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Back to Chicago, Back to My FuturePosted Wednesday, January 25, 2012, at 5:28 PM
I've been planning this move for twenty years, which may rate on the Guinness Book of World Records for the world's longest move. The earliest stages started almost the day I moved from my beloved Chicago to sunny and smoggy Los Angeles. I talked about moving back so much that I sometimes felt like the Kunta Kinte on "Roots." Unfortunately, Kunta Kinte died before he got back home, and there were times I was afraid I would suffer the same fate.
I was between jobs anyway, and my parents thought it would be a step up because I wanted to be a screenwriter at the time and because screenwriting does not exactly happen in Chicago like it does out here. To some sunbirds, Los Angeles with its year-round sunshine is a Mecca, but those of us with Midwestern souls never quite get that or many of the nuances out here. We like our sunshine, but we also like our rain, hail, sleet and snow, too, and we get plenty of that out there.
And the culture doesn't register with many of us. There were times I thought that if English wasn't the official language, I would have thought I was in a foreign country. Like the times people in supermarkets waited for me to move rather than using their words and saying "excuse me," or the times people looked through me like I was invisible.
Besides, I missed the way the grass rustles in the Chicago breeze at springtime, the first snowfall and the gleaming glass buildings on Michigan Avenue. Any Chicagoan knows what I am talking about.
Chicagoans have a sense of pride and ownership in the city that comes from being born and raised in a place and from having grandparents and aunts and uncles who live there and from going to school there. If ever there were a place where the six degrees of separation ring true, Chicago is it. And Chicagoans are polite on the whole. Even ex-Governor, Rod Blagojevich, never lost his cool after being busted.
Besides, it is different being in a place you know is right for you or have to flee for political reasons. I know an Afghani man, a lawyer in his country, who came to this country because the Taliban jailed him for telling women they had rights.
I've thought of my city almost every day for the twenty plus years, and I visited as often as I could, sometimes in the dead of winter to see if I could tolerate it. One November when my father was ill, I went back to see him, and I looked out the window at night and noticed the bare branches of the trees blowing in the wind as the clouds raced by and thought that the place has passion and that this is where I need to be.
Maybe that's why we produced some of the best and most notorious politicians in the world from the late Mayor Richard J. Daley to Rod Blagojevich to Barack Obama. It's because no one is neutral on anything, ever. Everyone has an agenda and an opinion. On one visit, I saw a guy trimming his fingernails on the el train, seemingly oblivious as his nail trimmings flew all over the train. It was a real gaffe, but it was all so earthy and Chicago. On another visit, I was standing at a stoplight downtown and saw a cabbie running the yellow light to avoid getting ticketed by the policewoman who was walking alongside the cab. Through the closed windows of his cab, she threatened to "ticket his arse" while he slowly drove through the intersection. This is all so Chicago, too.
Dan Castellaneta, who plays Homer Simpson on the "Simpsons," is from Chicago. In the mid-80's, we worked together on a kid's show called the "Magic Door." I always knew he'd hit it big even when playing the bumbling and confused Detective Farblunget, (lost and confused in Yiddish) or writing scripts for the show. John Malkovich is from there, too, and it is the home of the famed Second City theatre company where many of these people are discovered by Los Angeles talent scouts sitting in the audience. Maybe it's our passion they pickup on; maybe it's our Midwestern work ethic. I don't know, but they pick up on something.
So now that I am able to and still have breath in my body, it is time to go home. I have been patient, and I waited long enough. I will miss certain things about LA but my heart and soul are in the land of the amiable yet crooked politicians and the trees swaying against the sky in winter and hanging on for dear, sweet life.
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