Andersonville, August 2018

I.  Prologue:  Illinois Itinerants.

Itinerant.  Now there’s a good word I don’t use, have never used, to my recollection.  It means “passing about a country”.  That’s the adjective, as in “itinerant laborer” or “itinerant preacher”.  But there’s also a noun version: “one who travels from place to place”.

And I’m thinking this might be fitting for us as we head to Chicago tomorrow, knowing the route I’m looking at taking, off-highway, through all those random little Illinois farm towns, Raymond and Stonington; Blue Mound and Boody; Pontiac and Ransom.

Now what’s interesting as I look at the definition for itinerary, a word I thought of as “the agenda or list of projected times and places for a trip” is that this isn’t the definition in this dictionary.  Here, itinerary is “a route, a record of a journey; a traveler’s guidebook or outline of a route.”  As referring to “a record of a journey” I have never heard itinerary used.  I’ve always thought of itinerary as forward-looking, but here that’s listed as the third of three definitions, and even then it’s a bit of a stretch, the “outline” of a route being rather different than a list of what it is you are planning to do on the whole of a trip.

As a “record” of a trip, the itinerary is reflective, looking back.  I like this sense of the word.  I’ve never been comfortable calling my writing “travel log” or “travelogue”, either moniker being clunky.  I’d use “itinerary” if I didn’t think it would be confusing.

II.  Oswego Diner Confession.

“Forgive me, Mother, for I have sinned.”

“It’s only been four days since your last confession, son.  That disposable silverware fiasco at the Korean taco joint.”

“I know, I know.  You don’t have to remind me.  I’m so mad at myself already.”

“Go on then, love, let me have it.  Only then can I see if there’s some way I can handle this one, too.”

“Well, my wife and I are traveling—it’s all a little hectic.  We’re not exactly in the midst of our routines, OK?  We went out for breakfast this morning.”

“I think I know where this is going.  Continue.”

“We had eaten Caesar salads out of reusable plastic containers last night.  I cleaned them this morning.  They were prime.  They were right there before my eyes.  But—”

“You did the groundwork, but then—”

“Yeah.  Everything was in place but then at the last minute I didn’t think to bring the container to the restaurant.”

“The styrofoam, the styrofoam….”

“I’m sorry!  I’m beating myself up over it.”

“It’ll take me a while to fix this one.”

“I’ll get it right next time.  I’ll bring the container.”

“You were in here saying that last week.  What am I supposed to do with all this stuff?”

“Don’t get mad at me, Mother.  I’m trying my best here.  I had one little slip!”

“I will get mad at you and you will know it.  And you will try harder.  I want you to make it up to me.”


“The next time you are about to acquire a plastic bag, be it over ice or chips or lettuce, you are going to find some other way, and you are going to say my name aloud, in the store, so someone else can hear it.”


The sad, silly earthling went on his way, thinking about what it would be like to chew on styrofoam, for breakfast or some other meal, for the next three hundred years.

III.  Schmeer Residence:  Sunday Arrival.

Spliff me ‘riffic ‘cross your balustrade, madam…

Among my questions: do the radiators still work?  They are silver and speak so plain of yesterday in winter, in the language of knocking.

Some of these bulbs are what I’ve heard called Edison bulbs, or vintage bulbs.  The filaments go ’round and around, tungsten spun in spiral.  I look at them, I light the bulb, I look away.  The filament glows against the back of my eyelid, branding the hide of my mind’s eye.  Where did they get these bulbs, with these helices of tungsten?  I try to go LED, LED: LED mañana, mon frer, the light of luxury today.

Front room with desk

I’m sitting at this desk and I’ll tell ya.  I’ll let you in on a little secret.  Sweet dreams were made of these; this desk was made for me.  Pen on the Welcome notebook is a Lamy, don’t know it.  I take the tip in my fingers, spin it, the spring releases, reveals the cartridge.  Made in Germany.  It’s funny.  Americans in their way have written plenty of history but most of the writing I do is with pens a la Japan.  Germany is a distant second.

So let’s check out this Lamy.  Smooth—not gel but smooth.  It’s not a metallic ink but the color is the color of some metal, an alloy: bronze perhaps.  Pewter.  Not quite black, not grey, not gold.  The pen sat atop the Welcome book and I’ll get in there, and write—write my piece.  But not yet.  I don’t want to have what’s written in there—by others before me—be any part of what I’m going to write here.  I’m gonna let my innocence unfold.  I’m gonna melt this beeswax real slow.  I’m gonna mind my own biscuits, stir my own gravy.

The Lamy’s not for me.  I’m in deep with these Pilot G2 gels.  They glide, no catch, no caveat, no looking back.  They’re dark, they’re true, and yet they do not bleed.  They prick the page but all that spills is what I’ve got to say, about these oak floors, the stained glass windows, the light that winks back at me from the floor, these unusual chairs and quirky lamps—all this rich wood furniture.  We’ve entered some sort of architectural conservancy showroom—and we might just hold over.


Heck, I don’t know.  He’s figured it out so far—he can make it the rest of the way, however far that will be.  

