By Fred Sasaki
Passing stranger! you do not know how longingly I look upon you.
You must be he I was seeking, or she I was seeking, (it comes to me as of a dream)
—From “To a Stranger,” by Walt Whitman
Decapitated heads of tulips lay splayed over decorative beds along Michigan Avenue as spring turns. The summer wind brings in a thrush of color in the teaming multitude of strangers on the Magnificent Mile. Immense in scope, the classification of the species that take the promenade is far beyond the means of a mere article. Such an endeavor demands a Jacques-Cousteau-like depth and a heavy prescription of Xanax. This being my only caveat, I give you a tasting blanket of the more peculiar anamules on parade, from bulbous suburbanites and tourists to the lean and harrowed hags of the avenue.
Banana Fanna & Me My Moe
On the royal block of Chicago and Michigan, amid the monolithic Ralph Lauren flagship, Neiman Marcus and Tiffany’s, the proliferate Banana Fanna (f.) and Me My Moe (m.) can be seen streaming in and out of the marquis Banana Republic and Pottery Barn, in confident stride, Mon–Sat, 10am–8pm and Sundays 11am–6pm. Neat white bag over shoulder or slung casually down, they prance and gaze into the mirrored windows on the avenue, smiling into their cell phones. They travel in pairs and overuse the word “nice.” They are neat to a T and teeth-whitened to a sparkling gleam; the women are crisp, clean and self-impressed urban chic; the men are relaxed pants and flowy shirts reminiscent of a fresh-washed pillowcase. They are like so totally super cute.
Out of their common territory, the Cubby Bear ventures onto the Magnificent Mile unperturbed, as if walking through a slow third inning. The men wear cargo shorts and jerseys of players that most resemble their inner animal and the women wear cutesy girl-boy Cubs shirts and denim shorts. They display the gamut of fitted Cubs hats and even visors during particularly hot days. Their escapades typically end by the river as they circle in front of the Wrigley and Tribune buildings, reminiscing about Andre Dawson, while asking people where the Billy Goat Tavern is.
Demi-God (A.K.A. Golden Gorgon)
These creatures seem sprung from the green room of a runway show and dazzle the avenue during their rare flights, zigzagging from one couture boutique to another. After an espresso drink at the Rush Street Starbucks, they glide through Barney’s and saunter down Oak, having a casual glance at Louis Vuitton, Gucci and Chanel before blazing Michigan Avenue with a light touch of plastic, leaving a dust of stars and perfume in their wake. They are tall, tailored and impeccable and could have stepped directly from an episode of “Passions.” They have an estimated value of $17,900 if undressed and sold as scrap on eBay.
The classic Duo-tone Denim is perhaps the hardest of all species to delineate, but can be categorized into three general types:
The City Girl is invariably from out-of-town. She appears boxy and inflexible, often wearing a high-waisted pant that snips her rear end to look like an overgrown turnip. There is usually some embroidery, insignia or other such ornament on her jacket and/or pants. They can be found during daylight hours waiting in line for Garrett popcorn.
The male and female species of the Bourgeois Cowboy are equal in number and deadly sexy. They have the hips and panache of a movie star and are too sexy for Milan, New York and Japan. They are models, you know what I mean? And they do their little turn on the catwalk. They shake their little touches on the catwalk. On their satchels or the lapels of their dark-wash, distressed denim jackets are tactfully arranged one-inch fashion pins that pledge allegiance to independence or a band that captures a portion of their fucking essence, man. They have excellent, often ironic taste in sunglasses and typically wear thick-rimmed spectacles. Groomed exclusively at Sine Qua Non and Art + Science, they are too sexy from their hair down to their playful yet challenging footwear.
The POW/MIA is serious. The POW/MIA has seen things you couldn’t dream of. They don’t have time for any of your bullshit. But they like the large portions and sauce of the big eateries on Michigan and can even be found browsing Water Tower with Harley Davidson shopping bags curled in their fists. They are light-wash denim, trucker cap, black T-shirt and bandana. They will so kick your ass.
The smart, active, practical, up-to-date, in-control Easy Spirit takes it as it comes, tells it like it is, and thinks that everyone is dealt a set of cards in this life. She appears urbane in work-appropriate attire and athletic sneakers. She isn’t into anything weird and likes to describe herself as “just a normal person.” She can be spotted darting toward some form of public transportation, Anne Taylor, any sale rack or department-store hosiery section.
These happy wanderers are completely harmless and banal. Either over-tall or too short, they walk about in their REI Explorer Hats of graphite-, khaki- or canteen-colored duck cloth. Braided chin-cord is toggled to keep hat on in windy conditions, and the brass snaps on either side of the hat allows the Explorer to snap up one or both sides of the brim depending on the position of the sun. The have slight stubble to a full, groomed beard and have a jaunty, tight-assed walk. Their packs are lightweight, durable, waterproof and contain at least one item that will remind them of a time they spent traveling in an exotic land, for a unusual reason, that shows them to be a resilient, mildly passionate, salt-of-the-earth sort of person. They tend to swarm Edie Bauer, L.L. Bean, Orvis and Brookstone stores, especially by the massage chairs with butt-rolling motion.
