posted in: Chicago, Day In The Life 19
Homeless man, Bowery St., NYC, 1942. Photo: Wikipedia.
Homeless man, Bowery St., NYC, 1942. Photo: Wikipedia.


My building takes up a quarter of a city block and has two different entrances.

The front door is manned by a doorman; the back way puts you out into the alley that runs between my block and the next one. The Green and Orange line El tracks run overhead the whole length of the alleyway, so when you’re back there and a train goes by overhead, it’s pretty loud — loud enough to do a terrific impression of Liza Minnelli when she screams with the trains in Cabaret. Not that I ever do that.

There is a conscious decision to be made when I’m coming or going as to which door I should take. Mostly, the circumstances of my arrival or departure dictate which entrance is best; the building is big enough that the entrances really affect travel time, depending on where you’re headed or coming from. My mood factors in, too. And lately there is another consideration which I’ll get to in a moment.

Reasons for coming/going through the front door may include:

I’m carrying heavy bags of groceries and need a hand
I’m headed to/home from the airport and am lugging two suitcases, a purse, and a totebag and my brain and need a hand
I’m going out on a date and feel like making a dramatic exit
I’m coming home from a date and feel like making a dramatic entrance
I wanna say hi to Stanley or J.C. (favorite door guys) if they’re working
I’m headed south or east

Reasons for coming/going through the back door, through the alley, under the El tracks may include:

I’m going to yoga (I shave about 4 minutes off the walk this way)
I need to pick up packages (the receiving room is in the back hallway out to the alley)
I’m not really wanting to chat with the doorman (even Stanley or J.C.) because I’m grumpy
The alley is pretty awesome in a gritty city kind of way

You may be thinking, “Hm. Big city alley. Loud train overhead… Are you sure you should be using the back entrance much Mar? At least at night, maybe you should take the front door.”

While you are nice to be thinking of my safety — and right to question it — in many years of living down here, I’ve never felt unsafe going through the back way. My neighborhood is a busy one with many college campuses sort of crammed on top of one another (e.g., East/West, Columbia College Chicago, Roosevelt, Spertus, and SAIC not so far, either) and there’s heavy foot traffic around the entrance to my alley most of the time. There are huge blocks student housing nearby, a 24/7 gym on the corner above the 7-11, a Peet’s Coffee not far away, and I’m not the only person who uses the back entrance, either; I often say hi to neighbors who are also lazy or anti-social.

But over the past month or two, something’s changed.

The beginning of the alley is the back of a Lou Malnati’s pizzeria. All the restaurant’s dumpsters are clustered back there, nestled in what could accurately be described as a cove. (In fact, let’s call it “The Cove” for the purposes of this story.) There’s a huge space between the actual alley street — like where cars drive through — and the entrance to Lou Malnati’s, and an enormous overhang shelters this area. It’s really hard to describe but trust me: There are many hundreds of sheltered square feet as private as a restaurant dumpster area in an alley can be. Put another way: If you lived on the street, this spot would be an excellent find — and I’m not trying to be funny.

Over the years, I have come to expect there will be people hanging around The Cove from time to time. Sometimes I see kids bumming around smoking cigarettes there, but usually it’s an older, sadder crowd: mostly homeless men or men who appear homeless and are certainly living far, far below the poverty line. Sometimes there will be someone sleeping there; sometimes there will be someone peeing there.

And not until recently did I feel that it was a drug spot. But I think it is, now. Something’s changed at The Cove. There are rougher-looking characters there and more of them at once: five or six people congregated instead of the usual two or three. When I pass, I really get checked out. No one says anything, but I am being scanned for sure: Am I a threat or not?

I can’t be sure there’s drug stuff going on, though. And it’s so cold. Tomorrow it will be -8 degrees in my city. People who live on the streets have to go someplace, don’t they? It’s a really good spot, I can see that. And no one at The Cove has ever made me feel that I was in danger, so I had major guilt when I thought about alerting the authorities.

Still, I had a bad feeling. I do get skeeved these days when I walk by. And anxious. What if letting the cops know about the increase in traffic back there could keep something bad from happening to me or someone else? And if these folks are in need of shelter, the cops could help them find a way better place than The Cove — a place with blankets and food that isn’t garbage. I looked up online what to do about such a situation and found great information from homeless coalitions and social services organizations who did encourage me to call 311.

So I did. I chatted with the lady about the alley and told her how conflicted I was about the whole thing. She said it was the right thing to do to let them know and that they’ll keep their eye on it. I told her I give to the Chicago Food Bank but other than that, I feel pretty helpless about the homeless problem in my city or in any city. She agreed that it’s really hard, especially in winter. We hung up. I felt like I had tattled to the teacher or something. I felt weird.

What would you have done?

Negative eight degrees tomorrow. Negative eight.

Who Is Leaving Chalk At the Harrison Red Line Stop — And Why?

posted in: Chicago, Day In The Life 20
Photo and forensic-looking annotations: Me.
I’ll get more pictures. You can’t see it as well from this distance but I wanted to show you how much there is on any given day. Maybe I should start an Instagram account just for this! Photo and forensic-looking annotations: Me.


There’s mystery afoot!

Actually, it’s underfoot — and it’s time to blow this thing wide open. I’ve been intending to write this post for months. Here we go.

Every time — and I mean every single time — I enter or exit the southwest entrance to the Red Line subway at Harrison, fresh, multicolored chalk is present on the stairwell down to the trains. These crumbles of chalk are fresh: Without fail, random, chocolate chip-sized chunks of yellow, blue, pink, purple, and/or white pieces seem to have been (very) recently crushed into the tiles in different spots on the landing between the two flights of stairs to and from street level, every time I come or go.

Yeah, it’s weird. I know. But I’m telling you: Someone is regularly dropping colored chalk on the Harrison Red Line subway stairs.

But who? And why?

Maybe the delay in sharing this peculiar discovery with you is due to my embarrassing — okay, delicious — fear that these chalk droppings (ew) are some kind of sign or signifier for a secret society and by noticing it and then cracking the case, I’m essentially making myself a character in a Dan Brown novel: The innocent blogger heroine plunged into the sick, twisted world of…something weird.

The novel — the first in the series, of course — would be called The Chalk Leaver and I would be very, very beautiful i this novel and in grave danger, having poked my nose and my laptop into places it does not belong! There would be a smolderingly attractive, precocious-but-mercurial young man who has crucial information that could be the key to everything — but he’s trapped in the receiving room! I would be on the run from this secret chalk society and at some point, me and the mercurial young man would be trapped in an elevator together and probably kiss. The end of the book would end with me and the mercurial young man in Tuscany, seamlessly blending into a crowd on a piazza. We wear Ray-Bans and…a map. Or something.

The second book would be titled something like Chalkduster and this book would go deep into my psyche as a character but also we’d get a lot of information about the secret society that marks its paths — its secret paths! — with chalk markings. Someone would die. I’m not sure who. Not me. Actually, the main villain would die but it would be revealed that he wasn’t even the baddest baddie and now that he’s gone, the real bad guy emerges in a cliffhanger for the third book!

The third book, Chalk Is Cheap, would be the best one yet, according to the New York Times. I’d definitely almost die. There would be a new love for sure, maybe a tall German…doctor. Something like that. And some of it would take place in the Sahara so that I could wear gorgeous khaki items and Isadora Duncan-y scarves and a pith helmet. There would be something about jewels and stolen art in this book. I would definitely be able to fly a Cessna in this one.

Seriously, though, I am really curious: What’s up with all that chalk at the Harrison stop? Has any other person in Chicago who uses this stop regularly noticed this? It’s kinda driving me crazy at this point; I do want to know. It’s weird, that fresh chalk all the time.

I would like to close on a dramatic note in the spirit of the Dan Brown novel series that is clearly good enough to option for a movie by this description alone. You’re going to help with this. Please imagine me in some kind of physical peril, like… Picture me dangling off of some craggy precipice — or at least imagine me very thirsty and underfed. And I look really good and I have lipstick on. Got it?

Okay, your line is:

YOU: Why, Mary? Why did you ask about the chalk? Just… Dammit, Mary! Why did you have to go looking for trouble? You could’ve just — (You turn away and put the back of your sleeve to your face , ashamed to let me see you cry.)

