#863: Me and Julio

December 15th, 2017

I have a neighbor who doesn’t know my name.

He does, sort of. He knows it now and again, “Paul, right?” I say yes. He asks the same question about my wife’s name. I confirm he got that right too.

I don’t mind that he barely remembers me. I mainly know him because of Rocky, his little dog he walks in the morning, at night and presumably in between while I’m at work. Outside my apartment window is one of Rocky’s favorite spots for business, so I see the little black-and-white furball with his skittering little paws and the lumbering old Latino in the Cubs hat more often than they see me. 

Julio and I chat, but usually not for long. Rocky turns back and, with a plaintive look in his big black eyes and a tug on the leash, melts Julio’s heart enough that they move on.

I walk on too, past more neighbors I don’t know. There’s the father-and-son pair that ride south on their bikes at 7:50 a.m. en route to school. There are the two kids who speak French to each other as they walk to the French school a few blocks north. I go to the coffee shop for a morning pick-me-up and see the barista with the hat. I see the barista without the hat too.

There’s a couple that lives in my building, but they don’t count because I knew them for years before I moved into the building. That’s a coincidence more than a symptom of a neighborly community.

To Julio and Rocky, I’m “Paul, right?” To the barista without the hat, I’m “To-go mug and a savory scone.”

Julio has lived here 40 years, seen the block go from an OK, affordable spot to an enclave of wealth I’m worried will get torn down building by building to make way for massive McMansions taking up whole lot or those glass-and-brick boxes trendy to live in for a few years before suburbia beckons.

“Many whites treat the city of Chicago as a revolving door,” journalist Natalie Y. Moore wrote in her excellent book “The South Side.”

The sentence burns me because it is me. It’s the hot flash of seeing something that’s incredibly offensive, incredibly general and incredibly true. I’m not from here and I don’t know how much longer I can afford to stay, given the things I want to do with my existence. I want yards and decent schools. I want Rocky and the coffee shop and a ride on the Brown Line too, but adults have to choose.

The mayor of Chicago is another neighbor. We ride the train together sometimes. One or two black SUVs pull up to the station, Rahm gets out and plays on his iPad the whole ride, every so often daring a glance up to confirm his “I’m a man of the people” moment has witnesses. One or two black SUVs meet him at the other end to whisk him away.

Rahm can afford to live here. We can’t. We can only afford the one-bedroom with the sputtering radiators because the old lady who owns the building can’t be bothered to hike the rent. Someday she’ll die or sell and even this slice of Chicago will be cut off from us.

I like the place with the pizza slices and I like the coffee shop and some of the old German bars with the beers the size of your head are still around. And I like Julio and Rocky, even if the former only sort of knows my name and the latter just wants to piss on the tree outside my window.

It makes sense Julio only sort of remembers my name. He’s lived here 40 years, seen hundreds of people slip through that revolving door or, for those who stay, whiz by on their bikes or chatter north in French. There have been hundreds of me, but only one him.

Meet a neighborhood where the Little League teams have candy bar names

Meet a neighborhood where they trick-or-treat among liquor stores

Meet a man cutting a neighborhood’s hair since 1944

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