Saturday, February 28, 2004

Ceiling fan installation

Needless to say I feel much better tonight than I did on Saturday afternoon. It was just a brutal week, I guess. I started feeling doped out and tired Friday night and then I was just utterly exhausted on Saturday and I floated through it on a steady diet of garbage food, sugar, and caffeine. Not a very good way to get myself in a better frame of mind. It's amazing what a difference just one day off makes. I feel like an entirely different person. Calmer, grounded, centered…

I put up my new ceiling fan in my study and it's whispering delightfully over my head, sending a comfortable breeze around my neck and shoulders. Despite this idyllic setup, I was screaming and swearing at it furiously earlier, throwing screwdrivers and tossing around bits of light fixture in my tirade of frustration. After several fruitless attempts, I did manage to achieve both correct lighting and correct balance of the fan, and twenty minutes later it was on and working. The whole setup time took about two and a half hours, most of which I attribute to the unusual height of our ceilings and the fact that I had only a tipsy old chair to stand on instead of a stepladder. Nonetheless I managed to get it working. Beth, bless her heart, stifled her giggles at my stomping, infant-like tantrums and provided some help as the forty pound ceiling fan began to make my left arm shudder and then twitch uncontrollably. And tonight, even after having fought the infernal thing for an hour and a half longer than it took me to install the one in our bedroom, I feel relaxed and peaceful.

I've let my hair grow out longer than I have in quite a long time. I don't know why I've done this. It feels good to have the fan on, though. It was 55 degrees here today. Almost warm enough to go out without a coat.

Sadly, times like this must inevitably end. Breathe in, breathe out. Breathe in, breathe out. Breathe in…


Every time I think my Saturday morning anatomy instructor couldn't possibly talk about anatomy for 2 1/2 hours straight without putting herself to sleep, she proves me wrong. I feel like hell this morning. I am weary to my very core, just seconds away from sleep.


Well, I did my homework as surreptitiously as possible (not very). My instructor is doing a fair job of convincing me that she is genuinely interested in the liver. The guy next to me, hilariously, has fallen dead asleep. He closed his notebook, took off his glasses, and sprawled across the desk.

Speaking of funny sleeping people, I was on the Red line last night and I took some amazing pictures of a homeless man who had slumped and fallen alseep in the last seat of the car. As if God disapproved, I turned off my camera and when I tried to download the photos the camera wouldn't power on. New batteries did not work. The Lord, evidently, was not amused. Whatsoever I do to the least of his people, and all that.

I'm going to make an optometry appointment eventually. I think this time, I may get a glasses and contacts appointment so I can get both. I'm going to try to get Oakley frames for my perscription, if I can afford them. If not, screw it. I'll just get contacts. Life is too short for dorky glasses, and Lasix is cheap now.

The scientific word for fart is "flatus." I hate science.

Tuesday, February 24, 2004

That Time an Instructor Threw Down

The last two weeks of this semester are going to be dense. Two student outreach days, one more student clinic, four more tests, one term paper and four more homework assignments. This is a fairly brutal two weeks, given the 40+ work hours I'm also putting in.

The instructor in my special populations class just asked us to stand up and pretend to be pregnant. I swear to god, she did. Despite an animated few moments waddling around, I somehow feel unenlightened, though that may partially explain the bacon and eggs I had for dinner.

This class is just a collossal waste of time. I'm seriously considering getting the wireless modem for my Axim. There's got to be a way to use this time for something productive. I'm not quite bold enough to openly read a book in class.

To alleviate my boredom, I just picked a fight with my instructor and we growled at each other for ten minutes over the supposed effectiveness of effleurage (gliding), which is essentially the only thing you can do for pregnant women. The other students looked on with awkward, nervous smiles. Eyes shifted between my face and hers like they were following a verbal tennis ball. Eventually, she ran out of knowledgable things to say and started harping on the fact that I had a limited perspective.

