Saturday, April 18, 2009


Spring comes late to Chicago, if at all.

When it is in the 50s in the suburbs, it is in the 30s or 40s in the city.

Then, one day, out of the blue, it will be 90 degrees. It is like Satan flips a switch, and winter disappears.

This is partially because of Lake Michigan, which is still cold from winter and takes forever to warm up. Hence the meteorological phrase "cooler near the lake." As in, "Today it will be 72 - cooler near the lake." (In the summer and fall, while the rest of the metro area is cooling off, it's warmer near the lake,)

Everyone in Chicago figures this out sooner or later.

Well, perhaps not everyone.

On Thursday the forecast was for the 60s.

It did not reach 60 in the city - yet still some teenagers and insane people frolicked outside in t-shirts.

Each night it goes back down to the 30s or 40s.

Yet on Thursday there was no heat in the apartment.

(According to the Chicago heating ordinance, the heat should be on til June 1).

So guess who called the LL to complain.

He'd turned it off.

(Actually, he had the fellow who lives in his old unit turn it off, "because the forecast was for 60." And I had to explain to the LL, who often mentions that he lived in this building for 30 years, that the city is a good ten degrees cooler than the suburbs. The fellow in the unit was supposed to turn the heat back on that night, but apparently came home late from work. This fellow is the LL's girlfriend's son and lives in his old unit - the LL having relocated a posh suburb last year. The LL controls the heat, which is on an elaborate timing system, by calling the fellow and telling him what to do. I imagine a wall filled with analog dials and old-fashioned thermometers, a demon at the controls. Anyway there is clearly a heat problem in the building, and the LL promised to put the thermostat in my apartment (the coldest one). That was a over month ago. Despite repeated reminders, nothing has happened. Think he'll actually do it? Don't bet on it).

The heat came on 30 minutes later. But the way it works in my unit is that nothing happens the first few times it cycles through. Only after two hours do all the coils on each radiator heat up, and by then I was asleep. (Think I'll be here next winter? Don't bet on it).

* * *

Friday it hit 70 in the suburbs, and in the city.

Everyone was out in their t-shirts and saris, buzzing about like insects.

(You have not lived til you have seen a gentleman in a thick mustache and Cubs hat walking down Devon Avenue with his Punjabi dress-and-headscarf-clad wife).

The air smelled clean and new - despite last year's garbage strewn here, there and everywhere.

Even the flowers began to open up.

And I thought I may last here a few more months after all.

Of course the temperature went back down to 40 that night.

Yet to my pleasant surprise the heat came on, unbidden.

* * *

The forecast this morning was 42, so after practicing I bundled up, got on the blue Schwinn and rode to teach at the nearby church (feeling a bit like Sheshadri, who rides a similar beat-up bike to the Mandala in Mysore).

But it was already in the 60s.

A couple of neighbors were in their muddy yards, talking in shirtsleeves.

And outside the church I saw and smelled flowers - actual flowers.

* * *

Here is an excerpt from Campbell McGrath's 1996 poem

"Spring Comes to Chicago"

All through those final, fitful weeks we walked off the restlessness of our
daily expectancy on the avenues of sun-hunger and recalcitrant slush.

When would that big fat beautiful baby

blue first day of spring arrive?

So we strolled the backstreets and boulevards to consider the clouds and
drink some decaf and escape the press of solicitous voices, gingerly, leaving
feathers unruffled, like that first, fearless pair of mallards coasting the lake's
archipelagoes of melting ice. We walked to the movies, again and again -
Eddie Murphy at the Biograph, Orson Welles amid the Moorish splendor of
the Music Box - varying our route until we knew every block in the
neighborhood, every greystone and three-flat, every Sensei sushi bar and
Michaoqueno flower stall.

We walked to Ho Wah Garden and the Ostoneria and over to Becky's for
deep-dish pizza;

to Manny's for waffles on mornings of aluminum rain;

the German butcher for bratwurst, the Greek bakery for elephant ears, the
7-11 for cocktail onions to satisfy Elizabeth's idiosyncratic cravings.

We walked until our fears resurfaced and then we ate our fears.

We walked ourselves right out of winter into precincts we knew and those
we didn't and some of the city kept as private enclaves for itself, a certain
statue, a street of saris, an oasis of cobbled lanes amid the welter of industry
where suddenly the forsythia is in lightening-fierce flower, sudden as lilac, as
bells, as thunder rolling in from the pains, sky a bruised melon spawning
ocean-green hailstones to carry our rusted storm butters away in an
avalanche of kernaled ice plastered with bankrolls of last year's leaves.

Behold the daffodil, behold the crocus!

Behold the awakened, the reborn, the already onrushing furious and

violets overgrown in the lawn gone back to prairie,

some trumpet-flowered vine exuding sweet ichor upon the vacant house
across the street,

dandelions blown to seed

and the ancient Japanese widows who stoop to gather their vinegar-bitter

That final morning we clear the cobwebs and crack the storm windows to
let the breeze take shelter in our closets and to bask all day in its muddy,
immutable odor. Elizabeth naps in a chair by the window, attuned to the
ring of a distant carrillon, matins and lauds, while down the block an
unnumbered hoard of rollerblades and bicycles propel their passengers like
locusts assembled at the toll of some physiological clock, the ancient
correlation of sap and sunlight, equinoctial sugar and blood. The big elm
has begun its slow adumbration of fluted leaflets and buds on branch tips,
percussive nubs and fine-veined tympani, a many-fingered symphony
tuning up.....


*The cover for McGrath's book, above, is my favorite book cover of all time -except for P.D. Eastman's Go,Dog, Go!

1 comment:

  1. Anonymous9:33 PM

    The landlord seems to be in need of a tune-up, Chicago style.

    What a jerk.

    A jerk - off!