22 June 2009

You Can Tell that There's An Economic Crisis

You Can Tell that There's An Economic Crisis in the US because. . .

1. There's way more musicians out on the sidewalk playing for spare change than at any point in recent memory. And some of them, are terrible. There's this one dude who basically just plays his bongos--admittedly, in rhythm--with karaoke tracks. Nothing fancy, no lead or counter beats, just a simple pulse

2. You can now sometimes negotiate prices at stores, even clothing stores. I've overheard several women talking about they haggled for a better price in the WP, and actually got it. Now, in Africa + the Middle East, this is normal. But never in my entire life did I think you could haggle anything in America except the price of a car

3. The streets are filled with Priuses. It's like a little army of hybrids

4. Borders is closing its flagship store on Michigan Avenue. Not only that, but the Borders on Halsted + has completely eliminated its CD collection, replacing it with old chick lit novels it never sold last year

5. The new question at Whole Foods (aka Whole Paycheck) has changed from paper or plastic to, do you want a bag? And fuck, it should be a question

6. Paradoxically, money spent on escapist entertainment of any and all sorts has been largely unaffected by the crisis, in some cases, even exploding, which makes sense. Don't believe me? Just Google the Great Depression + the Silver Screen. You'll be amazed and see clear parallels. Then Google movies, DVD + especially video games sales, and you'll see that they're doing just fine in the US, even with bit torrent engines

7. Local or regional vacations are in right now

8. The tip jar for baristas at every café I visit is visibly emptier than it was a year ago. People aren't tipping out of service guilt, or because they're trying to be nice like they used to

9. More homeless people in Lakeview who appear to be getting a lot less back on their return

10. Americans are trying to make money in ways I've never seen them do before. For example, Saturday night, LB + I were leaving one of our fave vegan restaurants in NoChi, when this Polish guy opened the door of his truck and asked us if we wanted a ride (speaking in a very strong Polish accent), explaining that we could just pay him the $4.50 we were going to plop down on CTA's desk for taking the bus. For a second, I actually considered it too

11. Getting a job is rough right now. In Esquire, there's an article about how one man applied to a 100 jobs + barely got any interviews

12. Americans are selling their gold since it's the only thing to have actually increased in value. LB sold her engagement ring, which we lived on for several weeks. And there's this new phenomenon called gold parties, especially on the West Coast, where people mingle at a jeweler or an appraiser's house, eat some brie, sip some zingy Chardonnay, bringing bibelots, bloody marriage bands and dreaded heirlooms they've never worn before, and one by one the host inspects the jewelry and makes them an offer

13. Colleges are now giving special consideration to rich applicants, as if they need any more special consideration! Reed College actually had to remove hundreds of qualfied applicants who needed financial aid and replace them with students who didn't, which will have horrendous consequences for the socio-economic diversity of an incoming class

14. I know quite a few Chicagoans who don't drive anymore, or who switched to bikes, or mass transit, or have developed a nasty walking habit

15. Giving strangers cigarettes requires character evaluation now. Not just anyone gets to bum a cigarette, especially when each one costs .37

16. I'm much pickier about who I give money to on the street, and I don't feel bad when I don't hand over the linty coins in my front pockets the way I used to

17. The Preppy look is making a major comeback, even for hipsters, and I don't think it's a coincidence this time. For amnesiacs, think back to the late 90's when Tommy was huge for black teens, often from low-income neighborhoods. The image of prosperity, wealth + abundance is hard to resist when you're going through tough times. For some people, that's their whole life

18. The unemployment stigma that used to exist, doesn't anymore. There are people with advanced degrees who are out of work right now

19. Real luxury items--not simply the appearance of wealth--have plummeted. It's about fucking time. Hummer, ba-bye

20. Labeling Obama a socialist for trying to improve the healthcare system just isn't working for the majority of Americans, as long as they get insurance

[La version en castellano a cotinuación. . .]

