The street festival outside is closed, shrouded in thick white plastic sheets held down with duct tape so the midsummer breeze doesn’t pick them up and fly them like Halloween ghosts down the road. The emptied racks and tables underneath brace themselves for another 90-degree day.
Inside the century-old Music Box Theater lobby, it’s cool — the kind of dried and seasoned air that comes out of an aging air conditioner. Indie acoustic music plays over the speakers, and the Manhattans served in plastic cups taste worth the $13 even though they don’t look it. A dark luxardo cherry burrows under the ice, a secret treat to whoever finishes the booze part first.
From my seat in a chair that was once maroon but is now a dusty mauve, I watch the employee sliding the letters off a sign above Theater 2. The words change from “Paris is Burning” to “Paris is Bu” to “Paris i” to “Pa” to muted white light.
The projector could be illuminating the screen with anything, and I wouldn’t know it until I peeled my sticky legs from the grip of the vinyl seat and waddled across the floor, plucking the shorts from their bunch between my legs, and walked under the ladder and through the door. No longer would it be the story of Harlem’s drag queens. It could be a grim noir with revolvers, running boards, stocking dresses and hats with little netted veils. Or maybe it’s a new experimental film hand-drawn by someone coming down from an Adderall high courtesy of their college roommate’s drug dealer.
Overhead a white girl strums her guitar and sings Rihanna’s “Desperado” in a voice trained for honeysuckle country and straining for grit. And in a blink, the Theater 2 sign says “Escape from NY.”
I’m sitting in the American Airlines Flagship Lounge at O’Hare and it’s a definite departure from the last time I blogged at Chicago’s international air hub. No corned beef and red wine for $20 this time. Now it’s free self-serve champagne (and harder, if you want); a buffet of free sushi, salads, pork loin, you name it; and a PA that announces the next boarding flight when you need to hear it.
What hasn’t changed? The people watching is still spectacular.
A group of legging-clad women just left after only putting their phones down to doulbe-fist champagne and coconut water. One of them said something about “If she really wants to be a rich-bitch, sure,” and I couldn’t help but think how money can’t buy self-awareness.
An older couple took their spot and tried to decypher their kid’s text mesage to them warning them not to eat too much of the sushi in the buffet. I think the “LOL” threw them off.
And now I’m anxiously awaiting the announcement that my flight to London is boarding so I can get my A1 seat in business class. I sold my soul to corporate almost four years ago, and today I don’t particularly regret it.
But a note: While I’m in London, I’m going to try my hardest to post once a day, either a “scene of the write” or a part of the book I’m working on in between running a senior leadership meeting, touring one of our company’s factories, and trying not to get lost on the Bakerloo line. Thought what could be better than hearing Helen Mirren announce that you’re on a subway line called “Bakerloo?”
I envy how little kids can fall and get back up without blinking an eye.
An almost sickeningly cute child in glasses just took a nosedive off the bench outside the window, tucked, rolled, and resumed eating his perfectly in-tact, cartoonish pink-frosted donut like nothing had happened. Meanwhile, little sister in white tights and black vinyl Mary Janes looked on, absentmindedly patting the head of her minature beagle mut mix of whatever.
Last time I took a spill like that, I bled through the knee of my jeans during an entire Colts-Dolphins game at Lucas Oil Stadium. A blend of blood and leaking ego turned the denim black.
There are two women down the row from us. One just announced she couldn’t decide whether to buy something in a size two or four. Then she continued picking at her avocado toast.
What I thought might be a coffee first-date next to me turned out to be a few friends meeting up. That’s why I like coffee shops on Sunday afternoons: A lot of times you get first dates between people who met at the bar on Friday and knew they’d be too hungover the next day to be first-date worthy. But no, these are just a couple mix-matched grad students from DePaul trading stories of where they studied abroad: Peru, Sweden, Texas.
Of course, I don’t even know how many people have eavesdropped on my conversations in these places before. I’m sure it made someone’s nght when The Man With Time on His Arm and I discussed Taco Bell Cantina’s presumable house wine as a fermented version of their taco sauce. Or just now, with Frannie and I talking about starting a Tindr-like app for people who want to spend just an hour with a dog on their lap while watching Judge Judy.
Oh, the conversation snipets we leave behind, like skin cells and donut sprinkles smeared across the pavement outside this window.
