A young woman came up and asked for a Chicago Handshake and I didn’t know what that was. She acted surprised, then said it was an Old Style and a shot of Malört. I did my best not to make a face and went off to get it. When I came back she admitted that she’d only heard it from a few customers at the bar she worked at and only in the last few months. What I thought was: if this is some test of local cred or authenticity, then I’d rather stay a phony from elsewhere.
Later the same night there was a heated argument about whether Pilsen is part of the real South Side. Arguments like this are almost always based on anger or insecurity rather than logic, fact, or reason. Voices were raised as the warring sides practically beat their chests to demonstrate how true blue and authentic they were. None of the real Chicago debates ever persuade me. The city is an ever-changing amalgam of different populations coming and going. The people who claim it as theirs are usually venal and small-minded. No town should belong to anyone, especially a town as complicated and contradictory as Chicago.
I’ve lived here more than half my life and will probably spend the rest of it here, but I doubt there will come a time when I’ll wanna claim that it belongs to me. Best case scenario, I will contribute enough to be considered part of it. That would be plenty.
A week later another drinker asked simply for a Handshake. I hesitated a moment, then poured her a pint of PBR to chase her Malört. She didn’t send it back and ask for an Old Style instead. Guess she’s not a true Chicagoan either. That, or the fact that PBR is a dollar cheaper and four ounces more beer, might have consoled her. My friend Paul happened to be at the bar so I asked him if he’d ever heard of a Chicago Handshake. He’s a historian of this city and he’d never heard of it. A quick Google search revealed the drink to be a marketing gimmick cooked up a couple years ago by the producers of the booze involved.
Gimmickry, chest-beating, and posturing are key cultural values around here these days. Beat your chest enough and you might even get to be president. I would never claim to be an authority on authenticity or what is real, but I can smell a sales job a mile away. So if you wanna come shake my hand, that’s fine; just don’t do it to test where I’m from or what I’m worth, or to sell me two drinks I wouldn’t even drink for free.
p.s. I reviewed Pamela Bannos’ masterful new biography of photographer Vivian Maier for New City.