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Paddy Wagon

I sat on the 49 Western Ave bus on my way to my freshman year at Lane Tech and watched the grimy blue and white back doors of the Chicago Police Department paddy wagon bang barely open and closed again for three or four blocks. Then as the patrol van rounded the corner onto Foster Avenue, the left door burst open and this greasy-haired guy in a black leather jacket, boots, and grimy jeans jumped out, head down and hands cuffed together in front. He took the bounce down to the asphalt with bent knees, quick got his footing and took off running back down Western, never looking over his shoulder even once.

It was going to be one of those days, I smiled.

When we’re younger we have more of those days than we realize and we waste them before we or they get a chance to know that they’ll be missed.

Unless we pay attention. And since I spent a lot of time alone, I was never too distracted to miss those days. If you make the effort to embrace them, to keep their glow close, they’ll light your path for a good long time. Those days, wherever they come from, Creator, the Universe, Karma, Christ, your God, my God, our God, they want to be known, be recognized. Some folks might get one in a lifetime, but for folks who know, well those days beget more. They appreciate the love — and send more of their kind your way. I read in a book when I was a kid that all children have ESP, have abilities in seeing the future, scrying, telekinesis, all of it. The problem is that those kids grow up, don’t stay in practice. But those who do? Well, their life is a whole lot better, even if it takes a few years to figure out what they’ve been doing. Sometimes their parents scare it out of them, most times they just forget to use it. Sometimes they have parents that make them use it, whether they want to or not. And the children of those parents? Depending on who raises them, or doesn’t, they only turn out two ways, all good, or all bad. Prisons are full of folks who have it but used it for evil purposes. That’s not a punishment though, because the financial industry is full of them, too. Folks on the other side of that watery line raise funds for charity, lead spiritual flocks, teach. That’s not a blessing though; plenty of them are in the financial industry, too. Confidence men and women have always been with us, always will be. Sociopathy comes in plenty of flavors; there’s something for everyone.


Id est ergo et sum. That sounds reasonable, or poncey, or the motto of a place rich people would throw their money at, never mind what “I’m” about. That then is the beauty, the rich blood-red kool-aid so many will drink without provocation. It looks good. It sounds good. It smells good. It feels good. Damnit, Chad, it tastes good. That’s all it takes. Appearance is everything. Well, that, and relationships. Who you know, not who you blow. That last one’ll get you in the door, make you popular at the office Christmas parties, but it won’t get you the late-night envelopes, the dowager clientele. It’s how Yale and Harvard continue to operate, a pyramid scheme like the American dollar, a leap of faith with no gold standard, a select few in on the con, and none ready to call no clothes for fear of their own nudity headed for display. That would be fine if they kept it to foie gras and cousin fucking, but the problem is that it’s seeped into every corner and crevasse of the Republic. Like pubic lice, the ever-weakening descendants of the “elite” foist their farce and foible in crab-holding claws around the sex of an aging democracy, gripping its waning vigor in pincers ready to sacrifice a boundless future for the momentary petite mort of Mory’s rarebit or pointless football scrimmages between DKE date-rapers and future policy wonks who’ll tax-law this “democracy” into Rockefellerish arrears that will only compound centuries of baby-blood-drinking vig. They lap at the teat of guest lecturers and media-fueled visiting professors who hold forth in classes that the sons and daughters of the elite and allowed mostly attend and are occasionally excused from by Dean’s Notes written by misery-addled Ph.D.’s who are mired in Student Affairs and self-conscious shame at the betrayal of their scholarly training brought on by the endless administrative crowd-sourced demands for their dignity and requests to pick up some chicken and order a cake for the darlings who will wreck two hundred-plus years of the democratic republic at the drop of a Bain-scented kerchief. That, folks, is the elite against which so many rail against — a lace-curtain web of petty vengeance and morality, which, if present in the least, is thin enough for a naked mole rat, startlingly reminiscent on the visual plane of the decrepit faculty who are old enough to have voted out ROTC in 1969 and voted for their return in 2012. The only new blood that hangs out long enough there is that drunk by the department heads to ensure they don’t collapse on the altar of late capitalism. Good lord. Retire already.


The day I knew all this was one of those days. That morning on my way to Sterling Tower’s foreboding medieval glower a loose-doored utility truck drove by as I walked by the ominous neo-Egyptian necropolis on Tower Parkway and my mind’s eye played a graphic full-throated rewind of a gaping paddy wagon and its attendant fugitive on his way to a freedom though undefined was nevertheless a breath of frosted air that would fill his lungs with a reward that would last unto his deathbed. I grabbed the glow that morning and held it close that night when I accepted a position that took me away from the Kool-Aid trough to a future unknown on one hand, but certainly better on the other, better than all I had ever known.

Theodore Van Alst, Jr. is Associate Professor and Director of Indigenous Nations Studies at Portland State University. He is co-editor and Creative Editor for Transmotion (an open-access on-line journal of postmodern indigenous studies). His short story collection about growing up in Chicago, Sacred Smokes, has recently been published by the University of New Mexico Press