ME: (Smiling, sweet and frail.) Never stop looking at your feet, darling. You know that. You never know what you’ll find if you don’t look down. I think… I think it’s time to look…down at the world, now…

YOU: (Whirling on me, you shake me; I”m losing consciousness.) NO!!!

ME: (Hardly audible.) Don’t ever stop looking…for the…pink…chalk…

[the end for now]

A View From The Infield! It’s Cubbies Day!

posted in: Chicago 4
Really lovely pandemonium. Photo: Moi.
Really lovely pandemonium. Photo: Me.


I’m watching the blue tide that continues to roll through downtown Chicago. My perch: The second floor of the Sharp Building, prime School of the Art Institute real estate in the Loop. Where is the geographical “heart of Chicago”? You could make an argument for this spot.

No one is at work today and if they are (or if they were) they weren’t. Kids all over the whole state skipped school. The teachers skipped school. On the news this morning, one of the reporters said, “Um, I literally just saw my kid’s school principal in the crowd near Wrigley Field. We’re good.”

If you did go to class, if you did have a meeting, the static electricity in the atmosphere scrambled everything in the best possible way. Whatever you were supposed to be doing, however you were supposed to be doing it, the usual Friday schedule for millions of people got booted when those kids won the game and it didn’t matter — still doesn’t matter — if you don’t care about baseball. This isn’t about baseball anymore, remember? It’s about astonishment and relief. 

Now, the folks who work in shops and restaurants downtown have their work cut out for them, but I worked in the service industry for a long time and — though Christmas is really the only day I can think that comes close to the feeling down here —I know how it goes on a day like this: If you’re a waitress, you’re gonna make a killing because people tip better when they’re happy. If you’re in retail, the hours are gonna fly because everyone’s so amped. If you’re slinging lattes at a coffee shop… Well, I haven’t ever done that job, exactly, but I imagine inside all the cafes and stores it’s as much of a party as it is outside on the streets. Sure, people are drunk and there are some weirdos out there, but that’s every day in the city, baby. There’s just less confetti most days.

The parade started at Wrigley this morning and then came downtown on Lake Shore Drive to get to Michigan Avenue. I was listening to the radio and doing things around the house when I realized that they were almost to my cross street! I ran to the window, threw open the shade, slammed the screen up and stuck my head out the window really far — so far I actually got a little woozy when I glanced down — and I could see them! I could see the buses with “CHAMPIONS” emblazoned on the side! Right there on Michigan Avenue! Some little kids up on the 20th floor of my building were out on their balcony and they cried down to me, “Hi! Hi! Go cubs! Up here! Up here! Wave to us!”

I realized at that moment that I was only in my bra and underpants. I squeaked out a “Hi there!” and ducked back in to put on some clothes. Don’t worry: no one was scandalized. It’s just that kind of day.

Joy Town: Where I Was When The Cubs Won In ’16.

posted in: Chicago, Day In The Life 20
Cookies at The Goddess & Baker, near school in the Loop. Photo: Me, with crumbs on my face.
Cookies at The Goddess & Baker yesterday, near SAIC in the Loop. Photo: Me, with crumbs on my face.


All day long, I’ve been old.

Because all day long I’ve been thinking that when I’m an old lady and people ask me about stuff that happened in Chicago when I was younger, I’ll be able to say, “I was in Chicago when the Cubs won the World Series in ’16. That, my holographic friend, was cool.”

(I figure there will be a holographic element of our digital lives at that point and that it will be entirely pointless but really fun, like Snapchat.)

I hope my memory lasts a long time because I don’t ever want to forget last night or the feeling of lightness and joy in Chicago today.

Just in case I do forget, I’m going to write down just how it happened; that way, if someone asks me where I was when the Cubs won in ’16, I can just read this.

I was at a theater earlier in the evening watching my friend Susan Of The Wonderful Laugh in a big storytelling event. Even with the big game going on, the Athenaeum Theater was full. The show’s emcees kept the audience up to date on the score throughout the show because even though people at the theater were obviously not die-hard Cubs fans — if they were, they were dying, hard — we were all buzzing, tense. Because the World Series this year ceased to be about baseball weeks ago. The Cubs being so close to winning was about chance. Change. Obstacles and overcoming. The Cubs at the Series was about universal stuff irresistible to any audience of any kind, anywhere.

By the end of the show — not that anyone was surreptitiously checking her phone during curtain call — the Cubs had lost the lead. The teams were tied 6 – 6. Just like that, the confidence the audience had allowed ourselves during the show was gone. It was a dreadful, wretched feeling.

Susan and her friends offered to drive me to the train after the show, but I declined. There was something I had to do. Deep in my heart, I felt it: I needed to get on a bike and bike home.

It’s a ways from the Athenaeum to the South Loop. But I needed to make contact with the night. I wanted to hear people cheering from the bars — and if they cried or wailed, I wanted to hear that, too. I wanted to breathe the night air, the electric air in my city. The need was overwhelming to experience the rest of the evening in that particular way at that important moment. There was a bank of bikeshare bikes outside the theatre; I’m a card-carrying, devoted member. I bid adieu to Susan and her friends, checked out a bike, and began my ride.

All the way down Lincoln, the humanity was almost too much to bear. In every single bar there were people packed inside, faces upturned to screens, watching with anguish and untenable expectation. I saw people praying. I saw people literally biting off their nails.

Near Oz Park, I came upon a huge number of bike cops who had all put their bikes down and were crowding around a pizza joint and a bar and a falafel place, all trying to get a view of a screen. Not too far from them I came upon another pack of cops. I didn’t understand at first but then realized, oh, they’re mobilizing for the end of the game. Win or lose, it’s gonna be a hell of a night. I can’t tell you how tense everything was, how dead the streets were, how every tree and traffic light felt invested in the moment.

I rolled on, peddling faster, now; I needed to park the bike and see for myself what was going on. But I didn’t want to get stranded anywhere. Why wasn’t there more noise? Shouldn’t the Cubbies be scoring a point? Why weren’t people cheering, shouting?? I started doing ridiculous, magical thinking in my head: If I get this green light, they’ll do it. If I sing a song. No, no, that’s silly. The lesson here, I thought as I crossed into the Loop, is to let it go. Just let it go. It’s out of your hands. It’s just a game. Even if they don’t win, they got so far. It’s baseball. It’s baseball.

By the time I got home, I knew something must have been horribly wrong. It was well past 11 p.m. I had biked seven miles in about 39 minutes. The city had not erupted in cheers, in 1,000,000 ticker-tape parades. I docked my bike and ran to my building, stabbed at the elevator buttons, and finally got to my unit. I turned on the radio just as my sister texted me, deeply troubled. Tenth inning. And the rain delay.

The radio announcers seemed to be in almost physical agony. My muscles were tight. I poured a little gin but couldn’t even drink it. I turned on my sewing machine and made Log Cabin blocks while I listened. And waited. And didn’t breathe.

And then it happened.

The city broke open.

The South Loop erupted all over with joy. My windows were open and the moment the Cubs won, cars in the streets below honked and honked and honked and people shouted, “Hurrah! Hurrah!” and “Cubbies Win! They won! They [BEEP] won! Yeaaaaahhhhhhh!” and “Woooooooo-HOOOOOOOOOOO!” Fireworks — real fireworks! — from three different places in the immediate area began to go off. Pew! Pew! Zeeeee-pew! Shouts and laughter, whoops and hoopla, beautiful hoopla all over town. It was bliss. It was every Christmas morning, I swear, that feeling of yes.

I was making squeaking and yipping sounds, hopping and jumping in my apartment, texting my sister furiously and then I’d just burst out laughing with happiness and excitement for the pure joy of long overdue change and victory! I stuck my head out the window and joined the chorus of voices across the mid-rise buildings: “Yaaaaay! Go Cubs! Go Cubs! Yay! Yay!!! Yes!!!” The guy one floor up from me was calling out, too, and we laughed and called to each other: “Go Cubs! They won! They won!”

Did you know there are 108 stitches in a baseball? Did you know?

The People Next Door.

posted in: Chicago, D.C., Day In The Life 12
Newspaper ad for the 1917 propaganda film, "Who's Your Neighbor." When you're done here, google it: pretty interesting stuff! Image: Wikipedia.
Newspaper ad for the 1917 propaganda film, “Who’s Your Neighbor.” When you’re done here, google it: pretty interesting stuff! Image: Wikipedia.


