I get the Rumpus emails from Stephen Elliott who wrote The Adderall Diaries. It's a favorite book of mine. I love those emails from Mr. E. as you're about to see if I can pull off imitation with any glimmer of success.
Stephen's from Chicago and the time period he writes about is when we lived just off of Warren Park. Stephen tells a story about his friend who busted the window of Devon Bank. I remember seeing that broken window all boarded up. My husband and I used to park next to that bank and walk the block to our apartment.
It's a neighborhood with several big pre-war three floor apartment buildings and some three-flats. Parking is a challenge. You circle the block a couple of times before finding a spot and when you come to an open spot on that first block, you take it. I wrote this paragraph in the past tense and then changed it to the present because I'll bet not much has changed.
It was a Jewish neighborhood. Then, I think, the Greeks moved in and the Jews moved to Buffalo Grove and Northbrook. By the time we lived there, it was full of Russian and Eastern European immigrants, Indians, Syrians and Pakistanis. Devon Avenue was a collection of electronic shops, Indian restaurants and stores with saris like sunbursts and peacocks in the windows. The Woolworth's was still there with its wood floors, that five and dime smell, and the goldfish and parakeets. I used to like to go there and kill time because I was newly married, new to the city, didn't have any friends and my husband worked all the time at his job managing an electronics chain store on Western Avenue.
At the end of our block was a tiny Indian restaurant called Shital. I could never force myself to eat there. The name was bad enough, but the fact that they never bothered to wipe the greasy handprints off the front window sealed it. Call me crazy - I love greasy food, not greasy handprints. There was also a Russian restaurant on Devon. I can't remember its name anymore, but I had a dream that we went there and on the menu was a dish called Beef, Brains and Borscht.
I may have been newly pregnant with Chloe when I had that dream. I got sick after eating fried chicken I'd made myself and we couldn't cook meat in the apartment for the next eight weeks or so. When my appetite returned, I craved McDonald's cheeseburgers. That was swell. The building across the alley had its roof retarred and I thought I was going to have to move back to Indiana to escape the petroleum smell.
My mom told us how when she lived in France and was newly pregnant with my sister, she would put Chanel No. 5 on a hankie and hold it over her nose when she took the bus because the very natural and human scent of people who didn't see the point of deodorant made her morning sickness worse.
As I dashed into the bathroom to return the Kellogg's something or other I'd just eaten, I totally got what my mother was talking about.
When I took the bus to the Loyola station where I'd get the train downtown to my job in the old Polish Consulate building on Lake Shore Drive, I would watch the mouths of the people who spoke Russian and the other languages from the crumbling Soviet Bloc. No vowels. I swear, no vowels. I was fascinated by their clenched jaws and the women with their bleached blond hair, flashy clothes and manicures. I tried not to stare as I listened to the 10,000 Maniacs on my Walkman and pretended to read whatever F.Scott Fitzgerald book happened to be in my hand. I read all his work in those days. Even the Pat Hobby Stories which I quite liked, if I recall.
I'd fumble the whole thing anyway trying to keep things neat and tidy. I'd be fussing at fellas to pick up their used condoms and dispose of them according to appropriate medical waste procedures and suggesting that people watch their aim. If we don't make a mess in the first place......
Old habits die hard.
And then there's the possibility that I'd end up having to entertain one of these anti-government lunatics who seem to gravitate toward Georgia. I'll bet they're shitty tippers, too.
Oh the hell with that idea. I'll stick to getting exciting that a big box store is going to move its call center back from India to Georgia. Maybe my fortune will lie there in a job with a cubicle and a headset. It's all about customer service in the end, isn't it?
MathMan thinks I'm chasing my tail in trying to perfect this manuscript before I send out queries. Uh huh. This coming from a man who spends the hours from 7pm until 11pm doing lesson plans so his students will have the best possible chance for success. He's right, of course. At some point I am going to have to say that this book is good enough and move on, but I know that it's not baked yet. I feel kind of guilty for handing it off to beta readers as it is. And they've been wonderful. I'm so grateful for their feedback. There's nothing like seeing something you've created from another person's perspective.
When all else fails to settle down the magpie brain, I read. And take pictures when I'm driving. Here's what mornings look like here.
As a Midwestern transplant to the South, I marvel at the cotton fields no matter how long I live here.