FALL BRINGS MEMORIES OF SUMMER

I made a pumpkin-pecan pie this weekend. Not a big deal, one would say … Unless you see it for what it really is. It is Fall.

Now it’s no secret among those that know me, but this is my most-favorite of seasons.

I am trying my best to embrace the falling leaves, watching the sidewalks slip into vibrant hues of red, orange and yellow. I repeatedly fed into my craving for apple cider recently, possibly to some detriment of “calorie counting.” Two days of breakfast consisting of amazing pumpkin bread from my friend David has me dreaming of making my own. (And of carving a Jack-o’-lantern some time this month for Halloween.)

But all of my Autumn excitement is also making me look back at the Summer past.

I’m not sure what it is about having friends and family come visit that always makes me see Chicago in a different way. In some ways, even after four-plus years of calling the city my home, I still feel like a tourist myself. Yet, when someone new comes to visit, I find myself delving even deeper into vacation mode, seeing things anew, or simply new. This Summer was a good one for me in terms of welcoming people I love to the city I love.

My friends Abbey and Amber were the first to come this summer, as they made their way from North Carolina. Here for an engagement party for Abbey’s brother, getting to spend time with me was not the focus of their trip, but equally important to us all.

I had yet to meet their son Aiden, now two, and being able to hold an actual conversation with someone so little continues to blow my mind, all these months later. Spending the day downtown with this amazing family was something I needed for the soul, even if I didn’t realize it at the time. Abbey joking on the way up to their hotel room that it was like “Amber was getting ready for a first date,” as she got dressed to meet me that morning; The ability to wrap my arms around Amber for the first time in years and hug her tightly; The joy of seeing Abbey’s excitement in being caught up in the middle of filming for a Vince Vaughn movie; Watching what wonderful parents they both were as we played around Millennium Fountain and Aiden’s delight at getting to play in the water … These are the things I will take away from their visit, along with the anticipation of seeing them again.

My Mom was next, just later that week, although I can’t really classify her as a visitor anymore.

Having spent a lot of time in Chicago by this point, her idea of a vacation is simply living my life with me. There’s no need to take her to the Willis Tower, Hot Doug’s or any tourist traps. On my couch with a good book or simply walking Huxley around the block is more-than pleasing for her. There are always the “normal” things we do when she comes, shopping (for me of course), hanging out at my apartment, having sushi at least one meal and taking my dog to the beach.

That’s the best thing about my Mom, she’s simply happy being with me.

As long as I get her some Garrett’s Popcorn, that is.

July brought my birthday, Pitchfork Music Festival and a slate of “regular” visitors.

Arriving on the actual date, my friend Jake drove overnight from Alabama just to spend time celebrating with me. As I knew it would be crazy around the time of my actual birthday, I didn’t plan anything special, just letting nature take its course towards fun. Spending the day downtown in Millennium Park, lying on the grass with Jake, could not have been a more-fitting gift for me this year. Watching the kids playing in the fountain, women dancing to the salsa music from Pritzker Pavilion, and my photographer friend Leah (also up then from the South) capture all of the things she was seeing for the first time was simply icing on the more cupcake I had to celebrate.

The rest of the weekend was split between Union Park for Pitchfork and my back porch for conversation. The pairing of the four of us was just as much fun as ever, even having to ride in the back of Jake’s truck in downtown Chicago brought some semblance of joy.

I am still brought back to the weekend each time a plane flies overhead. I can hear Jake saying. “There’s Chip and Kalah,” even though, sadly, I know that it’s not.

I love my best friend. After 17 years with her by my side … cringe, yes, we are old … every moment we have to spend with each other is just as great as the first.

For months, I felt guilty every time someone else would come to visit, knowing Robin wanted to be up here with me as well. When she called mid-summer to confirm a weekend trip, it laid plans I most-looked forward to. Like my Mom, she has been her several time before, so it never seems to be a touristy trip. Like my Mom, she is just happy to be around me, my couch becoming a place of refuge for days of catching up and dissection of my single life and hers with a husband and children.

Leisurely afternoons downtown, led to even more laid-back evenings back in my neighborhood. And whether it was meeting a bratwurst down by the Chicago Public Library or having al pastor burritos at the tiny place, Carmela’s, by my house, Robin got her fill of all-things Chicago. (At least the things that were important to me anyway, including getting to meet some of my friends here.)

And like my Mom, we had to go to Garrett’s.

The best thing about family? You can go nearly a decade without seeing them, but you know that you love them just as much as you always did.

Last month brought my last visitors to Chicago, my cousin Paul and his family. Here for a few days, I only got to spend their last night here with them due to work conflicts. But I am thankful I was able to get up with them … even if for only a few hours. Having never met Paul’s wife, Ofelya, I wasn’t sure how she would react to his long-lost cousin honing in on their vacation time, but I was immediately family to her as well. And her to me. Their son, Blake, provided most of the entertainment for the evening … When he wasn’t busy watching “Dora the Explorer,” that is.

It was more-than enlightening to see my cousin, now a grown man, with his family. But the time didn’t seem so far removed from the days we spent rolling down the hill in our grandparents’ backyard as children, our Mothers later picking all the Fall leaves off our clothes in time for family pictures.

See, in the end it all comes back to the leaves.

So bring them on.

RIGHT BRAIN WINS EVERY TIME

THE BEST OF THE REST, I GUESS. I PHOTOGRAPH A LOT OF THINGS THAT DON’T END UP IN MY BLOG (INCLUDING PICKLED BRUSSELS SPROUTS AT JOEL AND JEREMY’S CHRISTMAS PARTY.) VIOLENTLY ILL AT HOME TODAY, (NOT A GOOD MENTAL IMAGE WITH SPROUTS ABOVE, I AM SURE) I BEGAN ANOTHER WAY TO SHARE WHAT I SEE WITH ALL OF YOU WHO LOVE ME.

