Trip to See My Siblings, Sept-Oct 2019

0. Intro: Dingy Springfield Motel, Impeachment Fumes

Shoes are just how I hide my feet from you. Stop with the breaking news. Ugly shoes are not treason but a selfish act reflecting on myself.

We had a two-toned couch, a throwback. Through Illinois it sat silent as a crack in the sidewalk on the back of a wide-load truck.

These bags under my eyes are all I see you seeing of me when I bid you good morning. Even though morning has already happened, doubtless it was better for you than it was for me, except—

1. Clinton Lake State Recreation Area, 09.27.2019.

Wind sounds in my ear. Gusts, barreling air, skies darkening, leaves on the oak still green, audible.

We’ve stopped over at this Illinois state recreation area now three times in thirteen months. It’s out east past Clinton, the turnoff is in De Witt, heading south. Furrows mowed into tall grass, a path, beekeeping, ragweed soft and yellow.

Hugo is walked, the acorns are raining down, hitting the top of the car as we get back on IL 54, national public radio still strong out of Springfield. As we pass the city limit sign for Gibson City we hear the clip of young climate change activist Greta’s Thunberg’s plea to “world leaders” at the United Nations from earlier in the week. We hear the anger in her voice, the sincerity in her words, and the gravity of her warning. And we keep on driving.

2. Cubs at Cards, 1-1, Top 7.

Game via radio, Chicago feed. Pat Hughes, Ron Coomer, Zach Zaidman. The Cubs take the lead on an Ian Happ double. The regular season is almost over. Can you believe it? Like a wink. Wild pitch, Cubs add a run, it’s 3-1.

We say it every year, and not just about baseball, but: where did the season go? Where did the time go? The months like water, like sand, like air. A temperature that will change and what can you do about it? No, nada.

As we drove north-northeast from Springfield today the skies were mixed. To the west, dark skies. Confused, malformed clouds. A blue darkness. We were along the flatness of Illinois. The sky extended as far as we could see in any direction.

To the east a mostly cloudy but pleasantly bright sky, blue over late corn. Or soft, high, white clouds over yellowed soybeans. Barns, houses, silos. Implements for sale.

Before long, somewhere north of Forrest or Wing, around when we crossed over the North Fork of the Vermillion River, the storm found us where we were, bloomed on us, the Subaru’s wipers struggling to brush away the fallen drops. Headlights. The temporary annihilation of water as it fell to see what is was we were doing here on Earth.

The Cardinals have seen this game fall away from them. I just cracked a Stag but I’m fighting sleepiness. I’m slung out on this handsome chair in our go-to Andersonville rental flat. Guapo silla. It’s maybe my favorite chair. Because of where it is. Maybe the rain quiets us all. It’s a wood and… wicker chair. Wicker? I cannot keep my eyes open….

3. Bread Dream.

It’s the 28th of September. I’m awake again and I’m friends with everyone. It rained as I was falling asleep, not even the sound of large drops pinging the window air conditioning unit could keep me from slumber. But the same rain woke me awake in the morning’s deep, untouchable hours.

It’s grey and damp out there. Women converse as they run, summoning breath, on the sidewalk below. I sit at the wood desk in the front room. The desk has no sliding drawers, only two cubbies. This desk has thrice now weld a magical draw upon me, calling the ink fromst my pen, this pen’s ink, purple, royal and proud.

My dream. There was a bread man. Affiliated with … a restaurant, or an outdoor food court, a business park … or a farmer’s market? The setting is ambivalent. The bread guy was giving out all kinds of samples. Two or three kinds of baguette. One flatter but very chewy, with a yellow-gold crust. I liked it and planned to buy a loaf.

There was also a baguette with some dark coloration, from ink perhaps, squid or octopus. The bread guy was trying in earnest to get me to buy a slice of some very colorful, neon green and blue cheesecake with whole Oreos tucked inside. I deliberated for minutes but finally found the courage to pass on the cheesecake.

This distracted me, or something else did. The bread man left the vicinity of the table from which he was giving out the samples. I tracked him down at some other counter and it looked like he had loaves left, baguettes like arrows sticking out of a big bread quiver. But when I asked after the baguette I wanted he said he was sold out, that all of the bread had been sold. Inside I’m wondering about the loaves in the bread quiver but I accepted what he said. The dream was over as I awoke.

4. Slow Down, September.

B is readying to take Hugo out on a short walk. I want the fresh air, which sits in the low-to-mid sixties, so I will proper-dress and myself go along. Voy a salir contigo, I say. And then we’re gone.

