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Historians say Nero did not set a fire; whether he was fiddling or not I do not know. It seems to me sometimes that America is figuratively burning, and at times literally. The rioting and looting that took place across the country the entire summer of 2020 was not figurative. I remember pulling up to my pharmacy drive-up one Sunday—the window was totally smashed and it was closed. I was puzzled and then I remembered how empty the parking lot appeared when I’d entered. I noticed a policeman standing by the entrance. I asked him what was going on, and he told me rioting and looting was going on, to avoid the nearest mall which was up for grabs. He told me to go home and stay there.
How could this be happening in the suburbs of Chicago? Even days later when I went down by the mall he referred to, many storefronts were boarded up and there were tanklike vehicles blocking certain entrances. Many people had just exploded or taken advantage of the looting for looting’s sake. The concept of being unsafe when out in public was spilling over into “nice” areas, mostly white.
Crime on Michigan Avenue has increased so much even some locals avoid it, and of course tourism has been affected. One sign of decline was Macy’s vacating Water Tower Place among other stores. Robbing people walking along Michigan Avenue has greatly increased. Now smash and grabs at luxury stores in upscale malls including Water Tower are not that uncommon. Groups of individuals breach security when the mall or stores are closed and grab as many valuable items as they can and disappear in a flash.
The usual shoppers at all these places have been shocked by the invasion of such crime into what they thought was their domain. Of course, as with everything in America, the issue of race is relevant. Most of the rioting and looting occurred after the George Floyd incident. And poverty is a large part of the problem. I live in a mostly affluent suburb that borders the West side of Chicago. We lay the blame for most of our urban problems on people from the West side, an area that never recovered from the race riots of the late 1960s. Certain areas have rebounded some, but even building the huge United Center there didn’t really transform the neighborhood all that much. Not far from us on the far West side is a rather large hospital aka the gunshot hospital. Now many locals fear even driving on the expressways because so many shootings have occurred just driving on them. Most of them were built to accommodate white flight to the suburbs (as in get out of town quickly to water the lawn).
Speaking of which, Chicago doesn’t deserve the nickname “ChIraq.” However, after each weekend, the news gives the number of shootings over the weekend, how many were injured and killed; it’s just like the body counts being reported on the nightly news during the Vietnam War. Then and now, I eventually get to the point that it might as well be Muzak playing in the background. It’s to be expected.
Where I live, at both pharmacies, particularly the one closest to the city, I have to buzz for assistance to unlock the cases to get my item. I joked with the manager one day that soon half the store would be locked up. She agreed. Just a block north are beautiful apartments, houses, and condos. At the grocery store near me, shopping carts are hard to come by. Recently, I have been asking people coming out of the store with carts filled with groceries if I could follow them to their car in order to have their cart. The other day I went there and they had a whole section of carts locked up with a large chain. They can’t keep up with all the theft. In our village small bags for groceries cost a dime for a small bag and seventeen cents for a larger one. Some people just walk off with their carts, sometimes just leaving them empty on sidewalks.
That’s another thing going on these days. Some people just drop their containers like empty water bottles or fast-food containers on the sidewalk or in front yards. Respect for each other, the environment, our democratic process—you name it—seems shockingly sparse, or maybe I am just too old for all of this.
Businesses have had to be creative with allowing only paying customers to use their bathrooms. Needing to be buzzed in by an employee is one way. Another is entering a code (you ask an employee for) on a numbered keypad. Just the other day I went to a new Chipotle and they were the cleverest of all. A code number appeared at the bottom of your receipt. No receipt, you would have to get the code another way if possible. Of course, the issue of homelessness is concerning, but there doesn’t seem to be much sympathy for how they can locate a bathroom.
Since Covid there have been staff shortages everywhere. Where did the stimulus money go? Where did the workers go and how do they support themselves? According to one of the historically standard definitions of what a recession is, we entered one this summer 2022. My frustration at the tension created by all the conflict, impatience, and bad behavior the public displays causes me to continue to live as if the pandemic is still in its original stage. (I also don’t trust myself not to be obnoxious as I hate to wait.) I often have groceries delivered, have meals from restaurants delivered more often, and shop for items almost exclusively online for delivery.
Yesterday I went for a lovely, early autumn walk through the streets of large homes in my neighborhood—beautifully maintained, with front yards meticulously landscaped, or with gorgeous flower gardens, including the wildflowers and grasses variety. Pride flags flew from many homes and signs such as Black Lives Matter graced many lawns as well. On my last block home, I walked by a home and garage. A voice rang out of nowhere: “Hi, you are currently being recorded.” I noticed all the small security camera scattered on their property. I plan to move near the ocean in South Florida, swim each day, read and write. Being seventy now, I am just not up for this new Rome.
Marc Frazier has published poetry in over a hundred literary journals. He has also published memoir, fiction, essays and reviews of poetry collections. Marc, the recipient of an Illinois Arts Council Award for poetry, has been nominated for a Pushcart Prize and two “best of the nets.” He is a Chicago area, LGBTQ writer whose three full-length poetry collections are available online. He is active on social media especially his Marc Frazier Author page on Facebook.