The Arrivant

Yes, I am here. Sweet home Chicago. It’s a weird city. Most of it doesn’t even feel like a city, but that’s not what makes it weird. It’s the people that make it weird.

My second night living in North Center, I was standing outside the bar across from my place. I had to stand outside because I wanted to smoke a cigarette, which you can’t do in Chicago bars. This isn’t necessarily weird, since it’s like that most places these days, but it still seems pretty fucked up to me that legislators would want bar patrons – bars, these are the places that are designated for debauchery and sin – making regular trips out onto the sidewalk, thereby extending the bar culture to the public realm, i.e., drunks in the street.

But I digress.

Let me paint a picture: there I was, standing outside the bar smoking, in my jeans, a pair of black sneakers I’ve had since seventh grade, and my standard black tee shirt (I think it was the one with the print of Beaker and Bunsen dissecting Kermit the Frog), when these two middle-aged guys in a sensible sedan pulled up.

“Want to join us?” The passenger asked.

“Excuse me?” I did not say this with a snotty tone; I really thought I hadn’t heard him right.

He repeated his question, and after I responded that I was happy where I was (adding, for some reason, “thanks for asking”), he told me to have a good night, and they pulled away.

At this point I remind the reader that I don’t believe jeans and a tee shirt are the standard uniform of the street walker. It can’t possibly be that these two guys mistook me for a hooker, right? Is that what happened? Were they asking me to service them? This area doesn’t seem to be a hotbed of professional sex workers.

So I went back into the bar and told my new neighbors what had just happened, and one of them replied thusly: “Yeah, this is the Midwest. People do that.”

By this point, I’d had too much to drink to ask him what he meant, as I did not have the energy to listen to the explanation, so I just let it go. But it’s been rattling around in my brain ever since. People do what, exactly? Solicit sex from random people on the street? I don’t recall that ever happening in Iowa. Maybe we’re too square or too puritan or something. Maybe I’ve been wrong about us all along and the only reason we legalized gay marriage is because most of us don’t know what it is.

Perhaps I’m being too cynical. These older gentlemen could have been just nice guys who wanted to take me to get my nails done and show me the town. True, I never saw that happen in Iowa, either, but according to that chick who wrote “The Music Man,” Iowans are kind of the dicks of the Midwest. I can see that. Outsiders are annoying. They talk funny and they don’t know where anything is.

The whole point of me relating this story, though, is that is serves as a representation of the Chicago experience – at least, the experience I’ve had so far. It’s a weird city. It’s big, and it’s busy, but it’s still in the Midwest. Its full of crazy people, but they’re all very polite. This must be what Toronto’s like.

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