There’s a stretch of the Gold Coast where the homes are beautiful.
It’s not the most visible part, the tall condo buildings from that misguided period of American architecture known as the 1970s, when the point of a building was to crane above the others, out out out into a view you could brag about to your ground-dwelling coworkers.
Before the deluxe apartment in the sky was the ultimate in movin’ on up, luxury was low, squat and gorgeous.
Stone mansions still named for the 19th century robber barons who lived there. Skinny Greystone two-flats the size of an old-time Chicago lot but with ornate heraldry and curlicues carved into the Indiana limestone.
Queen Anne, Romanesque, Tudor, Threedor. Peeks inside the large windows show libraries, crystal, security systems — one dead body and a Professor Plum away from a child’s board game.
The neighborhood is grim and glorious.
And here’s where the rat scampered by.
I say scampered because it was a bit too slow for a scurry or skitter. It was fast by human standards, a brisk ratty trot. But for a creature with hypercharged rodent metabolism, it was practically an amble.
This rat was, in rat terms, wandering across the street.
The fact the street was the high-wealth Astor Street of stone mansions slammed with National Register of Historic Places plaques made no difference.
This was the neighborhood where the rat nests.
While it is nice to realize the self-vaunted millionaires live down in the muck and mire with the rest of us, the point of this story isn’t “Ha ha, the richies have rats.”
Well, I mean it isn’t just “Ha ha, the richies have rats.”
No one can hide themselves from life. People try, oh glory be they try. They put up mansions of thick limestone or crawl to the sky, up up over the rest of us common sinners.
But no casemate is thick enough, no movin’ on up tower high enough to keep out life.
And that’s what I like.
Although I make no case for romanticizing vermin, there’s a certain joy in life creeping in places it wasn’t wanted. The blades of grass busting through a pavement crack, the herons making nests in a public park.
I know a city rat is one of the more disgusting examples of nature’s glory, but you take what you can get. There aren’t many prancing fawns in the 606.
When life does burst through, grass or bird or even city rat, it means there’s hope for all of us who feel unwanted sometimes. It hints and teases that we’ll be able to crack through whatever barrier we’re facing, make a home where we weren’t intended to be.
And “all of us who feel unwanted sometimes” means all of us.
I hope the little rat ambling through its neighborhood makes its way down some ratty corridor, some tunnel combination of alley and gutter and burrow and basement. I hope it peeks and squeaks into some little den or warren.
Some disgusting, urine-smelling, horrible den or warren — again, I do realize city rats are nasty.
But I hope the scampering rat finds its way into a place that, to it, is as much a Gold Coast home as the high-rises and robber baron Greystones.