What does it mean to be a “Chicago” “Genius”? If you think it means to be someone of high intelligence who lives is the greater Chicagoland area, you are wrong. If you think it’s some sort of irony-poisoned online thing where we’re saying we’re geniuses because we’re definitely not and happen to live in Chicago because we fear NYC’s thin, razor-sharp pizza and aren’t hott enough to be allowed in LA; you’re closer, but still off.
The name of our fair city comes from a French corruption of the Algonquin word “shikaakwa” for wild garlic. Wild garlic, commonly called “ramps” by people who want to charge you a lot of money to eat them, is spicy, pungent, and exciting. Maybe break into a fancy restaurant some time and steal some. They’re delicious, but a warning: they’re seasonal so you’ll want to plan your break in for the Spring. Like the tangy, green vegetable for which our city is named, Chicago Geniuses are overpowering, an acquired taste, and capable of killing a vampire if the circumstance should ever arise.
Genius. What a word. At this point, utterly meaningless. Chicago native Kanye West used up all of its vital juice by tweeting too much, and now it’s a withered husk of its former glory that will eventually only be used to describe products on Shark Tank and people who are really good at social media.
When the world was young and shadows were still our main source of entertainment, genius was Genii, the name of the mythological spirits of Greece who guide and support us. In some places these spirits are called Jinn, in others they are called Kami. There’s one for pretty much anything you could imagine: shelves, cats, cooking pots, neat-looking rocks, a spirit to guide you home, to guide the artist's’ hand, the soldier’s blade. A Chicago Genius must be haunted by spirits and keenly aware that there is latent magic in every object we touch, every threshold we cross, every hot dog we consume. This is why we put stick-on googly eyes on all our possessions. To honor the genius around us, and because it’s cute.
To be a Chicago Genius isn’t to be a stuffy, high-minded, lake-side urbanite. It’s to stink so bad you smell good. It’s to feel pride in our city’s unbreakable record rat population. It’s to have someone cough in your face on the Blue Line and dare to open your mouth wider. It’s to wait in line at popular brunch places so you can complain about the food and prices. To exclusively drinking malort because you don’t deserve a better drink. To know that the best baseball team in the city isn’t the Cubs or the Sox, but Dave, a guy who stands at the edge of Navy Pier and hits dingers into Michigan.
It’s your face getting flush and your fists clenching as you scream “actually it’s called ‘Cloud Gate.’” It’s dancing on the Red Line, the time of night when Jekyll Park transforms into the terrifying Hyde Park, it’s planning a dolphin heist at Shedd, it’s a thousand out-of-town friends asking in unison “but what about the Winters?” This is Chicago Genius. We exist to create and for this, we are sorry.