Not Carl Sandburg’s “Chicago”

By:
bthomas@francis.edu

Chicago?  Yeah, I’ve been through

there once, for a week or so.

Disenchanted.

Disillusioned.

Discombobulated.

Never have I been in a city that seemed to dislike me — unwary passer-through —

so

absolutely.

 

Despised fly.

Spy.

Dunce.

Once

was enough.

 

Here

there

I smell dirt and city sidewalk salt on the hands of pan-handlers.

I smell carts of hotdogs that will never feel ketchup in their short hotdog stand lives.

 

I want a hotdog so badly, every day of five I am here, done my way.

Funny how a place makes you crave things you know aren’t there and can’t get.

I want onions and ketchup on my dog,

and mustard and ketchup and sauerkraut.

(Why are you putting lettuce on my hotdog?)

I want a plain bun

(flicking the sesame seeds off my bun)

mustard

and ketchup

KETCHUP!

(No, but, please don’t drag my dog through the garden, good people of Chicago.)

 

I can’t find ketchup in this city.

If I ask for it, the city hates me more.

 

We don’t like each other, the Big City and me.

 

When Dull Ohio Kid asks for directions — “Excuse me, ma’am.  Can you tell me how to get to the

Sears Tower?” — the City becomes infuriated.

El trains pause in incredulity, skyscrapers bend and arch like the furrowed brows of reproachful schoolmarms.

 

“This city is a GRID!” it bellows through traffic steam and ferry fog.

“And on the grid, you can find…

AN-Y-THING!”

 

I am a dull Ohio mouse.

(I think I’ve just stumbled on the grid’s Lost-and-Found.)

 

I’d just like to find my way back to the nearest el.

But I can’t hail taxis in this city.

I step out into the street,

hand up,

fingers snap — “Ho!” — reflexive point,

nod,

point, nod,

point again.

Exactly as my Queens-born father taught me.

 

I am looking for the human understanding between cab driver and would-be passenger.

None.

No spark — no semblance of recognition, consciousness.

 

Try harder.

“Ho!”

Higher hand.  Quicker snap.  “HO!”

Driving fast.  Faster.

Passed?

Past.  Yep.  Gone.

“Wait!  Stop!  Taxi?  TAXI!”

 

Goddamnit.

 

I must give off the aura of small-town girl.

 

I am a John Cougar Mellencamp song with two legs and a wet briefcase

who can’t hail a cab.

 

Who can’t get on the grid — or find the Sears Tower.

 

It’s only the tallest skyscraper in the Midwest.

Should be easy to find — a monument to all monoliths, the famed House of Mud.

Even easier on a grid.

 

I’m on the train finally, awash in a wave of dejected, tub-thumping commuters —

they look like grid zombies —

walking where they’re walking, sitting where they sit.

 

“Sir, may I sit down beside you?”

Middle-aged mute pushes up his wire-rimmed glasses,

slides his satchel higher on his shoulder.

Pretends not to hear me.

“Sir?”

Smiles wryly behind his glasses.

Says                       moves

nothing.

 

I’d hate to be a Chicagoan.

I don’t care how good the pizza is —

deep dish, indeed —

and I don’t care to see a blues concert

or a Sox game or meet Mariotti in person.

 

I want grass under my feet

and not to think of every single human interaction

as a hassle or a hustle.

 

I don’t like grids.

I don’t want to walk on a grid and or be part of one.

 

I don’t like ketchup-less hotdogs, Chicago.

 

Ketchup is good.

It’s chaotic

and messy and sugary and acerbic

and I want some on my HOTDOG!  

 

Glory be — ketchup, manners, and grass!

And good-bye, Chicago!

Never has a city needed to be unordered — disordered — and reordered as badly as you do.

 

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