Christmas Stress Test 2017

I floated out of Northwestern Medicine’s Echo Lab, Stress Bay 3, onto the evening sidewalk four days before Christmas. All Chicago was scampering out of work, race-walking to the bus, flocking into Gino’s East and hurrying over to Michigan Avenue for holiday bargains.

Months earlier I’d run out of breath one block into my morning walk. My mind decided since I’d been overweight my entire adult life at seventy-one years old I probably had a deadly heart problem. The doctor ordered a stress test. Before I made the appointment I tried to heal myself with a no-salt, no-sugar, no-carb diet. The condition persisted. Then I thought God might heal me—if only I could remember to ask Him once in a while. In 110x70_what_causes_heart_palpitations_slideshowStress Bay 3, injections shot my heart rate sky high, my breathing stretched to its outer limits, then it all parachuted back down. The whole test took ten minutes. I figured if I didn’t have a heart attack after that, God had absolved me of my lifelong mashed potatoes intake.

Flying high down Superior Street toward the twinkling Magnificent Mile, I came upon a two-foot long sprig of red eucalyptus looking up from the sidewalk.

“Hmm, this would be good to put in the vase I just bought for Bill.” I scooped up the sprig and poked it down through the tissue paper in my Crate and Barrel shopping bag. Rounding the corner at Nieman Marcus I spotted more red eucalyptus sticking out of the cement urns in front of the store.

“Oh, good, I’ll just lift another bunch.”IMG_0504 (1)

And there it was. Ancestral habits. Within a block I’d turned from a scavenger to a thief.

Ripping down the street toward the Water Tower it occurred to me there may be some more items for Bill’s vase outside the stores on Rush Street. I found perfect branches of red plastic berries in the four planters on Quigley Seminary’s sidewalk. I took one from each pot. Lovely.

As I came up to Oak and Rush, I stopped myself from stealing birch branches from Barney’s pots because Oak Street Bank across the street recorded activity outside. I’ve binged on enough English crime shows on Netflix to know I didn’t want to get caught on the bank’s video.

And so within five blocks of finding out my heart is not going to kill me anytime soon, I became an all-out criminal.

The next day at coffee, I spilled the beans to a normal friend. He diminished the crime saying they throw all those decorations away after Christmas anyway—trying to let me off the hook or perhaps saving himself from admitting his friend is a thief. I shared my thievery at a 12-step meeting. We all laughed as we often do whenever someone is vulnerable enough about their character flaws to tell on themselves—no letting me off the hook in that room, where God allows for admitted imperfections.

The Incorrigible Scottish Terrier

The Incorrigible Scottish Terrier

Ozzy compulsively reads the d-mail of those who have preceded him along the sidewalk by sniffing low-lying boxwood, wrought iron fences and hardy city trees. Some would think this slow walk an aggravating willfulness and train the beast to move on. Not me. I appreciate the instincts and habits of this tamed wild animal who yanks me from one spot to the other, forward and backward, reminding me of his constant presence.

img00188-20110523-1919-2High-rise apartment buildings bookend each corner in Ozzy’s block of early 20th Century townhouses. At one corner, Gary the doorman entertains his Thompson Hotel guests by pop-flying Milk Bone dog treats for Ozzy to snatch in midair. Their RBI reaches 80% most days. Rounding the corner on Oak Street, Ozzy sniffs out bowls of treats laid down by strangers at the shops I think of as clothing museums – Dolce and Gabbana, Tom Ford, and Carolina Herrara.

The Scottish Terrier is notoriously independent. My twice-a-day walk with 20-pound Ozzy has wrenched my left shoulder to the point where I have had my entire shoulder joint replaced. One remedy for outwitting the domineering dog is to attach the leash to a loose chain collar and when he pulls, snap the leash so he’s startled by the scritching sound of the sliding chain. I tried this for a while.

One snowy evening last winter, I gathered my dog-walking storm gear – neon green il_340x270-672296456_4r2jcaterpillar coat (easily seen in the dark), slip-proof gloves (for hanging onto the leash), cleated boots, Ozzy’s sweater, and dog boots to protect from the stinging salt. We trudged across Michigan Avenue to East Lake Shore Drive by the Drake Hotel. They continually shovel and salt a long stretch of pavement there. The wind blocked any possible noise from street traffic, and the snow muffled foot traffic. We marched down the street then back, across Michigan Avenue, into the dog entrance of our building, up the elevator and into the hallway of our apartment. I loosened and lowered my hood and looked down to find Ozzy’s iced-up chain collar melting on the carpet – but no Ozzy.

Pounding on the elevator door I screamed, “Is my dog in there?” I flew down three flights of stairs, out the dog entrance, and into the middle of the intersection where Michigan Avenue meets Lake Shore Drive. Ozzy’s black body would easily show in the white snow.

“Oh God! I know you’re punishing me for not picking up after him tonight but it’s too much to bear! Please.”

I screamed out to passersby as I crossed to the Drake where the doorman yelled, “Yes! Hurry! I saw him running toward the lake!”

Another, a dog-walker, “He went over there!”

And another, “I saw someone take him to 209!”

At 209 the unfamiliar doorman said, “I was hoping you’d come by, since I didn’t know how to find you.” He retrieved unrepentant Ozzy from the package room and I carried him the one block home. The following morning’s walk took us to Walgreen’s to purchase a proper dog collar.