Tuesday, September 04, 2007

On the Road to Shimer

The day prior was spent on and in Lake Michigan on the Indiana side. This was followed by the typically early wake up and some more sleeping and laying about and then a brunch-ish breakfast. On the drive up to Chicago, returning to the fabulous Ms. Skimmel's, Sam turned and asked "do you have anything you want to do on the South Side?"

There are lots of questions that one might enjoy hearing asked about Chicago. "Want to go drinking?" "Want to go eat?" "Want to go shopping?" "Want to go to the lake?" "Want to go listen to some music?" "Want to hit Evanston?" "Want to drive LSD?" "Want to go to a Museum?" "Want to go to a game?" "Want to go to boys town?" "Want to hit Belmont?" "Want to go to the Parthenon?" "Want to hit the aquarium?" "Want to go to a midnight marathon of Kubrick movies at the Music Box?" These are all perfectly acceptable questions to ask someone when you are heading in or out of Chicago. Asking "Anything you want to do on the South Side?" is just one of those question that would make any salted Chicagoan give you the look that says "'Da fuck?"

I'm not saying that there aren't some interesting things on the South Side of Chicago. Hyde Park is on the South Side of Chicago and aside from the Seminary Co-op you have some fabulous places to eat. The Dixie Kitchen, for one and there is that Jamaican place that does the jerk food name of which escapes me. And Hyde Park is pretty. It's a very pretty little part of Chicago all tucked around the UIC. Of course, you don't really want to be caught on the south side in the ten block radius that surrounds Hyde Park, Hyde Park being an island of suburban decadence nestled in the dark underbelly of Chicago.

And while I should have just given the "Da fuck?" look. I instead, asked a question.

"Where are we, again?" I had not been paying attention.

"Stony Island, just past 95th."

"Huh."

There is thinking.

">We could go to Shimer."

There are many a time I have often dreamt of going to Shimer, but rarely would I have thought to utter a response to a question like "Anything you want to do on the south side?" with the answer "We could go to Shimer."

But I did.

And we did.

Sam drove and we looked for signs for the IIT campus where our school had relocated. No longer really our school, I felt. More The School, the Shimer of my dreams now being nothing more then a collection of random memories for buildings that are occupied by people I will never meet. My school is gone, replaced instead by The School which has been relocated to somewhere on the South Side of Chicago. And now in a rented car, with a big orange dog, I was traveling to visit The School and I was not really sure why.

Curiosity more than anything else, perhaps. A confirmation of my fears. A longing. A chance to see something that had been missed. The sense of belonging to something again, even if it wasn't really mine. Shimer. Shimer. I dream a dream of Shimer.

It took a few minutes and some searching but signs were located, a general direction established, and a parking lot was found. The car was parked and the boy, the dog, and the girl got out and crossed the street to head towards a neatly clipped and manicured lawn with a few sprawling trees on a hot summer day. This was Shimer.

My brain railed against it.

This was not Shimer.

And yet, this was Shimer.

We walked together to the front entrance only to find it closed, so we turned down some sidewalks and found a path leading around to the back of the building, where we saw a sign. Shimer College. The door was propped open with a wooden doorstop. And for some reason it screamed to me that this was perfectly Shimerian. We walked through the door, our little ménage a troupe and found that the first thing to catch our eye was a bookshelf. "Take a book." Being that we are in fact true to our calling we stopped and looked through every title on that shelf to find what that might appeal. I picked up a tome on Education and Capitalism and regretted having not brought a book with me to leave. We walked in and found at the front desk a very attractive young girl full of piercings and I found this very comforting. It settled my heart for some reason that there would be some girl working admissions who reminded me of all the pierced out lovelies of my own Shimer generation. She was an amalgamation of myself, and Caila, and Psyche, and Layla, and Natalie (a little of Jason Stahl, but in a feminine sort of way) and a dozen others I could name. She had that sense about her and I recognized it. A feeling, a subtle shift in attitude, an extenuation of grace: Shimerain.

We asked for catalogs but the new ones were not available. She said hello to us, to the dog. We asked if we could go up. "Visiting Alums. Just want to see."

"Sure, sure. There's an elevator around the corner."

"Can we take the dog? He's also an alum."

