Chicago has me in her teeth.
It’s been this way for awhile. Now the city has a bike-sharing program and I’m more hopelessly in love than ever. Meet le Divvy.
I’ve tried to write a poem, a paean, to my town many times. I’ve started poem after poem — entitled, of course, “Chicago” — and I fail horribly every time. It’s simply too difficult to express my feelings on the greatness of this city. I mean, Nelson Algren and Simone de Beauvoir went on dates here. Together. And she was cheating on Sartre with him! They like, had a beer at the Green Mill. I’m paralyzed. Every line I attempt is a fart in the wind. I know my place. I’ll just keep reading books, maybe.
Let’s get back to that bike up there.
Chicago has implemented a bike-sharing system. There are banks of bikes all around the city. You pay a yearly membership ($75) to get a fancy square key and then you can ride the bikes. All the bikes. Whenever. You punch in a code to unlock a bike at Street A. You ride your bike (a gorgeous and hearty and smooth bike) to Street B, find a dock where you can lock it back up, and bam. Welcome to your life.
I didn’t jump on a Divvy right away. After all, I have a bike of my own, and what if I looked dorky or something? (I told you — my brain is full of farts.) But the moment I got on my first Divvy, I was hooked. More than that. I was mega-hooked. Let me tell you what freedom is, comrades: walking to a bike, unlocking a bike, riding a bike, getting off a bike, walking to your door and NEVER THINKING OF THAT BIKE AGAIN. It’s like I was taken to my destination by angels. It’s as though I had wee winged feet.
Anyway, thanks Chicago. I love you. I will ride your bikes. I will still love my favorite bus lines and you can’t be the Brown Line on a rainy day in the Loop. But those blue bikes are the best idea you’ve had since Millennium Park and we all know how that turned out.
These boots arrived as I was leaving Thursday. As I walked out the front door of my building, the UPS gal walked in. She had a large box with my name on it. I knew what it was.
“Thankyouveddymuch,” I said, and signed for it.
I set the box in the back seat and hit the road. As I sped north to Door County, I periodically looked at the box over my shoulder, the way a mother checks up on a baby in a car seat. I adjusted the rearview mirror a few times over the course of my five-hour trip, looking back to beam at the box. I had been anticipating these boots for many moons.
My final destination would be our family’s cottage, but I wouldn’t be able to make it there that night, so I had a reservation at the Holiday Music Motel, my favorite place to spend the night outside of the Ritz Carlton in Paris (I’ve never been there.) The Holiday Music is clean, adorable, and affordable, and they have great coffee, cozy linens, and have somehow managed to do retro decor well. Not easy.
When I got to the motel, I checked in and like a badger with a sandwich, I tore into the box. Tissue paper went flying. Plastic was tossed. The black Saint Laurent box nearly glowed. I pulled the boots from the pretty cloth bag and sighed a deeply contented sigh. They’re better than I even hoped and they fit perfectly.
The word “incongruous” means “not in harmony or keeping with the surroundings or other aspects of something.” Those boots looked so out of place in the Holiday Music Motel that they entered into a kind of zen belonging. Delicious.
I was traveling alone, but that night, I had two bedfellows: the right shoe and the left one.
I saw Oklahoma! a few months ago. First time. The Lyric Opera in Chicago had put up a critically-acclaimed production of it, so one rainy night in May I slapped on a raincoat and braved the downpour in the name of art. I was quite wet when I arrived. Could I have possibly cared less about my wet feet when the lights went down and the story began?
The critics were right to be acclaiming all over themselves. The Lyric’s production was lush and bright; it clipped right along but allowed space for the moments that needed it. Aside from one actor that I remember not caring for particularly (one I cannot even recall now, so it must not’ve been that bad) the casting was pitch perfect — for a musical, obviously, this is especially important. But what delighted me the most was the musical itself — the melodies, the lyrics, the heart of the thing. Indeed, that is the highest compliment one can pay a production: that the presentation allowed the work to be seen at its most honest, in its purest state. The show got out of the way of the show, if that makes sense.
