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TODAY

Sunday, April 22

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Detour

It's a little known fact that the Northwest Side of Chicago is a home for space aliens. It's even less well known that it's a retirement home for space aliens.

How do I know this? Because my neighbors are aliens.

This whole neighbors mess got started when I got a call from the Department of Homeland Creatures. The following dialogue is a call that took place between an agent-- we'll call him "Bob" -- and me.

Me: "Ahh, Hello?"

Bob: "Hello Mr. Sobolak? This is the Department of Homeland Creatures calling. How are you today?"

Me: "Who? Is this some sort of prank or sales pitch?"

Bob: "No sir. We're a division of the Department of Homeland Security. We monitor alien activity. We keep an eye on them to make sure they aren't planning any terrorist activities."

Me: "So...why are you calling me again?"

Bob: "Sir, we received a tip from a concerned citizen in your neighborhood, and we're contacting some of the locals to check it out. We've heard some reports of missing cats and a large, pink inflatable bunny in your neighbor's front yard. That's a very definite sign, sir."

I thought about it for a second. My cat does spend a lot of time in the window looking at the neighbors. (Everybody knows that aliens like to eat cats, right?) They did leave their Christmas decorations up until late February. And I have never understood a single word they've said.

It seemed possible. Maybe they were from another planet. So Bob and I set up an appointment to chat. We met at The Boulevard Cafe, which I learned is the local hangout for agents from The Department. Over drinks he explained to me the details about the large retirement community of aliens on the Northwest Side. It's an amazing story.

According to Bob, the government doesn't discourage benign aliens from settling in Chicago, since they help the local economy. For their part, they enjoy the fine Polish sausage (a delicacy in space, I learned, because beef cattle don't do well in zero gravity) and easy transport connections to other parts of the Universe. Plus, he said, people expect weirdos in cities like San Francisco and New York, but by living in Chicago they can enjoy all the benefits of a big city, still pay affordable rent and not stick out.

As he explained all this, a lot of pieces came together in my mind. The D$llar Time/D.J. Equipment Supply store at Pulaski and Milwaukee? Aliens. (No human would think of such a brilliant combination.) Those dark bars with no name and an Old Style sign on the front? Aliens. (Apparently they like Old Style, which definitely means they are from another planet.) The large number of stores selling ugly furniture on Milwaukee? Aliens. (No human would put those couches in their living room.) It wasn't until the end though that Bob really dropped the bomb on me.

Bob: "Actually, the city is working harder to recruit these types. It's not announced or anything, but it's one of Mayor Daley's top priorities."

Me: "Wha?"

Bob: "That little bulldozer party down at Meigs Field? How it got ripped up?"

Me: "Yeah, heard about it."

Bob: "21st century billboard. Billboard to the stars. They're going to convert the airstrip to a beacon that sends the message across the universe: Come to Chicago, where the beer and sausage are good."

Me: "What?! No way."

Bob: "Totally. Have you seen the new Soldier Field?"

Me: "Not lately. Why?"

Bob: "That's the landing pad. Not speculation, Brian, fact. And Millenium Park is going to be the waiting room."

I had to admit, Bob had a point. With some of Daley's syntax, he wasn't just using poor grammar. He was, in his own special way, communicating with the aliens. And the new Soldier Field does look like, well, a UFO landing pad. But I had a tough time imagining people that people from another planet would choose to be Bears fans.

As I was walking home from the bar, I started wondering if Bob was some weird performance art gag or telling me the truth. I haven't heard of the Department of Homeland Creatures, but if we have to go to space to fight the war on terror, then hey, I'm all for it.

As I walked past the sausage shops and salons of Milwaukee Ave., I started to believe him. Maybe retired aliens like the same things that so many of us enjoy: a good sausage and a cold beer. If they have to travel across the universe to enjoy it in abundance, then I say cool. But if I run into my neighbors again soon, I'll make sure not to mention the stars. Or sausage.

 

About the Author(s)

Brian Sobolak lives on Earth but writes from Planet Shwoop.

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