Are You Ready For the Country?

I don't understand the suburbs. I never have and I'm guessing they aren't going to start making sense to me any time in the future. I think the suburbs are like purgatory, if purgatory means the worst part of heaven (I've been told there is no eating) and the worst part of hell (fire, brimstone, ect). They have some of the downsides of the city: houses close together, small yards, traffic. Then they also have downsides of the country: you have to drive everywhere, there isn't really neighborhoods, the surrounding areas are nothingness and highways. I'm not sure where the strip malls and bad chain restaurants fit in, but those are in the mix too. I say this speaking as someone who went to a suburb for the first time ever at the age of twenty. I'm a foreigner and I have no nostalgia for malls and P.F. Chang's. My friends who grew up on the suburbs have a real soft spot for that lifestyle. They would probably also hate where I grew up and wonder why someone would chose to live in a place where you have to worry about coyotes eating your pet ducks (and by "worry" I mean it happened...twice).  They would probably also be confused by having pet ducks. 

My parents moved to the country when my oldest sister was a toddler. To say that they were back to the land hippies is half true, my mom lived in town and was just along for the ride but my dad never really left the land. He grew up on a self-sufficient farm and lumber mill in Southern Illinois. They didn't have electricity until he was in junior high, indoor plumbing came along after he graduated high school. My aunts and uncles remember riding in a horse and wagon with my grandparents. Grocery shopping consisted of about five items that they didn't grow or raise themselves (sugar, salt, coffee, spices, flour). I remember being a kid and my dad saying to me, "Doesn't it bother you that you don't know where your milk comes from?" I think I was six and I had no idea what he was talking about. My parents tried to preserve a way of life that was and is continually vanishing, the connection between the land you live on and the food you eat. My sisters and I all hated it . 

Growing up I completely resented that my friends didn't have to do hard labor on the weekends an all summer long. Not once was I allowed to watch Saturday morning cartoons, though I did hear that they ruled. I was up early to can tomatoes, pick green beans, stack fire wood, or tap trees for maple syrup (this was in late winter early spring). Trying to describe the way I grew up starts to sound like an episode of "Little House on the Prairie" no one else I knew had to build a fire after school in a cast iron stove. I did get to cut the tall grass with a scythe and no one else I knew was allowed to use incredibly dangerous, sharp farm tools. Prize! My sisters and I constantly vowed that we would never, under any circumstances, have a garden or live in the country. It sucked. 

Distance makes the heart grow fonder and now that we can all choose the lives we want to lead, we all have a garden and all love Bluegrass (another thing we thought sucked). I am the age my dad was when he had my oldest sister and I get it dude, loud and clear. Last night I went to a square dance, I'm learning wood turning, I want to take fiddle lessons this spring, and I can't live without growing my own tomatoes in the summer. I love the city, I am in love with Chicago, but give it a few years and you will probably find me on a front porch in Louisville eating homemade pickles. This is my wildest dream. 
Ye olde back yard.


Heart-Shaped Everything

When I was fifteen I was dumped by some schmuck two days before Valentine's Day. Bad form dude, that could have waited until two days after, but then again he knocked up his next girlfriend so my guess is that his decision making skills weren't top shelf. I came home from school the day before Valentine's Day to the unpleasant discovery that our miniature dachshund (fancy talk for weiner dog) had made his own discovery of one pound of chocolate truffles that my mom was going to give me for the holiday. If this was ever thought to be legend, let me verify that chocolate does make dogs sick, righteously ill to be more specific. So I spent that afternoon cleaning up 19 little mounds of my very own Valentine's chocolate out of beige carpet while lamenting the loss of both a boy and a treat. It was a real bummer. 

Some people find it odd to celebrate Valentine's Day with your family. The Adams family calls bullshit, we would also like to invite you to dinner because we love guests. When I was growing up we always made each other cards. My mom would let us pick out special paper, stickers, heart-shaped doilies, I reliably wanted a metric ton of glitter, then my sisters and I would craft. On the actual holiday we would exchange cards, my mom would give us a little present, then we would eat holiday dinner. Starting around the time I was twelve that dinner became cream of morel soup (dried from the previous Spring's woodland hunting), bread and cheese, and my mom would make a Black Forest cake for dessert. This cake takes two days to make and is four layers, it's a goddamn serious endeavor. Overall we came up with the most rich, decadent meal that we could think of, it's like we were aiming for gout. 

This Valentine's Day wasn't shaping up to be that awesome. I spent most of the last week dreading it actually. Then yesterday I walked into my favorite bar, to listen to one of my favorite musicians, and saw three of my favorite people get so excited to see me. Then we spent the next two hours laughing so hard it bordered on crying/screaming. So today I went back to the roots so to speak, I spent the day telling the people that I love just how amazing I think they are. You're in the mix too, dear readers whoever you might be, you are my ultimate Valentine this year and I'm so grateful to have ever made you laugh, or think, or remember your own weird stories. Happy Valentine's Day, you're the heart of gold. 


"If he's crazy, what does that make you?"

If a man is walking toward a woman and he wants to make a provocative comment to her as they pass one another, he's got just enough time to get out two words. I have noticed this lately in my own strolls up and down Chicago Avenue. One recent example took place as I walked past a man asking other people for money but to me he made some kissy noises and said, "Baby, please!" I turned half expecting him to complete the line with "don't go" but instead noticed that he was standing a couple of feet away from what was pretty clearly his own poop. I have seen this dude before...peeing on the corner of Damen and Chicago while wearing giant, yellow waders. Chicago Ave is his oyster and apparently the metaphorical shell reminds him of a toilet seat. As I kept walking I remembered a similar scene as I walked past "El Moderno Mexico" on Ashland and a man who was peeing against the building turned and said, "How you doin' mamacita?" While more than two words I give him points for a) continuing to pee and b) saying that to me while I had to step over his stream of urine as is pooled on the sidewalk. Every once in a while I forget that I have a beacon for truly crazy strangers but rest assured the beacon never waivers. 

This started when I had my first few jobs in downtown Kalamazoo. In the center of the downtown area is the Rickman House which is a half-way house for mentally disabled adults. At any given time there was an amazing cast of characters roaming the city. One wore a huge feather headdress, and referred to himeself as The Chief (no, he was not aware he was making a reference to "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest"). One man was dressed as Uncle Sam complete with wig and flag and would propose marriage to every woman he saw. There was a very large woman who would often, I saw it more than three times, get naked and dance to her reflection in front window of one particular store (hilariously named The Mole Hole). Since I worked in coffee shops in Kalamazoo for years, if there is one thing crazy people like to do it is drink coffee for a million hours, I got to know my regulars very well. More than my fellow employees I started to notice that I was the one that they sought out and cornered with their poetry for hours. To be honest, they were just more interesting and much funnier than the majority of college kids that were also hanging out. Therein is the source of the beacon. People who are continually met with dismissal when they try to start a conversation are keenly aware of when there is a window in a listener. Let me state for the record that I have no poker face for anything, ever, at all, so whenever someone says something bonkers the window blows open. Like when a man said to me, "I would drink your bathwater!" I said, "That's disgusting!" Then we both laughed and walked away.

At this point in my life the people who know me the best, who have known me the longest say things like, "You have more weird interactions with strangers than anyone I've ever met." That is actually a quote directly following this example: while walking down Division I was mid-sentence with my companion when the homeless Rastafarian passing us held up his hand, we high-fived, and I continued my story without missing a beat.