So what’s a girl to do when she’s too sick to leave her couch … but bored out of her mind? In my case, start a new blog.

I was in the mood to create today. (Truthfully, I was actually looking forward to going to work, as the need to make something was palpable. Unfortunately, my body had other ideas.)

Midday, I began to clean photos off my laptop, only to realize there were a lot from the last year that had not made my blog or the newspaper for some reason. My mother continues to ask me every time she reads something, “Did you take that picture?” I have to assure her again and again that I did, so this is mainly for her. (Again.) Now she can see the other images that were important enough for me to document with my thankfully work-provided, but all-together crappy, digital camera.

It’s also in part for my friend Joe, who has said I write too long for him sometimes. (There is more to that statement, but since I love him … I’ll refrain.) Ah critics … So now he can just flip through and look at pictures when he just needs to occupy his mind for a minute. Hats off to him.

After going a few years without taking many photographs at all, I will admit to being a little obsessive from time to time. But as those of you who know and love me surely realize, it’s all in my search to find more beautiful balance and continued growth in this world of mine. So I guess look at this as a companion piece to “SEEN IN CHICAGO.” Where my words describe what I see here, the lens will do it for me at the other. I write what I see. I shoot what I see. Sometimes I get it right/rite. Sometimes I don’t. All part of the learning process.

Ladies and gentlemen, untrained eye chicago.

I’m thankful for those of you who like seeing things my way.

http://untrainedeyedchicago.wordpress.com/

SINGING/LAUGHING AWAY THE BLUES

I’LL GIVE IT TO ANNIE CLARK, SHE GOT IT RIGHT THURSDAY NIGHT AT THE METRO … IF ONLY I HAD BEEN SO LUCKY EARLIER IN THE DAY. BUT BEING WRAPPED IN A MULTI-INSTRUMENTAL COCOON BROUGHT ME OUT OF MY INNER FUNK … NOT TO MENTION CHASED AWAY THE FRUSTRATED, YET PETTY, BLUES.

There are days … and then there are days.

Bad. Busted. Beaten. Broken. Bewildered.

Thankfully they are far and few in between. But man, when they hit … it can be so overwhelming you fight to focus on the things that matter. Struggling to ward off the petty, lest you get swept up in the sad nature of it all.

I am a designer. I am not a writer. My Mississippi English education doesn’t get me very far, sometimes I fear. But I write because I love it … because I need to … Misusing the word rite yesterday highlighted to me I still have a lot to learn. (I can accept that as I begin to focus on this new medium in my life.) And a much-thicker skin to grow. But I also don’t think a several-minute berating by a stranger via voicemail was warranted for my small mistake. I am neither young nor stupid. And you refer to me as Kathryn, sir … only friends can call me Kacy. Oh, and there are actual problems in the world, so maybe that energy you have should be used for some good.

And that was just the beginning … it all went downhill from there. (Believe me, too many things to list.) But why only focus on the nonsense when I was able to see so many things to pull me out of it? As always with the good comes the bad / the happy with the sad.

  • Bumping into my 2-year-old Valentine Emmanuel on the street / Getting no love from him because he would rather look at Huxley.
  • Realizing I lost one of my favorite gloves while getting dressed last night / Finding my glove bundled in the corner of my massive bag this morning on the train.
  • Thinking a guy on the train heading down to Addison had Tourette’s and found such striking beauty in it / Realizing the reason for his constant shakes and dancing around me was an awful lot of booze. (So then I just felt sad, but gained the ability to laugh at him for going the wrong way on the train.)
  • Two last-minute (but totally warranted) cancellations for my extra pass to St. Vincent / Feeling revived by the music that in a way, was only for me. (And being thanked by the guy at the Metro for not bringing anyone, as it was a totally sold-out show.)
  • Listening to a man talk incessantly about the lack of time he has to hard-boil his eggs / Getting to laugh at said freak for his soft-boiled talk while in line for a freaking show!
  • Cringing when I saw the packed Red Line at midnight leaving Addison and was wedged in between two guys in their 30s who had been playing beer pong since before 6 p.m. / Truly giggling the whole way home and wishing I could share the whole story. But Mom reads this, and it’s hard to describe why a stranger grabbed and hugged you because you gave him back a few “cool points” after scolding his friend for a crude comment.

Again, I appreciate the universe for the little joys in life. It’s one more step toward that balance I seek, I guess. Thankful for the lessons I was forced to learn yesterday. But even more grateful it became more about the music … and more about the laughter.

Because in the end, most of it doesn’t really matter. Right?

ST. VINCENT DID MAKE A FAN OUT OF ME, AS I FELT HER MUSIC TRANSLATED BETTER WITH A BACKING BAND AND NOT A COMPUTER PROGRAM. AS THEY WALKED OUT TO ICE-CUBE’S “IT WAS A GOOD DAY,” I FINALLY REALIZED THAT IT COMPLETELY WAS. (LOOK FOR MY FULL REVIEW OF THE SHOW MONDAY AT NWI.COM. I’LL TRY TO GET IT RIGHT.)

THE FACT THAT CUBS TICKETS WENT ON SALE TODAY CAN ONLY MEAN ONE THING: SPRING IS FINALLY AROUND THE CORNER. (YEAH, YEAH … SO IT’S MONTHS AWAY, BUT WE’RE CLOSER THAN WE WERE … AND A GIRL CAN PREMATURELY DREAM OF MORNINGS AT THE BEACH WITH HUXLEY AND READING A BOOK UNDER A TREE AT THE PARK.)