IV.  Monday, day.

a.  A Beach and a Tennis Court

Up early and around the block with Hugo, rounding the corner to find a quiet Clark, finding peace in that, all of last night’s people gone, the hilarity gone with them, leaving stillness, like the French Quarter in the morning.  It’s just a sliver of the day, barely light, you have to catch it just right.

It was down to the beach with B; down Balmoral to Broadway to Foster, under the train tracks, the red line, under Lakeshore Drive.  Sand and waves breaking.  A man sleeping along the wall outside the bathroom, his belly hanging out, his belongings all around him.  How does a man sleep so sound in such a hard place?  No dogs allowed on the beach.  Dogs on the beach.  One person swimming.  “Probably Russian,” said my sister, later, when we told her about the one person swimming.

To get there was sufficient, we turned around.  Got back to Balmoral, pit-sweating.  Turnaround time.  By ten I was headed the other way down Balmoral, west to Damen, quiet walk, turned south, down to Foster and over it, to Amundsen High, a park back behind there, Winnemac.  My brother waiting for me in a red shirt.  We walked past soccer fields, a parking lot, a natural grass and flower installation, a teaching garden, its stand of kale; past Jorndt Stadium, renovated 2004, alive today with wheeled machines replacing the track, putting a new surface down, beeping, backing up, dumping, spreading, rolling.  We played tennis on a cracked court, for an hour, for the first time in years.

Back at my desk, I’m looking at the next-door building, to the east, one step closer to Glenwood.  It’s empty, or half-empty.  I haven’t seen anyone there at all.  It’s being renovated, I guess.  I am looking at the yellow paint flaking from its overhanging eves.  That’s metal underneath the flaking yellow—could it be?  I’m not certain.  The flaking does not have the look of paint flaking off of wood.  It’s more like how an old, exposed car would look—a vehicle made in the seventies, used in the eighties, abandoned in the nineties, but still sitting outside.  There is a second-story, parapet-wrapped porch, two doors leading out to it, both doors also flaking yellow with old paint.  There are two light fixtures on the porch, neither with a bulb in place.  It’s raining now.  I’ll catch a shower.

b.  Shower Stall

“Did you write anything while you were there?”

“Yeah, I wrote.  Nothing with any sort of form or purpose.”

As we were walking back from the beach this morning, along Balmoral nearing the Schmeer Residence, there was some commotion, a din, an eruption from the driver of a car waylaid on Balmoral, blocked from advancing by the double-park of a moving truck.

“Nice.  Nice job.  Nice fucking job!  Jesus fucking Christ!”

The words carried with them concussive impact; invoked a galvanic response.  They made me want never to swear again, the words so ineffectual and purposeless.  I curse mostly to myself, usually out of impatience and immaturity.  A handful of cars then slowly backed their way up Balmoral (it is a one-way street headed east, usually).  Eventually a maroon compact car arrived and pulled behind the moving truck, putting its flashers on.  Its driver must have done something to alleviate the jam; take ownership; get the moving truck to sidle over; assuage the stifled flow.

Window units whir and kick in our rented space.  This desktop—that I dreamed once held the hand of Hemingway, was designed by F. L. Wright or Mies van der Rohe—is of Chinese origin.  It is handsome, dark, flat and sturdy.  It holds my elbow, my forearm and my volume of Naipaul.  My smudges.  That shower!

c.  Deep, Deep Pizza

Hang an ‘L’ in the window, put out that flag.  Aye, but the Redbirds lost yesterday, too…

What was I doing in there, all the books I didn’t get?  Giordano’s lurched in my stomach like an Oldsmobile reeling off its blocks.  Didn’t want that Baxter, that Powers, that Offutt.  Then I was thinking about finding a copy of Arctic Dreams but at that moment I had it confused with The Snow LeopardRavenswood Used Books has their travel writing arranged geographically so I was looking all over the Himalayas and Greater Asia for a book that never set foot on that continent, took place five thousand miles away.

“Pepperoni, green peppers and olives.  No not olives.  Onions.  I don’t know why I said that.”

Songs playing while we were at the pizza lunch with my brother included “Let’s Hear it for the Boy”, “Turn the Radio Up”, something by Huey Lewis, something by George Michael.

Windy, meaty myths.  Fey smile, bad moustache, good pizza.

Where do we live?  Do we?  In what direction is that?

V.  Monday Mullion Majesty

Mullions—”stone mullions”—no idea.   “A vertical bar between the panes of glass in a window.”  Naipaul writes of “A corridor;  thick walls, stone mullions in the window;  a door to the big kitchen.”  I continue to assemble my kit of architectural terms, by and for the mullions.

a.  Balmoral Obersvations

A Penske rental van pulls to a stop on the other side of the street, out of the way a little.  Delivery.  The driver/delivery man hauls out what sure looked like a case of bottled Budweiser, hoisted on his shoulder like a boombox, leaving it on the doorstep.  Back in the truck he sits and waits, the taillights flashing red.  Portico now.  He left the case of Budweiser on the doorstep, underneath the portico, safe from the rain, the smooth columns standing sentry against would-be pirates.

portico— a structure consisting of a roof supported by columns at regular intervals, typically attached as a porch to a building.  Portico.  Not quite a porch.  A covered stoop, with columns.  Not necessarily with stairs, leading up to a landing, the door.  But these two porticos I espy both have stairs leading up to them, in each case six stairs.  And in each case the first step is of stone, the rest of wood, painted.

