* Welcome to The Big Jewel, which maintains a certain fond regard for its hometown, Chicago. Once known as the "City of the Big Shoulders" (in the Carl Sandburg poem that has absolutely no relation to this piece, in a pig's eye), after Brennan Thomas gets through with it they'll call it the "City of the Big Complainers." You tell it, Brennan! As someone once said, you only hurt the city you love.

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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