My friend Bill has lived in the same building for twenty-five years but now has to move out. It’s a fourteen-story brick high-rise steps from the lake in Rogers Park. The only time I visited him at home a few years back, the apartment and the building as a whole reminded me of my first place in Chicago. It was a mile and change south of Bill’s, at the corner of Foster and Sheridan. Like his, mine had patterned carpeting everywhere and vaguely Orientalist fixtures and decor. If you’ve been to the Music Box Theatre, picture that but as a building full of tiny apartments. Mine was once a residential hotel and, in 1990-91, when I lived there, had a run-down seedy David Lynch vibe too it, down to flickering hall lighting.
I don’t know if Bill’s building was ever a hotel, but he was forced to move from his apartment on the twelfth floor because of water damage. Now, barely a year later, he’s moving out altogether.
The obvious selling point of places in this building is the view. Depending on which way the windows face, one is afforded vistas of water to the east, Evanston to the north, or the seemingly endless grids of Chicago to the south and west. Bill has taken a photo out his window nearly every morning for the past few years.
Yet, even with a collection of hundreds of photos, he wanted some more permanent or tangible way to memorialize what he saw out his windows all these years. So he asked me to make a painting. Over three afternoons last week, I worked up the picture you see above. I put the finished version first, then process shots of the previous two sessions, so you get some idea of how it came together.
It’s strange to spend time in someone else’s place when they’re not there. All the more so when that place is in a state of transition. I asked Bill before starting whether he wanted any of the interior incorporated in the picture but he said he didn’t. If he had, there would be packing tape, cardboard boxes, and half-empty shelving. It was not yet someone else’s home, but it was beginning to no longer be Bill’s.
Even though I haven’t lived with this view for twenty-five years, looking out these windows these three afternoons made me feel like a part of this particular place at this particular time. This is why I prefer working from life to anything else. Even if the view is someone else’s, there’s no replacing the experience of taking it in with your own eyes.
Bill’s new pad doesn’t have a vista to enjoy. He told me he plans to hang my painting next to the living room window to remind him of the old place. I hope what I came up with will serve as the reminder he was hoping for. Having spent a little time in his old place, the view he knows better than anyone has, in some small measure, become mine as well.
—Got some marker drawings of Pilsen up for sale at Pilsen Community Books. Ring them if you’d like one.
—I’ve been invited to read from my cab books at this reading at Taxi Town on Wednesday. Have no clue if anyone will show up, but it’s already been worth it because I got to see their amazing website. In case you’ve ever doubted the importance of apostrophes, it will set you straight. (Though I’m glad they’re so concerned about cabbies’ orgasms…)