Monday, April 26, 2010
Thirty minutes later Cait and I were back in the front lobby wearing the panthette outfits and galoshes. We carried our dresses, and Cait dripped sweat all over the power bars on the counter. She had successfully exploited the situation. She sprinted briefly on the treadmill, screamed in anguish while bench pressing, and invaded the personal space of several emaciated men. I spent the half-hour on a stationary bike, flipping through a fitness magazine and observing Cait's antics.
Claire was folding a pile of white hand towels when we walked out.
"So ladies... did you find everything satisfactory? You built up quite a sweat out there!" He eyed the droplets on the glass in disgust, picked up a Windex bottle and gave the mess two squirts.
"I hope you found everything you needed out there girls. Deodorant...Towels...I have the paperwork all ready for you to sign," he said. He was balancing weight on his right leg and pronouncing an attitude with his hip.
"Actually," said Cait, catching her breath, "if Clark and I plan on being seriously competitive for this iron man, we're gonna need to find a gym that really... cares." She looked down, almost panting.
"Cares? Panther Gym cares. How can you say we don't care?"
"I didn't feel cared for, and neither did Clark.." I put my arm around her for drama.
"Panther Gym does care. I've taken the time to show you around and give you the outfits and..."
"The answer is no Claire!" said Cait. She put her head down on my shoulder.
"We're going to need those outfits back then..." He folded his arms across his chest.
"Is that necessary?" she said.
"You can throw them in the hamper in the locker room after you've changed." He walked us back to the Panthette room.
"I'll wait right here for you." The prospect of earning commission was now clearly gone, and the pep in his step, and that bizarrely charming demeanor he'd employed earlier had died. We closed the Panthette door, leaving an angry Claire in the wayside.
I knew Cait would now be up to something. The girl hated a quiet exit.
"We're climbing out the window," she said.
It was a relatively low building so an escape wasn't out of the question. A simple boost from the changing bench and I was back out into the shockingly gray afternoon. Cait had a bit of trouble squeezing out of the glass, but eventually she popped out too.
"Let's go," she said. "Fit and fury is a bad combo. I don't want Claire to chase us down..." She started jogging down the block and I trailed behind.
The street was a silent juxtaposition to the gym. I had no idea where we were or what Whim Day had in store for us, and the adrenaline from it all was intoxicating and horrible.
The sky had transpired into a heavy grey fog, and it alone could not encapsulate the all encompassing greyness of that neighborhood. Grey as an actual feeling, not just a color, or a post-storm pigment, but an ugly heaviness. I could almost feel it on my shoulders while we ran. The afternoon was palpably bogged by the colorless concrete and sky. This animal feeling of fading warmth pelted down on me from the awning of perpetual telephone wires, brick buildings, and smog. It felt as though God was a bit too far from town.
We came to a cross street about three blocks west from Panther Gym. Cait put her hands on her knees and coughed into the ground. I could see a bar on the corner with imperfect royal blue stars painted on a dim window. A sign hanging in a tilt above the front entrance read, "Moon Saloon".
We walked inside and the room was a mess of old wood. The floors and tables and walls and swinging doors to the kitchen, all wood. I felt if I tripped I'd die from a splinter. When the grey creeped inside to the dark old wood mess, the bartender looked towards us like the light was a sudden attack.
Now we were both sweating from the short jog, and Cait lead us over to the bar. We sat down on the tattered leather stools and the ripped fabric scratched my naked thighs. A few seats over from us a few women, also grey, were drinking beer from large mugs. They looked like blurry midgets.
The bartender walked over to us and stood in silence like, 'we don't have any fruity specials. Just order a damn beer.' He was, well.. grey, actually.
"We'll have what they're having," said Cait, motioning to the irregular regulars near us.
"We come in peace," she whispered to me so noone else heard. I was relieved.
The beer was heavy and hoppy and I couldn't tell exactly what it was. It was cold though and it tasted like genuine relaxation. Cait belched and belched and yawned. She wiped the sweat from her face and onto her shirt. She sniffled and sniffled.
There were a few people in the shadows at the back of the bar, and I shuttered at the realm of possibilities of who they were and what their lives consisted of. The urchin faces, dull and dark and fading behind the wooden decor, breathed and watched us, maybe hoping to add us onto a sordid list of vices and crimes. If evil could radiate from people like stench, the world would stink and I would too, sometimes.
"Man this city is a million worlds, isn't it?" said Cait.
"Yeah you're right, it is."
"I haven't found one of them that I'd really like to be apart of though. It seems like every time we walk into a room everyone inside has literally sprung from the walls and will be buried in the back yard. You know? Like that anorexic mesh dude belongs in Panther. And you've gotta smoke a pack a day to be regulars here. And those stiffs waiting for donuts? You've gotta be two faced and pious. It blows my mind, all the little worlds.."
"I mean, people are sort of inclined to glob onto things that make them feel normal."
"I don't do that," she said. She was drinking the beer as if it were water.
"I like to go places that accentuate my abnormalities." She smiled, which was nice, because for a moment I was sensing a bit of sadness in her tone. I'd rarely seen her sad. Sadness is a truly ugly emotion. It is the natural disaster of human emotion, and the more it is felt and expressed, the more difficult it is to escape as a permanent state of being.
I smiled back at her.
"We have our own little world I guess."
"And Bushy, and Mother...some stray cats too from time to time."
"It makes me feel so small." She made a motion of holding something small between her fingers.
"Well.. you're big in quality."
"I always have thought of myself as more than 1 person. You know what I mean?"
I did. I felt like a different person in each room I was in.
I felt small too, admittedly so. Everyone is the center of their own world, I suppose. But the amount of worlds are infinitely growing in every direction. The circles of life and loves, the relationships and emotions and jokes, the purchases and mistakes and achievements, the plans and obtuse stresses, the regrets and the outfits, the self-deprecation and the narcissism, each treading sustaining circles in rooms and rooms and cities upon cities. Well, the idea makes me feel small. It really does, dammit. I was taught that everyone has purpose. Everyone has grand and outstanding purpose, and the world smiles when we arrive and cries when we die. But each year the world is a bigger place. I wonder if we matter less and less and less and less and less as legroom decreases.
The bartender set a second round down on the bar. He didn't make eye contact.
"What a happy little man," Cait whispered.
We cheersed, "Cheers to..me. Every one of me," she said.
Cait really did have a lot of unusual skills. She was sort of brilliant in a useless way. Even without direction, she held an outlandish ownership over a variance of interests and opinions. Some were frustratingly extreme. Some were outright crazy. All the absurdity was sort of hypnotic though, and she was honest in the most brutal capacity. Me being a fortified liar made her integrity even more alluring to me. She had none of the conventional charms, but she was actually good. She didn't sit with her legs crossed or watch the evening news, but she was good.
The toast turned into a chug, and afterwards we were both ready for another round.
"I'm hoping to not lose the rest of Whim Day in Moon Saloon," I said.
"I thought you hated hope. You told me that once."
"I hate a lot of things that I need..."
My phone had been vibrating all throughout Whim Day. Wheeler had texted me a handful of times, and I had a few unplayed voicemails, which were both likely from him. He texted me Saturday too, but as I tried to delete the memory of my fight with Lindy, I'd cleared my inbox before returning any texts.
One said, "Paigebrook, I still owe you for spilling a drink on your butt, and your butt owes me for wasting my drink. Call me back."
I texted him. "Hey." I said.
In just a few seconds he replied, "Where are you?"
"I'm at Moon Saloon somewhere far west."
He didn't answer.
"This music sounds like something people die to. Only out west though, and only in the 1960's," said Cait. The song was a banjo and an indiscernible voice on a muzzled microphone. She waved over the bartender.
"So how about changing this music, huh? Any way a few bucks could make that happen?"
"We gotta jukebox but it ain't been used in a while," he said. His voice was dusty and I suspected moths were hanging beneath his larynx, waiting to break free.
"I'll give it a go," said Cait.
