Meet the People In Your Neighborhood

Arliss is a Ukrainian immigrant who lives, coincidentally enough, in Ukrainian Village, just across the alley from my apartment. Recently he called me over to share a beer and discuss life.

“Life is life,” said Arliss. Suddenly I felt as though I’m in a Laibach video (hear the horns scream out epically in the background?), but I also realized his point. He showed me his cut, calloused, bruised hands and told me of his twelve to fourteen hour workdays, seven days a week, just to come home, eat, sleep and do it all again. His family’s in Eastern Europe; maybe he’ll see his daughter in August. That’s his life.

He doesn’t complain. In the Ukraine, he’d work the same hours as a mechanic and not see any money at all. There wasn’t any money there to pay him. At least here, he gets paid for what he does. He told me this with such incredulousness, even after years of working here. He started out as a janitor for measly amounts every week. Now, he works in construction and considers himself lucky for every day he’s allowed to work.

For Arliss, it’s not about being happy. For so long he and his family were just trying to survive. Even now nothing is certain; there’s still the miles that separate him and his family. There’s still the instability in his country. Every day, he works hard to support that family and keeps only enough for food and rent. He doesn’t have time to visit Millenium Park or the Art Institute, discover his favorite hot dog or french fries, discuss or even care about city photography restrictions, or see a concert on a weekend night. Whereas we may often get pre-occupied with all those things, that just isn’t his definition of life. “Life is life,” he said rather stoically. So it is.

With the beer finished, I went back to my apartment, thinking maybe I shouldn’t take so much of my life for granted.

4 Comments so far

  1. steven (unregistered) on June 8th, 2005 @ 6:55 am

    Great post. Gone are the days where everyone knew their neighbors. There are only a few in my building who’ll return a “Hello” when walking by.

  2. Alana Waters (unregistered) on June 8th, 2005 @ 9:48 am

    On the topic of knowing your neighbors, I know most of mine in a 2 block radius of my house. East Pilsen is like that. Everyone knows each other, everyone says “hello”, everyone talks. Well, that is until the recent influx of newbies who don’t know, care or respect the community. “Tourists” we call them, no matter how permanent the residence.

    On the topic of Ukrainian reality, it’s only an American ideal that we are entitled to be happy and light-hearted. Work ethic is a faded value here. I admire your neighbor for doing what he needs to in order to take care of his family. Very cool of you to listen.


  3. katya (unregistered) on June 9th, 2005 @ 9:29 pm

    For future reference – it’s not “the Ukraine”….it’s simply “Ukraine”. No one says they are from “the Uzbekistan” or “the Uganda”.

    “The Ukraine” is a term made up by Russofiles and used by Soviets to both disrespect Ukrainians and lessen the significance of Ukraine as it’s own nation. Rather, they tried to make it appear as though Ukraine was just a territory…such as “the South Side” or “the Rockies”.

  4. tess (unregistered) on June 10th, 2005 @ 10:15 pm

    Great post. Makes me grateful for what I have.

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