TUGGING AT MY HEARTSTRINGS

EMMANUEL, 2, MADE MY DAY ON THE RED LINE TODAY. QUITE A LITTLE FLIRT, WE KEPT EACH OTHER ENTERTAINED THE WHOLE TRIP HOME. YET ANOTHER EXAMPLE OF THE MANY FORMS LOVE CAN TAKE.

Ah Valentines … why must we only celebrate them on February 14? Late evening, a day later, and I find Cupid has brought me even more to love. One is sweet. One is petty. One is amazing. (Well, two actually on the last … but for continuity’s sake, since they are a couple, we’ll call them a one.)

I met him on the train coming home. The tears were fresh on his face, but once he saw me, I could tell immediately he was in the mood to flirt.

I was more than willing to oblige.

It started innocently enough, him peeking at me through his knit cap, pulling it up and down over his eyes. When I smiled back, and he did the same … well, I knew it was on. The headphones came out of one ear, in case the communication went past teasing looks and silly faces.

He was adorable. The way he mimicked my every move. Each time I touched my nose, he did the same. Each time I held out my gloved hand, his mitten-covered one reached out to me. We were all giggles as the train car began to fill with commuters. I would peek around people’s shoulders at him … the others adding another level to our cat-and-mouse game. His laughs were music to my ears …

(Well, one of them anyway, as I still had “Odd Blood” filling the other. Where, I might add it has pretty much stayed since Wednesday, as I have been completely transfixed by its beats and simple, emotional lyrics. I always let music find me when it does, and rarely do I buy something the week it’s released. Honestly, I didn’t know when I picked it up it had only been on vinyl 24 hours … I just knew I would be covering them when they played here in April, and at $10.99, it was a small work expense. Well, it obviously found me when it needed to … fortunately. See, maybe even a fourth Valentine in Yeasayer.)

… and Emmanuel, 2, knew just how to make a girl like me fall in love. And I was glad to keep him occupied for 25 minutes across the aisle, while his tired mother got a moment of peace and quiet. When they went to leave at Wilson, one stop before me, he reached out his hand to grab mine while walking by. I told him it had been a pleasure to meet him. And it had. (Now, if only the ones 13(ish) times his age could be as sweetly forward.)

Off the train, I ran into Starbucks. (See, told you the second was petty.) I’ve started stopping in a few times a week to grab a cup of coffee. Yes, I’m just a block from my house … where a French press and fresh (but cheap, thanks Trader Joe’s) beans await … but the time it takes to boil the water when all you want to do is warm up is worth paying $1.66. Plus, they know what I want before I even tell them. (Tall, steamed soy … so $2 really, as they get my change for remembering.) I like their bold coffee, hate me some Pike Place, but since that’s all you can get after noon, I’ve learned to deal.

But today was extra special. I paid my $1.66, (with my debit card, so sadly no tip) and I walked out with a grande with an added shot of espresso. (Done to make it taste like the bold, knowing I like it better. And that conversation was had months ago … yet the guy behind the counter found it important enough to commit to memory. And treat me unasked.) See good people in my neighborhood.

Which brings me to my amazing Valentine.

The first time I walked into my current apartment, I knew I was home. I had scoured craigslist for weeks, and nothing in my price range had even sparked my interest enough to tempt me to even view it. Until I saw the ad for a small, colorful place one block off the Red Line, half a block from The Green Mill. It was the only one I looked at. I paid my security deposit immediately, and wrote out checks for the next few months. It was mine.

Adding to its luster was its current tenant, Tiffani. We bonded immediately over Wilco, (I was carrying one of their bags that day) and our true, undying love for the heart-throbbing Glenn Kotche. (Smart girl, that Tiffani.) She and her husband, Deke, left for their larger place downtown almost three weeks before my lease began. I moved in immediately, no charge for rent or electricity for those 18 days. And their kindness has continued for the past 650 or so.

They have seen me through furloughs and unexpected trips home when my Father had his stroke and later passed away. If I had to pay my rent late and sent an extra fee, it was always sent back. (I finally learned not to even add it.) I am sure they know how much I love living here, and can only hope that has taken a load off their minds, as they have taken many off of mine.

When Tiffani texted me today to see if I could use her train card up in the next few weeks, I assured her I could. (And at $4.50 a day spent on the CTA, yet another load …) She and Deke will be leaving soon for Texas, as other opportunities await. But I know they leave loving this place, this building, this block, this neighborhood as much as I do. (Yes, tears here.) And I thank them for truly caring about me. (And I thank Facebook, as I can still laugh at her jokes from hundreds of miles away.)

Ah, that Cupid. He does give you things when most needed.

CHILLED TO THE BONE, CHILLED OUT

YES, MY AFFECTION FOR THESE TOWERS DOWNTOWN LIE WITH “YANKEE HOTEL FOXTROT,” BUT THE FALLING SNOW MADE THEM MORE MAGICAL. WALKING TO THE TRAIN TUESDAY NIGHT, I WAS THRILLED TO SEE SO MUCH OF THE WHITE STUFF FALLING FROM THE SKY.

Crap, it’s cold. Really, really cold. And why it feels that way, I’m not really sure.

Twenty-five degrees on a February night is pretty rare. We’ve already survived way-worse temperatures this winter … and we surely all dread the frigid ones to come. But man, there’s something in the air today that just won’t let me, or most people I saw, shake the chill.