"Have you ever been pregnant?" She asked, in what I'm sure she thought was a rhetorical tone. This was obviously a futile gesture, since by then the points I had made had sunk in hard with my classmates (that effleurage is essentially a warming and transition technique and useless on its own, and that all the most useful and relaxing techniques are systemically containdicated). This idiot instructor was explaining how gestational carpal tunnel syndrome could be alleviated by tractioning the arm. This is the most retarded thing I've heard yet from a massage instructor. The only way to alleviate that sort of pain is with warming compression to bring blood flow to the nerves and draining to reduce inflammatory edema. How do I know this? Guess what the NSAID COX-II drug class (celebrex, vioxx, bextra, mobic) is designed to do? Here's a hint, it isn't traction.

What she was really asking me was; "Are you going to push this until either I have to kick you out of class or start crying right here?" Deciding that I didn't care to be ejected from a rather expensive (if sometimes terminally boring) class, and having no wish to see this tedious woman cry, I backed down by asking her a few easy questions that I already knew the answer to. She recovered her composture quickly.

The thing is, I was actually following her lecture up until that point, and I was interested in pregnancy massage technique. But when Beth gets pregnant, I'd like to feel like I could provide her with some symptomatic relief. Instead I am taught literally nothing new in terms of technique, but I'm told that all the normal techniques that might help things like sore feet and backs are expressly forbidden. Due to my status as a massage therapist, I can't even provide the crude footrub of an untrained husband because it might open me up for legal liability in the event of miscarriage.

I don't like to think of myself as someone who likes to give others a hard time, but I positively loathe having my free time wasted. She tortured me with the pregnancy walk, so I tortured her with her own ineptitude. I admit, I did it because I was bored, tired, and pissed off, and as a form of revenge against a readily available target. None of these were good or moral reaons, but it did make me feel marginally better.

As I rode home on the red line, the lights kept flickering on and off. I secretly wished they would stay off permanently. The city is hypnotic at night, watching it go past the window is one of my favorite distractions, and is part of the reason that i get so little reading done during my 8+ hours of transit each week. Every time the lights went out, it was like the city skyline was invited inside the L car. Both sides converged, and the passengers and I were suddenly part of the nightline. Their faces were softly lit and suddenly young and old, man and woman alike were vulnerable and beautiful. I am a firm believer in Sartre's idea that Hell is other people, but heaven isn't exactly solitude.

Monday, February 23, 2004

I Can't be On Time For Work, and A Faceful of Gangrene

There is a strange phenomenon in my life that goes something like this; It is impossible for me to be on time for work. I'm not talking about anyone's interference here, I mean literally it is beyond my capacity in a physical sense to be on time.

I am supposed to be at work at 8:30. This is a very reasonable hour to start one's day. I live about 12 minutes from my office. Twelve minutes of uncomplicated city suburb driving. No expressway or bad lights. Few lights at all, in fact.

So you'd think that leaving my house around 8:18 would put me there right on time. I leave the house at 8:18 and I arrive at..... 8:35. Five minutes late. So the next day I build in an extra five minutes. I leave at 8:13 and I arrive at..... 8:35.

Whoa, wait a minute, where did those extra five minutes go? Could traffic possibly be five whole minutes slower, a difference of about 35%, from one day to the next? Maybe so, I think (I'm kind of an idiot like that). So the next time, I leave at 8:10, figuring I'll try to get there at least within a three minute bracket instead of a noticable five minutes late.

I leave at 8:10, and it's as if God hmself is working against me. Road work that wasn't there the previous night springs up out of thin air. The world's oldest licensed driver in a 3-cylinder Korean deathtrap jags in front of me and grinds my entire lane down to an infuriating 20 miles per hour. A school bus driver pulls to a stop at a corner on Central street, right under a traffic light, and brings all four intersecting lanes to a complete stop.

Then I see what every morning motorist dreads; the descending of a wheelchair lift from the right flank of the bus. The busdriving imp then climbs down out of the bus, and takes seven full minutes to go through the procedure of strapping and securing a grinning handicapped boy wearing a blue dickies coat with an orange Garfield tuke. Green light after green light flash teasingly in front of me while fifty or sixty cars sit helpless at this light. Horns honk as the little guy takes his agonizingly slow 4-foot elevator ride.

