Sunday, July 3, 2011

Dream: The office

I had a new job where I worked at a desk that was side by side with others, like those of Mary and Murray on The Mary Tyler Moore Show. Although management didn’t like it, we kept rearranging them like my college roommates and I used to—facing each other, at right angles, and so forth.

I seemed to be doing well, although I worried a great deal about approvals. One day when I was wearing a favorite dress (in reality, one that has been donated because the style is too young for me), I was horrified to notice in a mirror that, while it didn’t show anything else, somehow it was sheer enough to show that I was wearing a bright white bra. I was mortified, but no one seemed to notice. If they did, they appeared to accept me rather than judge me. I felt strange and wondered how long it would last.

I went home and found that a man who’d been haranguing people in the street was looming in my front window, still shouting, but not at me personally despite the proximity. When I went around the corner to the front door, where he would not be able to see me (unfocused as he was), I found three strangers huddled there, also trying to escape him. Did they think it was natural to walk into a stranger’s house under the circumstances? I accepted this and talked to them. I don’t know why we were afraid of being observed by the man’s unseeing eye.

Warren Dunes State Park

After much waffling about whether to take the train to Homewood or to ask for a ride, finally I opted for the 11:42 train, after a break at Café 57. My back demanded stops on the way over to the station, so I couldn’t get to the 10:42 in time. After a brief stop at Caribou Coffee in Homewood, we set out for Warren Dunes State Park in Sawyer, Michigan, or so we thought. As we approached the Hinsdale oasis, something in my pain-addled brain recognized that I shouldn’t be seeing a sign for O’Hare Airport. Hesitantly I said, “Are we going the wrong way?”

We were.

We turned back to the south suburbs and northern Indiana, where I90/94 sports a plethora of those eyesores we call billboards, touting mostly fireworks, adult clubs, and casinos—perhaps Indiana’s biggest tourist draws? One fireworks seller, Krazy Kaplans, saturates billboard space, with some stretches of interstate littered with a half dozen plus Krazy Kaplans ads staggered on both sides of the highway. I can’t guess their effectiveness, but I can judge their aesthetics. They’re an ugly, tasteless blight. Billboards are bad enough, but cheese ads slapped on ubiquitous giant signs presents an unbroken visual affront. Once again I thought of an early 1990s drive through Virginia with my aunt, who said billboards had been banned, leaving us to soak in the untainted greenery topped by blue skies without a Krazy Kaplans sign—or 12—to scar landscape.

With the lost time and unplanned detour, the backup in northwest Indiana, the time zone difference, a rest stop, a detour to look for a round barn, and a stop at a winery that was about to close and the Lark and Pear, a lovely and quaint toolshed café that was closed, we arrived at Warren Dunes State Park around 6 o’clock Michigan time.

We meandered about a bit, then J. set out to conquer the big dune. I wish I could have, but I’m already in enough pain. I sat in the car for about 20 minutes, noticing that the sky had become cloudy and the formerly hot and oppressive air cooler and comfortable. This was my idea of perfect beach weather. I took my shoes off, found a towel in the trunk, and made my way back to the water’s edge, where I stuck my feet in, then my calves. Brrr, but not as cold as Lake Michigan on the Chicago side. The temperature didn’t deter a lot of people from plunging in, several fully clothed.

For a while, I watched the ring-billed gulls at the water’s edge, where I’d guess they were hoping for something edible to wash up. I loved seeing gulls acting like shore birds instead of avian rats, nagging for and carrying off scraps of human trash.

The beach at Warren Dunes is surprisingly clean—I saw only one cigarette butt—and the sand finer than the beach here at 57th Street. Even at 6:00 p.m., I was surprised that the large parking lot was more empty than not, and only a few people were left dotting the beach. Those who weren’t picnicking were ascending the dunes or, in the case of many of the children, sliding down from the top. I wondered if I would have had the nerve to try. I’d like to think I would have, all the while suspecting that I wouldn’t.

While I sat there, the hidden sun reflected off the clouds through a break, and I remembered what it was like to live east of Lake Erie, to see sunsets instead of sunrises, to feel the cooling effect of the wind blowing across the water. I didn’t feel homesick—I think it has been too long—but for a moment I felt at home.

J. returned flushed from his exertions. Shortly after, flies made their presence known. I’ve never grasped how such small invertebrates could produce such painful bites with no teeth, but I felt like my legs were being stabbed by tiny but effective lancets. Crepuscular flies are nature’s way of saying it’s time to go.