Brunch, or breakfast at M Henry with my sister Emily and her husband, Jesús. I was running a little late. They were waiting in the foyer when we got there. Maybe ten minutes. My fault. Rustic peasant quiche, which comes with this lovely toss of greens. I added a side of potatoes. Good food. But there was a crowd in there, Andersonville breakfast/brunch culture on a Saturday nearing fall. The room was boisterous. We don’t talk so loud, hearing was a strain. Coffee. Water.

As I wrote the lines above, the time neared ten in the morning. I assumed tennis was off—canceled—but I could not get hold of my brother, nor had I heard from him. Nick is a guy who sticks to a plan, whereas I can get flaky like this: yeah, we had plans but it rained all night so let’s talk about it again before we go through with it.

I gathered my tennis racquet, balls, water. Changed. Called a Lyft. Which I nearly missed because they swapped drivers on me. While I was looking for a Sentra, a black Lincoln MKZ pulled over a little ways up Balmoral toward Clark, its flashers going. I quaintly watched it sit there, assuming someone else had also called for a pick-up. Then I checked my phone—two notifications! One told me to look (instead) for a Lincoln. The next notification told me I had one minute to get my ass in the Lincoln or it would leave without me. Ok, then.

5. Un(travel) written

I’m sipping green tea. It’s slightly cool outside but not cool enough to where the dampness can make it feel more cool. It’s a blunt damp, a warming damp. Does this make any sense? My description skills are unfocused, flabby. I haven’t journaled since Tijuana and before that not since January. It’s been almost all poetry this year.

Then a few days ago B sent me a Paul Theroux travel log from the New York Times. He had been in Mexico. The writing and the photographs were majestic. It made me want to write like this again. A journal, an account, a log. Approach an essay is how I should be aiming. It can’t be all rehashing, retelling. There’s got to be transformation happening in—and to—me because of the writing itself. Things that didn’t occur (to me) until pen hit paper. That’s the magic of writing. A benevolent fall-out, a sudden crystallization. Something one cannot experience without doing the act—something unplanned, unimagined.

6. Not So Tennis.

My brother and I hit the ball around a little. Twenty-five minutes. We met on one of the two courts in Winnemac Park. The court had some water on it. One puddle in the deuce receiving box was large. Somehow we avoided it. But the balls soon were waterlogged, unleashing that mohawk of water as they bounced up toward you in the air.

The water on the ground, the grayness of the day. On an adjacent football field — Amundsen High, home of the Vikings — two squads in different uniforms were engaged in some type of loose Saturday morning practice. There seemed to be a lot of field goal kicking attempts. Then I heard one coach bellow, “You’re supposed to be offensive linemen!”

I asked my brother if he thought there was about to be a game.

“No, it can’t be a game,” he said. “There’s no one in the stands.”

7. Unminded.

The gates a crowd would have filed through were chained shut. I walked back toward the rental flat. Up Damen to Balmoral. It was pretty quiet. Dreary. A little depressing. I’ve got some unseemly moments from the week stuck in my head. I’ve been overrun at home by neighboring work — workers, trucks, deliveries, commotion, noise, nonsense — on two side of my house. I pushed back this week after nearly getting backed into, no fault of my own. But I’m not sure it was worth it — saying something.

One neighbor heard me out. Another, to whom I did not directly speak — because the last time I tried to talk to him about something he ordered me off his property — reacted to my parking enforcement action (I had called the city about wrong-way parking) by flipping me off, with both hands in the air and with his back turned toward me, rather Nixon-esque.

It’s a losing game, that I know. It’s all been replaying in my head, like some toxic monster constantly dying and coming back to life. This brain I’ve got — a gift, a wonder. And yet it’s prone to flooding with unpleasantness, it seems a shame.

8. Year of the Dumpster.

Focus! Ok. I’m in Chicago now, miles away from all of that, a deliverance. Trees outside this second-floor window. Locust? Could be Kentucky Coffee. A maple for sure. Playful voices.

Who is Steve Goodman? One of my dad’s favorites, Goodman also wrote the really good train song, “City of New Orleans.”

I did feel happy last night, once we got settled in and went to dinner with my siblings and brother-in-law. We played Chicago trivia after another excellent meal at Calo, the Italian restaurant right around the corner from here, on Clark. I was telling B after everyone left the flat, “Yeah, for all my failings — forty years old, no career, attenuated accomplishments — at least I can have a meal with both of my siblings free of any drama or angst.” I’m proud of that. It’s a tribute to my parents. Now my brother-in-law is helping me aprender español. Estas son cosas buenas.

