I’m afloat on the endless streets in the middle rib of a sun cloud Summer Spring day.
Three church fine sheesham skinned ladies pass a trio of yippee chihuahuas who strain their stubby leashes in the eternal struggle to taste ankles. One of the women veers in my path to avoid small teeth.
The Lord’s love is my strength.
She mutters under breath as I step out of her way.
A septuagenarian Latino man stands outside a check cashing joint fervently waving a sign board at an oblivious stream of cars. Oxygen tubes stretch from his nose to a faded grey backpack. He pauses a moment to dam the sweat stream falling from his forehead, down his nose, to his nostrils. So there isn’t a flood puddling at the mouth of the tubes.
A group of teenagers in a tricked out red hot dump of a Honda Civic, slow and roll. A tinted window slides down to allow a sack of fast food carcasses to be donated to the pavement.
I cross the street and am swarmed immediately by an endless parade of impossibly stunning women. Eternally twenty something. Confidence born in the womb. Tanned and tattooed ivory mocha lemon skin. Like a choir of pastel clouds and unbroken dreams pausing to bask, hover and swirl about the just above of things.
I cross the street again and wade through a cluster of neighborhood kids playing “steal the iPhone”.
Old slightly drunk eyes trail me from fence gaps and infinite stoops.
At the next corner, a midnight skinned woman with two tractor tires for a wondrous ass that make your thoughts float off on a fairy tale of how to drive that thing.
You got a cigarette for me baby?
She purrs. I check every single one of my pockets for smokes I know aren’t there. Twice.
God I wish I did.
I mutter as apology. She shrugs, blows a kiss using only her gorgeous puckered slow motion lips. And turns away, of course giving me just a little extra boom boom. As a hello goodbye.
And so my soul says hello to Chicago.
on the streets. I am feeling the weight of this thing. I am walking to get a cheap burger from some Chicago dive. The only thing holding me up is the gentle curve of my leather boots. I limp out of their height like some tethered half dead balloon.
Chicago is my old grad school haunt. On paper, I am here for a film gig. But really I am here to mend all my broken.
I’ll try to not say much about this.
When you lose someone you love, it is a strange thing to have to make them into someone other than what they were for you.
It doesn’t even really matter if that someone you thought you knew exists any more. Or ever did. You hold onto an idea or a memory or a hope of a future or a glossy version of the past or a fevered dream from never happened. You hold onto the briefest of moments when things weren’t fucked up. When you were floating in the golden of knowing another.
How hard. To let it go.
And when you’re alone, it’s so fucking hard not to imagine everyone everywhere is fucking.
That everyone you’ve ever made love to is fucking. Behind every curtained window, every closed door, everyone is figuring out how to bump their souls past internal confines and spill and swamp all over each other. While you sit cross-legged and mute on the far side of an impossible divide. Made from a handful layers of skin.
And let’s not forget about the dreams.
The motherfucking dreams. Ubiquitous, cunning, salt-ice-razor-finger in the infected hole – dreams. That, every damn night, show you the what is of what you don’t want to know. They become your job when your day is done.
And, of course, there’s the ghosts. That come down escalators in airports. That sit next to you on couches. So close you can smell their lotioned skin.
But that is all I’m going to say about that.
(Except that- please trust me when I say to you that I know how low my worries rank in the order of things.
I have seen girls, once sold to rape and slavery by their fathers or mothers or boyfriends or uncles – laugh openly and dance with abandon.
I have watched boys that live in neighborhoods of gap slatted hand built shacks, make kites from street trampled plastic bags. That dance the sky as well as any damn thing.
I have seen the sick and dying lose everything about themselves at the end of their days.
I have seen babies in their mothers’ arms, blue faced and gone.)
to be behind clouds. And I am sweating in my tall leather boots. Which I wear all the time, even to bed, because they are the only thing keeping my existence from toppling.
I’ve forgotten how to sleep for weeks months days. And I can’t stomach anything except whiskey and smoke. Every night I wake exactly an hour from the second I’ve finally exhausted myself to sleep the day before.
Everything is one long damn moment. That’s filled with a rubber-band sun and arbitrary hourly watermarks and old ladies and men wobbling through the maze. I couldn’t tell you what day it is or what street I’m on.
Oddly enough, though, I’m also seeing everything with a precise lens. Everyone’s insides are plain as day. They blob past the flesh, and make a patchwork of all things.
I know with a glance who is in crisis. Who has a mortal wound. Who is sick. Who is terrified. Who’s in love with whom. Who is pissed at whom. Who is just plain lonely and not crazy. And who is just plain fucking crazy, too.
My thoughts are a dozen talk shows. I listen to one for a while, then change channels when something shiny catches my eye.
And it’s all gone on long enough that it seems possible that this is the new version of me. I honestly don’t know what to expect.
to be an island, it is Chicago.
Bordered by the great expanse of Lake Michigan, and the blink-less flatlands of middle Illinois and northwest Indiana and southeast Wisconsin, so goddamn horizontal that they all might as well be small seas.
When you walk, away from the lake, there are no hills, no landmark for direction. You have to navigate by stars, arithmetic, flocks of fleeing birds, or slants of sun.
