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From The Vault of Art Shay: City Of Broad Protests

By Art Shay in News on May 16, 2012 7:00PM

(Legendary Chicago-based photographer Art Shay has taken photos of kings, queens, celebrities and the common man in a 60-year career. In this week's look at his archives, Art looks at protests past on the eve of the NATO summit.)

In this time of protest it's good to recall Nelson Algren's City on the Make protest paean to our city, a Whitmanesque prose-poem partly birthed in my '49 Pontiac as I drove Nelson, his mother Goldie and his publisher, Doubleday editor-in-chief Ken McCormick to the rickety $15,000 house he had bought on a quiet fishless lagoon off Forest Avenue in Miller Beach, Indiana.

It was Nelson's second house within three months that year. The first, an $8,000 bummer sold to him by adman Ed Gourfaim, was literally on the beach, in the path of picnics, sandcastles and love fests 20 hours a day. Ed and Joyce Gourfaim gave Nelson back his money when he said he had to stop every hour and blow the sand from his Royal. (They were rich, sympathetic groupies.)

We stopped for the picnic lunch of cold meatballs on Italian rye that Goldie had brought along from her flat at 2727 W. Lawrence. We were eating in the shadow of the still-huffing chimneys puffing out the last rolls of steel from the storied smoke-belching smokestacks of Gary and Indiana Harbor.

Nelson wrote: "Before you earn the right to rap any sort of joint you have to love it a little while. You have to belong to Chicago like a crosstown transfer out of the Armitage Avenue barns first. And you can't rap it just because you've been crosstown."

Yet if you tried New York for size and put in a stint in Paris, lived long enough in New Orleans to get the feel of the docks and belonged to old Marseille a while. if the streets of Naples have warmed you and those of London have chilled you; if you've seen the terrible green-grey African light moving low over the Sahara or even passed hurriedly through Cincinnati; then Chicago is your boy at last and you can say it and make it stick... a backstreet, back slum, loudmouth whose challenges go ringing 'round the world. The punk is just quacking. "What's the percentage?" the young punk demands like he really has a right to know. "Who's the fix on this corner?"

One way Chicago got to be pictured as a tough beloved woman—at least half a hooker with a broken nose—was the toughness Our Lady of the Stockyards displayed doing her basic tough-girl reps and other shoulder exercises. As Studs would archly joke- City of Broads' shoulders. These involved specious countervailing weights of opposing political ideas and muscle. All exerted by disparate and disagreeing factions—to say nothing of diametrically opposed war parties—all bent on their own agendas. And our city's Latin motto transmogrifying to a plaintive, "Where's Mine?"

We proudly boast that enough of our alderman ended up behind bars to make up a quorum, topped out by three or four governors. And a sufficient number of Alpine lawyers to float a Swiss navy to make water skiing safe for two-pension Chicagoan retirees on Lake Como. (It didn't take no updated Paddy Bauler to point out Chicago wasn't ready for reform: now or forever.) Go along to get along,

The wildly diverse groups and irreconcilable antagonists either prevailing or failing ignobly, made us strong. Strong enough to survive the 1968 Democrat Convention and the expensive horseshit preparing to savage the NATO conference a few days from now. Unspoken, of course.

As a famous chronicler of protests confined by the calendar and worn out knees to the sidelines this time, let me, (as Nabokov says, in thrall to the freelance NYC subway vendors!) pass out a few cards of protests past...

If you can't wait until this time every Wednesday to get your Art Shay fix, please check out the photographer's blog, which is updated regularly. Art Shay's book, Nelson Algren's Chicago, is also available at Amazon.