Something about Boystown. (Dammit.)


Oh, dammit, Doug. DSC_0067I don't make it to Boystown often, but every time I'm there, I think of you.

I had the best dinner tonight; I actually won it. Just for tweeting. I was only beginning to use Twitter when you knew me. Tonight it won me fried chicken.

I went for a run this afternoon — I'm back to running again, signed up for a 10K that's this fall — then came home, showered and took the train to Sheridan. It felt like fall today, on June 6. Even the setting sun seemed like an autumn sunset, with the kind of chilled warmth that only an October sun can give.

Except today.

Just shy of 7 p.m., everyone was already inside waiting for the Blackhawks game to start. It was just me and the sidewalks and my lengthening shadow.

I took myself on a date.

Dinner was at Hearty and started with a cocktail, an elderflower gimlet made with Small's Gin and St. Germain. I ordered fried mac and cheese for an appetizer and a fried chicken basket for dinner. Sinful.

I sat alone in the corner of the room, facing the sidewalk, and watched Halsted dim, fade to pink then black. I had Malbec with my chicken and a glass of sparkling wine with dessert. I chatted with the gay men at the table next to me; I walked my bubbles to the opposite corner of the room for a toast with another solo female diner. She'd just gotten divorced and only recently moved to the neighborhood.

You could always talk to anyone, too. Actually, to the point where it almost embarrassed me.

Anyway, I went all out. You'd have been proud.

I took the long way home.

I decided, after paying the check, to take the long way home, down Halsted through Boystown. And the second I hit Addison, your 6'3" presence loomed in my path.


You never seemed so tall; you were more like a carnival-game stuffed animal with a penchant for repeating salacious stories and the best Barcelona accent I'd ever heard. But tonight, you were a hulk on the street.

I walked past Tapas Gitana, where a wooden sign hung down from the awning beckoning people to the patio where we drank sangria till we were sick. Across the street, the sex shop where we staged our dildo sword fight was all aglow, with pleather underwear in the windows in a riot of colors all set for Pride Fest.

And then, the parking lot of the 7-Eleven. Why it was at that moment the lump of uncried tears chose to attack my throat, I can't be sure. I was so drunk on cheap rosé when we got that pedicab from my first-ever Pride Parade that I barely remember our first afternoon there. I remember the streets littered with strings of plastic beads and our clothes stuck to our bodies from the torrential downpour. And I remember that eternal ride home in the rain was one of the best times I've ever had.


 I guess you're still here.

Just after the 7-Eleven parking lot, I walked past a group of kids holding a sign that said, "BAD JOKES. ANYTHING WILL HELP!" I asked if they were hungry and handed over my leftovers, all for this:

"Have you heard the one about the broken pencil?" "… No?" "… Ah, never mind. It has no point."

It was so worth surrendering my chicken and the last fried mac and cheese square. We would have been all the way to Belmont before we stopped cackling.

I'd rather be drinking with you.

I can't believe you'll have been gone three years this fall. Lisa and I talk about you like it's been a week since we saw you, even if I do refer to you as my dead friend Doug. I mean it with love, like the time you made a Parkinson's joke and didn't realize my mom had it. I know you'd understand.

I can't believe I was with him the night you collapsed, and I can't believe you left never knowing the real me. Or maybe you did. But I've changed so much, Doug.

I’m still irresponsible and silly, and I know we could cause so much trouble together. But I wish you could meet Mark, and the cats — hell, I'd say I wish you could have met Emaline, but I know you two are causing trouble somewhere right now — and I wish we could sit on my deck and drink more cheap rosé together.

I'd rather be drinking with you than writing this post. I'd rather be drinking with you than doing a lot of things.

I think you'd be proud of the woman I've become. You loved me as a hot mess, too, I know.

You know, you never did read my blog, and that never…really bothered me. I told you everything you needed to know.



Lost and Found [in Town].

Last Sunday, I dropped my phone outside a restaurant in Andersonville. For the record, I’d had one drink. ONE. (We’ll blame the Angostura bitters here, but really, I need my head examined.)I noted that I had dropped it. I chastised myself for being clumsy. Then I walked off without it.

Who does that?

I didn't realize until half an hour later that I hadn’t picked it up, and when I returned to the scene of the crime to retrieve it, my phone was gone. My Android phone worth hundreds of dollars, swiped off the sidewalk by some stranger, never to be seen again. There’s a joke in here somewhere about fiscal responsibility and generally being a damn adult. But I was in no mood for jokes.

