Chicago.

The irony was not lost to me that, supposedly, when my mother saw me for the first time, her words to me were, “Why do you come to this world to suffer?” I think I got that now. What I don’t get is, now she wants me to have a child of my own? I mean, I can only draw the conclusion that, my mother wants me to suffer just like she did. Well, this post should be about Chicago the city I just visited. A heck of an intro, not sure where that came from.

The buildings freaked me out. It’s like I was walking in the shadows of giants. We were all like ants down here that were constantly in danger of being stepped on. The crosswalks were where fun mini adventures happened where everyone’s trying to get away from where they were as quickly while appeared as nonchalantly as possible. I did not master that skill, I always felt like I owed those metal beasts my life.

Leo drove us around. He lived in the south outside of the Loop that’s so dangerous he dared not walking the two blocks to the nearest L train, day or night. So he picked us up, and drove us, round and round, missing all the exits and a few of the swimming-pool-sized potholes, showing us the neighborhoods, pointing out the spots where the supposed gangs and the police were having their nightly standoffs, where the under-cover police cars patrolling the Loop (rich and touristy area surrounded by “L” for elevated (?) train tracks), and where the Obamas used to live. Leo felt at home there, and I understood the attraction.

The Art Institute Chicago had Picasso, Rembrandt, and my favorite nutcase, van Gogh. I was face to face with van Gogh’s and Rembrandt’s self-portraits. Seeing their pictures, they were close enough to touch, to breath life into. They looked very much alive and living. It did not hurt that they looked as if they were searching for a connection with the viewer. It felt like they were at a loss for words, like they were looking for some answers that we had. Maybe that’s the connect we felt. They were looking for answers, probably the same ones we were after. That’s all we could do.

The house music was booming in the nearby stadium that had a flower-shaped backdrop. I did not pay much attention to the music scene, they were in the background. The Bean, or the Cloud Gate held my attention, or maybe it’s the crowd that it attracted. I was fascinated by the fascination of the crowd. The Bean reflected and distorted, people were happy about that. It’s a shinny object. It’s a soft object. It reminded me of those funhouse mirrors where you looked yourself up. It’s a single particular object surrounded by trees and grass and very happy people from all over the world. There’s soulful music playing, there were there police making sure everyone’s safe and being taken care of, there were rainbow ice cream. There was the Chicago skyline.

Chicago buildings were meant to be viewed from the river, I know that now. The buildings with those wavy curves, the green, reflecting, distorting glasses that
match the color of the river covered whole buildings, the whimsical, world’s largest you-are-here slab on the side of 300 South Wacker building, the art decos, the million dollar town houses, the river that got its flow reversed to get rid of trash, the Goose Island.

Time for some Green River lime soda, good thing the Second City had it on the menu. With the $47 ticket, we got a good view of the 1 hour and 45 minutes “best of” show, it might had run a bit longer, because the improvisers were having a ball, so were the audience. It was a first for me, and I do hope it’s not too high a bar to set. The soda was good too.

The Ale House was just down the street from Second City. There were drawings on the walls by the proprietor, as depicted in the late Anthony Bourdain’s “Part’s Unknown”. It’s surreal to be in there, drinking a pint, having a conversation with Bourdain’s ghost. Then in a burger joint called “Billy Goat” which we had to go down to a lower street level for (there were no less than 3 levels at certain parts of the city), there he was again, a ghost on a newspaper framed by the establishment. It seemed certain kind of people come to this place, the kind that I wanted to meet. It’s a bit comforting to know that even though some people were gone, I could still visit them in a sense. Today I learned that June 25th was designated as Bourdain day. I will drink to that.

Leo told us about the corruptions, the every day nuisances like potholes on the road that were allowed to persist and proliferate, the impossibility of digital navigation due to wildly bouncing signals, the rumored gangs, the terrible BBQ and Chinese food in the city, and the conspiracy theories and personal loyalties that were keeping the city alive and well. And when the winter comes, when the Lake Michigan wind brings the city to a crispy -30°C, the proud Chicagoans will curl up with their dogs, check on their neighbors and look forward to a nice round of deep dish pizza.

It’s the Second City, where I didn’t have to care if I was wanted there or not.

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