I was walking on Milwaukee Avenue, in Chicago. I was with Seth, and we’d passed through Little Italy, Greektown, and Philly’s Best Cheesesteaks to get here. Our bellies were full of flaming cheese, the kind where, at Greek restaurants, they bring it to your table, torch it, and yell “Opa!” And our heads were full of questions. The questions were all variations of: Do we want to live here?Not today, not tomorrow, but a year from now, or five? What about Philadelphia? What about, I don’t know, Dublin or Mexico City or Antarctica?
Sometimes we forget that we’re allowed to go wherever we want. Nobody is telling us no. But there’s the cat to think of, and the local grocery store where we’ve memorized the aisles (ours stocks kitty litter behind the checkout counters; wtf?). What would it take to memorize a new grocery store? To pick a new route for an evening walk? To find a cat-friendly apartment and create a network of friends to take care of her when we go out of town?
We were talking and walking down Milwaukee Avenue in Chicago. I was wearing my ‘city fashion’ outfit because I wanted to feel like Chicago while we experienced Chicago. It’s a matching floor-length skirt and crop top, with light-blue cotton fabric that almost looks like denim. (I’ve since realized there is no ‘city fashion’ in Chicago — sorry, Chicago — the fashion there is essentially ‘Wisconsin, with a little business casual’: Birkenstocks, jeans, t-shirts, and a few pencil skirts.)
We were walking down Milwaukee Avenue in Chicago, wearing out-of-town fashion, passing by a Philly’s Best Cheesesteaks, full of Greek cheese, thinking of our futures, when someone threw an egg at me.
It landed at my feet.
I thought something had fallen from the truck that passed us by (we weren’t paying attention, and it was quick, but in our peripheral vision, our memories pieced together an image of a blank white cargo truck, zooming too quickly around a curve). But the trajectory was all wrong. Its shell splattered forward, not backward. It was no accident. Someone had hurled it at me.
It didn’t hit me. But it was supposed to. But it didn’t, nothing happened. But it could have, and why? Who cares, nothing happened. But why me, was I targeted?
We kept walking and found more egg shells splattered in similar trajectories. I didn’t get an answer to ‘why,’ but I did get an answer to ‘why me.’ The answer: I didn’t matter. It had nothing to do with me. There was a guy throwing eggs, and that was that.
One week later, I was in Madison at my brother’s house. He was at work and I, carless, went to the grocery store. It was a thirty-minute walk away and I forgot to bring reusable bags. Stupid. Despite this, the grocery gods compelled me to buy more than I intended, as they are wont to do, so I ended up with two plastic bags and one paper bag full of goods. The heavy items, including a large bag of frozen vegetables, went into the paper bag; into the plastic went lightweight items, including two boxes of mushrooms, one per bag. I’m not pointing out these specific items to brag about my vegetable intake. After ten minutes of walking, an edge of a mushroom box cut into the plastic bag until it split open and burst. The mushrooms made a break for it, scattering all over the sidewalk. I tried to reposition the items into the other plastic bag, which, of course, was in the process of being split open by the other mushroom box, and with a little extra pressure, it too cut open and released its contents. Okay, so I fit everything into the sole paper bag. Little did I know the frozen veggies had soaked the paper bag with condensation, weakening its fibers, and the bag completely fell apart. Everything collapsed to the ground. Including me.
I called Seth and asked him to fetch me with reusable bags. He agreed, but it would be awhile. I sat on the ground with the contents of half a grocery store strewn around me.
Then a stranger pulled up to the parking lot in front of me. “Do you need a bag?” He’d seen what happened, he said, and had a spare in his car. I said yes, yes, yes, and he traversed a muddy ditch in crocs to hand me a big, beautiful, strong green reusable bag. A few minutes later, a woman pulled over on the side of the road. “Do you need a bag?” She, too, saw my misery. Bagged up, I made it home.
There’s no through line here. Chicago has Greektown, Little Italy, the country’s best Mexican Art Museum, and Philly’s Best Cheesesteaks. Philadelphia has its own cheesesteaks, two rivers, 11,000 acres of parks, and the world’s best tahini milkshakes. Madison has family, cheese, and birds. DC has my life. Chicago probably has people who would offer reusable bags to strangers. Madison probably has people who would throw eggs at me. Philadelphia definitely does.
I like being a stranger surrounded by strangers. I like the anonymity of a crowd. I like being able to sit on the side of a road with broken bags of groceries and not care how pathetic I look. But if I lived here, would I feel the same way? Or would I worry about who saw me — an ex-boyfriend, a former boss? Once you know a place, you become less of a stranger, and a little more grounded, a little less free.
It’s nice to go somewhere and imagine something new. To travel not as a tourist, but as a human asking, what is this place really, and where would I fit in it? Chicago has more of everything. More people, more neighborhoods, more varying cultures. More interactions. More people throwing eggs. Less of a cohesive narrative. It can’t be figured out in three days or one blog post.
After spending a month in a vaguely nomadic situation, it’ll be nice to return to the cat, our new apartment, and endless time. There are many different versions of life. But we’re in no rush to get there.
PS: I have a new story published! This one’s super short. It’s called Green Roof, published by Washington Writers’ Publishing House. Read it here.
PPS: I’m going to have another new story published in a couple weeks! August has been good to me. It’ll be in a magazine called Oyster River Pages and they’re having a launch party on Sunday, August 29 at 1:00pm ET, and I’ll be there, reading an excerpt I think? I’ve never done anything like this. You’re welcome to RSVP here.
PPPS: Madison birds are real birdy