A Slice of Wicker Park East Ukrainian Village

There is a building on my block that I frequently refer to as “the crack house.” It’s not that I know that drugs are sold there, or that any illegal activity goes on at all, but it always seems to be a bit shady. There’s a permanent plaque on the building advertising furnished rooms for rent and sketchy folks are always hanging around and out the windows.

So, the other day I was approaching the building and I saw 3 people outside of it standing on the corner. One was a scrawny, young girl with brown hair bleached out to a sick orangish yellow color. Her skirt was skintight and barely covering anything, her shirt the same. If there were any more cleavage showing it wouldn’t be a shirt anymore. If this girl was not a prostitute she was doing a damn good job impersonating one. She was standing in her stiletto heels talking to a middle-aged black man who looked like he was about one step above homelessness and was sitting on his bike. The third person in their group was what seems to be the hooker’s friend. Just as used up looking, but chubbier and with slightly more clothing on. The group, especially the women, look like they’ve just gotten done with a hard night of partying despite the fact that it’s 5:30 in the afternoon.

Three doors down from “the crack house” is a land marked building marked with the year it was built – 1883. On the other side of “the crack house” are two brand new, expensive condos. In the closest one lives a young family with two sons. I would estimate the boys’ ages to be 2 and 4 years old. Sometimes I feel for the family’s living situation.. like the time when I saw the mother walking with her sons past “the crack house” and the older boy stopped by some trash thrown on the lawn and bent down to reach and touch it. The mother had to quickly step over and scold him before he got his hands into something really nasty. This is just a small example of what I’m sure they have to deal with on a daily basis with “the crack house” as their neighbor.

So, this time when I was walking by the father of the family was watering the newly landscaped sliver of yard that is closest to the road. The hose was draped across the sidewalk and he was about 10 steps away from “the crack house” and the threesome that is gregariously talking outside of it. The father looked happy to be watering the brightly-colored flowers. I imagine his wife and kids inside preparing the family’s dinner.

A few paces ahead of me walking on the sidewalk was an old Polish woman. She was nicely dressed with a scarf on her head. She was walking slow, stooped over, almost in half. The father, who was watering the flowers, stopped to move the hose out of her way on the sidewalk. They exchanged very brief pleasantries. The father’s act of kindness, going out of the way to move a hose that could easily be stepped over, seemed ridiculous knowing that in 10 more steps she’d be walking past the littered lawn of “the crack house” and the shady characters that come with it.

And then there was me: A single 20-something woman breezing by the old lady, smiling at the father, and avoiding eye contact with the threesome. I was wearing a flowing skirt I’d just purchased at The Rack and listening to my iPod, thinking of the things I needed to get done that night. I didn’t represent the hipsters and I didn’t represent the yuppies. I was somewhere in the middle.

If only at that moment I had been carrying a burrito from one of our many local taquerias or if a car sporting the Puerto Rican flag and blasting music would have raced by to add some Latin flair, this would have been the perfect scene to capture the essence of Wicker Park. Historically land marked buildings that are beside brand new condos that are beside housing projects. An older Polish population rubs elbows with a large Hispanic population that mixes with families and hipsters. The rich and the poor and the in-between. We somehow all cohabitate.