Today my wife and I celebrated our 10 year anniversary by going back to Chicago, where we spent almost a week for our honeymoon (we were poor and 21, give us a break). We didn’t have much of a plan for the day except for seeing an improv comedy show at the iO Theater on Clark (which I would recommend to those with a more worldly sense of humor). No plan turned into about 4.5 miles of walking and about two hours of riding the train until we stumbled into an excellent diner.
The iO Theater has shows every night, performed by students that are learning comedy, not at Second City, which is also in Chicago. Improv comedy is basically a bunch of people playing off of one another scene after scene. The second group that performed had a funny moment (they were playing on the idea of chest hair), in which a 14 year old son is speaking with a Russian accent and strutting around the stage while his father tries to figure out what’s happened to his teenage son.
Then I noticed the marks on the comedian’s arm. They may have been “track marks” from hard drug use, or from cutting, or some other darkness. I wondered at how a young man who is learning the art of comedy can be suffering such darkness inside. When I saw the marks, I honestly lost my sense of humor. I just kept thinking about what this kid’s story was.
We left the show and decided just to head back on the train to our car. We hopped on the red-line near Wrigley Field and sat across from and beside some kids. Legit kids. Like, under 18. I wondered at what it must be like to be a parent of teens in the city. That’s what I do now. I used to wonder what it must be like to be a kid in the city. Now I’m old and think exactly the opposite thoughts.
As I was wondering, the girl across from me asked if anyone had ever told me I looked like “Macklemore”. I, being a decrepit 31 year old without a television, had no idea what she just said, or who she was talking about. No clue. I told her about people likening me to Jake Gyllenhall and Zach Galiafinakus, but never this character. Then I told her that I was Macklemore, and for two seconds, she thought I was famous.
We found out Kenya, Mo (Mohammed), Ninos, Jianfranco, and Talia are going to be Juniors in high school and were born my Junior year of high school. Kenya goes to church and plays basketball, Mo’s family is from Iran and is Muslim but not practicing, Ninos is literally Assyrian with parents from Iraq and Syria, Jianfranco is Italian and just finished summer school, and Talia is Jewish and has no idea what she wants to do with her life. Talk about diversity!
These beautiful kids were all from Skokie, where we had parked our car to ride the train, so we spent the entire hour on the train with these kids who were eager to share their stories with interested adults. Mo said he wants to be an accountant, perhaps a CPA, mostly because of greed (his words). Kenya, if she doesn’t make the WNBA, wants to be a cop because she is interested in law. Jianfranco wants to be a trainer for a sports team, and Talia doesn’t have a clue what she wants to do with her life, even though she claims to be the smartest (aside from Ninos). Ninos wants to be a surgeon because he wants to help people.
One simple question, and these kids oozed potential and dreams and hopes and futures.
When we left this modge podge group of friends, I told them that I hope I read good things about all of them someday. They reciprocated by offering their future services to us strangers free of charge when they are important someday.
These five kids gave me hope. I hope that they have more to look forward to than the kid in the comedy troop fighting the inner darkness. I believe they will, and I like to think that our train ride with them will play a role in positively shaping their futures.