For the first time in my life, I’m working remotely from home.
It’s been months, and I sit here alone, except for listening to WXRT Radio as my companion: Fittingly, Beck’s Uneventful Days is on today’s line-up.
The advisory comes through each hour:
“Stay home as much as you possibly can.”
Staying in place. It’s getting more difficult each day.
The isolation is getting the better of me. Plus, I need to distract myself from the pervasive news.
I call my mom.
As usual, she has good advice for me: Stay Busy.
She relays a story about her own father, who found himself relocating himself, wife and five children to New York in 1942.
His mechanical expertise was needed at LaGuardia Airport, where he spent long hours working to support the war effort.
To decompress during those stressful times, my grandfather set to work on a venture of his own.
He garnered all the excess lumber he could find in those days, recycling wooden pallets and the like, in order to start his project.
He devised a plan in the backyard of the family home.
“What are you building out there?” his wife asked the next afternoon.
“I’m building you some kitchen cabinets,” was his reply.
My grandmother looked out the kitchen window the following day, shaking her head.
What she saw looked nothing like the cabinets she had requested.
To be sure, the project looked more like a boat.
The secret was out. My grandfather spent his leisure hours designing and building a wooden cruiser cabin in the backyard of their rented home.
Looking toward the future, he knew, once the war was over and his family was back home in Illinois, he would use that watercraft to cruise the bluewaters of Lake Michigan.
The time came for my grandfather to move his family back home. With the help of his buddies, they removed the panels of the backyard fence, allowing enough room to push the new boat out of the yard and onto a trailer hitch to be taken to the railroad yard.
Grandpa paid to have his prized possession sent by freight car to Lyons, Illinois – its new home.
My grandparents enjoyed their cruiser cabin for years by taking excursions on Lake Michigan.
The craft even survived damage from a fire – started when my uncle was careless with holiday fireworks. My grandfather and uncle repaired the beloved boat back to near original condition, ensuring its capacity to act as a source of recreation for many years.
Decades later – 1969 to be exact – my grandparents trailered their cabin cruiser by car, down to their newly built home in Lake Placid in central Florida – a tranquil location for their retirement years.
Why did my mother tell this story?
… to remind me to search for a healthy diversion.
… to remind me that it’s time for a project of my own.
My venture won’t be as large. Nor is it likely mine will last 30 years. All I need is a task to occupy my time, alleviate my stress, and influence my imagination.
I came home from shopping at Aldi a couple days ago. Actual driving and shopping took about 40 minutes. Not too bad, considering.
I spent another hour in a tizzy, washing and sanitizing the groceries once I arrived home. This was the latest trick I learned from a video on WGN, our local news station. A Minnesota doctor gave a thorough procedure of washing store-bought items to avoid any chance of the items carrying the coronavirus.
CRAZY TIMES = CRAZY ME
Have you ever heard of such a thing?
Where am I?
I’m on Earth. Listening, hoping, fearing, and praying like many others.
The washing and sanitizing is done. Food put away. Counters cleaned once more. My hands feel tight from all the soap and water, so I grab my hand cream I keep in a kitchen drawer and reapply it for maybe the fourth time this morning.
Back upstairs, to the loft where our home office is located. I work remotely all day, exchanging heartfelt messages with co-workers and laughing over silly things while we try to keep things lively and not fret over the daily news blasts.
Finally, it’s 5:00 and I log off from the computer. It’s Friday, yet somehow it seems different. No plans to go anywhere. Just stay at home. My plans include eating and watching television. Many Fridays I can’t wait to do just that. But now, everyone is looking for an outlet.
WASH YOUR HANDS!
My husband arrives home – with more groceries! Grocery shopping is his newest hobby. I think he prefers the European way of shopping – only picking up several things every few days. Except he’s forgotten the warnings I told him early this morning about picking up more germs at the grocery store.
“Look, I brought you some red wine,” he says so nicely, holding a bottle of cabernet sauvignon.
I look at him like he’s nuts. I raise my voice, “I told you not to go shopping. Stop touching that. It’s contaminated!” I run into the bedroom, shutting the door with meaning. I’m so annoyed that he’s bringing germs into the house. And who’s going to clean all that food? Me, that’s who.
Where’s my phone? I need my Calm app to meditate and decompress. The anxiety and worry plus being shut within the house for two weeks now is getting to me. I need to relax and not become upset over groceries of all things… because this is just the beginning. And we all need to get along.
The next morning my husband convinces me to go with him just for a drive. He knows me well. “You don’t even have to get out of the car,” he promised.
The first stop is for an oil change. He drives to the dealer, and I follow in my own car. This way he can leave his car, while we run errands in my Chevy.
I gave him the stink eye when he jumped into my passenger seat. “Since when is an oil change an essential errand? Couldn’t this wait?” I demanded.
