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[posted 01.07.2001]


[Ed. note: The following is excerpted from real, live email between one Andre Vospette, a Chicago photographer, and one Michael Solita, a July 2000 transplant to Brooklyn, New York.]

From: “andrevospette”
To: “mike solita”
Subject: My dad can kick your dad’s ass.
Date: Wed, 30 Aug 2000 19:43:12 -0500

What are you doing working at 9:38 Eastern Daylight Time? Did this job come with an ankle bracelet and ten-pound weight? Is your boss named “Massah?”

I guess that’s New York for you. You’re lucky to have a job there, Mr. Peotone .

I’m still curious about this New York thing. Of course, it’s probably like any other enlarged city, just more of the same. Then again, New York is the apex of many things. Every graduate of every private college gravitates there to split the rent on a one-bedroom eight ways, paid for with trust funds, except for the ones who move to some small town in Wyoming and tell everybody, “You know, I could have lived in New York and made six figures doing this, but…”

Some of the graduate students at my school did that. “I’m from New York,” they’d say. Of course, they were really from sub-ivy liberal art schools in Massachusetts, and before that, suburbs of suburbs.

“How long were you from New York?” I asked, because even though I was five or ten years their junior I knew when I was being bullshitted. “And how long were you in New York before you started telling people you were from New York?”

But at least I give the city credit for claiming their RUDEness up front. People used to tell me all the time how Chicagoans were friendly. It’s a bunch of bullshit. The last friendly thing I heard was “I’m not going to hurt you” from a homeless guy seeking spare change. “I’m not going to hurt you”: It’s the new panhandler preamble.

And all this nostalgic “neighborhood” identification — I’m from Wicker Park, Albany Park, Buena Park, Rogers Park, Bucktown, Lakeview…that’s bullshit, too, made up by Realtors. In the old days, people would identify themselves by what Catholic Parish they worshipped at. That was their neighborhood. They didn’t tell people where they lived by the name of the goddamned softball field two blocks over.

There are no neighborhoods left in Chicago — not in the sense that this is my “neighborhood,” where I was born, where my parents still live, where I bought a house, where my kids will go to school. Nobody does that anymore.

Of course, there are still slums, where people can be born, live and die within the same eight blocks. But that hardly counts. It’s not what we call “neighborhood building.” It’s called a cage without bars.

Yeah, sure, there’s the Chicago-Police-Department and Chicago-Fire-Department enclave on the far northwest and south sides, where houses are handed down from father to son or sold only to other white people, but those are exceptional and, again, hardly what old time wags like Nelson Algren meant when they called Chicago a patchwork quilt of culture.

Then again, I’m showing my ethnocentrism. Sure, there’s people raising their kids here — people from India, from Mexico, from Poland; but there’s nobody here like me doing what I’m doing.

This is a town of abandonment and salvage. Its glory days are far in the past. I give the Daleys credit for keeping it afloat amid wave after wave of white flight, but really, it’s a place where nobody raises their kids by choice. It’s overrated by its kitschy newspaper, the Chicago Tribune, which tries so hard to both celebrate and overcome the second city label (Ira Glass said the Tribune treated everything with a gee-whiz kind of dunderheaded, over-inflated glee; I can’t do any better than that) that it continually slams us in the face with “This is Chicago,” and “This is How We Do Things, Here in Chicago” (written probably by private school grads well-rehearsed in condescension). Reading the Tribune is like having an unwanted conversation in a “quaint” diner with a goddamned actor on the neighboring stool pretending to be an “authentic” Chicagoan.

Chicago needs an enema. It needs another couple of generations of people who actually grew up here, went to school here and want to live here for a while.

Go home to Brooklyn, ye wage slave.

Andre Vospette

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andre vospette writes emails with the irrepressible charm of a hungered and angered tropical sea serpent. mr. vospette is a livid photographer who lives in chicago with his wife and three children. punk rock flows through his veins like fierce venom.