Friday, January 30, 2009

Unemployment and the Joy of Chicago

Chicago can be a bleak place. It is also a city of unimaginable beauty and roughed up charm. It is, if you look hard enough, a city of secrets, lies, and triumph. Chicago, in its rusty, dusty guts is a city with a perpetual hangover. Never is this more apparent then in the dirty, snow crushed January winters. January in Chicago is filled with the perfume of car exhaust and chimney smoke. The city is never silent in the winter. Boots or shoes pulverize the crystalline snow underneath even the most fleet foot. The wind whirls around alleys, between bare branches and through pant legs. The daylight in winter is brief and flirtatious.

Being unemployed in the winter is epic in its classic bit of tragedy. The salt stained pants, damaged leather shoes and lint covered coat bolster the already dire mindset of the job seeker. I have been unemployed now for almost a week. I have been putting off going to the unemployment office, mainly because the psychology of the place has the power to soak all round your being. On Monday I decided to brave the elements and head over to the office and fill out the required forms. I stood in line behind a man in his 40's and his elderly mother. They were Italian, or Polish, or Romanian. In Chicago, ethnicities weave together like Persian tapestry. The man in the faded, over-sized, dim yellow coat, and his tiny thimble of a mother stood in front of me in line. I tried not to pay attention to every second of their uniquely Chicago conversation. I read an article about George W. Bush in Newsweek. The man kept talking to his mother like she was his only friend in the world. He spoke to her like she was his wife, pool hall acquaintance, girlfriend, and work buddy. I could tell his mother was his main point of contact with the world. He talked jive to her in a very Chicago way and discussed conspiracy theories, porno, the economy, politics, and the ins and outs of unemployment. I instantly pictured this man living with his mom, eating her stuffed pork chops every night and dipping out of the house,after she goes to bed, to get erotic massages and play pool at the dank neighborhood bar. He was the kind of guy who never left the neighborhood and purchased grocery store socks.

As I stood there, I felt as if I were watching a play on reality. A curtain free one act featuring this Chicago man and his mom. A character study, or a warning shot, I wasn't sure. Was he the ghost of Christmas future? I felt as if I could relate to the guy's situation, but not his relationship to his mom. She was everything to him and it showed. He had not developed the kind of relationships adults use to move forward in life. His whole world started and stopped with what his mom was having for lunch. He was wearing a headset. I wondered what AM news station he was listening to.

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