“They diagnosed the funny sound I kept hearing and determined the power steering pump needed replacing.”
Okay, that’s important. I concede that it’s a good thing we dropped the car off.
“Now I just need to run into Pete’s and get milk and potatoes for my mom and dad. You can wait in the car,” he suggested.
I watch him run into Pete’s, dodging the rain puddles on this gloomy day. The skies are an ugly grey. Why can’t we at least have sunshine here in Illinois? It’s the end of March, for goodness’ sake. I grab my phone and scroll through for social media updates and news briefings. Nope, I’m tired of everything I’m seeing.
I look out the window and watch a store employee picking up trash in the parking lot. He uses a long grabber stick to snatch the junk people leave lying on the ground. He tosses everything into an empty grocery cart. Everything is soggy, making it grosser than usual. The worker walks next to my car.
Should he be that close to my vehicle? Oh my goodness, Heidi, get a handle on yourself!
I peer out my rain-soaked window and see inside his cart. Plastic grocery bags, soda containers, burger boxes. And so many latex gloves. All in the latest colors.
Across from me is a couple loading purchases into the trunk of their car. The husband wears blue gloves. Except, his wife is bare handed. What is wrong with people? Following disparate protocols is like… well, like an Independent marrying a Republican. They just cancel each other out. What’s the use in even trying?
I think back to the wine my spouse brought home and how I freaked out that he touched it. I’m losing my mind.
My husband returns with the groceries for his folks and we move on. He runs the food into their house, while I sit in the car and play a brief meditation on my Calm app. Breathe. Relax. Focus on yourself. The here and now. I cannot control outside events. Breathe. Relax.
My husband finally exits his parents’ home and hops back into the car. “They should be done soon with my Honda. We can go back to the dealership and wait for it. Do you mind running by the Dunkin’ Donuts so I can bring the guys some doughnuts?” He smiles at me. Sometimes I forget how handsome he is when I’m aggravated.
It’s back to the dealership, where he asks me to wait for him just in case the car’s not quite ready. I don’t mind waiting inside my car. At least I have the radio, and I don’t have to walk outside in the cold rain. I’m immersed in my phone again, when he knocks at my window. I unlock the door and he gets back in.
“It’s nearly ready,” he said. “Boy, everyone’s paranoid and there are signs all over the place telling people to keep six feet back. I had to sign the paperwork for my car, and I reached way over to the cashier window to sign for it but had to keep my feet on the yellow tape on the floor. I tell ya, I felt like John Belushi in The Blues Brothers movie when he picked up his belongings at Joliet prison.”
I couldn’t help it. I grinned, looking out my driver’s side window so he wouldn’t see that I was warming up to him.
“Not only that,” he went on, eyes twinkling. “I was telling the guy that I had to cancel my hair appointment. I said, ‘my hair’s so long, I’m starting to look like Farrah Fawcett!’
“And you know what the kid said back to me?”
“What?” I asked.
“’Who’s Farrah Fawcett?’”
I burst into laughter.
And that, my friends, is how I’ll be managing these stressful days.
Kiss was playing on my headphones while I was pedaling the Peloton bike earlier this morning.
I can’t lie: that song motivated me to push myself.
The sweat was bountiful.
“You drive us wild, we’ll drive you crazy.”
Wait, it gets better…
Ah, Aerosmith. I pedaled faster.
The Music Stays With You
Hours later, I mentioned to my co-worker that Kiss was still playing over and over in my head.
“You’re dating yourself,” he reminded me. “But, you probably don’t care.”
“Um, no, I really don’t,” was my answer.
“Watch out, you’ll date yourself!”
That’s one idiom I find annoying.
Because I’m not 36.
And, no one would believe me if I told (lied) to them that I’m 36 years old. So there goes that idea.
I can go into all the reasons it would be nice to be 36. But, we already know what those are.
At the young age of 36, I had filed for divorce and things weren’t looking so hot for me back then. I was depressed. In addition, I felt like I had hit the dreaded middle age. “I’m so old!” was the cry.
Things change. So do perspectives.
If I weren’t the age I am now, I wouldn’t have encountered all these memorable experiences:
Searched for empty pop bottles and coins on the ground — enough to purchase candy for me and my friends.
Spent summer nights playing Cops and Robbers with every kid on the block, plus all those who wandered over from the next street over.
I ate casseroles, used a rotary phone to call into radio contests, wore cowl necks, and tried (but failed) at macramé.
Music from my generation is played at every sports venue we visit: baseball, basketball, hockey games, etc. My daughter rolls her eyes when I make a smug expression over this fact. In spite of this, she knows the lyrics to Kiss and Aerosmith songs. #proudmom
I was lucky enough to be part of the teenage mall scene, including Evergreen Plaza and Ford City. It was there we saw first run showings of The Blues Brothers, Indiana Jones, and countless disaster movies such as The Towering Inferno.