"Are you fucking kidding me?" someone shouts from an open window, echoing all our unpleasant thoughts. Finally, as I begin to contemplate for the first time the true merits of homeschooling, the insidious red stopsign on the bus retracts and everyone scrambles through the intersection like extras from Road Warrior. I arrive at work at..... 8:35.

Finally, I decide to leave at 8:00 flat. This way the worst that can happen is that I get there five minutes early. Now here's where it gets complicated. I hate being early to work almost as much as being late. No one wants to waste time that could have been spent eating breakfast at work. So with begrudging acceptance, I admit that punctuality is more important than my own free time. I get up an uncomfortable half hour early the following day. I leave at 8:00 and pull into the parking lot at..... 8:05.

I don't know if there's a higher power in the universe, but if there is, I think it hates me.

So, utterly beaten down by B.F. Skinner-like learned helplessness, I have accepted my fate. I walk into work five minutes late every morning, feeling duly truant, and I struggle to get caught up all morning.

One of the recent lectures in my Saturday morning anatomy class concerned skin pathologies. During this class, someone asked about identifying necrotic tissue (commonly referred to as Gangrene). The instructor responded by characterizing it by a unique and unforgettable smell.

I can tell you that this is a rather hilarious understatement. I had a close encounter with some gangrene this morning that I was about arm's length from. Here is how I would describe it;

Think of the last time you stuck your head in a dumpster on a summer day. Then imagine if the ripest part of the rubbish were alive. So here you have a person with a limb that smells (and often looks) like a chunk of decaying spinach tomato sandwich. It is like the smell of death itself, but with a topping of cheap Safeway whipped cream from a five year old aerosol can. It is not only a smell that is unforgettable, but literally inescapable. Your clothes smell like it until you wash them, your food tastes like it. It will haunt you for hours.

I had an asian salad from Panera with raspberry vinegarette for lunch. It was the best salad I've eaten in months.

Sunday, February 22, 2004

Toilet seat

Bought a new toilet seat today. There is a surprising amount of style and aesthetic variation available when buying commode seats. There's wood, faux wood, plastic, metal, metal covered with plastic, wood with a white veneer, plastic covered with wood, etc. And for each, there is a variation on the hardware used to connect the joints of the seat to the actual bowl. Wood, plastic, wood with plastic covers, plastic with wood covers, plastic with plastic covers, brushed metal, shiny metal, blued metal…

There were literally hundreds of toilet seats ranging from tasteful (black porcelain is nice for bathrooms, I think) to outrageously tacky (faux leopard skin veneer). Despite the inherent difficulty associated with such vast options, we chose one that fit and matched perfectly. We have a rather unusual toilet. Given the relatively small size of our single bathroom, the condo's former occupants decided on a tankless toilet that looks very much like one you might see in a public restroom. Instead of the ugly bedpan type, industrial-looking oval seat however, it has a rounded bowl that is quite tall from the floor, and is not only practical for the space, but is quite comfortable, even to a tall person.

It's charming, really, if such a thing could be said about a toilet. Most important, however, is the fact that it is the older-style high-volume type that flushes briskly and loudly. On some level I know it's wasteful, but I also know that this type of toilet is no longer sold. In fact, due to conservation laws, it is actually illegal to install this type of toilet in a home. Though unconventional and somewhat of a curiosity, I am secretly quite proud of it. All of life's proverbial slings and arrows cannot take away such a simple pleasure as a toilet that you only have to flush once.

I also finally got a chance to pick out my christmas present from Beth's parents; a three-speed Hunter Auberville ceiling fan for my library. That room, covered as it is on three walls with bookshelves, can be quite stuffy.

Beth made a delicious broiled turkey breast marinated in terayaki that practically fell apart on my fork, with a side of cheddar mashed potatoes that were, despite the fact that I usually don't mix potatoes and cheddar cheese, nonetheless equally delicious.

Can it be Sunday night already?

