Only the world’s largest lakes know seiches.  
	When forceful winds drive storms across Lake Michigan and push cold, dense air into our inland sea, the pressure forces bulges of water to one end. And when the swells rebound, they will raise the lake level in a matter of minutes. For the most part, the seiche's change takes place slowly enough, an hour, say, that the seeping in and out of the water is imperceptible before or after the fact. Your senses only catch the results of these phenomena, not the things themselves. You can be wading, knee-deep, and in a few minutes look down and find your ankles exposed. Before the hour’s up, standing in the same spot, the water's at your waist.
        It is usually no more than a change of a foot or so, but every once in a while huge displacement will result in tidal-sized rushes of water. In 1954, for example, a ten-foot-high wave poured over Montrose Harbor and took eight fishermen, seven to their deaths. The water, at any time, could rush in over your head, and with little more notice than the gurgle of a drain opening, the water will sweep you out, to be lost adrift, twenty miles from anywhere, in the middle of our sea.
	We call these occurrences "seiches," with an onomatopoeic hush.  

       My dad was a lake-shaped Chicagoan who had been a life guard at the Oak Street Beach, who had fished up and down the lake harbors, who had been out to the freshwater intake cribs that float out on the horizon. He went scuba diving with the fire department teams and ice fishing with his brothers. He knew the waters, their colors, the way the sun opened over them in the morning, and the way they nestled under the city at night. 
       Beginning when I was three or four, my dad started making the straight shot down 95th to take me fishing on the far Southeast Side at Calumet Park. In the parks all up and down the lake, the city had long ago installed tremendous rows of limestone and concrete slabs, aligned and graded as steps.  Summer’s waves would seep between them and winter’s ice would push them apart. The seasons shoved the stones on top of each other, collecting in their artificial crags tangles of ten-pound test line and dead algae clusters we called seaweed, clumped together amid junk food wrappers, empty nickel bags and busted glass.
       In front of the lake, a viaduct before the park, in the thousand-slatted shadows of the Skyway’s girders, a wood-walled tackle shop was tacked on a brick building’s side. The size of a closet and as humid as a greenhouse, its rows of slop sinks and hoses pumped bubbles into whirls and whorls of bait fish with a somnolent hum, a 6 a.m. murmur of the Lake asleep. We’d pick up a bucket of minnows that’d slosh around in the back seat as we drove. Past the Sherman tank at 95th and the US Steel Plant that dad went to, along with the Gary mills, at night. He told of stories of the plants' terrific potency: the time, for instance, in the middle of a midnight snowstorm he went through there and a short train tubbing molten steel melted eight inches of snow off the hood of his car, 50 yards away.  

