I’ve recently been scouring all facets of the Internet, the print classifieds, and the offices of rental agencies for an available and affordable 2-bedroom apartment in Chicago. Not counting my current summer sublease, I’ve lived in the same apartment for two years, and frankly, forgot just how grueling the entire process can be from start to finish. First comes the most obvious route: craigslist, the posting-based website where users can post anything for sale or rent, from apartments to sofas to pet cats. Then comes the print ads, which can be a gamble because you can’t always tell how recently they were published or whether the publishers of the newspaper mis-printed information from the landlord (which was the case a few times in my own search.)
Dirty carpets. Photo by rocknroll_guitar on Flickr
Last comes the meeting with a leasing agency, which is free for tenants to use, but means that you’ll probably pay $50 for a credit check, plus an outrageous application fee. The process can be quick and effective, but you’ve got to be serious and act fast about renting the place you’re truly interested in. And then, as a last (but surprisingly successful) strategy, try strolling through the streets of the neighborhood you want to live in and simply looking for “For Rent” signs in the window. Call the number, and voila, sometimes the landlord will drive over and meet you and show you the place right on the spot. Plus, dealing directly with the landlord and cutting out the middle man can sometimes save you time and money.
After searching through pages of craigslist postings and Reader classifieds with keywords like “adorable” and “affordable,” I began to learn that certain keywords require a bit of decoding. When I finally found the perfect apartment (thanks to the classified ads— who knew? Sometimes old-school is the way to go!) it was through an ad that simply stated the facts about the bedrooms, rent, location, and utilities. It didn’t include outrageous statements like “Live on Cloud Nine!” “Live the Good Life!” or “Luxury At Last!”
Here’s my list of some of the most popular (and misleading) keywords I came across in my apartment search:
Cozy: The use of this word in the title almost always means that the apartment is shoe-box small. The kitchen is probably a small corridor in which the 1970s-esque oven, stove, microwave, and fridge are all stacked on top of each other, and the bedrooms just might be able to fit a full-size mattress and not much else. Sure, it’s hard to open and close the bedroom door with an actual bed in there, but it’s just so cozy, right?
Vintage : This word is hip to throw around when going thrift-shopping for dresses or jewelry, but it probably shouldn’t be used to describe your next apartment, even if you want to live in a place built in the 1880s. The word “vintage” doesn’t necessarily mean that your building will have an ornate copper rooftop or stone angel heads protruding from the window sills; instead, it probably denotes outdated appliances, linoleum floors, orange carpeting, and floral wallpaper. Still think you’re into vintage?
Wicker Park/Bucktown : The mention of any sort of hip neighborhood probably means that the apartment is in an adjacent neighborhood that might not be as hip as you think. Wicker Park/Bucktown might refer to a number of areas near Humboldt Park, Logan Square, Avondale, West Town, or Ukrainian Village. Here’s a tip from a leasing agent: Anything West of Western Avenue, South of Chicago Avenue, and East of the I-90/94 is no longer technically Wicker Park/Bucktown.
Safe: This can be a hard word to decode. It might mean that your neighbor is a Police Department, but you also have to hear the sirens of every cop car that gets dispatched in your area. It might also mean that crime doesn’t get reported as often in your area as in other neighborhoods.
Luxury : The use of this word is almost always used for apartments in Gold Coast or River North. It basically means that you will pay exponentially more for granite counter tops, the use of a gym, and maybe a balcony.
Sunny: Curiously enough, this word is almost always used for garden apartments, those below-ground-level bungalows that occasionally have windows that let you peek out from below the sidewalk. Apparently, they get lots of sun.
Adorable: Outside of the realm of craigslist, we might use this word to describe a mangy cat missing a leg or a helpless baby that constantly burps and barfs. There’s something over-the-top, and in turn, condescending about this word, that makes it prime for describing awkwardly-built apartments with very different-sized bedrooms and a bathroom that you need to climb a ladder in order to get to. There might also only be a back-entrance, a window that faces a brick wall, and cabinets that are placed at a convenient height for children or elves. Adorable!
Happy apartment-hunting and don’t settle for any place too cozy or too adorable!
In F Newsmagazine’s March 2009 Moving Image issue, I declared my love for John Hughes, the filmmaker who inevitably made me fall in love with Chicago many years before I ever dreamed of moving here. In the article, I recounted Hughes’ most eccentric and memorable characters while realizing that I had done fewer things in my two years in Chicago than Bueller had done in just one day. Now a Chicago resident of four years, I still have no excuse for never having stood at the top of the Sears— er, Willis Tower— or never having witnessed the commotion at the Chicago Board of Trade. But this summer, I’ve finally crossed off a number of ditch-worthy (and dare I propose, Bueller-approved) activities from my Chicago bucket list. To start, I saw my first Cubs game, to which the home team prevailed against the Milwaukee Brewers. Next, I bought my first bicycle in Chicago (almost as good as a hi-jacked Ferrari, right?), and lastly, I set sail for the first time on Lake Michigan (and by setting sail, I mean that I lounged around and ate sandwiches while more capable people around me drove the boat.) Tonight, Ferris Bueller ditches again, this time at the Chicago History Museum (one place Bueller didn’t visit on his day off), where the 1986 classic screens at dusk.
