My parents came to visit last week. I rented a car at O’Hare and picked them up. Over their three days here we ate a lot of good food, drank some decent wine, had some good talks, and looked at a lot of art; mostly mine. On previous recent visits they were able to stay at Shay’s house, but now that I live in a place suited for one they had to AirBnB it. That was one of the few hiccups during their stay.
After showing them my place and having lunch at Pleasant House we drove to the Gold Coast apartment building where they’d be staying. The apartment, which was supposed to be on the second floor was actually on the fifth and the elevator which was supposed to be functional was out of order and wouldn’t be fixed for three days. After a couple tense phone and text exchanges with their hostess, my father spent the next four hours trying to get through to AirBnB to refund their money and compensate them for the inconvenience. During those hours we visited my gallery show, drove around, shopped for food, and eventually ended up at their replacement accommodations in River North.
I immediately recognized the Italian deli on the ground level of this high-rise. In my second or third year at SAIC, I had a work-study internship at the Roger Ramsey Gallery. One of my duties was to fetch subs for the two guys at the gallery from this spot. I can’t remember learning much of anything in my months on that job. I do remember that the guys would set up a portable TV in the middle of the gallery and watch hardcore porn anytime the place was empty; which was most of the time.
Having visitors in town—which I rarely do—always serves to remind me how solitary my everyday life is. Having to coordinate with others for three days in a row was a novelty and made me see my city from a different angle. My father, in particular, never fails to point out how scattered and random he feels Chicago is. How great the distances within its borders are. I’ve never seen it that way, but living in a place and visiting it are polar opposites in many ways. My Chicago has changed dimensions and character many times over the twenty-five years I’ve been here. But I can no longer ever see it as the sprawling grid of mismatched buildings which my parents perceived out the windows of the little Nissan rental as we crisscrossed its streets.
My parents have been unfailingly supportive of me throughout my adult life. They help with money whenever I’m in need and own more of my paintings than anyone else by a wide margin, but I often wonder whether they’re not a little disappointed about how I spend my days. My failure to succeed either in work or in love must weigh on them. But for better or worse, they raised me not to worry about their opinions nor seek their approval. At nearly fifty and single, they know not to hope for grandchildren and I know that I’ll never feel what they feel when they watch or think about their three sons.
Like so many other families in this country at the moment, our clashes during the visit were mostly over politics. By the end of their stay, we had still not quite agreed on what the word ‘fascist’ actually means. So it goes these days. I was glad to see them anyway. None of us are getting any younger and can’t afford to pass up opportunities to spend time together as the inevitable comes into ever clearer view.
After dropping them off at the airport Friday and returning the Nissan to Budget, I was alone again, heading back into the city on the Blue Line. It hit me that though I hadn’t left town the past three days had felt like a trip to another place. Just goes to show that it’s possible to travel great distances without ever leaving home.