I’ve lived in Bridgeport over two years now. It’s about the fifth neighborhood I’ve tried since coming to Chicago twenty-seven years ago, but probably the first one I truly feel a part of. At least as much as I’m able to feel a part of anything. A big part of this novel community feeling comes from working at Bernice’s, which has been here for over fifty years. Being connected to that place makes me feel connected to the streets which surround it. This is the first place I’ve lived where I’m recognized on the street almost every day. It’s a small thing but it makes me feel like I belong here, which is a rare feeling.
I started hearing about the Bridgeport All-Stars art show a month or two back. John told me to expect a call from Mike, the guy organizing the exhibit. Weeks passed with no call. Then postcards and flyers started appering at the coffee shop and other places around the neighborhood. Steve’s name was on them, so was John’s, but not mine. I felt a little left out but didn’t think too much more about it.
A few days before the show was to open, Steve told me he wanted to take a couple of my paintings along and insist they include me. I agreed, though not without misgivings. The art world, like every other world, functions almost solely on personal connections. Talent and merit have very little to do with success or whether one is included. Still, it didn’t seem right to be smuggled in at the last second and I have too much ego not to feel slighted for not being asked.
My last dealing with Ed Marzewski’s Co-Prosperity Sphere (where the Bridgeport All-Stars show was to be hung) was a couple years ago, when I made the artwork for Lumpen Magazine’s Field Guide to Chicago Jagoffs. I remember Ed from when he hung around Wicker Park back in the 90s. Now he’s the unofficial mayor of Bridgeport. I painted the Trump Tower on the cover of his magazine because I couldn’t think of a bigger jagoff. Back then, making fun of Donald Trump still seemed like a valid way to spend one’s time. Now we’re far, far through the looking glass. So much of the everyday comes off topsy-turvy now; having my paintings at Co-Pro only added to the strangeness.
Before the opening at 6pm Friday, I went to have shawarma at Zaytune’s a few doors down from the gallery. Four dressed-up women walked in after me. I recognized one of them from a couple nights before at the Skylark. Antonio introduced her as another artist in the All-Stars show. They had just finished hanging it and he was proud of the job he’d done. All the women at Zaytune’s were excited about the show but I couldn’t muster any enthusiasm. Openings invariably fill me with dread. Add the dubious way in which I was included in this show and I couldn’t even feign interest.
When I walked into Co-Pro, I immediately fixed both of my paintings, as they were hanging crooked. That, and the fact that they were installed above the kegerator, killed off the last of my good will. I wandered about a bit, then sat at one of the wooden benches and stared off into space. Mike, the curator, was introduced to me and proceeded to talk my ear off, but I wasn’t listening and did nothing more than nod and agree with whatever he was going on about. I fought the impulse to grab my work off the wall and walk out, but knew that would only invite attention I didn’t want. I left soon after to watch Detectorists (which you should all watch because it’s brilliant). I was home by 8pm.
Sunday morning I was a guest on Lumpen Radio’s Eye 94 show. The station shares space with the gallery so I was forced to think about the show again. I wasn’t mad anymore and was back to being grateful for being included. I still didn’t like the way my work was hung but the show would be done in a week or two and I was already starting to forget that I was even part of it.
I’m no Bridgeport All-Star but I’m still glad I live here and don’t plan on leaving anytime soon.