LIFE, AND ITS BEACH

MY FRIEND, HUNTER, WHO WAS NICE ENOUGH TO TAKE HUXLEY AND I TO MONTROSE BEACH SUNDAY AFTERNOON, MAKES HIS WAY OUT OF LAKE MICHIGAN WITH MY PUP. A FELLOW SOUTHERNER … AND BEACH LOVER … THE HOURS SPENT ON THE SAND SEEMED TO DO HIM JUST AS MUCH GOOD AS IT DID ME.

“I need a crowd of people, but I can’t face them day to day. Though my problems are meaningless, that don’t make them go away. I need a crowd of people, but I can’t face them day to day.” NEIL YOUNG, “ON THE BEACH”

Zombies.

Every one of them.

As I made my commute downtown this morning, I was hit with that oddest of sensations.

It being a Monday, there was the normal sense of agony as everyone made their way to offices downtown and beyond. But today there was an added level of anxiety in the atmosphere, masked by an eerie silence, as I passed the throngs of people pouring out of Millennium Station. Heads down, hurriedly moving about like scattering cockroaches as a light is flipped on, most walked as if in mourning.

And I was one of them as I contemplated my return to another day full of dread following joys of this weekend. Ah, the weekend … that wonderful heat-filled-sunshine-radiating-get-me-outside-then-back-into-an-air-conditioned-apartment 48-hour period that just passed.

The first of the “summer” here in Chicago.

Following weeks of stormy weather, cool temperatures and the odd 60-degree day, Mother Nature decided to reward our patience with a week filled with digits in the 80s and slight chances for rain. Saturday was quite calm as the weather began its transition.

But Sunday … Ah, Sunday.

The minute I stepped outside to walk Huxley, I knew what a wonderful day it would be. Removing my thin sweater at 9 a.m. as we made our way around our Uptown neighborhood was the first sign of wonderful things to come. By the time we made it back home, the warming rays of sunshine had encompassed every fiber of my being, and the resulting switch in mood was palpable.

The complaints over the “sweltering” heat began early for some around me, yet I continued to revel in temperatures normally reserved for March back home in Mississippi. The window unit, left in a bout of laziness at the end of last summer, was switched on in the house as I watched my 15-pound dog pant profusely when we returned from our walk … Which left me wondering if I was the only one relishing in the quick switch outside.

I soon discovered I wasn’t.

Hundreds of canines and their smart owners covered the sand at Montrose Beach Sunday afternoon, as it seemed every dog lover had the same idea in the 80+ degree heat. Splashing through the knee-deep water and walking along the sand with my pup and some friends, Hunter, David and then Joel, I began to regain some of the spirit a lack of Vitamin D seemed to have sucked from my body. Now, I am left hoping the feeling garnered from nearly two hours spent with my toes in the sand will last.

As I sit at my desk today, facing the open window, it is taking every ounce of strength I have not to go crashing through it just to get outside.

But, since I would rather not spend the week covered in stitches, I’ll be patient.

I’ll move like all the other zombies, towards another warm weekend.

Yep. No turning back now … Summer is here.

GET HUXLEY IN THE BACKSEAT OF ANY CAR, AND HE CAN SOMEHOW FIGURE OUT WHERE WE ARE GOING. LIKE ME, HE WOKE UP IN THE BEST MOOD ON SUNDAY, WHICH ONLY CONTINUED AS WE MADE OUR WAY TO THE BEACH THAT AFTERNOON.  THE JUXTAPOSITION OF MY PANTING PUP AND HUNTER’S WINTER GLOVES STILL IN THE BACKSEAT SHOWS HOW WACKY THE WEATHER HAS BEEN HERE IN CHICAGO RECENTLY.

IF YOU EVER WONDER WHAT PURE JOY LOOKS LIKE, THIS IS IT FROM A CANINE PERSPECTIVE. I HAVE OFTEN SAID THAT FOR HUXLEY, THE BEACH IS LIKE HEAVEN ON EARTH … AND IF ALL DOGS ACTUALLY DO GO TO HEAVEN, I HOPE, FOR HIS SAKE, SAID PLACE WILL BE THE BEACH FOR ALL ETERNITY.

THIS VENDOR SHOWED DEDICATION LIKE NO OTHER AS HE PUSHED HIS ICE CREAM CART THROUGH THE THRONGS OF PEOPLE ALONG THE SAND SUNDAY AFTERNOON. THE JINGLING BELLS HAVE BECOME SYNONYMOUS WITH A JAUNT TO THE BEACH, AS DOZENS SELL THEIR WARES ON WARM DAYS.