       The northernmost portion of the park we’d enter via a winding drive with softball fields on the right and a National Guard Armory on the left. You hop down the rocks to the Lake. Be quiet in case there’re fish down there.  If you get out early enough you’ll see the overall-wearing, all-business guys fling their powerlines, trains of heavy test line, careening fifty yards out— seven or eight sets of nightcrawler tackle spinning each its own orbit.  
       We’d solemnly hook our minnows through the throat, wince penitently as their mouths gaped and their eyes bulged at us in disbelief, and dip the bucket back in the water.  
       Plop the bobber and wait. Look through Dad’s tackle, as an old hand would pass over the treble hooks. (The first time out, I dropped a ten dollar muskie lure in the water, thinking it would swim.) Wait for perch. Wait and watch the bait in the pink sky’s double— the Lake— and hope the perch swim past.
       Check the bait too often. Lose it. Pull the dripping bucket from the water. Gouge another. Rare catches. 
       Unzip your jacket, peel off your sweatshirt, the day’s getting going. Watch dad cast; the whoosh and the whiz and the snap of the reel; a splash, a second and a click; and the tackle comes back in again. 
       Take the dog over, past the public launch with its tawny steel pier. Toss the retrieval dummy in the water and watch his tremendous leaps in; fearless, hell-bent and full of joy. He’ll plunge in repeatedly to the amazement of the Mexican kids beginning to gather in the park, and to the dismay of the old powerliners packing because the sun’s up.  As it stretches above, start putting shit away while dad continues to cast, even less hope than the bait.
        “Any luck?” Someone stops by on his way out.
         The age-old palaver.
       Move further south as the sun keeps coming up.  You’re old enough now to take a few dives in the water where the dog useta. Dad’ll hold the towel while you change into your trunks in the lot. Watch for glass. You can even walk around to the beach where the picnicking Mexicans start to gather. 
        Keep walking south around the Lake’s curve to take one last look at the Coast Guard station with its antiquated lighthouse and boulder of a bell. Back through the park now; it’s after one and gangs have come in, Dad says; and you're too old to have time to get up at 5 a.m. on a Saturday, anyway. You come a couple times when you’re fifteen and sixteen to play soccer with Les Brothers against the Pumas, but all you see are the gangly, angry guys dumping garbage from their barbeques right on the fucking grass. Take the meandering drive out of the park, under the honey locusts and smelling all elotes smoking, and the paleteros’ bells jingling in your ears.
        At the same time the rest of the Ukranians trudged out and the paleteros jingled in, the steel plants shut down.  As you roll out, you pass Wisconsin Steel, a shell of a building whose tin has rusted red and green as dried seaweed. The train tracks have turned to gravel and cross only the streets. Thirty-foot-tall trees grow in acres and acres of weeds, uplifting the concrete like the inland sea’s limestone steps. Mighty McCormack’s International Harvester; if it rolled, they made it. U.S. Steel. Dad’s stories now point to building shells woven through with weedy collapse, so tangled with wildlife the cops found a four-acre pot field, harvested for several seasons, hidden in the ruins.
        An international barge pushes up the 96th Street Bridge and forces you to pause next to the brown wood-paneled tavern leaning on a bungalow's sturdy squat. The five-hundred-foot long leviathan draws you out of the car as it did when you were little and you peer through the bridge at the old shrimp shack you used to stop at when the bridge went up and remember learning what ballast is and how it brought the zebra mussel along with its coal all the way from the North Sea. 
	And the coal’s still heaped in sleepy dunes along both river and Lake, and the East Side endures a slow, strange death, or a coma, or sleepwalk. Though the bullet-riddled body of the El Rukns' Antonio Fort has been sucked up in the muck of Wolf Lake while the ComEd powerlines tower atop its spread of peninsulas, over the marshes, over the alphabet avenues, over the mountains of garbage engirding Altgeld Gardens. Out from harbors and marshes, from the dumped bodies' dreams, from the martyr-minnows and errant lure's nightmares, from the cinderblock-sunk Christmas trees laid like the ice fisherman's IRA's, up come the cattails and the reeds, the honey locusts, maples and ashes that shatter even the forge of the world, pushing up with pathetic relentlessness, like the glyphs of "I W I L L", then crumbling under again like the bungalow-hunched letters of, "I just fucking can't."
	"Any luck?" they ask.
	And we answer: "Fuckin skunked."
	From the bridge you see some four-foot by four-foot fishing in the river and your dad, who grew between the carcass-littered Bubbly Creek and Mark White Park's limestone quarry, says he can’t believe it, and how polluted were these rivers back then, and then you remember the Cambrian swamp whose burial turned this whole area into a coal capital and the coal begat the Southeast Side and the Southeast Side is begetting something else as the seiches of the Lake’s dreams rush back and forth, gray-green and restless, frothing over the limestone and concrete, as the coal dunes turn over and murmur in fitful sleep, then the two-inch thick rivets of the bridge screech and the bridge lowers its arms to greet you, lets you go home to the remembered city and the one to come, the never was and ain't gonna happen, stretching in the morning and nestling at night, living and dead, father and son, in restless dreams begetting, pathetically and relentlessly, forever.

Joseph Drogos is a Chicago writer and educator with degrees from Georgetown University and the University of Chicago. His writing has appeared in Chicago journals both active (MAKE Magazine) and defunct (Midnight Mind).














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