In last light, dusk, the moment before dinner.  Two men are stooped to read the sign Paula planted only today, opposing some restriction to building additions—.  B comes up behind me, rubs my back, it feels good, bordering on caress.  But there is a facetiousness to it.

Land of Men,” she whispers.  That’s the book I got today: Antonya Nelson.  It’s sitting here on the desk.  I’m sidetracked.  Amused, but sidetracked.

“OK, stop it.  I’m in the middle of something,” I say.

I was talking about two men, in their fifties or sixties, one wearing blue canvas shoes, stopped to squint at Paula’s objection on a sign, in fading light.  I have a second-story view on them.  One is bald; the other is balding and combed over.  It’s a matter of local politics, or local policy.  Is there a difference?  I don’t live here.  I can’t get involved.  I’ll just turn on a light and listen to the cicadas rehearse their opening act.

I dash out a text to my sister:  “B is talking up Pearl’s for dinner tomorrow.  Do you (and Jesús) want to join us?”


The rain has stopped.  It’s been stopped for awhile now.  The sky has even lightened a bit.  Cars regularly course by on Balmoral, its residents finding a place for their cars, ascending stoops in their finer clothes, stepping inside to sigh and loose them for casual ones, put the dog on a leash, step back outside for a short walk, before mealtime.  There are retirees here too, though.  The grey-haired and orderly, intent on this place being their home, not looking abroad, their itinerant days a memory.

A baseball game.  Ray’s HotCut, from Boston.  It’s an open day on the Cubs schedule but the White Sox are in action, in half an hour, from Minnesota.

Lots of flip-flops.  I did the long walk to lunch in my Toms.  I had already walked to; and then played tennis in my sneakers.  I made it through the long walk in my Toms but my feet are not real happy with me.  We took the bus back from lunch: the number 50 from Montrose and Damen.  It began to rain as the bus conveyed us north.  We had our rain jackets and also a small umbrella, which we took out as we backtracked from Catalpa, where we disembarked, having overshot our mark a bit, not knowing the stops and not at all confident in pulling the string.  I look down below and there they are, from Clark, having done, I imagine, the block.

b.  Dim Sum Bulbs

These vintage bulbs, though, are not at all powerful.

“There’s no lumens there,” he said.  “There is no ‘low-watt LED equivalence’.”

I built a Frank Lloyd Wright house but it had dim bulbs.

Dim sum bulbs, dim sum bulbs, the lights in here are some dim sum bulbs…

As they are incandescent, I’d estimate them at about 40-watt.  A few-hundred lumens, at most, mitigated further by the shades ensconcing them.  I can write by it, for a bit.  To read by this light I’d have to have my book open right at the lamp’s base, catching the light before it could land anywhere else.

c.  A Conversation that Didn’t Actually Happen

“Did you have any luck?”

“Just the one book.”

“Hmmph.  And you were back there a while.”

“Yeah.  I just don’t have my used bookstore fastball.  The used bookstore by me back home is no more.”

“It went out of business?”

“No, it’s still there.  It just doesn’t do used anymore.”

“That’s a shame.”

“It really is.  I saw on your sign you do trade?”


“I used to do a lot of trade at my store.  I guess they didn’t want to mess with it anymore.  But I could go in there and get comfortable with their inventory, you know?”

“We thrive on our trade.”

“I saw a lot I liked but I’m not reading enough these days.  I’m keeping by bookshelves trim.”

“Not enough time to read?”

“I’m out of reading shape.  I’m writing though.”

“What do you write?”

“Conversations like this one.”

“In print?”

“Not yet.  One day.  And when they are, I’ll be here, in trade.”

d.  The Rain

All of a sudden, with some of the sky to the east still clear of cloud, a flash echoed, thunder sounded and the rain returned.  The calm had walked us into a lull.  All up and down these streets residents are wet, surprised and scrambling.  The rain, as heavy as ever, sheets along the window, shimmering down with liquid gravity.

I am in the funky scoop chair, a drink drained, half an orange B left for me, sitting there uneaten, resting on the cover of the third edition of the AIA Guide to Chicago.

The houses in Andersonville, and in neighboring Edgewater, tend to the quirky and adventurous, piquing my imagination; helping me to form a vision for our own stucco.  For instance, I notice how many wood trims are inset in the stucco, set off with paint.  There are sometimes odd little veins—mullions?—set into the stucco as well: wood elements, antennae.  I don’t see those at all in St. Louis.  To add some of these elements to our stucco, as a retrofit, is probably beyond me.  I also like the accent wall in this flat, painted its own blue.  The stained glass windows hang comfortably within, framed in white, very nice.

B exits the bathroom, hand rubbing neck.  She has just washed her face.  Sound of ice cubes!  Hugo is on the couch and you can bet from where he is curled he has eyes on me, or could if he wished.  The rain, the lightning and the HotCut continue.  Kluber starts his seventh inning, Betts bats for Boston.  Betts, 6-3.  Tito pops out of the Cleveland dugout to lift Kluber.  On comes Oliver Pérez.

e.  Extension Cord, Please

One item I might need to emphasize on the “Cabin” trip packlist is an extension cord.  I have it on the list already but, mentally anyway, I associate it with the box fan.  In this case I wish I had considered the extension cord.  Speaking of cabins, JBJ bats.  Bradley, K.  Darn.