She walked over to the jukebox, which was covered in debris and particles of time. All of the animal eyes in the room followed her panthette outfit and galoshes.
Cait bumbled with the chalky buttons and kicked the bottom of the machine. Patsy Cline's, 'Walkin' After Midnight' came on, and she came back over to her seat.
"Now this song should really be Moon Saloon's anthem," she said to the bartender.
"We ain't got no an-thumb," he said.
"Well I'm just saying you know, a few minor details, a bit of PR, and this place could be a hot spot..." She surveyed the room.
"Don't start..." I whispered to her.
She winked back.
"I stopped to see a weepin' willow...cryin on his pillow, and maaaaybe he's cryin' for meee... and as the skies turn gloomy, the night winds whisper to me, I'm lonesome as I, can be..!"
Caitlin sang boisterously. The song reminded me of my grandma. She'd loved Patsy Cline, and we used to listen to the tape when Lindy and I were kids and spent nights at her house. I rarely thought of these times anymore. Lindy and I were close with her though. She was actually a lot like Caitlin, not in practice, but in ideology. She was good inherently, but she didn't care about what anyone else thought of her. That was sort of the catalyst to all of her other admirable qualities.
I was inherently the opposite, and had spent most of my life obsessing over the most minute facets of my persona. Nothing had to be perfected in actuality, but everything had to appear to be in tact. That mentality had begun to fade when I met Cait though.
'Crazy' by Patsy Cline came on next.
"Two Clines in a row?" I said.
"There are others on the way too! It's a steal of a jukebox," she said, "A quarter a song! Gotta love old shit."
She stood up now.
"You've gotta dance with me.." She said to the bartender. She walked over towards him.
"I don't dance!" he said.
"Come on, Ralph."
"Ralph? The name's Don."
"Well ya look like a Ralph!"
"You look like a nut," he said.
"Fine, call me nut. Dance with me though!"
He laughed and it was like hearing a language for the first time. He walked over to her.
"I'm callin' you Don Juan!" she said. He laughed again, and particles of spit dashed quietly onto her face, and others coiled into the dark silence of the room to become apart of it forever.
The song 'Crazy' took me back in time. After my grandma died, I packed all of the details I had of her into a compartment of my brain that hid beneath new things. Sometimes when I'd smell different florals or eat a certain type of butter I remembered her. I'd remember her laugh, or the way she said my name. Memories are fickle little buggers. They can just dance in and out of view without warrant or want. Sometimes I get a glimpse of something from my life and I try to catch it and feel it forever. Other times different moments of the past will creep into my mind and I must always run from them, or else.
I must take a moment to acknowledge the fact that my brain is my master and it walks me like a dog. I can only hope it will lead me to good things, to flourish and be wise, but if suddenly I were to become insane.. well, I must follow my master. And frankly I wouldn't be surprised.
Cait and Don danced, and visually it was odder than many things I'd seen her do. She sang too,
"Oh crazy... for thinkin' that my love would hold youuuuu, I'm crazy for tryin', and crazy for cryin', and I'm crazy for lovin' you..."
She dipped him.
"Paigebrook..." I turned to see Wheeler standing behind me.
"What the hell are you doing here?"
"I Googled Moon Saloon and walked over. I actually live a few blocks away. I've never been here though. What a random place for you to go." He looked around the room.
"So you just show up? That's creepy," I said.
"Yeah well, then I'm a creep! I owed you a drink," he said. He was wearing a green vest with a white collared shirt underneath and crisp looking black dress pants.
"I was about to say I was overdressed, but look at you!" He laughed at my outfit.
"It's a long story..."
"Is that your break dancer friend over there? Twirling that old dude?"
I looked over, and Cait was indeed twirling Don.
"Yeah that's her.." I said.
"Look at your life right now. And I'm a creep?" He smiled. I expected to feel awkward and annoyed, but I felt fine. There was something funny about him, something I didn't immediately hate.
The man shook his butt while he walked, and it seemed to be a maneuver he'd practiced and perfected over time. Cait exaggeratedly imitated him. He walked into an athletic club near the shopping district we'd walked passed earlier. It was called 'Panther Gym'. The windows were plastered with pictures of muscled men in tiny workout shorts. None of them were remotely smiling, and they all appeared to be wearing makeup.
"This joker would go into a place like this," said Cait, "follow my lead." She walked inside. The meshed man was actually an employee. He was attaching one of the large jugs to a water cooler in the lobby. The room was loud with techno music and a display of power bars clustered the glass reception desk. Instead of price signs the boxes were labeled individually by caloric value.
"Hello!" He said without looking at us.
"Hi!" said Cait as she leaned against the desk, "You ignored us earlier when I asked you where the bus stop was. It's okay though because we were actually just on our way to this gym. I didn't realize it was so close. How ironic is that?"
"Sounds like fate," he said dully.
"You're so right."
"Are you interested in joining Panther Gym? We have some great deals right now if you are." His voice was flamboyant, which also seemed to be an attribute he'd practiced and perfected over time.
"We certainly are. We're actually training to do a couples iron man," she put her arm around me.
"That is so cool. I've always wanted to do an iron man," he said, "Well right now we're running a buy one membership get the other membership half off, with a reduced monthly fee from $60.00 a month to 55. For both of you, with the membership fees and the first month, it would be $205 right now. That includes all of the classes, except for Turbo Ass which is $10 per session because it's like amazing, and access to all of our facilities 24 hours a day. We can take another $20 off if you live within a mile of Panther."
Cait looked at me. "That sounds pretty close to what we've been looking for babe," she said.
"Do you have a sauna?" I said.
"Oh gosh yes. We do however have a strict policy about carnal activities in both the sauna and pool here at Panther. You'll have to sign some compliance paperwork if you do end up joining today," he said.
"Oh is that right?" said Cait.
"We've had some issues in the past, unfortunately." He laughed. I felt a little sick to my stomach at the idea of it all.
"Some people just have to ruin it for everyone don't they," said Cait.
"Oh it is a shame!" he said.
"So is there a free trial period we can initiate? I'd like to try the machines to make sure they're adequate before I sign anything."
"I can assure you, they're more than adequate. Panther is ranked the number 1 gym in west side Chicago, and we have a very professional staff... and very expensive equipment."
"That's important. Very good very good. But is there anyway we can try it out today before we sign?"
"I can give you a potential membership pass. It's $5 per person though, and they're only valid for 30 minutes."
"Let's do that. Do you have apparel we could buy or borrow? We didn't really plan ahead obviously," said Cait, pointing out our attire.
"What I'm gonna do for you today is hook you up with some Panther tops and bottoms. I normally only give them for free if you buy a membership, but you two seem pretty serious," he said.
He sifted through a pile of tank tops and handed us two small black shirts with matching shorts. The tank tops had Panther eyes which insinuated nipples, and the shorts had tails on the butt. On the back of the top it said, "Ready for my cat fight... Thanks Panther."
"Oh perfect! This is great!" said Cait, holding up the shirt.
"I know right? We just got those in. They are so fierce," he said, making a cat scratch motion with his hand.
"I'd only like them better if they were mesh," said Cait.
"Oh I know! I obviously agree," he said, pointing to his shirt.
"You know I meant to compliment you about that shirt when we first walked in. You just don't see enough mesh these days," she said.
"Couldn't agree more. I actually sell my own clothing line. I'll give you a business card before you leave today. I make mesh everything. And when I say everything, I mean everything," he said. Cait laughed riotously and we signed the day pass paperwork, including the sheet labeled, "Carnal Compliance".
"I'm Claire by the way," said the mesh man, as he collected our paperwork.
"I'm Sloan and this is my girlfriend Clark," said Cait. I sucked my cheeks into my mouth to stop myself from laughing. Claire led us through the gym to the women's locker room towards the back of the building.
"So how long have you been together?"
"About a week," said Cait, "Facebook official that is. We've been involved for a few months though."
"Well congratulations! It's not true until it's public," said Claire.
"That's pretty much my credo," said Cait.