Where this leaves me is sound of diesel out rental flat window. Can’t see the source. Sounds large. It’s the early afternoon on the north side of Chicago. Another heavy truck. There is so much busy-ness anywhere you go today. I don’t believe I’ve fallen prey to some sort of “it just feels that way, you’re biased by the moment” whim of feeling. 2019. Year of the dumpster. Year of tear down the old and haul it away.

Listen: I never want to break anything again. I don’t want to tear anything. I don’t want to be the noise you hear. But how do I (not) do that while maintaining a presence, commanding my own space?

For this reason I welcome winter, curmudgeonly. What’s my problem? I ask myself. Or am I just in the wrong place at the wrong time? Car horn. Serious writer? Living off the income of gifted investments and working wife. Skilled investor? Brother, husband, son. Curious about language. Integral student in foundering Spanish II course.

Because every moment is important, every moment is too much.

Jacques Chirac passed away this week. I heard him eulogized as a leader of France, firm in his opposition to Bush II’s disastrous invasion of Iraq. Heard him described as a bon vivant. In other words, a sociable person who has cultivated and refined tastes, especially with respect to food and drink. I love this phrase, it’s how I often wish I was, as a person. Though I still have not figured out how to get there from here.

9. Young People and Their Very Current Shoes.

Calimari every day of the year.
I contain myself in myself
If only I could show it.

Need dog for catnap.

REM sleep is as easy for you
As turning on R.E.M. on Spotify.
But I can get there only by
Traversing confused states
Of consciousness…

10. El Barco.

Lyft ride down Ashland in Larry’s smoke-remainder Sentra, the left blinker blinking most of the way. Why? we wondered. To keep cars away from behind?

Chicago carries on. Taking a left onto Ashland from Foster took two lights, only the bleeding yellows allowed anyone from the turn lane through. Why not put in an arrow? We could have walked down Balmoral and across Ashland ourselves, then called a Lyft. That would have saved at least five minutes. Next time that’s what we’ll do.

I ordered raw oysters, couldn’t resist. They’re better in New Orleans but we knew that already, didn’t we? I had ordered six. B had one, Jesus the other two.

My brother asked me what they tasted like. I said, “The ocean.” He made a retching noise.

I asked my sister, “Dondé estacionas?” I wanted to ask where they had parked but my question conjugated the verb in the present tense. She corrected me.

“Dondé estacionaste?” Yeah, where did you park, that’s what I wanted to ask.

They don’t make them like this anymore.

I had two Negro Modelos. B had a big margarita but it wasn’t too strong. Jesús has been going to this restaurant, El Barco, for years.

We all rode back in my sister’s Honda. They dropped us off at Balmoral so we could feed Hugo. Then we walked with him over to my sister’s place where we watched the final installment of the Ken Burns country music documentary.

11. Wedding Mezcal.

I’m tired. Jesús shared some of the genuine article mezcal he got as a wedding gift, the bottle previously unopened. I sipped some of that along with cans of Old Style. After crying through Country Music, I watched the Cubs beat the Cardinals again.

I’m not quite sure why that documentary made me so emotional. Vince Gill talking about Keith Whitley, maybe. Maybe it was the Alzheimer’s couple song that Kathy Mattea sang, “Where’ve You Been?” But really the rest of it, in general, took me back to my adolescence when I was badly smothering any flicker of a romantic relationship, cutting grass by day, fishing into the gloaming, and all the while listening to a lot of those songs, living within them, believing them.

B left my sister’s place before I did. Now she’s asleep and I’m in the chair writing. Street sounds. Is it raining again? Tires on pavement have that wet sound but I don’t hear any rain. I heard either a forceful cough or an upchuck. Clark and its bars aren’t far away, providing a special sort of Saturday night ambiance, not unwelcome. There was one sudden eruption of joyous voices.

Otherwise it’s just people talking and walking. It’s past eleven. Rain is on its way. According to the radar it’s raining in St. Louis right now and Chicago is not far off.

12. Rain Overnight, Another Weird Dream.

Sunday morning sidewalk.

It’s Sunday morning, seven o’clock. Rain overnight. The system is moving out but it’s wet out there again. B took Hugo for a short walk. I worked the single-serve coffee maker.

I dreamed last night about the Mormons. Why I have no idea. I was, in the first part of the dream, taking steps to become a Mormon. Then they wanted me to become involved in some sort of car theft ring that operated out of downtown Belleville, IL, city of my birth. Everything became very serious.

