Saturday, June 27, 2009

Those Catholics know how to throw a party

In honor of the neighborhood festival season, a sentence you couldn't have convinced me would someday come out of my mouth: Tonight we saw a glee club doing a capella versions of Gang of Four and
Dead Kennedys songs on the steps of a Catholic church, adjacent to a Catholic grade school where my friend Peggy is the principal.

For the equally befuddling but charming p.s.: They opened for a Led Zeppelin cover band.

Happy summer!

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

(Almost) 13 Ways of Looking at a Cauliflower

We planted, we grew, we harvested, we diced, we grilled, we consumed.

(Who'd have thought that something so pure could grow from the lead and ashes of the city?)

Thursday, June 18, 2009

The Devil You Know

They say it's best to know thine enemy, and apparently mine is a good-natured man in an aging yellow station wagon.

Some of you remember the saga of seven months ago, with a chronic and belligerent 5am horn honker, who finally mended her ways, but not without the intervention of my good friend Thuan and a helpful officer of the law.

We've had seven months now of relative quiet. Seven months of decent sleep. But lo, about two weeks ago, which some of you may recall as 'the single worst week of my adult professional life,' the honking horn was back.

Can you add injury to insult to injury? If so, that's the conceit of this story.

But, if I dare say it out loud, maybe it's not the moral.

This morning I heard the horn again, checked the clock, verified the inhuman hour, put a jacket over my tank top, and headed out in bare feet to confront the driver. What I expected was the horrible woman of the last series of episodes, speeding away, middle finger flailing from the window of her SUV, horn blazing in victory.

What I got instead was the contrition of a humble man. In a humble car. Who has to pick up a coworker at 5am to get them both to work on time. Who probably doesn't have a cell phone. Who speaks very little English. Whose apology -- despite the fact that I couldn't tell if he was saying 'Sorry I'll have to continue to wake you up every morning' or 'Sorry; it won't happen again' -- was categorically sincere.

Tomorrow, I suppose, is the litmus test. Or maybe next week, or the week after that. In my heart of hearts, I believe I'm going to hear that horn again. Quite possibly again and again. It's entirely plausible, in fact, that my neighbor could work the early shift for the rest of her days, so this will become a standard intrusion sure as taxes.

But is it possible, now that I know the driver means me no harm, that I can get past the sense of personal assault? That I can see this not as a targeted offense but as a neutral pattern in the lives of my neighbors?

Might it not even become a source of comfort, like the revving engines of the Greyhounds when I lived above that Missouri bus station in 1989, and felt secure in knowing people were out there, living their lives, at all hours of the day, so not even the darkest moment needed to seem isolating, hollow, or stark? It was just people of the world doing their worldly machinations, and maybe that's something worth making peace with.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Let it Rain

Lots of people have been complaining about summer's refusal to land in Chicago this year. Me? I've relished it. Sure, there've been plenty of gray days to turn a bad mood lousier . . . But on the up side, I haven't had to break out the sprinkler even once for our garden, which shows signs of almost ridiculous abundance. And true, the scarves and jackets remain in high rotation, but I've been able to sleep under blankets at night, which tends to be kinder to my insomnia.

Above all, though, it makes you appreciate a day like today, when you can bike in shirtsleeves to the farmers' market and buy lamb shoulder at one booth, pickled mushrooms at another, and tall, weedy asparagus at yet another.

When art happens spontaneously in a prairie garden you yourself had a hand in creating.

And when tomatoes are already in bloom at the new Corner Farm, which two months back was an empty parking lot.

Last summer never got hot enough that we longed for sweater weather. We cursed the start of winter; we spit on its name. Not so this season, when we've had to basically beg for summer. We've had to love it furiously with the aching sum of our hearts. Now it's here, all the sweeter for the wait.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Here's to keeping it simple

Maybe this is a sad basis for date night, but between a bath for Inez, a bottle of white hauled back from our trip to Mendocino, and a dinner of Wisconsin cheddar, local oyster mushrooms from the farmers' market, and salad greens plucked from our very backyard, this is honestly the most fun I've had in weeks.

Sunday, June 7, 2009

Is it safe to look up?

Oh welcome Sunday. Not only because it's my one day off in a 13-day stretch, but also because it means I'm cleaved -- at least by the calendar -- from the single worst week of my adult professional life. It started with an incredibly sad event that brought John back from his bike trip, just three days into a ride around Lake Michigan. From there, things completely fell apart at work. The powder keg burst, and me along with it.

This morning as I was walking Inez, I decided we'd both been a little short-changed by recent chaos, and I decided to stretch out her route a little. She sniffed around a tree, and there on the ground was the crumpled $20 bill you see here. It reminded me of the time I was walking home one rainy morning during grad school, after a short-lived fling went belly up the night before. I turned a corner and found seven damp dollars wadded up in the street. I was living on a shoestring and $7 actually meant something to me. Even as an atheist, I saw this as a kind of cosmic rebalancing act, and I stuffed the money in my pocket, imagining a pint of Haagen Daaz or some other such indulgence I wouldn't have otherwise justified.

The rest of today has brought a cheerful hello from the South Asian man who runs the sundry store around the corner; a glimpse of the tiny head of cauliflower sprouting in our garden bed; an emailed pep talk from my amazing friend Kathy, who helped me reframe the events of last week; greetings by name from a handful of vendors setting up the first day of our seasonal farmer's market; and amazing endurance from the five peace lily blooms that my mother insists are symbolic of something.

And even the cynic in me has to recognize: Given time, the world always brings its salves and compensations.