My first thought upon seeing Kay Rosen‘s new art installation Go Do Good, a six-story yellow banner pasted onto the Stevens Building at State at Washington Streets, was that it was an advertisement for a new play debuting at any number of the downtown theaters in either direction. The slogan reminded me of the title of a Spike Lee film, like “Do the Right Thing” or “Mo’ Better Blues”— likely it was the name of some hip new drama at The Oriental or The Cadillac.
Image courtesy of godogoodchicago.com
Perhaps it was the banner’s massive placement above retail meccas like Old Navy and New York & Co, or the accompanying yellow signage pasted onto the el platform overlooking State and Lake Streets, but “Go Do Good” looked a whole lot to me like a really good marketing campaign. Essentially, “Go Do Good” is a really good marketing campaign.
And by good I mean, morally just and totally righteous, bro. As in, go do good, good people of Chicago. But here’s the catch: “Go Do Good” is not urging us to buy anything, or even take out our wallets, except for when it comes to making $10 donations to sponsoring organizations like Chicago Loop Alliance and United Way of Metropolitan Chicago, a foundation advocating for income, education and health for stable families.
Image courtesy of godogoodchicago.com
When I later found out from the signs embedded in State Street planters that SAIC Painting/Drawing faculty member Kay Rosen was behind all the massive yellow posters and black capital letters, I thought about how unusual it is to see art for art’s sake. Sure, Rosen’s text-based paintings hang in the Modern Wing of the Art Institute, but outside of the walls of art museums, and aside from commissioned sculptures and murals (the city’s Percent for Art Ordinance mandates that 1.33% of the cost of constructing or renovating municipal buildings and public spaces be devoted to original artwork on the premises) it’s rare to see signage on the street that asks us not to act as a consumer, but simply to experience it for its own sake, and then maybe to act on its message.
Rosen’s installation is art disguised as signage disguised as advertising. It must happen in this way because advertising is what makes us look up at a high-rise or a billboard or the marquee on a passing taxicab. It is how we’ve been trained to see and respond: we look at advertising, and then we want to act. Graffiti artist Banksy knows better than anybody that art and advertising can too often intersect in alarming ways. In his movie “Exit Through the Gift Shop,” he said, “The thing I hate the most about advertising is that it attracts all the bright, creative and ambitious young people, leaving us mainly with the slow and self-obsessed to become our artists.”
Image courtesy of godogoodchicago.com
But Rosen’s installation is anything but slow and self-obsessed: it’s bold, eye-catching—if not obnoxious—and certainly it’s obsessed with the city as a community, rather than the artist as herself. And just as advertising companies have used social media to sell products, “Go Do Good” is similarly using social media, but this time, the message is the product. From the “Go Do Good” website, the message is as follows: “To see kids graduate, contribute to our workforce, support their future families, maintain their health and, ultimately, build stronger communities.” It’s a simple message, but easier stated than enacted. (The Consortium on Chicago School Research at the University of Chicago calculates that only 54% of Chicago public school students graduate.)
Chicago Loop Alliance, the Loop-centric organization that put together the texting and cellular scan-tag-based Art Loop Open competition last October, launched “Go Do Good” as a campaign that connects art to action by directing the public to its website, and from there, advocating Twitter and Facebook as modes of activism for doing good deeds. Some of the suggested good deeds listed on their website include: lending supplies to a local school, substitute teaching at a church or synagogue, reading stories to students, becoming a mentor or a homework helper, hosting community workshops, serving on a non-profit board of directors, and donating gently used books to a non-profit— either through Open Books or the donation bins located outside of DePaul University loop campus, the Gene Siskel Film Center, or a number of other downtown locations.
Image courtesy of godogoodchicago.com
The “Go Do Good” message is even more clear than it is cryptic from a first glance. But are Chicagoans heeding the call? Even the most effective art and marketing cannot turn to action on its own; it needs viewers to respond. While the “Go Do Good” posters are commanding, and in their columned configuration of Gs, Os, and Ds, they can certainly seem God-like, but the real challenge for this art will be performing the actual deeds that it demands of us as residents of a city, and therefore, members of a community.
“To all of the graduates, I really want to talk to you for a few minutes,” said Patti Smith after congratulating the parents and family of graduates at the SAIC commencement ceremony. It was the morning of May 21, 2011, and those in attendance at the Jay Pritzker Pavilion in Millennium Park had several reasons to be grateful. For one, the world hadn’t ended, as predicted by those who believed May 21st would signal the Second Coming of Christ, and therefore, the apocalypse.
Secondly, it wasn’t raining or thundering that morning, as predicted all week by erratic Chicago meteorologists. All predictions set aside, May 21st was a day in which SAIC graduates and their family and friends could be grateful for the sheer accomplishment of finishing art school. Several years of study and experimentation and countless failed projects later, here we were, not dressed in caps and gowns, but in pajamas, platform heels, roller skates, and prom dresses, to name a few notable graduate ensembles.
