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.

November 25, 2003

Freak Train

Originally posted to Diary-X on Nov. 25, 2003

Sometimes, a car sounds really good to me. A nice old beater from the mid-90s, preferably black, that shuttles me from home to work and back again. Nothing fancy—just a plain old car, with a cup holder for my coffee and a decent radio. A car that contains me and only me.

I had one of Those Days with the Chicago Transit Authority last week. I had to ride the el four times in one day—I worked in the morning, came home to bond with Moose and finish my final paper for class, then went to class at night. This is what happened during my commutes:

Going to work: Young mother sitting behind me with two small children, one of which would.not.stop.screaming. To make matters worse, the mother kept yanking at her child's arm and hissing at her, “Shut the hell up! Just shut the hell UP!” It distresses me to hear parents tell their children to shut up, even without the cursing. And the child did not heed her mother whatsoever. This was taking place in the seat behind me. In front of me, directly in my line of vision, stood a young man holding a clear plastic baggie filled with… wriggling bugs, of some kind. Maybe crickets? They were most likely food for some horrifying snake or tarantula that he kept as a pet. I hope. I could close my eyes to avoid looking at the bugs, but I could not close my ears to the sounds of the apoplectic kid and the evil cursing mother.

Coming home from work: Very weird smell in the train car. Also, very, very weird man sitting in the seat in front of me. At first, he didn’t seem strange—he was dressed in typical business-casual clothing, with a book on his lap and a small briefcase on the seat next to him. As the car began to fill up and empty seats dwindled, a young guy tried to sit in the seat with the bag, and the man—who had a thick African accent—wouldn’t let him. When the guy protested that there weren’t any other seats on the car, the African guy just went OFF on him, informing him that he looked like--of all things--a mongrel: “What are you, Polynesian and Native American? What are you? You are a mongrel! I am a proud African man! When I look in the mirror, I see a proud African man! What do YOU see when you look in the mirror? You are a mongrel!” The guy was appalled. And the African man repeated his insults. Again. And again. He would not stop saying the same things, over and over. The “mongrel” guy protested every once in awhile: “But it doesn’t matter what I am!” Then, “If you’re such a proud African, why don’t you go back there?” A girl sitting nearby admonished him, “Dude, choose to de-escalate the situation.” All the while the African guy kept repeating himself indignantly.

When the “mongrel” guy finally got off the train, Proud African Man started talking about his love life, in the same indignant tone. “They are bringing me a wife from Nigeria,” he said to no one in particular. “I will not have a relationship with an American woman. I am a proud African man. They are bringing me a wife from my tribe.” And again. And again. He just kept on saying it, quite loudly I might add. Every once in awhile, someone would get on the train and try to take the seat beside him, but he would shake his head sternly and gesture toward the rest of the car.

Just before I reached my stop, I craned my neck to catch a glimpse of the book in his lap. It was called “The Introvert’s Advantage: How to Survive in an Extrovert’s World.”

Going to class: The train was somewhat empty because it was traveling in the opposite direction of most commuters. The two girls sitting across from me spent their ride boisterously discussing how they’d pulled knives on this one chick at a party. One of the girls was planning a party for the upcoming weekend, and she swore that if people didn’t stick around afterward and help her clean up, she would kill one of them as an example. That sounds like a joke, right? I’m not so sure. These were not small girls.

Coming home from class: The train car was blessedly quiet and my seatmate, a teenage boy with wire-rimmed glasses, was studiously reading the New Testament. He will never know how he restored my faith in the CTA. Thank you, bespectacled young Christian boy.


In an abrupt subject change: Moose! I never knew I could fall head-over-heels in love with a dog so quickly. We adore our Moose—he’s sweet, mellow, and laid-back, and he loves people, other dogs, and going for walks. Granted, it will take awhile for his personality to fully emerge, and I suspect he may have a mischievous streak in him. Right now he’s still overwhelmed—the dog had never even been in a house until a few weeks ago! But he’s adjusting remarkably well: he hasn’t had any accidents inside (knock on wood), he doesn’t seem to suffer from separation anxiety, and he sleeps through the night beautifully. He has an excellent understanding of what takes place in the room called the “kitchen” (food! food! food!). Moose has this sweet, hang-dog, “please love me” look which prompts John to call him “poor baby,” an expression I have never heard him use before. So right now we’re just lavishing gobs of love and attention on our dog—he’s probably received more pets and kisses in the past week than he has in his entire life!

I suspect Moose was one fast hound at the racetrack (although it’s hard to tell, what with the 18 hours of snooze time he clocks each day). Many greyhounds don’t race past their second or third birthday, and Moose raced right up until he turned five. A quick Google of his racing name revealed the names of his grandparents, parents, and littermates and his racing results for the past three years. He won or placed second quite a few times, which means he was probably a favorite with his trainers. The track where he raced is known for humane treatment and exceptionally clean kennels, so we don’t worry that he was abused. And anyway, most racing greyhounds aren’t abused—they just aren’t treated as pets. Well, Moose is certainly a pet now. The plush bed, stuffed animals, Nylabones, stacks of dog treats in our kitchen cabinets, and my cheerfulness when walking him at the godforsaken hour of 7 a.m. all attest to that.

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