Screen Door

I’ve been getting some dislike mail about the grammatical structure of my posts, or that I’m sounding less coherent, and while I never found the need to defend my extemporaneous writings before, I probably should say that my entries are unpolished intentionally — or they’re not revised intentionally, I guess I should say. I’m in the throes of a ten-step recovery program for writers who haven’t turned out anything for five years, so excuse me if I’m choosing to be a little raw with my posts. I think my entire existence as a writer has been about putting out material that’s been raw and truthful, an accidental nod to Dirty Realism, a home I’ve seemed to find as a writer, so I’m not going to stop now. If any of you ever wants a grammar beat down, give me a call. I’m happy to slap you around with the dangling participle I keep handy for just such an occasion.

Now if I may continue:

I hopped on the 146 to the north Loop of Chicago, where I needed to conduct some business. It takes a long time to travel the four miles from my apartment in Lakeview to the Loop by bus, so there was an opportunity for me to sit in the back and think without worrying about missing my stop. When the bus got close to the Loop, I thought I was attentive in finding my stop, but when I was the last one on the bus and the driver waved to me to come forward, I knew I missed something. I handed her a rectangular card I kept my notes for this trip on. It was an important card, one that had my name and contact information on it. My school made me about a thousand of them, and whenever I need to write down directions, I turn to these cards, for some reason. I like that they’re cards, too, and not thin sheets of paper from a pad. It’s almost like having my own baseball card, only my picture isn’t on the front – my career stats aren’t on the back. I wouldn’t mind the picture on the front so much, because I’m satisfied with the way I look, but the stats on the back might bother me. I haven’t been the George Brett type – the Cal Ripken, if that helps you – someone who has stuck with one team his whole life. I’ve moved around to different organizations and different towns, and I’m starting to seriously contemplate why I’ve moved so much. I’m pretty sure it’s about not wanting to commit to a final resting place and about fear of death.

The bus driver didn’t really know what to make of my notes at first. There were a lot of numbers and arrows and one of the bus routes wasn’t even hers. The bus drivers of Chicago can tell you everything you need to know about their particular routes. They know which restaurants fill up at Happy Hour, where all the careless pedestrians are, and where there always seems to be parking available. If you ask them about anything away from their route, though, even a block outside of their route, they have a hard time giving you any kind of direction. The driver helped me, though. Her long manicured circus nails tapped and scratched the front of the card while she was thinking of a way to get me toward my destination, the place I needed to conduct business. I kept trying to give her an out, told her I’d just get off where we were, run into Starbucks, and look it up online. She conceded and let me off at a nonscheduled stop, which is something these bus drivers never seem to do. I looked up at the sign at the bus stop, the one that explains which buses stopped there, and the 146 wasn’t on this sign. I felt special.

As much as I dislike western Massachusetts, and as disappointed as I am in how Pittsfield never did bounce back like everyone said it would, I miss our house. Since I left my parents’ when I was twenty-four, there’s not been a place I settled down in for as long as I’ve been in that house in Dalton. I miss the things that make it my home. There’s no way to properly write how much I miss my family, so I won’t even bother. Instead I’ll tell you that I miss my dog, and I miss my garage door, the one on the right, with the hole in one of the panels. I miss the precariously stacked pile of firewood on the right side of the garage, miss watching my neighbor, the hump, walk out to get his paper every morning. I miss looking out the living room window and onto the porch, where our porch rockers are, and hearing Molly’s paws on the floor, and I miss the screen door Jennet found who knows where but restored it to a soft, middle-class luster.

I’m never going back there, though, because it’s a stale place inhabited by stagnant, mediocre people – little fucking fish in a little fucking pond – and I’m getting my sons out of there.

I made my way west across West Lake Street, which crosses the Chicago River and runs directly underneath the EL, following its path for a few blocks. It wasn’t raining at all, but it was damp. Maybe it was snowing. As I walked west, I had to stay to the right, really close to the buildings, because water was coming off the tracks in a steady stream, as if the trains were swollen gray clouds that finally reached their saturation points. I like to think it always rains here, like some kind of anti-oasis, but I imagine it’s dry when it’s sunny…

Let me edit here, because I hit on a cool image of the EL as a long cloud: Let’s change “clouds that finally reach their saturation points” to “pouring rain on the street below.” So,

It wasn’t raining at all but it was damp, cold. It may have been snowing, I don’t remember. As I walked west, I stayed to the right, really close to the buildings, because water came off the tracks in a steady stream, as if the train were a long, swollen, grey cloud, pouring rain on the street below. I love to find the poignancy in every little scene, so I convinced myself for a second that it rained there all the time, like some kind of anti-paradise – poured down on the homeless people who staked their claims beneath the bridge. It’s not realistic, though, to think the water pours down when it’s sunny.

Then the EL roared over my head with such a thunder that I didn’t know where I was, as if everyone under the bridge were tossed into the air, and we were not coming down to regain our bearings until the thunder stopped. The Loop is home to just about every EL route in the city, so the thunder is constant.

So when I walked further and saw makeshift cardboard homes tucked rather permanently into the catacombs under the bridge, it made sense to me. At least poignancy and metaphor began to fuse together, which is what we want in our clever little essays, right Meghan Daum?

The homes were tucked in the side slots of the cement, the catacombs under the bridge – equidistant cement beds where cardboard boxes nestled perfectly. To seal off the walls of these homes, the cardboard was overlapped. Plastic sheets and worn blankets covered the walls, and what I want to get at here is that there was a kind of doorstep, a section of plastic grass, that indoor/outdoor carpeting, where someone might wipe his shoes clean before going inside. These men sleep in their shoes; never have the comfort of removing their shoes in their own homes because you have to be ready to move when the proverbial Billy club taps atop the roof of the temporary home. Who was moving this home, though? It seemed too permanent to be able to pack up, even fold up, and move to a different location. It’s possible that these homes were permanent and that the inhabitants were the ones who changed. That wouldn’t make sense, though, because if the Chicago Police wanted them out of there, there would be no house to begin with.

So maybe the man did remove his shoes, occasionally, when he knew he’d be in for the night, when there may have been an understanding that he wouldn’t be bothered, because the rough, smoking, bundled, and brawling Chicago Police have hearts and better things to do (There are murders being committed, for chrissakes and you’re arresting me?) The Chicago Police know this line and protect the men who make their homes under the bridges – the busy, thunderous bridges.

I wish I had the skill to describe these catacombs correctly. They were shielded from traffic on the left and open to pedestrian visage on the right. I wish I had the smoothness of working the screen door into this scene because in front of one of the homes in the catacombs under the bridge of the EL on W Lake Street, a splintered and forgotten screen door rested horizontally. When the great trains: the Blue, the Pink, the Brown lines thundered above the home, the screen door shook, the teacups rattled in their cabinets, and the man inside the box slept.

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