Notes On Chicago

By Spencer Kellogg | @TheNewTreasury

This city is massive. It sticks out in places you wouldn’t expect and has the jutting curves of a worn out novel. The towers stretch like long arms in the morning sun and the streets go on forever. Each thoroughfare is littered with the romance and pitfalls of a million different faces. My first instinct is to look for Michael Jordan but that was a long time ago now.

It’s freezing cold. In June. They say it will get warmer tomorrow but as I spot a couple wearing faux gold puff jackets with painted on smiles I sense the prospect of warmth is eerily doubtful. My New Mexican tan is already turning pale. The woman on the morning TV practically jumps through the screen as she glistens through her routine: “another beautiful day in Chicago!” There is no sun. There are no clouds. Just open blue sky from one avenue to the next. What looks like seagulls straddle aimlessly between skyscrapers. Do seagulls ever commit suicide?

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I see the first 711 in months and ironically enough my hotel room in the Loop is the same number. I regret staying in the Loop. I feel like I’ve bought one of those cheap tickets at the animal house and I the lowly pig. I see black men and women for the first time in over a year. As they stride past me down S. Michigan I am made acutely aware of my presence in that general conversation that is as old as the country itself. Homeless men occupy the street. After two days of passing each one under the guise that my headphones could help me somehow unsee the horror, I stop and hand an old man half a pizza. What’s the use?

A group of Chinese tourists are checking in ahead of me. They speak in short, broken English but one woman turns to me and apologizes for the wait. “I’ve got nowhere to be,” I think before wondering if she can understand me. So far away. The other side of the world. Forever and ever from the place we each call home. She smiles and turns back around. The men in her group have leather wallets that bulge from credit credits smushed into careless existence by round bottoms stuffed with another night’s delicacies. Standing in the lobby trying to make sense of it all.

My Uber driver is a middle eastern man and I try to make small talk. He’s been here for a decade and he drives like a native. Zipping in and out, honking and being honked at. A natural. I ask him what else he does for a living. Just this. A slave to the traffic light. A fly in the freeway dust. We sit in silence for a while. I wonder if he can see right through me.

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My hotel room is too high up. I worry about fire. I worry about vertigo. I worry about sleepwalking to the window and jumping in a fit of nightmarish ballet. I worry. Is this what it’s like to be Woody Allen? Perpetually in a state of anxiety over the things we cannot and will not change about our particular situation? I turn up the shower so hot that it burns my skin and then lean I against the wall until it doesn’t hurt.

I ask around for the best deep dish pizza in town and find the comforting sound of Dean Martin bursting through the speakers as I enter through the revolving doors. That music. It is taking me back now to another time in that long list of events we speckle together as our own. Richmond three years ago, with Hillary. We used to go to a dive bar and drink all night while singing stupid rat pack love songs to each other. Love is an endless search. Even when you find the right one. That’s where it lays in agony to bleed you dry. I still miss Hillary. I have had so many kisses that meant nothing. We kissed like it meant something.

I rustle in bed. It’s not the booze or marijuana or late night wandering but her voice that has haunted my sleepless night. The last time I slept past 10 AM was so long ago that my life seems split between two distinct men who were and still are both boys. Waking up to the train is surprisingly comforting. Someone is going somewhere. I flick on the news. More of the same. Trump this, Trump that. They all hate him and each one is applauded for their courage in toeing the company narrative. What would their closets look like without him? How could they afford the housekeeping to the apartments at the top of skyscrapers that 99% of Americans will never spend one night inside?

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I’m walking down central when I spot two men dangling a hundred feet in the air cleaning a tower. They look to be about my age and I wonder how they ended all the way up there and me down here. I have a great respect for anyone that puts their life on the line like that in 2018. Maybe life has more worth up there where the clean glass whistles in the aurora of wind. Haven’t they heard of shitcoin trading?

It’s raining. Of course, it’s raining. I walk back from Trump Tower in the sleet and cold. This is Chicago in June? I meet up with a woman on Tinder at Pizano’s. She’s beautiful but the conversation goes nowhere. I don’t like the way she holds herself. I don’t like the way she talks. I don’t like the scent of her perfume. I’m sure she feels the same about me. What’s so great about me anyways? After 31 years living on this planet, I have some ideas but none of them stand up underneath the microscope of life. I pay the tab and we split. It’s still raining.

Amtrak calls. My train down to Richmond has been canceled. They’re going to reroute me to DC where I’ll meet my father who I haven’t seen in a year. I’m looking forward to seeing him. He smokes too much and he drinks too much but he’s a great man. He is kind and smart and a fierce defender of his children. When I was a boy I never understood why he loved Reagen. Now I think he doesn’t like Reagen enough.

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It’s my last night. I think of going on another date in the suburbs but talk myself out of it over a dry martini at the hotel bar. Who wants to take the train anyways? I hail a cab across town for some more pizza. There is a gorgeous woman at the bar. She’s looking at me but I feel like she’s actually looking through me. She sips wine and fishes through her Fannie May bag. Never have I felt so transparent and old. I should go talk to her but for the first time in my life, I wonder what the point is. What would I say? “I am the worst version of myself right now?” I go back to drinking. Soon the bar will close, the music will stop and I’ll walk the long walk back to Harrison street where the hotel sits on broken gravel. I’ll crawl up the stairs and slink into bed like every night. Thousands and thousands of days, each one a new mundane exposé of the living and dying.

I board the train. Something is stirring me now from over the hills where creeks and heaven and mosquitos in the millions call home. CNN is playing in the background of my brain and I hear somewhere that Anthony Bourdain has hung himself. I crane my neck to watch the anchor’s force tears with the ink of a new dotted contract and the demand for everyone who feels unhappy to call the number flashing below is at an all-time high. At the end of the day, this will only make it all the easier for networks to sell their gutter ad spaces to pharmaceutical companies that will help clean the edge of your window paint a bit. I wonder what Hitchens would think of all of this. Up there, or down below, or over there, or nowhere.

He’d probably get the hell out of Chicago and that’s exactly what I do.


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