The Purple of Life

She told me to hold on to the purple in my life.

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Location: Chicago, United States

I'm a 37-year-old editor and city dweller, wife and mother, moderately liberal and radically optimistic. I would fill my perfect day with a cup of coffee and the Op Ed section, a flea market and the playground, a run along Lake Michigan, a walk through the neighborhood with my son and my greyhound, a Cuban dinner and a bottle of red with my husband, and an evening flight to some European city. I wouldn't be picky about which one.

June 25, 2003

Hot enough for ya?

Originally posted to Diary-X

I knew summer was going to sneak around the corner and smack us upside the head, I just knew it. We’d been having this lovely, suspiciously cool spring (highs in the mid-60s, maybe reaching 70 degrees). Last week I was wearing a light coat. Ha! Ha! A coat! Today it is 94. (Although it feels like 100, the weatherman informs us from his nicely air-conditioned TV studio. He’s wearing a suit, and not sweating.)

Gee, is it obvious how I feel about hot weather? It’s not my favorite thing. I can handle the mid-80s, but when it gets to turkey-broiling temperatures, I’m not pleased. This morning I started to perspire while brushing my hair. Yesterday, on the bus ride home from work, rivulets of sweat were running down the backs of my knees. Does that sound downright unpleasant, or what? I was not a happy camper. If it wasn’t for J.K. Rowling, I probably would’ve thrown myself out the bus window.

The pup doesn’t like the heat much, either (some African dog he is). He lies on the hardwood floor in our living room, tongue lolling, breathing short little panty breaths. When the spot he’s on gets too warm, he heaves himself up, paces around a bit, and flops down with a “thunk” on a new, cooler patch of floor. I admit, I really like the “I’m too hot to wreak much havoc in the apartment” side of Murphy. Perhaps we should leave the air conditioner off.

We have a window unit that came with the apartment. It’s in the living room. Our place is just small enough that this one air conditioner can cool it off to acceptable levels. However, using it even moderately ends up tripling our electric bill. Honestly, I don’t mind lying around the apartment in a tank top and boxers, feeling hot. It’s feeling hot when I’m out and about, going to work, etc., that bugs the crap out of me.

Last night John played in a softball game with some friends, so I planned a peaceful evening at home alone. I made turkey chili (I know, I know, probably not the most appropriate dish for a heatwave) and ate it while reading the newspaper. I ambled around the apartment picking things up. I petted Murphy; his only response was to roll his eyes up at me. Too hot to even lift a paw. I finally settled down on the couch with my Harry Potter book (which is quite a bitch to lug around, at almost 900 hardbacked pages). I’d been reading the book slowly, wanting to savor it, but I’m beginning to fear bumping into a spoiler somewhere, so I’m picking up the pace.

I read Harry for about an hour, and then at 9:00, the lights went out. Poof! One minute the lamps and CD player are on (may I recommend the vocal stylings of Lucinda Williams?); the next I’m sitting in half-darkness, the room illuminated only by the streetlights outside. Murphy raised his head, then flopped it down again.

Well, it was a good excuse to go for a jog. It wasn’t any cooler outside, but at least there was a breeze. People were trickling out of their dark apartment buildings to walk their dogs, talk on cellphones, and gather in knots, chatting. I said hi to a few people and went on my way, thinking the power’d be back when I returned half-hour later. Sirens streamed around the neighborhood—“Bet there’s a lot of people stuck in elevators,” one of my neighbors remarked cheerfully.

Our block was still black when I got back, drenched in sweat. I felt my way up the staircase and joined John, who’d gotten back from his game, and Murphy up on the roof, where the breeze was stronger and the lights from Wrigley provided quite a bit of light. A few of our neighbors were up there, too, wine and beer in hand, and we passed an amiable half-hour or so getting to know them better. I liked that part.

Luckily, the power was restored at midnight, so our fridge food is largely unspoiled and we didn’t have to spend the entire night fanless. This evening, I believe the air conditioner will be rumbling to life. If you’re anything like John, you probably don’t want to hear me bitch about the heat for the next two months.

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June 11, 2003

Brush with suburbia

Originally posted to Diary-X on June 11, 2003

We were supposed to go camping last weekend—we had reservations at a park in Wisconsin. But the weather forecast was iffy, and, well, waiting out a rainstorm in a tent with a wet dog is not my idea of a good time. So we stayed home instead. And the sun shone all day on Saturday.