The locker room door said "Panthettes", and before we walked in to change, Claire reminded us that the room would be under serious surveillance.
"Well isn't that a shame!" joked Cait.
"I'll meet you both in 30 minutes to sign the membership!" said Claire as he walked back to the lobby.
No one was in the small locker room, thankfully, but I could hear water running from the showers.
"Honestly I don't want to be anywhere near rooms that have had to be under surveillance because of carnal activities, Cait." I said.
"Oh relax BABE! Just put on your panthette outfit and let's go get ripped."
We changed our clothes and examined ourselves in front of the mirrored wall. Cait's outfit was absurdly small on her, and her boobs and stomach were spilling from the fabric.
"Look at the eyes on those girls," she said, attempting to stretch the cotton without ripping it.
"I'm actually very creeped out by this entire thing," I said.
"Blame Whim Day."
"I blame you."
"Honey stop.. We'll talk about it when we get home. I don't want it to turn into a... cat fight!" She made a cat scratch gesture like Claire had done.
"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.
Friday, April 16, 2010
"Good morning, good morning, it's time to get up, good morning! Good morning, good morning, it's a good good good good day!"
Caitlin's wake up song was like audible pain. My head throbbed and my face was in a wet puddle of my own drool on the sandy carpet. It was so dark in the basement, it could have been 6 a.m or 6 p.m and I wouldn't have known. She was standing above me in light denim jeans and and a white t shirt with a red fist on it. Under the fist it read, 'comunista'.
"What time is it?" I sat up and my head felt like an anchor I couldn't carry.
"It's almost 10. You okay down there scapegrace?" she knelt down.
"Yeah. My head hurts..."
"Empty corner'll do that to you."
"Must of been a bad night then... Eggo's are in the toaster, Tylenol is on the table. You'll feel better in no time," she helped me stand up.
The kitchen was idyllic, and it shocked and impressed me that Cait had left things in spic order for my sister night.
"Gone... I'm a fucking horrible sister."
"No you're not."
The Eggos popped and she put two on a plate for me. I opened the Tylenol and swallowed it without water.
"Sweet t shirt," I said, groggily.
"Got it at Blue Elephant."
"That resale shop? I thought you were banned."
"No, that's White Elephant, its' uptown constituent. I'm just another shopper down at Blue. I wouldn't go to White even if I wasn't banned.. those pirate bastards."
Cait had gotten arrested for trying to steal a desk chair last fall. She claimed she was protesting, not pillaging. She'd gotten in a fight over the price mark with an elderly Russian cashier. The woman said the smudged price tag said $21, Cait believed it said $11. The chair wasn't even remotely nice, but the argument became personal. Cait said the woman was condescending. The dispute eventually resulted in Cait screaming at her, "Don't take your bad day out on me old bird!" She then grabbed the chair and started running. The Russian screamed after her, "You make me bad day! You make me bad day!" She was arrested 20 minutes later. The cop picked her up 5 blocks north of White Elephant. Her side had cramped and she was laying on the ground next to the chair.
I slouched down at the kitchen table like a deflated balloon, scrolling through my phone to piece together the missing parts of the night. Lindy had texted me several times, and not only had she taken a cab to her car and drove back to Michigan at 3 am, but she clearly hated me too. What was worse than the myriad of angry messages, the multiple f bombs and name calling, was the fact that she didn't respond to my apology text. I doubted she would.
"You look so glum," said Cait, who was cutting up my Eggos for me.
"I feel like shit."
"If you're hungover, such is life. But if you're feeling guilty, stop. Just stop it." She looked at me sternly. She put a bib in my shirt and poured me a glass of milk and a cup of coffee.
"Alright alright, are you gonna get me a sippy cup too?"
"You might need one. I know it takes a shit storm night to make you sleep in empty corner," she said.
I ate small slow bites. She was right too, I needed help with simple functions. That fork into my mouth might as well have been a scalpel in a complicated surgery.
"What are you planning on doing today?" asked Cait.
"I'll probably just sleep." I put my head on the table. "Fuck."
"You can't feel guilty."
"You don't even know what happened."
"It's irrelevant. I don't believe in guilt. Everybody fucks up. Whatever you did, she'll get over it."
"How do you know?"
"Because were all capable of being despicable. She'll do something stupid and realize you're human. If she doesn't, then someone else will and she'll forgive you by comparison."
"She wouldn't do to me what I did to her."
"You don't know that."
Her positivity was irritating to me. She was trying to be hopeful, but sometimes too much hope just makes me sort of cringe. Like she could have just said, "You're right, you're a dumb ass," and that would have been alright. What happened between my sister and I felt monumental. Her positivity made it seem less. I didn't want her to get all bogged down, but a little shock and awe would have been nice.
"Since when do you care about your family anyways? Maybe she'll leave you alone now. I thought that's what you wanted," she said.
I didn't know what I wanted. On days when my family lectured me about responsibility, or called me ten times to confirm details about my imaginary routine, I'd told Cait she was lucky to not have a family. But even though Lindy and I were nothing alike, we were essentially the same too. Being honest with her just made me remember all of the aspirations I'd made when we were young. Honesty would be like disappointing my former self. That was a concept too heavy for me to fully address. I preferred to have my world an arms length away from her than to admit to myself that I needed something and didn't know what it was.
"Let's not talk about my family today," I said.
"What are you doing today?"
"I was going to go to some basement with Abebe and his friends to dance, but I tweaked my hip the other night. I'm thinkin we need a 'whim day'. You could use it," she said.
'Whim Days' were days when we got on the first bus we saw and let the city decide where we went and what we did. Once we ended up sleeping at the airport in Gary, Indiana. Another time we spent the day in a south side high school. We went to a few rowdy classes, ate pizza and chocolate milk in the caf for $2.25, and took an actual school bus to some neighborhoods. It made us both feel temporarily weird, and we harnessed the short lived philosophy for weeks afterwards that primary education was the root of all scum.
We categorized different parts of our day as the nuclei to some social ill. At lunch we wrote the word 'obesity' on a 3x5. On the bus we wrote the word 'violence' on another card. Cait eventually made a collage of the day and hung it up in the bathroom. Other cards say 'teen pregnancy', 'ignorance', and 'vanity'. In the middle of the collage is a picture of the two of us outside of the high school in large hooded sweatshirts with our thumbs up.
We created 'whim day' because we were sick of deciding what our plans would be. Cait said that planning was an art, and the lack of planning would be chaos. We were both intrigued by the idea, and thus Whim Day was born.
"I suppose I could use one," I said, "we pull the plug if we get close to Gary though."
"Let's get it goin'. Leave in 20?"
"Actually... make that an hour and 20. Mother's about to be on. Gotta catch it. I saw the preview for the episode and she talks about acronyms.. She actually says 'omg' and 'lol'. It's gonna be a good one."
"You would. I guess I'll get ready then. What should we wear this time?" The only thing we planned on whim day was our outfits.
"I'm thinking... Fancy dresses?"
"That's too much," I said.
"It's raining. It's hot out though. Casual dresses and galoshes."
"Who owns galoshes?"
"Are you kidding? It's a staple accessory."
She'd said the same thing about her sun hat. It was so large she could barely see from the drooping brim. It ended up catching on fire one day at the beach when she lit a cigarette. The straw burned fast and she ran through the crowded beach to the water to throw in the flaming hat. Some concerned mother nearby panicked and called the fire department.
When the fire fighters showed up, the concerned mother held her son and exaggerated the details. She said Cait screamed, "I'm burning alive!" when she ran to the water. Cait called the mom 'a sicko' and asked her if she was aware that her son was developing an Oedipus complex. The next day there was a fire fighter in our apartment shower, and Cait kept his uniform suspenders as a trophy. I could always tell when he was over because he made Cait's room smell like bonfire.
"You can borrow some of mine," she said, "Here, choose." She brought me 3 pair to pick from.
"These would be fitting, Scarlet." She pointed to the red pair.
"Yeah but they'd also match your communist t shirt."
