I wrote this on Thanksgiving day while visiting my brother, Brandon, in Chicago. Not sure why I waited to post it until today but I’m still thankful so it still works.
As I write this I am sitting at a 24-hour coffee shop/bar in Chicago’s Wrigleyville. The place is called “Pick Me Up.” The walls are exposed brick and are covered in what I can only describe as whimsical animal graphic art. The horse picture over my table is a bit disturbing, but I so greatly appreciate the lack of Joe’s Crab Shack-esque cheeky decor that I’m okay with it. I ordered a hummus plate and a cappuccino from a purple-haired girl with a monroe piercing, and have subsequently sat here for about three hours. My intention was to camp out and get some work done for school while waiting for Brandon to get off work. But I can’t get a hold of him to ask for the password to the laptop that I’m borrowing, so I’ve done nothing but eavesdrop on conversations and write a little. Some notable phrases overheard:
“And that bitch is why I never made it to first chair of the trombone section.”
“So this is your first Thanksgiving as a lesbian?”
“I swear, just Mac N Cheese and seltzer water.. I’ve lost like ten pounds.”
“I just cant get behind Bon Iver because he’s so mainstream now.”
“That was my second Bat Mitzvah.”
“I just told all my professors they were visionaries and then slept with them.”
(You can have two bat mitzvah’s?)
I was feeling very writery and cool in my corner booth and pea coat until I walked into the storage closet thinking it was the bathroom and then tripped on my way back to the table. Now I just feel dumb and a bit uninspired.
My brother lives in a buggy, two-bedroom apparent with a scraggly guy named Alex. Alex is a classic violinist, and, surprisingly, is currently unemployed. Today I sat in their living room with some remarkably cheap-tasting coffee and a new book while Alex played violin in his room. The muffled sound swam through the apartment, mixing perfectly with the yellow-grey light of the morning to set what I imagine to be an exact scene from Anne Frank in hiding. Later, Alex left to “try and get in on a traveling Irish fiddler group.” Right.
Brandon finally woke up and started reading me some sketch ideas he’d written down earlier this week. They were good. Like, really good. We split the last of the frozen pizzas he’d bought with his food stamps and smoked a cigarette inside, carrying on with one of the sketch ideas he’d started. At five, he had to leave to be at work at a local pizza place called Dimo’s. Which is how I ended up here, at a table next to prep school prodigies, disillusioned former marching band members, and new lesbians.
Last night Brandon, Alex, and I went to a gay bar so “we could all get free drinks.” It was called Beauty Bar, and at the front door two manicurists gave French tips to a pair of guys wearing matching red leather jackets. In the back, a Prince impersonator sang remarkably well into a glittery microphone. At some point in the night, he switched to covering Michael Jackson and then started making out with some guy. (The performer formally known as the Prince Impersonator). I met a bunch of Brandon’s friends, dance like an idiot, and did, indeed, get free drinks.
I love how much he loves his life here. He and Alex have no money. Their coffee table is a piece of plywood balanced on two egg crates. Last night I drank water out of a bowl because they didn’t have enough cups for three. But they’re so happy just doing what they love that they don’t care about things like “the minor centipede problem.” Instead, they just name the bugs they find and play harmonized renditions of Sara Evan’s “Suds in the Bucket” for their insect audience. They write sketches that maybe someone will see some day and spend hours discussing if guitars can ever really be “in tune” or if talent is nature or nurture. (As a musically-challenged bystander I voted nature. They disagreed.)
In December, Brandon is performing in a Second City show with people who have become his closest friends up here. One of the scenes in the show is completely written and directed by him. And from what I can gather it’s going to be really, really funny.
He loves it here. He loves what he’s doing. And I think he’s really happy. Bugs and all.
We may be eating Thanksgiving dinner on the floor and out of Chinese take out boxes, but today I am thankful for Chicago. I am thankful for the girl behind me wearing 9 rings and 3 scarves laughing over cheese fries with her boyfriend. I am thankful for traveling Irish fiddler groups and trombone second chairs. For Michael Jackson enthusiasts and for the girls shamelessly reading a romance novel in the opposite corner of this coffee shop. Today I am thankful for passion. For drive and pursuit and hopeful, contagious abandon. For mended relationships and Karaoke bars and government-bought generic brand Honey Nut Cheerios. For purple hair and perfectly timed jokes and the incredibly tiny legs of a centipede. For grace and wind and pizza and brothers. Today I am thankful for simplicity. Today I am thankful for beauty. God really does love us in fantastic, staggering ways.