Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Chicago Shapes #3: Squares


    Third in a series of riffs on geometric Chicago. For circles and parabolas, see the two days previous. We'll take a breather after today—there's only so much geometry a body can stand—then come back next week refreshed for triangles, hexagons and ... believe it or not ... octagons. 


     Tiresome as the Chicagoans-don't-put-ketchup-on-hotdogs debate has become, it is not the only squabble regarding consumption of classic foodstuffs where local custom squares off, for want of a better word, against national habit.
     There is the matter of how to properly slice pizza.
     The debate pits the "pie slice" versus the — I kid you not — "Chicago square," which places like Home Run Inn Pizza endorse because that's the way they originally cut their pizza, handing squares out to bar patrons when the place first started in 1947,
     "It’s a Chicago thing: the flat, crunchy crust cut into squares," the web site Thrillist maintains, "for people who don’t want to be stuck eating a whole slice for five minutes when there’s important drinking to be done. No question that square is better."
     "Chicago has been a neighborhood based thin-crust-square-cut-pizza city since I can remember," Tom Schraeder wrote on HuffPost Taste in 2013..

     Neighborhoods and squares certainly go together. In pre-industrial times a center square of pasture was left so cows could graze, and it was natural for people to congregate in markets and fairs there. Cities kept that tradition, with communities built around park squares, and reflected today in places such as the Square Bar and Grill, which does indeed have a square bar, but was so named, I am told, because owner Nick Daud used to live in Logan Square, and the bar itself, 2849 W. Belmont, at one time would have been considered to be located in Logan, before that area morphed into Avondale.
    "More a neighborhood thing," said the employee who explained the derivation of the name to me.
    While town squares hold a mythic place in American lore, prairie Chicago was broken up in to rectangular lots, the better to eat up our endless plats of land.  The only truly square-shaped square I can think of is the park immediately south of the Newberry Library, aptly named Washington Square Park, also referred to as "Bughouse Square" for the radical speeches often given there. 
     Otherwise, Chicago city blocks are varieties of rectangles (a square, almost needless to say, is a specialized rectangle, with four equal sides and four 90 degree angles) and none of Chicago's 77 neighborhoods are actually square, including the three with "Square" in their names:  Armour Square, Lincoln Square and Logan Square.
      There was once a neighborhood in Chicago that wasn't itself square either, but covered a much-ballyhooed square mile on the South Side where the city's meatpacking took place. 
     "In the 'Square Mile' at its prime stood numerous packinghouses, ringed by railroad lines adjacent to the tens of thousands of animals pens of the Union Stock Yard," Dominic Pacyga writes in his stockyard history Slaughterhouse.  Pacyga took liberties by casting it as an upper case name; more common was the treatment Upton Sinclair gave in  The Jungle, where he called the stockyards "a square mile of abominations." 
    While not common from a bird's eye level, if you walk around, Chicago architecture is studded with squares, particularly as windows and tiles. That said, squares here are more useful as concept than as geometry. The term is dated, now, but for a while, a true Chicagoan would recognize and steer clear of the squares.
   "On hot and magic afternoons," Nelson Algren wrote, in Chicago: City on the Make, "when only the press box, high overhead, divides the hustler and the square."
    "Square" as a term of condemnation was fairly new then; it was first used in 1944, as jazz slang, for a straight arrow who couldn't grasp the new music. By the 1950s, "square" was so overused, particularly by teenagers, that it led to "cube," which was a person who was really, really square, who might even live in "Cubesville."
    "Work was for the cubes," John D. MacDonald wrote in 1957. "The quintessence of a square." 
    While for the past half century a "square," according to Eric Patridge's Dictionary of Slang, has been "an old-fashioned person, esp. about dancing and music; later concerning customs and culture in general" that was just taking what had previously been a value and flipping it around. Before the 1940s squareness was something to be valued, a sign that you were on the up and up.  "Square" meant honest, as opposed to cross, which is why we have "fair and square" on one hand, and "double cross" on the other.
     "If elected," Theodore Roosevelt promised in 1904, "I will see to it that every man has a square deal, no less and no more."
     And how did "square" come to mean honest and true? Anyone who does carpentry knows that. You wanted your work, particularly your corners, to be square, though you can see this gravitating into general praise for behavior going back 400 years, such as in Act 2, Scene 3 of Shakespeare's "Anthony and Cleopatra."
ANTHONY: Read not my blemishes in the world's report.
                        I have not kept my square, but that to come
                       Shall all be done by the rule.
     Not that there wasn't wiggle room -- a person could be square among thieves, for instance, such as the character running a warren of subterranean brothel rooms, also in The Jungle:  
    Here at 'Papa' Hanson's (so they called the old man who kept the dive) he might rest at ease, for "Papa" Hanson was "square"—would stand by him so long as he paid, and gave him an hour's notice if there were to be a police raid.
      Nowadays, "square" is mostly a shape. While in 1986 Huey Lewis could sing that it was "Hip to be Square," that was so true that the very concept of squareness, for a person, fell out of favor, consigned to the attic of the arcane along with stacks of 45s and poodle skirts. The only sort of person who would use the word sincerely would be ... all together now ... a square, though anyone aspiring not to be would just call that person "clueless."