Now granted, for some reason, we just can’t seem to get the temperature right at work, and there were moments I wondered if I would see my breath as I sat in front of my Mac this morning. I even called one of our always-prepared photographers, Natalie, to request feet- and hand-warmers I know she buys in bulk at Costco. When she got back from assignment and gave me enough to last a few days, I thought I heard angels singing. (Or maybe it was just a track off Yeasayer’s “Odd Blood” I had wafting from my tower.) Either way … a few shakes of a packet, and boy, what a huge difference.

It was no better on the train home from work, each time those doors opened … But I had aforementioned amazing album busting through my headphones and I never stopped moving the entire way. (I’m sure some people found me a bit weird, constantly tapping my feet from White Sox field to Uptown. But I have learned when you’re freezing, just move a little. It truly helps.)

Now, I am in my apartment … waiting for the radiators to kick into high gear. (That usually happens around 10 p.m., so close now.) But I know before I truly can get warm, the creature to my left eyeing my every move will want to be taken back outside one more time. Ah, the price you pay for pure love.

I know sometimes it can seem more painful than it really is, but I actually love winter. (Except for the ice, of course.)

I take in every snowflake I see. Four years on, each is still just as novel as the last. This week’s has been the best this winter so far … deep and beautiful. And to me, not a nuisance at all. It can slow you down a little, but good boots boost your confidence as you trudge through whatever is splattered across the sidewalks. (Now, watch me bust it when I take Huxley out in a minute.)

Yesterday was a perfect example of a magical winter day. I played hooky from work, wanting to soak up every second of the wonderland outside my window. The snow finally trickled to flurries mid-morning, and the pup and I played around for a while, as our courtyard had yet to be shovelled. By the time I left my house to head downtown to meet a friend for lunch, not a patch was to be found on the concrete. (I swear, I think fairies just show up sometimes.)

Despite the wind coming off the Chicago River, Michigan Avenue proved to be a nice walk after I deposited Christopher back at the Tribune building following a quick bite. The sun was shining, all the businesses had removed the accumulation in front of their store-fronts, fear of lawsuits surely speeding up the process. It wouldn’t have mattered though, as I had one destination in mind.

I said I wouldn’t do it this week, but I did end up at Reckless Records. Being so close (well, six or so blocks, anyway) to my favorite location on Madison, I couldn’t fight the draw. Two albums later, (Shame, shame on me … come on IRS, deposit that refund.) I happily walked to the Red Line, back home to enjoy another perfect winter day. (Even if the rest of it was spent cleaning, and later vegging out on Amy’s couch catching up on missed episodes of “How I Met Your Mother” and “The Big Bang Theory.”)

Truth be told, I guess I don’t mind so much living in an icebox. Now, if the heat would just come on.

THE SNOW WAS ALREADY PRETTY DEEP ONCE I GOT BACK TO UPTOWN, BUT THAT’S OK … I HAVE MY BOOTS, (AND LOTS OF KNEE-SOCKS TO PULL UP OVER MY LEGGINGS.) THE BEST $20 I EVER SPENT AT A ST. LOUIS WALMART.

THE DARLINGTON HOTEL AT THE CORNER OF LELAND AND RACINE IS ONE OF MY FAVORITE BUILDINGS ON MY STREET. IF FOR NOTHING ELSE, ITS AMAZING SIGNS AND THE INTERESTING CHARACTERS COMING IN AND OUT.

THE SNOW CONTINUED TO FALL STEADILY TUESDAY NIGHT AROUND UPTOWN, LEAVING US WITH INCHES AND INCHES OF THE WHITE STUFF, PLUS SOME BEAUTIFUL DRIFTS.

I ALWAYS FIND HUXLEY’S EYES A LITTLE CREEPY WHEN THE FLASH HITS THEM LIKE THIS, BUT I THINK IT ADDS TO THE ABOMINABLE SNOWMAN ASPECT OF IT ALL. AS YOU CAN SEE, HE HAD JUST ENJOYED ANOTHER TRIP OUTSIDE … A BIG FAN OF THE SNOW, THIS MISSISSIPPI-BORN BOY IS.

I LOVE THE COLOR OF THE SKY WHEN THERE IS A SNOWSTORM IN THE ATMOSPHERE. IT CAN GO TO GRAY TO WHITE AND BACK TO GRAY AGAIN … BUT SOMETIMES IT WILL SETTLE ON THIS AMAZING AMBER COLOR, WHICH IS TRULY MY FAVORITE.

WEDNESDAY MORNING SAW THE END OF THE DRIVING SNOW, BUT JUST THE BEGINNING OF A LOT OF CHAOS ON THE ROADS. THE CITY DOES A PRETTY DECENT JOB KEEPING ALL OF THE MAIN STREETS AND EXPRESSWAYS AS CLEAR AS POSSIBLE, SO THE SIDE STREETS ARE USUALLY PUT OFF UNTIL THE END OF THE STORM.

THANKFULLY MY STAIRS LEADING TO THE BACK PORCH ARE PRETTY PROTECTED, SO I NEVER HAVE TO DEAL WITH WHAT MY NEIGHBORS HAVE TO. NOPE, DON’T ENVY THEM AT ALL.

SNOW AND ICE SEEMINGLY COVER EVERYTHING FOR MONTHS IN CHICAGO, INCLUDING OUR BACK GATE. SOMETIMES I FIND MYSELF WALKING THROUGH GOLDEN HOUSE RESTAURANT NEXT DOOR BECAUSE BOTH THE GATE IS FROZEN, AS IS THE ALLEY I HAVE TO SKATE THROUGH TO GET BACK ON MY WAY TO THE FRONT OF MY BUILDING.