And the city is big big. Really, you have to marvel at its cultural density. Every neighborhood is a nation. Every block is a town. Every next corner you can pass a drug deal, an impromptu farm stand, or smokers standing outside some haut monde soiree.
In Chicago every weekend is a parade. Either formal, or organically born of the people who live to put flags on things. Music pours out of small doors and car windows like thunder.
And there is any kind of food you can dream. Sweet honey wine handed to you by stunning, busty Ethiopians (at least the ones I notice). Oil sweating nan, on the everyday miracle of Devon street. Burgers from Greeks watching soccer (sorry, World) on small televisions. A thousand degrees of Asian. An interesting interpretation of pizza (NY in the hizzy). Anything.
In the summers the days mug and stiffen. And the people, just unearthed from a season of such darkness that they probably swore never more, offer their skin to the sun as glad sacrifice. Shorts that frame the northern most border of thighs. Shirts that hold no form other than tit. Beach cock bulges galore. Stunning tender mid-drifts and popped, elaborately painted biceps. And oh good lord the variety of derrieres, either blessed by youth, or years in construction. All misted with a lick-able sheen.
In the Chicago summer sex strolls down the avenues and slaps every ass it passes.
In the Chicago summer you feel hung and muscled. You feel taut and spun. You shoulder-check the oncoming flood.
This is no second city.
joint is run by weathered Greeks.
It is always darker than seems possible, and there is the permanent ghost of a million smokers from days gone. It is mostly empty, but for a few obvious just around the way lifers.
An entire booth is permanently dedicated to a fur coat skinned, shock white haired man. He is surrounded by stacks and stacks of papers. Which he cares nothing for, because soccer (sorry, World), is on the small television.
It’s my favorite burger from when I was going to school. I have been here at least two hundred times over the last decade. And every time I order the exact same thing. But the Greek who runs things never lets on that he has any idea who I am. And I love him for that. A simple thing in this big world.
I place my order and the Greek gives me a blank nod. I sit by the window and watch the world roll. A city cop car glides into the cramped parking lot and comes to a stop wherever the hell it damn pleases. Two officers stroll into the burger joint, and all the lifers adjust their postures like the teacher just walked in.
One cop goes straight to the Greek and nods an unspoken order. He is grizzled, made of granite pudge, and painted with dark fur. He has seen some shit. He cases the joint casually, calculating the potential drunken/drugged out-ness of all the lifers and me. It’s at an acceptable level, I guess.
The other cop is one of those Opie-esque Midwestern boys that always turn out to be the most dangerous of creatures in the world. He is tall, muscular, wears a permanent expression of bemused emptiness, and has glasses that look like they couldn’t be kicked off.
The Opie cop cases the joint, too, but when his radar falls on me, he makes a b-line to where I’m sitting. It all has the feel of being circled by a shark.
Hey, I have a question. Do you mind if I ask you a few questions?
He says. Yes of course I mind, I think.
No, of course not.
I say. He sets himself in a monologue stance. The other cop at the counter rolls his eyes.
OK, what is the most important question you’ve never had answered?
The cop says this with that slight smirk in his eyes, which he just leaves on me with no hint of direction. I get lost in the vacant plains of his face for at least a couple lifetimes, before words enter the vacant plains of my mind.
I think I’ve had all my important questions answered. I just don’t like what the answers turned out to be.
Opie’s eyes give me nothing. Just the same glimpse of the void. He’s very good.
OK, how about this… why do people vote for a party that doesn’t help them?
He says. I’m pretty sure that those words, in that particular combination, don’t make any damn sense. I break my brain on this before giving my standard nonsense rejoinder for the got-caught-talking-to-the-wrong-jargon-asshole-at–the-academic-conference – type of situation.
I guess for the same reason monkeys throw poop.
I say. The cop is not thrown. The show must go on.
Interesting. What about this -should two mentally disabled people be allowed to have a child? The law now says “no”.
He says without missing a beat. I try my damndest to keep up with the cadence.
I think the people that made that law shouldn’t be allowed to have children.
The other cop turns to look at me, perhaps revisiting his “wasted-ness” assessment. Opie and his glasses are still an impassable, immovable, immortal thing.
OK, last one. Should bestiality be legal?
He says. I just let my mouth handle this one. Take my brain off the field.
Well, as long as the participants are of proper age, and the sex is consensual, who am I to judge?
I say. Opie and the other cop are now both facing me.
I stare back into their eyes and flex my being. I am a small black dot on these men’s, this world’s, desert range. Yes, I will roll and bumble on your constructions, your terrain. But I will make such a commotion that they will be able to see my dance from space.
It’s always interesting to see what the community thinks.
Opie says. I have no idea what information he gleaned from me, but I am certain that it has nothing to do with the words that fell from my face.
Yeah, that’s me – the voice of the community.
I say. The Greek takes pity on me and delivers my order. He gives me a half smile as I pay. I turn and nod at the cops and make a point to not seem too much in a hurry to get out of the joint.
Outside the sun is less pissed. As I walk my boots settle into a glide. The burger is warm in the bag that bumps against my thigh. It is a small thing that stretches to encompass all of me.
Lovely. Like scraps of paper, machete-ed.