I got cold feet, broke out of a spell, or the dream just wanted to take a turn. Next thing I remember is being in the first row of a class, in a large lecture hall, or in an amphitheater perhaps. I say amphitheater because this class was outside, the building had no roof.

There was a sparkler stuck in the ground on a stage (of grass) raised above the seating area. My childhood friend Natalie Shelton said, “We can’t have that there.” Referring to the sparkler stuck into the grass. She pulled out a lighter and lit it. A significant fireworks display ensued. I thought we were going to be in big trouble. I don’t know if I or we were still involved with the Mormons at this point. That’s about it. A little goldfinch or hummingbird was flying around, yellow and black.

13. The Creaking Sound of Poor Packing.

Sound of a plane. Car horn, the “yes, it’s locked…” beep. Tires channeling water on the street sound. There is a little wind. If it is still raining it is doing so only lightly.

I packed poorly for this trip. I brought only one pair of pants. And only one kind of socks — ankle-high running socks. I’m off my game. Water drips from the eaves. The floors of this flat creak underfoot. I think of the residents living below, who rent but who have been here all the while. The husband is from Centralia. There are two children and a labradoodle that looks like a lion. I try not to be too loud when I walk from one end of the flat to the other, looking for a cup, or for my phone, or for my reading glasses, siempre.

14. City of Evanston-by-the-Sea.

Up to Evanston, in a misty rain, by train. Red line from Berwyn. Purple transfer at Howard. I’d never done it before. Out into Evanston in the mist again. To campus. We entered the library. There were turnstiles and a student sitting guard. Another student appeared to use his phone to gain entry, in the way we touch ticket-cards to the El turnstiles to get on a train here.

Abandoning the notion of checking out the library, we went to the student center, where we each used the restroom. I was depressed and couldn’t talk. I was letting things bother me. For instance, I wanted to go to the campus bookstore but it was closed. Of course it was! My feet were wet, my jeans were damp. I should’ve packed my hiking boots, why can’t the weather be nice, what the hell am I doing here, etc.

I sat down on a sort of couch in the student center feeling sorry for myself and waiting for B to find me. There was a Starbucks in there, moderately busy. There were students about but the campus had a muted feel. There was a big TV that wasn’t on, for which I was grateful. Then some guy with a coffee turned it on and changed the channel until NFL pregame was on the screen. That was enough to chase me away so I went and found B who was still waiting for me by the restrooms.

Lake Michigan doing a turn as the ocean.

Ironically, it was water that pulled me out of my dampened doldrums. Lake Michigan, looking today like an ocean, the surf unmitigated, unapologetic, roaring, and rolling. It was heard before it was seen. It had a pleasant blue-green hue, like water along the Emerald Coast, near Navarre, FL.

We found a path along the lake. It was not quite a pier but something like a boardwalk. Looking south we could see high rises in North Chicago but we could not see as far as downtown. We watched the waves come in. Breakers. Some broke hard against the path’s raised side, spilling out onto the walkway.

There were runners, people with their dogs. I snapped numerous photos, none of which did the job of conveying what I saw, or of explaining why this scene made me feel better. It was like getting a look at the sea, from the coast of Illinois. The wind, the spray of water, the repetitious sound, the anticipation of a really big wave. It was a reset. The waves made landfall, and I put it out there for them and they took it away. It’s buried out there now, somewhere halfway to Michigan.

High rises of North Chicago in the distance. Beyond that, who knows.

15. She’s Wearing My Shirt.

As we walked back into Evanston proper, B looked over and saw someone wearing the shirt she designed for the Wash U School of Engineering. She couldn’t believe it. On closer look she recognized one of the school’s engineering professors, whose daughter attends Northwestern. It’s fair to say seeing “her shirt” on someone walking around Evanston made her day.

From Clark St over Sheridan to Orrington. In a used bookstore I bought a copy of Julian Barnes’ Pulse, a book I read ten years ago. Then Ray read it, then B. It’s short stories. Of all his many books, this is still my favorite. There are a series of stories interspersed throughout called “At Phil and Joanna’s”. They follow the conversations of a group having a dinner party. We used to have dinner parties back then, a group of eight of us. Re-reading it will bring back some memories. It’s a hardcover, cost me $1.09 after tax but I gave the clerk two dollars and left the store.

We bought two more one-way train passes at $2.50 apiece before some fifty-cent charge that raises the cost to $3. No change will be given. B fed in a $5 bill and a single. It’s worth it. Purple to Howard. Then to a red line ready and waiting, just across the platform. Loyola students poured on at the Loyola stop, heading to…. The Edgewater Arts fest? Downtown?