Saturday, February 21, 2004

People who ride the L

A mid-60-ish black homeless man sat down next to me on the L this morning. I normally put my bag next to me on the chair because there really isn't enough room on those seats for me plus another person. But for some reason, I felt generous this morning and I put my bag between my feet. No sooner had I done this than the aforementioned fellow who weighed roughly 250 lbs. despite a diet of what smelled like vinegar, rotten lettuce and yellow snow, sat down next to me. Two stops later, I felt like I needed another shower. Three stops later, I was wondering what it would take to break the window on my right and climb out. Four stops later I climbed over him and exited at Belmont, with the firm resolve to either take up an entire seat or stand at all future times.

I sat down and took our anatomy and physiology quiz this morning without even five minutes of looking over notes from last class. I got a perfect score. I've taken too many of these classes. I think I'll play solitaire or try to read more of American Psycho.

(after class)

The heat lamps at the Howard stop smell like a thousand years of baked polecat piss. I ate 3/4 of a can of pringles and a drank a mountain dew for dinner on the red line. A pink candy lollipop flew past my head, bounced off of my window, and landed at my feet. I looked up and two largish black women sitting with two pre-teen girls glared back at me. I quickly lowered my head back to my book. The very last thing I need tonight is a discussion with four sets of dreadlocks and matching pre-faded Deb jeans. I suppose it didn't actually hit me, so that might have been an overreaction to an ostensibly-honest accident. A candy tug-of-war gone bad, perhaps... Even if it wasn't unintentional, would I have said something? Probably not. Who needs the aggravation? A verbal exchange with the four horsewomen of the tube-top apocalypse has only one possible outcome.

Beth bought me four pairs of $10 dress socks. They're wonderful.

Wednesday, February 18, 2004

Solicitors at the Golden Apple

I'm sitting in the Golden Apple and a person comes up to my booth and says "Hi."

I smile at her, thinking that she may be one of the new CSMT students, one I don't remember. She reaches into her pocket and pulls out a handfull of cheap pens and says;

"I'm (unintelligible name) from the Unification Church. I have a selection of colorful pens today."

She splays the dubious things out in front of me on my table. I hold up my hand and shake my head.

"No thank you."

"Perhaps a small donation?" She asks, in the same I-haven't-slept-indoors-in-days/I'm-heavily-medicated voice.

"No." I say. I don't have any cash on me. She leaves, tucking six or seven pens back into her coat, still with that vacant smile on her face. I realize that she's probably a mental, or homeless, or both. Or she's a crazy religious person.

Now the waittress is talking slowly and firmly to a guy in blue municipal Dickies who has two missing front teeth and speaks with the overloud honk of someone with mild Down's Syndrome or possibly cerebral palsy.

I used to think that truckstop weirdos were a phenomenon unique to rural New York. It's oddly comforting. It's almost like getting to live my old life for fifteen minutes or so until my eggs and bacon get here. Maybe that's why I like it so much. There must be some reason.


And today I was discriminated against because of my gender. A panel discussion with the special populations people was held tonight and we got to meet the directors of the outreach sites that we are required to spend 30+ hours at, donating our time and skills. So these smiling non-profit businesspeople (you know the ones) each made their pitch. One woman was handing out flyers for a women's center and I raised my hand because they have an office right near my house. She looked at me over heavy glasses and said "We don't take men" and turned her back. In front of 70 people she did this, and the whole group laughed at me.

The patriarchy strikes again, I guess. Oh well, the cancer wellness center lady was delighted to have me. You'd think I had offered her a brick of platinum.

Most inadvertantly funny line from a book this week:

"Aren't we a bit late gentlemen?" Carolyn asked.
"Inept Hatian cabbie," Price replied, taking off his Armani overcoat.
-American Psycho, Brett Easton Ellis.

Friday, February 13, 2004


Try to remember the saddest thing you've ever seen. Not some Sally Struthers bullshit, or the Make-a-Wish foundation, or the reunited identical twins episode of Maury Povich. I mean really sad.

Today I saw the saddest thing I have ever seen.

Ben and Patricia (not their real names) were better off outwardly than most couples their age (early eighties by my guess). Neither of them used a walker or cane. The wife shuffled quietly along behind her husband. I started talking to Ben and after about thirty seconds, Patricia asked softly:

"Can I come with you Benny?"