I am charging my phone.  If I had an extension cord I could much more easily use the phone whilst it is charging—so worn is its battery, so heavy my reliance upon it regardless.  With the extension cord, I would not need to move a chair; crane my neck; charge my phone as often.  Next time I need to bring a cord, one with some length but nothing heavy duty.  Such a cord would be light and it wouldn’t take up much space.  It is simply a matter of packing it.

The HotCut goes to the last of the ninth inning.  Boston trails 5-3.

crepitation—.  That’s a good word, but what does it mean?  Naipaul used it to describe the sound and general sensory effect of a growing blaze.  I look it up online and find it defined as “situations where noises are produced by the rubbing of parts one against the others.”  I can see it apropos to describe a fire, though: the cracking and crackling sounds; the wood breaking; or, the breaking apart of whatever is on fire.

VI.  Tuesday

Up with Hugo, happy to exit a dream in which I was number 20 in the A line to board a Southwest flight when I realized I hadn’t yet gone to the bathroom.  I was deciding whether and when to leave the line.  Then I woke up, quite relieved.


a.  Walking to Breakfast.

Do you want my rye toast?  Probably not, huh?  Now I think about the container we did not bring—the thing we did not carry.  Even some tinfoil, like for the pizza yesterday, wrap it in some heavy duty foil, wrapped thereafter in a plastic bag, or a cloth bag.  I have all of these ideas when I get to the restaurant.

We are at Pauline’s for breakfast, the meal served and eaten.  We liked the spicy ketchup.  The radio is some awful-funny FM morning show.  Parodies and surprise calls.  I’m glad I’m past that.

Back now.  It was a quiet walk, along Ravenswood past Catalpa, up to Gregory and then over Ashland, to Clark.  A very, very light rain started to fall.  It was easier to see than it was to feel.  Hugo noses me.  He often interferes with my attempts to write.  It does not interest him at all.

Breakfast was $32, including a $6 tip.  It was quiet in there.  Compared to downtown, foot traffic, any traffic, is sparse here.  It’s nice, city-quaint.  One runner.  Construction for sure.  Streets being resurfaced, buildings renovated.  It’s boom status for renovations.  We see FOR RENT signs and wonder.

The walking is the big perk—walking with always somewhere to walk to.  This place, that place, old or new, trusted and unknown.  We don’t feel like tourists here, though we are.  Shops open later than I’d expect.  Even the coffee and pie place doesn’t open until ten a.m.  Seven is the open for the two diners nearby, including this morning’s Pauline’s.  Veggie omelet, traditional eggs Benedict, skillet-style potatoes with peppers and onions, sourdough toast.  Asparagus and diced spinach as garnish.  It’s not even nine and I think I could nap a bit.  I haven’t slept all that much, or well, all this trip.  I miss my nap sleep because it is my deepest sleep, my sober sleep, worth its weight in silver… ahh, yes, I had some dream fragment about silver.  There was something secret about it, I can’t recall.

This is a two-family residence.  We are above another apartment, a family of four, the man from Centralia, Illinois, where my mom was born.

It’s about to rain again, a minor passing shower.  It’s eighteen after ten, the sky darkens to ominous grey.  There is a wind.  Beach hazards remain in effect.

b.  Heirloom Books

Nearing 13:00 I am back at my desk.  I have one of the shades now fully drawn up so that I have a clear view down to Balmoral at what is perhaps a 35° angle.  I can see the north sidewalk (the opposite side of the street) but I cannot see down to the sidewalk on our side of the street.

We walked north up Clark.  It was interesting for a while, as Andersonville persisted before Edgewater took over.  Brunch spots, chiropractors, a tire store, an animal hospital, places to buy eyeglasses.  Then as the noteworthy neighborhood designations fell away so too did any sort of cohesiveness; so too did vibrancy.  Clark became kind of dreary and stultifying and empty and generic.  Chains like White Castle.  A firehouse.  Oil change places, unidentified mechanics’ shops set back from the road on suddenly larger and unwanted plots of Clark-facing Chicago.  Then there was a theatre among some newer storefronts just as we arrived at our destination, Heirloom Books.  I thought to myself, “OK, I’m going in.”

“Hello, welcome to Heirloom Books,” said a woman seated there at a desk just inside the door.  She had a necklace that read ‘Chelsea’.  I had read online about the store, wanting to verify it was indeed a used books store.  This was, I believe, the owner.

“You’ve been here before,” she said.

I shook my head.  I don’t believe the shop has been open very long.  B and I were in Chicago two years ago; didn’t visit any bookstores then; stayed mostly downtown; came north for phö on Argyle; were in Andersonsville on a weekend morning at a packed Svea; made it no further north than that.  Before that trip it had been over ten years since I had been to Chicago.  So, no.

“Well, we have a whole basement full of books.  As you go back the categories are arranged alphabetically and there is a sign on the door describing where they’re at,” she said.