DOZENS OF DOGS AND THEIR OWNERS CAN BE SEEN IN THE LENSES OF HUNTER’S WAYFARERS AS HE SURVEYS THE BEACH. AND I THINK HE WILL AGREE WITH ME WHEN I SAY THAT THE WATER WAS ACTUALLY QUITE WONDERFUL … FOR A LAKE ANYWAY.

AS THE CLICHE GOES, “STICK A FORK IN HIM …” AFTER A QUICK SHOWER UPON OUR RETURN FROM THE BEACH, HUXLEY WAS DONE FOR THE DAY. AND RIGHTFULLY SO, AS HE SEEMS TO COVER MILES OF SAND DURING OUR AFTERNOONS AT MONTROSE HARBOR.

A (NEAR) PERFECT TWO DAYS

SPENDING AN HOUR LOOKING THROUGH RECORDS AT SHAKE, RATTLE & READ WAS NOT ON THE AGENDA FOR SATURDAY, BUT MY FRIEND KIRK AND I FOUND OURSELVES THERE IN HONOR OF NATIONAL RECORD STORE DAY. I’M NOT QUITE SURE WHAT IT IS ABOUT MY WEEKENDS LATELY … NO MATTER WHAT I PLAN, I NEVER SEEM TO GET ANY OF IT ACCOMPLISHED.

Oh … the weekend.

It doesn’t matter how my week is going at work, I am on constant countdown for Friday now that warmer weather has finally hit. When 5 p.m. came this past one, I knew I had no other concrete plans than grabbing a beer with friends that night at Hopleaf … and I liked it that way.

Cleaning house, seeing a friend I keep canceling on and going to watch “The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas,” which another friend has music directed, were the main items on my agenda for Saturday and Sunday.

But somehow, it never seems to go that way.

My friend Kirk and I celebrated National Record Store Day Saturday afternoon at Shake, Rattle & Read. Less than $10 was spent for Sonny Rollins and XTC on vinyl, and I was proud of my finds … and Kirk’s $15 copy of “Zeppelin III” as well. Then we were off to take Huxley to the dog beach at Montrose Harbor … which thankfully wore him out for the rest of the day. When Kirk dropped us off after the beach, I told him I would come up to his place after I cleaned some, so we could hang out and listen to records.

Less than an hour later, I was standing in the middle of Target with my friend Jessica. Having gotten a ZIP car for work in the suburbs Saturday, she called to see if there were any errands I needed to run before she returned the vehicle. Although nothing was pressing for me, spending the early evening doing retail therapy with a great girl was enough incentive for me. After lots of laughs – and lots of cash – I found myself back at home … and later at Kirk’s for coffee and Katamari. (Yes, I am too old to be playing video games … but it’s quite an amazing one.)

Sunday morning found Kirk, his roommate Hunter and I waiting for more than an hour to sit down for brunch at Tweet. (Even a screaming baby at the table next to us could not override our joy at finally being seated.) A favorite place for the guys, it was my first time venturing into the “famed” breakfast spot. The coffee is great, the food fresh and the staff super friendly … Although fully worth the wait, I’ll be making it a point to go during the week now that the sun has come out of hiding.

After a necessary walk back home, we found ourselves lounging on the couch listening to Beck’s “Sea Change” as we gave our food time to digest. Next, we all headed north on the Red Line for coffee at Metropolis where we hung out for an hour or so enjoying our lattes and French presses while deciding what to do next. We agreed on “dinner” (cheese and crackers … fresh pineapple … and later ice cream) and went our separate ways, after agreeing to meet up again just an hour later.

And that’s exactly what we did, as we ended our weekend back on their couch with snacks and “Inglourious Basterds.”

It’s Monday now …

My apartment looks as if it was hit by a tornado. I never went to see my friend Amy. Thankfully, “Whorehouse” runs through June. And I have further proof of why I don’t like to actually make plans.

Besides … there’s always next weekend to accomplish all the things I failed to do.

It’s only about 96 hours away anyway.

YES, THE FACT THAT IT IS FINALLY SPRING HAS A LOT TO DO WITH ME FEELING SO RESTLESS AT THE MOMENT. AS TULIPS POP UP EVERYWHERE ALONG THE STREETS OF UPTOWN, I FIND MYSELF WANTING TO SPEND AS MUCH TIME AS POSSIBLE OUTSIDE ENJOYING NATURE’S COLORS.