I locked my bike up when I got home and trudged upstairs, already calculating which would be less expensive and more worth my efforts: cashing in my insurance policy yet again (the first time, I drowned my phone in a toilet… because I’m awesome) or canceling my contract, paying the early-termination fee and running back to my mother’s family plan. Tail. Between. My legs.


A lovely, law-abiding man — not some hoodlum with black-market motives — and his wife had found my phone, and they were looking for ways to get it back to me. Enter Found in Town.

Zach Haller, a friend of mine from Chicago’s amazing tech startup community, had me on board with his universal lost-and-found program almost immediately. Here’s how it works: Users prone to losing things sign up for a set of FiT tags, which come with a unique code and can be affixed to anything and everything that is able to be lost.

When your tags arrive in the mail — branded with the logo of one of FiT’s community partners, who help fund the program — you activate them, attach them to your stuff and wait patiently for the day you can put them to work. (You know, or not, if you're not like me.) For me, that day was Sunday.

When I got into my apartment, I had every intention of sending a series of frantic, futile text messages to my phone with the vain hope that I would get a response from whoever had fled the scene with my link to the world.

Instead, I had two e-mails waiting for me. The first: an e-mail from the resourceful man who found my phone, which I love him for, even if it did mean he had to go through my phone to find my contact information. The second: a notification from Found in Town that someone had found my phone. A little redundant at that point, but…holy crap, it worked. I had my phone back less than two hours after I went braindead and left it on the sidewalk.

Found in Town doesn’t guarantee that your stuff will be returned — if I’d left my now-vaguely-infamous iPad lying on the ground, I don’t expect some good Samaritan would have returned it — but it does make it easier for the stellar human beings among us to do their thing.

I may not be so lucky next time I go full-on bonehead, but I definitely have a little more faith this week in humanity…and technology.

So THANK you, Zach, for having this idea, and thank you to a stranger named Noel for wondering what to do with a silly sticker on the back of a stranger’s phone.

Also: I am including a handy CALL TO ACTION here. Sign up for Found in Town. Spread the word about it. Help an entrepreneur with a fantastic concept take his idea to the next level. Today, Chicago…tomorrow, the world!

Le fabuleux destin de Paige Worthy.

Sunlight streamed into my room this morning. I squinted at the oversized clock that hangs on the wall; the red hands pointed in the ballpark of nine and seven. I panicked. 8:35?!Oh, sweet Jesus. I'm late. To my temp job.

But myopia's tricky like that: Little hands become big hands; hours become minutes. It was actually only 6:42, six minutes before my alarm was set to go off. Panic turned to annoyance. Six minutes wasted. Grumble.

An hour later, I closed the front door behind me, begging Emaline not to take another dump in an unfortunate location. (Last night, I came home from choir rehearsal and found a really glorious gift from her on my sofa. She'd somehow managed to shut the door to the room with her litterbox; clearly the only piece of soft furniture I own was the next best option. Hardwood? That would be far too neat.) Across the street, I pushed through the turnstile and surged up the escalator with a small mob of other Lincoln Square commuters, armed with their full-length North Face jackets, massive coffees and RedEye newspapers. Ill equipped with only one of the three, I scuttled to my seat and poked idly at my iPhone for the entire ride downtown. People watching isn't much fun during the morning commute on the Brown Line — everyone is more or less a zombie, or dead set on making it to the next level of Angry Birds — unless you're into watching some DePaul kid wearing tattered jeans and a coin purse of a handbag stumble into you every 40 seconds. Then it's fantastic. Ah, I wear the disgruntled, not-a-morning-person commuter look so well.

Except that I so am. A morning person, I mean.

The woman taking orders at Starbucks was singing when I walked in. She's a morning person, too, and she knows what all her regulars like to drink. She sang along between orders to the Al Green song playing over the din of the espresso machine, joking with the man in front of me in line that she'd finally found some decent music mixed in with the other stuff. The line was at least ten deep, nearly out the door in the miniature matchbox café that overlooked the Chicago River, but my drink was ready just a few seconds after I'd paid, and I was out the door with my soy. My soy chai. My grande, soy, extra-hot, no-water, no-foam, five-pump chai. Yeah. I'm working this week and next in an office on the 12th floor of a building across the river from the Tribune Tower and kitty-corner from the Wrigley Building, settled into the intern's cube with a lifetime supply of red pens and Post-It notes. The job itself isn't…well, it pays the bills. But I'm part of the pulse of the city again, if only for a couple of weeks. I haven't worked downtown since New York. I haven't quite fallen in step with everyone else just yet, but at least I'm there. Here. My life lately has felt a little like the scene from Amélie where she leads a blind man by the elbow around her little corner of Paris, describing everything she sees in brilliant Poulainesque detail — my favorite part is the baby looking at the dog gazing at the chickens in the window of the butcher shop. There's no way the man could ever absorb more than the tiniest bit of what she's told him, after a lifetime of isolation and darkness, but he's enchanted all the same by her. By the sheer magic of it. Every day this week, I've taken a different route fro

