Under Nelson Algren’s Giant Magnet


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Dry mouth. No water after midnight. That’s the rule. But the appointment is early, 7:00 a.m., sun just coming over the morning concrete ribbon of the Kennedy expressway streaming into downtown Chicago over the cement shoulder of what used to be 1528 Wabansia, where Nelson Algren used to love Simone DeBeauvoir.

A few hundred yards south of the long gone, paved over 1528 Wabansia, a car dealership with no people, so you pull over to wait for the MRI joint to open. And you wonder if there was an old dive bar here where Algren and deBeauvoir might have stumbled out into a cold wind beyond belief just as it started to snow as they began walking on back to 1528 Wabansia. A warmth beyond any breathing soul’s belief.

And then just a few steps north, it’s time. So you slide on away from the new car showroom on to North Avenue, turn right on Ashland and just a few steps north of 1528 Wabansia, where you pull into the storefront MRI joint and begin about an hour of having someone tell you to take deep breaths and lie still, Just lie still. Without breathing. While the giant, million dollar magnet works the magic of seeing inside you. Sights you would likely prefer not to see.

But as a pal said today, “there is a reason they call it practicing medicine.”

When the joint first opened, the technician guy, who could not have been nicer, said that the company that makes the big machine had to come and install all sorts of magnet stuff because they wanted to make sure that the rhythm and dull roar of all those cars didn’t screw up the magnetic resonance imaging, make sure they don’t f—up the magnets that saw inside your skin.

And you wonder, when he tells you that, if Algren and deBeauvoir, could somehow see inside each other’s skin like the giant magnet did.

Or if they’d just laugh. Think that was ridiculous. And just wander back home in the snow to 1528 Wabansia.

And toast the giant magnet. Across time and brand new days. Looking out at that cold snowy night outside. Pulled by a giant magnet.

But, looking at the unknown straight in the eyes.

2 Responses to “Under Nelson Algren’s Giant Magnet”

  1. Naomi de Plume Says:

    This is poignant and interesting – the part about the cars throwing off the magnets is fascinating.

    But I am afraid that when I read, “And toast the giant magnet” I can’t help but think there is a Bob Newhart bit in there.

  2. chicagoguy12 Says:

    Ok so Dr. Hartley, his lovely wife Emily and their next door neighbor Emily were ah. . .consulted on this!

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