"Own Where You're From" by Lisa Mrock

Own Where You're From

by Lisa Mrock

     Imagine this:

You’ve just met a person. Can be a potential new friend, boyfriend, girlfriend, sex slave, whatever (though for the purposes of making this easier on us, let’s say it’s an attractive male in his mid-twenties). The point is you are getting along with him, a huge accomplishment considering you think most of humanity is one genetic fuck-up away from regressing back to carving eating utensils from animal bone. You’re also normally inept at human interaction, so the fact that you’re acting like a normal person makes you feel all the more successful.

This future victim of your association is passing all of your quizzes with flying colors - he watches “Community,” he never had a Limp Bizkit phase, and he reads. Like, books. You ask him for his name (if you haven’t already) and then ask where he’s from. With complete innocence, he answers, “I grew up here. Chicago.”

Holy shit, guys. This person is from Chicago. You’re from Chicago. Doesn’t matter what part of the city he’s from. He’s grown up with the same city you have grown up with. He grew up going to the Marshall Field’s Christmas window display, not the “Macy’s” window display. He probably still says “Sears Tower” instead of “Willis,” and is painfully reminded of the name-change every time a group of tourists asks him to take a picture of them in front of the “Willis Tower,” except they’re actually standing in front of the John Hancock Building, but he’s too nice to break it to them.

Your mouth is salivating at the thought of having more things in common with him. Without any fear, you ask, “So what neighborhood are you from?”

With the same innocence, he says, “Born and raised in Wilmette!”

Stop right there, motherfucker. Wilmette? Wilmette? As in, the suburb? As in, the fancy-ass North Shore suburb known for its high income and big houses and high schoolers who pretend to be “street” while wearing Hollister and North Face?

Your heart is shattered, but you are also raging. This person had to audacity to say to you, a Chicagoan, that they are also a Chicagoan, then say with the same audacity the name of a suburb barely reached by last stop on the Purple Line, and that train goes far fucking north of the city.

These thoughts are a burdening you as you say, “Psh. Sorry, but Wilmette is a ‘burb. It’s not Chicago.” You don’t care if you sound like an elitist dick. He lied to you.

He goes, “It’s close enough.”

The anger foaming inside you could fill the rotting dive bar you are drinking in at the moment. To make things worse, he continues his faltering defense.

“No one knows Wilmette, so I say Chicago because everyone knows Chicago.”

You think, “First of all, motherfucker, you’re in Chicago right now, so the chances of people in Chicago knowing about a suburb that’s twenty minutes away by car isn’t that far-fetched. Second, don’t even try that ‘no one knows where I’m from’ story.”

You think these things because in all actuality, you know where he’s coming from. See, you’re from Chicago, the North Side, sure. But you’re from that forgotten bit of the North Side. The middle class, working class sprawl serviced by only about one and a half train lines and bus routes that don’t run as frequently as they should - the “Northwest Side.”

Everyone’s heard of neighborhoods like Rogers Park, Uptown, Lakeview, and *insert gentrifying North Side neighborhood here*. But Dunning? Nope. Cragin? No. Montclare? Nah. Old Irving Park? Like, the street?

Thinking of your own neighborhood, you think of growing up there, of going around the corner for a candy bar or that extra loaf of bread at the corner store, of riding borrowed bikes and scooters because your family couldn’t afford their own, of being told to stay away from the teenagers in baggy clothes, the ones who drank Coronas on the corner across the street and tagged your neighbors’ garages because they “weren’t good.”

The neighborhood is changing though. From the new hot dog joint came the new burger joint, and from there, the poor artists and hipsters moved up from Logan Square. Then, the yuppies crept in from Roscoe Village, cops actually began patrolling the area, your old neighbors were priced out of their homes, the Red Eye labeled your neighborhood as the “new Wicker Park,” and once the abandoned supermarket by the expressway was turned into a 24-hour gym you thought, “There goes the neighborhood.”

Except no one’s still heard of your neighborhood. Say the names of the places in your neighborhood, and everyone knows what you’re talking about, but the name of the neighborhood itself has them scratching their heads.

The more you think about it, the more you understand him. So he didn’t grow up in the city, but he, like you, probably still says “Sears Tower,” used to go to the Marshall Field’s window display, etc.

Right when you’re about to apologize to him, you stop yourself. He may have been to the Sears Tower and Marshall Field’s, but he didn’t grow up learning to duck in his own home when a gunshot sounded from the street outside. He didn’t grow up hoping to make the #77 bus or Red Line or Blue Line on time for school. He didn’t grow up with the city as his own personal playground available 24/7 - making games out of cracks in the sidewalks, learning how to take the trains and buses by the age of ten, or learning his way around the methods of the Chicago Public Schools system, or any school here for that matter. He didn’t grow up with any of that.

Besides, you never lie about what neighborhood you’re from, no matter how many people haven’t heard of it.

You forgive the guy though. You still get along with him great, no matter where he’s from. He’s also fucking gorgeous. That helps a lot.

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