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Halloween Daydream in 2020

At my third floor window I languish in the maizey leaves clinging to the honey locusts before their final abscission. A man strolls out of the building across the street and stands at the edge of the sidewalk.

What exactly do I believe in these days? Smelling babies. Talking to dogs. The Post Office. I believe I’m armed with more knowledge than any old trickster.

Oversized orange buckets swing from each of his hands, full to the top with candy bars. Even a daydreamer can spot Snickers and Three Musketeers. He’s in a grey suit and tie, his face hidden by the ubiquitous mask. Is he waiting for a ride to a party?

I’m the day-of-the-dead queen costumed in veil and beads armed with loaves and fishes and bellies of the beast.

CostumedChicago kids are allowed to walk around in small groups trick or treating as long as they keep moving and don’t bunch up on the street. A masquerade of tiny witches and goblins approaches the man in the grey suit. They retireve candy bars from his swinging plastic pumpkins. I squint in the brewing dusk to see that his grey suit is actually a doorman’s uniform. Building overlords have chosen him to stand in thirty degrees to guard the front door from trick-or-treaters. I’m offended for the doorman. This surmised slight ruffles my daily itch for anger. 

I climb into and out of death everyday.

At the beginning of October Mayor Lori Lightfoot appeared as superhero, Captain Covid, to announce the city’s guidelines for Halloween. Fitting, since Halloween is a month-long event in the windy city, thanks to Mayor Daley II who loved Halloween. I do too. 

There’s a full moon this Halloween, a Hunter’s Moon, they call it. The last time Halloween revelers in Chicago saw a full moon was a few weeks after the 9/11 terrorist attacks in 2001. It’s not exactly like the 2016 Cubs winning the World Series for the first time in 108 years, but Chicagoans love to celebrate any milestone. 

Not this year. 

The pandemic has dampened celebrations. The governor shut down indoor bars and restaurants starting midnight Friday on Halloween weekend.

Captain Covid pleaded for mercy to keep the Chicago bars open at least for the weekend. No, no, said Governor Pritzker. The risk is too great. Chicago party-goers are scary, unpredictable, unruly. 

I’m no longer a party animal myself, but their disappointment is mine too. One of my yearly delights is gawking at the outrageous costume parade rollicking in and out of the bars on Rush Street. Some years I’ve dressed Henry in his skeleton sweater to be in that number on our late-night walk. Instead, we’ll go outside to view the Hunter’s Moon, descend into the Druid bygone, and muse about fattening the game, the hunt, the slaughter and the preparation of winter provisions.

I see all the past and all the future, in the moment, aided by the magnetic Jesus stuck to the corners of my eyes.

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.

Immortality, Interrupted: Lake Forest Eviction

220px-Barat-PereMy lawyering father would make a barrel of flimflam cash, move our family to a gilt-edged neighborhood and drink it all up within a year. He would sneak away on a business trip and a few weeks later my mother would wake my two sisters and I in the middle of the night, pack us into the car and drive to another state, another town, another gilt-edged neighborhood.

In seventh grade I entered my 11th school since I started first grade in 1952, the Academy of  Sacred Heart in Lake Forest, Illinois. I intended to shine in all subjects, especially my nemesis arithmetic, no matter what was happening at home. Experience warned me I didn’t have much time until the next midnight move so I crammed my head with Latin conjugations, algorithms, periodic tables, Romeo and Juliet, diagrammed sentences, the French revolution and the Gospel of Mark. At the end of the year the Mater Admirabilis Award (Mother Most Admired, another name for Mary), an Oscar-like trophy would be bestowed on an eighth-grader for her excellence in academics, sports, religious and civic activities. Her name would be engraved on a bronze plate and permanently fixed next to the previous winners. I prayed everyday for God to keep me in that school through the eighth grade so I could win that prize.

Sacred Heart nuns had been in Chicago since the 1860’s. Bishop Anthony O’Regan brought them from France to open a school at Rush and Illinois Streets, a mile from where I live now. They taught women leadership in society rather than social graces and homemaking. O’Regan moved the school to pastoral Lake Forest when hotels, saloons and brothels flooded the Rush Street neighborhood.

A hundred years later, French still permeated our activities. “Congé” (holiday) was a surprise day when schoolwork was suddenly replaced by a day of fun such as playing Cache Cache, a version of hide-and-seek. Congé ended with “Goûter” (to taste), a roomful of refreshments celebrating the winners of the day’s games. This joie de vivre coupled with the nuns’ love of God appealed to my awakening soul.

My teachers gradually increased my extra credit assignments to include tutoring, public speaking and sports. By the end of the 8th grade everyone knew my name would be forever on display in the trophy cabinet.

In the school bus on the way home from an ordinary day in early May, I thanked God for Sacred Heart and my soon-to-be immortality. The bus driver pulled into our driveway and slammed on the brakes. Furniture, clothes, pots and pans, bicycles – everything we owned clogged the pavement.

I told my sisters to stay on the bus, as if something dangerous was happening, until I saw my mother sitting on the couch with my 3-year-old sister Stacy. I needed to save her from a reality I didn’t understand. A sheriff blocked the front door. We were not allowed to enter. A family friend arrived to drive us to a downtown Rush Street hotel. A week later I was in another school, another town, another state.