28 January 2007

"Mister Dominick, tear down that wall!"

THE INTERMITTENT GROANING AND BLEEPING along the half city block of mud and dirt on Chicago Avenue from first light to dusk is no mystery, but the view is gone. The spread of land where the Edmar supermarket stood until summer is now hidden from eastern eyes: a greater-than-story-high pale retaining wall, drab, Soviet, up against the McDonald’s on the corner, a gray cement barricade, like a barrier against slurry in mining operations. Kitty-corner there’s a Subway, and despite the burst of independently owned businesses: restaurants, bars, bakeries, a comics store, a record store, an art-toy store, the neighborhood will immediately be marked by the market to come. This block, in a few months, will be where you go, not to shop, but to go to Dominick’s, a multi-story multi-brand mini-mall. The first thing that came to mind the morning the wall went up last week was Ronald Reagan’s calculated shout to Mikhail Gorbachev about the Berlin Wall, “Mister Gorbachev, tear down this wall!” This wall, for this first day at least, lacks the expressive graffiti and tribal markings of the long-gone German barrier. Birds circle overhead, pigeons, gulls, the shapes and shadows of birds. The birds circuit and spiral over the urban intersection, shadows like furious origami conveyed in flickery, reflected anime, avian Muybridge of piercing presence. They gather in hope of a market. They remember the market that’s gone; they can’t know a new supermarket is being built to replace the old one, the 1950s supermarket founded as an A&P. (The “ghetto grocery” as neighbors affectionately dubbed its low-cost aisles.) The birds expect flat roofs the span of a small beach, with irregular, shallow mirrors of sky from regular rain. That’s why the seagulls join the pigeons two, three miles inland from Lake Michigan. They recall the market, they expect the mirror. Today there’s only a wall, held up at streetside by an orange strut, a yellow strut, first markings of the edifice complex. From the several community meetings, there’s no telling what will wind up attached, semi-detached and festooned to this traffic artery-clogging, high markup, conglom foodery: one meeting I attended had the spectacle of a spluttering corporate representative conceding yes, that the markup at Dominick’s on some products is spectacular, but that every one in those folding seats ought to be grateful that something so special, so wonderful, so profitable for the holders of the corporation’s bank notes ought to be welcomed with open wallets. The birds swoop. Dusk comes. Sharp shadows fall. (Appeared in a different form in Newcity, 25 January 2007.)