"I came to America with five dollars in my pocket and did not speak a word of English," the Art Dealer says. She immigrated legally from Poland in her early twenties—several decades ago, when the Soviet Union was still intact. Like many other Poles, she headed straight to northwest Chicago, the largest Polish community outside of Warsaw. "At home, I made $20 a month. In America, I got a nanny job. Usually, I worked for about twelve to fourteen hours a day, six days a week... and I made $20 a week." Slowly, she saved up enough money to escape wage slavery and decided to launch a European art gallery. Her gray eyes contemplate her large, black desk: "At the time, there weren't many people bringing European art to Chicago, especially Polish art. I thought that it might be a way to get money going back there while exposing Americans to new art..." She raises her eyes glances around the large room of her gallery. The walls are covered in huge oil paintings in heavy gold and black frames, pastoral images of snowy European countrysides, vibrant cityscapes, a few still-lifes. Paintings lean in stacks along the base of walls. Many are beautiful, some are insipid, but all are surprising to find hidden behind the barred windows and locked doors of a dismal, 1960's-era storefront. Like many other immigrants, the Art Dealer made the journey alone. Friends and family remained in Poland, but she was driven to America out of a powerful ambition to live a more comfortable life. "I still go back a few times a year and see them." Decades later, with the gallery thriving, she has lived the quintessential American Dream: "this really is a country where anything is possible. I love it here. I would never return. This is home now." She has helped over ten Poles immigrate to the United States since relocating herself, offering them places go stay while they try to launch their own lives. "Some people complain about America. I have traveled all over the world, Africa, Asia, Europe, and there is nowhere else like this. Five dollars. I came with five dollars and no English. Look where I am now."
Up the street, in a dark Polish bar, the Agent is hunched over a Bud Light as he talks with the Bartender. His hands tremble slightly as he unwraps a roll of Smarties and puts a few of the chalky, pastel candies in his mouth: "I bring these with me everywhere... there are more in my car. Hand them out at bars; people know me as the guy with the Smarties. Here, have some, they don't have much sugar." The Bartender is a lean man with a Roman nose, a long, stern face, and a jean vest. His gray hair is slicked back on his head. He should have been in the Rolling Stones. Maybe he was. "This economy stinks," he says, and lists the Polish names of two regulars who just got laid off from manufacturing jobs after two and three decades of employment. "Can you believe that? Just thrown away. There's nothing left here. Dead." The Agent, a retired Fed, nods in agreement and chases his beer with a few more Smarties: "all those new condos downtown, who are those for? What do they even do that's so important?"
It is an area of long, ugly roads lined with trash and light-industrial buildings. Freeways and railroads crisscross over and under surface streets. Color is rare: the buildings are shades of tan and mustard brick, dark gray asphalt, light gray skies, brown lots strewn with trash, chain link fences. A large stuffed tiger lies on on the cracked sidewalk, its head partially torn off and its torso slashed open down the spine. Intestinal-pink foam explodes from its neck as if under pressure.