La Perla (A.K.A. “Queen of Night”)
She is the Parisian facsimile, but always just off the mark. She exudes some style and provocativeness, with a long display of intricate lace tights that, ultimately, have streetwalker allure. Some vibrant or off-kilter colored accessory throws everything off balance but seems somewhat interesting. She moves quickly, alone, and definitely does not want to talk to you.
His jeans are strangely bleached, painfully tight and scream bikini briefs. Something about the Ladies Man is either floral, velvet, ruffled, sueded, tasseled or wet with a touch of International Male. They are best characterized as askew, as evidenced in the disproportionate musculature of their upper body, cut of their collar, placement of their lapel pockets or fade of their aviator sunglasses. In hand is a babe-magnetic man-purse or fisted leather motocross jacket. In tow is a trio of Gold Coin condoms and photos of their $1600 Doberman Pinscher named Zora.
Madame (A.K.A. Flaming Parrot)
The Madame is a spectre, a plume of hundred-year-old perfume and crêpe de Chine. They glide noiselessly from afternoon tea at the Drake to the perfume department at Water Tower Place, then on toward Grand Lux, stopping along the way to look at ceramics and crystal. Their tanned skins make them impervious to the elements and certain reconstructed parts of their visage are indestructible, however frail they may seem. When stationary, they are easily mistaken for a piece of Burberry luggage, but it is crucial to never touch them for fear of a number of terrifying consequences.
The subtle variation of the Marco Polo is beyond pique, interlock, lisle and jersey weaves. They can only be understood by the layperson in broad terms, thus the following treatment for three of the most commonly seen of the species (it should be noted that brand and color of polo are of no use as an indicator, but sizing, style of dress and position/layering of collars are):
These are the straight polo, loafer, down-turned-collar, monogrammed accessory, chino type. They carry a light windbreaker or all-season cashmere sweater, a prim fiancé and a pair of silver-haired, congenial parents. They walk arm in arm, tidying up errands at Williams Sonoma and Crate & Barrel, the men stopping occasionally to laugh and smoke cigars. Their hair is lush, longish and slightly wavy. Cuffs always match the collar.
There is some overlap between all Marco Polos, but what usually sets the Xbox apart are baggy, wide-bottomed jeans, long-billed baseball caps, oversized everything and a token hoochie. They often wear their collars up and layer as many as three polos at a time. Their calls are, “Yo,” “O snap,” “That’s raw/the shit,” and “Fork me over some of that.” They congregate in the Food Life food court, Niketown and Apple store where they bob their heads and practice ninja moves.
Joe is boxers not briefs, loose-fit not relaxed, adjustable not fitted. He is a walking, talking, margarita-drinking cheeseburger in paradise. He says, “right on,” “hey dufus,” and quotes “The Simpsons” interminably. Everything reminds him of a “Seinfeld” episode, especially his own commonsensical sense of humor.
No couple looks more at home on the street than the ubiquitous North Facer. They come in Ionos Purple, Ibiza Blue, Geisha Red, Moonlight Ivory and an array of disparate yet similar colors, but mostly black. They are commonly spotted walking away from a Starbucks, at odd angles, holding Venti® lattes. The species germinates from the northern part of the Magnificent Mile, in the ground level of the Hancock Building, and thrive throughout the year but especially in early summer when they showcase their subtly differentiated variety of the elusive light summer jacket.
If you took an Emo, Punk, Goth, Dead Head and a sci-fi fantasy freak and ran them through a meat grinder, shaped them into patties, and baked them at 420? while you chilled for a bit, you’d get three Postmodern Hippies and a miniature Chihuahua with a Mohawk. They like sitting on the sidewalk, brooding and begging for change to buy Drum cigarettes with. They live on coffee and Jimmy John’s day-old bread loaves.
More commonly known in the Midwest as “The Body Guard” or “Nutcracker,” this particularly male species lurks in nearly every crowd and gives the impression that he or she will inevitably pounce, and it will be your fault. Tracksuits, denim shorts and a rigid, lumbering walk signify them, along with iconographic gold jewelry, sport watches and a wrenched, clenched-molars expression. They are most often found walking with two-to-five overweight, frantic-eyed and shopping-bagged women in high-waisted pants.
Wiggèd Chicken Head
This predominantly female species is remarkable for their elaborate woven hairpieces. Towering and fanned nests of red and/or gold sit on their heads immovably. Whether fishtailed, twisted, braided, in Bantu knots or locks, the effect is shocking. This peculiar artistry is meant for gazing at and appreciating, as indicated in their certain and steadfast gait. They usually travel solo or with an equally brilliant girlfriend.