AS YOU CAN CLEARLY SEE, HUXLEY IS NOT AFRAID TO BE IN THE SNOW, BUT  HE’S GOT A BIT OF WINTER GEAR TO HELP KEEP HIM WARM. I’M NOT REALLY ONE TO DRESS UP MY ANIMALS, BUT THANKFULLY MY MOM IS. SHE ALWAYS BUYS HIM A WINTER COAT FOR CHRISTMAS, AND THIS YEAR HE GOT HAND-ME-DOWN SWEATERS FROM HIS AUNT GRETA AS WELL.

IF IT WEREN’T FOR THE SNOW EVERYWHERE, IT WOULD HAVE LOOKED LIKE SPRING BY MIDDAY WEDNESDAY. THE CLOUDS PARTED, THE SUN CAME OUT, AND IT MADE FOR A BEAUTIFUL DAY IN UPTOWN.

ADDING TO MY PERFECT DAY WAS THE ABILITY TO GET A PRETTY DECENT SHOT OF A BLANKETED GRACELAND CEMETARY FROM THE TRAIN. (USUALLY THEY COME OUT TOO BLURRY TO BE OF ANY SUBSTANCE.) THE SPRAWLING GROUND IS HOME TO MANY NOTABLE BODIES, INCLUDING THE FIRST MAYOR OF CHICAGO AND CHARLES DICKENS’ BROTHER AUGUSTUS.

ALTHOUGH THE STREETS AND SIDEWALKS DOWNTOWN WERE CLEAR, EVERY OTHER SURFACE (INCLUDING THE CTA BUSES) BARED TRACES OF THE TWO DAYS OF WICKED WEATHER.

THE VIEW ALONG THE CHICAGO RIVER WAS IDEALIC, EVEN IF THE WIND WAS A BIT BRUTAL. WITH THE AMOUNT OF SNOW ON THE GROUND, THE STAIRS REALLY HIGHLIGHT HOW DILIGENT CREWS WORK TO MAKE SURFACE AREAS SAFE FOR TRAVEL.

THESE PIGEONS FLOCKED (NO PUN INTENDED) TO ONE CLEAR SPOT ON A SIDEWALK ON WACKER THAT WAS OUT OF THE WAY OF FOOT TRAFFIC. DOZENS OF PEOPLE WALKED BY AS I STOOD AND SHOT THEM, AND NOT ONE OF THEM FLINCHED.

A CHANGE OF THOUGHT

NO MATTER WHERE YOU ARE IN CHICAGO, YOU CAN CONSTANTLY BE BOMBARDED WITH PEOPLE ASKING FOR MONEY. HOPEFULLY MOST GIVE IT WHEN THEY HAVE IT TO SPARE. IT IS HARD TO WATCH THE AVOIDANCE BY SOME AS THEY CLUTCH THEIR BANANA REPUBLIC SHOPPING BAGS … A SIMPLE “I DON’T HAVE ANYTHING” SHOWS MORE RESPECT THAN IGNORING ANOTHER HUMAN BEING.

“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times; it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness; it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity; it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness; it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair; we had everything before us, we had nothing before us; we were all going directly to Heaven, we were all going the other way.”

Thanks Charles Dickens, I couldn’t have said it better myself. (See, here I go again, stealing another artist’s words.)

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about balance. Taking the good with the bad, the happy with the sad. Searching for a gray area in a world that sometimes seems to only want to be black or white. But what I have recently discovered is the varying shades it can hopefully all be.

I believe in karma. I think that what you put out in the universe will eventually come back to fully reward you or bite you pretty hard in the ass.

I am not a kind person because I expect one day to be given a medal because I gave my last $1.45 away on the train last night. (I knew it was payday today, and I would have a means to the end of my “poverty” … at least for a minute.) I am kind because I do believe you should treat others as you would want to be treated.

The girl that came through the train I had seen once before, several months ago as I waited to board at Roosevelt. I had just left the grocery store across from the station when she approached several people around me, only to come up empty-handed. I knew I had no cash or change, so when she got to me I asked if she would want some food instead. Her response was emphatic, and she thanked me repeatedly as I tore off a banana and opened a box of granola bars to leave her with a few. So when she came through my car last night, I didn’t hesitate to give her half of what I had. (And truth be told, I had even borrowed that change from my friend Joe, to be doubly sure I had enough fare to get home last night.) And I was thankful to be able to give the rest of it away just a few minutes later, to a man seemingly in just as bad of a situation as the girl before him.

I’m fortunate to have a more-than decent life. I have wonderful family, friends and even some great colleagues.  I have a roof over my head and there is power charging up my laptop as I type this. I’ll go to Elim Wigs in the morning and treat myself to $10 worth of fantastic cheap jewelry or maybe a new hat; I’ll see a preview of a play tomorrow night; have meals with friends this weekend; and I already purchased Huxley a few bully sticks to celebrate his birthday, and a can of sardines for Talullah so she wouldn’t feel left out. I won’t be going to Reckless Records and buying any new vinyl, but maybe I’ll find a $3 gem at Shake Rattle and Read. I can only dream of taking a last-minute flight to Amsterdam, but walking my pooch to the beach so he can enjoy the ice and snow will be thrill enough for now.

