"I haven't seen anyone flip the bird since like 1998. It's a dying gesture... sort of like the peace sign" said Cait.
"I feel like the peace sign is back."
"No way. Hand gestures in general, they're done."
"What about sign language?"
"Obviously that's different.. It's not like the peace sign or the bird has ever been anyone's only means of communication."
"I think we should bring back the bird. It had a good run in the 90's. I was too young to fully engage in it though, you know? I feel left out," I said.
"You know it's actually proven that the word 'fuck' is the most satisfying word to say in English?"
"I can see that. It's transitive. It's intransitive. It's a noun, a verb... a conjunction. It's fucking versatile."
"The bird lacks all the versatility. It's just 'bam!' No room for interpretation. Plus, unless you do it emphatically it doesn't release any stress like the word 'fuck'. And if you do do it emphatically you wind up looking like a real creep."
A woman a few seats away from us leaned over in our direction.
"Excuse me. Can you please watch your language? There are kids on this bus." She was all business.
"Yes mam! Sorry about that," said Cait. She whispered in my ear, "I called her mam...she's probably insulted." She gave me a thumbs up.
"There you go, the 'thumbs up'? It's also on the outs," I said.
"I feel like the 'thumbs up' hasn't been cool since Happy Days was on..."
"Okay so it's just out."
The bus was moving west, making various stops near grocery stores and apartment buildings every other block on average. The rain perpetuated into a tumultuous downpour. Thunder rumbled outside the noisy bus, and lightning lit up the dim cloudy skies. All of the passengers were relatively quiet, watching the windows and noting through silence the sporadic flashes of storm.
"I've been craving a good thunderstorm!" said Cait.
"Definitely. It's sort of like a good cry, you know? Like it's not the ideal mood or whatever, but it's strangely really great?"
"I know what you mean."
After a few blocks Cait leaned over and whispered again. "I say we get off where ever the mam gets off. Go where she goes?"
"Some would consider that stalking."
"There's no such thing as stalking on whim day."
"Is that a new rule?"
"No it's just logic."
"I fail to see any logic in that idea."
"We won't be stumbling towards any interesting festivals or events in the rain. And it's Sunday, people are home relaxing. We need to be resourceful if this is going to be an epic day," she said.
"Maybe the city doesn't want us to have an epic day," I said, "Maybe we're supposed to be low key today."
"That's crap. Whim Days have to be epic. If I wanted to be low key I would have stayed home with Mother and left you in empty corner. I used to do this thing when I was little and bored.. I would follow my dog around my yard. He was always up to interesting things, burying bread and chasing squirrels. Sometimes he would lay down and I'd lay next to him, then he'd suddenly start running. It was unpredictable. I loved it. I think we should do that..."
"I'm not following any dogs."
"I meant a person! It could be a learning experience.. or an adventure."
"Or a crime!"
"It's harmless. Let's see where mam's going," said Cait.
"She told us to 'watch our language'.. I don't think she'll take stalking lightly."
"Fine.. What about him?"
There was a stiff faced Asian across from mam in a short sleeve blue collared shirt, thin framed wire glasses and high waisted jeans. He was a potential closet baby and he was reading a TV Guide.
"Interesting magazine choice..." I said.
"See, now I'm enthralled. I've got to know where that dude spends his rainy Sundays."
"I'm guessing in front of his TV!"
"Let's just follow the next person who gets off the bus. That keeps things whimsical."
"Sort of," I said.
The route had taken us quite west, and the bus approached a stop near an uncategorizable shopping center. The strip was composed of a dollar store, a few middle eastern restaurants, a Gap Outlet, a video game rental, and a bright cheap store with clothes manufactured to articulate presumable trends. There were treeless neighborhoods behind both sides of the street. We seemed to have gone beyond the point in the city which is beautified with seasonal flowers and modern park art and fountains. Cait always talked about the city's beautification as being the epitome of urban ill.
"You know how much money the city spends on these fucking flowers?" She said one day when we walked by a large display of yellow tulips in Lincoln Park.
"Probably a lot. But they are pretty and they make people happy," I told her.
"Right. All the rich couples and gay snobs are happy in Lincoln Park with their goddamn tulips, but there are 45 kids in every classroom on the south side. Chicago should spend that tulip fund on the schools instead, then people will actually be happier...Less truant shit heads shooting each other because no one cares if they miss class," She said. This was about a week after high school Whim Day, and the heat and disgust about education was fresh on our brains.
Cait destroyed the tulip display. She uprooted the flowers from the ground and ripped them up in her hands in a sweep of anger. The yellow tulips were left in a scene of mutilated peril, like destroyed causalities in a ruthless massacre. It was bizarrely sad, even though they were only flowers. She again denoted the act to protest, and not destruction. She said she didn't hate the flowers themselves but she hated what they represented. It was probably the closest thing to warfare I'd ever encountered.