While I was away last year, singing in the pool at my rawther glamorous residence and getting pooped on by birds, a not-high-rise-but-higher-than-my-mid-rise condo building was going up kitty-corner from my building here in the South Loop. It was in the last stages of construction when I moved home; I would see the crane and the workers, the construction cones out in front of the main entrypoint.

Over the summer it was completed. You know how in Ghostbusters, when Zuul blasts away that chunk of the apartment building in Manhattan where Sigourney Weaver lives? There’s a chunk carved out of this building kind of like that, except that it’s on purpose and paid for by developers and they’ve put a garden in there! Or is it a park? It’s what cityfolk call “greenspace” and I have a great view of it from my windows! Way cool. Gardens come to me, baby.

There’s also a pool on the other side of this new building and I can see just a slice of it from my perch on the sixteenth floor. It looks like a great pool. I should try to make friends with someone over there so I can scope out what my windows look like while swimming.

What’s really fascinating is that for some months I looked over at a tall, dark, glass thing…and now there are people living there.  I can see their glowing TV screens. Someone has a bright red couch and in the daytime, I can see it. I mean, it’s right over there, right there across the sky.

Who are they? Are they excited? No matter who they are or where they came from, they all have one thing in common: They just moved in.

Culture Spaghetti.

posted in: Chicago, Family, Travel 18
Filed in WikiCommons under "Confusion." Image: Wikipedia.
Filed in WikiCommons under “Confusion.” Image: Wikipedia.


Today was a “Guess what happened to me on the train today” day. Citydwellers know what I’m talking about.

I got on the Red Line train around noon and took it north. I had an errand to run: Daniela, a preternaturally talented esthetician finally cleared up my skin last winter and I had to pick up a bottle of her witches’ brew. (If I found out that stuff is made from the tears of baby seals I’m not entirely sure I would stop using it, that’s how effective it is and how grateful I am to this woman.)*

After transferring to the Brown Line, I got off at Montrose. When I was at the stairs to go down to the street, a man stopped me. He was with his family: wife, toddler, and baby, this last in a ginormous stroller. No one in the group spoke English. Zero. I think “Okay” was the one word he got out and “Okay” is a word that exists in 90% of languages on Earth. They might also have been on the mute side because all of them were clearly spooked and sad. They were lost.

The father offered me, astonishment of astonishments: a printout from Google Maps. I smiled and nodded and took a look. They were nowhere near where they needed to be. They’d have to go back south on the Brown, transfer to the Red, then head back north. The mistake had taken them at least 30 minutes and would cost them another 40, depending on train times. As I looked at the sheet of directions, I shook my head in wonder. The numbers, the stops, the directions, the names of the El train lines — I know them backwards and forwards because I speak English and I’ve lived here, more or less, for fifteen years. But to these people? Gibberish. And they’re trying to get someplace. With kids!

I tried to imagine what I would do if I was lost on the train system in Beijing, for example. The mere thought made me shudder.

We figured it out. I did something just short of an interpretive dance for the father, communicating they had to go down the stairs (I literally did a “I’m going down stairs” pantomime) and over to the other platform (I flapped my arms to say, “OVER THERE, WAY OVER THERE”) and then I said, “Red train. Red.” I pointed to my fingernail polish and said, “Red?” The man understood, nodding vigorously.

The coolest thing ever is that picking up my unicorn serum took less than five minutes. By the time I was back at the Montrose station, the family was there on the platform, waiting to go the same way! I was able to go all the way to the transfer point with them and I made sure they got on the right side, on the right train. It felt great, and I think the woman just about cried she was so glad I was there.

World travelers often say, “Getting lost is half the fun!” I have never understood this. You get lost. I’ll help you. Deal?

*I’m kidding! Almost!

I’m An Illinois Roads Scholar! (Topic: Quilts In America, Of Course)

posted in: Art, Chicago, Quilting, Work 23
Image: Illinois Humanities Council and me adding text.
Image: Illinois Humanities Council and me adding text.

You know how yesterday I talked about having a Big, Fat, Grand Plan for contributing to the world of quilting in a bigger way, if the world will let me? Remember how you all said wonderful, encouraging things and looked amazing while you said them? Whatever you were doing, keep doing it: Yesterday, I got an email from the Illinois Humanities Council congratulating me for being accepted as an Illinois Roads Scholar!

Here’s what the Humanities Council says of this program:

“Our Road Scholars Speakers Bureau invites Illinois authors, artists, and scholars to share their expertise and enthusiasm with people in communities throughout our state.  It also enables local nonprofit organizations to present compelling, free-admission cultural programs to their communities at little cost to them.”

How cool is that?? This is a tremendous opportunity because it does exactly what I was talking about yesterday: It gives me an opportunity to answer the question, “What can a quilt do?” for an entirely new audience.

The lengthy application was due in June and I only heard yesterday evening that I got in. Apparently, the competition was extra fierce this year and stuff just takes a long time. I pitched a talk called “Quilts: America’s Greatest Creative Legacy” and now I get to do it! For money! At venues that will be packed (hopefully) with both quilters and non-quilters who will see quilts in a new light. Maybe those people will be inspired to make a quilt of their own; maybe those people will at least find new love for the quilts and quilters in their lives. There is no way under the sun this Roads Scholar Speakers Bureau is anything but a win-win-win-win for all.

Thought I’d share the good news. And for all my friends in Illinois, I think you can request me? I’ll be doing orientation and on-boarding stuff in the coming weeks. I’ll see you on the Road!




Consider The Lolla.

posted in: Chicago, Tips 1
I smell funny cigarettes. Photo: Phil G. via Wikipedia.
I smell funny cigarettes. Photo: Phil G. via Wikipedia.

As I walked through the Lollapalooza throngs today – remember, there are tens of thousands of extra people in town for this – I wanted to swing my totebag around and yell, “I live here! I’m not like you!”

These people aren’t bad or wrong for wanting to spend hundreds of dollars to drink tepid beer outside in a crowd of sweaty people as loud music makes it impossible to talk and the only bathrooms are foul port-o-johns. It’s just that it’s my turf, you see, and I’m not used to gaggles of undergraduate girls wearing fringe vests and diadems being in my way when I’m headed to the bank. (It’s amazing: the Navajo Jezebel look is still all the rage! Kate Moss wore a poncho to Coachella in 2003 and it’s been floppy hats and hemp purses ever since.)

Crowded and crazy as is it, the people-watching is primo. As I muscled my way up Michigan Avenue, I considered…

…the parents of a just-graduated son who has been planning for months to come to Lollapalooza with his blokes. (There’s something about packs of young dudes, headed to a concert, in shorts, concealing cans of Foster beer that makes them “blokes.”) The parents’ fingernail count as of Sunday night: zero.

…the here-today-gone-tomorrow economy of this thing, e.g., people selling bottles of water on the corner, pedi-cab drivers, face-painters, etc.

…the VIP rooms for the bands and how tonight, someone who won a contest, maybe, will meet their hero.

…the Grateful Dead-style painted booze-cruise bus that made a hard left off Washington. That’s someone’s business model – and they’re probably doing pretty well.

…the panhandler guys in my neighborhood. Do they hate Lollapalooza or look forward to it?

…the girl from Lombard, IL who spent two hours making her hair look effortlessly tousled. It began pouring rain around 5:00 p.m. today; I pictured her furious about this, lashing out at her friend, “Becky, I am seriously not interested in your drama with Trevor right now. Everything sucks!”

…the weeks of planning the cops have to do to deal with all this.

…the ER doctors on call. They’ve been briefed it’s Lollapalooza weekend for sure.

That last thought lingers. I’ve heard so many sirens today. Oh, you guys. Please drink the water you bought from the guy on the corner. Please watch your stuff. I hope this weekend is the best weekend of your life thus far – and it can’t be that way if you have to head up to Northwestern.

And eat something for heaven’s sake!



posted in: Art, Chicago, Day In The Life 1
This is what's happening in my backyard for the next four days. Photo: Ralf Lotys via Wikipedia.
This is what’s happening in my backyard for the next four days. Photo: Ralf Lotys via Wikipedia.