Have you heard “Surrey With The Fringe On Top” lately? Allow me, please, to share a few lyrics. A surrey, by the way, is a horse-drawn two-seater carriage, and the circumstances here are simple: Curly is trying to woo Laurey into going to a dance with him, so he’s boasting about his tricked-out ride. Now, you tell me if this don’t melt your heart:
“All the world’ll fly in a flurry
When I take you out in the surrey,
When I take you out in the surrey with the fringe on top!
When we hit that road, hell fer leather,
Cats and dogs’ll dance in the heather,
Birds and frogs’ll sing all together and the toads will hop!
The wind’ll whistle as we rattle along,
The cows’ll moo in the clover,
The river will ripple out a whispered song,
And whisper it over and over:”
You gotta be kiddin’ me. Cats and dogs dancing in the heather? Have you ever heard anything more darling in your entire life? Oh, right, you have. In the next line of the song when the birds and frogs start singing together and toads are hopping everywhere. And then the cows in the clover are mooing and lowing and everyone’s in love and good heavens! I was a goner, crying about the damned cats and dogs in the heather and then Rodgers & Hammerstein go and hit me with the last verse, all ritardando and legato and sotto voce :
“I can feel the day gettin’ older,
Feel a sleepy head near my shoulder,
Noddin’, droopin’ close to my shoulder, till it falls — kerplop!
The sun is swimmin’ on the rim of a hill;
The moon is takin’ a header,
And jist as I’m thinkin’ all the earth is still,
A lark’ll wake up in the medder.
Hush, you bird, my baby’s a-sleepin’!
Maybe got a dream worth a-keepin’
Whoa! you team, and jist keep a-creepin’ at a slow clip-clop.
Don’t you hurry…with the surrey…with the fringe on the top!
I’ll tell ya this much: if I ever find myself riding through a meadow, resting my head on my man’s shoulder and he starts telling birds to “hush” ’cause his baby might be having a nice dream, well, that man will get a big, fat, blue ribbon from me. He’ll get a big ol’ kiss, too. Why, he’ll get all kinds of nice things.
Thank you, Lyric Opera of Chicago. Thank you Messieurs Rodgers and Hammerstein. If you have a moment, I beseech you:
I’ve stepped to a few mics in my day. I suspect I’ll step to a few more. I consider myself a writer and performer working in the quilt industry. Today, I write plenty, but most of it is within the sphere of the American quilt industry. And I perform in the same industry, as well; being in front of the camera is performing, even as you try hard to just be natural.
But in Mary B.Q. (“Before Quilts”) I wrote scripts for media companies, education companies, syndicated content. I wrote marketing plans and white board papers. Those were less fun than the tons of book content I wrote for a publishing company that makes books on things like dog facts, the United States, and The Top Ten Haunted Houses in America. It was a decent gig; I learned an astonishing number of random facts that slipped into the slurry of factoids sloshing around in my head, likely never to be retrieved again. What do bloodhounds and poodles have in common? Ask someone else because I have no idea.
The performance part of my life before quilting took over involved slam poetry in the beginning and evolved into performance art eventually, mostly with the Neo-Futurists here in Chicago. The Neo-Futurists are an ensemble of rare creative types who are slightly weird and head-slappingly talented; if you know Chicago, you know of the Neos. I was extremely fortunate to win a place in the ensemble and perform and tour with the Neos for nearly six years. (I’ll tell you more about the Neos someday.) I have been grateful to be invited to share work at many “live lit” events in Chicago and that still happens with fair frequency. So yeah, I’m a performer.
Clearly, I’m still writing — and the ol’ PG is outside of the quilt world, even with a post here and there regarding quilt-related work. I write all the time on my own, too. But I don’t get to step to an actual microphone as often as I’d like. There’s nothing like a mic stand, a mic, and a sound system. So simple. Elegant. Just a stick and a prayer, you know? Sound waves and things. I love standing behind a mic and sometimes, when I’m giving a lecture at an actual lectern, with a podium that separates me from the audience with that big block of wood, I miss the other part of me that doesn’t need (or want) to have any barriers up there.
Maybe I should just buy one and keep it in my house.
One night, not so long ago and definitely in this galaxy, I had on red pants and a red shirt. That night, I made dinner, which necessitated me putting on oven mitts. They were also red. They still are!
I felt like a lobster. So I began to sing a little song, which I do when I’m happy. If I’m singing, you know I’m happy. My little song went like this:
Won’t you pinch meeeee…”
That was it.