Thursday, October 09, 2014


It is October of 2014 and I have been living (more or less) in the northside of Chicago for 21 years.  I made this move (cue Sinatra) when I was 22.  Considering I lived briefly in Columbus, Ohio—though I barely remember much about that being below school age at the time—I can safely say that I have now lived longer as a northsider than a southsider.  If you are at all familiar with Chicago and the suburban area to the south and west (whose denizens like to call themselves Chicagoans), you’ll understand that my achievement is grand.  It is no small feat to defect and doing so can create an odd inner conflict.  Those southside suburbanites—all beautiful people, god bless them—don’t much care for us up north.  And, of course, the feeling is very much reciprocal.  Evidence of this was apparent within weeks of my transition in that magic year 1993 when I heard some born-and-bred northsiders dismiss the entire southside, a considerably larger chunk of town.  This after years of being warned not to bend over when up north. 

I’ve written about the north v south mentality that, sadly, informs much of my Chicago existence, so I won’t get into that.  But last week this schism caused me to feel a familiar feeling, one that I am at a loss to fully understand: defensive pride. 

The defensive pride I felt was over the southside, specifically the southwest side where I grew up.  I moved a lot as a kid (and as an adult, much to my family’s chagrin), so the area I think of when I think of home is vast and encompasses a good chuck of the Burbank/Bridgeview/Oak Lawn area.  The area in question is one that I was in a hurry to leave.  Nevertheless, when I overheard this prick running down the area to whomever the fuck was on the other end of his cellphone, I got a little pissed.  I can bash the southwest side.  I’m from there.  Fuck the rest of you haters.

This is nothing new.  I have a tendency to defend things I would otherwise trash.  I am not a patriot in the least, but I recall suffering through some barely literate critiques of the U.S. from a friend of former friend.  How fucking dull, I thought.  Pretentious, smug little shit.  When he went from trashing the whole country to my city, I threw aplomb to the wind and shared the contents of my mind.

Last week, while in a bookstore near Northwestern University, I had occasion to eavesdrop on a few graduate students, one of which went to great lengths to find a copy of Junot Diaz’s The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao so that he could ask his companion if she’d read it, to which she answered: no, to which he responded with a joyous rant along the lines of: “I HATED this book.  I had to read it for a class on American lit just because the teacher is Hispanic.  It’s about this fat kid who loves sci-fi and wants to get laid.  Such bullshit!”

If you’ve read the book in question, you’ll recognize the failure of this summary.  My instinct was to engage the grad student in a literary discussion (we were in a used bookshop in Evanston—a conversation about books was more than possible) but I kept quiet.  I wanted to defend the book, which I remember liking even though I have recently dismissed Diaz’s work. 

All of these things I am quick to defend (Chicago, the southwest side, the United States, the repetitive work of a Dominican-American writer who lately seems short of ideas) are things I have had no problem trashing.  Were someone to ask me about Junot Diaz’s works I would likely reply that there are better books out there.  I have been openly critical of my country and my city.  But again, I can say these things.  Not you, pal.

Why?  I don’t know, but there it is.

It is exhausting living this way.  I am forever disagreeing, playing contrarian.  There’s nothing that will escape my scorn including that which I love.  I am unwell.