16. Little Vietnam.

We didn’t stick around to find out where the Loyola throng was headed, disembarking ourselves at Bryn Mawr. We walked across the street to Little Vietnam for phø. First, we opened with egg rolls and spring rolls, two of each. They were quite good. So was the soup. The phø broth was a little different, welcome and flavorful. $41.

We walked back to the flat from the restaurant, across Broadway, down Lakewood. Dogs out for walks. A gutted house that has apparently been abandoned mid-“fixing up”. A guy happening to pass us on the sidewalk at just that spot said, “That place is a mess. It really is.”

Back here, B takes Hugo for a walk and I write this entry. Street sounds, clips of conversations. Children playing games of a physical nature, with the dog, with toys, in the flat below. I’m not sure I can nap through it.

17. Martha Mae: Notebooks and Pens.

Just now I went down to Clark and shopped at Martha Mae, purveyor of notebooks, pens and art supplies. They have some nice notebooks but they did not have exactly what I wanted. I bought a ruled Mnemosyne notebook for $12. Japanese. They had another brand, called Appointed, made in Washington D.C. of all places. But the Appointed ruled notebooks are ruled only on one side. Who writes on just one side of the page? Did the Paperwork Reduction Acts of 1980, 1995 and 2018 not prevent this error?

Martha Mae had some of my favorite pen brands. Micron and Stabilo. I bought three pens. Two Microns, a brown 03 and a blue 005. What I really want for this type of writing are 02s. The brown 03 is what I’m writing with right this moment. It’s not bad. I like writing in all different colors. I can tell when I have stopped writing and started again because I change pens any time I leave my place of writing. There’s just not enough time to fill all these pages with all the wonderful pens out there.

Where’d we find this dog?

18. Sunday Night Suds.

Dinner and beers at Hopleaf with my brother. But what was legible wasn’t well-written and has now been deleted.

19. Monday, last of September, a quarter past Noon.

In my right hand a purple-ink pen. Hugo is using my left hand for a pillow. I’m listening to a playlist, lounged on this soft, comfy bed, a fan above us providing a gentle breeze.

It’d be a shame to turn on even one of the AC window units, considering October is but half a day away. September has all but vanished, its weather having trended warmer year-over-year for several years now. A Stevie Nicks song plays on my phone. I love her voice. I’d listen to her sing anything.

B is out in the city with my sister. It’s sunny, the temperature will—


She’s back. They walked all the way down to Wrigley then they took the train back. She bought a hat. There was, reportedly, “no one” down at Wrigley Field. The regular season is over! I can’t get over that. But I guess I’ll have to.

20. No Hay Nada Nugget.

This morning B and I walked to the Golden Nugget on Lawrence at Ravenswood for breakfast. We ran for only a short stretch along the way. I started to feel pretty awful as we awaited our food.

Out of two over-easy eggs I ate only one. The pancakes were pretty good but I didn’t finish them. I bequeathed one of my two pieces of bacon to B. I had a moment or two where I feared I was about to throw up.

“Are you doin’ alright?” she asked me.

“No,” I said, “I’m not.”

We took a different route back to the flat. On the way south, en route the Nugget, we were traveling along Ravenswood but there’s construction all along that corridor. Resurfacing. A commuter train line runs all along Ravenswood through there. We were looking for a tunnel or underpass that goes under the tracks. We never encountered it. It exists somewhere along Ravenswood because we happened upon it last year, and it charmed us.

In fact if we had found it, and gone under the commuter line tracks, we would have had to cross back under Ravenswood because the Nugget is east of the tracks, not west of them like I had (mis)remembered. We did enjoy watching the trains come and go while we waited for our breakfast. The train stop is right there at Lawrence and we had ourselves a window seat.

You could tell when a train was destined to arrive because an uptick of pedestrians would appear, all timing the next arrival. We watched people being dropped off. There were also frequent appearances out in front of the restaurant of whichever bus line it is that runs along Lawrence, the 80 or 80-something. It seemed to make a pass in one direction or another every five minutes.

Walking back, what I remember, other than a couple random devil-may-care ladies leaf-blowing trash and yard debris onto Ashland Avenue was this seen-better-days hospital that seemed to crop up out of nowhere. It was like some hospital from the 1970s traveled back in time and plopped itself down in the neighborhood we happened to be walking through. It wasn’t clear who was using this hospital or who it was serving. We scratched our heads and walked on.

