Dear Bob Greene (c/o the Reader),
It took a close reading of the evidence, but I think I've pieced together what you're up to. The Reader has gone and awarded you, as partial compensation for your promise not to sue them over the defunct BobWatch feature, a stint as guest columnist under a pseudonym. The July 30 Cityscape feature, "Home Invasion," was the first one that I caught, though you may have more in the works. This younger, hipper "Jack Clark" voice is, I'll grant you, a distraction at first, but it's not long before you are back to wallowing in unmistakable Bobisms composed of wistful nonsentences. ("I wonder what he [a displaced furniture mover] sees when he turns. I'm sure it's more than just that empty space. Maybe he remembers dreams he once had, or long-ago moving jobs. Grand pianos. Hide-a-beds.")
Now two evil empires of modernity and progress--the Old Town School of Folk Music and the Chicago Public Library--have joined forces with the city of Chicago to upset Bob's/Jack's placid existence. The parties to the arrangement can better point out your various misrepresentations regarding the sale of the Hild Library building to the Old Town School and its ostensible effects on the surrounding neighborhood. You will, however, want to think through a few general points on the matter, if only so that your next appearance as "Jack Clark" might be somewhat more plausible:
1. The neighborhoods along the north branch of the Ravenswood CTA line were falling prey to young, well-groomed white people long before the Old Town School moved into Lincoln Square. Gentrification of these areas, moreover, consisted not of a sudden shift of the conspicuously affluent from their Lincoln Park and Lakeview studios (or their college dorms) into the Southport/Roscoe, the Lincoln/Paulina, or the Montrose/Damen neighborhoods. Rather, each of these areas was first seeded largely by self-styled bohemians of the "Jack Clark" variety--expatriates of the comfortable classes who disavow their social privileges and who exoticize the ethnic groups and dispossessed of their newfound neighborhood, much like "Jack" casts "people speaking foreign languages" and "bums" ("bums"?) as so many extras in the movie version of his life among the downtrodden. Romance aside, these populations are gradually driven from the neighborhood by the inflated rents and retail prices that trail close behind the hipsters, making it safe for the social climbers and Starbucks outlets that soon follow as night follows day. What was accomplished with great fanfare in Logan Square and Wicker Park has been, arguably, occurring just as efficiently further to the north. Surely, Bob, a class-savvy guy such as "Jack Clark" would recognize that his own role in gentrification is no less essential than the latte-guzzling yuppies for whom he feigns contempt but for whom he also serves dutifully as scout in their urban expeditions. In any event, for "Jack" to implicate the Old Town School of Folk Music in this process is nonsense.
2. Conversely, the Old Town School was searching for a new location to escape the physical confinement of its Armitage address long before the city of Chicago made an attractive offer of the Hild Library. For the school to turn down such an offer without good reason would have been foolish and financially irresponsible. The school was serving over a thousand adult students per term on Armitage by that point, some in rooms that were administrative offices by day, others in unfurnished and unheated portions of the basement. Perhaps "Jack" would have had Jim Hirsch and the Old Town School board of directors mull it over briefly and issue an official proclamation: "The city of Chicago will give us a large building for a steal if we can raise the money to refurbish it; it's tempting, but we're going to take a pass, so as to preserve the atmosphere for fashionably disheveled 'writers' in the Lincoln Square area who find their inspiration in the status quo." This seems a little self-centered, if not naive.
3. It sounds a little strange for "Jack Clark" to chide the Old Town School for hosting a celebrity in its opening-night benefit concert while claiming some affinity to the organization and its staff. A writer as witty and urbane as "Jack" would likely be more in tune with the economics of popular culture, especially if he professes to know folk music (which, as we know from Bill Mahin's excellent cover story in the previous week's Reader, commands a feeble 8 percent market share of the music industry). He would at least be aware that public funding for the arts is as scarce as it is for other worthy causes. Organizations such as Amnesty International occasionally hold celebrity-studded gala events to raise money from wealthy donors, since market forces alone don't seem to be any more adept in protecting human rights around the globe than they do in providing musical alternatives to "alternative," or Celine Dion, or Yanni. Do such events discredit the work done by Amnesty International as well?
Clearly, "Jack Clark" couldn't be so inept as to rely on bland pieties about integrity if he truly numbered among his friends the struggling folk musicians, teachers, students, and members whom the school benefits. Neither could he be so careless as to overlook the odd catch-22 in which he places the school's staff: they are to be damned for flourishing amid the tony boutiques of Armitage Avenue, and they are to be damned no less for attempting to take root in a neighborhood where families dwell, where multiple ethnic groups quietly coexist, and where the pretensions are scarce. Maybe "Jack" would be more believable as a character if you had him report that he actually did something to assist the "bums" of Lincoln Square that he had been so studiously observing from his window for so many years. Without this human side, "Jack Clark" sounds as contrived as he seems confused.
You have, Bob, the domain of easy answers, caricatured villains, and nostalgia for simpler times well covered in your own voice. Try making this "Jack Clark" identity something a little more substantial than Bob Greene's hipster cousin.