Diversity My Eye

Concrete contractors impress the pavement of Chicago
with the year of the pour:
The characteristics of the changing technique,
the nature and nationalities of the work,
the stone and sweat,
the rise and fall of everything,
all are there to see
whenever we walk

There’s Carol,
born in the ’40s, when the pavement was still pebbled
brought up in Marina City South
daughter of a labor leader.
Now, her father had a great job.
She’s busy at her treadle
in venerated Hyde Park
where we whites can muse on past accomplishments
while present conditions for browns stand stock-still
a mere block or two outside the periphery
of this great University
just outside her door

on the sidewalk
is it 1969? I can’t quite make it out
but Carol and I must have wandered south to 63rd Street,
that robust monument to urban progress
And Dick Gregory is feeling relief
Yes it’s 1969
as he v. Chicago is settled by the highest court in the land
Finally he can walk erect again after 3 years
after all of Illinois stood against him
because he was upset that Chicago schools were still technically segregated
But today brown boys still drop out and get arrested here
often with no good reason except their age and anger
Aw shucks
what rotten kids
while we just a few blocks away
we sip Tazo in the sun and chat about Steve Jobs
as our Lab children laugh safely off yonder
in a pseudo-diverse school
Aw shucks
what good girls and boys
And while ours are celebrated
their School Choices still suck
because technically Mr. Gregory
we’re still seriously segregated here

Meanwhile, back at the ranch,
Treasure Island
is now a proud University tenant
Cosmopolitan professors, benignant smiles all,
triumphant at the collapse of the Co-op
may now sniff at the 400 gourmet herb-speckled cheeses
discriminate amongst the 200 imported fresh multigrain pastas
and other dappled things
Mostly white, a few Asian (virtually none brown)
still in love with Europe, their tastes remain strictly Old World
vintage ca. 40-400ya
Yea, even their ideas
isolated in time, place, and skin color

But there’s old Beulah,
auntie of the mayor’s pal
Ms. Fuck You Lewis,
that meddlesome new teacher’s union president
“Law! even the chicken legs $1.79 a pound!”
[Why that’s nothing compared to the lobster, ma’am]
“But you can get chicken legs out west
fuh fitty-nan cent,
glory be to God!”
she protests
along with many other brown faces I’ve heard
compelled to shop at Treasure Island
[Note to Carol: How can you boycott an Island?]

If nothing else, Beulah, they do keep the collard greens low
Perhaps it’s a sheepish nod to the demise of Moo and Oink on Stony Island
or to the so-called Co-op that once stood here,
or to the so-called food desert,
or to the so-called invisible hand,
or to the black power long ago switched over to another tenant
She mumbles something like “Lord have mercy”
and rolls off to continue foraging

The white ghosts of Coase, Friedman, Becker
and other Chicago School economists
for whom money is in fact no object
are having a field day in these hallowed halls
pulling large volumes on supply and demand
mostly wind and water, but still substantial
perusing the Nutritional Facts
methodically placing them in the cart
explaining, serenely and benignantly,
but still with that half-smile,
mild intellectual amusement
(if not at her, perhaps with her?)
why Beulah must make these choices
and it actually is a little funny
I saw some Herbes de Provence
stuck in Becker’s teeth as he laughed
or maybe it was a black peppercorn —
“After all,
one simply cannot come up with brilliant economic insights
on a diet of cheap cheese!”
[Appreciative laughter and APPLAUSE]

Many’s the long night I’ve dreamed of cheese.
Treasure Island indeed.
Why, of all things in the world,
did old Ben Gunn crave cheese most of all?
He didn’t mean Cheetos (Aisle 8) or Camembert (Deli Aisle),
just any kind of cheese!
In Hyde Park, if we ever really get back there,
he should have cheese by the stone.

Yea, we witness, as Beulah acts rationally:
she passes the eternally broken drinking fountain
(another rational choice for bottled water)
(made by Maria Kamberos, president, union buster)
leaves with two magnificent yellow bags in her cart
(another rational choice for the environment)
(made by Maria Kamberos, president, union buster)
trudges up Lake Park
passes a nodding Leon Despres
born in the ante-pavement North
at 101, a good year
falling asleep in his wheelchair
too sick of sin to light his eyes
on the place he created
he dies
rolling over 2009

Rational too is the method by which, in the 1960’s
on a widespread basis
the University quietly paid the summer rent
or purchased apartment buildings outright
to exclude unruly [e.g., swarthy] families:
“We did it to protect our student and faculty population.”
Do you know what it is like to be a lifetime renter,
moving on an almost annual basis,
hauling your dresser for the umpteenth time
stepping over that date on the sidewalk
that happens to be the year your parents met?
was it 1989?
was it 1979?
was it 1969?
or weren’t you really paying attention?
This will be on the test, you can be sure.
Pass or fail to pass, family privilege foretells you a home
while [e.g., swarthy] others are ever indentured to a landlord.

57th and Kenwood
once center of Inland white intellectual culture
once gilded with bookstores
site of the first art fair
and birthplace of the Lakefront Liberal
My mother points at the corner building:
“Hey, Zorita Wise lived right up in that window,
in Goff House, across from me.”
Who’s that?
She would be a congressman’s wife!
her debutante years spent
at the great University of Chicago.
She was an activist, too, of the Jewish guilt persuasion.

After her ritual bath,
refreshed and ready for more tikkun olam,
Abner’s betrothed gazes down at us
The century turned mostly right at this crossroads
when my mother and father,
eww, they made out
on their first date one breezy evening
stepping on 1959 crisp and newly poured

In spite of other imperfect information
I do recall that

This bundle of joy cried inconsolably
(or so it’s reported)
exactly half a century ago
in the park across from the Del Prado Hotel
it was first passed
into the arms of a dark-complected man
but Professor Becker
was the argument pro or con?

Tiny tears hit the sturdy limestone
and their saltwater etched it sure
on this spot
in 1963