Without missing a beat, and without turning away from me, he smiled at her and said:

"Sure Patty."

I figured this was part of a conversation I had walked in on and I gave them a little pause before continuing to talk. Sometimes you have to do this with the elderly. I don't mind. Nonetheless, about thirty seconds more into the conversation, she asked the question again. In the same quiet and faintly worried tone.

"Can I come with you Benny?"

Once more Ben gently replied.

"Sure Patty you can come with me."

Thirty seconds later, like a metronome, the same exchange. And again, and again, and again for the entire duration of our conversation.

In a quiet voice, Ben explained their situation. Some form of dementia had taken away her ability to get out of this mental loop.

She knew her husband, recognized him and smiled. She called him "Benny" and repeatedly assured me in a matter-of-fact tone; "He's my husband." But somehow she thought he was going to leave without her. Somehow she had to ask him one of the hardest questions any person has to ask. Could she come with him? Would it be all right if she went along instead of staying behind? Can I come with you, Benny?

And never in this whole conversation did he scold her or shush her or lose his patience. Every thirty seconds she would repeat, in a soft, sweet, and frightened voice, "Can I come with you, Benny?"

And Ben would respond, as if he had not already been asked the same question hundreds of times this morning;

"Sure babe, you can come with me."

He called her 'babe.'  Not in an irritated or making-fun way, though his 'babe' was an 80+ year old woman who looked every year of it. 'Babe' the way a husband calls his wife 'babe' when he's glad to have her with him.

After a few minutes of watching this heartbreaking exchange over and over, she apparently noticed that I was in the room and she started asking me the same question, worded a bit differently:

"Can I go with him?"
"He's my husband, I can go with him can't I?"
"Is it all right if I go with Benny?"

And after a moment of this, I found myself inclined to reply.

"Sure, Patty, you can go with him."
"Sure, you can, Patty."
"Mmm hmm, sure you can."

And I found, amazingly enough, that I wasn't irritated or impatient about it either. I wanted to hug them both. Hug her for being so brave on some level to speak up and ask if she could come with her husband not just once but every thirty seconds for years upon years, and hug him for being a good-hearted old man who could answer the same question hundreds of times a day and risk his own sanity for her.

As I watched them walk away, her still asking those words in that voice, and him smiling and answering, the real enormity of the situation struck me.

Far worse than any torment that Dante could dream up in hell, this woman was doomed for the remainder of her life to repeat one thought and one conflict in her conscious mind over and over forever. And, horribly, this one thirty second loop on permanent playback was the thought that her beloved husband, Benny, was going to abandon her.

Ben, on the other hand, not only would never abandon her, but leads her around like the most doting and considerate of husbands, never growing impatient or short with her. And the best he can hope for is to forever answer one simple question over and over. A forlorn and unhappy question. A question that doesn't even need to be asked because he is never more than four feet away from her.

"Can I go with you, Benny?"
"Sure babe, you can come with me."

And by the end of this whole horrible experience, I wanted to renounce my belief in god. No compassionate diety would visit a life so forlorn on any living creature, deserving or otherwise.

Today, I saw the saddest thing I have ever seen.

Wednesday, February 11, 2004

The Golden Apple

These long days are whipping me like an insolent puppy. With all six doctors back, there are no early afternoons, no late mornings. Just hour upon tedious hour with frantic dashes in between to get on the L. Tonight I bailed at five after five and so I got here (the Golden Apple) with ten extra minutes. Just long enough to get some eats. They better put wings on my goddamn bacon. I took a great picture of this place from the front while crossing the street. I was walking and there was no flash. It might have been all of about 1/8 second shutter speed. It looks blurred and cartooney. Unreal. Sort of the way it appears to me as I come up on it after a bitterly cold, half-mile walk in the gloom of the streetlights. I need to move, time is short.


Well, the massage I felt sure was going to suck was actually quite good. I feel pulverized, but otherwise quite relaxed. Maybe I'll be able to sleep tonght without waking up a hundred times to adjust my position. I had planned a witty retrospective about marijuana tonight, based on a kid I saw on the L, but my Axim crashed three times in the middle, and I got sick of rewriting it. Oh well.