"We're wearing dresses. Besides, I don't want to turn off all the capitalists if whim day takes us to Michigan Avenue."
"Good thinking. Why did you buy that thing anyways.. you're a nationalist!"
"I'm none of it. I'm just an American and I like t shirts. That, and it was cheap and I'm actually considered poor now."
"The government I guess."
Cait put on a booby blue sun dress that made her look like the Halloween version of Dorthy. She put on the red rain boots and bright red lipstick to match. She clipped back her hair with a barrette and slicked it down so it flipped up at the ends.
"It's like I've moused myself, but really my hair's just filthy with grease," she said.
"I think I'll shower while you watch Martha."
She sat on the sofa and turned on Martha, amplifying the volume in celebration of the coveted daily affair. She laughed while she listened.
"Oh Mother!" she said.
I took a shower and put on a cotton red sun dress. Cait's galoshes were all too big on me, so I wore flats inside the black pair with white polka dots. My feet felt awfully heavy, but it was what it was. No complaining on whim day. That was one of our rules we'd established, along with no turning down propositions from strangers, and no leaving each other for any amount of time. This included short trips to the bathroom. Cait had created this rule during high school day.
The bathroom reeked of feces and smoke, and there appeared to be peep holes in the stalls and on the wall side of the boy's rest room. I was waiting in the hall for her and she ran out immediately. "New rule," she said, "No leaving each other on whim day. Ever." I agreed with her fully after accompanying her into the bathroom. It was worse than any bar bathroom we'd seen. She took out a 3x5 and wrote the phrase, "defecation: both moral and literal," on it.
I scanned my room before turning off the light. There was a picture of Lindy and I when we were little framed on my desk behind a stack of full notebooks and misplaced papers. In the picture I'm sitting on a stoop with my head on my fist like 'The Thinker'. Lindy's spinning around in circles with her arms in the air. I put the picture faced down.
"You look so regal," said Cait.
"As do you!"
"Mother's just finishing her creme brulee. We can go."
We walked up the stairs. It was raining and humid outside, and oneiric fog lingered like fire smoke just above our heads.
"I suppose we can lock the door," she said, "since it's Whim Day we won't be separating. I have my keys actually."
"You never have them!"
"Well I'm carrying a purse today. It goes with the dress motif." She locked the door and we stood on the sidewalk. There was a bus stop on the corner which was a pickup for a multitude of routes. We walked to the shelter and stood in it with a grimacing group, all hiding from the rain. A bus sped to the stop and the doors opened. Only a few people got on.
"Here's our bus," said Cait.
"It appears so."
We got on and proceeded to the back. No one was even remotely smiling, indicative of how much the weather determines the mood of the day. We were beyond caring about the rain though.
"It's a warm day, everyone should quit bitching," said Cait. No one was actual talking, but it was clear by the heavy tension of the riders that the weather was unfavorable. I agreed with Cait. So what if it was raining? Sometimes I actually preferred the rain. Not in any emo type of way, but everything seemed to be less dire on rainy days. There was less pressure to be prompt or attractive. We didn't even bring umbrellas. I didn't own one, but wouldn't have brought one even if I did.
A man in the seat next to us had a frown on his face that could potentially make a child cry. His eye brows were gray and furry. They were probably more gray from stress than from age. He folded up his wet newspaper and discarded it on the ground, huffing over the smeared letters and his dripping cotton shirt.
"Nice day, isn't it?" said Cait, smiling at him and purposely invading his personal space.
He said nothing.
She leaned down and picked up the paper.
"You mind if I read this?"
"It's garbage. It's ruined from the rain," he said.
She unfolded it and opened to the entertainment section. The paper really was ruined and was ripping as she jolted around the wet pages.
"Looks like rain for the week," she said, scanning the back page of international weather.
"Ya think?" He rolled his eyes.
"Too bad were not in Athens. Gonna be 98 there today."
He pulled down the stop request and got up and stood by the door with his back to us.
"You know how many muscles you're using to frown?" she said.
He turned around and put up his middle finger, his frown more intense than before. Neither of us said anything. She pulled up the paper in front of our faces and we slouched down in the seat and laughed.
Wednesday, April 14, 2010
As the sun set it was replaced by an amaranthine of city lights, brightest in the blocks surrounding us, and gradually dwindling in every direction. We'd finished the tapas and every last crumb of the warm bread. The sangria pitcher had been replenished and replenished again, making my skin warm and my limbs light. The patio was busy. Around us various other tables had been resat with new groups. My legs felt sticky with hours of immobility and were deeply ingrained with the winding brass patterns of the chair.
We made an agreement to not discuss anything work related, which Lindy believed would dodge the pending stress I'd conjured. Faking stress was consequently the perfect device to avoid being trapped in my lie.
"Let's not even talk about it," she said, "No work talk on sister night."
Instead, we spent the momentous hours rekindling our parallel sense of humor. We laughed mostly about embarrassing childhood stories. Some were outlandish, and we lowered our voices less and less as the hours progressed. Our choice phrases bounced between the patio walls and Lindy, who was at first somewhat restrained by her civil nature, seemed quite uninhibited as the sangria settled. I had never really seen that side of her. It was like she was suddenly a real person, according to my definition at least.
We made a joint decision to settle the bill and move on to bigger and louder establishments. We both hugged the waiter when we left, who laughed kindly at our antics.
The streets were further intoxicating. A humid fog lingered around stories above us like hovering smoke, and we walked arm and arm down the block, embracing the city and whatever impromptu acts we'd commit. On a bright street, comparably uglier than most, red velvet ropes separated dark vibrating walls from early crowds trickling inside.
"Here?" said Lindy, pointing to one of the quieter basement bars. The bouncer was smiling.
"Sure. He's friendly."
We went downstairs and the horseshoe shaped bar was adorned with a few unattractive lesbian couples, some seething old grease balls, and a young boisterous group taking shots. Mirrors were everywhere, and the portly DJ seemed genuinely proud of his artistry.
"I'm so glad I'm here," said Lindy, who was smiling as though she couldn't stop.
"In this bar?"
"No, just with you!" she said, "I never see you." She hugged me. I felt a little guilty because I hadn't really wanted her there in the first place.
"Well we should talk more," I said. And that I meant.
"We will...Let's take shots!" The words were oxymoronic out of her clean and smart face.
The grease balls near us had been watching us over their glasses the whole time we'd been there. One of them, balding, and in dim light to a drunk mind still greasy, positioned himself in our direction on his stool.
"Ladies.... Interested in taking some shots?" he said. He had large facial features and lips that grossed me out. They were too big or too red, too something... They were on his face and he was using them to hit on my sister. They were sick.
"Yes!" said Lindy.
He ordered some. They were bomb something or others, and drinking it was an act which commenced a dizzying slope which would not subside until the following morning.
The bar filled with groups like a sinking boat with water. Soon it was too crowded to move freely and the mass of uncategorizable sorts became faceless blobs as my binge persisted. Lindy had stopped drinking after the bomb from the grease balls. She climbed towards sobriety while in the meantime I plummeted into black. She sat still while I flitted around the bar witlessly.
"You almost ready to go home Laur?" she said. I was talking to one of the grease balls. I wasn't ready to go, and was actually quite set on the idea that we weren't going home anytime soon.
Another half hour of watching me oaf around with the seething brutes depleted Lindy's patience, and she led me up to the street, somewhat forcefully. I was stumbling around and bitter now, about nothing but nonsense, but in my muddled mind it was monumental. I didn't have to say anything. It was palpable how groundlessly pissed I was.
"And why exactly are you mad at me?" asked Lindy, while we stood by the street waiting for a cab.
"Because this is just so like you."
"I knew this was going to happen."
"You knew you were going to be a bitch tonight?" I said. It catapulted a garrulous street fight, composed of verbal garbage. We forgot about wanting a cab and found ourselves lost in the upturned muck.
"You know, I just realized.. you're not a good person. you're ridiculous," she said. Her voice had remained relatively calm throughout.