If you live in Chicago’s South Loop, the last weekend in July is a good time to go visit Uncle Dan and Aunt Carol in San Diego, or finally take that True Manhood Workshop over there in Michigan (you’ve been hearing such good things.) If you can’t leave town, the last weekend in July is a good time to practice your emergency preparedness plan: can you survive four days without going outside even once? Is there enough water? Tea? Are your library books good until Monday??

It’s Lollapallooza weekend.

Since 2005, the four-day music festival extravaganza Lollapalooza has taken place in Chicago’s Grant Park. Grant Park is my backyard. Well, okay: I can’t lean out the window and spit on Grant Park, but I can lean out the window and hock a really intense loogie with a lot of torque behind it and I will totally hit Grant Park. It’s close, is what I’m saying. Guess how many people come to Grant Park for the festival each year? It’s somewhere around 160k.

It’s sorta cool that I might see one half of DJ duo Flosstradamus at my Peet’s Coffee. And I’m always happy that Chicago is a desirable destination for people who like this kind of thing. But mostly what Lolla means (if you’re local, you can call it that) is hordes of people, most under thirty and inebriated, cajoling, shouting, and running in flip-flops through the streets in t-shirts covered with paint, mud, and the insanely long list of bands and DJs playing the show. Michigan Avenue is essentially impassable from today until Monday. State Street is just as bad. Lake Shore Drive is a parking lot from the I-55 feeder ramp to Lake Superior. Sometimes when I tell someone I don’t own a car, they’ll look at me like, “That’s impossible!” and then I look at those people who are trying to get through Lolla traffic and I pray for them.

Our building (and I’m sure all the nearby ones) hires extra security this weekend and there are notices up in the building that remind residents to not let people into the building without permission, even if they offer you the rest of their six-pack of Pabst. One year, I saw some kids walking through the lobby barefoot. I’m pretty sure one of the girls lived here; I hoped that was true, not because I was concerned but because if you’re the kind of gal who likes outdoor summer music festivals and you live in this building, you’ve got it made.

Me, I can’t do crowds. I got spooked at Fourth of July this year and had to leave my friend early. We were in a city park! With families and dogs! If some firecrackers make me nervous, imagine what the throngs of Major Lazer fans would do to me. I can’t do the big show, but in an interesting turn of events I was invited to a party on Sunday that is loosely linked to the Lollapalooza festivities. I think I’ll go. It’ll be a smaller crowd.

I can handle that.




Taxi Driver Wisdom No. 3927101

posted in: Chicago, Day In The Life, Tips, Travel 0
Taxis. Photo: Wikipedia.
Taxis. Photo: Wikipedia.

There is something known to city dwellers — really anyone who has taken more than a dozen or so cabs — as “taxi driver wisdom.”

Taxi driver wisdom is anything profound or thought-provoking your cab driver says during the ride. Other people you encounter during the day may say profound things, but since a taxi trip is relatively short and maybe because you’re hurtling through space together, even slightly reflective or soulful things seem extra zen, extra woah. Taxi drivers are also contemporary romantic figures: they roll along all day, forearm on the window sill, meditating on humanity, meeting all manner of folks and talking with them, just as they’re talking with you now, under the intimate roof of a car. They must know something by now, right?

Of course, not all taxi drivers are wise; if they were, there would be less honking. If they were all wise, they would not try to get my phone number, which has happened five times. But if you have a chatty cab driver and you go deeper than the weather, you may find yourself having a real groovy conversation because taxi drivers are typically educated, interesting people who have come to this country from someplace else and who have plenty to consider and think about as they drive around the city. When they get someone interested in hearing about it and they’re not too grumpy, they often chat.

I got major taxi driver wisdom today. I learned all about the time this man spent living in Dusseldorf, then Monaco, then London. Israel, San Francisco. This was all in the 1980s, he told me, nearly forty years ago.

“I went on a trip to New Zealand once,” he said. “It was the most beautiful place I’ve ever seen. I went on a two-week expedition. Hiking. Camping. Nature. The expeditions left from an inn, and the other groups coming back would come back to that inn, as well. Well, one of the groups came back right as my group was leaving. A question came to my mind. I ran to catch one of the men in that group so that I could ask him.”

“I asked him, ‘What can you tell me about your experience that will change the experience for me?’ The man thought for a moment and then he said, ‘From time to time, stop and turn around. Look behind you. The journey is all forward, forward, forward, and that’s good. But stop walking. Turn around. Look where you came from.'”

“Woah,” I said. “That’s good. That’s really good.”

“Yes. It did change everything for me. I turned around a lot on that expedition. That man gave me a great gift. He told me not to forget where I came from. And I didn’t.”

$12.75 + tip.


Storm vs. City!

posted in: Chicago, Paean, Story 0
A summer rainstorm in England. Wikipedia didn't have any good Chicago rainstorm pictures. Photo: Wikipedia.
A summer rainstorm in Manchester because Wikipedia didn’t have any good Chicago rainstorm pictures. Photo: Good ol’ Wikipedia.

The most hilarious thing happened about an hour ago.

The radio people said there would be severe thunderstorms tonight, even flash floods. I only half-listen to weather reports, though; I’m close to the lake and weather around the lake differs slightly from the rest of the city. But why risk it? I decided to go absolutely nowhere and work on projects.

I was stitching at my machine, watching Project Runway on my laptop when I heard the storm start. I went to the window and gaped. Sheets of rain were coming down. I could make out a few people running around on the street far below me, the poor things soaked to the bone. Ooh, I just love summer storms. I felt happy that it’s summertime, that it was storming, and that I was not outside. I went back to my work.

A few minutes later there was a bolt of lightning so big and close it lit up my house for several seconds like there was a fireworks display in my living room. We all know what follows lightning, right? The crack of thunder that came after that lightning strike was about as loud as I’ve ever heard. It crept along, hissed for a moment, then whammed. It was like, “Khhhhhssshhhh….krrrrrrrr…kak-kak-kak..KERRRRRRRAAAAAACK!!!!!”

I jumped about six feet. Then I laughed and shook my head. Thunder is incredible. That sound can make a grown woman clutch her pearls and gasp. Thunder: Mother Nature’s tympani drum. My marveling was short-lived, though: that thunder was so loud, it set off car alarms for blocks. I ran to the window again and saw cars on the street and a whole parking lot full of them with hazards blinking to this hellish chorus of car alarms. It was hilarious because it didn’t last too long; people blipped them off pretty soon, surely because they didn’t want to hear all that, either.

When I was a kid, I watched thunderstorms roll in on the plains of Iowa. I would sit with my sisters on the porch swing and watch the sky get dark, the wind pick up. We probably had cats on our knees. We probably had a quilt. We had never heard a car alarm or heard of such a thing at all.

I’ll be thirty-seven on August 6th. I wish I knew how many summer thunderstorms I’ve seen so far.


“Pain” Is the Root Word of “Paint.”

posted in: Chicago, Day In The Life 0
Old, old, old can of paint. Image: Wikipedia.
Old, old, old can of paint. Image: Wikipedia.

Every time. Every time I want a wall in my dwelling place to be a different color, it’s the same conversation — and I’ve lived in lots of places and desired to look at different colors.

Me: I’m going to do it myself.
Other Me: Stop talking.
Me: Oh, painting’s not so bad.
Other Me: Yes, it is.
Me: (Pause.) It is. It’s awful.
Other Me: Taping the walls.
Me: Yeah, I hate that so much.
Other Me: Putting plastic over everything. Trying not to get paint on your feet. The dripping down the wall. Sore shoulders. Cleaning all the painty sticks and rollers.
Me: (Thinking.) Yeah. But —
Other Me: No.
Me: But it’s so expensive! And I can do it myself!
Other Me: Hire. Painters.
Me: (Grumbling.) Fine.
Other Me: Thank you.
Me: But I can do it, though!

When I moved into this place five years ago, someone gave me a bottle of Veuve Clicquot to celebrate the move downtown. Looking at the bottle on my countertop I realized that the lustrous golden orange color of the Veuve label was the perfect color for my bedroom. I took the label to the paint store, bought the paint, and I painted three of the four walls of my bedroom myself. I have to say, it looked great. Still does.

But after thinking deeply about this for some days, I have decided it’s time for a deep, burnished mustard and I am thisclose to going to the paint store tomorrow morning, getting what I need, and doing it myself over the weekend. I want it to be done right now! Besides, these are the days of economy. I can’t be squandering money on things I can very well do myself. And I can do it. I just don’t want to. I want someone else to do it. But when you are a single gal with no kids, there is no hubby to take care of it, no teenage child to punish.

