I am reminded of the words of Minnie Driver’s character, Benny, from Circle of Friends, a cute Irish film from the 1990s. Now I am paraphrasing here because it’s been awhile since I last saw the picture. Her character, an overweight but lovable girl, comments on the unlikelihood of finding love with her longtime crush, a svelte hunk played by Chris O’Donnell. Through her tears, Benny castigates herself for self-delusion, the belief that her fella could ever return her adoration. In one pivotal moment, she reflects that it is in fact not better to have loved than lost. She says (and again, I paraphrase), “It’s like being marched up to the top of a mountain, shown all the beauty that can’t be yours, and then promptly marching back down.”
These words come to mind as I consider the present state of affairs in my beloved hometown of Chicago. Am I dreaming that on an unseasonably warm November 5, 2008 evening, Chicago displayed itself at Grant Park, for all the world to see, as a beautiful City, a beacon of hope and change – “Yes we can” and all that good stuff? I stood on my tiptoes, wearing nothing heavier than a sweatshirt, part of the largest multi-ethnic and multi-cultural crowd I have ever witnessed. We were united in hope, in celebration, in the belief that Chicago was ready to assume its place on the universal stage as a place of forward thinking. Ah what a difference a mere two months can make.
Fast forward to January 15, 2009. Its is colder than the North Pole outside, and Mother Nature shows no sign of lifting her curse. It is -9 F, even before factoring in the wind chill. However the frostiness of the weather pales in comparison to the economic and political stagnation experienced by our denizens. Layoffs are coming in left and right, from all sectors of the corporate world, at all levels of seniority. It seems each day brings the news of a good friend, loved one or family member that is taking their spot on the bread line. We all hope that Obama’s ascension to the throne on January 20th will bring some sort of relief. Hope may foster a lot of things, but it doesn’t keep you warm or fill your belly as you lay awake at night wondering what in the world can go wrong next?
And any good discussion of Chicago’s current state cannot overlook the manic depression of our politics. From the mania of Obama’s historic victory to the hopelessness following the wrecking ball that is Blago. For those of us, me for certain, who celebrated along with Oprah, the corner turned by historically corrupt Illinois politics, there can be no crueller punishment than watching ‘the hairball” (aptly named by my good friend Tim) gleefully engage in his governatorial game of cat and mouse, at a local as well as national level. We have done corruption many times before in my own lifetime (ah Carol Moseley Braun, we hardly knew ye!), and yet, the most jaded among us have yet to pick our jaws off the floor.
I reach out to our still-developing readership to ask you to throw me a lifeline. Any chance we can conjure some spell to persuade God, or whichever powers-that-be, to please stop raining humiliation and misery upon Chi-town? November 5th, with the warmth of the air and the pride of success, cannot be an illusion after all, can it? Will we, my fellow Chicagoans, ever be warm (literally and metaphorically) again?