TWEET, JUST A 10-MINUTE WALK FROM MY UPTOWN APARTMENT, PROVIDED A GOOD WAY TO BREAK UP THE MONOTONY, AS I USUALLY END UP AT GOLDEN HOUSE NEXT DOOR TO MY BUILDING FOR BREAKFAST WITH FRIENDS ON THE WEEKEND. DESPITE THE DELICIOUSNESS OF THE FOOD AND COFFEE BOTH, THE FIRST HOUR AT THE RESTAURANT WAS EXCRUCIATING, AS I HAD TO WAIT WITH TWO GUYS WHO HAD YET TO HAVE THEIR CAFFEINE … AND WERE LOW ON PATIENCE. BUT THE CORN AREPOS MORE THAN MADE UP FOR THEIR DISCONTENT.

A COMMON PLACE TO FIND HUNTER, KIRK AND I HERE LATELY? ON THEIR COUCH LISTENING TO ONE OF COUNTLESS RECORDS OR WATCHING AN OLD MOVIE HUNTER THINKS WE “JUST HAVE TO SEE.” THANKFULLY, HUXLEY HAS ALSO BECOME A MEMBER OF THE “FAMILY,” SO HE’S NEVER LEFT HOME ALONE.

AFTER ONLY ONE VISIT, I KNOW THAT METROPOLIS WILL NOW BE MY GO-TO PLACE FOR COFFEE. HUNTER HAS BEEN SINGING THE SHOP’S PRAISES SINCE I MET HIM, AND EVEN THOUGH I HAVE HAD THEIR BREW BEFORE, I HAD NEVER BEEN UP TO THE CAFE ITSELF. COZY, ODDLY QUIET, AND WITHOUT AN OUNCE OF PRETENSION, METROPOLIS NOW HAS A FAN IN ME.

HUNTER, UPON FINDING SPILLED ADVIL ON THE GRANVILLE PLATFORM, REALIZED IT COULD BE USED AS CHALK. WHILE I WAS ABLE TO SPELL OUT MY WHOLE NAME USING THE IBUPROFEN, HUNTER KEPT IT SIMPLE WITH HIS “H” WHILE KIRK LATER IMPRESSED US WITH HIS MODERN MEDICINAL ART SKILLS. YET ANOTHER EXAMPLE OF FINDING JOY IN THE SMALLEST OF THINGS. AH … THE WEEKEND.

THE HIGHS/LOWS OF SPRING

A WEEK OR SO AGO, MY NEIGHBORHOOD WAS BLANKETED WITH A THICK LAYER OF FOG FOR DAYS. THE CREEPY AMBIANCE DID NOT LAST LONG THOUGH, AS THE DAYS FOLLOWING WERE SUNNY AND BRIGHT. NEVER KNOWING WHAT YOU WILL GET WEATHER-WISE IS ONE OF THE JOYS OF LIVING IN CHICAGO, I GUESS.

I was always taught growing up that people talk about the weather when they have nothing else to talk about.

For more than two decades, I would have completely agreed with that benign statement. Moving to Chicago changed that for me. Meeting neighbors out in the courtyard, down the street, at the corner, it’s always the first comment one of us will make.

It’s either too cold to be out and/or the snow is too deep to walk … then it hits 50 degrees for a few days and you marvel at the miraculousness that is warmer weather … a few days later and it’s in the 40s again, and the remarks center round how cold it feels even though two weeks before there was ice on the ground … it’s a vicious cycle, I assure you.

Last Monday, after weeks of fog, rain and a chill in the air, I cheated. I met my friend, Shawn, and her sister, Cody, at the Garfield Park Conservatory. Walking around the temperature-controlled rooms, surrounded by foliage, both native and exotic, it really hit home how much I longed for green. After months of bleak grays and hibernating leaves, I am beginning to ache for signs of life around me.

And they are truly beginning to show. The sun has been out this week and it even hit 65 degrees the other day at work. The tulips are coming up in our courtyard. We heard bugs and frogs chirping in a field the other day, and my friend, Natalie, rejoiced at the sighting of a bee earlier this week. (Although we both agreed said insects would hate the weather forecast for the weekend.)

And for once, they were right on the money. After a week of longing to be outside while sitting at my desk at work, now that I have the freedom to enjoy the sunshine, there is none. This morning I woke up to snow.

For it is “Spring” in Chicago. The most magical time, weather-wise, of the year.

