Saturday, July 17, 2021

Rambling Notes: The South of the North

     The less preface I add to this, the better.  Without further ado, the Saturday report from Caren Jeskey. Strap in, you're in for a wild ride:

    “I send you a postcard. It says ‘Pulaski at night.’ Greetings from Chicago, city of light. City of light. Come back to Chicago, city of light, city of light.” 
                                                          —Andrew Bird
     It’s not easy being from a fabulous, international city. Home calls to all of us, but for many, home does not offer the richness of the city of wild garlic. Still, it was just not enough. I knew there was a reason I had not unpacked my car.
     After six long weeks back (after living in Austin Texas for 7 years), I found myself propelled south once again. I realized “I don’t have to be here,” and my steering wheel did the rest. While I felt welcomed in many ways, coming back to Chicago was not what I had expected. Life seemed so much easier, more harmonious in the music capitol of the world. 
In retrospect, living amidst a sea of Peter Pans who will never grow up but will have fun until their dying days is appealing. I used to criticize their hedonism in my quest to “mature” but since I don’t have the answers who’s to say who is right? 
     Coming home reminded me of my failings. In Texas I can be someone new. I am not painted into boxes by anyone because my friends are relatively new. They met me as an adult rather than holding old images in their minds, images that cloud their ability to see me clearly. To listen actively, instead of assuming they know who I am.
     In Austin I always feel like I am on vacation. It’s not really home, but it’s a place I can explore and stay alive, stay curious.
     So I am back in the Lone Star State, at last. Ah! I’ve missed you. Pick-up trucks that push me off the road. A land where science isn’t real. Fantasy is more fun anyway. Maybe I’ll become a flat-earther. Now that seems amazing. Biking on a smooth plane forever and ever? And if it ends I am sure God will save me. How comforting.
     I’ve missed the eclectic gardens and street art that seems to pop up everywhere. Horses and cowboys and real country music. Souped up hotrods racing around— Harleys rumbling my insides. I guess a place can grow on you.
     I’ve missed the endless greenery and 90 degree temps. Seeing all of my neighbors out there running and biking and walking and paddling. Such an active city!
     Chicago, that is. You see, I did not leave. I was just joshin’. I am still here. I’ve noticed that Chicago and Austin are very similar. Everything I described above happened in Edison Park, Norwood Park, and Park Ridge. Who’d-a thunk it? Not me.
     I’ve managed to stay in a very specific enclave for most of my life. Rogers Park, Uptown, Edgewater, Boystown, Lakeview, Wicker Park, downtown, Hyde Park, Oak Park, Evanston, and the Southeast side of Chicago. Where I meet kindred spirits around every corner.
     The past six weeks living on the Northwest side has really opened my eyes. 
As a kid I had openly racist family members who lived on the far south side in Hegewisch. Up here on the northwest side the climate is similar; well-kept homes with manicured lawns, and lots of police presence. Neighbors have screwed blue lightbulbs into the sockets on their porches to support “Blue Lives.” One home has flooded the entire exterior with blue. Blue Lives Matter flags pepper the houses and businesses. These are the same folks I felt I had to get away from in my younger days. As painful as it is to be estranged from family, I’d become enraged every time I’d hear the “n” word spoken, and I did, often. I once made the relative who was hosting us break down in tears after I confronted a Bud drinking good ol’ boy neighbor who had joined us. As I recall, we left the party and as my folks drove us home they told me how proud they are of me. Still, that kind of family drama is never fun.
     I felt scared during my walkabouts on the NW side. It seemed I was in a fortress, and since I have several family members who are cops I know that fierce protection of their home court might mean hair trigger reactions to perceived and not real threats. I say this because I was harassed more than once when I brought POC into white areas in a way that never, ever happened when I was alone or with other white people. I was considered a possible enemy for having a POC in my presence. It was terrifying and embarrassing— for example I was driving with a friend past my hight school on a weekend drive and got pulled over “for having a broken taillight” BS.
     I was struck that the cops' homes were modest; small compared to the fancy mansions just a few blocks farther west. That made me a little bit sad— those who rally for blue lives? What are they really doing for officers? Their pocketbooks? Their mental health?. I heard about another Chicago police officer's suicide today. He was just 24. This was the third death by suicide of a CPD officer this year. The rigid standoff we are in is a lose-lose for all.
     When I passed people, almost no one said hi; an insulated community where strangers are not to be trusted. Thank goodness I packed up and moved east this week, to Ravenswood, where I fit every stereotype Peter Sagal jokes about in his NPR games show "Wait, Wait, Don’t Tell Me."  I’m a Birkenstock wearing foodie who reduces, reuses and recycles. I’ll talk to you about farm to table products any day, and I want to know where the best freshly harvested mushrooms can be found. I love the Sunday New York Times, and I like my coffee freshly ground each day.
     It saddens me to know that my kinfolk in the O’Hare flight path land cannot comprehend why Black Lives Must Matter. They do not have any understanding of what it must be like to live under the shadow of harassment at all times.
     Yes, the lives of our public servants do matter. But why can’t they see that their lives have always mattered more than Black lives in this city? Not only that, but Black lives have been smote.
     Now that’s criminal.
     When I hear comments about the “scum” who are killing each other with gang violence, I feel physically sick. Those who say that are racist to the bone. How can they continue ignoring the history of POC in the U.S.? Still?
     I don’t have a lot of hope that one day we will all live together harmoniously, loving and trusting each other and sharing resources equally. But I am a dreamer and I am not giving up all hope just yet. If that sounds naive that’s OK with me, for isn’t it better to feel what joy we can rather than wallowing in pain?
“It’s not about win or lose, ‘cause we all lose when they feed on the souls of the innocent; blood-drenched pavement. Keep on moving’ though the waters stay ragin’. In this maze you can lose your way, your way. It might drive you crazy but doc’t let it faze you no way, no way!”