We headed back on Red Arrow Highway toward one of the restaurants we’d seen earlier, Soe Café. I loved this place. It feels like it’s set in the woods, and the enclosed porch allows you to enjoy the trees and twilight minus the biting bugs. The food (bread with olive dip, potato bacon soup, Maytag bleu cheese burger, and meatloaf) was perfect, and so was the rich coffee from Kalamazoo—so rich I used four packets of half and half. Again I felt at home as the sky stayed light until well after 9:00, just like at home. I thought of my apocalyptic dreams, in which the sun shines on the garden and Virgil’s ash tree like early morning although it’s 10 at night.

Strong coffee couldn’t keep me awake, even as we returned to an earlier time, so to me the long drive seemed unusually short. But at least I gained an hour on the way back. Net-net = 0.

As we got close to The Flamingo, we saw quite a parade of police vehicles with lights flashing, probably at least 15, with the three or four that pulled off and headed west on 55th as we came up. It looked like we’d missed the crime of the century. J. negotiated his way through them and parked, then asked an officer cruising the parking lot on a four wheeler about the commotion. He said he was told that they routinely clear out the park at the 11 o’clock closing. I’ve see one or two cars and some cycles or four wheelers pass through at closing, but not in force like this. I’d guess he meant on summer holiday weekends, when the potential for trouble peaks. But I don’t know.

And so ended a happy if pain-filled day.

Friday, July 1, 2011

June 30, 2011: When all hail broke loose

Midwestern thunderstorms frighten me. Perhaps I took The Little House on the Prairie books too much to heart, but one day after I’d been in Chicago a while, I began to imagine that the winds blew harder the lightning streaked brighter, and the thunder boomed louder than at home in western New York. When I thought back to the storms at home, I remembered mostly what we called “sheet lightning”—no visible streak, just masses of clouds flashing with diffused light. Sheet lightning would never strike us, I believed. Living in a trailer, I was more afraid of wind.

Since living by Lake Michigan, I’ve paid more attention to the weather—at first, not by choice, but because some weather systems demanded attention, swooping in from the west to drive out the sunshine. Sometimes it’s just a cloud or two blotting out a little of the light or a freshening breeze; sometimes it’s an entire front visibly advancing, not unlike the onslaught of the crystalline entity in “Silicon Avatar” (Star Trek: The Next Generation). Sometimes it’s a milquetoast of a thunderstorm. It flashes, booms, blows, and rains a bit, then moves over the lake, leaving no ill effects behind except for a few drenched joggers and dog walkers.

Then there’s the storm of June 30. The unpredicted storm of June 30.

When I came home, I thought about changing for the pool. Even as I walked, a few clouds rolled in, and something in the air changed, but I was still considering it because there were no severe weather watches or warnings from the National Weather Service. I looked, but I didn’t see any predictions of what was to come. I was tired, though, and thought I’d wait until an evening when it didn’t look quite so much like rain.

Between 7:30 and 8:00, it seemed to be getting darker than it should have been for the time of year and day, even with an overcast sky. That’s when I noticed the cloud front above.


By a little after 8 o’clock, the sky had turned a midnight blue. That’s when I heard and felt it.

Hail hitting the windows.

It bounced off so quickly that I couldn’t see how large it was—probably not that big—but the relentless racket made me afraid that the windows would break. The rain, right behind the hail, blew sideways from the east, with some even getting between the window panes. The two trees in front of The Flamingo tossed.

Being alone, I was starting not to like this.

After what seemed like a long time, but was probably at most 10 minutes, the hail stopped, although the rain banged against the glass almost as loudly. Between the hail and rain, and with a little anxiety mixed in, I gave up on watching Star Trek: The Next Generation and headed for the bedroom. The lightning continued for what seemed like hours.

The next morning, I saw many small and a few large tree branches down, including a significant one from the tree across from the bus stop. Overall, the damage didn’t seem that bad at first, although later I saw more large branches that had been torn off trees.

When I came home that evening, I could see from a half block away that the gate at The Flamingo had been covered with caution tape. As I passed by to go to the front, I could see why—one of the two pines along the sidewalk had been uprooted and then had fallen across the cabana roof, denting the edge slightly. It’s the first storm casualty I’ve seen in the garden.

Later, I learned the storm hit only select areas, including, unfortunately, the Garfield Park Conservatory, where the damage is described as “catastrophic.” If you can, please do what I did. Make a donation today to help with the cleanup and repairs and whatever needs to be done to save the plants, especially the ferns.