secret_chicago

Good Things

When you take the Milwaukee North line in to Chicago, a few stops before Union station, look out the right hand windows. There’s a series of low brick buildings– one-story warehouses or garages, maybe; storage of some sort perhaps– with no windows facing the tracks. They are coated with layer upon layer of spray paint and tagging, all of it relatively recent. One building is covered in this manner, save for a broad swath in the center of the building that is paint free save for one sentence. It’s painted in spidery letters, in chalk white spray paint.

Good things are coming.

That’s what it says, “Good things are coming,” floating in an island of bare brick, flanked on either side by brightly colored elaborate names and nicknames and symbols and arrows.

Most passengers don’t notice the graffiti, the buildings. They are occupied with newspapers, magazines, books, electronic devices. They nap or stare unseeing out the windows, lost in their worlds and imaginings. But those who do look, who do see, do not feel reassured. This is not a good and kind message like “You are beautiful,” or “you are loved,” or “better the day” or the other positive signs that have been popping up spray painted around the city in the past few years. No, this one sends a creeping chill down the back of those who see it.

What’s sauce for the goose is not always sauce for the gander, and what some people consider “good” others consider unimaginably harrowing.

Crisis

There is a point in many men’s lives when they hunger for things they do not have –and perhaps never had: enthralled younger women, tight abs, money, fast cars and no responsibilities.

Many women want these or similar things as well, but if they go up Lake City Way in search of a strip mall they’ve been told about, they will find nothing but a thriftshop, a nail parlor, and a gas station. Old men who have been told to look out for the same thing will find a forth storefront, a spartan place with a front desk and a pod much like a tanning bed, down the hall in a room with no door.

For a modest upfront fee, they can lie down in the pod for fifteen minutes.

They emerge changed men, young, trim, and bereft of obligations.

But all such things are fleeting if not outright illusory, and they will possess them for a far shorter time than even youth does.

Chances are they will never realize it, but it is not a worthwhile trade.

Change

A condemned park sprawls in disrepair on the steep incline west of St. Mark’s Cathedral. It has become overgrown with brambles and nothing human has an easy time with the eroded paths and clutter of vines. Sometimes the homeless will set up shelter there: it is quiet and secure because it is so hard to traverse.

In the deepest part of the park, if you can reach it among the blackberry suckers, there is a tree, a scraggly conifer overwhelmed by its taller relatives. Its cones are small and hard and appear every autumn covered in soft fuzz. Once the fuzz withers, the cones are easily plucked. They feel strangely like marbles and will always smell faintly of cinnamon.

If you desperately need change in your life, enter the park when the moon is waxing, and pick a single ripe cone. Sew it inside a silk pouch and wear it around your neck, against your skin, until a new moon is born. Your life will soon take on a dramatic change. Usually it is for the better.

You should risk this only if you can accept the consequences, and genuinely need the change. You can never bring back the way things were.

The Finest Cuts

On the waterfront of Lake Union, down among some warehouses, is a tiny sushi place. It has no tables, just a coatroom and a small bar, and only three people can sit in the place at a time. Everyone comes in alone—it would not occur to you to invite company.

You watch the chef and assistant as they work, and eat whatever they serve you. None of the staff seems to speak English, but their intentions are somehow very clearly communicated with smiles and gestures. You feel they understand you perfectly; you may even feel compelled to talk to them throughout your meal, though you will never receive a word in response. If you make pleasantries in Japanese, you’ve figured wrong, and will become the recipient of such a blank, befuddled expression that you quickly decide that their silence is part of the restaurant's ambiance and you might get them in trouble if you keep talking.

The sushi is delicious. You have never tasted such flavorful fish, and never will anywhere else. The ingredients are fresh and inevitably compliment each other perfectly. For the excellent quality, the price is stunningly low, but not so much so that you can attribute it to anything other than their doubtless small overhead. You feel healthier after every meal there, younger, smarter, and more vibrant.

The moment when you pass back through the door is the only one when you will hear any of the staff speak: and then it is just one, quick word, in a language you do not know. If you are at the bar when someone else is leaving, you will not hear their word: only the word that is meant for you. It is accompanied by a feeling of electric shock.

It is not an electric shock. The staff is neither American nor Japanese, nor any combination of nationalities you have ever heard of, and they are not really paid in money.

If you have never been to this place, you should stay away. If you have, then there is no reason not to go back... but do not go as often as you want to, or as often as they seem to want you to. The price of a meal is one you are unlikely even to notice, but the price of many can become very dear.

If you love even one person in your life, do not become a regular.
autumn

(no subject)

Miami isn't a city of bored police officers. The metro police department barely has time to investigate murders, let alone the near-constant stream of vandalism, assault, and theft that goes on every day. But the sleepy suburb of Pinecrest has had its own police department for years. The most they have to deal with is traffic tickets, toddlers falling into pools, and the occasional case of minor vandalism. The dispatchers for the area are warned on their first day about bored suburban kids calling in false emergencies.

But no one thought to warn them about another kind of call. It comes from a number that isn't in service--the house it used to belong to is nothing more than a vacant lot now. The voice on the line is steady and even, almost mechanical.

"No matter what kind of calls you get from this block," the voice says, "do not send an officer to answer them." And then the caller hangs up. The call cannot be returned--after all, that line hasn't been connected for years.