Now the bus stopped and a Polish woman on the brink of being elderly stood up to get off. She had a vine patterned scarf on her head and she wore a dull loose dress. Her stature was large, but the loose dress masked any hint of her shape or form. She may have worn it to dissolve any accentuation of herself.
"Let's go," said Cait. We stood up and followed her off the bus. The rain was just a trickle in the west, and the heart of the storm seemed to be behind us towards the lake. The woman walked in haste with her head down towards the sidewalk. Cait and I didn't speak, as though we were each certain of our nebulous mission, whatever it was.
She turned right and we walked down a street with identical apartment buildings, ugly and lean with light brick walls and windowless front doors. There were junky cars on the block, which were probably unreliable weights of frustration for all of the drivers who owned them.
The woman walked up the stoop of a great church. It was majestically old looking, and cracks in the stone walls seemed to determine age in the architecture like rings on a great tree. We didn't question the decision to keep following the woman as she entered the cathedral. A mass had just started, and she sat close to the back. Only a dozen or so people were there, and the room echoed with emptiness at the sound of an organ on the balcony above us. Cait and I sunk into the back pew, a few rows behind the woman. She knelt reverently as the priest entered and ascended the altar.
The mass proceeded.
"Let us pray," The pries said.
The small congregation answered with the Lord's prayer. "Our father, who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name..." Saying it was like a reflex for me. I hadn't been in a church in years, but I was raised Catholic and remembered the formality precisely. Cait looked towards me surprised, and I knew she was thinking, 'I didn't know you were Catholic.'
Cait didn't believe in organized religion, but I'd picked up on the fact from time to time that she was spiritual in her own way. I rarely disclosed any of my own beliefs about God or religion, mostly because I hadn't figured out entirely what they were.
I felt I knew there was a God, but he seemed more like an omniscient Big Brother type than this merciful savior figure the priest was describing. The sermon was about Gods' will. The priest said that God had a magnificent plan for everyone, and "following Gods' plan will give you an abundance of joy," he said.
Cait nudged me and whispered, "My Gods' will is for me to do what I want."
I didn't respond. Getting joy from doing Gods' will seemed too simple. 'If that's all I need to do to find happiness, show me the plan, and I'll do it,' I thought to myself.
"Peace be with you," said the Priest as he concluded the mass.
"And also with you," we answered.
"Now go in peace to love and serve the Lord."
"Thanks be to God," we said.
The Polish Woman stood up and knelt towards the altar, making the sign of the cross. She walked to the back of the church by the exit where the priest was now standing. She kissed the back of his hand. It was peculiar. "I'm not kissing that dude's hand," said Cait as we walked towards the exit.
We followed the woman down a flight of stairs where a church social was about to take place. The social consisted of two buffet style tables with coffee and donuts set up, and foldable chairs set around a few tables covered with white plastic. The dusty cement floor was imprinted with shoe patterns, stroller wheels, and the marks of cane ends. The Polish woman was waiting in a short line for coffee, and we sat at a table next to the organ player, who was being complimented by an old hunch-back man in suspenders.
Cait tried to mingle with a couple of elderly people waiting in line for a donut. Everyone seemed to be obviously distracted by her cleavage, and the mission to obtain a donut. A couple of women were standing next to the line discussing the points in the service where the organ player made mistakes.
"Great service today, huh?" Said Cait to the Polish woman.
The woman looked at her like she was a species she'd never seen before.
"We're going to have to make more coffee," said the woman to a man behind the table, who seemed to be the event planner.
"No no don't bother. We'll just take a donut to go and skip the coffee," said Cait. She grabbed three donuts.
"It's one donut per person!" said the man.
"I don't give a fuck" she said, ignoring him and heading towards the stairs.
She turned towards me when we got upstairs. "It really did feel good to say that!"
"It seemed like it did," I said.
"God's will my ass. Those people are joyless! the sign of the cross is out, just like the bird" she said,"I'm gonna start my own church with my own church socials, and old stiffs and donuts are banned!"
"This donut is damn good," I said, stuffing my face quickly.
"You're right. Donuts are allowed, old stiffs are still banned though."
Outside the rain had stopped, and there was a noticeable amount of trash blowing around in the wind by the road. Next to the church was a courtyard with a pitiful garden full of dirt and untamed weeds. It looked as though someone had attempted to plant flowers weeks ago and never returned.
"See how ugly it is when the city doesn't beautify the neighborhood?" I said.
"Wasting tax money isn't exactly a beautiful thing."
"You don't even pay taxes," I said.
We walked south on the street, unsure if it led back to the main road. At first it didn't seem to matter to us if we were right or wrong in our directional sense, but soon we became tired of circling the block without aim. A tall skinny man in a mesh belly shirt walked towards us. He was carrying two large jugs of water.
"Excuse me, sir, do you know where the nearest bus stop is?" asked Cait. He ignored us.
"That's it. We're following him," she said. We trailed behind him slowly, keeping a safe distance between us so that he was unaware of our stalk.
"Expedition numero dos," she said eagerly.