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Nov. 9th, 2014 | 09:27 pm

He tapdanced on a flattened cardboard box, that's what I remember. A skinny black man in a Santa hat, on the sidewalk of the Magnificent Mile. His boom box played carols with an electric beat and the crowd, too, was electric--expensive shopping bags in their hands, smiling for Christmas. A light snow was falling, and the big flakes and the lights in the trees made me rich enough to put five dollars in his hat. I wasn't cold, then, and I moved to Chicago.

* * *

Every week I bought the same things--eggs, potatoes, cheap steak, oatmeal, raisins, broccoli, half-and-half. Exactly twenty dollars every time.

Every day it was already dark when my last class ended, and I hiked up my shoulders and walked home shivering. I huddled in my bed with all my clothes on, trying to get warm.

This was when I learned that Officer Friendly was really an angry metermaid with a gun. When I dated to eat. When, the night I set myself on fire, there was no-one to call, no-one I knew well enough to know their number.

* * *

In the year I was in Chicago, I never entered the Merchandise Mart, that white behemoth squatting on the north bank of the river, filled with showrooms of German lamps and Italian tile, Wolf stoves and Subzero refrigerators. But it connects to the hotel and it's warm, so I cut through on my way to sushi, on my way to ignore prices and congratulate myself for connections made, pitches pitched, cards exchanged. The vast expanses of plate glass set in Deco architecture show the soaking tubs, the marble-countered model kitchens, libraries with walnut shelves and rolling ladders. Things I will never buy, because to buy them I would need to have a home.

Instead, I have hamachi nigiri, avocado bomb, lava cake (the cake was too much). I have a city view room I am not sharing, popular tweets with the conference hashtag. I have a scar in the shape of the chain that burned into me, a scar that is a story I can sell. I can love Chicago. I can leave Chicago.



__________________________________________________
whipchick still finds Chicago deeply unfriendly and motherfucking cold. But the sushi was excellent and the radio conference enlightening.



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Comments {35}

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i_17bingo

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from: i_17bingo
date: Nov. 10th, 2014 02:42 pm (UTC)
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...the big flakes and the lights in the trees made me rich enough to put five dollars in his hat.

What a perfect way to describe this feeling!

I lived in New York, hand-in-mouth, for most of my twenties. Recently I returned for a visit as a grownup, with a lot of time to chill out and walk around, and spend money I didn't used to have. But I don't think even that nostalgia tour brought back the feeling of that first Christmas there--naive, hopeful, excited, alive, and in love with the world--as gracefully as this.

*sigh*

I was so young.

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whipchick

(no subject)

from: whipchick
date: Nov. 13th, 2014 05:20 pm (UTC)
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Thanks - yeah, that's what it felt like! I still look back and think, wow, that's why I moved there...There's something so magical about a city at Christmas...

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drwex

(no subject)

from: drwex
date: Nov. 10th, 2014 09:40 pm (UTC)
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*pebble*

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whipchick

(no subject)

from: whipchick
date: Nov. 13th, 2014 05:33 pm (UTC)
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Thanks :)

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fodschwazzle

(no subject)

from: fodschwazzle
date: Nov. 11th, 2014 03:57 am (UTC)
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How you take an incident like burning yourself, make it completely non-trivial, and then sidestep it while it fades into one more detail in a vivid slice-of-life (if that's the word I'm looking for), is one of the reasons why you are such a formidable writer. This is excellent.

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whipchick

(no subject)

from: whipchick
date: Nov. 13th, 2014 05:37 pm (UTC)
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Thank you very much! It was so interesting to be back in Chicago and have all the old feelings come back. Glad you enjoyed!

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tonithegreat

(no subject)

from: tonithegreat
date: Nov. 11th, 2014 04:26 am (UTC)
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Oh Officer Friendly, I should not have smiled at you through my cracked windshield.

What makes you happy indeed.

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whipchick

(no subject)

from: whipchick
date: Nov. 13th, 2014 05:38 pm (UTC)
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Seriously!

Thanks :)

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Laura, aka "Ro Arwen"

(no subject)

from: roina_arwen
date: Nov. 11th, 2014 06:12 am (UTC)
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I've been to Chicago in effin' February, and *man* it was frigid! But it's a beautiful city with great pizza, so I'll go back for their pizza... in the summer. :)

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whipchick

(no subject)

from: whipchick
date: Nov. 13th, 2014 05:38 pm (UTC)
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It's lovely in the summer, but man, that wind!

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Jemima Pauler

(no subject)

from: jem0000000
date: Nov. 11th, 2014 09:30 am (UTC)
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*hugs*

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whipchick

(no subject)

from: whipchick
date: Nov. 13th, 2014 05:39 pm (UTC)
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Thanks :)

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kick_galvanic, zagzagael, skull_theatre

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from: bleodswean
date: Nov. 11th, 2014 06:44 pm (UTC)
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This line spoke volumes to me - When, the night I set myself on fire, there was no-one to call, no-one I knew well enough to know their number.

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whipchick

(no subject)

from: whipchick
date: Nov. 13th, 2014 05:40 pm (UTC)
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Thanks. That really was when I knew I needed to move :)

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The Coalition For Disturbing Metaphors

(no subject)

from: halfshellvenus
date: Nov. 11th, 2014 07:59 pm (UTC)
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and the big flakes and the lights in the trees made me rich enough to put five dollars in his hat. I wasn't cold, then, and I moved to Chicago.
Such beauty and optimism in this whole opening paragraph!

