On the Rocks

After The Chicago East India Company was published in July I wasn’t able to write a word. I shied away from it, and only recently started knocking the rust off the brakes. In doing so I realized what I learned writing the book. Mostly, it’s that I am afraid I have nothing else to say. I no longer have mountains, or patrols, or excitement to frame a story. I have, however, counted the number of beeps my car makes when I don’t put on my seatbelt. It’s 50 by the way, then a pause, and then 50 more. Every now and then I’ll go shooting with my son, but it’s controlled and safe, and while that is a good thing, it only leaves a thousand loads of laundry to write about. So, I’ve decided to lean into what helped me write the book in the first place. To lean into the inspiration to start again. For lack of a more sophisticated word, it’s “place.” 

I live a couple blocks from where Nelson Algren lived in Wicker Park. His place near Damen and Evergreen has a placard on a pole out front in the tree lawn. It talks about Nelson and Simone and their affair, and the Man with the Golden Arm, amongst other things. In my twenties, when I was a musician, we used to frequent the Rainbo a block or two south of Algren’s place. It was the hippest bar in the city for a while and we used to chat up girls there and talk about guitars and music production and how the hell so and so got those drum sounds. We were young and thrashing around from one of the round, padded booths across from the bar. But we were living and consuming and breathing in Chicago. Its roots dug into us, through the ribs, around the liver and the lungs. It’s home, this place, and it’s been the north star, even when I was overseas.

Place is the bannister we run our hand along heading up and down the stairs. It’s the touchstone I return to if I can’t write. If one falls in love with a place it becomes the lens through which he sees the world. It’s who he holds hands with on a walk and burns for as the trees leaf and grow together over the sidestreets creating beautiful tunnels from The Charleston to the Map Room. There are, of course, some places that don’t jive with a person and they remain cold like bad first dates. Knowing what you don’t like can direct a person too, maybe it’s even more valuable. It’s how I feel about St. Louis. Never need to go back. But other places, like Utah in the summer, or April in New Orleans, are ripe to become lovers. These places inform everything one does as you fall deeper and more madly in love. It’s what informed my book. That whole thing is about place, and the history of a place, its ghosts, the ones that guided my choices over the last twenty-five years. It’s carried my kids to near adulthood with toughness and a healthy fuck you for New York and L.A. “Make no small plans” right?

I have an acquaintance who recently moved to Chicago. She’s a writer, and talented, and an interesting person. And she’s madly in love with the city. I enjoy seeing her love this place in real time on Instagram. I enjoy remembering that dizzy feeling. But the problem is, I don’t have that feeling any more. I think I may be done with it. The affair may finally be over. Let someone else love this place. I milked it dry for the book, raised my kids here, endured the weather and the double-digit weekend death tolls. Summer in Chicago is wonderful with festivals and neighborhood parties every weekend. The museums and the lake and biking from Soldier Field to Evanston and back. And I’ll wrestle anyone who says Small Cheval doesn’t have the best burger in the midwest. Same goes for Billy Sunday’s Old Fashioneds. But I no longer sing at the same frequency as Chicago. We aren’t clicking any more. This city’s a truck, and it careens down Milwaukee Ave. past the broken storefront glass and puke-and-blood stained sidewalks. Hurtling into parked cars and then driving off. Slamming into an asshole biker who doesn’t obey the lights. I’m no longer charmed by the bruising, dim-witted cops and firemen and teachers or the people they chase, or protect, or babysit. Nor am I charmed by my wealthy neighbors in their million dollar mansions taking pictures of black people who are walking through the alley and posting them as alerts on facebook. For that matter, I won’t miss my not-so-wealthy neighbors either, padlocking their garbage cans and pulling guns on their neighbors, shooting at each other in the middle of a blizzard. Nuts to all of them. This is maybe what I’ve really learned from the book. I’m done with this ghoul of a city. It’ll be great to visit though when summers get too hot in New Orleans. 

Author’s Note: It’s been unseasonably warm this winter. The south will have to wait another year. 

This article was contributed by Double Dagger author Chris Lyke.

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