#800: Knowing a Lot

June 7th, 2017

Men play bags at the corner bar north across North.

The distance and the scream of cars rushing over the avenue make it an oddly silent game, little marionettes stepping forward to underhand bean bags into the sky, hoping their loft comes ka-thunking down near the board set up on the game’s other side. One man makes an odd wooting call that cuts through the traffic for a moment. Wha-ooo, not wha-hoo. Wha-ooo.

You’re standing by an empty lot that used to house a corrupt alderman’s bar.

A friend had included me on a group email a few weeks back, looking for the exact location of Paddy Bauler’s old saloon. This was where the Old Town alderman from the ’30s to the ’60s took bribes, made connections, held court before his crowd and once shot two police officers who called him a fat Dutch pig.

The officers survived and Paddy was let go — that’s the kind of pull he had.

I didn’t/don’t know much of anything about Ald. Bauler, but did enough online digging to proudly and confidently declare the exact wrong location to the group. But an old photo I found, coupled with Google Street View, helped my friend discover the actual location.

It’s an empty gravel lot next to a “European Wax Center” on North and Sedgwick. The waxing salon is a fun find to describe — photos of smiling and presumably hairless blonde models in the window and “Walk In, Strut Out” static-stickered on the door — but the lot that actually held Bauler’s liquor-laden HQ was just a lot. Gravel. Security lights. A threatening Lincoln Towing sign below a Corona billboard. And commuters streaming by every few minutes as the Brown Line deposited them home, oblivious as to why a man is leaning on a metal fence to stare at a gravel lot.

They say those who don’t learn from history or study history are condemned or damned or doomed to repeat it — the idiom has multiple forms, all of which are nonsense.

It’s one of those emergent expressions that doesn’t mean a damn thing what it originally did. Exceptions don’t prove rules, raising a question isn’t begging it and “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it” was originally describing early childhood mental development, complete with a 1905 slam against “savages” and “barbarians.”

In its modern interpretation — that not studying Nazis is how you get Nazis — is equally wrong. We study Nazis all the time, yet currently seem to be infested with them. There must be a nest under the floorboards.

But it’s not just that the phrase isn’t true. It’s that the opposite is what’s true.

People who don’t know history live in a perpetual now. They walk by and see an empty lot of rocks, gravel and some potential parking for when they get their bikini lines done the European Wax way.

People who learn from history are the ones destined to repeat it. They’re condemned to repeat it over and over every day, to know just enough about the world to be distracting and to see the ghosts of bars and streetcars where others see rocks and parking.

God bless.

God damn.

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You are currently reading #800: Knowing a Lot by Paul Dailing at 1,001 Chicago Afternoons.

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