When, the night I set myself on fire, there was no-one to call, no-one I knew well enough to know their number.
Oh, how bleak and tragic this becomes. I worry that the first part is literal, and am pained that it ever got this bad.

I can love Chicago. I can leave Chicago.
Ouch. It must be really hard to go back, with all of these memories and some of the aspects of the city that haven't changed for you.

The three years I lived in Peoria, Chicago was a haven and I would happily have moved there. The cold in Illinois, though... I don't ever want to live in a climate like that again. Or in the Midwestern culture, which was its own kind of "cold" for an independent, feminist woman.

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whipchick

(no subject)

from: whipchick
date: Nov. 13th, 2014 05:42 pm (UTC)
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Thanks - this whole thing came to me as a bit of stream of consciousness while walking in Chicago last weekend. I did literally set myself on fire - it was a performing accident - but it's been a long time :)

I grew up in Florida, so the physical cold was what I noticed the most - now I want to read something from you about the other kind of cold. That's so interesting, and I'm glad you're out of it!

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Ellakite

I've never been to Chicago.

from: ellakite
date: Nov. 12th, 2014 02:13 am (UTC)
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Not really -- I changed buses and planes there, but that's not the same.

At least two people I know have described Chicago as being "a party town". I suppose it can be, if you have the time and the money to spend on a party.

Then again, I am not now (nor have I ever been) a party animal. Which is probably why despite my saying on several occasions that I absolutely *MUST* visit Chicago some day, I probably never will...

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whipchick

Re: I've never been to Chicago.

from: whipchick
date: Nov. 13th, 2014 05:43 pm (UTC)
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You live in New York, I think you got the better deal!

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ArmagedDan

(no subject)

from: hosticle_fifer
date: Nov. 12th, 2014 02:57 pm (UTC)
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This was powerful with very expertly applied, poetic turns of phrase that cut right to it without wasting a word. Excellent stuff!

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whipchick

(no subject)

from: whipchick
date: Nov. 13th, 2014 05:44 pm (UTC)
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Thank you!

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cindy

(no subject)

from: tsuki_no_bara
date: Nov. 12th, 2014 05:37 pm (UTC)
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i got totally stuck on "the night i set myself on fire..." and went "wait, WHAT??" because it's so casually dropped in with all the other cold and lonely things about chicago, and then you reference it again as just another commodity, a story you can sell. this is so beautifully written, for such an unpleasant time in your life.

(i admit that i like chicago, altho i've never lived there and i've only been in july or october, never in the dead of winter.)

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whipchick

(no subject)

from: whipchick
date: Nov. 13th, 2014 05:48 pm (UTC)
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Thanks :) And yes, Chicago is plenty pleasant in the summer!

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Every Day Above Ground

(no subject)

from: mallorys_camera
date: Nov. 12th, 2014 06:49 pm (UTC)
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You're so-o-o talented, and the sentences here just dance, excitement linking arms with disappointment in a ceremonial pavan.

I keep longing for lengthier narrative from you, but that's just me being greedy. :-)

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whipchick

(no subject)

from: whipchick
date: Nov. 13th, 2014 05:56 pm (UTC)
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Thank you! I really appreciate that :)

I'm shopping a memoir right now (agent, not yet a publisher) so if it gets picked up I will totally let you know!

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A Karmic Sandbox

(no subject)

from: karmasoup
date: Nov. 12th, 2014 10:32 pm (UTC)
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I feel the way you do about the big flakes and the lights in the trees every year in Minneapolis and St Paul, but I think it's more my connection with the holidays, having spent so many of them alone, somehow they're special to me, which I suppose is opposite of how it should be, but, I do think the snow helps... I never felt that way in Florida.

I've never spent that long in Chicago. Minneapolis gives me enough of anything I could get there, and it's too far a drive for the same thing as I can find at home, so I guess I could say I love being able to leave Chicago, too.

I'd ask you to tell the burning chain story, but wouldn't want you to give it away for free, though I'm definitely intrigued.

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whipchick

(no subject)

from: whipchick
date: Nov. 13th, 2014 05:57 pm (UTC)
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Haha, now I'll have to write that one!

Yeah, there's something about northern cities at Christmas that I don't get, either, from Florida (and certainly not in Dubai!).

Thanks :)

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crisp_sobriety

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from: crisp_sobriety
date: Nov. 13th, 2014 01:40 pm (UTC)
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I love some of the details in this, particularly the atmosphere making you rich enough to part with some money. That is exactly that feeling, spot-on.

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whipchick

(no subject)

from: whipchick
date: Nov. 13th, 2014 05:57 pm (UTC)
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Thank you :)

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Teo Says

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from: eternal_ot
date: Nov. 13th, 2014 03:16 pm (UTC)
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Reminded me of my hostel days...and maybe just maybe it has got nothing to do with the place...A nice read as always..Vividly beautiful.

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whipchick

(no subject)

from: whipchick
date: Nov. 13th, 2014 05:57 pm (UTC)
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Yeah, it's that feeling of just holding on by a thread :) Thank you!

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