This is the dog’s first visit to Chicago, to any city. We wonder what he will make of the buildings, the elevator, so many people. This is a dog whose ears prick at the rumble of the UPS truck at the foot of our road, but if, in the city, a man across the street gets into a parked car and starts the engine, whose yard is it anyway? Do you bark?
Where are you supposed to pee? Why are all the flowers behind fences?
Normally, on arrival, we would throw our bags down and stay inside for the night, but the dog needs to be walked. We find ourselves out on the street, amid the elegantly tattooed, the sleeveless and coiffed, the ice cream eaters, the cafe table occupiers.
We are looking for a spot that looks like a place where a dog might be allowed to poop. This would not be in the arranged pebble garden in front of a doorman building, nor in the precise display of birds of paradise and begonias in a pristine lawn stuck with placards stating that the ground is treated with chemicals and dogs are not allowed.
Chicago has alleys and this is where we find a perfect patch of unlandscaping, the potential of which the dog grasps immediately.
In the middle of the night a man and a woman are hosting a radio guest, local boy made good, comedian Jimmy Pardo. They start talking about back hair and it emerges that between the two men, they partake in brow grooming and back waxing and that one of them trims his underarm air. This is an odd conversation to wake up to. It is all very The Capital in The Hunger Games. And then, more disturbing, one of the men reports a conversation his wife has had with their waxer—he goes to his wife’s salon—who had told her she was lucky to get an appointment, this is our busy season with prom, with all of the girls coming in for, no, not leg or underarm or brow waxing, nope: Brazilians.
People here pull their dogs back a little when they see another dog, or is it just our motley hound? “He’s not good with other dogs,” they say, or “She can be aggressive.”
We take the dog to the lake and let him off leash. Other dogs are here, only one is muzzled. They run in and out of the water. The beach, framed by skyscrapers, and the skyscrapers topped with swimming pools, has always seemed something of a miracle, add to that the jubilation of the dogs.
Two people are wrapped up and sleeping by the lifeguard stand. The limbless panhandlers and the homeless shock us anew. This is still going on, this problem still unsolved, against the backdrop of the shoppers’ paradise, where everyone, the beggars and the shop people, are telling you, Have a good one!
If it is not enough that underage girls are getting Brazilian waxes to please themselves and/or their prom dates, the final portent of civilization’s downfall is spotted by my husband in Brooks Brothers, where the men’s department now sells Spanx. Spanx for men. In Brooks Brothers. In Chicago.
To rephrase my father’s joke of yore, which was, If it’s 5:30 PM in New York, what time is it in Chicago? (Answer, 1950), if civilization is T minus six tufts of unwanted male body hair and one pound of belly fat in Chicago, how much farther behind the dystopian curve are we in Alabama? Do we measure cultural velocity by incident, density or force of impact? For all I know, men are waxing in Alabama, have been for years, and I’m just not tuned to the right radio station to hear about it.
What is it about the city that you have these intense, young, put-together women walking swiftly with their aspirations set out like tiny prep bowls of rose-colored salt and olive zest? Does it create them or are they drawn to it? And, finding others like them, it feels necessary and unquestionably right.
For me, the city is a natural habitat. I revert to form so much that the overly chatty biker dude who rings me up at H & M tells me I ought to smile more. But why is he pretending to have an Australian accent? And is it wrong to think that the hairy shoulders with the leather vest and the untrimmed underarm hair are a bit… unprofessional?
Our last night in Chicago, the dog and I make our way out into the evening. Outside the Puma fashion store, we meet an older woman and her smaller dog, who stands on his back legs and waves his paws until his owner lets the leash out slowly and allows him to approach. Our dog, however, is not engaged. He looks back and forth, not making eye contact, unsure of what to do next. The lady compliments his markings. I thank her. Then she laughs abruptly. I look down to find that he has started to wee, too close to me, spraying the tops of my sandaled feet. Without another word, she retracts her dog and moves on.
But who can blame him, the dog, coming to such a place as this? He has made a good job of it. Feet and sandals can be washed. Unfazed, undefeated, liberated, we walk through the cafe tables, past the pancake restaurant, and into the alley.
Photo by The Younger Daughter, who took the dog out for several walks and found these signs hilarious.