Tuesday, February 10, 2004

Winter in Chicago

I guess I realized, somewhere between here and there, that if you take away snowmobile rides and snowball fights, Winter is a fairly funless season. I guess I always feel like this in mid-February. I'm taking the L and it's one of those beautiful sunset nights where the city just looks sexy and exciting against it, in stark contrast. Naturally, I've forgotten my camera. I always forget things. I leave the house in the morning and then go back in to collect half a dozen things I forgot. Even then there are things I miss. So today it was just a missed opportunity.

I'm tired as shit for some strange reason. Long days at work, probably. I'm starting to feel a little bit like I did last semester about this time. Just irritated and annoyed and ready for a break. A regular full time job just seems unimaginably relaxing right now. I'm reading Less Than Zero by Brett Easton Ellis (American Psycho, The Rules of Attraction) and I think it has put me in a detached and brooding mood. I love his style and I like reading about the 80's from that point of view. My CSMT instructor is talking about Montell Williams.

We are studying clinical depression in class.

"I am now the most miserable creature on earth. If my unhappiness was distributed evenly between all the human family, there would not be a single smiling face in the whole of the world." - Abraham Lincoln

If that doesn't make you want to die, I don't know what would.


And at the end of class, the instructor invites us to take a rose from a large bucket of long-stems. The bizarre woman actually managed to improve my mood with such an unlikely gesture. This, however, led to a further observation that just struck me.

I'm riding home on the red line with the bums, punks, homeless people, and poor college kids still dressed in my full work outfit and tie, scarf and coat, and since it doesn't exactly fit into my bag or pockets, a single long stem rose. Suddenly, I've become one of those peculiar and fascinating passengers that make riding the L a bearable experience. There will be a dozen stories in a dozen bored, disconnected minds about the man in the snowboarding tuke who is carrying, of all things, a long stem red rose on the L. And even more sweetly ironic, there isn't a chance in hell that any of them will guess the correct plot to that story.

I can go from hating to loving my life in the course of a single day.

Saturday, February 07, 2004

Uncle Fun

I stopped at Uncle Fun yesterday and picked up some postcards. They have these awesome/horrible postcards that are like a dollar a dozen, and I found these great ones that are like stuffed bears that have been placed in houses as if they're doing everyday family things. The thing is, though, none of them are smiling. They all have this horrible scowl or frown on their faces. For some reason, I just find that funny as hell. It's supposed to look cutesy and cuddly like a big teddy bear family, but instead they all just look pissed off.

Another day spent floating through north side Chicago, like the proverbial pair of underwear hurtling through the cosmos. The days blend together sometimes, Sunday drifts quietly past Monday, and Tuesday turns suddenly into Friday morning without remembering the sleep or the meals. I find myself writing the wrong date on things, and forgetting which doctors will be in at which time. There are no breaks between days and the nights are nothing more than a brief closing of the eyes. I get to work without remembering the drive and realize that somehow I managed to shave my face before I evidently took a shower.

Time is measured instead by Starbucks sandwiches, parking spaces at the Linden Park and Ride, calls to Beth at work, rented movies, emails from friends, issues of Esquire magazine, and episodes of Sex and the City.

Who knew that a busy and boring life could feel so surreal?

Friday, February 06, 2004

Massage Therapy

Massage is really incredible sometimes.

I worked this morning at the office and went to the student clinic for a 5 hour shift. I didn't eat a meal today, all I've had was a diet mountain dew, two cups of apple cider, and half a dozen cheese cubes that someone at work brought in. And now, after a 14 hour day, I feel absolutely fantastic. How does this work? I actually gained energy working on the first two clients, and after the third one I felt as though my whole workday had been erased. I felt more rested walking back up Belmont than I did when my eyes opened this morning.

Amazing. I did some great work on three very stressed clients, and the people that walked into my room weren't the same that walked out. It's like magic, almost better than magic.