21. Tennis Engine.

I popped some ibuprofen back at the flat. The sun was out, there was not a cloud in the sky. It was going to be a hot one, you could tell. I grabbed my racquet, my bag of balls, my water bottle, a small towel (for sweat) and got back on the streets of Chicago to meet my brother for tennis at Winnemac Park.

I was late, just about fifteen minutes late. My flakiness, my tardiness again. Not a good quality. He was there when I got there. A couple minutes before my arrival he had texted to ask if I was on my way but I didn’t see this text until I got there. From afar I saw a tennis ball bouncing across the court. I thought, “Damn, someone’s already on the court.” But it was Nick, in that tennis ball-color shirt of his. A Randall’s Farm shirt, now that I think of it.

The courts were mostly dry. Had it not rained more during the wee hours everything likely would’ve been dry. Still, it was sunny, with high clouds.

We hit back and forth to warm up. My back has been touchy for months so my range and flexibility were limited. Once we decided to play “for real” the engine chorus started up. A guy was mowing the grass surrounding the bleacher section of the adjacent football field—Amundsen High’s Jorndt Stadium, home of the Vikings—which lay right outside the fence ringing the tennis court we were on.

On top of the guy cutting grass, a landscaping crew suddenly descended to “work on” the Winnemac Park Prairie, a wildflower installation that for some reason needs a squad of leafblower-armed mercenaries to tend it. Let me tell you something. The loudest Viking raid in history has nothing on the noise modern lawn crews waste our ears with today. Whatever happened to brooms and rakes?

I watched a guy with a leafblower going whole hog on the park path as mothers vigilantly rolled their stroller-bound children through a leafblower-made-hell . What are we doing? How have we gotten here? This is madness!

Between the lawnmower, the leafblowers and the stream of airlines making their descents upon O’Hare International it became difficult for my brother and I to hear each other call out scores for the first eight games. There we are, in a park, yelling to each other across a tennis court. But this is normal now, these days, alas.

22. Letting it Slip Away.

Initially, I was down two games to one, then four to two. I wasn’t striking the ball well but I was hardly missing any shots wide, rare for me. Hitting long was still an error zone. My serves were accurate but soft. My brother was making more unforced errors than usual. He hardly ever makes any.

Somehow I rallied to go up 5-4 but by then I was out of water. The stadium, the gates of which were open to the public today, with patrons using the track, had a water fountain which drew me toward it. But no dice, no está funcionando. I figured I’d just run some water out of the tap in the bathroom but that door was locked. Hmmm. The leafblower brigade was out of gas so I ventured carefully out into the park though still I could not espy a water source. I gave up on water for the moment and we resumed play. He tied it at five then won a deuce to make it 6-5. I had let it slip away.

Once we called it quits my brother located a water fountain that was not far away but not especially visible from the court we were on. I filled up. He had driven to the court today so he offered to drive me back. We talked about his gig writing fantasy baseball. He left me at Balmoral and Clark.

23. Monday Afternoon in Andersonville.

I was sweating plenty so I showered, then wrote some in this journal. I wasn’t feeling great but I wasn’t in terrible shape, having gotten a ton of exercise despite handicapping myself with alcohol withdrawal. Once B had showered we agreed that a nap was a good idea.

I’ve brought things to the present. It’s Monday afternoon in Andersonville. Planes steadily descend to the runways of O’Hare. There are high, patchy clouds, two types: altocumulus and cirrus. This is my favorite type of sky. Not too many clouds, but what’s there is high, and will provide plenty of color should it be around later to catch the sunset’s light.

I’m streaming classical music on my phone. NPR classical. I’ve raised one of the window shades so I can look left from this sleek desk and see a bit of sidewalk below on Balmoral. A little past that I now have a view of the northeast corner of the Clark and Balmoral intersection. I don’t know why I failed to avail myself sooner of this vantage. Maybe it was the rain, the dreariness it wore and also laid upon my visage.

Cars along Balmoral, headed one way: east. Someone walking a dog. Commuters done with work. A walk signal flipping from don’t to do. Flashing please hurry. Back to don’t.

I’m feeling pretty good right now, a moment I want to remember. I tell B to remind me to get a photo with my brother and me and my brother-in-law. We’re all meeting up for pizza at my sister’s place later on. Even Hugo’s invited! Detroit-style pizza. I’m hungry now. Never ate any lunch. A couple slices of carrot. We leave tomorrow morning, break my heart why don’t you? The days just stream away from me like birds in flight. I still haven’t figured out any way of keeping them from doing so.