m the train to the building. There's so much to see along that half-mile, so much I've never needed to notice before as I rushed from point A to point B. This week, I'm still rushing, but it matters that just a little bit more. I want to absorb it just a little bit more.

Snow-ly cow.

It was 53 degrees in Louisville on Sunday afternoon. My legs ached from six days pacing the same long stretches of hotel hallway between ballrooms and meeting space; my eyes were strained and bloodshot from too many too-short nights and even longer days spent under buzzing fluorescent light. I was dehydrated and hungry and homesick. I could have napped. I could have gone for a long, leisurely late lunch. But all I wanted was to run. And it was 53 degrees.

Families in bright red Louisville Cardinals sweatshirts were out for walks together, kids ran amok over thawing patches of mud and wood chips on the playgrounds, and dogs on leashes were everywhere, begging to be kidnapped and taken back to my hotel suite. There would have been room. I lost my place on the map as I tracked it online, but I think my meander through the park along the banks of the Ohio River was about four miles long. It was exhausting; those six sedentary days had clearly taken their toll. As I peeled my base layer off and melted under the stream of scalding shower water, I was out of breath and just shy of miserable, still achy, eyes throbbing and throat parched.

But the sun had come out to warm me back to the world of the living, the world of the normal. And when I flew home the next morning, I was happy I'd ventured out to say hello back.

Now, safe and sane back at home in Chicago, my balance has returned. The sun knew I didn't need it to welcome me back here; the grey skies and unexpected blasts of arctic air are homecoming gift enough. It is not 53 degrees. I find myself, in fact, preparing for the winter storm to end all winter storms.

This is the most formidable snow to hit the Windy City since 1967, to hear the meteorologists tell it — they must be wetting their pants with excitement.

My mother says she remembers that snowstorm. She was 11.

I'll believe the radar hype when I see it in its powdery flesh — we were expecting the storm of the century back in November and were left with little more than meteorological blue balls. There, I said it. Still, snow puns abounded on Twitter today: snowmageddon, snowpocalypse, Snow-prah Winfrey, Snow-torious B.I.G., Barry Mani-snow. I just made that last one up. (Snoowki? All right, it's a stretch.)

There's a citywide panic to collect as many eggs and loaves of bread as possible before the worst of the weather sets in. The parking lot of the grocery store was an accident waiting to happen, and it was every man for himself inside. I was willing to fight for the death for my broccoli and jumbo bag of jasmine rice; luckily for my fellow shoppers, it never came to that.

A friend and I settled in with two episodes of Gossip Girl and gorged ourselves on Thai food until we looked outside and saw the rooftops coated in white. She rushed home to the Ukrainian Village, and I rushed to the kitchen to put on a pot of pasta e fagioli soup. Which I didn't realize needed to simmer for two and a half hours.

So here I am. The gas flame glows blue under the pot, and I check it occasionally. I turned off the television — Alton Brown was making enchiladas — and put on Chet Baker, Fruit Bats, Mumford & Sons. I shuffle past Radiohead and Creedence Clearwater Revival. That's not winter music.

Despite the general population's frenzy to hunker down, I am calm. I'm warm at home and stocked with enough produce to feed a family of rabbits for days.

The city's lights have turned the sky orange; I opened my blinds to watch errant snowflakes drift by knotty, bare black branches. The street below me is pristine; not a single car has passed since the snow started to stick. But a train rumbles by every few minutes, a reminder that there's still life outside — not just a still life — though there are no passengers boarding. Empty. Empty. Empty.