One of my favorite places to write and eavesdrop is the airport, particularly O’Hare International Airport. Not only is it the airport I flight out of the most, but it’s also a hotbed for international flyers getting their last shot at being local Chicagoans. We’re talking about passports in colors you’ve never seen before, being whipped out in the security line, while the bars along the terminal are stuffed full of people watching the Bears vs. Eagles wildcard game, regardless if they’re interested in the outcome.
The Berghoff Cafe is at the end of this United Airlines terminal, and it’s where I was able to find not just a decent sandwich to send me off on a business trip to Phoenix, but it also has decent bar where I can pretend I’m watching the Golden Globes red carpet instead of an NFL game. The guy next to me is shopping on Bonobos while drinking a beer — no, wait, he’s now scrolling through HBO Now. And now he’s checking hotel accomodations in Toronto.
The corned beef sandwich was more than decent, I’ve decided. It was downright good.
It’s mostly older people perched on leather-topped stools around the high-top wooden tables. Most are drinking beer, but one woman just dropped half a glass of white wine off at this end of the bar and walked away. If I wasn’t paranoid about cold sores or picking up (yet another) virus, I could easily finish it off for her without anyone noticing. Instead, I’ll stick to my merlot served in a white wine glass — she looked like the chardonnay type, anyway, and I’m not a fan. Gives me headaches.
I know this is the second post I’ll have published this year, and still no sign of my resolutions. Those are coming, though slowly. I’ve decided this is the year I step away from obsessively planning everything, as it usually leads to too much stress and not enough productivity. That’s the rub: Spending so much time planning you don’t get any time to actually accomplish what you set out to do. Isn’t that a whole John Lennon lyric? “Life is what happens when you’re busy making other plans.”
Guy next to me just added some camel-brown chinos to his Bonobos cart. He could pull off that color.
I’m writing this on top of a door that’s now a table wrapped around a pillar.
There’s a metal plate with a spot for a doorknob and keyhole to my right, a couple nasty scratches to my left, and a latte with honey and cayenne pepper just behind my tablet. Someone with my name just ordered a slow-drip coffee, and I could hear the barista call out for them, even from back here. I started thinking how the first thing I’d do with telepathic powers would be to transmit a drink order from my spot here at the door-table so I don’t have to stand in the long line at the front.
A woman behind me just explained the show Friends to her friend, who kept insisting she knows the show but just didn’t ever like it (I can relate). There are two students studying for an exam on Marriage and Family Therapy — at least, that’s the textbook sandwiched between the coffee table and a blue mug while they scroll through each other’s Instagram accounts (I can also relate).
A woman in a stained ivory coat sits on the same bench as them, styrofoam cup on the table next to her and white plastic bag of belongings on the floor. Her New Balances are clean white, I notice, as she gets up to leave after having sat, either contemplating the room or getting lost in her thoughts of what could have been.
For my birthday this year, the Man with Time on His Arm gave me a chef’s notebook that lies flat and has waterproof stone pages that are perforated and half-lined, half-blank. I carry it everywhere with me — just like I have my past, far less high-line Moleskines — but I’m naturally more inclined to use it.
When I’m waiting for someone at a restaurant, come up with something during work, or face the 15-minute Lyft ride between my apartment and the Man with Time on His Arm, I reflexively take it out of my bag. Sometimes there’s not even an idea in my head, but I know I want to get something on the page, which is why I describe my surroundings.
That’s why I’m introducing this new category, Scene of the Write, for whenever I find myself in a place that is more like a character than a setting. Here’s one from August:
The bar was like a time machine. No, a snow globe. No, a capsule — a perfect linoleum-floored diorama with John Lennon’s solo career on audio display, courtesy of the vinyl record player hidden somewhere. It had to be vinyl. Anything else would be like a crucifix hanging in an arcade: Totally out of place.
The arm chairs were no longer stuffed, just reupholstered over and over again until the chintz, velour, suede, corduroy, tweed and polyester layered themselves into padding. They surrounded a table that was too low for their regal height and rickety despite the folded menus acting as a shim beneath one of its feet.
I inhaled the smell of decades of sloshed wine and overfilled pint glasses that had soaked into the wood of the bar and ornate tables. And shoe polish! There was a hint of shoe polish under it all, though the source was unclear. Both the patrons and staff walked around in dull brown Birkenstocks and faded Puma sneakers that let them imagine they were still in high school, just old enough to drink and stay out on a weeknight. Maybe the shoe polish smell was my own imagination at play. I’m not even sure if I know what shoe polish smells like, come to think of it.