Or words to that effect.  There were also books on the level upon which we’d entered, plenty of them, including the ‘Literature’ section.  So I was a little nonplussed: why the emphasis on the basement?  I just headed back.  There was a poetry section with some chapbooks.  Not quite in the tier of paperback, the chapbook is more like a pamphlet made with really nice paper and with a thicker cover.  I looked through a few and passed on them.

But as I write I’m having second-thoughts.  If the chapbook has a flaw it is that it doesn’t sit well on a shelf; their spine is not thick enough to have a line of writing on it.  They travel well, though.  If I had considered the approach of traveling with a couple chapbooks and then leaving them behind as a random surprise I think I would have snatched a few of them up.  The erstwhile used books store in my neighborhood used to sell chapbooks.  They’re quirky and eclectic; they’re what poets used to put out as they ascended in notoriety.  I’d like to have my work in some chapbooks.

The leftover deep dish from yesterday has been pronounced “Ready!”  My tale of the Heirloom basement will have to wait to be told, if at all.

c.  Pleasant Day

An afternoon nap left me waking blunderbussed, with heartburn, saying, “That Charlie Burton sure could tell a joke.”

Who is Charlie Burton?  In one life, a musical artist from Nebraska; in another, a man who got rich quick and who told the world about it even quicker.  It seems I woke with the name by accident.

We went down to the liquor store and I bought a bunch of beer, mostly in bottles, and lugged it back.  I’m not going to tell you which beers I got: they all blur together now.  I’ll drink most of them, sure, but my main goal was to acquire six distinct beers in order to make up a six-pack sampler for our next-door neighbors (who are getting our mail and keeping our porch and front door clear of packages and flyers).  We watched after their place last month.  They gifted us (me) a mixed sixer from the Pacific Northwest, where they had been traveling.  It’s become a happy tradition.  I brought them back some beer from Wisconsin last year.  They’ve gotten me beer from other places, too.

It’s nice out now, a Tuesday afternoon in Andersonville, Chicago, USA—dot com!  It’s half-past four.  I could use a shower.  I think it’s more humid now inside than it is outside.  The sun is shining and there is a breeze: a very fair late-summer day on the North Side.

VII.  Wednesday 

a.  Morning Coffee

I was up at 5:30, ready to be alive again for our final day in Andersonville.  From the fridge I pulled a mason jar full of cold-brew coffee.  I make this coffee by dumping fresh grounds into a coffee sock (a permeable, canvas windsock-looking bag with an attached metal ring at the top for tying it off).  I slowly add water to the jar by letting it trickle on down through the sock.  Add a little, wait; add a little more, wait; then, stir the water and grinds mixture in the sock because there will persist dry-pocket holdouts.  When enough water has filtered through the sock to fill the jar near to the top I tie off the sock, leave it to floating on the nascent coffee and seal the jar.  I let the jar sit on the kitchen counter for part of the day, six or eight hours.  Then it goes into the fridge.  From a one-quart mason jar—32 ounces, or one-quarter of a gallon—I get three small, strong cups of coffee.

I’m not going to sell you on the mode’s efficiency (I add four coffee scoops to the sock) but as part of a traveling coffee kit, one that leaves only the coffee grounds as waste—no filter, no K-cup, no torn-off insta-packet, no styrofoam, no plastic—the method has no peers.  And I like the coffee the process yields.  In a pinch you could probably drink the coffee immediately—as soon as the jar is slowly filled.  The product at this point is dark and looking like coffee but it would be weaker and yet more acrid in this case.  The hours on the counter make it strong; the overnight hours in the fridge mellow it out, hence the moniker: cold-brew.

At a quarter-to-six I was out into the unfamiliar cool of this morning.  Long sleeves could have done.  Hugo accompanied me.  He’s done well walking on these streets.  Balmoral, Glenwood, Rascher and Summerdale.

b.  Adios, Art

That painting I had m’eye on is gone.  I was too nonchalant about it.  B looked in the shop’s window this morning.  The painting hung not where it had before.

My brother and I played tennis again.  Today we played a full set.  I lost 6-3.  Whenever I tried to hit a shot just a little bit harder I put it in the net.  Still, we each made some nice points.  He landed a few serves I could not even get a racquet on.  The last couple of games reminded me of how it was when we used to play.  Someone would try some volleys at the net but the other would quickly counter with a lob to the back of the court.  Playing more tennis would be good for me but I’m not sure who I could play with.

B went out to the Middle Eastern bakery for falafel and hummus.  We have plans to eat Thai later.  In between we will check out the Andersonville farmer’s market.  We leave tomorrow morning.  I’ve packed a few items away: my rain jacket and some dirty clothes.

Like the rain on Monday, a lot of news has been falling, yesterday and today.  National news, I won’t regurgitate the details here.  Are we on the verge of some historic event?  In the country?  In my family?  Could be.  B is back, bag in hand.  I’ll eat and take Hugo out, simple and straightforward as it can be.


It’s two o’clock in the afternoon, Chicago-style.  I’ve been out on a shopping jag.  That painting is now sitting by the register at Mercantile M.  A red-headed fellow with a curly mustache was sitting there clarking.

“What’s the deal with this one,” I said.  “This painting here?”

“Oh.  That’s got a SOLD tag on it,” he said.  “It must’ve sold yesterday when I was away.”