24. From Detroit Pizza to a Chicago Rooftop, As The Bat Flies.

It’s 22:17 now on Monday night, the last throes of another month. Tonight was great, a pizza party at my sister’s place. Jesús even went to the trouble of getting us some Garrett’s popcorn, Chicago mix of course—half caramel, half cheddar.

My sister—and my brother … ? … I never confirmed—picked up the pizza from Jet’s, which is on Clark south of Foster. Their Detroit-style pizza has a nice crispy crust. For the corner pieces, the crust runs along three sides of the slice. It’s pretty good. I had no lunch so I had plenty of pizza, especially those Detroit-style, tall, rectangular pieces of pepperoni pizza.

It was hot in her place, though. She had the windows open but that didn’t seem to help. I was really sweating. Maybe I was still sweating out last night’s impurities. Jesús turned on a fan, I basked in the breeze. We ate at the table, once my grandmother’s Meentemeyer.

I was angling for a viewing of an episode of The Great British Baking Show but my sister wanted us to hang out up on the roof—the apartment building’s roof. We went and now am I glad I did. There is something special about a rooftop view and the vista from her place—located on the grey line between Chicago’s Andersonville and Uptown neighborhoods—did not disappoint. You could look in just about any direction and find something to wonder at.

It was that same sky I had noted this afternoon—the right mix of clouds to amplify and embellish a sunset. To the west, an orange glow. Clouds all over the sky taking on orange and pink hues. Bats taking wing, fluttering, banking, twisting, falling away, jerking back up to where they were two second prior.

Nearby apartment buildings, their lights on, people going about their nightly routines. A crescent moon, waxing, just a sliver, fitting itself into the sunset view. A planet in the south, not twinkling, not moving at all, not a star, not a plane. Probably Jupiter, which I keep seeing and writing about this summer.

The planes. A constant parade, some really low, loud but not obnoxious. I accept them because I fly in them, because I don’t believe there is a reasonable alternative. The stream of landing planes had us talking about flight and I referenced the Bernouli principle. Then we talked about the National Air Traffic Controllers Association, flight paths, O’Hare Airport, an impending shortage of air traffic controllers, what qualities one would need to be a successful air traffic controller….

While it was still light enough I had B take a photo of me, and my brother, y mi cuñado. We had the sunset behind us.

Chevy Chase drives crazy in the desert.

In the distance, in the direction we faced, were all the skyscrapers of downtown Chicago: the Willis Bros Tower (formerly the Sears), the Hancock Building, the Prudential Building with its diamond-shaped tip. As the natural light faded the lights of downtown began to solidify. A few stars were out though the clouds obscured some of the sky. We sat up there doing the really rare thing of just talking. At one point I went back down the two flights of wooden stairs and brought Hugo up with me. He loved it, being outside on the roof, with all of us.

We talked movies. First Interstellar, then Arrival, an air traffic controller flick with Tommy Lee Jones. What else? Natalie Portman as the astronaut that drove from Texas to Florida in an adult diaper so she wouldn’t have to stop. (Incidentally, I touched on this incident in one of my best pieces of short fiction, which you can find here.)

25. What Do Chevy Chase and Lee Harvey Oswald Have in Common?

After it was dark awhile we returned to their apartment and played Balderdash. I like that game. I did pretty well but my brother won. Jesús had some funny definitions/descriptions/synopses. For a movie plot synopsis he wrote “Chevy Chase drives crazy in the desert.” That got us talking about the movie Nothing But Trouble. Who was in it, what was the setting? Chevy Chase, Demi Moore, Dan Akroyd, an old hotel, in the desert?

For a definition of “molebut” I wrote something about whale blubber, which received no votes. I almost wrote about a small fish related to the halibut which I sure wish I would’ve because indeed the correct definition was along the lines of a small, hog-like fish. Which I didn’t even vote for! Instead I got snookered into voting for B’s entry, something about a Roman-era grinding mechanism. I thought it was logical to get grinding from the “mol-” root of the word, like for molars i.e. teeth or molé, the Spanish word for a sauce made from grinding things up.

Then for the last clue/definition we were given a date—February 27, 1964. The idea is that the players write a short synopsis of what might plausibly have happened on that date. Everyone submits their entries and the other players (excluding the player whose turn it is to read from the card) all guess on which definition/synopsis they think is the correct one.

