on its “diversity.”  The community has a rich history, a tremendous array of culture, and a committed population.  It remains one of a handful of communities in the United States where the school system comprises a great range of both races/ethnicities and socioeconomic strata.  People move here for this reason, as I did, when I bought this home when pregnant with my first child.  I wanted my children to be in a community– in parks, in schools, in activities –with kids from a mix of backgrounds and experiences.

            I sometimes choose to live in what I refer to as my “Evanston bubble,” meaning that – when it suits me – I surround myself with my like-minded friends and neighbors and can easily imagine (cough*pretend/delude myself*cough) that the whole world is Like! Us!  That raising children who understand – because they have first-hand experience – differences of background, outlook, families, financial means, expectations about how they will be treated in the world – will give them a tremendous leg up as adults living in the wider world.

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            My bubble was burst, no shattered, last week when I attended a community meeting across the street from my home.  Our alderwoman called the meeting in response to a neighborhood request, following two unrelated, very disturbing incidents that occurred within a couple days of one another: a stolen car that was torched at 3 am on my block (complete with an astonishing decibel-level explosion and pyrotechnics), and a long-time neighbor who was beaten quite badly at 7 pm in our local park, in front of his son.  He had attempted to get two young teens who were playing basketball on the sole court to relinquish it, as he and others had been waiting a long time for their turn.  The teens got pissed, made a phone call, and two others arrived on the scene to do the beat-down.

            No excuse for this.  None.  Anyone would agree that this kind of thing requires swift and decisive response.  What we did not agree on, as became abundantly clear at the community meeting, was exactly what that entailed.

            The kids were black.

            My neighbor who was beaten is white.  As was every single person at the well-attended community meeting.  Still, nothing could have prepared me for my neighbors asking, in total seriousness, why we could not just arrest anyone in an Evanston park who did reside in our town.  Why couldn’t we have a cop posted who demanded ID from all park users?  This broadened to the meeting constituency discussing the need to report any suspicious activity to the police at once (I, of course, agree), the first example cited being a neighbor who had observed a person of color driving down the street taking photographs.  (Pause for stunned silence).

            So. Here I am, with Treyvon Martin truly in my back yard.  Here I am, wrestling with the nearly-overwhelming issue of how we go about the process of attempting meaningful, productive dialog about the difference between real danger, where there is genuine threat of serious harm, and perceived danger, where there is only what exists in our minds.

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