"You don't know anything about me!"
"I know probably as much as you know about yourself."
"What do you want me to do?"
She said nothing.
It began to sprinkle and the silence indicated that the heated moment between us had passed. With the same unpredictability that brought on a torrent of anger in me, brought on sudden guilt. I began apologizing for the things I'd said.
"What can I do to make it up to you? I want this to be a good night still."
"Let's just go home and go to bed. We'll talk about it tomorrow." It was more reconciliation than I deserved, but my illogicality of the moment caused me to be even more difficult.
Amongst the passing cars and cabs, an excursion limousine approached us. It was halted in traffic and I went into the street and jumped on the hood. The limo driver got out.
"How much for a ride in the city and then back to my apartment uptown?"
"$100 for a half hour."
"Lindy get in." I opened the door for her.
She was reluctant. The traffic honked angrily at us while we debated, and eventually she got in.
It looked bigger inside than I had anticipated, and we sat in the back on a creme leather seat. There was a display of multicolored lights on the mirrored ceiling and a touch screen stereo behind the drivers' tinted divider. A bar in the middle of the limo was fully stocked with beer, soda, and mini flasks of vodka and scotch. I turned up the radio and opened a flask.
"Let's have a drink."
"I'm done drinking." said Lindy. She sat in the seat with her arms crossed.
"Why can't you get over it? I just got us a limo..."
It was evident that she wasn't over the street fight, but I was. Her demeanor was irritating, and again, just as fast as anger turned into guilt, guilt turned back into anger. We drove around the city for about ten silent minutes. She looked out the window at the passing sky scrapers and the nearly empty blocks beneath them. I watched her. I took gulps from the flask.
'She should just get over it... She's just sitting there...We're in a limousine, why can't she just relax? She won't even look at me... This is fucking ridiculous. I don't even want her to be in here anymore. She can't be in here anymore...'
"If you're just going to ignore me I don't even want you to be here," I said.
"Fine. I'll leave."
"No seriously. Get the fuck out if you're going to act like this."
"Are you kidding me?"
I tapped on the divided to the driver.
"Hey, pull over. She's getting out."
He didn't stop.
"I'm the one paying you. Pull over!"
The limo stopped. We were on Lakeshore Drive by Grant Park, miles south of my apartment. Miles south of Sam's. I got out and opened the door. Lindy was screaming indiscernible things at me. Indiscernible because I wasn't listening at all. I got back into the limo and locked the door. We drove away and I could see her standing on the side of the road. It didn't matter to me. I didn't care. I was so angry with her at that moment and nothing could convince me otherwise.
I told the limo driver to go to a building about a quarter mile north of my apartment. He stopped in front of a neighborhood of homes, homes that seemed to have actual residents instead of renters. He stepped out of his door to open mine. Right as he stepped out, I ran out of the limo from the opposite side.
I didn't have $100 with me. I hadn't thought of an actual plan to pay him. He screamed at me as I ran away, and I zigzagged down blocks to lose him. I could hear his tires screech as he jumped in the limo to chase me. I went in the ally of El Ranchero Taco, and climbed behind the fence and waited for silence.
Finally I crept to the front of the building and went inside. The apartment was dark and empty, and I could tell from the state of things that Cait wasn't home. I laid down in empty corner.
The carpet was rough and my mind spun when I closed my eyes.
I remembered a time when things were simple between Lindy and I. We were sitting in the back seat outside of a grocery store in our school uniforms. Our parents were shopping inside and the time alone in the car felt like eternal freedom. We had the windows down and we screamed riotously at people in the parking lot.
"You're ugly!" I'd scream. Lindy laughed.
"I just farted!" She yelled. The people in the parking lot would get angry. Some wouldn't respond at all. We feared and hoped for their reactions. It was the most outrageous thing we could imagine getting away with at the time. Nothing could have been funnier. Nothing could have felt more rebellious.
Tuesday, April 13, 2010
I waited in the courtyard while Lindy finished getting ready. I told her the whole pee production was just deliriousness from working so much, and the fresh air would be medicinal. She was obviously skeptical but left in peace to primp.
I laid in the grass facing the sun. The narrow spot between two sectors of garden wasn't exactly conducive to sunbathing, but I squeezed between the flower barriers regardless.
I heard the sporadic sound of the fence opening then shaking closed, and shoes tapping on the gravel walkway. People entering and exiting the complex likely noted the oddity of my presence, but said nothing.
In any small town this scenario would have caused some sort of raucous. Either the residents would chase me away with a broom, or scoop me from the garden and invite me in for meatloaf and beer. This was the city though. Wanderers fell asleep in courtyard gardens sometimes. No big deal.
It was less than twenty minutes until Lindy walked out of the apartment.
"You ready to go Laur?" she said from the stoop. I sat up a bit startled from my garden bed, leaving a Laura-size imprint in the patchy grass. I walked over to her.
She was wearing clean looking casual jeans and a gray v-neck t shirt. Her light brown hair sat on her shoulders, still slightly wet, but it air dried in a way that others may spend hours with products and electronics to achieve. She wore thick framed black glasses and her face looked subtly sunburned from the race.
We took a cab to a tapas restaurant downtown, a few blocks northwest of the Magnificent Mile. Beyond us clusters of credit card traffic and congregating tourists were awing all day and everyday over the idyllic window displays.
We sat outside underneath a big red umbrella, and the sounds of angry horns and cars accelerating with the stop and go traffic resonated on the patio. Lindy ordered a water with lemon, after debating for minutes about whether or not to get sangria.
"It's really good here," I said.
"In a bit perhaps," she squeezed the lemon into her water.
We ordered the waiter's recommendations; marinated artichokes, Spanish potatoes, smoked salmon fillet and Galician grilled octopus sauteed with paprika.
"Lovely. Thank you," said Lindy, as the waiter set down a basket of warm bread.
I felt out of it. I was sitting low in the chair craving some ice cold hose water. I looked at my glass disappointingly.
"You look so tired," said Lindy.
"I am tired. It's more of a state of being than a state of mind though," I said.
"So you're always like this?"
"No. I was kidding. I just didn't sleep last night."
"What were you doing?"
"Nothing really...relaxing. I just can't sleep sometimes, that's all," I said.
"Did you go out?" she asked, not to be patronizing, but she seemed to be just curious in general.
"I mean, sort of. With Cait. Nothing exciting though."
"Oh, with Cait," she said, this time the statement was loaded.
"What does that mean?"
"Nothing. Mom just told me about her that's all." She dipped her bread in olive oil and ate small bites.
"What did she say about her?" I was defensive a bit but couldn't help it.
"She just said it was a weird experience meeting her, and that it was random that you two lived together.. She just worries about you, you know."
"Okay well mom and dad just showed up at my door before graduation without telling me. Cait didn't know they were coming. They didn't even call me or knock!" I said.
"Laur, she was passed out naked in a corner of bottles, and there were stray cats all over your apartment. It wasn't the best of impressions." Her tone was light but I could tell she was actually quite serious.
"We were cat sitting!" I said.
Actually, we weren't cat sitting, but we'd left the front door open all night. Cait had made homemade tuna sushimi and saki earlier that day, a recipe she saw on Martha. She was skeptical of the sushimi, but drank every last drop of the saki. Three stray cats had wandered into the apartment and were feasting on the food left on the counter. Cait passed out in 'empty corner' and woke to my parents, whom she'd never met, standing in the filthy living room.
"Well why on earth was she naked in the corner?" said Lindy, just as the waiter set down the plate of artichokes. He laughed a little at our conversation.
"Oh I'm so sorry," said Lindy, "I think we'll be taking that sangria now!
"Good idea!" he said.
I really didn't know why she was naked. It was just another part of her ridiculousness that couldn't be explained.
"She has narcolepsy," I said.
"I notice you always say what you think I want to hear."
"That's not true."
"Again, that'd be the appropriate thing to say," she said.
"Well if it makes you feel better I do it to everyone."
I put an artichoke on her plate.
