Thoughts, Stimulant and a Ballpoint Pen

Maybe I've got a few Margaritas in me. Admittedly, I do--thank goodness for complimentary holiday parties, company-paid--but I seem particularly insightful on my brisk walk back from Lalo's on North LaSalle.

An otherwise enjoyable stop at Brent Books--inevitably drawn to Algren, looked for the Manchurian Candidate reissue, didn't have enough time to browse the $5 specials--was fruitless in terms of the Lord of the Rings hardcover boxed set, or the Fred Rogers wisdom collection. I did see a fascinating photo book, abstract aerial photos from a French photographer whose name I can never recall, which has to be the heaviest book, relative to its dimensions, that I've ever encountered.

But the stroll down from North LaSalle was bitter cold, especially crossing the river and inadvisedly turning down West Wacker, and took off just enough of the buzz to make this writing semi-coherent.

Descended into Union Station via the northeast escalator and was greeted by something you don't see every day, especially in this prosaically capitalist city--a young choir, singing Christmas hymns, under the watchful eye of a Salvation Army collector. Strangely pure and borderline angelic, given the circumstances. Which is, possibly, the tequila thinking. Thinking, not talking. I'd hate for someone to think I was crazy.

Descended the second escalator to the south concourse, and saw a short man, tensely waiting for nothing in particular, wearing what looked an awful lot like my gray London Fog trenchcoat, circa 1987. (During my month-long sentence at American Vinyl Products, back in 1988, the jive-talking deputy shop foreman, J.J. Jackson, a/k/a Mr. Wonderful, complimented me on this very same coat. "That's a very fine trench. I got to get me one of those. That is one fine trench.") The short man looks vaguely like my old family dentist Maris, an affable Latvian who always beams an expression of someone with two cocktails under his belt. Bushy moustache, pink cheeks, a look of perpetual mirth. But it's not Maris--he's far too short, plus the real Maris is undoubtedly holding up the end of a bar up in Harvard.

Harvard. I presume the boomtown phase has passed now that Motorola's high-tech flirtation has grown frigid. But please tell me the cow statue still stands in the middle of that busy street. I'm sure the town is no longer the milk capital of the world, as it once advertised itself, but just let me think that the vestigial statue is still there. And that an event called Milk Days is still predominant, even if it has technically become irrelevant.

My, this handwriting is scraggled. Blame Senor Cuervo. A socialite quartet in the middle of the car is perusing someone's adorable baby photos. I've got a few beauties of my three-year-old in my bag right now, but I'm not forcing them on others, unlike some people.

Damn this bag. It knocked books off the top of a stack, twice, while I was in Brent Books. Gotta be the bag. Can't be the tequila. A woman in the store apologized to me, thinking she had taken up too much of the aisle and caused my clumsiness. No, I told her, the clumsiness was all mine. Or, actually, the bag's.

I do like Brent Books quite a bit. Approaching from the north on Franklin, its view no longer blocked by the old Mercantile Exchange building--now leveled to rubble, and becoming what City Hall hopes is a forgotten memory--the high windows and warm lighting, and books stacked to the ceiling in hopes of a holiday bonanza, all made the store look quite homey and inviting. If they had a place to sit down--and in the high-rent downtown, an independent bookseller, even one with the name of Brent, can't afford such frivolities--I might spend every afternoon there. It's just as well they don't, which will help to keep me gainfully employed. I wonder what they would have thought had I told them that I had a secondhand copy of The Seven Stairs in my bag--the very bag which was wreaking havoc on their bookstacks.

Damn, this is a scrawl. I hope I can read this tomorrow. I've never read Joyce--though I feel that I should, given the allure of all things Celtic--maybe this is the stream of consciousness I've heard so much about. Though I want to resist ethnic generalizations, it seems highly likely that he was regularly in the condition that I'm rarely in at the moment. Though his poison was more likely from the house of Guinness, or perhaps Jameson.

A burly guy with a goatee--hey buddy, those were already passe' in 1999--walks past briskly down the aisle, cradling a Bud Light tallboy. Which gives me consolation. I drink to be sociable--to get through a conversation with my sole companion at my five-person luncheon table--while he's drinking alone, bridging the commuting gap until he's able to drink at home.

A woman a few seats away is intently reading about "The New Do's" in some tabloid. My, would I ever love to engage her in deep conversation. I'd be dying to hear her philosophical take on Ben and J. Lo.

The neon sign for "Tortura's Food Center" blinks on and off--we're already in Lemont--wonderfully, vaguely retro. I'm still meaning to do a neon photo project, should I ever happen to get around to it.

The social quartet is still on the train, their overwhelming presence enhanced by the increasing emptiness of the car. "Doesn't she look like Jodie Foster?" comes through loud and clear, followed shortly by "God, she looks just like her mother!" "Doesn't she?" I'm not sure if they're still referring to the Jodie Foster lookalike, or if they've moved on to the next momentary tabloid celebrity. Remarkably, they haven't engaged the other tabloid reader--the one reading about new hairdos--into their circle. Their selves are all they can currently handle, and the Lockport riders exit with a for-the-holidays peck on the cheek. Or perhaps its a for-the-weekend peck on the cheek. I'm not sure exactly how close they are. Close enough to kiss a fellow commuter, which is rather creepy to me, someone who has never exchanged more than twenty words with any of my fellow riders.

Approaching Lockport, and the buzz is still quite prevalent. I really need some cold air. I won't be zipping up my coat this evening.

Across the aisle, the distinguished, silver-to-gray gentleman, resplendent in all black, was jarred awake by the socialites' impassioned farewells--they won't see each other for, what, four more days?--and now he's sharply alert. And visibly perturbed as he realizes we haven't even reached Lockport, when he's travelling all the way to Joliet. He crosses his legs at the knees--unlike the ankle-on-knee that I prefer, and am practicing right now-- and bobs his free foot up and down, irritably, not unlike my dad in church.

The loudspeaker announcement is enthusiastic when pronouncing "Joliet" in its canned voice. Far too enthusiastic, given what the town is really like. It's not as if it's a destination worth getting fired up about, unless you're really eager to automatically lose at the roulette table. It's merely a bedroom community, albeit one whose beds are more than an hour away from the workplace. No one works here, really.

This rambling essay was only supposed to occupy a few minutes of my ride, encompassing only Brent Books, the Maris lookalike, and the Salvation Army choir. But I guess that's how the muse operates.

One can never tell when it will arrive, nor how long it will linger.


Copyright 2003, P.J. Anderson