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The Wannabe Cosmopolite

I choose to live in a big American city because frankly, I stick out like a sore sport in most rural settings and my accountant says we can’t afford London. One of my earliest pre-school memories was a Trenton to New York City train ride with my mother on a blustery Saturday morning.  How much of  that early 1960s day trip I accurately recall and how much is anecdotal family filler (pulled, kneaded and peppered over the redolent decades around my parents’ kitchen table) I’m not quite sure.  Still, certain sepia frames have been imprinted in my mind for life— gazing up at the sky scrapers whose dizzying heights give me vertigo to this day; creeping like a mouse through the bowels of  The Museum of Natural History, terrified of the mummies and the smell of all that marble; seeing  a man get his arm tore off by a taxi cab while standing at a busy Broadway corner…I’m pretty sure; sitting on a New York City phone book for a child’s eternity at  Mamma Leone’s, waiting for the dessert course to arrive.  Feeding the ducks in Central Park.  Observing  the landscape artists with easels and tams, their turpentined pigments slathered on thumb-holed palettes, probably all long dead by now but  full of  abstract perspective on that day.  Not peeing my pants for the entire afternoon.

A similar ferment churned in my gut when I first strolled the arrondissements of Paris; same thing along the canals of Rome; and Gaudi’s Barcelona.  And while I can easily inhale the woodsy fragrance of say, a Walden Pond (or even Dyer, Tennessee) without much complaint, I am clearly no Thoreau.  Once you think you see a guy get his arm torn off in Times Square, you can never really go back to the suburbs.  Not entirely.

As each year strikes like lightning, I find myself  being both drawn to, and repelled from, the urban twist of what once was Sandburg’s Chicago with its animal sense of outcome and yellow inner eye… ‘ hog butcher for the world.’  Liebling’s Second City.  On a calm evening the whispers can still be heard beneath the newer, vertical townhouses that just 40 years ago were stockyards.  On the hottest of days, the mephitis still rises from the soil. I had a listing down there once (before the market downturn) for over 500 days. At the very end, everyone involved got slaughtered.

I read each morning, with curious attention, as my real estate compatriots post their streaming routines on Twitter, Facebook, and the Blogosphere du monde. I imagine what it would be like to mentally attend a ‘Four Day Foreclosure Conference in Fresno’ or physically prepare ‘REO Listing  Paperwork til Midnight’  in Raleigh or hobnob with @townsquare.  I find myself, instead, cherry picking the downtown Chicago buyers I wish to work with from our own brokerage website registration and passing along the rest. I attend to only one listing these days; a favor to a friend.  I’ve become an Accidental Realtor of sorts, sitting on a virtual phone book in my iPhone, waiting for the big hogs to fatten.  The Entree. I sell metropolitan real estate because (aside from luxury yachts and illegal drugs) it’s the biggest ticket item around here that pays a commission large enough for my wife and I to live comfortably in our empty nest, still do some social good, and travel the world—or at least the country. (We’ll be in Phoenix this April for Unchained.)

At the end of  Henry James’s life the historians say he finally realized that no matter how much a man loved his adopted foreign city or how long he claimed residence to a particular Transatlantic society— unless he was actually born there, he never quite belonged.  Again, not entirely.  I’m not sure where I’ll wind up at the very end.  I can’t really recall where I came from, come to think of it.   I suppose for now I’ll just stay put here in the Midwest and wait for this house I sold myself to at least reclaim some of its original value. As long as I’m paying the property taxes on time, the City of Chicago promises not to tear off my arm. Not entirely.

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  • 11 comments

    11 Comments so far

    1. Don Reedy March 18th, 2009 6:44 pm

      Sometime in the 1980′s (sorry I can’t be more specific), I “moved” to Seattle (from San Diego), “living” in Alki Beach with an always inebriate friend.

      I must tell you, Geno, that I felt, much as you, a connection with ‘what happened during the time I “lived” there’, so much so that I often wax poetic about it in terms that you would probably find fairly compelling.

      My friends, who know that the whole time period of habitation there was probably less than two months, are replete with scorn over my insistence of citizenship there, but for me, it was never about the time, but about my total and complete involvement in that particular community.

      I never saw a resident of Seattle tear their arm off, but I did spend an evening with a sex therapist, learn every word in every song by John Mellencamp, and come to know the nuances of just about every “hip” bar in business at that time.

      Now I live in the country, apart from any cosmopolitan influence, until this post from you, driving me back into my memory and my reflections on a place I “lived.”

      Thanks, my ubiquitous friend.

    2. Geno Petro March 18th, 2009 7:11 pm

      Don,

      I think the reason I always enjoyed the old B & W Andy Griffith Shows is because indigenous people who’ve never been outside their hometown fascinate me. Like Floyd the barber said to Barney one episode, “Just goes to show…if you want a good suit, you have to go to Raleigh.”

      Take care bro,

      G

    3. Eric Blackwell March 19th, 2009 8:32 am

      Geno;
      Thanks for this…

      I am very much looking forward to meeting Mona and you at Unchained. Glad you are coming!

      Eric

    4. Geno Petro March 19th, 2009 8:50 am

      Thanks E.

    5. Scott G March 19th, 2009 2:43 pm

      The value of the home will come up again! The market has to be pretty near the bottom and the only place to go from the bottom is up! Cheers!

    6. Geno Petro March 19th, 2009 5:41 pm

      Okay Scott. Bottoms up!

    7. Sharon March 20th, 2009 7:56 am

      Geno,

      Native Chicagoan here, living in mid-Michigan, home of the MSU Spartans. (I’m stricken with March Madness.)

      Your writing is wonderful. Your thoughts creative and entertaining. Aside from real estate I think you should be writing something outside of blogging. Any plans?

      I miss Oak Street Beach, among other things.

    8. Doug Quance March 20th, 2009 8:29 pm

      I have fond memories of Chicago from my youth… and though I left there while still young – it leaves a part of itself in my soul. You can leave Chicago… but Chicago will never leave you.

      I hear you in regards to cherry-picking those who you want to work with right now. After all – nowadays, achievement is to be punished.

    9. Jamey Prezzi March 21st, 2009 8:34 am

      Love this post. A calm, peaceful, insightful way to think about our business.

    10. Geno Petro March 21st, 2009 9:57 am

      TY for the comps Jamey & Sharon

      G

    11. Sean Purcell March 21st, 2009 9:21 pm

      Hey Geno,

      I remember a funny line from the TV show West Wing a few years back. The President was walking along with his Chief of Staff, listening to the man go on about his beloved Chicago. The President turned to him and said, “You know, I hear a lot of people from Chicago tell me what a great city it is. But I notice none of them are living there when they say it.”

      BTW, I’m not sure where I’ll wind up at the very end? You of all people Geno, know exactly where you’ll be at the very end: right where you belong. I suspect you always are…