We slept in, and made a breakfast of scrambled eggs, hash browns, and fruit smoothies, and drank multiple cups of coffee, and read the good sections of the Tribune. We took the dog for a jog by the lake, and I sat at Starbucks for a few hours doing homework while John watched the Cubs/Yankees game on TV.

Later in the afternoon, we pondered the all-important question: where should we go for dinner? I suggested something radical, something totally new: “Let’s go to a suburb!”

Now, Oak Park isn’t really a suburb. I think of it as “urban suburbia”—it’s right on the western border of Chicago, and two different el lines have stations there. It’s one of the areas where we’ll search for a house, whenever that time comes. Actually, that time could come sooner than we’ve planned. The woman who owns our condo recently told us that she may sell it next winter, and we don’t want to buy it—it’s too small for anything long-term. The thought of enduring the nightmare of moving again, simply to bide our time in another apartment for a year, is loathsome… so if she does put our place on the market, we’ll probably try to buy something. (We’ve considered buying a two-bedroom condo in the city, but something about that just doesn’t feel right to me. There’s only so long you can live in a two-bedroom condo. Condo buildings usually don’t have fenced-in yards for dogs, which is something I want if I’m paying six figures for a home. And who wants to pony up those $200+ assessment fees every month?)

So. We’ve heard great things about Oak Park, but we’d never been there, so we decided to make the trek west last Saturday. We left around 6 p.m., driving down Lakeshore Drive, admiring the deep blue of the lake and Lincoln Park spreading out on our right. We chugged through downtown, momentarily slowed by crowds from Gospel Fest and the Printers’ Row Book Fair. We got onto 294, also known as the Eisenhower. And then we crawled. And crawled some more. My husband is not always the most patient of guys, and traffic brings out the worst in him. He was not happy that it took us about an hour to get to Oak Park. While I’m usually a glass-half-full kind of girl, my excitement was quashed a bit, too. We felt so… far away.

Oak Park is a really, really pretty town. There are canopies of tall green trees everywhere, and cute old houses lining up behind cracked sidewalks, and corner stores and elementary schools and venerable stone churches. The downtown is picturesque and walkable—lots of cool-looking restaurants and stores, little art galleries, an old movie theater, an opera house. Big, beautiful green parks are everywhere. North of downtown, there are some truly magnificent (and $800,000+) homes, many designed in the style of Frank Lloyd Wright. It’s a cultural town, a historical town, and it has excellent access to the city (by train, it probably takes about 20-25 minutes to get downtown).

We drove by a house that we’d seen on a realtor’s website. It was built in the 1930s, a two-story bungalow, and it had a front porch with a bench swing. It was on one of those leafy sidewalked streets. The neighbors had “No War” signs in their front yards. As we drove by, we saw that it had a back porch, too. And a little fenced-in lawn.

Two porches. Two. I immediately saw us sitting on the back porch after dinner, drinking beers, John playing guitar, Murphy chasing squirrels in the yard.

We went out to dinner at a casual alehouse that got a positive review in the Tribune. We sat outside on the deck and ate mediocre meals. Something felt a bit strange to me… I couldn’t put my finger on what it was. Then, suddenly, I figured it out. We were surrounded by people who were either in their 40s and 50s or in their teens. There were only two other couples on that crowded deck that were our age. And I realized that in our neighborhood, everyone’s in their 20s and 30s. We hardly ever see children or teenagers or people our parents’ age. I’m not sure I’d ever noticed that before.

After dinner, we drove around town a little longer, then headed back to the city, a shorter drive this time. We felt tired and decided to go home and relax on our rooftop deck with some drinks. We hauled out our camping chairs and set ourselves up in the dark, looking out over the Chicago skyline, the buildings rising up dark and bejeweled in the night sky. To the west, less than a mile away, the lights were still glowing at Wrigley. (On the following night, we’d hear the immense roar of the crowd coming through our living room windows as the Cubs walloped the Yanks.) We could hear faint sirens and car horns, and the “brrr” of a low-flying helicopter scuttling past on its way to the hospital. We could also hear the wind. The skyscrapers twinkled. The sky above us was huge and black.

“I like it here,” I said.

“Me too,” John answered.

“I don’t think I’m ready to buy a house,” I said. “I mean, having a porch would be nice, and a yard. But I’m just not ready to leave this.”

“Me neither.”

“Anyway, we have a porch now,” I said, sipping my beer and looking out at my city. “And a view.”

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