This is the weather I've waited for all winter, the white Christmas I wanted but didn't get. I want to be the city the Weather Channel goes on and on about. I want a bright-blue ticker of school cancellations along the bottom of my television screen. I want pictures of bundled-up babies to clutter my Facebook feed. I want to see kids running amok through paths walled off by the newly plowed snow, and bewildered dogs in little snowshoes experiencing their first big winter adventure. I want to put my boots on and trudge through the heart-attack snow to grab the half-gallon of organic milk I forgot to pick up while I was out. I want to drag my forgotten yoga mat out of the coat closet and stretch out on my new, old wooden floors. I want to bask in the glory of my easy commute to the "home office," proud to be working while everyone else takes a snow day.

I'll enjoy Tom…Snow-kaw for about 30 minutes, then I'll change my mind and decide I'm ready for capri pants and baseball season, patent-leather flats and fireworks in Montrose Harbor. Even 53 degrees won't be enough for me, and I won't be sorry for it. Because I'm a Chicagoan, dammit.

The sounds of settling.

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.

It all needs just a little more time to settle. Patience. Patience.

And that whimsical, unsettling rug, already relaxed into its bit of floor, will be what brings it all together.


I could smell the Spice House from half a block down Wells Street; even the wood of the huge, old doors is infused with scents of curry and cinnamon and black pepper. I was the collateral damage as a wave of warm, heady fragrance rushed toward the cold outdoor air as I walked inside.In my shin-length North Face, I was channeling the Michelin man and barely had room to shimmy around the rickety old displays, spice mixing tables and stumbling spice-drunk patrons as I looked for the gift boxes I'd come for. I found the boxes, one for my mom and one for my dad, and a couple of other things, including a jar of peppercorns and a bag of cocoa mix for myself. The man at the register told me he favored a 4:1 gift-giving ratio — one treat for yourself for every gift purchased — to cut down on buyer's remorse.

The little boy behind me in line told his mom they should just steal their spices so they wouldn't have to wait in line. I turned around to waggle an eyebrow at him, and complimented his plaid hat with fur-lined earflaps. You'll shoot your eye out, kid.

Four-to-One likened himself to a Christmas elf, stuck in Santa's workshop while everyone else bustled around buying their gifts. But he didn't seem to mind. Huddled behind the counter with the other employees — they had three registers going, and the line was still halfway to the door — he had a little red sound-effect machine that he used like Jim Cramer on Mad Money. He pressed the little "cha-ching" button when I handed over my credit card, and he followed a co-worker to the stock room, pressing the fart button repeatedly.

I didn't want to leave, go out alone into the cold again. Inside that cozy oven of a shop, we were all baking together like little Christmas snickerdoodles. My iPhone's battery was dying, and I knew I'd lose my Christmas soundtrack before too long. As expected, the phone kicked the bucket — just as I stepped into the Southern, a comfort-food restaurant back near my apartment. I hadn't eaten all morning, nor had I eaten a real meal all weekend. So I ordered chicken and a biscuit — a buttermilk-fried breast with a homemade biscuit, swimming in a thick, rich brown gravy with tasso ham and rosemary — and sipped coffee and orange juice as I finished writing my holiday cards.

Everyone else at the restaurant was brunching with friends, celebrating the holidays with mimosas and shrimp and grits, exchanging Christmas gifts. No one seemed serious, or stressed out, or even hung over. Just bright eyes, hearty laughter and full bellies as they got up to leave.

I wasn't envious; I wasn't lonely. I'd spent my weekend outside my comfort zone, with cocktails and conversation and unexpected new friends I hope to see again.

And as I paid my check, I watched a little girl discover her reflection.

She'd been nestled in a booster seat in the corner booth, and her family bundled her up in a pink hat and boots, and a houndstooth coat with a ruffled bottom. While her mother fussed with her own coat and the mess of bags she'd brought in with her, the little girl wandered over to a tall mirror leaned up against the wall. She furtively glanced around, looked closely at the other little girl in the mirror then put her hand up to the mirror. She admired the pretty little girl in the black and white coat and pink winter hat, pondering her good taste. Then she spotted me. She watched me in the mirror, and I waved at her reflection. She smiled her gap-toothed, jack-o'-lantern smile and patted the mirror to say hello back.

All packed and ready to go, her mother joined her, showed her how to dance along to the bluegrass music gently keeping time with the muted football game. They were still exploring the mirror world as I gathered my own things and made my way to the door and home to my little apartment.

As she discovered her reflection, I discovered that my Christmas spirit hasn't gone away; it's just been in hiding. My busted tree and the same old holiday tunes couldn't bring it out this year. It needed a little coaxing: warm, rich scents, the kindness of strangers, fried chicken, and a toddler getting a new perspective of her own.