"Eat this, it's delicious."
The waiter came back and set down the white sangria with assorted fruit in the bottom of the large bowl glasses. It was imperceptibly strong.
"But really Laur, about your friend Cait..." said Lindy.
"Can we just get off this topic already?"
"Okay just one last thing. They're only worried about you because they don't want you to be distracted by anything that would jeopardize your job."
"They have nothing to worry about, she's been a good friend to me."
"You met her at a bus stop, Laur."
"So? We graduated from the same school. Is there a list of approved meeting places that I'm not aware of? Why does that matter?"
"Fine. We met in class. Does that make you feel better? Either way she's my friend."
"You can't just make up stories. It doesn't change things." It was an ironic thing to say. She kept alluding to surface subjects, unaware of how much more complicated they were to me.
"Well... pointing out my failures doesn't change the fact that they've happened," I said.
"Woa. Let's not over dramatize. The point is, you should get some more sleep."
"You could have just said that."
The waiter came over to us and set down the Spanish potatoes, salmon and octopus dishes.
"We're gonna need a pitcher of this," said Lindy, holding up her half finished glass.
Saturday, April 10, 2010
Runner enthusiasts lined Marine Drive and I hurried through the anxious crowd towards the start. People in visors and bright colored shirts were shoulder to shoulder by the road, and I sweat from speed walking and the ne plus ultra caffeinated iced coffee I drank. I scanned the road for Lindy. Runners jogged around me in every direction, warming up, and several congregated in the shade of the branched awnings.
"Runners! 5 minutes! 5 minutes till the start!" yelled the race official.
I could see Lindy amongst the crowd, doing quick and graceful strides down and back from the line.
"Lind!" I yelled.
She heard me and smiled, big and genuinely. She jogged over.
"HI!" she said, "Sorry I'm sweaty!" she hugged me and her arms left puddles on my shirt.
"It's okay I don't care! I'm sweating too," I said, "Is Sam running with you?"
"Yeah, she's doing strides."
Sam was her friend who she ran with in college. She'd moved to Chicago after they graduated a few years ago. Lindy drove into the city from Michigan to run a road race with her at least once a year.
"I'll see you at the finish?" she said.
"Yeah good luck!"
"Oh I'm out of shape. We're gonna do a nice little talking pace I think," she laughed.
"Whatever you'll probably win."
She ran back to the start. She didn't look a bit out of shape. Being out of shape in runners' translation meant performing anything less than personal optimum. 'Out of shape' for Lindy and Sam was infinitely more in shape than the average person, myself included. I'd accumulated side breaking cramps just ascending the EL stairs. I ran a mile in January, which only took place because of a New Year's resolution I'd made to workout. I reevaluated my resolution after the mile, and decided to change it to a commitment to think more positively. That too lasted just a few hours.
The gun went off and Lindy and Sam got out towards the front of the pack. Lindy was elegant. She looked like a fawn amongst the various other runners. It was sort of laughable how fawn-like she really looked. In the beginning of a race everyone looks so determined. By the end most people have the most gruesome expressions on their faces, which aside from racing, could only be recapitulated by contortion. Some of the runners behind Sam and Lindy held their arms out far away from their sides. Some scooted low to the ground with short ugly strides. Some looked tired and stiff, even from the start. Lindy was relaxed and graceful though.
I remember once after she had a bad race in high school, my mom told her, "Well at least you were the prettiest runner in the race!" It used to annoy me listening to her tell all of our relatives, "and Lindy has just the most beautiful stride..." After a few times of hearing her say it, I started some internal back talk. "We know mom! Dammit, she has a nice stride!" I'd think to myself. In real life though all I'd say was, "Yeah she does."
The spectators clapped and cheered as they ran passed. Some cowbells clanked. I remember Lindy hated the cowbells. Personally they didn't bother me, although I couldn't understand how cowbells got all mixed up into sport spectating.
A husky woman with bright blond hair cheered, "Go Tom! Go Tom Go!" Each time 'Tom' ran passed, whoever he was. This made me laugh. Of course Tom's going to 'go'. It's a race! Spectators always seem to tell the runners to go. As though they don't understand that that is the premise of the sport. Someone sometime in running history must have been dense to the idea that moving is the essence of racing. He must have needed the constant reminder to 'go'. I've never told Lindy to 'go'. I tell her to 'go faster'. I think that's a better piece of advice.
I followed the bright herds from block to block. We walked fast across the city park, and each time the runners went by I was just a moment too late to cheer for Lindy. I could see her and Sam out in front though, behind a half dozen men, but leading the serious looking women.
The race ended and Sam and Lindy were the top finishing women. They talked with other runners in the shoot, drinking small green cups of water and recollecting mile splits, and the accuracy of the K markers. I said good job, and stood near them, all too aware of how awkward my limbs were.
Whenever I feel awkward I feel bizarrely aware of my arms. Should I put a hand on my waist? Should I cross them? No, that looks impatient. I settled with putting both hands in my pockets, nice and relaxed looking.
"So I thought we could walk to Sam's apartment so I can shower, then we can do...whatever it is you want to do. Is that okay?" said Lindy. Her voice, even after running a race, was soft and calm, like I could be a baby or a puppy or elderly or dumb. She didn't speak that way to be patronizing, she was just meek.
"That's fine with me," I said.
Sam's apartment was a pretty place. It was distinguished with an expensive looking black gate and flowers planted in a shaded courtyard. It was a place that I would most definitely pretend to live in.
"I won't be long," said Lindy, grabbing her backpack and walking into the bathroom.
Sam opened the double doors to her courtyard facing balcony. They were French doors and I laughed to myself a bit, remembering the puzzled waitress, "That's all the French we got!"
The old wooden floors were slightly molding, but I liked them like that. Below the coffee table was a pink rug with a green bamboo branch etched on it. There wasn't a TV in the room, but a record player sat in the corner with a stack of seemingly organized records. The walls were cool yellow and scattered photography was hung behind the couch. A black and white picture of a swing set was hung nonparallel to a picture of a crooked fence.
Sam got me a glass of water and walked onto the balcony as she talked on the phone.
"We ran about 6:15 pace. Yeah, it wasn't bad. I remember when it was easier though... I know. Yeah she's gonna stay with her sister I think... Um, I think she's interning downtown some place. I'm not sure where..."
Oh no. She was referring to me, and the moment she ended her phone call I would be forced to regurgitate the details to my unsorted lie. I didn't even know what street Edelman was on. The location and details were of no importance to my parents, who didn't understand anyways, but Sam would know. She seemed privy to Chicago's professional world, and would surely see through any attempt I'd make to bullshit.
After I graduated I needed to give my family some tangible evidence that my four years in undergrad had amounted to more than just debt and weight gain. I literally Googled "Chicago PR Firms", and Edelman Firm popped up first. My mom pronounced it 'Eatleman' and believed I did marketing of some kind. That was all false, but the details were unimportant to her. She was assured believing that I had a degree required job, of any kind.
Sam was the type of city newbie who had taken a personal interest in knowing the exact location of everything south of Lawrence. I could imagine her in random conversation, "Oh that's off of Wacker right? Yeah I know exactly where that is." Which I'm sure she did. I'd lived in the city for five years and still got lost on a weekly basis. Why wouldn't I? It's a big place.
The spot in my brain which is capable of absorbing the frivolities of intersections and locations of boutiques was occupied by other things. Insubstantial things, I'll admit, but more entertaining at least. I knew which used bookstore left free paperbacks in a box on the street every Thursday. I knew where to get a good pancake past 2 a.m. I knew which uptown bar had a dog who retrieved tips from customers. My accumulated knowledge was of incalculable value to me, but Sam and my sister measured worth by numbers... 'How much money are you making? How long did it take to run that race? How many hours did you work? How many months have you been dating? etc.' Countable things.
