October 2008


364 Crime

I cannot imagine the agony singer, actress and Chicago native Jennifer Hudson is going through right now. I have not spent much time on the South Side, but even here in relatively staid West Town in hear about break-ins, shootings and stabbings all the time. As I crawled around the western edge of the city yesterday morning, I noticed three or four police cars parked diagonally at several street corners, at least half a dozen more tearing down the street, and two helicopters dangling from invisible strings in the sky. It reminded me of the year I lived in Washington’s Columbia Heights neighborhood in the late 1980s, when the local crack dealer lived downstairs, searchlights from helicopters illuminated University Place, Malcolm X Park and 13th Street, and DEA agents in heavy boots and cargo pants tromped across our ceiling. That impressive show of force, an early version of shock and awe, didn’t stop one young man from shooting another young man on our front lawn.

My boss says it’s time the people who run this city recognize that we’re at war and behave accordingly. He says he had a gun leveled at his face once while delivering pizza, and narrowly avoided becoming a statistic because he refused to put up with gang violence in his neighborhood.

I do not for one second assume that Obama’s victory next week is a sure thing, but if he should overcome the massive Republican dirty-tricks network, I hope he will make some attempt to reinvigorate the Great Society programs of Lyndon Johnson. And this time, in addition to putting the economy of scale that only governments can create behind such worthy causes as nutrition, education and job training, I humbly ask that he consider adding a fourth leg to this table, one that will make it stable: security. Give the people of the South Side, or Anacostia, or Watts, or north Minneapolis, or Detroit, the opportunity to implement the same kind of safety measures we lucky few here in the gentrifying neighborhoods north of the Loop enjoy: sturdy front and back gates that lock, home security systems, multiple door locks and whatever else can prevent people from living in constant fear. It’s not poverty that causes violence, it’s the people who prey on the poor. And if this is a war, as my boss insists it is, then bring in some armed protection while you’re at it.

Just my $.02.

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155.25 Personality development (according to the University of Illinois library)

It may be time for me to shed my skin. I don’t know. I’ve looked back over these posts, and, as much as I think I’ve moved forward, I still see a self-absorbed individual unwilling to fully engage with the world around him. This can’t go on, I think. I feel I’m doing this strange balancing act between the desire to say what I think and the possibility that keeping my mouth shut might not be such a bad idea once in a while.

I have always worried that others don’t appreciate me. Maybe it works both ways, or maybe things are the opposite of how I think they are. Maybe I should be less snarky. Maybe a little humility’s in order.

636.7 Dogs
331.7 Work

My time as a professional dog walker has nearly ended. Two nights ago at around 8:00 p.m., I received a call from a client informing me that his dog has a new collar, and he wanted to make sure I knew how to use it. I calmly told him I was familiar with the model he described before hanging up and throwing the phone across the toom.

I gave my notice today, somewhat warily, as I am not sure how long my book researching gig will last. But then again, who knows how long any job will last? I have said it before, but it bears repeating, the days of cradle-to-grave employment security are gone. We will not see their like ever again. Some of you, perhaps many of you, will say I sound like a broken record, but there is always somone out there who doesn’t know this. What always takes even me by surprise is just how much work it takes to find work, more so now that even the mighty city of Chicago is half a billion dollars in the red.

Regardless of the seriousness of the economic situation, the rules (I would hope) are always the same, and this is something I always mysteriously forget until someone gives me a dope slap: it’s a numbers game. Call, call, call. Network, network, network. Tell everyone you know you’re looking for work. Today, I magically remembered that elusive dictum and began my carpet-bombing campaign. A friend in New York may have something for me. An old boss gave me some tips. Hopefully, some people who have interviewed me recently will call me back to tell me how I did. And maybe, on my 100th call, someone will offer me something I haven’t seen in four years: a real job, with all the trimmings, benefits and paid vacation, retirement and dental. Does anyone remember those things?

And now, if you want to see some really good writing, surf on over to this page. Ya done good, Harvey.

332.4 Money

This morning, while out on my appointed rounds, I spied two dimes in good condition on the sidewalk near Campbell and Grand. Glinting in the sun, they drew me in. (They would have drawn me in regardless of their condition; I am hard up for cash and pick up anything that is cash, looks like cash, or that I know I can turn into cash.) I tried to pick up one of the dimes and nearly bent my fingernail back in doing so. I realized that someone had glued both coins to the pavement, in what must have been some sort of sociological experiment or art installation. Tomorrow, I will bring a hammer and a chisel, and if they are still there, I will pry them loose. If there is any extra money involved for participating in whatever experiment this might be, I’ll take that, too.

364.164 Vandalism

Some stuff I saw written in the cement today at Damen and Thomas:

Flying cars yes
Cell phones no

Set your goles

Also, the price for scrap aluminum went down last week, from 50 cents per pound to around 40 cents. Doesn’t matter; I still can’t kick this obsession with picking up cans, even if it only nets me about $4 a month.

Chicago 977.311

After a couple of months of temporarily misplacing my mind, I am starting to feel more normal in my new surroundings, thank you very much. I’m still not sure I made the right decision, but I feel less unsure when I think about the last place I lived. Yes, I am still disoriented here, but less disoriented than I felt in Boston. I’m happy to report that, after all the time I’ve spent here on visits and now actually living here, the initial appeal of Chicago still has not worn off. That appeal, simply put, is Chicago’s resemblance to Washington, D.C., most notably in the similarity of the flags of these two cities.

Chicago’s flag looks like this.

D.C.’s looks like this.

To me, Chicago feels like a kind of parallel-universe D.C., where Chocolate City has grown to five times its normal size, and the usual mix of blacks, hispanics and Asians has been joined by a sizable influx of eastern Europeans. This is probably totally off the mark, but it gets me through the day. And it beats the hell out of Boston, a kind of parallel nothing where all the people of color had been chased out, rounded up or harassed to the point where they must have felt like aliens from another dimension.