(Well, next to Fall … and Summer … and OK … even sometimes Winter.)

LAST WEEKEND SAW THE SUN OUT EVERY DAY, ALTHOUGH IT PROVED TO BE A BIT OF A MISCONCEPTION. IT WAS STILL PRETTY COLD, SO STAYING OUTSIDE FOR LONG PERIODS OF TIME WAS NOT ALL THAT COMFORTABLE.

A TRIP TO THE GARFIELD PARK CONSERVATORY WITH SHAWN AND CODY DID LITTLE BUT MAKE ME MORE ANXIOUS FOR WARMER WEATHER ON A DAILY BASIS HERE IN CHICAGO AND GREENER SURROUNDINGS. BUT THE CONSERVATORY ITSELF WAS BEAUTIFUL, AND SPENDING THE AFTERNOON LAUGHING WHILE DOING A WONDERFUL, FREE ACTIVITY IS ALWAYS GOOD FOR THE SOUL.

JUST WHEN YOU THINK IT IS SAFE TO GO OUTSIDE, YOU ARE MET WITH SNOW AGAIN. EVEN HUXLEY WASN’T QUITE SURE HE WANTED TO BE OUTSIDE THIS MORNING, AND AFTER A MINUTE, HE DRAGGED ME RIGHT BACK INSIDE. HOPEFULLY THE TULIPS WON’T BE TOO ANGRY WITH MOTHER NATURE, AND WILL BE HERE TO STAY FOR A WHILE SOON.

YOUTH IN REVOLT

OH, IF THINGS WERE AS SIMPLE NOW AS THEY WERE BACK THEN, AND SPENDING TIME IN THE BACKYARD WITH MY MOM AND HER CAMERA WAS THE MOST PRESSING THING ON MY SCHEDULE, RIGHT? BUT DECADES LATER, I AM HAPPY WITH HOW FAR I’VE COME, HOW MUCH I’VE LEARNED, AND ALL THE THINGS I HAVE YET TO EXPERIENCE.

“Though my body is far from old, I’m bowing to useless youth. And I can’t fake a fist to throw through the crust of the earth. If you find me, don’t wake me … I can’t be shaken awake. If you don’t stare at the dark and if you never feel bleak, life starts to lose its taste.” FRIGHTENED RABBIT

Oh age. I’ve been thinking about that lately.

Maybe it’s because I finally feel older than ever, even though I am still mistaken for being anywhere from five years to a full decade younger than my real number. (Hey, give a girl a chance to be pleased with herself for a moment. I just admitted I see the days, weeks, months, years, creeping by.)

It feels like yesterday I was eating glue with my then-best-friend Jill Jordan, four years old at our church daycare. It was either that or gluing our hands together, only to eventually pull it all off, spiderwebs of dried Elmer’s peeling from our tiny hands. And yes, this favorite pastime was done during what was supposed to be naptime. Ah quiet rebels, the both of us, even then.

Now she is a mother, a wife, an aunt.

I was home for Thanksgiving this past November. On the highway to my next destination, I was hit with the sudden realization that I hadn’t gone to see my Dad during the brief moment I was in town. I quickly detoured to purchase a poinsettia for his grave at the garden center at Lowe’s in Columbus. It was there I ran into Jill’s mother, Janice, and her older sister, Kelly.

Although the visit was brief, it was good to still feel such a connection so many years later. Once I returned to Chicago, Janice and I hooked up on Facebook, where I was able to “meet” the rest of her now family, which included grandchildren Dean Hartleroad, 19, Max Hartleroad, 16, and Miles Jordan, 15.

Better known to those who love them or have heard their music as The Motions.

When she asked if she could send me their CD, I must admit I was sceptical. I am not a good bad critic of music. I still haven’t written a review of a recent show I went to because I can not stand to be negative … remember, it’s all subjective anyway. One man’s Radiohead is another’s Britney Spears. (Shudder.) But I shouldn’t have worried in the slightest.

From the packaging to the recording, it’s good. I listened to it the first time on the Red Line coming home from work one day. (Raising yet another study in how far my life has taken me from childhood.) The raw, natural talent of all three is evident on each and every track. The best thing about the 10 songs off their self-titled CD? They were all written by them, and inspiration was obviously gained from my hometown. (Not an easy feat to accomplish, I assure you. Even Tennessee Williams had to live other places for a long time to eventually create “Cat on a Hot Tin Roof.”)

