Chicago? Yeah, I’ve been through
there once, for a week or so.
Never have I been in a city that seemed to dislike me — unwary passer-through —
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)
(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…
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,
fingers snap — “Ho!” — reflexive point,
Exactly as my Queens-born father taught me.
I am looking for the human understanding between cab driver and would-be passenger.
No spark — no semblance of recognition, consciousness.
Higher hand. Quicker snap. “HO!”
Driving fast. Faster.
Past. Yep. Gone.
“Wait! Stop! Taxi? TAXI!”
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.
Smiles wryly behind his glasses.
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.
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.