This is a hooded crow, which is found nowhere near Juarez. I just loved the hungry look of this scavenger bird. I’ve written a lot about Juarez and Roberto Bolaño’s novel 2666 which is, in part, about the epidemic of murder on the border. This piece is about the nearly 500 unsolved murders of women that occurred there.
It is said that the land itself possesses a memory. . . “el gente“– the Mexicans call it.
This piece is a bit about this idea.
The great Charles Bowden passed away last year. He wrote a great many articles and books about the border; the one we share with Mexico. In the years since NAFTA passed there have been hundred upon hundreds of women murdered in and around Juarez–a great many of them maquiladora workers. A maquiladora is an assembly plant, or factory which hired thousands of women and paid them stoop labor wages to do piecework–sewing, circuit boards, and other close work that required small, deft hands.
A great many women from as far away as Central America flocked to the border for jobs. So NAFTA managed to impoverish two cultures. The women of the maquiladora plants and the American union worker, and some big American companies outsourced jobs here to avoid paying a living wage to union workers: Levi’s, Motorola, IBM, Black & Decker, GM, Cooper Tire, among others.
The murders started after the flood of new workers settled in and around Juarez. The powerful and ruthless Juarez cartel was blamed, as well as gangs like Los Rebeldes and La Linea Juarez. Bowden’s books, The Blood Orchid and Murder City; Ciudad Juarez, are visceral, heart-breaking testaments to a world where sanity has unraveled at a frightening pace. Still the murders are unsolved. One wonders what would happen if hundreds of blonde-haired, blue-eyed Suzy cream-cheese types were slaughtered and left for carrion birds in the desert. The cable series, The Bridge, did a brilliant job underlining the insanity of the drug war and the culture of death endemic to both sides of the border; where traffic in drugs, humans, and cheap labor have created a culture of nihilism and despair.
It almost certainly had to be based on some of Bowden’s writings, which were poetic, and hard to read, as they were blanched of hope. This piece is about this part of the world: The border that we share and the trust we do not.
Thirty years ago, Peregrine falcons were among the most endangered of species. DDT and other pesticides did near-irreparable damage to their population. Luckily, the Cornell breeding project, conservation-minded falconers, and the the government joined forces in a “perfect storm” of protective measures to save the Peregrine.
It was also discovered that this falcon adapted beautifully to the urban landscape. They nest in the tall buildings all over the city and are fairly surrounded by an endless supply of pigeons to feast upon.
I watched this first hand one day. I was walking across Daley Plaza when I saw an explosion of feathers about fifty feet over my head. It looked like a pillow had exploded. The luckless pigeon dropped to the plaza and the Peregrine had spread her wings over her kill and proceeded to chow down on some squab. Pedestrians gave her a wide berth; some stopped to watch quietly, grateful they’d not been born a pigeon. I noticed all of the other pigeons got the fuck out of the plaza in a big hurry and nobody got within 20 feet of her while she ate.
What had happened was the falcon spotted her dinner and dove from about seven or eight hundred feet at a speed of 165 miles per hour and hit this poor bastard with her breast bone. The rock dove never knew what hit him. It would be like the gods dropping a boxcar on you.
I’m glad there are peregrines in Chicago. They are damn-near a perfect symbol for our city, in their beauty and cruelty. Chicago is that kind of city; you can hang on the cross, or you can pound in the nails.
The Union Stockyards have been closed since 1971. The century of suffering, human and animal, still bears much historical currency. We are still thought of in literature as “hog butcher of the world.” Upton Sinclair’s The Jungle brought great change in the meat packing industry. Until this great novel, nobody inspected the meat we ate. Six months after The Jungle was published, the U.S.D.A. started inspecting the slaughterhouses and the meat being issued by them. It was a grimy, filthy business. The Armours and Swifts built threadbare shanty-towns for their workers–mostly Czechs, Polish and Ukrainians– and the conditions were so unsanitary, that workers often brought home blood-borne diseases on their clothing and skin. There were no wash stations or showers. At one point the infant mortality rate was so high, one out of three children did not live until his first birthday.
It was a cruel life imposed upon generations of immigrants, all the while building great fortunes for the Armours and Swifts. I write this because I realize this has always been a city of great cruelty…to people, to animals, and somebody always profited from this suffering. It’s a little late in the game to be surprised by this, yet still, I am. This piece is called “The Prize Bull.’ It’s based on a pinata I saw when I was about 7 years old.
Every Sunday, I waited patiently while my father read the comics. I would not get them until he was finished. When he’d flip the section over to read the back page, I’d get a peek at what I’d been waiting for all week–Dick Tracy…the Sunday color comics. I loved Dick Tracy. His creator, Chester Gould, lavished much attention on the villains, as if their evil-doing were manifested into their very physicality.
Flat-Top, The Mole, Prune-Face…they were a gallery of grotesques unlike anything else in newspaper comics. Dick Tracy dispensed justice with a Calvinist zeal, shooting bad guys through the head electrocuting them. It was an immensely violent comic for a family newspaper.
As a kid, I drew Dick Tracy obsessively, as well as the villains. I also got to meet Mr. Gould when I was a kid and he was kind and told me to stay away from hippies and long-haired no-goodniks. I told him I would and was sworn in as a crime-stopper. So I got that going for me. . .
This will be in the new show in the spring. There were five deaths from gunfire in our city this weekend, and no small amount of violence perpetuated by drunken assholes “celebrating” St. Patrick’s Day.I guess Chicago has always had ice-cold killers, and is a city of immense cruelty. You don’t want to believe it, or at least, I don’t. But it is a mean city, and after midnight, there is absolutely no mercy here at all.
Anybody who loved roiling and thrashing punk rock loved this place. People bitched that it was a shithole. It smelled bad, the bathrooms were gross, it was grungy. Well, it was rock and roll–it was supposed to be dangerous and grimy. It was also, and still is, a perfectly serviceable bowling alley. I will always love this place.
I saw The Orwells and Sleater Kinney here. Every time I went to the Fireside I felt like I was easily twenty years too old to be there, and I’d look around and realize I wasn’t the only geezer there. This place was a uniquely American venue, a bedrock of Chicago music history– grease, sweat , blood, and spit–the very stuff of rock and roll.