The sun in Texas does not so much set as wander off for a few moments, maybe, leaving a full blazing heat radiating off every imaginable surface. In Texas, at dusk, the flowers are hot. It is another day, because for me, a day does not begin when I open my eyes to the sound of the incessant beeping of my phone. I never learn, really—I always leave my phone in some distant location so that it is impossible to find it without stumbling my sleep deprived self over a toy and cracking my head on a doorframe. I find my phone, turn off the alarm, and get the kiddo ready for school. When I return from walking her there, I guzzle the coffee I made the day before. Locally produced, sustainable Ruta Maya coffee, ruined for the most part by sitting out because I can’t drink a whole pot of coffee at once. It is okay if I add ice, and my Silk creamer.
Throughout the morning I edit financial transcripts (an occupation that is more boring than it sounds) and write. I steal moments to read Open Salon (does anyone else think it is weird that the tagline is you make the headlines when, actually, the OS editors do?) and leave as many comments as I can. Sometimes I cannot think of anything to say, and wish I could leave more than one thumbs up.
The day churns on, and I work as little as possible. Oh, look, the cat sees something outside. Is it a lizard? No, only a squirrel, cheeching indignantly at the movement of cat and human behind glass. The phone rings. I navigate the spiral of preferences that will lead me to answer it (less work) or wait for the machine to greet the caller with its robot voice (less contact with the outside world).
In the late afternoon I pick up the kid, feed the kid (a frustrating process that takes at least an hour and in which some tears are inevitably shed, not all of them hers), clean the kitchen while she has a half-hour of TV time, get her in the bath, help her brush her hair, have tickle fights, cajole her into bed, read stories (working on Little House in the Big Woods now), bring her water, turn on the nightlight, smother her with kisses, and say my last good-night of the evening. And then one more time after that.
Now it is dusk, and my day begins.
I walk up to the building. I’m wearing my long leather coat with a fur ruff that I bought at a consignment shop in Maine for 35 dollars; because to me, Chicago is cold, even in the summer. When I step inside, I take it off and hang it on the rack in the corner before making my way to the bar. The television in the corner is tuned to CNN, with the sound down and the captions on. A group is gathered at the bar beneath the TV, watching intently. There’s Liz and Rob, and Chris, and Mary and Elizabeth. Red, lalucas, mishima and tequila are sitting at the table closest to that end of the bar, and are also held in rapt attention by the news. Chris Matthew’s hair flaps as he gesticulates through a complicated sexist dismissal of Sarah Palin. The entire group cheers and takes a drink in concert. I don’t say anything as I sit, but I catch squirrel’s eye and he nods. A moment later, a stiff Jameson and ginger is sitting in front of me, the sheen of the slick ice reflecting amber fire.
I look across the restaurant, recognizing several faces. Heather and Michael are canoodling in a corner. A larger table is occupied by haggis, his kilt fanning across his legs as he leans back on his chair, Crabby, neil, Sandra, and Jim. They are listening to the richly inflected voice of monsieur, who is sitting at the head of the table reciting sixteenth-century poetry. Another 6-top is occupied by Donna, LT, Jon, leigh, and the Biblios. There is a stack of books in the middle of the table, and everyone laughs as Jon signs an amusing anecdote from one of his reads. Procopious and Skeptic are debating theological points with RL Preacher, who is beaming with happiness. Stellaa, Barry, Colombo and PF are being served their entrees and all eyes are glistening with anticipation. The smell of roasted meat, tenderly spiced vegetable and warm fresh bread spilling from baskets reaches me within a moment, and I inhale deeply. Against the wall sits pontificatrix, alone. She is taking notes. A few seats down from me at the bar, Joan is lifting a glass of red wine to her lips. I wave at her and ask where Kerry is.
“Oh.” She looks around disconcertedly. She puts her hand up to her mouth and whispers loudly, “He’s using squirrel’s bathroom.” Upon hearing his name, squirrel looks up and grimaces. Joan smiles sheepishly at squirrel, and raises her thumb. He rolls his eyes, but pours more wine into her glass.
A faceless man in a grey shirt is sitting next to me. Breaking a number of physical laws and a few moral ones, he whips out an iPhone and begins to opine, crudely and at length, about a chink bitch he did doggy-style while watching Bill O’Reilly interview Dick Cheney.
I make eye contact with squirrel. He nods, and approaches the gentleman. “Sir,” he says calmly, “this is a private party and I’m afraid I’m going to have to ask you to leave.”
The man’s blank face reddens with rage, then begins to evaporate. “You Open Salon snooobs!” A last poof and some dust settles on the floor in front of the barstool, but he is gone.
“Well look who it is,” squirrel says drily, but not without some satisfaction.
I turn to the open door, and the wind swirling in through it, and immediately recognize Matt’s impish grin and impossibly warm eyes. I return his smile, and glance at the now-empty barstool next to me. He walks over and sits.
“Glad you made it out.”
“Glad to see you here,” he responds.
Another cheer is released from beneath CNN’s blinking transmission. Glasses are raised. The many conversations continue within this warm and lively shelter.
And no one, in the entire place, uses a coupon.