I guess what I am trying to say is that my priorities are always covered, and sometimes I can treat myself to little “happies.” I have to remember  more to take great solace in that. When it comes to matters of finances, I need to not constantly see it as and all-encompassing, soul-sucking, stressful 3C-9017 … but view it as more of a 14-4106 TCX. (Sorry non-design geeks, those are Pantone colors … a British Traffic Black and the much lighter Gray Dawn.) So I’ll shift more towards 11-0602TPX (Snow White) and rejoice in the fact that I don’t have to walk up and down the aisle of a train to ask strangers for their change when I have the support that I do.

Someone will always be there to catch me if I do lose my balance.

In the best of times … or the worst of them.

THE BALANCE I SEEK COMES IN MANY FORMS … FROM SURVIVING THE BLEAK FAMIALARITY OF THE RED LINE EACH DAY OR YET ANOTHER SNOWY NIGHT IN CHICAGO … TO FINDING SNAPSHOTS OF COLOR AND KITSCH AROUND THE DECAYING CORNERS UP MY UPTOWN NEIGHBORHOOD.

TRAINING MYSELF TO LOOK AROUND

SWF SEEKS SWM BETWEEN THE AGES OF 25-35. MUST BE EMPLOYED. MUST LOVE FAMILY, DOGS, SMALL BABIES, SERIOUS CURVES AND MUSIC. MUST BE FUNNY. MUST BE ABLE TO PUT UP WITH MY ALMOST SMOTHERING BOUTS OF KINDNESS. MUST KNOW THIS COULD ALL JUST BE A PHASE. MUST KNOW I NEVER MAKE PLANS, AND I COULD FEEL DIFFERENTLY TOMORROW. MUST BE DARK ENOUGH TO SEE MY LIGHT. BEARD OPTIONAL, BUT PREFERRED.

I didn’t notice a single person on the train this morning.

(Well, there was this one stranger I made eye-contact with a few times … but that’s only because I had to look away every once in a while.)

As much as I’d like to say they are, my 3 hours of commuting aren’t always worth the effort. (But, on the bright side, I don’t have to drive two hours a day, stuck in stressful traffic, worried about other drivers, the speed limit, potholes, road construction, 18-wheelers … after three years of it, it simply took a beating on me and my car.)  But sometimes I’d rather be anywhere else.

But today, today was different. No iPod … no dodging glances … worrying about strangers getting too close to me.

I was taken away from all of that by the simplest of things: An actual conversation.

It started on the platform and lasted from Lawrence to Lake (11 stops, if you’re counting) where I then went to the left, and him to the right.

We talked about getting married. (Not to each other … just our thoughts on it.) We talked about children.

We talked about Internet dating. (“Have you tried it,” he asked? “Yes, I actually am for the first time. It’s creepy.” Yep. You heard me right … don’t judge, I’m a very busy girl, it’s cold outside, and I thought it would be an easier way to meet people in Chicago. Now that I’m open to meeting them, that is … But other than finding people from far away that I am forming friendships with … well it is downright CREEPY. And remember from my earlier post, I’m a big girl … so that cuts my choices down significantly, and unfortunately ups the perviness of it all. But thank God, I’m smart enough to know that.)

But back in the real world …

We talked about music. We talked about politics. We talked about world events. (I admitted I had cried every day since the earthquake in Haiti.)

We talked about our dogs. We talked about growing up in small towns.

We just talked.

And yes, he was attractive … his one dimple showing every time he smiled or laughed … (Which was a lot … What can I say? I’m a funny girl.) … the slight gap between his teeth (And not in the middle, on the side, which makes it even sexier.) … the graying stubble … (I am a complete sucker for a beard … or even the slightest hint of one.)

And yes, he was totally crush-worthy … (See aforementioned attributes above.)

And no, this wasn’t our first conversation, although probably our longest. We’ve run into each other a few times before. See, he’s one of my 42+ neighbors in my complex … and just a little bit too old for me. (Not that I’ve ever gotten the feeling we were each other’s “types.”)

If it had been anyone else, I might have found it almost like a round of speed-dating. (By the way, never going to try that one.)

And although he’s just a friend, and clearly not the one for me, the non-monotonous way I started my day surely showed me one thing …

After a few weeks of the Internet thing, I think my best chance of actually meeting someone I could be interested in is by actually meeting them … on a train, in a bar, getting coffee or simply walking down the street …

And then having a conversation.

THE PLACES I GO … THE STARES I FACE

YES YOU … THERE ON THE LEFT, FACING ME … I KNEW YOU WERE STARING AT ME THE WHOLE COMMUTE. NOW STOP IT. IT’S GETTING WAY TOO CREEPY HERE ON THE RED LINE FOR ME.

DISCLAIMER: This post may be a little more information than you want to know about me. I am warning you … not for the faint of heart. (OK, OK being a bit dramatic … but maybe this editor’s note is more for me, and the fact that I am even writing this. Or have to.)

It’s no secret … I’m a big girl. Big belly, big thighs, big ass.

It is what it is. And what it’s always been.

And it’s something I am most of the time OK with. (Come on now … everyone’s got some things they want to change about themselves. But I’m much, much smaller than I was years ago, I’m a true vegetarian, I’m constantly moving, I’m healthy … and yes, hopefully one day I’ll find a gym that I actually like going to … and can afford … in my neighborhood. Ha.)

But to me, it’s not what defines me. (Want to pigeon-hole me? It’s the creativity … the kind and pure heart … the want to learn … the need to grow … that I’d rather be known for.) Again, it is what it is.

At least for me. The same can’t be said for others … both sort of good and really bad.

Let’s start with the bad, and get that out of the way. Coming home on the train last night, immersed in Bon Iver’s Daytrotter session, I was excited about the prospects of what awaited me in Uptown. It was the end of a rather long – but pretty decent – work day. Despite being in the midst of an hour-and-a-half commute, I was pretty upbeat. Until they got on the train.