Anyone who reads fairy tales knows that the best way to make someone do something is to tell them that they can't. They'll also know that mysterious warnings ought to be heeded. But the caller learned a different sort of tale growing up, and the police don't depend on children's stories to do their jobs.

It's a pity that they'll answer the calls that come in later. The hunter doesn't have a taste for the authorities, but will protect its kills at all costs.
Chiaki is making a sadface

School Building

There is some mild surprise among the residents of Perkins Township that the next plan for expanding the high school building is to finally build a new one. The current high school has been in use since it was only what is now the history and art wing, and served students of all grades.

It's grown slowly over the years, a wing here, an auditorium there. It's a grotesque and strangely attractive hodgepodge of roof heights and corners and courtyards that are rarely used. There are bricked-in window frames that extend from the top half of the band room walls to the middle of the choir room walls above. Ramps and flights of five stairs are scattered about, connecting the parts of the school at ground level to the parts that are not.

There is something of the Winchester Mansion to the way the building has slowly grown in bits and bobs, with no seeming care to how they connect to what was already there.

There is some serious surprise among select residents of Perkins Township that the next plan for expanding the high school building is to finally build a new one. They all moved away shortly after learning this.
Bin Bons Default

The Kindness of Strangers

Most of the old houses in the city are now cut up and rented in parts. To reach the upper apartment you have to walk up a steep, long and cramped flight of stairs. Most of these are open for the public.

It isn't uncommon to see people sitting on these stairs. People sheltering from the never ending rain, kids sitting down to have a smoke or drifters resting their tired legs.

This person is no different. He or she will sit on the stairs seemingly lost in thought. There is something sad about them, though you're not quite sure why you think that. They seem lonely. You almost feel sorry for this random stranger.

But they are blocking your way to the door at the end of the stairs and you want to get inside, to your warm home. As you step forward they will look up at you and ask for a small favor. Something that in no way would inconvenience you. Maybe they'll ask for a lighter for their cigarette or directions to the nearest bus stop.

You don't have to help them at all. You can walk right through them as if they were a ghost. But when you look back at them, you'll see that their mood has changed. They still seem sad, but could it be that they feel sorry for you now?

Well that's because you just made the same mistake they made, a long long time ago.

Paper

A shop in the renovated downtown of Ballard –former warehouse buildings living new brick lives as artists’ studios and loft apartments- sells only paper. Gift cards and wrapping paper, of course, but at the back of the shop is a wall of paper replicas: food, currency, houses, cars, passports, people and even miniature office cubicles complete with paper balloon water coolers. Some come pre-assembled, others are die-cut and await construction.

Whoever buys one of these replicas will soon find they have no need for what it represents, though the little papercraft they purchased will become strangely precious to them.

This can be liberating. It can also be terrifying. And devastating.

If the results of your purchase are too overwhelming for you, ask a friend to burn the paper talisman for you. You will not be able to bear carrying out the task yourself.

Transit

At transit stops from the east end of the Pine-Pike corridor to the waterfront, commuters occasionally encounter an unmarked black book that fits pleasantly in the hand. A pen is always taped across the cover with dirty scotch tape. The book is unlined and the front is filled with pages of hand-inked and annotated transit maps. They include many stops you have never seen before, stops that should not exist. The rest is a scramble of dreams, empty pages, graffiti and wish fulfillment. Wherever the book is found –on the ground or leaned upright on a sheltered bench- it is always during a deluge. The book, however, never gets wet.

If you find this book, feel free to write in it and pass it on. Your dreams will be beneficial if you do this. If you are the type of person who finds the maps useful –and they are very useful to many people- you should go promptly to an office supply shop (it absolutely must be one you can reach within one bus transfer or on foot) and purchase a lockbox just large enough to fit the book. Do not mark the box in any way to indicate the contents; in fact, if there is a brand engraved anywhere on the box, file it off as soon as possible. Tell no strangers you have the book. It is unlikely you will be able to keep it for more than a year.

Whatever route you choose to take, do not write your name in the book.
Calcifer

The Tangerine Dungeon

On the fifth floor of the University of Utah's School of Medicine are the Wittwer Genetics Labs. There are a handful of them, scattered through the labyrinthine halls of the floor. They are research labs, dedicated to finding, among other things, new diagnostic techniques. No one is allowed in them but the lab members. Students, faculty, and janitorial staff are told, politely but firmly, to stay out—for fear that they might distrupt the experiments in progress, or somehow contaminate the sterile working environment. It's a reasonable request, one that other labs on other floors of the School have made.

The Wittwer labs are unique in one respect: they have nicknames. All of the nicknames are engraved on plates, and hung on the door, above the room number—"White Dwarf", "Purple Nebula"—astronomy nicknames, all but one of them. The Tangerine Dungeon.

Those passing through may laugh at the name, thinking it a joke—the School is well-lit, after all, the labs have nothing dungeon-like about them.

What they fail to notice is that the door is never open, but always padlocked shut, as if they are not afraid of someone getting in so much as something getting out.

The lab staff are very polite. Loiter outside the Dungeon too long, and they will ask if there is perhaps somewhere else you need to be. If you do not respond promptly, they will offer you a tour. Say no, and they will nod and bid you good day. Say yes, and they will smile at you, showing too many teeth, and fumble with the lock on the door before holding it open for you, waving you in . . . and slamming it shut behind you.

If you are lucky, someone will hear you pounding on the locked door and let you out. If you are not, well . . .

The funding for the labs has been cut, again and again, and they must keep their subjects fed somehow.