We spent hot summers at Navy Pier enjoying Chicago Fest. There, we caught cool lake breezes and a line-up of outstanding musicians. Joan Jett and the Blackhearts rock!
I’ll stop there. My generation can go on for hours talking about our beloved memories. Each generation has its own cherished celebrations.
Putting it all together, I can proudly say: “I’m not 36.”
I opened the fridge that Monday evening. It was a very long day, starting with an early a.m. workout, blood donation at lunch, besides putting in a full day at the office. I was hungry and tired, as I pulled out the makings for chicken tacos: chicken (prepared on Sunday in the slow cooker), cilantro, shredded cheese, salsa, sour cream and flour tortillas. I grabbed tomato and lime from the counter fruit basket. Yes, this was going to be good. For I was cheating on my Noom diet. So far, I’d been successful: 8 lbs in 8 weeks. But tonight was different. Something in me said: Eat. Noom always says: make it good eating. When you’re gonna cheat on your diet, go big or go home. And so I did.
Dessert was next. “Can we open those bakery boxes you picked up yesterday?” I asked my husband. He assented. I pulled out both: one apple, one blueberry. I chose blueberry, cause… well, just because it’s so darn good.
The pie looked extra delicious set upon my blue and white china plate with 14K gold etching (inherited from my Great Aunt Evelyn). I took a bite. And another. Just then, my daughter returned home and spotted the pie. She took a slice of her own and sat on the living room sofa, enjoying every last sweet morsel.
“That bakery really perfected the science of pies, hasn’t it?” she called from across the room.
I put down my fork. “Yes theyhave, my dear,” I dreamily replied. “Yes, they have.”
I sat on the Metra train this morning, trying to conjure up a writing idea for another blog post. What to write; what to write. I thought back to 2017, when I met a topic challenge put forth to us by our ChicagoNow editor: “Write About Your Tomorrow.” And so I did… see story here.
I thought that story turned out well. But at that time, I had other people to write about — the stories of rank and file members going about their days, tending to business. Watching them make a determined effort was inspiring to me, and I thought it all made for a good story.
“So what’s so compelling about today?” I thought to myself.
Boring. Take the train to the LaSalle Street station. Walk approximately 11 blocks to the office. Again, Boring.
Lo and behold, I’m learning that each day does present itself with something new. In other words, there is always something to write about. Just as we sit around the dinner table each evening and my daughter asks “How was your day?” We all have something funny, peculiar, irksome, outstanding to report.
So here I will describe for you: my walk into work. And I didn’t stop to take pictures. (I know, you all love my fuzzy photos from my old phone.) Hopefully, my writing will bring pictures to your mind’s eye.
HERE’S WHAT I SAW
I watch a young lady walking down LaSalle Street, wearing an evergreen maxi dress. How cute she looks. Plus, she’s expecting – even cuter.
A food truck sits in front of City Hall. Two fellas are handing out samples of Diet Coke; I stop and try the blood orange-flavored one. I decide to take a free can of the Blueberry Acai Diet Coke.
“I’ve never had a bad Diet Coke,” I tell one of the vendors. He smiles, “Hey, that’s a great quote – we’re gonna use that today,” he responds. I walk away and actually hear them calling out my creative quote to other passers-by.
I walk along, wondering to myself: Why can’t I get a paid writing job??
THE WALK CONTINUES…
“Good morning, good morning!” sings the gentleman in a wheelchair, setting up his usual spot on LaSalle and Washington Streets. Each day he’s there, singing to passers-by. He has his usual folks, who stop to chat with him.
I’m not one of them.
I reach Randolph Street. Since it’s payday, I decide to pop into Walgreen’s to buy Lifesavers orange mints for my desk. I make a short stop at the lotions and decide to try the product on my wrist before purchasing. Yes, I’m that person – the one who unscrews the cap and tests the product first – usually frowned upon in the drugstore.
Onto the candy aisle, where, as usual, there are no orange-infused mints. Instead, I grab the regular peppermints and a bag of Hershey’s dark chocolate nuggets. My co-workers will love me.
Upon exiting the store, I’m greeted with “Do you have any spare change?” Except I keep walking, heading toward the north section of the State of Illinois building, where the CTA terminal is housed.
There are various smells wafting from the CTA trains both overhead and from the subway below. Added to this mixture are sticky floors and the smell of popcorn, and I’m immediately reminded of the old movie theatre on 69th Street where my sister, brother and I watched Saturday matinees for a cut-rate ticket. Funny how smells will immediately spark memories.
I admire a woman wearing a black dress, amped up with a gold chain belt. My, how smart she looks.
Next I’m behind a woman wearing a worn black parka. Our weather is already in the low ‘70s and she must be pretty warm. But what other choice does a (seemingly) homeless person have? They must wear or haul their belongings everywhere they go.
