#127: Whale Hunting on Clybourn

February 18th, 2013

There’s a stretch of Clybourn that for three or four blocks has no bar. No little neighborhood dive. No club. No sports place wallpapered with flat-screen TVs.

It’s just a strip of chain restaurants, chain stores, banks, pet places (a lot of pet places) and a Pier 1 imports which, despite the Blues Brothers’ protestations, does not mean this mall has got everything.

In a little strip mall, there’s a Treasure Island Foods, one of Chicago’s own treasures. I entered on the hopes of a story. I left with a bottle of wine, a few boxes of a tea I like that’s hard to find and a stomach full of free samples.

My French wine, Irish tea and I walked that little stitch of Clybourn where there are no bars and everything made me sad.

It wasn’t the lack of bars that made me sad. I didn’t want a drink and it was only three blocks to the next one if I did (that’s still a haul for Chicago). It’s that I was looking for something and didn’t know what it was.

The night was falling on the little stretch. It was light later than it has been the last few months on this tilted planet with its crooked axis. That was good. I had seen friends that day who were visiting town again after years. That was great. I was lining up interviews for the week, I was getting happy texts from my parents’ trip to Texas, I was out hunting stories — something I always love — and it was good, good, good.

I just wasn’t. But that’s OK. I knew what was happening.

Depression is a bitch of a label to be saddled with.

This isn’t a confessional, because I didn’t do anything wrong. And it’s not a coming-out, because anyone who knows me for more than a few months either catches on or is told. At a few points in my life, doctors have looked at me, said the depression word and I said “OK” because it made sense as a description.

Sometimes I hunt things that aren’t there. I look for things but don’t know what they are. I feel I’m missing something. Nothing’s gone.

That night on that slip of Clybourn between the fancy groceries and Pier 1s of Lincoln Park’s outer edge and the cars stacked high, tanneries and steel forges that roast at night along the North River Industrial Corridor, I could feel it coming again. That’s what it’s like for me. Like waves lapping on the shore.

I don’t know what depression means for other people. For me, it means my emotions aren’t always based on reality. Sometimes they are. Sometimes happy things make me happy and sad things make me sad.

But sometimes the moods wash over me like the muck of the river under the Cortland bridge. I’ll be sad and then find things to be sad about. Or I’ll be happy and the world will be my oyster even on the damnedest of days. The mood comes first. I create the reason later.

Maybe that’s what life is for everyone. It’s like when people ask me what green looks like to my colorblind eyes. How the hell should I know what you think green is?

I read comic books at the Barnes & Noble for a while, despairing over how bad DC comics have gotten.

After several comics, I was creating reasons even there for my mood. That’s silly. So I left.

It was dark outside. The city glistens then. That’s when Chicago takes over for the sun in the sky. It’s horrible — I miss starlight. But it’s magic, too. Intoxicating. No stars in city life. No neon outside of it.

I wondered how long I would have to wander before I found what I was looking for. Then I found it, across Webster from the Barnes & Noble. It was a joke no one intended. It was a stupid pun my city put there to make me laugh.

Pequod’s Pizza was across the street from a Starbucks.

That’s it.

I was happy again, at least happy enough to get on with my night. A little joke from the city to me and anyone else who had read “Moby Dick.”

It comes and goes. Waves on the shore. Sometimes in that mucky water, you find your white whale.

Comment on this story

Read another weird tale of searching in Chicago

What's this?

You are currently reading #127: Whale Hunting on Clybourn by Paul Dailing at 1,001 Chicago Afternoons.

  • Get Stories by Email

  • Chicago Corruption Walking Tour

    Join the email list for tour dates and info.