Well her anyway.

Youngish couple, both short and thin. As soon as the doors closed, she looked at me like I was going to devour her, and well, quite frankly it scared me a little. Not to mention pissed me off. So, for a solid 10 minutes, I endured her points and comments to her boyfriend, the direct stares at me.

(And believe me … I wasn’t just being paranoid here. I am fortunate to have had very few people ever make fun of me because of my size. I know most see me instantly for my beauty … my sense of style … my openness. My Mom was the first to really point it out to me last time she was here. We were walking down Belmont, doing some shoe shopping – her for me, of course, my wonderful Mom – when she commented that everyone walking by just stared at me. Men, women … everyone … and in a good way. And it’s true. Usually.)

When the man got up from the seat across from me, and they sat down three feet from where I was standing, I knew in my gut I wouldn’t be able to take it anymore. I stood there, for a few stops, begging the stripped-down-then-upbeat, bluesy version of “Creature Fear” to drown out the thoughts in my head. Because here was the thing, she was ugly. Horribly broken down, beat-up ugly. (And no amount of money could hide it … no matter how much the boots she had on cost, it didn’t change her face, nor her aura.) And I never would have noticed it had she not been so obviously disgusted by me. Judge not, lest you be judged is truly the way to live for me, and I am thankful that each and every one of us is a different creature. And it saddened me to see all her bad.

Three stops before mine, I moved to the door and as far away from her as I could possibly get. But not from her stares. Seriously? Really?

And then the doors finally opened, and I was free. And I wished her along on her miserable “I’ve got it all” existence. Bye-bye.

But I have to give her boyfriend a little credit – which he needs if he’s with her – he never fed into her cruelty, at least as far as I could tell. In fact, I never even noticed him look my way past the first time. And believe me, whether I’m looking at you or not, I know when someone’s staring.

Which brings us to the good. (Well … kind of anyway.)

Ah, the stares. On a train, packed or not, lately I have a few instances of full-commute leering. (And I mean every time I looked up … the eyes were still there, locked on me. A few stops, OK … maybe. Five minutes … why don’t you just try to get my attention. 10 minutes … we’re getting a tad bit creepy here fellow. Craning your neck to stare at me out the window as I exit the train 30 minutes later … what gives, serial killer?)

Now, I’m OK with the frequent looks, the eye contact, the suggestive glances. We’re all human. And during rush-hour, we’re all about the same age … heading to an office where we almost won’t see the light of day until we walk out the door the next morning to board the train all over again. I’m sure many a lasting love-connection has been made during a commute. (Plus the help of craigslist.com.)

So cool. Check me out. I’m open to possibilities. (Actually, for the first time in a long, long time. Weird to some of you, I’m sure.)

But if you find me attractive enough to stare through your entire commute and you can’t even say hello, well, that’s just insane. You’re either a pervert or you care WAY too much about what other people think. (And unfortunately, yes, it’s what my best friend has decided is the problem when it comes to men and me.)

So stop undressing me with your eyes and just move on.

Or simply grow some balls. (Sorry Mom.)

It is what it is.

And this is my commute.

A VERY ‘CHIVALROUS’ CHICAGO

AN OPEN SEAT DURING RUSH-HOUR IS A RARE THING ON THE CTA’S RED LINE. BUT IF THERE IS ONE OPEN AROUND ME, I’M SURE SOME MAN IS GOING TO POINT IT OUT TO ME SO I CAN HAVE A SEAT.

Yes, I see it. There’s is an open seat right across from where I am standing.

“Would you like to sit down?” the man asks me, as he gestures to the empty spots.

“No, thank you though,” I tell him. “I really would rather stand.” (And I would … I pick the same spot on the Red Line twice a day, one that offers me the ability to lean against the wall of the train. It’s a great spot to avoid the throngs of commuters, get lost in an album on my iPod and perfect to avoid making eye contact with some of the creeps who always seem to be going my way.)

But the problem is, I feel as if I am letting him down when I tell him no. (At least the crazy look he gives me let’s me know that I am.)

Didn’t mean to hurt your feelings sir by refusing your offer …

Chivalry, it seems, is not dead.

Well, not in his mind, anyway. Had it been a packed train, me struggling to stay on my feet, bags in hand … and the man got out of his seat and then offered it to me … well good for him. But you see, he had done nothing for me except point out the obvious.

This is something that happens quite often for me, and I am not really sure why. (I am not pregnant, disabled nor elderly, and by law, they are the only ones you have to get up for on the CTA … not that anyone ever really does.) But at least once a week, someone is pointing out an open seat in the car I am on. (And no, I’m not blind either.) I know people are just trying to be nice. I know that of the older Asian gentleman who got out of his seat on the bus yesterday, came over to where I was standing making chit-chat with a stranger, and preceded to lower the seats off the wall for us.

“Sit down, you can sit down,” he told us in his broken English.

“Thank you,” I told him. “We know.”

“We know, we know,” the guy I was conversing with repeated to him. We had both purposely picked the spot where the seats were flipped up against the wall for wheelchair access. (Him because to sit he would have to remove his backpack. Me, because I knew I would only be on the bus for mere blocks.) He rolled his eyes at me as I stood there silently debating what to do.

Normally, I would have just continued to stand – I only had two stops left to go. But there was something so earnest about the way he wanted to help us that made me go against my own sense of normality.

So, I sat down as thanked him again. Then exited the bus a full one minute later. But I had at least made the gesture he offered me a viable one in his mind.

