Sunday, July 8, 2012

Carl Sandburg's Chicago and Mine

I was sitting drinking shots of vodka at Russian Tea Time on Adams in the Loop, and old Carl and his poem came to mind, for reasons not entirely clear to me.  No longer Hog Butcher to the world, perhaps, but I think Chicago remains in large part how Sandburg described it to be.  Somewhat more sophisticated, I think, than it was in his time, but still very much an elemental city with very little pretense except in power and money though it is a city with a history of prominence in literature and architecture and other things.  Sandburg is a part of that history, of course, as is Saul Bellow and Studs Terkel (not a particular favorite of mine); Hemingway did some time here, Ray Bradbury, Edgar Rice Burroughs for God's sake, Philip K. Dick, Raymond Chandler.  John Dewey and Jane Addams among the philosophers/thinkers.

It's still a tough city as well.  I'm only a frequent visitor now, though it is my hometown, and have watched it change over the years.  The number of homeless seems to be increasing.  They stake out their territories on Michigan and State and Wabash and other streets in the Loop and River North where I generally hang out, and rattle what change they have in paper cups, seeking more from those who wander about and who, like me I must admit, generally ignore them as best they can.  Familiarity breeds insensibility if not contempt.  Oddly, the more there are the less compelling they become.

There was an old radio show called "The Whistler."   It's narrator "walked by night" and thereby saw "many things" which were usually nefarious.  Apparently, he whistled while he did so; a rather awkward, atonal little tune was whistled during the introduction and after commercial breaks.  I walk by night as well about this area of Chicago, but also by day, and like to observe the people.  It makes me think about the city and people like Sandburg and other things, though truth be told my observational skills are with some frequency dulled by alcohol.  That particular substance enlivens thought, however, or at least seems to do so which may amount to much the same thing.

It can also make one sentimental and maudlin, angry but also content.  I've been all those things during this visit and others, and have seen many things though none of them are particularly nefarious.  Mostly I see people who become younger as I grow older and are among friends and have money to spend and spend it as I do on food and drink, but it may be they fail to observe and most of all to think as they are in thrall to the game of impressing their friends if not themselves.  There are few I'm interested in impressing these days, though that may be due not to wisdom but instead to realism--which of course can be a kind of sad wisdom. 

There is something which gives one pause, sitting at a bar which you know your father sat once when he was a young man, (the Berghoff bar, also on Adams) and where famous people now long dead drank as you do, and thought something if not what you think.  Memento mori, perhaps, or omnia vanitas; or, somewhat less of a pause to be given, eat, drink and be merry, as we may read with some surprise in the Bible.

I'm pleased to report I haven't begun whistling, though.  Not yet.

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