Daggers, bursting, weakness, collapse and death.  It sat there yet only to haunt me the more.  If it’s SOLD then why is it still in the store?  What’s it gonna take to have it be unsold, and then sold again?  “I’ll price it to move.  Name your pleasure, Tinkers-to-Evers-to-Chance.”

Ah, hell.  I had my chance and I frittered it away.  There was another painting in there that was probably worth its $28 price tag.  I liked several items there: wooden boxes, curios, sketches and paintings.  But I wanted that autumn-blazed sunrise landscape, all of $24 it would’ve cost me.  Yesterday!

c.  Notebook Meta

As consolation that wasn’t I went two doors down, to Martha Mae, and dropped $40.79 on a couple of notebooks, neither of which was quite to my specifications.  I like a notebook to be both ruled and spiral-bound.  I bought one spiral-bound notebook, name of Mnemosyne, for $12.  It is of Japanese origin.  It is not lined.  It’s not real thick, only about half the number of pages I’ve got in this lined, spiral-bound Miquelrius I am writing in as I write.  I can’t recall what I paid for these Miquelrius notebooks.  Twenty dollars?  I have bought them from numerous bookstores over the years, most recently in New Orleans, at the Tulane University bookstore.

The second notebook I bought today is lined but not spiral-bound.  It’s a ‘Day Book’ made in Washington, D.C.

“I thought only laws were made there,” I said.

It was an oddity I could not ignore.  It cost me $25 but it’s got 160 pages that would look good once filled with my writing.  The manufacturer’s name is Appointed,!  It’s blue, still wrapped in plastic completed with a ribbon page marker.

“OK, I’ll see you soon,” she says.

I don’t even look, back, over my shoulder.

“You got a bag?” I ask.

She goes and gets one.  She is going to go have a look at that alternative painting-purchase candidate at Mercantile M, an oil scene with water, boats and the buildings of a coastal village in the background, dating from the 1970s.  I told her about it; asked her to go and have a look.

“If you like it, get it,” I said.

d.  Open the Windows, Hal

It is pleasant outside.  I tried but I couldn’t open any of the windows of the front room here on the second level of The Schmeer Residence.  I had opened a window in the “three seasons” room in the very back of the place.  I opened, also, a window in the kitchen.  And I cracked the bathroom window.  All of the windows I could open were newer, so-called “vinyl windows” I suppose, except nothing about them struck me as being like any vinyl I know.  I’d call them metal windows.

They slid open easily.  They had not been painted, as have all of the older, wood windows in the rest of the flat.  I won’t go so far as to say the older windows have been painted shut but they have been relatively recently painted and to open them would take a confident, proprietary hand, which I do not possess.

Is it really Open Window Weather?  Out there, in here?  Or am I acting rashly?  It is 77° and 42% relative humidity.  That’s Open Window Weather in my book.  At home we have our AC threshold set at 78°.  We cannot precisely set the humidity percentage in the house but the AC will sometimes kick on to lower the indoor humidity, even if the target temperature obtains.  I’m guessing the humidistat could trigger if the relative humidity in the house were 65% or more.

I can understand the owners not making it easy to free up these windows, considering the wear and tear a caravan of renters could levy them.  Yet, it’d be really pleasant to be sitting up here at this desk with an outside breeze floating through.  It’ll be at least a couple more weeks before the miserly weather gods of St Louis allow any of their denizens to open any windows.

Let’s look at University City, Missouri’s weather right now.  It is 78° with 47% relative humidity.  Well, dang.  Pretty similar.  I stand corrected—it’s nice at home, too.

e.  Untitled Radiator Poem

Radiators, radiators
Radiators down & slowly

The taste and texture of tiramisu
Sprinklers after a heavy rain

Clark commerce on a receipt
A perfect painting, SOLD, bittersweet

Brother, sister, future fam
Presidents’ men, on the lam

Taking Hugo for a stroll
Rural routes avoid a toll

We didn’t swim
We didn’t train
But we were urban, and urbane

f.  Wednesday Wind-Down

It’s 21:30 on Wednesday evening. We never got a photo with the three of us, me and my siblings.  That was our oversight.

My brother walked here earlier, arriving at 17:10.  I looked out the window, down, and could see him sitting there on the planter parapet.  He couldn’t have been there more than 90 seconds.  I was checking frequently today.

We drank a Three Floyds each; watched as the Astros held off the Mariners.  A Seattle fan had a gas mask on.  Not because the Mariners were losing but because wildfire smoke has seriously impacted the air quality there.

Now from the back of the place appear B and my sister.

“Did Nick leave?”

Uh, yeah, like forty-five minutes ago.  I had started to think they had wandered off but didn’t want to intrude on them, figuring it most likely they were still talking and wanted to be left alone.  I’ve got Cardinals at Dodgers now.  B asks me how long ago my brother left.  She grabs his empty beer can.  My sister is still back there, somewhere.  I offered her some of the cucumbers we bought at the farmer’s market.  She already has some, she said.

We had gone out for Thai food on Broadway.  Jin Thai.  I got panang.  The curry itself was quite good but the tofu atop it was pretty ordinary, like something I could have made myself.  It made me appreciate the tofu we can get in St Louis.  The tofu I like has a little crust to it; is not so soft; is not smooth; can’t be sliced by a butterknife at whisper-speed.  But we were able to walk to this Thai place, and walk back.