Aw, hell: I’ll probably do it. Unless someone in the Chicagoland area knows really great painters who come really cheap. Please, please someone tell me you know those painters. I’ll give it twenty-four hours until I go get tarp.


True Confessions of a Real Estate Dropout.

posted in: Chicago, Day In The Life 2
Unique advertisement for real estate "near Puerto Rico" c. 1973. Photo: Wikipedia.
Unique advertisement for real estate “near Puerto Rico” c. 1973. Photo: Wikipedia.

True confession: I put my condo up for sale.I didn’t tell you. But it’s not for sale anymore.

When I came back in November, Chicago felt like a soft, fluffy cloud that wasn’t made out of water vapor but a material that made it soft and fluffy. I floated down to my Chicago cloud and bounced once, twice, three times, and then fell asleep dreaming of Nelson Algren and Lou Malnati’s pizza. Chicago was perfect in every way and I knew in my bones I was right to come home. But my condo felt strange.

Oh, it was clean after my renters. We talked about this. The building management was the same. Most of my neighbors and doormen guys were intact. No, it was something else. Was the ceiling lower in my unit? Was the sink I picked for the bathroom just a total misfire? The windows weren’t big enough. The carpet needed to be redone, or maybe hardwood floors? All the cosmetic issues led to deeper ones. The truth is, I have experienced pure agony in this space of both the physical and relational kind. Hospital, heartbreak; it’s all the same when it’s at Level 10, it’s just a question of whether you need a surgeon or Tom Waits. Even the good stuff that happened here felt hard to meet with again, e.g., I dreamed up Quilty here and by the time I came back, the girl was gone.

And so I listed it a few months ago. I thought, “New space, new life, reset.” I mean, at this point, I sorta miss moving. (That is a joke.)

It’s an amazing thing to live in a condo that is for sale. The best part is that I’ve kept the place immaculate; it has needed to be ready for a showing at any moment so everything is put away and shiny. While Claus was here I had a cleaning buddy and I miss that; good heavenly days could that man clean a kitchen! My adorable, capable realtor has been chipper, energetic, and optimistic from the start, but has been more interest than there have been offers. There are reasons. There are no dogs allowed in my building and that’s a drawback; the monthly assessments are crazy high (vintage building, doormen, amenities, new elevators, etc.); the remodeled kitchen is stunning but narrow, stuff like that. Everyone who has come into my home freaks out and loves it: but coming over for a dinner party, a sewing group, or a nightcap does not involve mortgage insurance. Real estate is a big deal and I’ve curated this place for one specific person: me.

As the months went by and I wasn’t getting what I was after, two things happened: 1) I continued to settle in; and 2) I looked around. There’s a saying that getting over a breakup takes half as long as the relationship lasted. That sounds like some 8th-grade girl math to me but I am an 8th-grade girl in many ways, so I like it. Maybe it’s true for moving back into a home. I was gone eighteen months; maybe it’s taking nine to readjust. It’s been about eight so far.

It hit me the other day that I don’t need to leave this place, that I don’t even want to. I just need some paint. I need to get that painting framed, finally. I might just go find a new couch, although spending anything over $150 is unwise — hello, grad school! — and $150 won’t buy you a couch you actually want to sit on. But I can do a lot with very little; I did it in D.C. not so very long ago. (In fact, I did it twice.)

Condo, I’m sorry. I love you. What was I thinking? You’re my buddy. Let’s get messy this summer. Let’s paint and rearrange stuff and find vintage gems. Let’s date each other. I’ll buy flowers for you and you let me sleep over.


Announcement! I’m Going To School For Writing.

PG SAIC Letter
The first half of the acceptance letter; the second half told me how much money I needed to give them to secure my spot for enrollment. (Letter: SAIC, scan: Me)

I’ve written and rewritten this post three times. It’s too special, I’m too excited, and as a result, nothing is coming out right. That’s ironic, because the School of the Art Institute of Chicago (SAIC) thinks I’m good enough at writing to let me into their Writing MFA program this fall. By then, I’d better have my act together because I’m officially enrolled.

It’s been terrible keeping this secret; I got my acceptance letter in March. Claus was here, and when I opened the envelope and saw the good news, it was like I had a rocket pack on. Claus caught me and spun me around and around.

I waited to tell you because I wanted to share this properly. It’s a big deal, and not just because the SAIC is one of the finest educational institutions in the world, which it is. It’s a big deal because my life is changing with this. I engineered it that way, really; one day last fall when I was in Iowa to film TV, I burst into tears in the middle of my mother’s kitchen and admitted to myself that I wanted to study writing. I couldn’t deny it any longer and I began to research grad programs that very day. It became clear right away that the SAIC was the only school for me. I didn’t apply anywhere else.

So, the Art Institute of Chicago is the big, famous art museum downtown with the cool lions out front. The School of the Art Institute of Chicago actually started first, way back in 1866. The art the founders collected for students to study became the museum.

At the SAIC, a grad student can study textile art, performance, art therapy, art restoration, sculpture, painting, arts journalism, art history, interior architecture, writing — there are other departments I’m not thinking of. What’s extraordinary about the SAIC (one of the many, many extraordinary things) is that they encourage interdisciplinary study. They want performers to take sculpture classes. They want writers to take textile arts classes. They are legendarily good at educating creative people because they understand how creative people learn (i.e., by doing, usually by doing many things that appear unrelated.)

I submitted portfolios to Writing, Textile Art, and Performance. I had all the materials for each program because my entire life is interdisciplinary. But I wanted writing. I decided that if I got into textiles or performance, I wouldn’t go. Even if I could take writing classes while technically studying fiber arts or stage stuff, it wasn’t enough. I wanted to be a Writing MFA candidate. From there, I could study my other loves. And I got my first choice. So now, I can.

The School has a longarm in the Textiles department. What will my quilts become, now that I’m going to be in art school? What might it mean to use quilts in, say, a one-woman play? Will I write a quilter’s memoir? Will I create my own poetry magazine and if I do, will there be patchwork quilts on the cover? I’ll tell you that if I make a poetry magazine, there most certainly will be quilts on the cover. These are the sorts of synergies that are sure to occur when I begin school. I cannot wait. I am counting days.

My job is not one you quit — and I have no intention of doing so. I’ve got teaching and speaking gigs scheduled into 2018. New fabric is coming out in a few months. The Quilt Scout is going strong, I’m making quilts like crazy, I’m working on a pattern project, I’m curating a quilt exhibit at Spring Quilt Festival, I’m on the board of the Study Center. My career in the quilt world isn’t going anywhere — but it is changing (you’ll see me less on TV, for example.) But you watch: these changes will be nothing short of wonderful. You’ll see it all happen, right here. (Psst: it’s all for you, anyway.)

I’m scared. It’s so expensive. I’m taking out loans. It’s two years. It’s gonna be hard. But if I don’t do it now, when?


Chica de Papel!

"Spanish Woman" by Alexej von Jawlensky, 1911.
“Spanish Woman” by Alexej von Jawlensky, 1911.

Guess what?! I’m taking Spanish lessons this summer! Chica de Papel is “Papergirl” in Espanol!

Truth be told, I kinda want to learn French more than Spanish but here’s what I’m good at: making soup. Here’s what I’m not good at: foreign languages. When I think about sitting in a desk in Beginner French: Level 1 my scalp gets itchy. It’s too big of a leap. I figure I can prime my pumps with Spanish, see how I do, and then maybe approach French in a couple years. The bonus is that I’ll learn Spanish along the way! I love words and Spanish has a lot of pretty ones.

Plus, I’ve got training wheels because I took Spanish in high school like everyone else and I had enough Italian in college to order a caprese salad and say it right. (It’s pronounced ca-PRAY-zay, not ca-PREESE and that’s a fact.) When Claus and I were going to go to Peru, I surprised myself with how many palabras en espanol I remembered. I head into my 12-week course feeling like I’ve got enough of a basic idea of masculine/feminine agreements, pronouns, and those verbs’ conjugal visits to achieve success — and I think we can all agree “success” means me annoyingly using Spanish words all over my posts for awhile until I get it out of my system. ¿Qué esperas? La clase es muy caro.