17 comments:

  1. "By the 1950s, 'square' was so overused, particularly by teenagers, that it led to 'cube', which was a person who was really, really square."

    So using the above logic,a person who was really, really, extremely over-the-top square would be a "cube squared", right? Or a "square cubed"? :)

    As far as pizza shapes, however, make no mistake: IMO squares are much better than slices. Thin crust, cut into small squares: delicious. Large pie-shaped slices, not nearly as good.

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  2. "Nimrod" seems to be coming into fashion to denominate the clueless.

    john

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  3. What, nothing on "loose squares"? Are those guys not all over the city?

    And "Chicago square" is new to me - the places I've ordered from have referred to as "party cut", which makes perfect sense compared with the traditional crowd-unfriendly "pie cut".

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    1. "Loose squares"? I'm not familiar.

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    2. Purveyors of single cigarettes. Think Eric Garner.

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    3. I think that "squares" referring to tobacco cigarettes rather than the hipper weed is still currently used as in, "Got a square, man?"

      john

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  4. Glad you remembered TR and the Sq. Deal.

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  5. An aesthetic case against the square was made by Francis Bacon, who wrote: "There is no excellent beauty which hath not strangeness in its proportions."

    Tom Evans

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    1. I neglected to note that, although the writings of Bacon, the founder of the scientific method, are a fount of knowledge on a variety of subjects, his thoughts on the optimum shape of a pizza slice have gone unrecorded.

      TE


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  6. And let us not forget (for those old enough to remember) "Hollywood Squares", a decent TV game show compared to some of the other ones (Paul Lynde) hehe.

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  7. Looking forward hopefully to a column on Thursday, in the blog if not in the paper, about this evenings Republican debate.

    Enough with the shapes already. SMILE

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    1. The debate, which starts 7 p.m. Central time, won't be over until 9 p.m. I hope you can wait until Friday.

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  8. It will be worthwhile to wait till Friday, thanks.

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    1. Now that I've seen it, I'm not sure it's a column. "Stupid," leaves me 735 words short.

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    2. The whole notion of a debate over a year before the election is stupid, if you ask me.

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  9. Always learning something new when I get my daily fix of EGDD. I prefer the squares for thin crust pizza. Always thought that the triangular slices were best left for the deep dish variety, which is also very good, when you're in the mood for it. This all ties into yesterday's discussion about circles - Pi r squared? No, pie are round! Noble Square neighborhood wasn't mentioned, but I never understood what part of West Town it covered since it seems to be a subset of the Pulaski Park area. Lastly, it was common in our neighborhood to call someone an L7 instead of a square. Never heard of the cube designation, but I may have been too square to catch that.

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  10. This place doesn’t have any 'i'm too cool and busy for you' wait staff. As per me, everyone at event space Chicago is nice, friendly, and helpful and they really seem to like their jobs there and that is important to me. We had an awesome experience here.

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