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The Destination
excerpt of a story by Stephanie Rose Bird

Pages 169, 170, 171


Lately, I've taken to moving through space.

Slow jogs, brisk walks and even running. Pace controlled, accompanied by monitored breathing, smelling a confluence of perfumed notes, women off to work, cinnamon rolls baking in ovens by those who stay at home.

The doors of Chicago brick bungalows open and close as school children loaded down with books head off to school. Maple and elm leaves crumble, now and then a fat brown squirrel skitters by.

Alone, inevitably I wonder about home, and I have had many. Home in Japan, taking a burabura (casual stroll) through the Ginza, browsing in galleries; or zipping over to marvel at the latest fashions at Western Tokyo's Shibuya on the Yamonote line, to noticing the Shinkansen (trains) moving at blinding speeds, with bells ringing periodically.

Women with faces Geisha-white, wearing white gloves pristine from circa. 1930, talking in sing song voices, in an indecipherable language with theatrical gestures that, though culturally relevant, enhance my feeling of displacement.

As we rise to the upper floor in the cramped elevator of The Matsuzakaya Department Store, the elevator lets in a garish couple of Americans with unmistakable New York accents, expansive gestures, seemingly designed to take up lots of Japanese space donning loud designer perfume, casting a palour on the scene that causes an inexplicable embarrassment to those desperate to blend in, so as never to be called Gaijin (derogatory term for foreigner) again. Our casa in Pilsen, is more the wildwest than the Midwest.

Daily, shoot-outs occur seemingly outside of the jurisdiction of Daly's machine. Loco cholos slinging guns almost too heavy for their meager teenage bodies to prop up. Intriguing as it is to observe the management style of the Al Capone School in real time, I wish this part of my education was limited to history books or a bus tour led by local entrepreneurs. Then, too, there is the constant infringement of the new settlers who are often referred to as suburban pioneers.

White and ruthless as their forebears, but this time they march en masse, armed with checkbooks, mace, architects and portfolios rather than rifles, reenacting the ancient territorial battle for the Americas.

This casa wreaks havoc on my psyche. Neon lights flash as guys prance around in skin tight jeans and spit-shined snakeskin cowboy boots crossing paths with grungey-looking pink-haired, black-cloaked white girls walking pedigree guard dogs. Closer to an opera than home.

Return to my childhood home? Looks great, but this place is cloaked in the dankness of mourning, dysfunction, racism and despair. I continue to jog and begin to perspire, all the while asking myself, 'How long will it take before I make it home?' Oak Park? Neatly packaged and sold, yet bogged down with the realities of its incongruities: more than a little divisiveness; re-segregation and fear of the other; sounds as though I need to keep jogging.

Who cares how tedious this journey becomes . . . breathe, one, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight . . . feet must stay faithful to the walkabout. The notion of aching feet is on pause, so we can make it many more miles. Just like my long-gone pop, this walkabout through suburbia is not an ancient Aboriginal rite of passage, it is part performance, rumination, evocation ritual. A walkabout, geared towards discovering the home that is comfortable; free from racism, fear, dysfunction and isolation.

Home, visible only within the inner domain of the fragile mind of an artist.

( copyright Stephanie Rose Bird)

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