The patio set.

On Monday, it'll be a month since I started my new job. I spent the first weekend afterward traveling and worked for 10 days straight. The next weekend, I tried my best to recover; the weekend after that, a friend visited from out of town, leaving me exhausted and despondent come Sunday night.So I declared this weekend all mine. No plans, no dates, nothing but what I wanted to do. Which apparently includes Friday night grocery shopping, making myself sick (like old times) from too much raw cookie dough, waking up for class at the gym, and spending the day wandering my neighborhood, weaving around the green-clad day drinkers with freshly painted toenails and a bag from the wine shop clinking with bottles.

Somewhere around lunchtime, I became obsessed with the idea of going to Target and buying the patio set I've had my eye on. I tried, to no avail, to find a friend willing to drive me there and back — turns out, everyone was either out drinking or holed up even more than I'd decided to be.

So after I'd tidied the kitchen, stripped my bed and bathroom towel racks and taken two loads of laundry to the basement, I got on the bus and headed north toward the store. Decided I'd figure out the getting home part when it came time. I wandered aimlessly through Target and found it, and my eyes widened when the associate wheeled the box out from the back; once it was in the cart, I couldn't even see around it.

Panic: How in the hell would I get this home?

A painted yellow line just outside the automatic [caution] doors ground my cart's wheels to a halt and nearly sent me flying. I stuck my arm out from near the door, and several cabs passed until I realized I was actually too cheap to pay one to take me home.

So I heaved the box to the curb in a bear hug and took the bus. The first of two.

At the stop, I talked with a woman about motorcycle drivers too cool to wear helmets; she had just bought new pillows after years with the same ones — she prefers hers old and smooshed. She smoked a cigarette while she told me about her 5-month-old son, and when the bus rolled up, we parted ways wordlessly.

Then I waited. At the next bus stop, I waited for 40 minutes. The bus tracker even told me how long I'd wait. But I was more and more obstinate as cab after cab passed me, determined not to spend any more money than I already had, when I'd already proven I could handle the bus and that massive box.

After 10 minutes, I slumped against my box to the shaded sidewalk, flanked with strollers. I'll admit to feeling decidedly gangsta there, Girl Talk blasting through my earbuds, as traffic passed me for another half-hour. Taking the easy way out.

The last leg of my journey home — just two miles as the crow flies — seemed like the longest. Halfway there, the driver's shift ended, leaving a bus full of passengers who had waited and waited for their ride…waiting. Some more. And then the buses that had arrived back to back had to consolidate their passenger loads, for a reason that remained a mystery to us all. I was furious. The dusty cardboard had already rubbed insides of my arms raw, and my pedicured feet were filthy with city grime stuck to the salon's cheap scented lotion. I wanted my damn patio set, out of the box and ready for cocktail service.

As I searched for a kindred spirit who could share a contemptuous moment with me against the CTA, I spotted two children a couple of rows back. One of the stroller babies who'd been with me since the waiting stop was waving to another little girl, eagerly reaching out for her hand. She grabbed it and smiled.

Hi. Hi. Hi. Hi. Hi. Hi.

A moment of total innocence, an instant friendship formed. The boy in the stroller waved goodbye to everyone on the bus as his mother wheeled him out backward. He was so happy. He didn't mind the waiting.

And suddenly I was happy, too, as I hobbled off the bus with my box just a block from my house. Even happier when the world's kindest cab driver drove me through the alley, not even half a block, for free — then carried the box through my back gate, where I tore it open, plunked down onto the pavement and put the whole thing together.

The neighbors in the house next door were celebrating their little boy's second birthday. He and his friends shot at me (shyly) with makeshift firearms. I bonded with the parents over my glass of wine and utter determination to finish this project, despite their child's wiffle ball sailing over the tall wooden fence and smacking me in the head.

A neighbor in a Kansas T-shirt came downstairs to start her laundry. Turns out we grew up just a few miles apart; we know some of the same people, and she went to Miami of Ohio, the college I'd planned to attend until July of my freshman year. And she lives just downstairs.

I fought with the included Allen wrench for the next hour, fumbling with bolts and washers, positive I'd do something catastrophically wrong. Until I finally flipped the final piece over and surveyed my work. At that point, I realized three things.

First: It would be impossible to screw up something so stupidly simple. Second: The whole set is perfect, from the lovely latticework down to the sunny yellow cushions. Third: It's hard to say which I'm more in love with, this new table and chairs that ate up my entire afternoon…

…or the people I encountered between the automatic doors that stopped my cart and the set's new home at the top of the stairs.