The evening we stepped out into after the meal was the finest of the summer: full, breezy, light, affectionate, endearing and sincere.  You say, “How can a night be all those things?”  But if you had been with us, and saw the way that big church there had its utmost edges silhouetted in the cloudless twilight, you would know.

VIII.  Epilogue:  Thursday.

It is Thursday evening, we are back home: my trio of travelers.  We are anti-highway but pro-picnic.  I want to back up though.

a.  Thursday morning

I was up early again, at 5:40.  Dress, put Hugo’s harness on him, decide to wait for coffee until we’re back, leash him, elect flip-flops.  Out the front door of our rented flat, hit the Emtek button, slide the bolt back into the locked position, down the runner-carpeted stairs, unlock the bottom common door, get Hugo through it.  Turn around, hit ‘Emtek’, it flashes green, makes the “Quark!” noise, throw the bolt back … pause … there’s the ‘Quark!’ noise again.  Now the knob will not affect the bolt, it will only spin.

Out the very front door, which has no lock, into peaceful Chicago not quite cool, though I had long sleeves on today.  We went left toward Clark, south on Clark and then across Clark on Summerdale, past the bank there, past Alamo shoes.  The construction crew working somewhere nearby on Clark was arriving, filling various spots.  Where are they from?  What neighborhood, suburb or town?  What time did they wake up in order to arrive here now?  What time did they go to bed last night?  How much did they have to drink, if any?  What kind of breakfast did they have?

I did a double-take and looked again at one guy who had stepped out of a pickup and stretched his arms to the sky.  He was wearing a fluorescent, yellow-green shirt, the color of a tennis ball, just like the one my brother was wearing yesterday when we played tennis.

It was not my brother though it kind of looked like him, hence the double-take, a sort of instinctual tic.  I would be seeing my brother for breakfast two hours later.

I moved Hugo at a quick pace.  The same stretch of ground on the east side of Clark was getting a little hackneyed for dog-walking purposes so I was over on the west side of Clark to spice things up a little.  It wasn’t a long walk.  I was in pack mode.  When we were back up in the flat Hugo quickly made for the kitchen.  B was up and had his food ready, sitting on the floor of the kitchen in his yellow/green travel bowl (that color again).  He scarfed it down as always.

b.  Pack Your Bags

I drank some of my mason jar coffee and began identifying and packing any item I wasn’t going to need today, stuffing them into cloth bags, the bucket, the mesh sack, the duffel, the suitcase or my fanny pack.  I asked B to run us each a cup of coffee from the K Cup machine; to let them sit and cool; eventually to add them to our respective travel mugs, along with ice, for the trip home.  Then I reached a point where it was clear I would have to begin packing the cooler—everything else hinged on it.  The cooler was the linchpin.

There was an ample stock of ice in the freezer.  I reached in and started grabbing cubes.  Immediately I lost control of one and it skittered to the floor and broke apart.  Always!  It drives me nuts, dropping cubes, the inevitability of it.  With ice I filled one of our empty plastic tub containers, a Ziploc bag or two and a plastic grocery bag.  Lately I have been trying not to place any ‘loose’ ice in the cooler, depending on the situation, of course.  The benefit of keeping the ice in some kind of bag or container is that it keeps water from filling the bottom of the cooler.  Plus, I think ice that is packed closely with other ice stays ice longer.

Despite a tinge of regret I raided a cache of ice in the freeZer designated “Ice for Wine Bucket”.  It was easy just to take this ‘Wine Bucket’ ice and divvy it up into my various bags.

I put back into the cooler a few items we brought from home for this trip that we never used.  Yogurt, a chunk of manchego, the majority of the energy balls.  I don’t think any of these items has spoiled.  Maybe that sole remaining piece of turkey needs to be tossed but I’d bring all of these items again.  It’s like a form of insurance, or it’s like buying options on stocks.  We ate a lot of what be brought, all in all.  On the drive up, and in Oswego, we were eating from our cooler for the most part.  Once we got to Andersonville, however, we became very uninterested in our old food.  We wanted that m. henry quiche for breakfast (today was two days in a row for me).

c.  Un-shed

Sufficiently packed, we turned our focus to the morning’s remaining major task: removing as much of Hugo’s shed hair from the premises as possible.  One useful feature of the Schmeer Residence’s upper unit are the various still-functioning—and heavy, and in one case, mosaic-windowed—interior doors.  We closed a door shutting off the back bedrooms, hall and kitchen from the two front rooms (dining room and sitting room).

We started in these two front rooms, with Hugo sequestered in the back.  B pulled the big green blanket we had used to cover the couch and rolled it up.  She used a rubber glove, a lint brush and a lint roller to get any hair that still managed to get around or through our blanket defense.  I swept the hardwood floors and then used the Dyson handheld vacuum we brought (fully charged) to suck up the hair/dust piles as I went, section by section.  The broom was there/theirs.  Good broom.  I had also been sweeping and vacuuming here and there as our time in the flat elapsed.  I’m not going to say we left the place cleaner than we found it but we got a lot of his discarded hair and probably some dust and dirt that was there before we arrived.

