Jardine’s Restaurant sat on a hill in Oak Forest, a southern suburb. On a clear night you could see Chicago. Part of our Jardine’s dining ritual was to pause at the door, have a look at the skyline.
There it was: small but bright, like a white fire in the Forest Preserve.
Comiskey Park was in there somewhere. Wrigley Field was there. Blackhawks jerseys, the most beautiful in sports, hung dignified in Chicago Stadium lockers. The major heroes of Chicago sport were there: Luis Aparicio, Bobby Hull, Dick Butkus. Also the minor: the Maki Brothers (Chico and Wayne), Jerry Sloan, Wilbur Wood, chubbiest pitcher in all of baseball, his knuckleball having rendered his physique irrelevant.
Mayor Daley was there, jowly, in his pyjamas, nicer at home than at work.
My intellectual heroes were there: Studs Terkel; the columnist Mike Royko; his creation, Slats Grobnik, who I assumed was a real guy. My uncle John and his brothers were there, arguing politics like radicals out of Dostoyevsky, only eating White Castles. The Old Town folk music scene was there: Steve Goodman, John Prine. Someday, when I could drive, I’d head downtown. Prine and Goodman would approach, go: You play guitar?
A little, I’d say.
Come with us, they’d say. We need some fresh ideas. And you seem pretty cool.
The Museum of Science and Industry was there: the Pickled Babies swam in their jars of green formaldehyde, even Full-Term, his head mushed down by the lid of his jar for all eternity; the talking mannequins of the Bell Telephone Exhibit waited creepily and silently for morning, when they could once again begin mechanically extolling the Virtues of Telephonic Communication.
Marquette Park was there, where crazy protesting Lithuanians had climbed into trees with flares the night Dr King came to town. As Dad drove us through, I’d seen a guy reeling in a tree, face red-lit by his flare, fat branch between his legs, like an animatron in a ride called Race-Hatred Forest.
Grant Park was there, sanctified by the recent Convention protests. The lilac-covered wire fence in Gram’s backyard was there. Fifty-fifth Street was there, the ghost of General MacArthur driving along it in his ghost-car, on the way in from Midway. The Greek grocery was there, its gumball machine laced with plastic balls redeemable for candy bars. Uncle Bill and Aunt Anna’s pipe-ceilinged basement apartment was there, on Mozart Street, where he’d studied the teachings of the Rosicrucians so devotedly that one night he accidentally astral-projected himself to the Palmer House, where he worked as a janitor. (Next day some of his co-workers swore they’d seen him, though in fact he’d never left his bed.)