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.

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2009: MY YEAR IN REVIEW

ONE OF THE TOP MOMENTS OF THE YEAR FOR ME CAME AT PITCHFORK IN JUNE. I WAS MORE THAN EXCITED TO BE THIS CLOSE TO THE FLAMING LIPS FRONTMAN WAYNE COYNE. (EVEN IF I WAS IN AN AREA WHERE I WASN’T SUPPOSED TO BE.)

JUST SOME OF THE BEAUTY DOWNTOWN CHICAGO HAS TO OFFER … ON ONE OF THE FEW SUNNY DAYS WE HAD THIS PAST SUMMER.

THE SHOW PUT ON BY DAN DEACON AT LOLLAPALOOZA THIS YEAR MADE ME PROUD TO BE A TRUE FAN OF MUSIC … AND EVEN HAPPIER THAT I GET TO WRITE ABOUT IT.

DURING A LABOR (NOT LABOUR) DAY BARBECUE WITH FRIENDS, HUXLEY AWAITS HIS SECOND PIECE OF STEAK EVER … HAVING JUST HAD HIS FIRST SECONDS BEFORE. NOW THAT MY FRIENDS, IS PURE JOY.

LIVING DOWN THE STREET FROM THE BUSIEST FIRE STATION IN CHICAGO TRULY HAS ITS DISADVANTAGES … BUT THE FIREMEN THERE ARE SO FRIENDLY, AND HUXLEY ALWAYS KNOWS HE CAN GET A TREAT. (IF IT’S WARM ENOUGH FOR THE GARAGE DOORS TO BE OPEN, THAT IS.)

THIS WAS ONE OF THE MOST PATIENT DOGS I HAVE HAD THE FORTUNE TO OBSERVE. LEADING HIS OWNER AROUND A CROWDED RED LINE HAS GOT TO BE A THANKLESS TASK, BUT I’M GRATEFUL I GOT TO SEE IT.

ALWAYS A HIGHLIGHT OF ANY DAY FOR ME IN UPTOWN IS ENJOYING A CUP OF COFFEE WITH JOEL BY THE WINDOW AT GOLDEN HOUSE RESTAURANT.

DESPITE HAVING TO RUSH MOST DAYS AS NOT TO MISS A TRAIN, I HAVE FULLY EMBRACED THE LIFE OF A COMMUTER THIS PAST YEAR … EVEN IF IT HAS BEEN DUE TO AN UNFORTUNATE SITUATION, THE LACK OF A WORKING CAR. (AND A SERIOUS LACK OF FUNDS TO REMEDY IT.)

THOUGH IT WAS SAD THAT MY BEST FRIEND ROBIN’S SON, GARY MICHAEL, BROKE HIS ARM OVER THANKSGIVING, IT WAS AN ENLIGHTENING EXPERIENCE BEING THERE TO SEE HIS CAST PUT ON. DESPITE BEING ONLY FIVE, HE HANDLED IT LIKE A TROOPER.

THIS FAMILY JUST CAPTURED ME ONE DAY ON THE LAWRENCE BUS. I DON’T KNOW IF IT WAS THEIR BLUE PUFFER JACKETS OR JUST HOW ANIMATED THEY ALL WERE, BUT I ENJOYED WATCHING THEM FOR BLOCKS.

AGAIN … WAITING FOR YET ANOTHER TRAIN, BUT I LOVE THIS VIEW FROM THE PLATFORM. THE ARAGON IS SUCH A MAGNIFICENT VENUE.

Oh 2009, won’t you just go away already?

Counting down what’s left of this year …

(Don’t be confused by the time stamp of this post, I can’t be bothered to change it from U.K. time. Even though I am punished for it by having certain words show up as misspelled … It’s theater, not theatre … it’s humor, not humour … But since most of you know London is one of my favorite (not favourite) places on earth, it’s kind of fitting.)

… and I am waiting with frenzied anticipation for this one to beat it.

Go away … Scram … We don’t want you around here no more.

Oh so close, is how I can best describe the past 365 days … or 397 if you stretch it back to when my Dad died. (It’s all quite a blur really, each has smudged into the next.)

It’s been a year of heartache, of adjusting to changed dynamics all across the board … family, friends, lovers … life in general.

Are you really still here 2009? It feels as if the few minutes it’s taken me to write this has been an eternity.

It’s been a year of stress, I type through clenched teeth. I have accomplished things professionally, and thankfully creatively, that I never thought possible. (Moments of which I wouldn’t have wished on anyone else, hence the anxiety. The ones that caused me to lose my sense of humor (not humour) a bit … painful …

But all of it mixed with such discoveries that I almost want to think it worth it.