On tracks like “Drink Away your Pain,” a slower turn for the boys, the tones of the song show more maturity than that of normal teenagers. “This addiction’s got you down. Fear you haven’t yet touched ground. You’re looking out for just yourself. Please won’t you save you from yourself.” Dean, the frontman for The Motions, wrote many of the songs before the age of 17, when the CD was recorded in 2008.

There is obvious inspiration from other acts throughout the tracks, although they come across more as subtle nuances than rip-offs. “Intertwined Mind” has tones of The White Stripes in the music, driving guitar riffs mixed with slight drum taps. But it is really with “Fallen” that The Motions show the most promise in my eyes. (Or ears.)  It was the one that immediately jumped out to me on first listen. It is a 2-minute, 21-second, hard-hitting, well-deserved scolding on capitalism of sorts. (Yep … these are kids people.)

But to be honest with you, it’s not the album I am as impressed with as it is their future. To exhibit such drive and aptitude already can only bode well for The Motions in the years to come. They have now added a fourth member, Kyle Bennett, to the mix. Although unsigned, the band will be playing a few shows at SXSW in a couple of weeks. And yes, Janice will be taking her spring break in Austin to see her grandsons on stage. (Just a tinge of jealousy here, as SXSW is on my list of 10 things to do in the next few years, a list I’m slowly whittling away at.)

But I was reminded earlier this week by a random story I saw on the Internet, it’s never too late to become whatever you want. In France, there is a woman who travels around the country as a DJ at the age of 69. Ruth Flowers picked up the hobby after attending her grandson’s 21st birthday. As long as you are open to everything around you, I think there is no set time-line to what you will accomplish, or who you are supposed to be.

Just ask Dean, Max, Miles and Kyle as they move ahead; Janice as she continues to support them (both emotionally and financially … what a wonderful grandmother to believe in their music); Granny DJ spinning her tunes in rhinestone-covered headphones; or even me, as thankfully I can still vividly remember being that glue-eating four-year-old … so I can’t be all that far removed from her.

Age really is just a number.

http://www.myspace.com/themotionsonline

THE MOTIONS, FROM COLUMBUS, MISS., WILL BE PLAYING SEVERAL SHOWS AT SXSW LATER THIS MONTH. WITH AN AVERAGE AGE OF 17, THE BOYS ARE PROVING THAT MATURITY DOESN’T HAVE TO BE DEFINED BY HOW MANY DAYS YOU’VE BEEN ON THIS EARTH. (photo by wes frazer)

* And an addendum to my earlier post on The Motions … Dean prefers to be called Toby now. (Grandma failed to mention that.) Obviously Kyle goes by Harrison as well. Ha. And Hackberry Records in Tuscaloosa, Ala., is the band’s current label. http://www.hackberryrecords.com/ My bad, the CD I got has them unsigned. Should have done more research. But still cool, talented kids. At least I got that right.

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.

HEART ABOUNDS IN UPTOWN

QUEEN, STYX, SIMPLE MINDS, TODD RUNDGREND, BRUCE SPRINGSTEEN, R.EM., REO SPEEDWAGON … NOW THAT’S QUITE AN ECLECTIC TWO ROWS AT SHAKE, RATTLE & READ. WHY DO I LOVE THIS TINY UPTOWN ESTABLISHMENT? WELL, IT’S NO RECKLESS RECORDS, BUT SOME OF MY GREATEST USED VINYL TREASURES HAVE BEEN FOUND HERE. (INCLUDING ORNETTE COLEMAN’S “VIRGIN BEAUTY” FOR $8 YESTERDAY.)

“How do I love thee? Let me count the ways … I love thee with a passion put to use, in my old griefs, and with my childhood’s faith. I love thee with a love I seemed to lose.” – Elizabeth Barrett Browning

I think I’ve started a bit of a trend here, so this will be the last time I apologize for using someone else’s poetry. But know I only ever do it with the highest amount of respect and because sometimes it takes another’s words to explain what I am exactly trying to say … or trigger it, anyway.

How Browning felt about the person/animal/sidewalk/roasted lamb/quill pen … (I wasn’t in her head and I can only presume what any artist may be writing about, so I try to refrain.) is how I am feeling about Chicago today. Well, Uptown specifically. My 2010 Valentine of sorts. And a pure one.

Following a time of ultimate grief, I have been startled at how I look at things now. It IS more child-like in a way. After four years (and almost two living on the same block) I feel such a love, such an ownership of my neighborhood … yet I continue to view it each day as new.

