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
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
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)