A man with a waxed mustache, twirled ironically to anachronistic perfection, drove me to Schaumburg last night.The wales on his rust-colored corduroys ran horizontally, and the pants' pockets were lined with calico and seemed to scream, "Screw you, I'm a nonconformist!" He says he only waxes the mustache to keep the errant curly hairs out of his mouth. I'm not sure I believe him.
We zipped along the back roads in his Honda Fit talking about music and food and the horror of the suburbs. Destination: Ikea. There, after successfully navigating the particleboard Labyrinth, I bought a flat cardboard box that magically became a shelving unit, and a rug that looks like my brain feels: jumbled, abstract. More than a little unsettling, like a circus in a nightmare. Whimsical, from the right frame of mind. Its long edges curled up in a stubborn sneer, like my friend's moustache but less friendly, through the rug's first night in its new home. But it looked better, more at home, in the morning.
Most things do.
My new home has welcomed me with all manner of strange but somehow familiar sounds: creaky floorboards; ancient plaster that shatters with the slightest tap of a nail through the hollow, perennially patched and repaired walls; radiators that gurgle and squeal like larger-than-life teapots. I can see the Brown Line just outside my living room window. My squealing radiators threaten to turn the whole place into a pressure cooker, so the windows have been open since the day I moved in, when the snow fell relentlessly, inch after inch, hour after hour. My moving crew was not fond of me that day. It's a 45-second walk, door to door, to the train — so I've heard. I always forget to count as I cut through the alley and race up the escalator to beat the next train into the station. Inside, as my music plays softly or Rachael Ray prepares yet another obscenely unappetizing dish on my obscenely huge television, the time passes in uneven increments — five to seven minutes apart, longer on weekends — marked by a digitized "bong, bong…doors closing!" and a hollow, garbled conductor announcement that would make Charlie Brown's teachers proud.
The trains clatter away in either direction, leaving behind the hiss of exhaust and howl of emergency vehicles along Western, the quiet hum and snow crunch of passenger cars prowling for parking on the street separating me from the train station. The city lives and breathes around me. It makes me feel alive. And at home.
Home: I waited to feel that for six months in Wicker Park. It never happened. Most of my photos are still stacked in corners, waiting to be hung. What should be the dining room is still a disaster area for homeless knickknacks and paper avalanches waiting to happen. Tearing through the pantry, I really thought I had garlic salt, but the boxes are all empty and broken down; it's nowhere to be found. But I pad around in slippers, the grit of salt and filthy snow grinding into the old wood floors I haven't made time to clean yet; I sip wine from stemless glasses that never made it out of their cabinet on Hermitage; I make dinner without my garlic salt, and I feel at home.
Somehow, everything fits here. Even the robin's egg–blue cabinet.
And that whimsical, unsettling rug, already relaxed into its bit of floor, will be what brings it all together.