I made a comment to a friend about feeling like a tourist now that I constantly have my camera out. But she was right in her response that it was different because I am just documenting what I see. I’ll be honest and say I started doing this blog for my life-long Valentine, Mom, who begged me forever to begin doing one, if only for her. And now that she tells me how much closer it makes her feel to me, hundreds of miles away, I wish I would have sooner.

But I think it would have only been possible now.

I regained many loves I seemed to lose.

THE NUMBER OF BOOKS AND VINYL CRAMMED INTO SHAKE, RATTLE & READ ON BROADWAY IS QUITE AN IMPRESSIVE FEAT. BUT BELIEVE ME WHEN I SAY THERE IS TRULY SOMETHING HERE FOR EVERYONE. “PLATO’S ETHICS,” “JEMIMA J,” “THE HOTTEST STATE” (SORRY, ONLY IN PAPERBACK CHIP) AND “LISTENING TO PROZAC” ALL JUMPED OUT AT ME YESTERDAY. BUT IS WAS A COPY OF “HIGH FIDELITY” (WHERE DID MINE GET TO?) THAT CAME HOME WITH ME, AS I WAS IN THE MOOD TO READ IT AGAIN.

THERE IS SOMETHING ABOUT SEEING THESE LITTLE CARTS UP AND DOWN THE STREETS THAT WARMS MY HEART. (EVEN THOUGH I KNOW I COULD NEVER STAND OUTSIDE ALL DAY IN THIS WEATHER.) MORE PREVALENT IN THE WARMER MONTHS, YOU CAN FIND CORN, SNACKS AND EVEN SNOWCONES ON VIRTUALLY EVERY CORNER.

YEAH, YEAH … SO IN ADDITION TO THE THING I HAVE FOR MEN AND THEIR BEARDS, THERE’S ALSO EXTRA BONUS POINTS FOR PLAYING AN INSTRUMENT. SO IF YOU’RE CARRYING A GUITAR CASE ON THE CTA, YOU WILL AT LEAST GET MY FLEETING ATTENTION. UNFORTUNATELY, IT WOULD TAKE A FULL DRUM KIT TO REALLY IMPRESS ME, AND WELL, THAT’S JUST SILLY. I DON’T EXPECT TO EVER SEE GLENN KOTCHE TOTING HIS WARES ON MY 81 LAWRENCE BUS … EVEN IF IT DOES GO RIGHT TO HIS NEIGHBORHOOD.

SOMETIMES I DO FEEL LIKE A BIT OF A VOYEUR AT GOLDEN HOUSE RESTAURANT BECAUSE I ALWAYS HAVE MY CAMERA OUT WHEN WE’RE THERE. (AND MY FRIEND, JOSH, KEPT TELLING ME I WAS TODAY … SO MAYBE I AM.) BUT THERE IS JUST SOMETHING ABOUT THIS DINER THAT HAS SIMPLY ADHERED ITSELF TO ME AND MOST EVERYONE I KNOW. WHEN I CAME TO LOOK AT MY APARTMENT IN MARCH 2008, MY LANDLORD, TIFFANI, SAID IT WAS THE ONE PLACE SHE WOULD MISS THE MOST. IT TOOK ME ALMOST A YEAR BEFORE I VENTURED IN, BUT SOMEONE WILL DRAG ME THERE (NOT HARD TO DO) AT LEAST ONCE OR TWICE A MONTH NOW. IT’S THE KIND OF PLACE YOU EITHER LOVE OR HATE, I GUESS … AND THE KIND OF PLACE YOU ALWAYS ORDER THE SAME THING. (ME? EGGS, HASHBROWNS, PANCAKES … JOEL? EGGS, CORN-BEEF HASH, PANCAKES … JOSH? EGGS, BACON, FRENCH TOAST … DAVID? BUCKWHEAT PANCAKES … YOU GET THE IDEA.) THE PEOPLE THAT WORK THERE ARE WHAT MAINLY BRINGS ME BACK, AS THEY ARE SOME OF THE WARMEST YOU WILL EVER MEET. AND THE FACT THE ELDERLY HISPANIC MAN KISSES ME ON MY CHEEK AND TALKS TO ME IN SPANISH EVERY TIME HE SEES ME IS JUST ICING ON THE (PAN)CAKE. SINCE JOSH CALLS HIM “MY BOYFRIEND,” TODAY I WILL CONCUR … IF ONLY TO VENTURE THE THOUGHT THAT THANKFULLY VALENTINES COME IN MANY HEART-WARMING FORMS.