"I don't think it's a problem." So the three of us found the elevator around the corner and went up to the second floor were Shimer, all the buildings collapsed into a small space, is now housed. The doors opened on a library. And this was somehow comforting. My heart was beating fast; thrumming pounding. Because as strange as this place was, as new as I knew it to be, it was in some small way still a part of myself. And that part of me that is full of Shimer and that will never be able to let Shimer, the education, the people, go; that part of me was called by this place. And that part of me responded to it like a home, an old friend.

The floor was cool and dark, most of the lights were off. Some of the doors were opened but most were locked. We walked through silently. Not speaking, just taking it in. There was a lounge called Cinderella and in the lounge there was a painting I recognized. I used to set up coffee service under that painting. It hung in Prairie House lounge, the tree in a field of muted colors. I talked under that painting. I read Hobbes under that painting. I bumped into Ariella (the littlest Amazon) one night doing a mailing for no readily apparent reason under that painting. She talked to me about getting paper cuts on her tongue. I'd once attended a breakfast where Steve blasted Jonathan Rickman as he served. I'd sat in this very room on many an after-hours night alone playing piano to ease my heart; to make me feel alive. It was not surrounded by the place I remembered, but somehow it felt right. It was a piece of my past and it pulled this place together and made it Shimer.

A few doors were open to classrooms so we let ourselves in. The classrooms were named names that brought just as much to my mind as the paintings. There was Infinity classroom where I drank cognac with my Hum 2 class lead by Sklar while reading The Brother's K. Wolf and Mas got wasted during the class. In the end Wolf walked singing at the top of his lungs towards the train to make sure Mas got on to Chicago where he needed to be.

There was Pi (or was it radical 2), you know the room at the top of the stairs on the right. Where the sound system was, a room where I had discussions with Nancy Rose and where David Shiner got so pissed after a day of silence while discussing the Iliad in IS 5 that he actually walked out on us. I can't really blame him for that as the class was truly abysmal that day. I blame the grayness of winter and the fact that at least seven out of twelve people had not done the reading. I do admit though that at the end of the course I found the Iliad was by far a much more engaging read then the Odyssey and have become quite enamored with it.

I was looking into rooms that were not the classrooms I attended, not the rooms with the high vaulted ceilings, the explosive halogen lamps burning last years dead mosquitoes; rooms thick with ancient smoke that no manner of non-smoking policy would ever remove; rooms with memories of a dozen other Shimerians before me who could argue that this place was there's; it wasn't 438, it wasn't Hutchins, but it was somehow still Shimer and it still felt like home. The octagonal tables finished where the paintings left off and I stroked the side of one and thought of some names and smiled to think these tables were still here.

It wasn't my Shimer.

There was no Shimer-Henge. There was no quad. There were no crappy pea gravel paths to cut a swath through the middle and connect buildings. There would be no trudging through the snow to make classes from one place to another. There was no gym basement to play pool in. There was no coffee shop to move from building to building to building. But there was a Young Chang piano that I had played till my fingers bled. There were pictures I remember staring at when my attention wavered after a night of too much reading and too little sleep. There were names that were familiar. There was Shimer. And it is Shimer. We walked through quiet, almost reverent, alone and opening doors and peaking in to see what we could see. A thousand ghosts and memories in every corner of this building that I had never been in before; all of it telling me that this was still Shimer.

It is still Shimer.

Of all the people who were angry about the move, and of the most stubborn, I did not think I could find anything redeeming in this place. So I made a pilgrimage to The School to be angry and to fuel my distaste and my rage. And it didn't happen.

It's not the same. I won't try to argue that it is. It's merely Shimer. Seeing it there whole and intact stole all my hatred from me. It's still Shimer.

The boy, the dog, and I walked down the stairs to find the Nubian pierced goddess of Admissions who was working on a Saturday. We asked for bookmarks and she gave us a stack; bookmarks to be used to promote Shimer, to keep it alive, to put new people and new memories into this new building. I want to keep it alive for the most selfish reason of all, because knowing it is there in some incarnation is easier then letting it go.

The journey the rest of the way north was spent silent for a while. Both of us lost in thoughts of our own Shimer, a little world that had been created there. Then came Skimmel's and coffee and the discussion of what we can do. "Anything you want to do on the South Side?" Yeah, yeah, there is.

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