Thursday, February 05, 2004

CTA Prostitute

I found out this morning that the L that I take, the express Purple line, crashed into a Brown Line train about fifteen minutes before I got on the train. None dead, but 40 passengers injured / hospitalized. I was walking up to that train as it was leaving, and I missed catching it by about ninty seconds. I watched it pull away and felt irritated at myself for being late. If I had been two minutes faster, I would have been in the crash, tossed around in the L car like a cheap Arby's salad and trapped in the grimy, salt-covered innards of the Purple line for three hours.

Since they killed the third rail to evacuate people, there was no light or heat on the trains either and it got down to single digit temperatures last night. They finished getting people off the train just about the time I got out of class and I saw a very slowly moving purple line train drift past us on the platform, holding up the other trains. Here I am wondering why the hell the trains are so slow last night, and if I had been two minutes faster putting on my coat last night as I left work, it would have been a VERY different evening altogether.

Sometimes boring mundane days are a hidden blessing.

There's a black lady on the L tonight sitting in front of me. She is wearing a band-aid on her cheek rapper-style. She has artificially-straightened hair of a rather alarming Kool-aid red variety. She is talking animatedly into a headset cellphone and pawing through an ancient and incredibly-worn 80's style blue kindergartner backpack. She's wearing what appears to be a pink sweatsuit with a black faux fur coat. Her jaws are wide and heavy, and they work menacingly at the cell-phone bridle in her mouth. She wears a $20 pair of Target sneakers.

I think I have spotted my first CTA prostitute.

There are always weirdos on the Red line this time of night. The homeless and excessively poor are easy enough to spot, they always choose the same spots to sit, for some esoteric reason. The panhandlers, drunks, and hustlers are even more obvious. They'll come right up to you, stand next to your seat with their grimy styrofoam cups extended, until you tell them to get lost.

The transient/abused/wayward women are somewhat more difficult to pick out. Bad skin, bad clothing choices (capri pants when it's snowing, for example), a deep and alert look to their eyes, inconsistent fashion (ie: a Gucci purse with a $5 pair of gas-station sunglasses), a rolling or stilted gait in an outwardly healthy person. Nothing so simple or obvious as dark circles or bruises. Women can make things like that disappear with $3 of makeup and three minutes of time in a public bathroom mirror. But they can't make those Target shoes disappear, or the lack of emotional affect in their faces. They won't have smile lines because they never use the right muscles to smile.

Why do I love riding the L so much if I let things like this distract me so easily? There is so much misfortune, but they are strong. Sometimes I almost think they don't realize how much they are suffering. How strong and set they are in their grim lives. How pathetic they are, and yet so inspiring. How beautiful their struggle. Once more, the purile drama that writers dream up (myself included), is trumped by the fathomless intrigue of reality.

Tuesday, February 03, 2004


Of the original 50 students of CSMT class 79, thirty-six of us remain. We are more coherent as a group this semester, closer to becoming real friends.

There is a Starbucks across the street from our school classrooms on Lincoln and Greenview. It is our Starbucks. I used to detest Starbucks just on general principle, but this one at 3027 Lincoln is ours. There are dozens, maybe even a hundred, Starbucks cafes in Chicago, but this particular one is kept in business almost exclusively by the 400 odd CSMT students and faculty that are in session over all nine current classes. When I went in there tonight, it was quite busy, and literally every person in the place was CSMT. The people that work there know it, and they're very friendly to us, inquiring how far along in our program we are and calling us by our first names. I'd say conservatively that I've eaten 100 turkey and swiss sandwiches from that Starbucks, and sat away many pre-class hours reading magazines and studying. Blue CSMT course binders are as plentiful as napkins, and class frequently starts with thirty empty coffee cups in the classroom trash bins.

It's funny how during the Winter months that you forget about some of the nicer things in life, and it's wonderful to rediscover them. This afternoon, after a few hours of sunny and warm weather (probably all of a sizzling 40 degrees), a good deal of the snow melted and we had bare dry streets for the first time in over a month. I floored my Mustang out of the parking lot at work and instead of the wishwash of my traction control computer, I felt all 210 horses under me. Man, have I missed that.