On my recent hegira to the geography of my youth, Chicago Illinois (fly over zone or Heartland, depending on whether you hail from the Golden Corridor USA ), I chanced to discover the reason for the ( four six-pointed red stars [the six points symbolize transportation, labor, commerce, finance, populousness, and salubrity] on the official City of Chicago flag which was adopted in 1917. They represent major historical events: the advent of Fort Dearborn in 1831, the Great Chicago Fire of 1871, the World’s Columbian Exposition of 1893, and the Century of Progress Exposition of 1933–34.
A reasonable assumption (for those of us aware of the passage of time since the mid 20th century) would be that a number of events should be candidates for additional stars. And in fact there have been regular proposals to do so. Of those making it into urban folklore purportedly a letter to the Chicago Tribune opined that the city flag honor “Chicago’ s place in the history of the nuclear age.” A star was also proposed to honor Harold Washington, the first African-American mayor of Chicago. And following the so-called Chicago Flood of 1992.
Chicago being Chicago and Cubs fans being long suffering the notion has previously been floated to honor the eventuality of a Cubs’s World Series (which of course after 108 years would more accurately called a long shot. Enter whiz kid Theo Epstein and field mentor Joe Madden and. well, let’s just say that the odds have changed
“Once you’ve come to be a part of this particular patch, you’ll never love another. Like loving a woman with a broken nose, you may well find lovelier lovelies. But never a lovely so real.” — Nelson Algren
Coincident with my recent visit and refreshment of my warm feelings for Chi town I came across Brian Doyle’s new opus Chicago. As is the case with much of what makes up my reading diet a few years ago I chanced to pick up Brian Doyle’s novel, Mink River and have stayed on the lookout for his writings ever since—which include short stories, memoirs essays and novels , Doyle who edits Portland magazine at the University of Oregon is a card carrying Catholic but clearly not an apologist for the Church as the opening of his story “Pinching Bernie” (from his collection Bin Laden’s Bald Spot)
Bernard Francis Cardinal Law , archbishop of Boston for almost 20 years during which probably a thousand kids were raped by priests and Law knew about it but kept shuffling the rapists around from job to job and denying everything and writing letters that were total bullshit about how he knew these guys real well and saw into their hearts and their hearts were pure as driven snow, this was while they were raping kids in sacristies and chapels and hospital rooms and classrooms and basements and cellars and billiard rooms and rectories and cabin son lakes and cars and the house of prominent donors and beach cottages and the backs of school busses and once even in a convent, well, finally Bernie gets ridden out of town. on a rail you know, the people of the archdiocese weren’t going to take this evil crap anymore, and Bernie has to vamoose from his palatial residence so fast that the coffee was still warm when the cops got there…
So, it was with gleeful anticipation that I dove into Chicago. Being a expatriated Chicagoan this tome contains a double dose of joy as the city of big shoulders, home of Studs Terkel and Nelson Algren, fabulous small Jews like Joe Epstein and Karl Shapiro, Dick Gregory, Mike Royko and Slats Grobnik, Ernie Banks and Walter Payton, Minnie Minoso and Mike Ditka and Muddy Waters and Curtis Mayfield, Oscar Brown Jr. and on and on, remains my sweet spiritual home.. As befits the
Doyle wastes no time indulging his playfulness citing three epigrams by Mark Twain ,Sun Ra and this by Rudyard Kipling
I have struck a city—a real city—and they call it Chicago… Having seen it, I urgently desire never to see it again. It is inhabited by savages.*
As has become something of a Doyle trademark conceit (see Mink River ‘s philosophizing crow and Martin Marten’s pine marten), one of the main characters in Chicago is Edward “a wise and personable dog of indeterminate breed.” While an engaging ensemble of characters,the residents of the Northside building in which the unnamed narrator resides, join Edward,
Doyle’s Chicago is a determinedly quiet book about a noisy city that sketches a vast cityscape but deals narratively in miniatures… One gets the impression that Doyle, an award-winning journalist, editor and author of multiple novels, has wanted to write this book for a long time. It’s to his credit that he didn’t let his immense feeling for Chicago and the brief time he lived there induce him to make this modest and winsome story bigger than it is.
* Some additional epigrams on Chicago
“Here is the difference between Dante, Milton, and me. They wrote about hell and never saw the place. I wrote about Chicago after looking the town over for years and years”— Carl Sandburg
“Chicago is an October sort of city even in spring”—Nelson Algren
“Chicago was a town where nobody could forget how the money was made. It was picked up from floors still slippery with blood.” — Norman Mailer
“It is hopeless for the occasional visitor to try to keep up with Chicago-she outgrows his prophecies faster than he can make them. She is always a novelty; for she is never the Chicago you saw when you passed through the last time.” — Mark Twain