City Girls

I read dystopias and apocalyptic fiction. Those are by far my favorite genres. The other day, I found a real gem in some fictional footnotes in one of them.

Jack London’s “The Iron Heel” quotes John Burns, a British labor leader around the turn of the century. He was visiting Chicago when a reporter asked him what he thought of the city.

Chicago is a pocket version of Hell.

Naturally, this made some headlines at the time, prompting another reporter to ask him some months later if Burns’ opinion had changed.

Why, yes. Hell is a pocket version of Chicago.

I shared this canard with my master teacher. She had her own response.

Chicago’s always been a rough town. If New York City is the Grand Dame of American cities, then Chicago is the rough-and-tumble juvenile delinquent. Even now, Chicago has an air of respectability, but that’s just a thin veneer — there’s still some roughness around the edges.

This comment inspired a series of personifications.

Boston — Matronly great aunt with some progressive whims.

Los Angeles — Irresponsibly extravagant 530-pound second cousin, whose mobile home is characterized by tchotchke and a 42-inch flat screen TV.

New Orleans — Barfly with a heart of gold, but one who will still take the guys upstairs.

San Francisco — Weird kid sister with an esoteric, artistic side and an eye for free love. May have once been a kid brother.

Washington, D.C. — Girl scout with such charisma that she gets away with having her overpriced cookies as a front for high-risk futures trading.

Any others in this tradition?

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