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Gapers Block published from April 22, 2003 to Jan. 1, 2016. The site will remain up in archive form. Please visit Third Coast Review, a new site by several GB alumni.
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Tuesday, April 23

Gapers Block

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It is very Chicago. Friendship, yes, is very Chicago — and what you'd do for a friend. Unfortunately, losing friends is even more Chicago. It is one of the tragedies of Chicago. In Chicago, the friends come and go, talking of even better places (or so they think). It is likely the hardest part of living and growing up in Chicago — losing friends to other places, to the suburbs, over money, over politics, over neighborhoods.

Yet it is a very Chicago thing, that close friendship — intimate friendship — for which nothing is sacred. For which you must be willing to sacrifice anything. The Russians say, "Ne imey sto rubley, a imey sto druzey," or, "Don't have a hundred rubles, but have a hundred friends." How true, and there is that segment of Chicagoans — increasingly diminishing — that lives by this. How can they leave for better opportunity, better weather, etcetera, etcetera, when all their friends are here? Nothing is equal to that bond of friendship.

Losing a lover, liking blowing out a match, is a quick plunge into darkness. Losing a friend, like a candle burning to its quick, is a slow burn, and therefore tortorous.

A proverb runs, "Droog poznayotsa v bede." Or, "You know your friend only when trouble arrives." After all, if life was all kittens, why would you need friends?

Chicago, jewel of the Midwest, attracts the best and brightest. From this raw material has been mined a sparkling edifice, made stronger by divergent cultures and weltanschauung, and we Chicagoans are among the most privileged on Earth, that we can mingle effortlessly within its walls, carelessly shield ourselves from the pain and sufferings of life within its sturdy walls. But it's a trick: when we open our eyes in the morning, look what piece has been removed and replace. The center holds, but that piece ripped out, because it's unique, like the desecration of a church or loss of a childhood artifact, makes its absence felt, and that pain is not easily cured. Ever.

From Ecclesiastes: "Two are better than one; because they have a good reward for their labor. For if they fall, the one will lift up his fellow: but woe to him that is alone when he falleth; for he hath not another to help him up."

That is also Chicago, isn't it? "Bootstraps." That stick-to-it-iveness that says don't let anybody pick you up. Pick yourself up. Our dirty secret is, we cannot leave this city because we fear wherever we go, we would fall and never stand again.

It's easy to make friends. Or "friends." To jump from group to group, town to town, city to city, picking them up and dropping, to be amused by them and to drink with them. Nobody ever called that difficult. It is the easiest thing in the world, with your wide grin and charm to make a friend who will get the first round or buy that extra ticket for the show. But it means something different, entirely, to have a friend, and, more wondrous still, to be a friend to someone else. Make no mistake: never having it is a pitiful bankruptcy, but having it and losing it is a yawning depth of sorrow that transcends race and class and birth.

It isn't just the feather that causes birds to flock together, but something different and innate about each. In this way your friends are disparate, but brought together by another small part of themselves that you cherish. These bits and pieces, these patches, come together not like some postmodern monstrosity but just as meaningless syllables, joined just so, can hum Shakespeare.

They leave us, all the time. Chicago, due to factors beyond its control, was designed to be left behind. Passed over as angels to homes stained with blood. How they show up and wrap themselves in it, or better dwell in one of its warming, protective corners, and as with most converts it is they who are most fervent. So we, Chicagoans more established, swoon and coo and can't help but love them. But then (always) they get up and go, finding something they understand to be better. They go off to school, or follow lovers, or imagine a romantic something that, supposedly, cannot be found here. Chicago is just so..., they'll say, and finish it with something repulsive to the ear.

Madness overtakes men in the name of friendship, and depravity, also. And although inexcusable, isn't it understandable? Madness in service of romantic love is usually nothing but a sense of possession, or being owed. With friendship, there's only loyalty in it. Think: the word "betrayal" should have no meaning, really, except as it applies to friendship. And indeed when has betrayal ever struck you as being so vile as when done friend-on-friend?

Someday, we can only hope, Chicago will no longer be On-my-way-to, but Where-I'm-going. Where people settle, and stay, and that worst of losses becomes always more rare.

It is true, that our ultimate comfort is only death. But along the way, what a thing it is, to have friends.

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mike / February 22, 2006 12:55 AM

verdad. verdad.

waleeta / February 22, 2006 1:31 AM

Ramsin - great article, but what's with the nihilistic last sentence?

And Mike - do you ever go to bed before 4 a.m? I should return your calls in the middle of the night. more efficient for me.

Featuring Fitz / February 24, 2006 2:00 PM

Great article. Anyone who reads this article should realize how dearly Ramsin honors his word, and his actual understanding of friendship. I am very glad you are on my side. You should have met up with us last night, though. Adam and I will be back in two Sundays, we should hang out then. And we need to figure out the remote situation.
Good to have you back writing.


About the Author(s)

Ramsin Canon covers and works in politics in Chicago. If you have a tip, a borderline illegal leak, or a story that needs to be told, contact him at .

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