What’s incredible is that this is happening at all. I’m never, ever home for long enough to do stuff like this. Why take a course in something if you’re going to have to miss four of the twelve classes for work? Pottery, hang-gliding, the art of Ethiopian cuisine — the bounty of classes and continuing education offered by Chicago often feels impossible for me to access. Well, this summer, I’m at the mesa. (That’s “table” in Spanish! I’m speaking Spanish!!)

And all of you, my flamencos elegantes y exitosos (my graceful and accomplished flamingos) will be my accountability partners. Don’t let me be squishy on this Spanish class thing. Check up on me. Make sure I’m doing my homework. I’m sure I’ll have lots of good cuentos to tell you and I apologize in advance for the silly poems I’ll write to practice my vocabulary. I can’t wait to write them, though.

Viva la Chica de Papel!



The AMC “Dine-In” Movie Theater: Goodbye, Cruel World.

posted in: Chicago, Day In The Life, Tips 1
The "scene" of the crime! Get it? Scene? Like a scene in a movie? Hahahhhahaha! I kill me! Photo: Me
The “scene” of the crime! Get it? Scene? Like a scene in a movie? Hahahhhahaha! I kill me! Photo: Me.


I’m going to tell a story about Claus but I’m not being nostalgic.

Last weekend, I wanted to check out the fancy new theater up on State Street. The theater is new within the year, I think, though sometimes I’m the last to know about these things. It looks new: everything is shiny and the carpet is fresh-smelling. But that’s not all that’s going on at the AMC on State Street, oh, no.

This AMC features “Cinema-Suites.” What’s a Cinema-Suite, you ask? A Cinema-Suites is a place where you go to die happy. The official description is different; AMC decided to not include “die” in their messaging for some reason. Officially, “Cinema-Suites [offer] a grown-up atmosphere featuring in-theater dining, a full bar, and extra-comfy recliners. Enjoy handcrafted burgers, bowls, desserts, and more while you enjoy the show.” Oh, but, AMC! You’re being modest!

Here’s how it works: You get your ticket. You go into your theater. You are shown to your specific seat by an usher. You sink into the comfiest recliner into which you ever sank your tush. A table tray swings in from your right hand side. There’s a cup holder. There’s no bib, but you feel like there could be and that would be fine. There’s a button on the left side of the chair and when you push it, the chair begins molesting you in a friendly way, raising your feet up on the foot rest as it’s reclining you back. It’s not a massage, exactly, but it’s not not a massage. Then, just when you’re laughing with a tall German that this is so much fun and way, way too easy to love, a waiter — a real waiter! — comes and gives you menus.

There are delicious foods on this menu. Your waiter comes and takes your order and he will bring you what you ordered while you watch the movie. Hot food. Like a burger. Or a hot fudge sundae! Or — wait for this, you can’t believe this — popcorn! You can’t get popcorn at a concession stand because they bring you your popcorn on a tray. Is anyone else freaking out about this? Because I am not being sarcastic: this is amazing. I didn’t even want popcorn. I’m not supposed to eat popcorn. But I ordered some anyway because it was Claus and my last date and because they were going to bring it on a tray. A big bucket of popcorn on a tray, brought to me while I’m essentially lying in a bed, watching a Hollywood movie that cost more to make than the GDP of most of the world’s developing countries.

I’m not saying it’s bad. I’m saying it’s a heckuva town.


We Don’t Wear Signs.

posted in: Chicago, Luv 5
German stamp for social welfare, 1982. Image: Wikipedia.
German stamp for social welfare, 1982. (I like the roses.) Image: Wikipedia.

I leave Thursday morning. I’m going to California.* Claus will leave a couple hours after me on a flight to Berlin.

Very glamorous-sounding, isn’t it? California. Berlin. It would be glamorous if we were each on our own private jet. It would be glamorous if we were meeting up in Havana next week at midnight. We’re not. It’s the end of something and it cannot be denied any longer. Oh, you can give me a virtual knock on my chin and tell me that if it’s meant to be it will be — and I do appreciate it — but I’m cynical and jaded tonight. Any chance I had of being glamorous at all is gone with this grumpy look on my face. That’s me: grumpy and sitting in coach with a totebag. Somebody take my picture!

We went to the store tonight to get eggs. Claus’s omelettes are world-class and I wanted one more. We were standing in line for the checkout and I was leaning up against him. He had his arms around me. It wasn’t a yucky PDA; we just looked like a happy couple, or at least a couple that wasn’t actively mad at each other. So I’m hanging on him and thinking how it’s going to be to go to the store alone again, how it’ll be to not have a tall body to lean up against, and I’m pretty sure I saw something. I saw a gal in the line next to us looking right at us and she looked really bummed out. At best, it was a “Gee, that must be nice” look; at worst, it was an “I hate love” look. Whatever it was, when I saw her, she looked away quickly and bought her frozen peas.

I’ve been there. You see a couple all clingy and sweet and if you happen to be in a bad mood for whatever reason (especially for a love-related reason) you think, “Yeah, yeah, yeah. Must be nice. Get a room!” And if that’s what was going on with this gal, and I think it was, I wished I could’ve said:

“We look lovey-dovey, it’s true, but you don’t know what’s really going on. He’s leaving for Germany the day after tomorrow and we don’t know how to date across an ocean. We think we’re just going to go on with our own lives and see what happens if he gets a job here in the future. We’re too old to like, profess love in blood on notebook paper and send a bushel of postcards to each other every day. We’re going to try and hold this loosely, if that makes sense. Neither of us have done this before. And I’m turning thirty-seven this summer. It’s relevant, somehow, but that’s a longer discussion. Do you want to go get a drink, maybe? Just hang out? Talk stuff over?” 

Approaching the young woman and sharing this with her seemed like a lot of work, so we just paid for our eggs and green onions and walked home. She walked home. Everyone walks or drives home and you don’t know their lives. Appearances aren’t always what they seem and even if they are what they seem — a happy couple, being sweet on each other in the grocery line — there is always, always more to the story.

*I’m visiting my favorite auntie for a few days, full reports from San Francisco/Sacramento. It’s really good timing.

Man Yells At City, City Silent.

posted in: Chicago 0

Kid hollering. Photo: Wikipedia
Kid hollering. Photo: Wikipedia

If you like chilly, driving rain, strong winds, and a temperature hovering just over fifty degrees, you would have loved downtown Chicago today. I enjoy foul weather from time to time because it’s pleasant to be inside while it happens. Blow, ye winds, like trumpets blow, but put the kettle on.

It was ugly today. I had two appointments and didn’t think to bring an umbrella along when I left the house. (I did put on my rain jacket and it does have a hood.) The rain began approximately eight minutes after I got out the door. It wasn’t committing to being a downpour, though; it was the kind of rain that makes you think, “Aw, man! Well, it’s not that bad, I’m almost there” but while you’re looking on the bright side, it’s getting worse. You’re the lobster in the pot that doesn’t feel the water getting hotter and hotter, except that in this situation you’re a human, you’re walking to the drugstore, and you’re getting colder and wetter by the second. The wind kept blowing my hood back so I had to pinch it shut at my chin while my hand got soaked. It was not fun.

I was suffering along, headed for my second appointment when I heard a remarkably emotional man turning the air blue with rage. I look over to my right and this thirtysomething dude is positively freaking out. His umbrella had broken — and he hated his broken umbrella.

“G-D sonofa B! Effin’ Chicago! Eff you! G-D it!”

He was angry at the city! Cursing Chicago itself! Cursing it for today’s terrible weather and, I assume, for its general weather pattern, which is to say no pattern at all, just violent changes every five minutes. He was literally shaking his fist at the sky, furious. I had never seen anything quite like this. Well, that’s not true: I have witnessed plenty of angry rants directed at the gods, but those have always come from the pitiable, deranged folks on the subway or on Lower Wacker. This particular individual seemed to me to be having a special moment. He was flailing around, whipping his broken umbrella back and forth and gritting his teeth so hard they could’ve popped right out.

He didn’t have a coat on, and I think that was part of it. It was really cold. He had gotten stuck in the cold rain with a broken umbrella and that’s lousy enough, but I have a feeling it was a really bad day at work, too, or maybe he lost his wallet. I was witnessing one of the worst days in that guy’s recent memory, whatever it was.

