Observation: For the second time in one lfietime, I've left Chicago for sunshine of southern California. I don't do as much comparison between to the two places as I did before. Although I am still looking for a great pizza joint. Cobbs suggested a place in Torrence but I'm not driving that far for a pizza. But it got me thinking about how we as people associate ourselves.

I realize, that in life we seek to connect ourselves to something or some place and at times, somebody. There is something other than ourselves that we like to identify with, giving our lives an explanation point. Rappers do this all the time. You here them rap about "where they represent." In some way, it's a human need. It's like a confirmation of our existence. Now for me, that confirmation didn't take place until I left my hometown.

I left for the military in 1987. I was a 20 year old, impressionable young man. The first conversation I had in boot camp was with a brother from Mississippi. When he asked me where was I from, without hesitation I answered, Chicago, when in actuality, I was from Suburban Chicago. Possibly, without even thinking about it, I wanted people to associate me with Chicago's reputation. Whatever that was.

His eyes widened and he started asking me all types of questions about the city I proclaimed as home. He was mainly concerned with gangs, women, and if Cabrini Green is as bad as they say it is. Proudly, I became his expert on the history and culture of Chicago. Never missing the opportunity to say, "we don't do that in Chicago." We talked until our plane landed in San Diego where we officially became associated with the U.S. Government.

When people found out I was from Chicago, they presumed that I was some a hardcore gang member or a cutthroat individual ready to run a game. By simply stating that I was from a particular city, I was associated with a certain characteristic trait. I noticed that many brothers and sisters took on those very traits and wore them as a badge of honor, and expected others that were from our "neck of the woods" to do the same. I cannot tell you how many times I heard someone say "he don't act like he's from such-n-such place", as though a person's birthplace rather than their upbringing and values determined an individual's personality. But maybe that is exactly what many of us believe?

I found myself associating people with certain character traits after knowing where they were from. These associations made it easier to assess someone without having to spend time getting to know them. For example, if there is money on the card table, I knew it was better to have a brother from Mississippi in my side then Cleveland. Mississippi brothers perfected the art of cheating at spade. If I wanted to go to a club and not fight, then I stayed away from brothers from Los Angeles and Alabama. Other character associations I made were, East Coast folks were more social than Midwesterners, while Southerners tended to be nicer than most (or at least pretend better than most). Californians are flakes, sisters from Seattle could use a little more "Kool-Aid" in their glasses and the only sisters worth marrying were from either Georgia or Maryland. Granted, these are generalizations but it closely reflects my history at the time.

When I returned to Chicago my association changed. I identified with not only a region, but with a particular era as well. I found myself continuously reminiscing about Farley Jack Master Funk, The Rink, WBMX hot mixes and Pink House on KKC. If you're from Chicago and graduated from high school in the late 80's, I'm sure you're feeling me. At least, that's what I assume.

As I've gotten older, my associations have become that small part of the world that houses my roots. I still claim Chicago when I travel but truthfully, I am now Wharton Elementary, Shiloh Missionary Baptist Church, Summit Park, the Cuts, and the corner lot of 75th Avenue and 64th Street in a small suburb I know as Argo. I am now a larger version of the child that spent too much time on the playground watching Tony Purchase take fools to the hole, seeing Death (name is appropriate) beat the hell out of some courageous fool and getting far too meaning beatings for something my sister or brother did.

My association with Argo is of one of friendship, unity, loyalty and family. Argo is the only place where hardly anyone calls me James. It created my attitude and shaped my outlook on life. But as much as I love touting Chicago, I know that I am just the grownup version of the boy that Ardelia Callahan sent off to church every Sunday and had to beat the devil out of the rest of the week… and that is an association worth sticking with.


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