I’m a faithful listener of Out of the Blocks, my old friend, Aaron Henkin’s, great hyper-local Baltimore podcast. So when I heard at the tail of the last episode that he would be in Chicago, recording some episodes in the North Lawndale neighborhood, I dropped him a line. He wrote back and we made plans to meet and catch up.
I met Aaron in 1997, when I moved back to Chicago for good. He was part of a crowd which revolved around a band called the Country Melvins. If you want to know a little about them, pick up a copy of my book. In 2000, Aaron posed for a portrait which was part of a show at the Rainbo Club. Most of the sitters were part of the Wicker Park art and music scene (or at least worked in the bars, restaurants, and coffeeshops in the neighborhood.) Most have long since moved away.
When Aaron showed up at the Skylark on Friday, sitting for that portrait was one of the first things he mentioned. He recalled it being a snowy day and that having to be still for a few hours like that was one of his favorite Chicago memories. I asked him if he had the painting, but then remembered that friend liked it so much that she bought it. She’s since passed away, so who knows where that picture is now.
Aaron moved away from Chicago with the fiddle player from the Country Melvins. They went to Baltimore so she could go to med school. He thought he’d wait tables and play in bands. Instead, their marriage dissolved and he backed into a career in public radio. I would love his show even without our personal connection, but it adds an extra little something every time I tune in.
He told me he was thinking of walking past his old Wicker Park haunts before he left town but I advised him against it. Aside from the Rainbo and Myopic Books, it’s more or less a moonscape over there these days. That’s not a nostalgic dig at that over-gentrified neighborhood, just a statement of fact. Sometimes it’s best to leave the warm memories of the past just as where they are.
We talked about Baltimore—a city I haven’t been to since my early teens, when me and my best friend strolled through a ghetto neighborhood blasting Def Leppard from our boombox until an older black man got up from a stoop and told us we should turn around and go back immediately. For Aaron, Baltimore has become home like Chicago has become home to me.
Seeing an old friend thrive is one of few fringe benefits of getting older. On leaving, Aaron invited me to visit his city so he could show me around. I think I’ll take him up on that.
—I wrote a review of Unquiet by Linn Ullmann for Hyperallergic.