Well, for February 27, 1964 I wrote something about Lee Harvey Oswald being shot while going to a court hearing. B happened to be the person reading the clue from the card for this question. When I slipped her my piece of paper and after she read it she gave me a really funny look. I thought maybe I’d nailed it. Then she read the other four entries, one of which is always the correct answer, transcribed by the person reading from the card. One other option she read aloud was, “Lee Harvey Oswald was shot.”

At that point I was thinking maybe I had actually guessed the date correctly. But another part of me, even as I was writing my bogus suggestion, was saying, “No, man, Oswald was shot really soon after he was arrested… and he was arrested within, like, hours of JFK being shot.” Indeed, Jack Ruby shot Lee Harvey Oswald on November 24, 1963, two days after Oswald supposedly acted alone in assassinating president John F. Kennedy.

My sister had supplied the other Oswald entry. I didn’t even listen to the other offered descriptions for what happened on February 27, 1964. I guessed the one my sister offered because you get points if you guess the correct definition, i.e. the one from the card. In fact, I thought B had erred by reading both of the Oswald entries. If one of the players gets the definition right, you’re not supposed to read “both” right entries.

Well, I was all messed up. The correct answer was something about the town of Pisa, Italy asking for help in straightening out the Leaning Tower of Pisa. Which my brother guessed correctly, thereby amassing enough points to move him over the finish line and end the game.

26. In My (Recycling) Defense.

That was about it. We talked about the heat. We exchanged hugs. My sister admonished the person who had put the can of Stag in the trash can instead of in the recycling bin. This person was, of course, yours truly. But in my defense it was quite unclear which of two bins was for recycling and which was for trash. The “trash can” had a bunch of paper in it, like magazines or catalogs. I figured that one had to be the recycling. I am never willing not to recycle. I’ll put my recycling bona fides up against almost anyone else’s. I’m not on the level of ZeroWasteChef, whom I follow on InstaGram. And I’m not on Greta Thunberg’s level. But I assiduously recycle alkaline batteries (U City Commons), styrofoam including from my parents’ house (Foam Products Corp near Adie Rd and Dorsett), plastic bags (grocery store receptacle), long fluorescent tubes (Batteries Plus), plastics 1-7 (curbside…if indeed this stuff is truly getting recycled), paper, cardboard, aluminum, metal cans, even household hazardous waste which includes motor oil, old chemical containers, and old paint (there is a dropoff site in north county).

Walking back to the flat, B and I talked about how our lives would be different and better, perhaps, if we could all meet up for pizza like that more often. Or meet up to play tennis, or even go to a movie, whatever. It had me thinking of the get-togethers we used to have with my mom’s side of the family—grandparents, aunt and uncle, cousins. Those were good times. We made one of our own tonight, and I’m happy about it. I can leave it at that, there’s not much else to say.

27. Warm Coda.

I’ve worked myself back into the present again. I’m sitting not at the desk in the front room but at the handsome bowtie-inlaid dining room table. I picked this spot to sit at and write because it was too darn hot out in the front room with no air flow. I could have managed if I had a fan blowing on me but there isn’t any. Sitting at this table I am able to turn on a window unit and have it reach me.

Ten minutes later and I’ve turned it off. That was enough. It’s still a little warm in here though. It’s 23:17 and I’m stuffed up! My allergies have been bad here, like they were in St. Louis. Persistently so. My left nostril is stuffed shut but also somehow runny—you know how it goes. It doesn’t seem physically possible.

I’ll put my headlamp on, get a book and soon get into bed. I am tired. Estoy cansado. It’s been a good day, even though I was listed as questionable to start out. It’s quiet now. I can hear the bedroom AC unit running. It’s 80° outside. Near the very end of September in Chicago, Illinois!

I confess that for a while there I was trying to remain skeptical on climate change. But something is definitely changing. September has become its own season. There’s snow in Montana but record heat in the Midwest. There is no longer any such thing as normal weather. Seeing all those planes flying in, listening to the leafblowers in the park, charging my phone, driving to visit my brother and sister, leaning on a window unit to beat the heat.

I still think there’s a chance we are missing something vis-a-vis the climate. I read about other planets also having increases in surface temperatures. And there was a story a while back about magma under the surface of Antarctica having risen. Rising magma is suspected in the turn of once-hospitable Venus into a hellish hothouse, according to an article I read this week.

I find it plausible that magma is rising, coming closer to the surface, warming the oceans, and that we just can’t measure it. And maybe that’s just the planet trying to kick us out. Stranger things have happened. But it’s probably us up here on the planet’s blue surface, hanging out in the air conditioning and trying to enjoy this limited time we’ve got, driving crazy in the desert and fucking everything up. Just ask Greta.