Finally, tonight, maybe, the city has redeemed itself. I guess it's not just cold and dirty and full of strangers. I guess community can happen here, too.
I've made a friend. A real live friend that I can call to see if she's busy or not and if she's not, ask her to come over for tea or walk the few blocks to her house to say, "Hi." That type of geography, in itself, is something that I've always wanted. Even on the island, I had to drive (or at least hitchhike) to see people I liked. I've always wanted friends that lived down the street. So, now I have Jess. I met Jess at a party for church. I was sitting quietly in a chair, watching everyone else do their small-talk. I had been animated earlier when the music minister was there because I knew him and I find him to be fairly intriguing. However, he had left and I wasn't interested in all of the pretty girls and their chatter. But, I had this nagging sense that if I didn't actually spend time with strangers and their chit-chat, I wouldn't ever know them well enough to move beyond chit-chat. So, I sat in the chair quietly. Then, I heard the girl with very cool dreadlocks in the chair next to me say to her friend, "I've recently realized that my energy and large groups of people just don't seem go together." It was so completely like something that would come out of my mouth that I laughed to myself and started edging in on her conversation.
When I have students write about what makes a good friend or write an anecdote about when they first met someone important, invariably, they turn in their papers and "something in me just knew that we would be friends forever." Of course, by the time they are writing the essay, forever has been, oh, about five years. Maybe seven. It's pretty funny and they laugh when I point out the unrealistic nature of their not-too-subtle foreshadowing.
I take that little tangent to illustrate that I am not making any predictions about my friendship with Jess. We still don't know that much about each other, nor have we spent much extended time with each other. But, I'm comfortable with her. And she asks questions that I would ask. And she answers questions like I would answer them. And she calls to see if I'm busy or not. And when I call, she tells me if she's busy or not, rather than thinking about how tired she is and that she just wants to veg out in front of the TV.
It could still bomb but it's a start.
So, why am I telling you about Jess when I started the post talking about the city? Well, one reason is that her physical location illustrates a redeeming social value of the city: I can have friends that live down the street. Other than Kelly and PJ, the bad influences that lived across the street when Daniel and I were kids, I have never had a friend that lived down the street. I've always craved the ability to just go hang out at someone's house because it's close and I'm comfortable there. College and tour were close to this ideal, but those are constructed communities. They weren't what I really wanted.
So, because Jess lives down the street, we can easily come to redeeming social value #2, which is that we can do things of an impromptu nature because we don't have to waste a lot of time getting to each other before we go somewhere.
Today, I was working out at the new Curves that I found where the women aren't fakey nice and I don't have to walk half a mile in the cold to get there. It's right next to one of the stops on the El on my way home. So, I just get off the train two stops early, walk around the corner, work out, then get back on the train and go home. It's perfect. So, I was nearing the end of my workout and my phone started to ring. I left the circuit to pick it up and it was a breathless Jess.
"What are you doing tonight?"
"Do you want to go to the opera?"
She kept talking about which opera and yadda yadda. But really, with the Lyric Opera in Chicago, does it really matter which opera it is? It will be an experience no matter what.
So, it's 6:30, I'm at the gym and the opera starts at 7:30.
Which leads me to redeeming social value #3: in the city, it's possible to fulfill that kind of timeline successfully. I left the gym, got on the train, got off the train two stops later, went up to my apartment, changed, ate, researched the public transportation route we would take, met Jess downstairs, got on the train again, got off the train downtown, walked by the Picasso statues and the "I Am" Temple and was in my seat in the highest, backest, toppest row at 7:20. We were so high up that we could see straight down into the orchestra pit to see the violins playing.
And the opera was wonderful. Which is, I guess, redeeming social value #4: art and culture abound. Tonight's production wasn't perfect. I think it lacked overall energy, Hades wasn't scary, some of the silences were too long and there was some odd corpse choreography that involved the chorus and supernumeraries wrapped in burial sheets rolling like a big game of high-school steam-roller. Plus, just as I was feeling good that one can always rely upon opera to go ahead and give you that tragic ending, the goddess Amor steps in and fixes everything! What gives!? That's not the way the story goes! But that's part of art and culture. Analysing the emotional communication during the experience and still feeling your heart twinge when Eurydice dies. Plus, the performance could have all out sucked and it is still always worth it to see the sets at the Civic Opera House. The scope is just so epic. The lighting design for tonight's performance was particularly stunning. (My friend Camilla's friend Amy is one of the lighting designers for the Lyric and she's making Boys-Are-Dumb Mudslides next week for the Boys Are Dumb party so I will try to communicate this delight I'm feeling to her then.)
So, it might not be quite the torture I have been dreading it to be living somewhere other than my island in order to be with my family. Yesterday, I spent the entire snowy afternoon curled up on the couch in front of my mom's fireplace, with my dog sitting on the cushion at my head, reading my book and eating her food. Even without the opera and Jess, being in Chicago is still where I want to be because I can have days like yesterday in addition to days like today. Redeeming social value #5.
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