Saturday, April 09, 2005

Double Bind

I’m lounging poolside; it’s a particularly perfect brand of 73 – cloudy enough to nix sunglasses, warm enough to break out the flip-flops for the first time this season. The pool water is still frigid, but that doesn’t stop me from dipping a toe in every couple of minutes, just for something to do. Maybe by next plunge I’ll have adjusted to the iciness and can submerge a whole foot…. Nope.

I’m a little wary of the bird’s nest precariously tucked into the creaking branches above me; I try to focus instead on the potted (what are those? Impatiens?) and note that my knowledge of flora is limited practically to the point of unacceptability. It’s hard to be patient with the paperback I’m wedging open with a thumb because the breeze, its angle (or my angle) and its strength, is just enough to flip one page up, set it down, flip it up. Concentration lost.

The only movement: a swaying flag mounted to the (what is that? An oak?) and a tabby, padding alongside the metal fence, tip of tail tapping each post with poorly disguised deliberateness. It’s a regular Shangri La out here. (I doubt, however, the true Shangri La had such amusing signage: “No one allowed in the pool with lesions, abrasions, open sores, eye or nasal discharge, or communicable disease.” Lovely.)

* * * * *

We consider ourselves lucky to get two seats together. But when we hit Addison, and the Cubs’ fans – the ones who’ve stayed late, soaking up the victory and vats of warm beer – pile on, we realize we would have had much less compromising vantage points if we’d been among the gamey throngs of standing passengers. People clear out fairly quickly, though; the motion of the train combines with impaired equilibrium to send a few passengers tumbling into open seats with an accidental grace.

“Hey. Ladies. Guess what I’m wearing.”

“Um, a Cubs’ jersey?”

“Nooooo…. under my jersey.”

“A blue lace tube top?”

“Who told?”

“You told.”

“You showed, actually. You lifted up your shirt when you got on the train.”

“Well, OK. Guess what else I’m wearing.”

“A wedding ring?”

“Hey now. Don’t you think this top brings out my eyes?”

I’ve never done well in crowded, compact spaces. Add motion, add sweat and shoving and the potential for getting jammed against doors that open regardless of whether or not you actually want to leave the train. Add the sounds – the cell phones, the crying babies, the announcer who has a suspiciously Brooklyn-y accent. Add the fact that Robyn and I are magnets for riffraff of all sorts.

I’ve never done well on the El.

“Chicago is a very political town.” [Swig from bottle wrapped in brown paper… distinctive slosh of last half-inch of toxic backwash.]

“Uh-huh.” [Don’t make eye contact. Once you make eye contact, it’s a conversation.]

“You girls go to school? I went to school. I taught school. I coached football at Tuskegee. Played football at Tuskegee. Where do you go to school?”

“Northwestern.”

“Ah! I went to Northwestern. Played football for Northwestern back in…” [Mumbling. Swigging.] “It’s kind of a political school, isn’t it?”

“I hear Chicago is a very political town.”

* * * * *

So, April by the pool, sunny and 73 in a makeshift Shangri La, replete with flip-flps? Or April on the El, clammy and crowded, jostled and hassled by leftover fans who lean in too close to slur their secrets?

I think the answer is obvious.