Ah, those discoveries …

The writing … the photography … the moments I have been able to capture this year … that’s where I count myself so very fortunate. New experiences that I would have been jealous had I not lived them myself. Special moments in my life …

… Two feet from Wayne Coyne at Pitchfork … and sharing that wonderful weekend with fantastic friends; Ruining brand new shoes traipsing through pouring rain the first day of Lollapalooza while introducing my visiting Mother to the music of Bon Iver and Ben Folds … and sweating my ass off during the hottest day of the summer 24 hours later, grasping hold of the greatest 45 minutes of my festival-going life during the Dan Deacon Experience; Grizzly Bear entrancing ever fiber (not fibre) of my being at The Metro … and sitting by Pat Sansone (sigh) while numbed by the sound …

… My first full Christmas with my best friend of 17 years, spent with her in-laws in St. Louis … the joy on her kid’s faces when discovering Santa’s bounty and later while sledding is captured in my mind forever. (Along with the unfortunate moment when I sliced my hand through a glass candle holder playing Wii tennis. The sound of that is an mp3 somewhere in my brain.)

… Being able to fish with my nephew over Thanksgiving … Knowing I am fortunate enough to have amazing family that loves and misses me, as I do them. (But are accepting enough to know that Chicago is my home now … no matter how long I choose to try to survive it’s terrible winters. Allowing me to embrace everything Uptown has to throw at me … good and bad.)

… Finding a new friend, with an amazing number of things in common … someone I told more to than anyone else over the last seven months (And vice versa, as I thankfully got to hear wonderful tales of family life.) … only to have lost him yesterday to a new job in the city. Our daily commute will be mourned, along with the ladies who came to love me at the Starbucks where we met each morning, and the seat warmers in the Subaru.

… Again, so close. The always perpetual Catch-22.

(And notice I didn’t bring back up the boys? That’s because there’s only about seven hours of greatness I can take away from 2009 … A night that forced me to confront some walls … finally woke me up … changed me.  The rest … well, quite frankly, delete.)

But here’s to the next 52 weeks. Despite the hiccups of this past year, I am truly filled with hope. Opening a Christmas card today from a friend in California who unexpectedly welcomed a daughter this year, I was fully hit with the notion that life can change in a split-second.

So here’s to 2010 … may it be filled with wonderful things for everyone that I know and love, including me.

Now, if I can just make it through the next 3 minutes.

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.

CELEBRATE THE UNEXPECTED GOOD IN LIFE

GRIZZLY1

This may be the weirdest review of a rock show that you ever read.

I could simply relate how amazing Grizzly Bear was last weekend at the Metro in Chicago.

(Which they were.)

I could tell you all the songs they played or how much better they sounded live.

(They dug deeper into their sound than any recordings I had heard.)

I could share about the simplicity of the setup and the lights that flanked the stage.

(Quite possibly one of the most plainly beautiful shows I have ever seen.)

But come on, you’ve read hundreds of reviews like that before.

What I would rather tell you about is what the show actually meant to me in the whole scheme of life.

Like most people, this past year has not been the easiest for me.

I lost my father last November; my grandfather in February.

Financially, I am frightened most days as I struggle to keep my electricity turned on. And more than thrilled when I can pay a bill on time.

Work has been a little chaotic – to say the least.

I’ve been sick. My dog, Huxley, has been too – not to mention how costly it was to make him better!

(Stop this train. I want to get off.)

Needless to say, I have tried in vain to keep a sense of humor as the universe continues to throw curveballs my way.

Ah, the universe. This is where we get back to Grizzly Bear – sort of.

I sat in the VIP section at the Metro for the show. (Yes, there was a minute there when I felt like I had truly arrived.) Usually I hang with the crowd on the floor in front of the stage, but since it was a sold-out show, I knew my chances of actually seeing the band were better in the balcony.

I sat through Beach House – Grizzly Bear’s amazing opening act – as I waited patiently for my friend, Shawn, to join me at the show.

We were deep in conversation as Grizzly Bear started to set up their instruments on stage. I happened to glance over Shawn’s shoulder, only to be met with a familiar face.

At first I thought my eyes were playing tricks on me, but alas I was right.

Pat Sansone, multi-instrumentalist for Wilco, was there to watch Grizzly Bear … and he was going to do it sitting by me.

Bring it on universe. Bring. It. On.

For me – someone who finds great solace in great music – the night was a dream. One of my favorite bands blew my socks off, as well as impressing an equally talented – yet more famous – musician.

It’s the little unexpected joys that you need to remember the most in life. Moments that are for you, and you only.

These are the things that we need to focus on. Not the lack of money, the loss of life, the chaos of every day.

I know it may sound funny that this is what I took away from an small, indie-rock show.

But I believe that is the “meaning of life” we all seek out: Learn from everything thrown at you.

So I choose to revel in the glory of the night – the lights, the sound, the musicians themselves. I choose to focus on the blue-eyed boy I bonded with at a wedding a few weeks ago. I choose to get excited when I my favorite CTA conductor is driving my train. (Nothing makes a morning commute better than having Operator 810 “welcome me to the party” over the loudspeaker.) I choose to worship the colors fall is bringing our way.

No matter what the universe has in store.

On a side note, Sansone was later asked to move from the reserved table he was occupying. (Even though whomever it was saved for did not show up for the show.) I heard the conversation between him and the Metro staffer. Words like “ridiculous” and “insane” were floated around. But not once did Sansone ever say the infamous, “Do you know who I am?”

He and his girlfriend simply stood up to watch the rest of the show with the rest of us.