I doubted telling them that I'd accumulated more than 30 free paperbacks from the Thursday giveaways would fulfill an impression of numerical value. It wasn't exactly measurable, but those little things did matter to me. All of the novels, some brilliant, some crap, had shaped me in one way or another. 'Much Ado About Nothing', some trash Danielle Steel, a few cliche murder mysteries, they were all there racked up in my brain somewhere. I may have not produced a W2 or celebrated a 6 month anniversary, but I'd had good moments. Nothing in the past year was experienced to appease the expectations of someone else. I did what I felt like doing. I was virtually route-less. That feeling I used to get after doing something I was supposed to do, like volunteer work or completing midterms, it wasn't happiness. I don't know what it was.
Overall it became palpably difficult to discuss anything professional or wholesome. My brain was a sponge full of fireworks I'd seen at the pier on Saturdays, and stiff blue drinks I'd gotten from strangers on Thursday nights. I couldn't exactly have clean banter about my living arrangement, or the quality time Cait and I spent together. Being aware of it all made me noticeably deflated.
I had also acquired a heightened sense of paranoia since the lie began. Whenever someone asked me what I'd been up to or where I was working, I felt like a guilty criminal in one of the murder mysteries I'd read. I became tense. Sam walked off the balcony and organized some papers on the kitchen counter.
"So how have you been?" she said.
"Who do you know! What have you heard?" I thought to myself. I knew she was asking because of courtesy small talk, not interrogation, but when you're guilty of something it seems that everyone else is aware of it.
On an afternoon a few months earlier, I was relaxing in the park with Cait. My mom called and I walked across the grass and answered my phone.
"Oh I'm just on my lunch break right now. Yeah, I packed a sandwich. I've been busy.. I know. Love you too," I'd told her. A squirrel had come quite close to me as I talked, and when I hung up the phone it was up on its' back legs a few feet away. "What are you looking at," I said to it. I clapped my hands and it ran away.
"I've been good. Really great," I finally said, after a bumbling moment of ponder.
"How about you?" It sounded fake. I was trying too hard, I thought. I should have stopped at 'good'.
"Oh I've been really great too," she said, "just busy working. I feel like I don't have a life."
I couldn't relate. All I had lately was life. People always say they don't have a life when they don't have time to be irresponsible. I had so much life I didn't quite know what to do with it all.
"Yeah me too. So busy," I said. The nerves had crawled from my stomach and metastasized into a knot in my throat.
"I really have to pee. I hope Lindy's done soon." I was trying to change the subject. Bad topic choice, but I was desperate for any diversion.
"I think I just heard the shower stop. She'll be out soon. So where are you interning again?"
The dreaded question. All of my mental scans about semantics and how to fold my arms had volcanically erupted and I needed to leave, immediately.
"Edelman," I said. I jumped to my feet in an absurd spout of panic.
"I'm gonna have to just go outside. I can't hold it!" I said, heading towards the door.
"What? Laura you can't pee outside! She's almost done. Just wait a second!"
"It's either that or in my pants!" I ran out the door and slammed it behind me. I didn't have to go literally, but I did have to go.
I felt like she was about to be the questioning officer in a heated interrogation room. In an old film she'd be wearing a fedora hat and pull my arm mercilessly into a black car.
"We're taking you downtown," she'd say. The room would be dark, except for a blinding overhead light. She'd move it over me when she talked, after pacing back and forth intimidatingly.
"Why are you lying about your job!" She'd say.
"I'm innocent!" I would yell back.
"You went to college. You're supposed to get a job!"
"Why!" I'd probably cry.
Lindy walked outside, her hair dripping wet. I was standing in the middle of the courtyard under the sun.
"Did you seriously just pee in the courtyard?" she said.
"No no. I didn't."
"Sam said you ran out here because you were about to pee!"
"Oh yeah. I did.. It went away." I said.
Friday, April 9, 2010
I awoke face first on top of a pile of clothes and miscellaneous garbage on my bed. I was still wearing my now filthy shorts and flip flops, and had sometime in the morning used a piece of paper as a facial mask to block the trickling sunlight from disturbing my sleep.
I was somewhat panicked at the exact moment I transcended from dream to day, because in my vivid dream, I was trapped on a cruise ship of inmates and I could pull out individual teeth with little to no effort. By the end of my dream only one tooth remained. I felt my mouth. All teeth were intact, albeit vile tasting.
It seemed sunny outside. It's hard to tell from my basement bedroom window, as half the glass is bordered by dirt and grass, and the upper half above pavement is just a six inch space for light to creep in. The previous tenant had painted my little room dark purple. I had planned on painting over it, but never got around to it. The dismal individual ray of sunlight is like a crack into an underground cave.
In my bedroom at home I had a wall of windows, and outside alpine trees towered into the sky for miles. With half-closed morning eyes the image is just a scene of green and blue contrast; the beauty is emphasized by birds singing, rather than horns honking and crazies screaming obscenities at dusk. Sometimes before I open my eyes in my apartment bed, I forget that I'm not about to ingest that image of soaring green branches. Instead I find the view of the purple ceiling in my hot little bedroom box. It always makes me hunger, but for what I cannot entirely grasp.
I went into the bathroom to brush my teeth. The apartment was dark and torrid and the open bulb track lighting blinded me when I flicked it on. I appreciated the strength of the connection between my teeth and my gums as I brushed. The amount of synthetic emotion that my sleeping brain conjures amazes me. Sometimes I dream so vividly that the lingering trauma takes days to resolve. Even if the dream is pleasant, I find myself sad grappling with it's artificiality.
The cold water ran and I stuck my mouth beneath it and drank from the faucet. It truly was more refreshing than drinking from a glass. A hose seemed to be a good investment at that moment, and I made a mental note to get advice from Steve about the matter. It may have not been the most civilized way to hydrate, but I tend to care less and less about being civil. I can remember a time when I drank bottled water because I was afraid of the tap. These days I'd probably drink from a dirty river if I was thirsty enough.
It was 9 a.m, and my sister was running a 5k in Lincoln Park at noon. We'd Facebook messaged about meeting afterward, and I'd promised to watch her race. Caitlin and Lanky were now standing in the kitchen. He was leaning against the counter in her red terrycloth robe, and she was digging through the freezer in white briefs, presumably his, and a cutoff t-shirt.
"Look who's conscious." she said. Lanky laughed.
"Zing!" He said. His teeth looked so white to me.
"I fell asleep in the cab, didn't I."
"More like passed out. Abebe had to carry you in. You were like a limp noodle," said Cait. She was opening steaks and putting them on the stove skillet.
"Who the hell is Abebe?"
"That'd be me," said Lanky.
"Oh. Sorry." I liked my nickname better for him. Even in the thick terrycloth he looked as though he was raised in a closet and fed scraps occasionally. It's sad that those closet kids actually exist. Maybe he was raised in a closet and just never fully developed. It would make his break dancing skills a real heroic triumph, rather than some after school hobby he'd picked up in the suburbs, which was far more likely.
"Steaks for breakfast, huh?" I said.
"Well, I figure we had breakfast for dinner. Might as well have dinner for breakfast," she said, scrambling through the nearly empty cupboards for canned vegetables.
"Abebe, can you peel potatoes?" She handed him a bag of them.
"Anything for my lady," he said.
She had her back to him and she looked at me like, "hmm!", her lips down and eyebrows up. I swallowed a laugh.
I kept subconsciously holding my jaw and chomping my teeth, still reveling over my dream.
"What's the matter. You have a toothache or something?" said Cait.
"No. It's just this dream I had. All of my teeth fell out of my mouth. They just kept pulling out like flowers out of the ground. It really freaked me out," I said, still holding my jaw.
"You know what that means, don't you?" She stopped what she was doing and stared at me.
"Oh here we go..." I said, rolling my eyes.
"What?" Said Lanky.
"Don't listen to her. Caitlin took one psychology class and now she thinks she's a Freudian expert. She's always analyzing me."
"I took two classes first of all, and much independent research!" She said defensively.
"Yeah, on Wikipedia," I said.
"Regardless. If your teeth fall out during a dream it means that you feel you have no control over yourself or your life," she talked with her hands, scholastic in tone.
