Thursday, October 1, 2015

On Leaving Chicago

By: Ben Johnson

I just left Chicago after living there for over 14 years. 

I've been trying to write some big dumb "this is what that town means in the popular consciousness as filtered through my experience blah blah blah" thing about it, but who am I, Saul Bellow? Am I gonna nail it? Absolutely not. Also, there'd be no point. Chicago doesn't care what you say, anyway. Chicago is a town for Shutting Up And Doing. Anything I'd have to say about it would just be about me, really.

Okay, it's about me then. Me and Chicago.

There's a metaphor that struck me recently:

One of the ongoing things that happened over this last Chicago summer was the Chicago Botanic Garden had one of those Titan Arum flowers, which is the largest blooming flower on earth. It's from Sumatra. The thing grows and grows over the course of a decade or so, and then when it finally blooms for only one night, it smells like a corpse, and all the animals in the rainforest come running from miles around to eat some delicious corpse meat, then go "oh damn it's just a flower, well, I might as well pollinate it with stuff from that other false alarm corpse I smelled last week."

The Botanic Garden lovingly nurtured this gigantic exotic foul smelling asshole prankster flower for 12 years, and it was supposed to have bloomed over one night of its own random choosing sometime in August. I wanted to see it and smell it before I left town, so I did that thing on Twitter where you turn on text messages for a particular account, just to make sure I didn't miss it. They fired off a bunch of totally irrelevant tweets about Heirloom Tomato Week and botany lectures, along with a bunch of cutesy "let's trend, let's go viral" stuff where they tweeted back and forth with other regional botanic gardens who also had Titan Arums scheduled to bloom. It was pretty annoying, to tell the truth.

But I wanted to see this thing because it felt like some kind of a "this took twelve years to finally happen and even if it ends up being just a big dumb line to wait in to smell a big dumb smelly plant, at least that'll be a punctuation of sorts" event I could point to and say "I did it and I was here."

The flower ended up not blooming. The official explanation was that it didn't bloom because of a "lack of energy." That felt like even more of a metaphor. I don't know who's who in it, though. I think Chicago and I took turns being the botanist and the giant lazy corpse stink flower.

It turns out there is another one of these corpse flowers, also at the Chicago Botanic Garden, that just got done blooming, right around the exact moment I was clearing the final trash out of my Chicago apartment. I didn't even know there was another flower, because I quit following the Chicago Botanic Garden in disgust, because I was tired of the flower hype and the Heirloom Tomato Week tweets, and maybe also because I had become a little too attached to the "lack of energy" narrative.

What I was up to while the corpse flower bloomed.

The Chicago Botanic Garden pulled a fast one on me. There's a gigantic stinking flower that bloomed and that I missed because I was too busy feeling sorry for myself and being upset about dumb botany lecture tweets. I know who I am in THAT metaphor. I'm me.

And if I want to extend that whole metaphor, I guess I'm hoping that Baltimore, where I am moving in order to live in the same state as the rest of my family, will be Sumatra. I'd like to live somewhere nobody's tweeting you about Heirloom Tomato Week, and the metaphorical giant wild corpse flowers either bloom or don't bloom, and it's a dangerous, murderous jungle but if you go there you'll at least have a chance to see and smell it all for yourself without relying on a metaphorical institution on metaphorical Twitter with a metaphorical team of self-appointed botanists telling you to wait, wait, wait and in the meantime please enjoy this other programming. Of course I'm probably just setting myself up for another fast one yet to come, and the whole metaphorical point of all of this is that I am simply too stupid and stubborn and reactionary and easily discouraged to live in Chicago or maybe even to flourish at all. I don't know. Split the difference, maybe.

At least in the meantime I'll get to see my niece and nephew grow up. That's something I think Chicago would understand. That's a metaphorical Heirloom Tomato Week I'd actually want to go to. 

So with that all explained and taken care of, it's time to say "goodbye, you big dumb wonderful majestic stinking liar of a lazy flower with the secret sister that only the die hards know about, and good luck." 

Same to you, Chicago.