01 June 2009

Culture Shock + Fickle Atoms

I've read about culture shock before, but I'd never actually experienced it until now. I think I've always been delighted by the idea of not recognizing my own country prima facia, of seeing my native land the way a foreigner does if only for a few moments. It excites me, that basic idea. To see the streets of Chicago with fresh, curious + rapacious eyes. It means, I can love my city, I can recreate my city all over again, one street + apartment cornice + carved stone balcony + half-life memory at a time like the narrator in Borges's "Circular Ruins," creating his son one body part at a time in his dreams. It's a creative process where you never feel immune to beauty. After all, familiarity, on some basic level, is immunity. When we become familiar with places, which is really, the experience of sifting through memory connected to space + time, we stop being affected by those places, we stop exploring what they mean to us until we're lost again, until we're exiled by time.

Other moments, I know I'm in Chicago, but I'm afraid we'll fly to another continent any day now until we're stuck in the marshes of debt + knee-deep in the rich dyes of travel again, possibly transported during naps + extended daydreams inside the din of cafés.

Even Zoe, our Shia-Poo, worries that we're living transparently, flickering between realities + portals like fickle atoms dancing under obsolete electron microscopes. Sometimes, she curls up on our suitcases which we still use for some of our clothes since there isn't enough space in our bedroom for Argentina.

Since I've been back, every time I wake up I wonder if I'm in Buenos Aires for a second. Sometimes, I actually fear it's Marrakech + LB + I are stuck in the Médina again, counting the seconds until the night blots out the natural light like someone nailing shut the windows of a condemned house. Often, part of me feels like we're returning to Argentina any time now, as if Chicago + our trip through West Europe + Morocco were a simple lapse of destination, not part of our return back to Chicago. I know that even if LB + I don't call our apartment in Palermo Viejo our home anymore (LB never did, actually), we've still spent the last year in a world where the experience of time is different than it is in America. Time was slow + painful, calm + deceitful; in Argentina, the time contemplates, becomes distracted, slows down + twists its temporal fabric into small loops of redundant motion, simultaneously acclerating experience + slowing down time. Until we arrive in LA, South America is a tireless remainder of images that goes on and on inside my mind, several years past the decimal point.

Here are some facts which explain my mindswirl:

1. Four continents in four weeks (South America, North America, Europe + Africa). How do you explain that to someone without sounding like a jet-setter?

2. Eight countries in thirty days (Argentina, the US, France, the Netherlands, Belgium, Spain, Switzerland + Morocco). Which language do you speak in?

3.Twelve cities in one month (Buenos Aires, Chicago, Paris, Amsterdam, Brussels, Lille, Geneva, Madrid, Marrakech, Casablanca, Sitges + Barcelona). How can you have an opinion of one city when they all start to bleed together?

4. Nineteen Legs of Our Journey:

Buenos Aires to Chicago
Chicago to Paris
Paris to Amsterdam
Amsterdam to Brussels
Brussels to Lille
Lille to Paris
Paris to Geneva
Geneva to Paris
Paris to Irún
Irún to Madrid
Madrid to Casablanca
Casablanca to Marrakech
Marrakech to Casablanca
Casablanca to Madrid
Madrid to Barcelona
Barcelona to Sitges
Sitges to Barcelona
Barcelona to Paris
Paris to Chicago

How do you get your mind around that?

Even if part of me is still several thousand miles away, slowly returning to a city + a country that once haunted my thoughts back in the dirty, vibrant, frenetic streets of Buenos Aires, I love Chicago, in part because she is complex enough that I have to create a new relationship with her, starting from a new beginning.

My Walking Meditation

A strange thing happened as I was walking to Argo Tea today (Chicago). Somewhere between Waveland + Hawthorne, I realized that I was meditating as I walked. I didn't do it deliberately, but I was completely at peace, calm, my mind, empty of chatter, self-consciousness or idle thoughts. I meditate pretty regularly--except for in Europe, for some reason--but I'm always sitting down, in a controlled + quiet environment. But this just happened to me. And I only realized what was going on at first by the way that people were looking at me. For ten blocks, I was radiating something calm + pure + content, and there was no casuality there. I mean, nothing specific had happened to me. I just sort of walked into it. Even now I'm trying to come back down, wondering when I retreat into my mind again, to protect myself from the storm. . .