Like poisonous snakes and thorny bushes, one must avoid ragey strangers in the city, so I gave the guy a wide berth and kept my quick pace to make it to my appointment on time, however soaked. But wouldn’t you know it, the guy was headed in my direction and had taken the other side of the street, so I saw him again and he was still struggling with the umbrella. He was trying to put it back together but it was futile. I saw him wang it against the side of a building a couple times before throwing it on the ground as I went through the door at 116 South Michigan.

Haven’t you always wondered what happens to those broken umbrellas everywhere? Now you know.


Welcome To Draft Town: You’re Late.

posted in: Chicago, Day In The Life 1
I understand this man's name is Ki'won T. Bates Jr. He seems to be very good at football. Photo: Wikipedia
I understand this man’s name is Ki’won T. Bates Jr. He seems to be very good at football. Photo: Wikipedia

In the grand tradition of being embarrassingly out of the cultural loop, I bring you this.

A three-day event kicked off this afternoon in Grant Park, a.k.a., “my backyard.” The event is called “Draft Town” and I’ve been seeing signs up for this thing for at least a month. The blue banners all say, “Welcome to Draft Town!” and feature a small NFL logo near the bottom; the bus stop ads feature smiling families and smiling football players and the NFL logo near the bottom, but no other information. So I walked around for weeks with no idea what all this meant. Other thoughts and tasks claimed my attention so I never got around to figuring it out.

Then my neighborhood erupted. A monstrous — we’re talking five, six story-high — concert stage went up overnight. Claus and I were biking on the bike path when we saw it; I almost skidded out. Many people had pulled over to the side of the path to gape; it was like an alien ship had landed in the park and we were waiting for little green men to come out. For two weeks, circus tents have been popping up like mushrooms; construction guys have been snapping chalk lines; fence companies have been fencing everything off. 

Turns out Draft Town is a free festival centered around Chicago’s hosting of the 81st NFL draft. The draft is where the teams pick players. (I looked up how it works but my eyes glazed over and I couldn’t see to type, so if you want to know more about the system, that’s all you.) All the stages, the tents, the structures, the fences, the every blinkin’ street for ten miles around blocked off and detoured, the hordes of people on the street — this is Draft Town. It is not a town in which I would like to live, but I haven’t gone to the video game bonanza tent, the make-a-jersey attraction, or the corn doggerie, so you never know.

Here’s the funny thing, though: this is not new. This happened last year, too. Draft Town didn’t tell me what it was on the banners and bus stops because everyone on the planet already knows what Draft Town is. It would be like Nike ads saying, “Just Do It. These Are Shoes.” Or a rock concert advertising that rock music will be played for your listening enjoyment, live, by musicians who know songs by heart. Draft Town, man. It just is.

I’m on a plane right now, speeding at high speeds far, far away from Draft Town. I’m sure the masses of people flooding into the park are having a blast; some people like that sort of thing and I’m all for it, really. Me, I get claustrophobic in big crowds and I do not understand football, much less follow it, much less paint my face and torso for it. I like where I am just fine, 35,000 in the air with no way to survive a firey, firey plane crash.


My Cigarette Boat Experience.

posted in: Chicago, Day In The Life, Luv, Story 0
Except for the scuba gear and the fishing rack thing, it was like this. Photo: Wikipedia
Except for the scuba gear and the fishing rack thing, it was like this, if indeed that is a cigarette boat. Photo: Wikipedia

Claus announced he was going jogging and asked if I would go with him. I used to like jogging but now I hate it. I told him I’d bike alongside him.

We were down by the lake and I saw the first boats of the season out on the water. There were a couple sailboats. There were yachts that had been moved into the marinas from wherever they live the rest of the year. I didn’t see any motorboats but I thought of one.

A few years ago, I dated a stock trader who had a great laugh, a strong jawline, and an almost suspicious adherence to social etiquette at all times. He also had a whole bunch of Richie Rich toys, including a Maserati, a Porsche, and a BMW, which was his plain ol’ everyday car, unless you counted the Dodge Ram truck he needed to haul around cases of fine wine he bought at auction, marble slabs for his renovation project(s), and his cigarette boat.

A cigarette boat is sleek and slender and long and often white, but those aren’t the qualities that give the cigarette boat its name. They were used for smuggling stuff like cigarettes in the 1960s, so the Internet says. They do have a reputation for being used for nefarious purposes. Similar boats were called “rum-runners” in the ’20s, and we all know people were smuggling adorable kittens during prohibition. Cigarette boats can go extremely fast (100mph), they’re sexy, and they’re expensive. All of this appealed to my boyfriend, so he bought one.

One perfectly formed summer day, we took a ride. Everything was shiny. The sun shone off the water; the sun shone off the hull. The sun shone off my sunscreened shoulders; the sun shone off the two bottles of Champagne we put in the cooler. The sun shone off both of our sunglasses as we motored out past the lock.

When my friend hit the gas, I remembered that I am not a daredevil. Risks I take are the feet-on-the-ground kind, e.g., reading a long book, changing my dinner reservation. After I got over the initial shock of going that fast over a large body of water, I relaxed. I was reminded that none of us have any control over our life/death at any time; I was just being sharply confronted with this fact. The water was so choppy the further out we got and we were going so fast, we were catching air. We were jumping 100% out of the water and then would slam back into the lake. Bang! Spray! Bang! Spray! It was exhilarating and amazing; it was not something I needed to do often.

We slowed. I’d say “we dropped anchor” but that is not correct; we just stopped and bobbed around for awhile. We drank cold Champagne. We talked about how fast we were going just now. There may have been some monkey business, but I can’t possibly admit that sort of thing hereyou understand. I’ve played on Lake Michigan’s beaches since I was a small child; I continue to find new ways to love that thing and in turn, it loves me back in surprising ways.

My friend and I dated on and off again for a little under two years, but we only took the boat out that one time. The first season we might have, but it was in the shop. The next time we could, we did, as detailed above. And then things ran their course with the two of us; that isn’t just another blog entry — it’s another blog.

Chicago boat season is upon us, then. I know there’s a single girl out there tonight who will take her first cigarette boat trip this summer. Hey, honey: wear the vintage 1970s mint green bathing suit with the slats cut out on the sides. Take the Ray-Bans, not the other ones. Hold tight.

Open Letter to the CTA Regarding My Bus Trip Yesterday.

posted in: Chicago, Rant 0
Chicago bus, 1976. Photo: Wikipedia
Chicago bus, 1976. Photo: Wikipedia

To Whom It May Concern:

I don’t write complaint letters often; life is full of annoyances and disappointments, too many to get terribly worked up about. But from time to time something occurs that demands attention from an entity or person who might be able to do something about it, so I’m writing you. Every detail of this occurrence happened precisely as I will detail it here.

Heading north on the #36 Broadway bus yesterday, I witnessed deplorable behavior from one of your drivers. The time of the incident was 4:05pm; the bus number was 1893. I didn’t ask for the driver’s name when I got off the bus.

A frail, blind man with a thick Balkan accent (he looked to be in his seventies) boarded the bus around Foster. His English was poor. When he got on the bus, he tried to fold his white cane and find his Ventra card and politely made room for others to enter the bus while he struggled to do both of those things. The bus advanced from the stop and the man asked the driver, “Does bus go to Touhy?”

Your driver would not answer his question. Not turning to actually look at the man when he finally responded, he stated, “This bus ends at Clark and Devon.”

This was not an answer to the man’s question, so he asked again. I could see the man was also hard of hearing, adding another barrier to understanding whether or not in fact the bus would reach Touhy — and I knew it would not. Your driver continued to stare straight ahead and answered with great annoyance, “This bus ends at Clark and Devon.” The blind man leaned closer. “Touhy?”

Your driver then spat out, “You need to get up out of my face, old man! This bus ends at Clark and Devon! Now move back.”

I realize the driver was at that moment driving a city bus. I understand how it might’ve been frustrating to have to repeat himself multiple times. I have no doubt that driving a bus for the CTA is not an easy job. But there is no excuse for treating anyone so poorly when they’re asking for help. When the person needing help is an ailing, elderly, foreign, blind person, this kind of behavior is disgraceful.

