Are you a city mouse or a country mouse?

A tale of old originally titled, The Town and Country Mouse, as part of Aesop’s Fables, the story tells of a proud city mouse who visits his cousin in the country and then scoffs at the simple meal his country cousin prepares so the more extravagant city mouse in turn invites his compatriot to come to see big city life. The country mouse takes him up on his offer, but during their opulent meal, they must scurry for safety when dogs invade their digs, and each mouse, I believe, determines that he is the more fortunate of the two. Neither envies the other’s circumstances.

I myself just got back late last night from seeing a play in the city with my friend Rosie. While the drive home took only an hour and a half, the drive into Chicago took nearly three hours, and though I listened to an audiobook most of the way, I still found myself cursing my distance from the city. There’s always been a kind of divide between my friends who are city dwellers and suburbanites. I happen to be an ex-city dweller, and have lived on both the north side and south side of Chicago. The city, I have found, is very neighborhood-specific, and as a Chicagoan, you also feel a sense of pride and belonging that differs, in part, based on whether you live in Hyde Park, are a South Sider, or live on the north side in Andersonville, Edgewater, Wrigleyville, East Lakeview, Rogers Park, or any of the many other neighborhoods. Of course there are many more neighborhoods, neighborhoods peopled with Polish or Irish or Mexicans, and a lot of your identity can be determined based on where you live. I also think I had a sense that I was more hip and urbane, somehow more current and relevant, and that I was living life more audaciously when I was a Chicagoan proper.

Now I live in the far western suburbs, and though I grumble at the distance into the city, I don’t think I would trade my sense of increased space, or the greater sense of peace and well-being I have now. I feel more able to spread out, walk around my three bedroom ranch house–even if I’m only pacing when trying to come up with a story idea or simply to glance through my book collection as I look for a book I’ve misplaced–or leisurely walk my Beagle and Akita around my neighborhood.

It was great fun, back in the day, to pack a towel and swimsuit, and take the El train north to Hollywood Beach to lay out on the sand, great fun to head to the Music Box theater to see the latest art house film, great fun to check out the latest ethnic restaurant, and I have to confess, now it’s much more of a trek to plan a day in the city, but I don’t feel nearly as claustrophobic and cramped as I used to feel. One time, while living in the city, I was even broken into, although the rather inept robber quickly scanned the studio apartment and stole the VCR (this was back in the day before DVD players took over), leaving behind my fairly new laptop computer. The police suspected it was a drug addict who wanted to quickly fence something to fuel his drug habit.

For many years, as a Chicagoan, I didn’t have a car, and had to walk everywhere, or take the El, and I used to think myself somehow superior to suburbanites, simply because I felt closer to the pulse of life back then. Now life is perhaps more measured, lived with a greater deliberateness, but I wouldn’t trade the sense of peace I feel. I always felt vaguely frantic and rushed as a city boy in a way that I no longer feel hurried.

It makes sense to me to get up on a Sunday morning, pour a cup of coffee, and read the Sunday paper or the New Yorker magazine. I can still always head into the city when I want, but city life doesn’t dictate my very essence.

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