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  2. Thank you. Awesome read. I've never heard Hegewisch and "blue communities" described better.

  3. Glad you found your new home.
    Being aware of what goes on around us exposes us to the bad and the good.
    And the answer is yes when you asked, “Isn’t it better to feel what joy we can rather than wallowing in pain?”
    In spite of all the nastiness that surrounds us there is still much joy to be felt.
    Can’t wait for WWDTM to start live performances again.

  4. A reader sent me an email saying that they'd like to hear about solutions, rather than simply noting the problems. Good point. Thanks RB. CJ

  5. Glad you were able to escape the "Missitucky" ambiance of the Northwest Side after "only" six weeks of hell. Back in 1990, my first wife and I thought of escaping the hassles of lakefront living by moving out to Edison Park or Norwood Park or even Park Ridge.

    So glad we didn't end up in any of those racist would have been too much like re-experiencing the suburban torture chambers where we both grew up. We moved back to South Evanston instead, and then we split up soon afterward.

    For almost thirty years, I've lived in Cleveland's equivalent of the Northwest Side. It was heavily populated with cops and firefighters and first responders, until the city ended the residency requirement. Many are still around, but most of them have skedaddled to the suburbs, mainly because Cleveland's schools suck. It's either that, or pay enormous tuition fees for Catholic and private schools.

    My neighborhood is, naturally, heavily Irish. The strip of Irish bars on the main drag is known as "Little Dublin" and "The Green Mile." The rest of the residents are mostly Italian and German. Blacks and Hispanics are now moving here. Youngsters with moolah are paying inflated prices for our well-kept single-family homes. Crime is more frequent. The long-time inhabitants, and the geezers who grew up here, have become less and less Democratic since those halcyon Obama years. There are still a few Trump signs. And I've had to look out my front window at a Blue Lives Matter flag, flying day and night, for the last four years.

    I lived in that same specific North Side enclave for most of my life: East Rogers Park, West Rogers Park, Ravenswood, Wrigleyville, Lakeview, and twelve years in South Evanston. Moving from Evanston to Cleveland in '92 was like moving to Jupiter. But after maybe 15 or 20 years, I got used to it...including the cloudy skies and the lake-effect snow. Human beings can accommodate to almost anything. Except for that goddamned desecrated mutation of a flag.

    1. Sorry Grizz, I lived in Edison Park from 7th grade elementary school until I got married. There was nothing different about it from what I experienced than any other northwest Chicago neighborhood. And it certainly was not a “racist shithole”.

    2. How often did you hear the n-word used? Are you old enough to remember when MLK marched in Northwest Side neighborhoods, and the riots that ensued before and during those marches?

      I had to pick up a friend from work, and I ran right into one of those disturbances. Greasers in "wife-beaters" (we called them something else), angry cops, rocks, bottles, billy clubs. Nope, no different from any other white ethnic Northwest Side or Southwest Side Chicago neighborhood in 1966.

      Of course, if you weren't around then, or were too young, then I understand where you're coming from. Edison Park.

  6. Why use POC? At first I was mystified. Why not person of color, or African American, or whatever.

    1. POC is an inclusive term. Many different ethnicities consider themselves people of color . Nobody that's in an URG gets slighted or left out . Or whatever

    2. Point taken.


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