Studs Terkel call this the United States of Alzheimer’s—a country that couldn’t remember its past.
I call it the United States of Gauzy Eyes—a country that lives in an idealized, nostalgic past, and is constantly offended by the indignities of the present.
When I was new to Chicago, I romanticized everything that was unique about this town—things like sixteen-inch softball, Malört, and dibs.
All of which I’ve grudgingly realized have remained Chicago things because they are anachronistic, and why would Dayton want to adopt them?
Sixteen-inch, which is played without mitts, is a relic of a time when 18 kids could entertain themselves with just a bat and a ball that wouldn’t fly more than about 150 feet in the cramped corner of a neighborhood park. Charming. But in this century, 16-inch feels like playing hoops with a medicine ball.
Jepson’s Malört is a “wormwood-based” liquor that was legal during Prohibition because the authorities who tasted it knew that if you would drink something that son-of-a-bitching bad, you clearly needed it, medically.
And dibs, I have had to acknowledge, has outlived whatever social utility it ever possessed. Dibs: Meaning, if you shovel out a parking spot, you can put old furniture or other bulky household detritus in the empty space, and expect the space to remain empty until you return.
This practice must have worked at one point—in some sepia-toned era when Chicago neighborhoods were full of people who knew and respected one another. That must have been sometime before the blizzard of 1967, pictured below.
Dibs lingers—on my block, as I write this—but the respect is long gone. And so the practice no longer works.
People pull the dibs holders’ belongings out of parking spots, and park there. And then the “owners,” who shoveled out their spots and expected parking-spot ownership on, say, Paulina, Melvina or Lunt streets until the spring thaw—are outraged to find their old lawn chairs tossed aside and a strange car in their designated spot.
And so they kick dents in the door of the offending car, or they encase that car to spite their space.
As you can see, that was from seven winters ago. What’s changed from then to now?
The profusion of online neighborhood forums, where—in the middle of a global pandemic, a social justice meltdown, a catastrophic political division, an economic crisis and, locally, an asinine rash of carjackings—people feel compelled to argue into the many hundreds of Malört-flavored comments, on the merit and the menace of dibs.
I want tell these jagoff jamokes what I want to tell the officials who run the “gentleman’s game” of professional golf, who are now roiled in regular public cheating scandals: If you’re arguing at the top of your lungs about an honor system, it’s not an honor system any longer.
And since “dibs” is actually against the law, it can’t be regulated, either. So knock it off, or be prepared to have your cherrypicked view of America’s past violated again.
After my dad retired, he wrote wrote essays for an antique automobile magazine, about cars and girls and music in the 1930s and 1940s.
He corresponded with his readers on stationery that had a cartoon.
It was a bus that said on the side, “Nostalgia Tours.”
All the riders were facing backwards.