Streetlight spilling down through the basement window, splayed out on the polished wooden bar and framing the forearm stamped with the faded boxy lettering that marked the ancient man forever a 13-year-old boy out of Auschwitz Birkenau.
He'd been dead for years. Uncle Sol. So why was I not surprised to see him here today? In the bar. Here in Pilsen. Why now? On my last trip to Damek's tavern.
Spring rains and winds blanketing Chicago, the winds blowing so much harder and constantly every day now that President Leader Trump had sent out the word that we humans have nothing to do with the changes in the climate. That word came the very first week of the presidency.
And there were successive Words that were broadcast from Leader Trump pretty much every week since then.
The White House now The Gold House. China calling in our debt and taking over the US Treasury. Leader Trump assuring us what a great triumph that was. Think of the tax payer dollars saved by getting rid of a bureaucracy like the U.S. Treasury.
Leader Trump would protect us. Leader Trump would help us keep the bad guys out. There were good things that happened in these first 100 Days. The "both sides do it" false equivalencies, the liberal/conservative split had gone. There was no more pretending that both parties had their problems. Because now there was only Leader Trump. And we saved time. Much easier to act when there is no need for consensus.
Course it would be hard to leave Chicago. But Leader Trump knew best. Didn't he? And besides, no one had stopped me on this one last visit to Damek's.
Lots had changed since the last time I'd been in Damek's. But I needed one more visit. Not much in a life where you can say, "I want to do that one more time" and be certain it will happen.
But why was Uncle Solly here? Sitting ramrod straight, looking forward. Saying nothing. As if I wasn't even there. "Hey Solly! So good to see you!' But he didn't turn. Didn't answer.
And with the empty streets outside, no music inside, only the stale beer disinfectant smell of the bar for company,
The great migration of Chicago's Mexican community back to Mexico before The Wall got built had left the Pilsen neighborhood with empty streets, washed out colors and a smell of burning rubber where once chilies and onions, chicken and chorizo wrapped in golden tortillas could make you forget your name.
So as the color and music drained out of Pilsen, the ghosts of the old neighborhood had come back. The hard working Czechs. Damek's Bar. Where working families would go to the corner and get their bucket of beer every Friday night.
Chicago is a city of ghosts built upon generations of con men and women, dreamers and drifters, poets and power mongers. And as you dig down through all that, each back alley big shot and Lake Shore Drive swell left behind, you are reminded again of Algren, writing, "Once you've become a part of this particular patch, you'll never love another."
So I had a decision to make. The "Welcoming Centers" were going up all over the country. There was one not so far from this bar on the far southwest side. A safe place, Leader Trump told us in a Word. This safe place is for Muslims. It was just till we got things figured out. Nothing permanent. Just a place to keep folks safe.
And the next safe place was for Italians. My wife was Italian. So she'd have to go.
That meant we had to decide. Did we leave Chicago or did we stay and let ourselves be separated? We had bought the tickets to Banff. We had our boat and were ready to row. But still... Was there any other choice?
Maybe there was some way to fight this. To let us stay home.
And that's when I heard it. Uncle Solly. Staring at his spirit, he turned towards me as if there was an actual physical force staring hard, opened his mouth and said two words: