Monday, February 1, 2010

The Chicago Gift

I have begun to resemble Little Critter. You know, the mishap-prone furry character from the Mercer Mayer books? The one with the straggly straight hair and the purple eyelids and the permanent look of confusion? That’s me. And this is because I have begun to walk everywhere.

When working at a bar, there is this added benefit of being able to move around more than the average person. I wore a pedometer during a few shifts while I was in my “pedometer phase,” (which ended only when I entered my “I lose everything phase,”) and it seems that I averaged three miles per shift. Which is not bad.

If left to my own devices, meaning if I had loads of time and money, I would probably not drive anywhere. I have been to France three times, twice by myself. (Taking these two trips makes me feel like I have lots of time and money because really, who gets to take long trips with no agenda? Apparently, people who put it on their credit card do.) I have consistently spent this time abroad wandering around, getting lost on purpose for ten miles a day. I am slightly nervous about taking a trip abroad with M, in fact, as I tend to walk all day long and forget to do things like eat.  Anyway, upon returning to the States (which is something I only ever call this country when referring to travel abroad,) I usually spend a few weeks trying to recapture this sense of leisurely adventure and walk everywhere and drink coffee without sweetener and people-watch. Which quickly wears off because for some reason, back in Chicago, this is not fun. Maybe because there are no hills, or because I sometimes use coffee as a snack between jobs, or because people here think you are creepy if you watch them…I don’t know, but I haven’t been able to make these habits stick. But then I got fired.

So forget the coffee and the people, I now have less money for gasoline and lots more time for things like wandering around. While this is motivated by a desire to bring Paris to Chicago, it is also to make up for those missing nine miles per week. (An average of three miles per shift, three shifts a week in case you didn't catch the math.) I don’t just like to move around on vacation, I love to move around in general, as evidenced by my inability to take on desk jobs in offices. I like that feeling of having used up all the energy I have in a way that makes the act of sitting become a treat. I do, however also like to write, and so after a couple of months of non-bar work and sitting in front of a computer in a way that makes sitting become a chore, my body revolted and told me to get moving. This may have also been spurred on in part by the fact that M and I saw Avatar this weekend and I am now overly concerned about ruining the planet. (If you haven’t seen it, it’s EXACTLY like Fern Gully, but with more creative science and less sing-along songs. And by "less," I mean none. Boo, Avatar. Boo.)

Anyway, I unfortunately began walking everywhere in earnest in one of the coldest weeks in January. In Chicago. So while it doesn’t totally matter to anyone else that I look professional or pretty or put-together in any way while I am making my way to the gym, it does kind of matter to me. Because walking in the kind of wind and cold that makes you feel like you are made out of mesh and that you want to wear a full-on face sock also makes me resemble Little Critter. Or a homeless person.

It was en route to the gym yesterday that I caught a glimpse of myself in the reflection of a building. My thoroughly static-ized hair was sticking out at impossible angles from my knit hat, the dark circles under my eyes embellished by my wind-chapped cheeks. My lips cracked and dry, I seemed to have crawled out of a ditch wearing an over-large ski jacket and a bewildered-to-desperate expression. The fact that I looked awful was one thing. The fact that this will be my default state until May is quite another. And this "another" thing is  becoming annoying. I am at a high level of frustration with Chicago right now, from the woman who punched the hood of my car in December with her fist as she crossed the street, (yes I honked my horn at her, but she was also crossing the road in the middle of traffic with no crosswalk in sight in a dark jacket at night,) to the less than awesome public transportation that is getting slower and more unreliable every day. So I am trying to remember all of the things that I love about Chicago in order to elbow my way through the winter. Here are some of them in no particular order, other than the fact that they are numbered:

1.   The view from the Brown line as it goes over the river.
2.   The Art Institute
3.   How excited everyone gets about warm weather.
4.   How excited everyone gets about St. Patrick’s Day, even if this involves massive amounts of drunk morons.
5.   17.3 billion amazing restaurants. (I did not research this number. It is fake.)
6.   The skyline.

There are more, but most of them involve the skyline in some way, as in “the holiday lights downtown.” As more of a native Chicagoan than I, M loves the skyline even more. I am convinced there is some kind of ratio to accompany my theory of residency to skyline love, but that would take more math than I am willing to give to this idea. Anyway, I like to find things to foster this love of Chicago skyscrapers as gifts for M. For his birthday a couple of years ago, I found a poster at a small boutique that featured a Chicago skyline constructed out of words from magazines. It is not as ransom-note-y as it sounds – the words are very small and they each describe something in the city. Words like “Wrigley,” or “Kimball” or “Hyde Park.” These words, and their varying colors, make a rainbow-flavored version of the Chicago skyline.

I met M in Chicago, so this gift was a little more than “here’s a picture of this place we both live in and love.” There are words in there that mean something directly to us, as “us” and not as “me” or “him.” I know this gift was a big hit because M began to pick out those words immediately. He has yet to actually hang it up, but to his credit, I have yet to hang up most of the artwork that belongs in my bedroom of 1.75 years. When we do get it on a wall though, it will help me feel more like a Chicagoan and less like a Critter. 

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