The University of Chicago Magazine April 1995
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Other Voices


I found myself celebrating the anniversary of my graduation from the University at the very antithesis of the place I would have frequented at 21.

By Helen Schary Motro

Standing on Hayarkon Street in Tel Aviv between appointments, I squinted to the right and to the left for a quick spot to eat. Nothing appealing in sight. Blinded by noontime sun and heat, I ducked into the nearest place at hand--a loud, glitzy establishment. I looked up to see I had entered the Chicago Pizza Pie Factory. From reading the logo on its placemats I learned that the chain prided itself on being the "Purveyors of Chicago pizza to London, Paris, Madrid, Tel Aviv, and the World."

And so, five summers ago, unable to travel to Chicago for my class reunion, I found myself celebrating the 20th anniversary of my graduation from the University of Chicago at the very antithesis of the sort of place I would have frequented at 21, and smiled at the irony of it.

I felt snobbish right away. This plasticized emporium conformed to my fuzzy memories of the 1960s Chicago version of yuppie-dom. Imitation street signs were scattered throughout the room: N. Rush, S. Lake Shore Drive. Bouncy waitresses wore red newsboy aprons imprinted with "Chicago Tribune" in gothic lettering. And a cassette tape of "Chicago's Oldies Station" reverberated classic rock interspersed with advertisements for car dealers and the A&P offering choice top round at a weekly special of $1.49 a pound.

Chicago memorabilia covered the walls, and an enormous neon sign flashed My Kinda Town in red alternating with green. Conspicuous in their absence were portraits of an Arendt, a Morgenthau, a Stevenson, or a Bellow, the mascots of our era, but with a twinkling eye Mayor Richard Daley the First still reigned supreme on the walls of this womblike Chicago nostalgia exhibit. No cliché was too corny: championship White Sox posters alongside a token nod to Culture in the form of a Chicago Symphony Orchestra announcement--Solti conducting, of course.

I searched in vain to connect this place with the Chicago I had known. In those turtlenecked, identity-searching late Sixties, we felt sophisticated at cafés ordering various flavors of cappuccino accompanied by ubiquitous medium-rare burgers. Blown-up photos of medieval gargoyles scowled down at us from the walls and Gregorian chants played softly in the shadows. Between classes we sipped instant-soup powder dissolved in boiling water in some basement coffee shop on the quad, named for heroes of middle-English literature. We rubbed shoulders with diffident theology students. We stood in line behind Indian doctoral candidates in physics who, with lilting accents and courtly mannerisms, valiantly struggled to hold afloat our instruction sections of Physics for Non-Science Majors.

Had we the mischance to find ourselves seated next to a scrubbed and eager M.B.A. candidate stealing a quick break from George Schultz's business-school domain, we undergraduate purists would heap him with disdain. We thought the business-school quad existed to host our picketing against napalm when corporate interviewers dared trespass onto campus. As for the Law School, insiders knew it boasted the quietest and sunniest library on campus. The function of the medical school, we thought, was to furnish prescriptions for birth-control pills via Student Health. In loco parentis was dead. We thrived on the life of the mind.

We were sure those professional-school appendages had little to do with the Real University, which to us was symbolized by the stately antiquities in the Oriental Institute. It was personified by a genteel professor delivering a lecture on the art of rhetoric, while we nestled into massive velour armchairs in an overheated room as snow endlessly fell outside the leaded-glass windows and the four o'clock evening darkened the frozen pathways.

Armed with a smattering of Dante and de Tocqueville, we deemed ourselves the bastion against the commercialized masses. It was Plato we thought we cared about, not the Chicago Bears, and we basked in theory as our parents dutifully sent in tuition checks each quarter.

Suddenly I started to shake my head--but at myself. So many years had passed that now I'd become the parent sending in tuition checks, and yet I still hadn't gotten over indulging myself. I, too, was an outlandish relic, just as caricatured as the Chicago Pizza Pie Factory I had been feeling so good to ridicule. My jaundiced view of the benign, if frivolous, restaurant was but a continuation of my particular adolescence. I might have thought I had shed my callowness long ago, but show me a deep-dish pizza and it all came flooding back. Youth might be gone, but hubris was intact.

Helen Schary Motro, AB'70, an attorney in Cfar Shmariahu, Israel, plans on attending her 25th College reunion in June.

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