The Blackstone Hotel, from Appendix A, by Hayden Carruth

February 11th, 2014

blackstoneThe Blackstone Hotel on Michigan Avenue, Chicago, is an honorable old stack, presuming honor is an adjunct of any explicitly public aspect of civilization. There are other hotels in town; a good many, in fact, since Chicago has always enjoyed a good business from travelers who had to stop there whether they wanted to or not: a question of the more or less fortuitous itineraries of the transcontinental railroads. Some of these other hotels are prettier than the Blackstone, more modern, more elegant, more expensive. On the other hand, a great many are uglier, older, less expensive, and decidedly less elegant. The Blackstone comes somewhere near the top of the list in these respects, but not at the top itself. Nevertheless, if it is possible to extract an “essence” from the great American hotel myth, then the Blackstone is “essentially” Chicago’s most honorable, most venerable hotel. Because for years it has been the gathering place of powerful men. Some of the juiciest deals in the manipulation of American industry — mergers of railroads, for instance — have been cooked up in the Blackstone, I have no doubt; and as for politics, the smoke-filled room, an indispensable element of American folklore, is virtually by definition a Blackstone room — this, I am sure, all politicos (if they have any sentiment for the traditions of their calling) will concede. Chicago is par excellence the city of political conventions. The jet airliner may rob Chicago of its status as the nation’s foremost stopping-off place, but nothing will diminish its attraction to the politicos — nothing. The blandishments of Los Angeles, so sordid, so crass, may prevail upon one or the other party from time to time, but you can bet they will always come back to Chicago. Los Angeles is mistaken in its belief that simply because a V-8 bosom over a twin-cam ass, hotly idling, will invariably pack the theater with paying spectators, sex must also be what the politicos are looking for. Far from it. Politicos are the least sexy of mankind; ask their wives; even their mistresses. After all, when you are hunched contentedly in conclave, totting up lists of delegates, rolling your tongue around a succulent fifty-cent Havana claw, soothing your ulcers with the larruping twelve-year-old sour-mash Jack Daniels that always appears at convention time, this is just when you do not want the irrelevance of some rutting broad draped on your shoulder. Fact. It is an axiom of all political theory that the center of a woman’s brain is her pudendum; no idea ever occurs to her which does not concern passage one way or the other through that portal. Nothing implicitly wrong with this, of course, but. . . . It’s a matter of power concepts, comparative study thereof. Chicago knows this. Take it as a general rule that all women fare badly in Chicago — you won’t go far wrong. It is a man’s city. Perhaps this is true of all prairie towns: Lewis Mumford would say they have no containing principle, essential to the femininity of a place. Be that as it may, Chicago offers no sex to the politicos at convention time, except to minor female delegates who must be shunted off to the fleshpots of North State Street to get them out of the way. Instead, Chicago offers the far more illuminating and encouraging spectacle of the stockyards. Just what the politicos require — a vision of God’s creatures marching docilely into one end of a machine, from the other end of which issues a steady stream of money. Can anyone doubt that this is the inspiration which calls the politicos eternally back to Chicago? It is demonstrable that the important political orbit at convention time lies between the Blackstone Hotel at one end and the Union Stockyards at the other.

from Appendix A, by Hayden Carruth
New York City: Macmillan, 1963

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