"No seriously! Is that really how you feel?" She put her hand on my shoulder and stroked her chin with her thumb and pointer finger like a contemplative detective.
"You're fucking crazy. That's how I feel," I said.
"Wanna hear my dream? I dreamt I was in an auditorium full of Styrofoam and I kept throwing up, but it wasn't puke, it was gummy worms. I really didn't like the way the Styrofoam felt on me. There were a few other people in there and they all had mustaches..." she looked at the ceiling in thought.
"Freudian me that!" she said.
"It means what I just told you. You're fucking crazy."
"No. You're just a predictable brain and my imagination is genius," she said, seasoning the steaks and adjusting the stove top heat.
"Want to hear my dream?" said Lanky.
"No! Don't tell her Abebe, she'll never stop analyzing you. Hopefully you're not a mommas boy because she'll accuse you of having an Oedipus complex!" I said.
Caitlin froze and looked at him.
"You're not, are you?" she said.
"My dad raised me," he said.
"Good. That shit's gross."
I thought I may caution her later to steer clear of the childhood questions, just in case he was a closet baby.
The steaks sizzled in the skillet and Abebe's peeled potatoes were sorry and nicked. Caitlin sliced them and placed them in boiling water.
"Who wants milk?" she said.
"I'm not eating. But this is important. My sister's in town tonight, and I need to make sure you know the rules of my family.
"I know, I know. No naked struts, especially bottomless. No conspicuous one night stands," she looked towards Abebe, "no offense to you," she said.
"It's cool," said Abebe.
"And no repeating any stories about you, good or bad, past, present, or future." she turned the steaks over.
"And what have I been doing this past year?" I said.
"You've been interning downtown at Edelman. You're the most important of the coffee runners and you've started to like the 6 a.m commute and the view from your cubicle." Her voice was trite and mocking me.
"I'll kill you if you say that."
"Maybe I'll say it then I'll just kill you first. I'll be doing you a favor. This charade is fucking nuts," she said.
"Yeah so, why exactly are you lying to your family?" said Lanky.
"It sounds so much worse when you say it like that." I said, scrambling to clean up Caitlin's mess as she made it.
"Laura has to lie because she's out of control and her fam is judgmental," said Cait.
"Actually you're the out of control one. And you're in my life so I'm responsible for you." I said jokingly.
"Fuck control. There's no such thing as control," said Cait, "All we can control is when not to press the snooze on the alarm clock, and how often we fold our fucking laundry. You want to have people in your life who never press snooze? I don't. You should let me get naked. You should tell your sis you work for a dog and a pervert. Let her judge you!" Her tone was heightened with intensity. She got like that sometimes when some idea inflated her with passion.
"I didn't say she's judgmental. I wouldn't know if my family is or isn't. I don't want to find out though," I said.
"You don't know your family? I don't know my family. You talk to yours weekly."
"I know what their voices sound like. That's about it," I said.
"My dad and I are really close," said Lanky, who was obviously getting uncomfortable from being shunned from the conversation.
"Now that's the second time you've mentioned your dad," said Cait, mashing the potatoes. "How close are you two, cause I'm gettin' a weird vibe..." she said.
I looked at his skeletal legs, which were crossed quite ladylike in the terry robe. 'Closet baby!' I thought to myself.
"Ignore her Abebe," I said.
Caitlin moved gracelessly around the kitchen, slamming cupboards and dropping things on the floor. She was like a human tornado and would surely cause any OCD person to have a mild stroke. She bent down savagely to reach a cupboard below the counter, spread eagle with her knees bent. She would have retrieved something from the floor in the same manner even if she were naked. There was something perceptibly foul about her mannerisms, but at the same time it was all excusable. That was just Caitlin.
"It's almost ready Abebe," she said.
I scrambled around the living room with two garbage bags, one for actual garbage and one for miscellaneous knickknacks that needed to be stowed away for sister night.
There was a half eaten sandwich doused in mustard sitting on the coffee table. Empty bags of takeout and half full boxes of stale cereal were scattered around the room. The corner by the foyer closet was lined with discarded bottles, an area Caitlin had deemed, 'empty corner'. I threw them all away, and stowed her stacks of magazines and posters of nearly naked boys in the knickknack bag.
We'd also retrieved several posters and street signs from Caitlin's city expeditions, all which I set in her room. She'd stolen a life size cut out of George Bush from a party store and we'd used it as hat rack. She dressed it up sometimes, and now he was wearing a cardigan sweater and a sun hat. I started moving it into her room.
"Oh leave Bushy out!" said Cait, "It could earn you points if your sis is conservative."
"Fine. But these are going in your room," I said, holding up an assortment of banners. One said "Circus This Way!", with a large arrow pointing left. One said "Have You Been Saved?", with the image of Christ's face below bold black font.
"Again. I can't see how those things won't make the two of you anything but closer," said Cait.
I folded the blankets on the sofa and accepted the state of the room. It was clean enough, in every sense of the word. Caitlin and Abebe moved onto the couch with their steak plates, and she put in a Martha Stewart DVD. She recorded every episode, and the collection was the only thing she was meticulous about. She categorized them by date and kept them in her room away from 'randoms and street bums', according to her.
"What the fuck is this?" said Abebe.
"Don't talk when Martha is speaking!" said Cait, turning up the volume.
"How can you watch this?"
"Listen 'Bebe. Did I not just cook you the breakfast of a lifetime? Don't diss Martha."
"What's so great about her?"
"The woman is an ex con who can turn a box of crayons into a birdhouse with a tasty, yet nutritious, snack on the side. What more can I say." she said.
"I mean, there's just better people to look up to. She's just.. boring."
"Who's better?" said Cait.
I was now listening from the kitchen while I cleaned.
"Don't do it Cait! Don't start on that tangent about Martha being God!" I yelled over the hot running water.
"Whaaat now?" said Abebe.
"I didn't say she's God. I said she's like God," said Cait heatedly. "The woman can literally turn a pile of shit into a centerpiece. She's an artist. And she's gotten even more powerful since she got out of jail...You know who that reminds me of?" she said.
"Don't say God!" I yelled.
"Jesus." she sounded so convinced, and I'd guessed she was leaning forward in her seat as she talked.
"I'm just gonna eat my steak now," said Abebe.
"You do that. And remember it was made with Martha's cowboy skillet recipe!" she said.
Martha being her heroine was so ironic to me. Cait lacked any intuition of a homemaker. She tried Martha's recipes and projects constantly, which usually amounted to bread dough on the ceiling, or piles of glued Popsicle sticks on the living room floor. Sometimes she referred to Martha as "Mother". I'd ask her about her day, and she'd say something like, "It was good. I watched Mother make crepes and then I got drunk and spent $20.00 on tacos." I was used to the references, and it was humorous to see other peoples' reaction to her Mother Martha obsession.
The morning dwindled and I took a shower and dressed in a clean looking outfit. The khaki shorts and blue t-shirt said, "I'm responsible, but I can be casual too," which was what I was going for. I shoved anything unusual and out of place into my closet and straightened the hapless papers on my desk. I put the dead roses in Caits' room, in case she wanted to make potpourri like Martha.
"I'm out of here. My sister's racing in an hour, then I have no clue what we'll do," I said, standing by the door ready to leave.
"Some good clean fun I take it?" said Cait.
"Fresh out of the shower clean," I said.
"Which you've done I see. Bravo. It'd been some days since you last bathed..." she said.
"Zing!" said Lanky, looking a bit disgusted.
"She's joking," I said, "But seriously. Can you keep everything clean? Like no additions to empty corner, and no condom wrappers on the floor?"
"Not to worry, no way in hell is that happening," she looked at Lanky, "Again, no offense to you," she said.
"It's cool," he said, but really he looked a bit disappointed.
I walked up the stairs and it was like I was emerging from a red eye flight into a new world. Since moving into the basement, days had never been so bright. I waved inside "El Rachero Taco" to Javier and walked west, squinting into the day.