To: Peter Orner, et al
My first thought was to salute (or salutate) you with ‘Dear Mr. Orner’ but I see in your acknowledgements (yes, I’m one of those) that you had a lot of help with Love and Shame and Love, including Guggenheim and Lannan. Although I suspect Rob, Alex, Piero, Rhoda, Katsuhiro, the dozen others, especially the other Orners, and most especially your ballet-dancing grandmother, Lorraine Spinner Orner, were the true foundations for your story.
May I call you Popper? My college roommate was an Orner, Dave Orner from Gary, Indiana, which is another reason that ‘Dear Mr. Orner’ went sideways. If you’ll willingly to be Popper, I can put the Orner-no-relation distraction aside. In the midst of reading Love and Same and Love my periodic ‘what the fuck, Orner?’ headshaking was confusing enough, but it was time-warping too. When the other Orner was my roommate, you and Popper were just kids.
So, Popper, I get it. Chicago is your true love and shame. Not the ‘bet your bottom dollar you’ll lose your blues’ kind of Chicago, but the Chicagoans. Judge Abraham Lincoln Marovitz, no trunks Marovitz, old style Chicago justice – you reminisce and rationalize right along with him. You love him. And you love reveling in your Chicago cameos, P.K. Wrigley, Jane Byrne and the Mayors Daly, the Wilson Avenue Water Crib, the Humboldt Park balloon lady, Picasso – or maybe not Pablo, not a Chicagoan and so easily supplanted by The Bean. You love Chicagoans, especially the authentics like the Brooks Brothers salesman. But, why the shame?
You love coolheaded Manny Laveneaux too. He got pizzaman Tonnio to hire you back. Sure you got fired taking the heat for Laveneaux, but later – what happened later? You don’t call him back. Did he fuck Kat? Is that the nature of your Chicago shame?
Or is yours a simpler Portnoy kind of shame? Daphne Krawchecks – “that tweed dress collapsed over her face like a parachute.” You lust after her from your bathroom window and then what? Jerk off? So what? Is that why Kat left you – your inability to be as sexually explicit as Philip Roth?
Or, am I getting too personal. Is it really just about Chicago itself?
The view of Lake Michigan from your Highland Park home blocked by a giant wall was not your fault. It was inevitable. At 1444 North State Parkway you lament, “They know that tomorrow will be only another tomorrow and they’ll again wake up alone, not lonely, alone and wonder why.” Why are so many addresses home to what you describe as a despair that is uniquely Chicago?
At 1308 Lundt Ave. you describe your grandmother, Bernice, looking out a grimy window – through “a blur of spit and dirt” — at their old Chicago neighborhood, “What had she been expecting to see?”
You point to the addresses of your Chicago memories like you would the old nests that become obvious in bare winter trees: 105 Riparian Lane, 38 Sylvester Place, Hyde Park, 5643 South Blackstone, Apt. C, 1233 North Damen, White Cedar Apartments, and 38 Sylvester Place. Yet you shade their meaning with an outsider’s view.
Miriam’s father: ”Chicago? My Miriam left me for Chicago. You don’t live in Chicago, Chicago’s not a place you live, Chicago’s a place you’ve heard of, read about in Upton Sinclair, that stink, maybe you visit for a convention, but live?”
Your mother loved Chicago. “A Fall River girl in Chicago and she couldn’t get enough . . . Chicago was about the new. Knock it down, big boy, and build me something bigger.” So do you.
But, maybe you should not have moved back after Ann Arbor. 1096 Olivia, the attic windows, love on the rug, Kat. I was so happy for you, Popper. Strong, beautiful, sexual and smarter than you — smart enough to leave you. A sweet Wisconsin girl, she welcomed Chicago and she loved you. Why did you have to overwhelm her with your Chekov’s Russia, where only the gardeners and the servants are strong and happy? At least you got it right at the end, admitting, “I suffocate you.”
After your grandfather’s circumspect Jewish funeral you drag her to the other side of the cemetery, the non-Jewish side, searching the tall unmowed grass for Hollis Osgood, your houseman. Sure Bernice, your grandmother, had taught you, “It’s a mistake to love the dead too much.” But, did you have to demonstrate your inability to reciprocate? You showed yourself to be one of Chekov’s upper middle class, too self-involved, too cowardly to be as stalwart in your love as Hollis Osgood, your gallant houseman. You showed off your Chicago-centered shame.
And you have Miriam. Your mom is an everywoman – census taker, political campaigner, charity worker, mother and wife – she even fucked Walter Mondale and she had no regrets about her fling with your dad’s best friend. What a woman. I’m pretty sure she’s not the one who taught you shame.
You had 1096 Olivia. You had Kat on the rug in Ann Arbor. But, no, you had to go all Saul Bellow on her. Is Chicago your version of a soured relationship that you’re still trying to understand? Your father taught you to swim by throwing you into Lake Michigan off the Cary Avenue pier. So what? If I recall, it was the ice fisherman who went under at the Cary Avenue beach, not you.
You’ve been well loved by so many Chicagoans. And you’ve loved so many in return. You are their Public Defender. You stand up for people who steal perfume bottles from Marshall Fields. You live by the wisdom of an old judge who likes to swim naked, “But this, my son, is Chicago. We don’t go it alone.”
At least you and Kat have Ella. Don’t screw that up. And, for god’s sake, don’t screw Leah Rosencrantz. She’s old Chicago, your old Chicago. She too will be polluted by your shame. Maybe it’s time to leave Chicago behind. San Francisco is nice.
Great writing. Thank you,
P.S. While writing to you, I had the spurious thought that maybe it’s Lake Michigan that haunts your Chicago. Not a Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald kind of haunting (it sank in Superior anyway). But a haunting that always makes you look in one direction — east. An odd thought. Odder still the song that kept coming to mind as I thought about Love and Shame and Love. Wooden Ships, without its post-apocalyptic meaning, just the simple refrain that I wish for you, Popper:
Wooden ships on the water, very free and easy
Easy, you know the way it’s supposed to be
Silver people on the shoreline, let us be
Talkin’ ’bout very free and easy.
–David Crosby, Phil Kantner, Stephen Stills