Aside from a couple years when I had a car, I’ve been an almost daily user of the CTA for fifteen years. Anyone who has used public transit that long has seen some stuff. But what I saw yesterday was the worst interaction I’ve witnessed between an employee and a passenger.

Please speak to your driver. Chicagoans trust our train and bus operators to be safe and to help us if we need help. If they treat us in a hostile manner, if they behave half as abysmally as your man did yesterday, our transit system fails. We need it too much to let that happen, which is why I’ve written to you today.

With Regards,
Mary Fons

*Letter sent to CTA customer service via online form. Also, I did get up and sit next to the man and repeated a couple times, “No Touhy. Devon only.”  He got it eventually and nodded his head at me.



Food For Ze German.

posted in: Chicago, Day In The Life, Luv 1
German pastry, because there are no good pictures of weiner schnitzel. Photo: Wikipedia
German pastry, because there are no good pictures of weiner schnitzel. Photo: Wikipedia

When you spend significant quality time with someone from another country — a country that lies on the other side of an absolutely enormous body of water — there is an invisible clock in the relationship and the clock doesn’t leave you be. It’s there when you have have tea in the morning together. It’s there when you’re trying to get under one umbrella. It’s there when you have an argument about…I can’t remember what it was about, but the clock was there.

What happens when the research project ends? What’s the visa status, again? What’s gonna happen next? More specifically, what’s gonna happen with this German philosophy professor I have come to care about quite a bit when Germany calls?

I don’t know. Plans have changed a few times and they’ll change again and again as we both sort out what’s going on with work, life, the two of us. I’ve said before that I’m frequently surprised that I’m an adult and let me tell you: nothing makes you feel more like an adult (or a character in a Woody Allen movie) than rescheduling flights to Europe.

While I bide my time, I’ve been making German food. Like spaetzle, which was a lot of work and mostly worth it. I said to Claus, “I made spaetzle!” and I said it like an Iowan girl would: “I made shh-PAYT-zul!” He looked at me like, “You are so acutely American but I like you very much in spite of this fact.” He then corrected me in an attractive way, pronouncing spaetzle properly and my name like it’s French:

“Marie, no. It is ‘shh-PET-zluh.”


Lilly’s Big Day Out, Part 3.

posted in: Chicago 0
Lattes on the bus. Photo: Me
Lattes on the bus. Photo: Me

Before I tell you more about Saturday, it’s very important that you know about Lilly’s best friend.

Lilly’s best friend is Aubrey. Aubrey has this thing about purple cats. She has a shirt with a purple cat. She talks about purple cats. And in art class, if the teacher tells the class to draw a tree, for example, Aubrey will draw a tree…with a purple cat underneath it. Aside from being cute and almost suspiciously well-mannered, Lilly has excellent taste in friends.

I joined the girls at their hotel room and when I opened the door, I saw what I was dealing with. Miss Lilly had on a sequined St. Patrick’s Day ballcap, a drapey, pink tunic thing over a t-shirt, jeans, and cowboy boots. In other words, she looked amazing. And Gramma Rita was not to be outdone. Her multi-colored dress with a bit of personal tailoring and “Franken-sewing,” as she described it, coordinated with her toenail polish: one toe blue, one yellow, and so on.

We got lattes, not at the Starbucks across the street, but at the nearby Julius Meinl, a killer Viennese coffee joint. This was my first moment of pride yesterday: 9 out of 10 tourists ain’t gonna know about Julius Meinl. Twenty minutes in, and I was already earning my tour guide stripes.

When we got to the Art Institute, I used the Fons family membership card to fly us past the lines for the Van Gogh exhibit. We saw the Chagall window and then found our way down to the miniatures collection. If you take kids to the Art Institute, make a beeline for the miniatures gallery. Lilly loved it, and so she should: think fully-detailed Downton Abbey sets inside boxes smaller than a breadbox. Unreal.

And how do you suppose high tea was? Lilly and Rita and I inhaled a lot of small, caloric food items while sitting in a burgundy leather booth with cloth napkins on our laps. Rita and I had kir royales and before the tall tea trays came, we played a few rounds of Bananagrams, or something that resembled Bananagrams. All I know is that I spelled the word “sitar” and Lilly spelled “fart.” (That didn’t actually happen but don’t you wish it had? Rita, tell Lilly I said that if you think she’ll laugh.)

I think Lilly enjoyed the last activity most: visiting my condo. I remember how cool it was to see how other people lived when I was that age. It was like, “You put cereal in tupperware?” and “You guys have a trampoline???” and “What’s a waterbed?” Lilly looked around my home with great interest. Then Claus came in and everyone met each other. I asked Rita as I walked her out, didn’t she think Claus was handsome? She said that though she has wanted to see a picture since I mentioned him almost a year ago, I’d better not post his picture or someone will try to steal him. He was looking particularly fetching in a black turtleneck yesterday. Perhaps she’s right.

Thank you, Lilly and Rita, for allowing me to share part of the Chicago birthday trip. Many happy returns, ladies. Use lots of hand sanitizer when you get home.


Lilly’s Big Day Out: Part 2.

posted in: Chicago 0
Just another day in the city. Photo: Me
Just another day in the city. Photo: Me

Last night, when I laid out the itinerary for Lilly’s Big Day Out, I said something funny. I said we would do our last scheduled activity, “if Lilly [wasn’t] too tired out.” The thing about seven-year-olds is that they are rarely tired out; the thing about thirty-six-year-olds is that we often are. Tired out by work, family, or the crushing weight of our own existence, whatever it is, it’s enough to lie back on the fainting couch for awhile and promise to write all about Lilly’s Big Day Out tomorrow.

That’s the last picture I took today: Lilly headed down into the subway for her first-ever ride on a city train. In a sparkly St. Patrick’s Day ballcap, of course.

Lilly’s Big Day Out: Part 1

posted in: Chicago, Day In The Life, Family 4
High tea. Lilly will not be having prosecco. Image: Wikipedia
High tea. Lilly will not be having prosecco. Image: Wikipedia

I’ve shared stories about PaperGirl readers doing beautiful work in the world, like making me monkeys and sending me candy pumpkins. And just before Christmas, while I was working in Florida, I finally got to meet friends I’ve had for almost a decade but had never met. PaperGirl doesn’t just yeild daily writing practice and a place for me to sort things out, it yeilds special relationships.

Rita is quilter, a writer, and a longtime PG reader. Rita is also a grandmother. She is Lilly’s grandmother. Rita wrote to me a couple months ago — we’ve never met — that she wanted to surprise Lilly with a trip to Chicago for her seventh birthday. (How is it possible to have an age that is a single digit?) Rita emailed because she knew I’d have some great insider tips. Totally.

I was delighted to serve as a tour director to the best of my ability, but then something wonderful happened: I saw that I’d actually be home when the girls came to town. I asked Rita if I could personally escort them around for a few hours on Saturday. The answer was “Yeah!!” and so it is that tomorrow, I get to hang out with Rita and Miss Lilly Herself. The following plan has been Gramma Approved:

12pm — Meet the girls at their hotel on Michigan Ave.

12-12:15pm — Ride the #3 bus down Michigan Ave. This is a specifically planned activity because both Rita and Lilly are very excited about sampling Chicago public transit. I can make that happen.

12:30-2pm — Free tickets to the Art Institute! I’m excited to present Lilly with her very own ticket. I know a guy, so I have passes for all of us.

2-2:30pm — Bum around on the steps of the Art Institute, check out the El train on Wabash a block away, take lots of pictures, work up an appetite.

2:30-3:30 — High tea at nearby Russian Tea Time! You know the whole fancy tea party game little girls like to play? The white glove, cucumber sandwiches thing? It’s mimicking something called “high tea” (I’ll do a post on that later, it’s an interesting topic) and I’m taking Rita and Lilly to one of the best spots in the city for it. The last time I had high tea it was intense and emotional. I think “intense” and “emotional” won’t play into it tomorrow, probably. Just fun and maybe funny.

3:30-4pm — If Lilly’s not tuckered out, we’ll all walk the couple blocks from the Institute/Tea Time to my condo. Lilly can see how a city girl lives and I can show Rita some quilts. (Note to self: get pantyhose off the shower rod, make bed, wipe counter.) The view from the top of my building is fantastic, too: all Lake Michigan and skyline, baby.

Lilly doesn’t know she’s getting a surrogate auntie for her birthday. I’m so excited!

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