Property

I dreamed last night I told Mayor Daley that I would pay more property taxes in order to provide hot water and shelter for everyone. (In the dream, the amount I paid was about half what it is in reality.)

I am a homeowner. I have a stake in the city. In the neighborhood. We have boxes on the front porch awaiting pick up by strangers who are moving. (One of the wonders of Craig's List.) The next-door neighbors are selling their house. I told them the boxes would be gone soon, that I didn't want to lower their property value. When I was in junior high, our principal said that if girls wore pants it would lower the property values. In eighth grade there was a protest. I didn't take part. I was too chicken. But a girl named W wore jeans, and in Mrs. F's math class she put her feet on the empty seat in front of her. Mrs. F jumped on it immediately: When girls wear pants they put their feet on the furniture. In school, the desks were always called furniture.

By high school we were wearing cut-off jeans and halter tops, though that principal put a stop to flip flops, then known as shower sandals. It was a safety issue. The principal liked to defy the school district and had a flowery sign over his office that said Love Room. Or something like that. There was a smoking area outside, which was considered progressive. No one brought up the health issue.

I remember a discussion about having police in the school. I don't know why it came up; maybe because drugs were found in lockers. I was on the student council and that was probably where we discussed it. Some of us objected (did I? I don't remember) and the counter argument was, If you're doing nothing wrong, why would it matter? And: If you're driving and you see a cop, what's your reaction? My reaction is I'd rather not see them. I tense up. I check my speed. And is that good or bad?

Now we have cameras at intersections to record erring drivers. When I lived in Miami, I remember there were police cameras on South Beach because there were so many muggings. This was when it was populated by frail, retired needle-trade workers with Yiddish accents. What does the city owe us and what do we owe the city? Chicago is like a nation-state. It could be very democratic, with 50 representatives on the city council. But I think a majority of them were appointed by the mayor. Meanwhile, I have not protested enough that yoga classes were discontinued a year ago at the park district when the teacher retired, and the district still hasn't found a new teacher. The park district is a public body that is supposed to be responsive to citizens. But the citizens needs to make themselves heard.

***
But what is property? Architects see buildings as containers for shapes. I don't believe exactly that property is theft, but most property in the US was originally ill-gotten. We feel that we don't deserve this big house. We also feel a responsibility to keep it up. It's about 110 years old and historic in a general way. We don't know its history. The headquarters at school is a mansion that came with a scrapbook about its history. It was built for the publisher of a long-dead newspaper and Will Rogers came there once to a party. When I went to the Millay Colony for the Arts, I saw that each person who stayed in a room wrote her or his name on the jamb. At another artists colony, Ragdale, the residents write notes in a notebook in each room. We have our say. We note where we were. What we did. I walk down the streets of Chicago thinking about what it looked like 50 years ago, a century ago. Some people go back further, and see prairie grasses and swamp where skyscrapers are now. (In French, gratte-ciel, sky scratcher--aggressive in both languages.) And part of everything growing around us, the trees and fertilized grasses and flowers, are tiny fragments of people who used to live around here. I assume someone somewhere has hypothesized about the process, about how long it takes for a body to decay in the ground, then become part of the atmosphere and material world. We bring dead flowers to decorate graves (we in general, not Jews) and then some caretaker takes them away. Jews leave stones, and eventually the stones become part of the earth and so on.

5 comments:

mamawhelming said...

Hmmm. I attended that high school five years later. There was a smoking area and we weren't allowed to wear shorts even during senior week. The principal during my era was swell, even the time he asked me whether my funky braids were part of a Jewish youth group ritual.

Writer said...

Mr. McClure was our principal. Was he still there?
--C. Bitch

mamawhelming said...

Yes. I liked him.

L said...

Don't forget, part of Chicago was Lake Michigan, before they filled it in.

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