She trudges along, shuffling her feet in black sneakers. Her right hand is shoved into the coat pocket, while her left arm balances her uneven walk. She walks into traffic, against the light and ignoring oncoming cars. I hold my breath.
She makes it.
Here, in the matter of seconds, I go from envying a woman in a black dress to feeling uneasy over a woman in a ragged coat. Funny how we can run through a wide range of emotions in a simple morning commute.
Meanwhile, the WALK light is flashing a warning. How many seconds left do I have to run across the street? 4 – 3 – 2 – 1… Nope, I’ll have to wait for the next green light.
The light turns green and I continue, hurrying past the woman in black parka who is working her slow gait. Not even two seconds later I’m distracted by a young man wearing a black t-shirt with “Sasquatch Brewery” written across the back. His single stud earring catches the morning sunlight, and his tattooed, tanned biceps flex themselves as he unlocks the back door to a pool hall, while assiduously glancing back toward Clark Street.
Focus, Heidi. Focus…
Next corner is Clark and Wacker … last street to cross before reaching my office building. This part can be the prettiest, as it crosses the Chicago river and the views are outstanding. It can also be the worst, since crossing the bridge in lousy weather is enough to make me want to turn around and walk all the way back to the train station.
But today is beautiful, and out of the corner of my eye I see a photo shoot in the making. You see, this particular spot along the bridge is popular for tourists and professional photographers. The river water is a dark green, and it’s flanked on either side by stunning Chicago skyscrapers. The water taxi glides along the water, carrying passengers, and one may even spot a family of ducks taking a morning swim. (Click here for a stunning photo I took a couple summers back of the Chicago River.)
A young girl stands on the bridge, posing for a photographer who stands across the street, taking her photo. The waif model holds onto one of the maroon-colored steel beams and patiently waits for her instructions. Her ankle-length dress has a silver sequin bodice, while its full skirt is a sparkly red chiffon. Her long dark blonde hair blows in the wind and she wears bright rainbow–stripedstilettos.
And that reminds me. I really want to go see the new Elton John movie this weekend.
I took another ChicagoNow Blogapalooza challenge and selected the topic: Write About Your Tomorrow.
Many of us may initially think it’s just another typical day: work, school, run errands, etc. But each of us does have something going on tomorrow. It might be something that we’re looking forward to, or perhaps some decision-making needs to be done. Or maybe we’re planning on making a phone call to an old friend tomorrow or even step out in the evening for an ice cream cone before the end of summer hits. (Do I hear Rainbow Cone anyone?)
My tomorrow is unusual since it’s my last two days as an alternate Grand Jury member. For the most part, we the jury hear about crime that one reads in the newspapers or hears on the nightly news. It can be monotonous as there’s a lot of time spent listening to repetitive narratives from the assistant state’s attorneys.
But at least it gives me a break from my usual day of commuting downtown and working in a very beige office 5 days a week.
I just about have a new routine of driving to the criminal courthouse at 26th and California. My stop includes a medium black coffee at Dunkin’ – a special treat to myself for doing my civic duty. As I continue north on South Western Avenue, I honk my support at the striking auto mechanics at the various car dealerships along the way.
At the courthouse, the fellow jurors and staff are friendly. Being from Beverly, it’s typical to run into someone who went to school with your sister and/or dated your next-door-neighbor. Done.
(And, no… she’s not a criminal… she works at the courthouse. C’mon, people!)
And there’s been drama at the courthouse. The first day I filled in as a juror, someone was leaving the building, got shot 2 blocks away, and drove back to the courthouse seeking help. The scene was taped off and the TV news crews camped out all afternoon. Unfortunately, the victim died later at the hospital.
Some of us left the building that day visibly shaken, yet at the same time somewhat unfazed. Sadly, this is all too common in our fair city.
My drive back home always takes longer – another unfortunate trait of Chicagoland. I’ve learned no matter where you spend your day, it takes at least one hour – usually more – to get home. I can also advise everyone to stay off Archer Avenue while road construction is going on. Not good.
Finally, tomorrow starts our time at home without our daughter. She took off today to start a new job in a different state. It seems as though we’re always driving her to an airport and wishing her well. I packed her a turkey sandwich for the plane and we hugged good-bye at Midway. That’s what I get for raising an independent, driven daughter.
But tomorrow I’m also grateful. I have great respect for the staff who work in the criminal justice system and still have positive attitudes. I have a full-time job to return to next week. My commute to work is expected to be reasonably safe from gunfire or other crimes. And our daughter is happy to get started in an exciting career, putting her college degree to great use.
So although tomorrow may seem humdrum, I’ll bet each of us has something to look forward to about Thursday, August 31. And the day after that. And, if you like, comment in the box below (scroll down, down, down all the way to the bottom) and tell me about your day.