Since coming to SAIC, we had made sculptures that fell apart, films that hadn’t been exposed, garments that were un-wearable, and ready-made objects that we declared art simply by labeling them as so. We had conceptualized projects and constructed work that we never would have dreamed about before enrolling in art school.
As an undergraduate freshman, I had screen-printed in my bathtub in the dorms, illegally plastered posters in CTA trains, and started impromptu performances in the middle of Daley Plaza. But from all the failure and the questioning of our own identities and practices as artists, we had also made masterpieces. We had exhibited finished pieces at the BFA and MFA shows, and many of us installed our work at apartments, parties, galleries, festivals, fairs, and showrooms throughout the city, across the country, and internationally.
Working and studying in Chicago, we had been given the opportunity to meet and exhibit with even the most prestigious of Chicago-based artists, designers, and scholars. And most of all, we had been given the opportunity to meet each other. Over the last few years, we had shared living spaces with each other, worked together in the same studios, and competed against each other in scholarships, fellowships, and exhibition spots. We were peers at first, then sometimes colleagues, sometimes collaborators, sometimes lovers, but mostly we were friends.
On May 21, 2011, I was grateful to be surrounded by an audience full of my friends as we listened to Patti Smith tell stories before serenading us with two songs. Smith began her speech by introducing herself, not as the performer and artist we all knew her as, but as a Chicago native born during the blizzard of 1946.
“It was December 30th and my mother really tried to hold me in because if I was born December 31st, she would get a free refrigerator,” said Smith. “Of course, being in Chicago, ready to be born, I couldn’t wait, and I was born a day too soon, and she never let me forget about it.”
Smith told the story to illustrate her pride in accepting SAIC’s Honorary Doctorate in Chicago. “I wasn’t even sure if I deserved it, but it was Chicago giving it, so I was going to come,” she joked.
As SAIC professor James McManus said in his introduction, Smith was “too poor to afford art school or sometimes even space to make work,” but in her speech to the graduating class, she expressed a sincere pride and understanding of the hardship and perseverance required of artists. She seemed to acknowledge that SAIC students aren’t given grades, that some of us may have worked much harder than others during certain classes or semesters, but no matter the circumstances, we all ended up here together; we all accomplished a mission and will continue to accomplish difficult tasks in our life.
After delivering the praise, Smith hit us with the reality: “You’re going to go out into the world, and maybe you’ll have great expectations, whatever, you’re going to have a tough time, you’re going to be sometimes broke, you’re going to be disappointed, you’re going to be shit on, your work might not get accepted, and of course, there’s also the beautiful part, but we can all dream.”
At the end of May, New York Times Op-Ed columnist David Brooks criticized commencement speakers who mislead graduates into thinking they can conquer the world with fierce individualism, which he said is still the dominant note in American culture. Whereas Brooks noted that most commencement speakers refer to the world as a place of “limitless possibilities,” Smith acknowledged those possibilities (her own life is an example of the power of individualism combined with the luck of being in the right place at the right time) while also reminding graduates that the world can be a cruel place.
“If your reality is difficult for a while, be proud,” she declared. “Accept it, embrace it, because an artist’s life, it’s part of the package that you’re going to be dogged, damned, and inspired. Sometimes poor, sometimes accoladed, but just be proud.”
Then came Smith’s call not for individualism and expression, but for cooperation in rescuing our planet. “Yes, you will change the world, you are the future,” she said. “But there’s something we need even more than changing the world. We need you to save it.”
The audience cheered. Smith, in her poetry and her soulful voice of “an old-fashioned Jersey girl,” as McManus described in his introduction, had said something so simple but so urgent and honest. It was something we knew, but nobody had ever told us.
We knew that the future was ours, but nobody had ever told us to save it. And then it occurred to us: of course the future needed saving. “Make sure we have a future,” Smith reminded us, just before strumming the lead into a song called “Grateful.”
When the ceremony ended, the world still hadn’t. Despite a fleeting burst of drizzle, it still hadn’t rained, and even more miraculous, we were now art school graduates.
The future was ours and some of us would stay in Chicago and a lot of us would move away and a few of us would move back some day. Some of us would win prestigious prizes and have our work hung in museums and biennales, while some of us would never make art again. A lot of us would start paying off hefty student loans and frantically apply to any job that would help us do so the fastest. But whatever happens after graduation, we’ll all make sure that our world has a future. Maybe we’ll even think about collectively saving the future before setting out to change it ourselves.
Submit poetry, prose, short fiction, and art to email@example.com to be included in our literary magazine. Curated and designed by the F staff, our summer lit mag will be published and distributed citywide. Email submissions by June 6.
Judges include SAIC MFA candidate Steven Frost, SAIC alumna Stephanie Burke, and SAIC MFA candidate and F Newsmagazine’s resident foodie Eric Baskauskas. Join the competition from 12–4 pm at Murdertown, 2351 N. Milwaukee Ave Apt 2.
Feeling inspired to cook up your own batch of chili? Check out Eric Baskauskas’ tips in the canned food edition of Waste Not, Eat Lots.