Even if I knew I could sit down all along.

GOING OFF THE RAILS ON A CRAZY TRAIN

REDLINE2

THIS PICTURE ON THE CTA’S RED LINE WAS OBVIOUSLY TAKEN OVER THE SUMMER, AS THERE IS NO SEA OF THE NORTH FACE APPAREL. IT SEEMS AS THOUGH THE MORE CROWDED THE CARS GET DURING RUSH HOUR, THE MORE RIDERS DO STUPID THINGS ON THEIR COMMUTE HOME.

Hey there, Mr. Wrigleyville … there is such a thing as personal space. (Even if the train car is so packed that none of us can move.)

Did you really just pick your nose and lick your finger?

Wait … Don’t grab the pole now – other people have to touch it.

Again? You have to do it again? (And again, and again, and again …)

Yes, this was the entertainment I got for free on the CTA’s Red Line this morning – five inches from my face. Shudder.

For those of you who know me, you know what a champion I am for public transportation. I’ll admit it, I’m a little geeky about it. I actually look forward to getting on the train each morning at 7:30 a.m. – and love it even more at 6:00 p.m. I’m a stander, and I always choose the same spot against the wall, out of the way, perfect for people watching. (And plenty of space to tap my feet to Panda Bear’s “Comfy In Nautica,” anything off of “Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix” or the Yeah Yeah Yeahs if I want to drown out the masses … Or, I can put on Bon Iver’s “For Emma, Forever Ago” or Band of Horses and actually have some pretty zen moments between all the stops.)

No matter how many people are crammed into the car, it takes a lot for me to feel uncomfortable or overcrowded on the train. It’s just part of city life, I tell myself, and at $2.25 a trip, it’s worth it for my 15-stop ride.

But lately, I have seen a few things that have elevated my normal commute into a case study of humanity. Deep, huh?

(And no, I won’t stoop to try to analyze why crazy nose-picker did what he did this morning.)

• Last week, there was an issue with the Purple Line, so the trains were running the same route as the Red Line. (Confusing for some of you that don’t live in Chicago, I’m sure … but honestly not worth explaining in detail.) No big changes, I can assure you. Lucky if you had to take the Purple Line – you got an express trip home. Need the Red Line? Change at Belmont or Fullerton … crisis adverted. Needless to say, you would have thought a bomb had gone off in the subway, as so many were in hysterics about how the system was working. I finally realized what the problem was: people’s routines had been thrown off. I think so many are used to the planned-out moments of every day. You know, wake up, shower, feed the kids, walk the dog, get the train, go to work, get the train, go home, make dinner, clean the house, watch television, go to bed, and over and over again … But throw just a tiny little kink in that plan, and suddenly you’ve got mass chaos. Don’t worry folks, you’ll make it home for “Dancing With the Stars.” (Again shudder.)

• The North Face never needs to advertise on the Red Line. The dozens or so sporting their jackets, backpacks or hats that get on my car each morning are doing a mighty fine job for them. Now, I’m sure many of you are wondering what I have against The North Face, and for the record, nothing. As my photographer friend Christopher – who is sporting the company’s comfortable black jacket today – said, “they’re practical.” Yes, I’ll agree that for him, who has to get out in the elements to do his job sometimes, it may be necessary. So, he gets a pass. The issue I find hard to swallow is how homogenized everything and everyone becomes as the weather drops. When half the guys and girls are all in the same black jacket, there is a level of depression that comes along with it for me. Just because it is not as bright outside anymore doesn’t mean we’re all dead like the trees, right?

• When the recorded voice comes over the loudspeaker with “doors closing,” it means just that. The. Doors. Are. Closing. Twice here recently, I have watched two people ignore that fact and do really stupid things just to catch the train. (For the record, they come about every 3-5 minutes during rush hour, so no long wait in between.) The first, a young guy, threw his arm into the doorway as the doors were, ahem, closing. All I could see was his limb sticking through the doorway and the shocked look on his face outside as the train began to move. Another passenger and myself began frantically trying to pry the door open as the train inched along. Failing that, I dove for the handicap emergency button, causing the conductor to stop the train and the door to open. The other passenger trying to help and I collapsed with relief. The moron who was in such a hurry he almost lost his life, simply sauntered in smirking and sat down. (And no, there was not a “thank-you.”) Last week during all of the Purple/Red Line confusion, a lady crammed her way into an already-overpacked car just as the doors slammed shut. Only problem? Her bag did not make it with her. So, as the train moved along, she just kept talking about needing to get her bag out of the door. As we stopped for a minute on the above-ground tracks, I watched in amazement as she went to grab the handle that opens the doors in an emergency. Thankfully, about five of us commuters screamed “NO!” at the same time, which stopped her from sending several people splattering to the ground. Thirty-seconds later, we were at the Fullerton stop, the doors opened, her precious bag was free – and everyone was still alive.

It may be easy to say that in a perfect world, my daily travels would consist of idiot-free, The North Face-free, snot-free rides. But come on, this is reality.

Thank God I can turn on Belle & Sebastian, close my eyes, and make it all go away.

(Or at least remember why truly I love the CTA.)

REDLINE

HOME, SWEET, LAWRENCE STOP. IF I CAN SURVIVE THE SILLINESS PEOPLE BRING TO THE EVERY DAY COMMUTE, THIS IS THE SIGN I LOOK MOST FORWARD TO SEEING. JUST ONE BLOCK AWAY, AND I KNOW I WILL BE IN THE SAFE CONFINES OF MY APARTMENT – AND AWAY FROM THE CRAZINESS ON THE TRAIN.