This post is part of The Heart of Chicago Series that will be running on South of I-80 for the month of March. This post is brought to you by one of my siblings, the comedian of the family and the one who has instilled a love of storytelling in me. Let me introduce, my older brother, Kevin DeBruin.
By Kevin DeBruin
President Josiah Bartlett: “What is it with people from Chicago that they’re so happy to have been born there? I meet so many people who can’t wait to tell me they’re from Chicago and when I meet them, they’re living anywhere but Chicago."
Chief of Staff Leo McGarry: “You wouldn’t understand.”
- "The West Wing" by Aaron Sorkin
I am a miserable expatriate. At least once a week, I complain to my wife about some new aspect of civilized life that Southern California lacks but that Chicago possesses in abundance. Yes, that’s right, I live in Southern California. I have lived in in SoCal for seven years, and I can hear the thousands of violins being tuned for my misfortune.
Yes, I’m aware this winter has been brutal, and I know all of you are longing for the warmth of the summer sun, but Southern California is not as hospitable a locale as you imagine. Especially not for a skinny, sickly, balding, asthmatic man whose skin tone can best be described one shade more pale than ghastly.
The hordes of tall, blonde, perfectly tanned people tolerate my existence as one would endure a carnival freak on lunch break from the sideshow. They look at me with bemused grins as I dart from shadow to shadow, wheeze in the fresh sea air, and speak in an incomprehensible accent.
When kind-hearted strangers do engage me in conversation, I almost always immediately tell them I’m from Chicago. The interlocution will begin as follows:
(1) They will present themselves, and I will introduce myself.
(2) I will ask them where they were born and raised, and then tell them I’m from Chicago.
(3) I will try to surmise which Major League Baseball team they root for based on what city they’re from, and they will ask me if I’m a Cubs or Sox fan.
(4) a pleasant/heated dialogue about baseball ensues for the next several minutes/hours.
(Note: If at point #3 the person says that he or she does not follow baseball, I concoct some fable to excuse myself and never talk to that person again.) I’m not sure why I make it known that I hail from Chicago right away. True it provides an excellent segue to discuss the greatest sport ever invented, but I think it’s much more than that. Here are some of my guesses why:
Political Machines and Gangland Violence: While most millennials associate Chicago with the Blackhawks and Barack Obama, many Gen Xers and Baby Boomers equate Chicago with the Daley administrations. Notions of the spurious 1960 presidential election returns in Cook County, the 1968 Democratic National Convention, and political patronage inform any non-native’s conception of a Chicagoan.
People even older summon thoughts of Al Capone and the St. Valentine’s Day Massacre. Now, I’m the softest of pushovers who actively avoids confrontation, but the longer I can keep people from figuring this out helps me avoid work, volunteering “opportunities”, and inexorable dinner parties.
So when I tell people I’m from Chicago, I’m 1% suggesting this: “Don’t fool with me, pal. I’ve been around the block, and I know people that can make life hard for you. Real hard, like a nightstick or cement shoes. Get it?” (Note: The toughest people I actually know are nuns.)
Pragmatism: Sure, some people may correlate Chicago with graft and corruption, but that in no way detracts from the fact that it is one of the most beautiful and cooperative cities on God’s green earth. Chicago embraces Capitalism like no other city.
When Adam Smith said, “Give me that which I want, and you shall have this which you want,” Chicagoans translated it into the civic manifesto “the City That Works.” From private enterprise to City Hall, it never hurts to grease the wheels a little, right?
Anyway, telling folks I’m from the City of Big Shoulders apprises them that I’m conscious of how most practical businesses succeed. And I’m willing to help them even if it’s not strictly above board. As long as I get a piece of the action.
Celery Salt: The most wonderful part of encountering a stranger is that occasionally he or she is from Chicago too. Then, instead of talking about baseball, at least instantly, my new best friend and I will review our favorite hot dog stands and pizza places in the land of our birth. Chicago has the best restaurants in the world, and you can dine on any cuisine imaginable
(Although, why would you want anything but a Chicago-style hot dog with everything on it.) An announcement of my origination is always in the hopes that I will find a poor soul to commiserate with about the sorry state of food wherever we are, and our sincere wish to be teleported to Gene & Georgetti’s or Francesca’s for dinner. Now I’m hungry.
“Meet me at old home plate” Chicago exudes history. Sure, other American cities have great histories, but Chicago tries to hold on to the relics and stories of its past better than others. Walk by the old gate at the Union Stockyards, or take a tour through the Pullman District. Look for Clarence Darrow’s ghost on the bridge near the Jackson Park Lagoon, or step on the concrete memorial to Old Comiskey Park’s home plate.
All of these are indelible reminders of the people and events that came before, and most Chicagoans I know love expounding their knowledge of the city’s history because they cherish their city. And I love them because of it. Anyway, if you go by old home plate, squat behind it and pretend you’re Carlton Fisk – it’s awesome!
Sweet Home Chicago: I guess the true reason why I declare my origin as soon as I am able is because I miss the land of my birth and upbringing more and more each day. If you are reading this in Chicagoland, consider yourself lucky because you are.
You live in one of the finest cities to ever arise, and everybody else is jealous. I outright hate you, but you can mollify me if you ship me some Superdawgs post haste!
When Kevin DeBruin is not watching baseball or trying to find cheap airfare to Chicago he is an aspiring attorney currently studying at San Diego State University. He resides in San Diego with his wife Kate.
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