Thursday, December 27, 2007

Cognitive Dissonance In Chicago

Irony remains the underpinning idiom of the universe. Irony is not cute. Irony is very rarely nice - in fact, irony will fuck you up. It will do absolutely everything it can to fuck you up. But, irony at the end of the day is funny. One has to roll with it. Our saving virtue as a species is that we have a certain appreciation for it.

I'm on a bus tearing down the highway from Madison, Wisconsin to Chicago. I have to make it to the French consulate before four. They stay open well after four, but they won't start processing VISAs after that magical hour. I've called ahead. They'll do me the favor of staying open until 4:05. Bully. It's around 1:30 now and I'm wondering if there is any way I can make it. I hear French voices chattering behind me. I turn around, wondering if some bizarre irony is at work or if the whiskey and the coffee and the rest is finally starting to take their toll on my brain. But no, two Frenchmen, looking like something you would see in a Ralph Lauren catalogue. Such immaculate sweaters. They are nice enough, even going so far as to not tell me that my accent is terrible. They go back to talking about designer shoes while I turn back to the small forest of paperwork I have to fill out for the VISA office. "Am I a terrorist?" What a question. I think about checking 'yes', just for kicks, but then think better of it. That's probably how they weed people like me out. Too easy.

The bus finally pulls into Chicago, slowly grinding its way through the first dregs of rush hour traffic. Or maybe its just what's left of the morning rush. In Chicago one simply can't tell. With due respect to Martin Amis, Chicago is the most violent thing that men have ever done to a stretch of land. Ground zero at Hiroshima has nothing on it. Miles and miles of sprawl and buildings shoved into the ground. Towers erected everywhere. Shredding the earth. Gleaming spires of glass and concrete. Chicago is madness. The city has teeth. It rips into you. The Midwest as a whole is passive aggressive. Chicago is aggressive aggressive. In other words, its my kind of town.

I shove my way through Union Station and fight my way to a cab. I give the driver the address. He's an Ethiopian emigre. Part of wave that that have begun to fill the NE side of the city in the last couple of years. Without even an acknowledgment, he guns the engine and takes off. He drives at about 70, weaving in and out of traffic, slashing through red lights, the whole while having very involved cellular phone conversations in Berber. I'm sitting in the back, hanging on for dear life and wondering if France is really worth this. The car has a reassuring placard indicating that it has been approved by Mayor Daley. The Daley mark is one of security. It's supposed to be reassuring. The Daley cabal have run Chicago since as far back as anyone can remember. They do it with a ruthlessness and degree of corruption that would make the Assad's blush.

The car slams to a halt in front of skyscraper, that is; to prove the old adage about Chicago and its seasons; under construction. "Out," my driver says as I hand him a handful of bills. I charge into the building and lunge my way into the elevator, only find myself colling with 2 hours of red tape. The consulate staff aren't sure if we should be speaking in French or in English, so its a bizarre pidgin that does no one justice. They are all astoundingly good looking. I wonder if that is a requirement to work in the consulate. The red tape tightens its hold. This is going to be bumpy. One cannot fuck with the laws of the universe, or of foreign consulates. Those are the two constants by which everything runs. You have to play the game. No short cuts. The rest is just white noise and cognitive dissonance.

While they process my carefully considered stretch of the Brazilian rain-forest, I find myself sitting beside a Macedonian. He is demanding that the consulate give him a refund on an Air France ticket he's bought to Hamburg because he's apparently really going to Paris. They keep telling him to go to the German consulate instead, but like an Antebellum dualist, he demands satisfaction. His name is Christof, and he is crazy. He runs a trucking business out of Detroit. He offers me cocaine and tells me that he has to go to Portage the next morning, and, since that's near Madison, I should hang out with him. I think he's running a white slavery ring on the side. He keeps talking about Russia being the place to be because its 70 percent women. His last wife was 23. He looks a rough 50. He has sort of rat like features and what can be best described as a lecherous soul patch. He unravels the mysteries of the fairer sex in broken English with a harsh Eastern European accent. He figures out my name is Alexander and declares we are now brothers. He then adds that half of Macedonia is named Alexander or some variation thereof. I point out this may be because that may have been the last time that Macedonia really mattered to anyone. He offers me cocaine again. Finally my papers are done. My VISA photo looks like a mug-shot. I decide on the spot to see if I can get the lines around my eyes copy-protected.

I lunge out of embassy with Christof in hot pursuit, re-iterating his generous offer. Christ, the mad fucker wants me for his slavery ring I think. Or maybe for my organs. Hold on to your kidneys old boy, although the liver isn't probably worth a damn thing. I hop into another cab, waving good bye to to the promises of the East and tear off towards Union Station. This time my cab driver is chatty and he drives even more crazily than the last one. As we squeeze between a truck and a fire hydrant (a little too close as I hear the metallic rattle and watch a spray of yellow paint chips lift from the car) he tells me about how he just got out of prison in Guatemala. Apparently he stabbed somebody in the neck. But no worry, he had it coming. I am in no position to tell him otherwise as I clutch my bag to my chest thinking that maybe, just maybe, if the car bursts into a fireball, this will somehow help - maybe I'm thinking I can just impale myself on the bad and spare myself the flames.

We careen across the way, pull a sharp hairpin turn and suddenly, I'm looking at Union Station again. I lunge for the bar, down a martini and hop onto the next bus back to Madison. It spends the next 3 hours limping its way through Chicago traffic. I look at the night sky. No stars. Cities hate stars, especially cities the size of Chicago. They don't want to be reminded of their cosmic insignificance. Certain cities, once they hit a certain size develop a character of their own. They stop being just "large American Midwestern city" and become Chicago. Its ruddy, and its crazy and its sagging bits are held up, like an aging movie actress, by constant jutting construction. Madison and Portland can't compare. They are adolescents. This is the finished product. Hard. Mean. Efficient. Angry. Chicago has re-invented itself, from slaughterhouses, to factories to banking. Wave after wave of immigrant have muddied its streets. Cutting into the heart of the Midwest, displacing all the Germans. Unlike New York, with its rotating immigrant hierarchy, immigration in Chicago just makes everyone a little crazier.

I fall in and out of consciousness as the flat of the Midwest rolls by. And then, like that we're in Madison again. From here its to be a final, a migraine, settling up with my landlady, a mad dash to Milwaukee, overnight in the Milwaukee Airport, an entirely superfluous 11 minute flight back to Chicago and then onwards to Portland: to the perennial adolescence of the West.


AlexisP said...

rad I'm stoked you're doing this.

Arkan said...

Awesome Alex. I'm looking forward to your future posts.


bluesbuddha said...

Shouldn't you be writing your blog and not Phillip Roth? Also I thought you were French Canadian, and not Jewish!

Good luck bro!