I tried to put everything back the way it was: the coasters, the sleeved copy of the piece describing the history of the Schmeer residence, the remotes, et cetera.  I was starting to sweat pretty good, from the coffee, from the sweeping, from the angst of preparing to move on.

We likewise shut the bedroom door and pulled the flannel sheet from atop the bed.  One big sheet across the top was pretty effective at keeping his hair off the comforter, sheets and pillowcases.  B used the lint roller, I used the Dyson after that.  I took the cooler and the suitcase out to the car.  It was time to meet my brother for breakfast.

We walked out to Clark and Balmoral a little before eight.  I couldn’t remember if I told my brother to meet us there at the corner or north on Clark at m. henry.  After a couple minutes we decided to walk to the restaurant.  It was bright and mostly quiet.  There are plenty of cars going to and fro at this time in Andersonville but the foot traffic is still pretty light.  This is a pleasant little perk in my book.  Even at eight I can be out and about and still feel like I’m going about my business early and at an off hour.

e.  Breakfast with my bro

We sat out in front of the restaurant and waited, looking down the street.  Eventually I could look south down Clark and see him there, in his red t-shirt and jeans.  My brother, walking in my direction.  It gave me a good feeling.  It wasn’t like I felt as though everything was right with the world but I did feel somehow reassured, there was enough reassurance there to power the rest of the day, at least.  And it is very tempting and very moving to pretend for five days that we’re living in the same place again, and we can meet up, like it’s real casual.  Want to play tennis?  Let’s meet at Winnemac at 10.  Oh, wait, how about 10:15?  And we play and he gives me a lift home.  Or we meet for breakfast—he walks a good half hour, to a place “near us” he likes but has only actually been to once.  And I look down the sidewalk and I say to myself, “That’s him.  That’s my brother.”  I can tell by the way he walks, with a little bit of a leaning, looping gait.  “We’re going to have breakfast together,” I think.

We had our breakfast.  He had pancakes.  They sank him a bit.

“I don’t usually eat this much this early,” he says.  But he finished them.

I had the rustic peasant quiche, for the second day in a row.  Leeks, cheese, bacon.  Side of greens with the sesame oil vinaigrette.  I also had a pancake on the side.  I do like to eat a big meal early.  Preferably after a good bout of exercise.  We all walked back down Clark, not saying much.  At Balmoral we exchanged hugs and that was it.  I wasn’t too sad.  I felt like I’d done something good and maxed out my time in Andersonville.  We enjoyed imagining we were were living there in that handsome, comfortable flat with the stained glass windows, the gleaming hardwood floors, the window units, that gorgeous dining room table with the macadam-inset bowties … our king bed, wide as the Missouri.

But it was over.  I had a couple more floors to sweep, a few more items to pack.  A food delivery truck had been squatly parked in one of the alleys we were going to need to use in order to get out from the garage.  And there was also a trash truck navigating its way around back there.  Not only did we have to figure out how we were going to get back to St Louis but we faced the much more immediate quandary of how we were going to make it from the garage out to Balmoral.

f.  Rural route home

By the time we were all packed and had done what cleaning we reasonably could muster, the alley was clear.  We took Ashland to Foster, and Foster west out of Chicago.

Past Amundsen High School, past Swedish Covenant Hospital, over the north branch of the Chicago River.  Past North Park University, past Northeastern Illinois University.  Under I-94 and then I-90, into Harwood Heights.  Dropping down a block to Lawrence we continued west, past a forest preserve, under I-294, to Manheim Rd to IL-19 (elsewhere known as W Irving Park Rd.)  We traced the southern boundary of Chicago O’Hare International Airport (ORD).

South on IL-83 and I can’t call it Chicago anymore.  Out there, the chains take over.  Buona, Chick-fil-a, Krave, Kohl’s, Portillo’s, Starbucks.  Into Oakbrook Terrace: hotels, conference centers, golf clubs and banks.  West on IL-56.  When we see the Hidden Lake Forest Preserve, set low with its grey lakes and green hummocks, we know we will soon be out of Chicagoland entirely.

Danada Forest Preserve.  South on Eola Rd, through northeast Aurora, more warehouses: these days it’s all about logistics and e-commerce.  West on 34, past Waubonsie Valley High, where I ran a cross-country meet, past Rush-Copley Medical center, where I went in an ambulance, puking delirious after diving for a ball in left-center but catching instead the center fielder’s sturdy right knee with the side of my teenaged head.

We see a Culver’s and a sign for Douglas Rd and we realize, “Hey, we’ve been here before.  Recently.  This is Oswego.”

Culver’s, Starbucks, Chick-fil-A, Portillo’s, Chili’s, Giordano’s, take your pick.  34 hits or becomes one with 71, south of the Fox River.  Past Newark, heading southwest, we take a left on E 30th Rd aka County Line Rd and all of a sudden we’re in rural Illinois again, passing farm after farm on empty, unlined roads.  We sweep south and west across unsaid Illinois, past field after field of head-high corn and knee-high beans.

It’s the end of August.  By this time the crops are mostly done growing, drying up, losing their green and standing in wait of September.

Chicago / St Louis,
August 2018.