The Logan Square/Bucktown/Wicker Park area of Chicago is one of those rapidly gentrifying parts of the North Side of the city. I tend to skip the sushi places and trendy fusion restaurants and clubs when I go there, though. For me being in that area generally means that I’m headed to the Double Door. It’s a good place to get curb tacos, too, I suppose, but we’re done with that conversation for the moment.
For me pretty much every location matters because of the memories I associate with it. The Double Door, then, is that place where I saw Local H and Lucky Boys Confusion on the same weekend I turned 28. It’s the place where I found out that the Lovehammers were doing a secret show as “El Aiche.” It’s the place where I met Marty Casey and tried to take a picture with him but failed miserably due to the fact that I was using my HTC Tilt, which has a shutter speed that’s best described as somewhere between “tectonic” and “glacial.” I ended up with a picture of the wall of the restaurant above our heads or the street or something instead. It’s a good place, one of my favorites.
The Double Door is tucked inside the ground floor and basement of a triangular building at the corner where North Avenue, Milwaukee, and Damen meet. That means that every time I go to the Double Door there’s a moment where I realize, “Oh, I’m at this intersection.” For some reason I can’t figure out how to remember it between times, but maybe putting this all down in words will do the trick.
I didn’t go to the corner of Milwaukee, Damen, and North for the Double Door the first time. I went for an event at 826 CHI. David Eggers, the founder of McSweeney’s and the whole 826 thing was doing a talk and book signing with Valentino Achak Deng, the Lost Boy of the Sudan about whom Eggers wrote the book What is the What. I wanted to go. Amy wanted to go way more than I did. I was totally okay with that confluence of events.
At the time I was still relatively inexperienced at the whole “driving to and in Chicago” thing. I was also relatively inexperienced at the whole “finding a parking spot in Chicago” thing. I think I’d probably driven up to Joe’s once or twice and the Vic at least once. I was also not too good at figuring out how long various activities, up to and including “driving to Bucktown,” “finding a parking space in Bucktown,” and “walking the seven or eight miles from the only available parking space that was, coincidentally, somewhere in Lakeview” would take. I’m sure that you’ve figured out I was about to experience a disaster of somewhat epic proportions.
Oh, did I also mention that I woefully underestimated exactly how popular the whole “Dave Eggers and Valentino Achak Deng showing up to give a talk in what happened out to be a fairly small room” thing would be? Yeah…good times.
When we finally got there the place was packed. Like, to the point where we would have had to stand in line to be amongst the first dozen or so disappointed people. Amy was pissed. Like, she was super pissed. Inconsolably pissed.
Well, she wasn’t quite inconsolably pissed. They announced that, due to popular demand, there would actually be two presentations that night. So all we had to do was kill some time and then we’d be able to get in on the Eggers/Deng goodness.
There’s a Starbucks on the corner directly across from the restaurant where, in a happier time, I tried to take a picture with Marty Casey and failed miserably. It’s south of North Avenue, west of Damen, and in the wide angle where Milwaukee crosses both. Every time I hit that intersection there’s a brief moment where I see that Starbucks and the geometry of the whole thing hits me and I suddenly realize, “Oh, shit, I’m here.” I see myself in that Starbucks, sitting across the table from Amy, getting the silent treatment, trying to make the best of the whole thing by saying, “Hey, they’re doing another thing, so that’s good, right?”
Every. Goddamn. Time.
It worked out in the end, I suppose. Amy was, ultimately, happy. I now own a signed copy of What is the What. But I remember nothing about that night except for the Starbucks on Milwaukee where it crosses Damen and North. Specifically, I remember getting the silent treatment and feeling, as I so often did around Amy, like a complete and total jackass. Not that I would have admitted it at the time, of course. I was too busy with the, “Why are you so pissed at me? It’s totally gonna work out in the end,” argument.
Why am I telling you this story? On one level it’s because I can, I suppose. More importantly, though, it’s because I’ve learned something: if you let someone into your life they will be there forever. They might not physically stick around, but they will always be there, somewhere, floating at the edges of your memories. Something will happen and, boom, there they’ll be, casting a shadow on whatever you’re doing wherever you are.
For a long time after Amy I thought the solution to this problem was to simply never let anyone in. I spent a year and a half sitting alone in my apartment in Brookfield. I spent a year and a half doing the same thing in Irving, Texas. I watched too much TV, I drank too much beer, and I worked on building walls around my heart. I never wanted to ever have to deal with the memories of another person again.
It worked wonderfully, if I’m honest. As it turns out, I’m really good at building walls and finding ways to occupy my time. It also happens that my skill set in that department isn’t exactly well-suited for creating any sort of sense of long-term happiness. Who saw that coming?
I’ve realized something because of this, however. There’s one and only one metric that actually matters when it comes to deciding who to spend time with. It’s a simple question: “Is this person worth caring about?”
This isn’t a foolproof question by any stretch of the imagination. What we think today might be totally different than what we think tomorrow, after all. Someone I couldn’t imagine living without last Thursday might be persona non grata by next Thursday. Crazy things happen sometimes.
What this rule of thumb does, though, is remove a lot of the bullshit that gets tossed around in searches for relationship-type-things. Too much of what people say they’re looking for is the wrong stuff. It needs to be someone who has X physical quality and Y education and Z career path. But a person is more than what they look like and where they went to school and how much money they make. All that shit is transitory compared to the underlying qualities of the person who might look like B and have H education and N career path.
This realization brings with it a certain level of responsibility, however. If I want to find someone worth caring about then I, myself, must be someone worth caring about. As such I must learn from my mistakes. I must work on those things where I need improvement. I must realize that the times where I remember myself as the innocent victim and the person I was with as in the wrong probably weren’t so cut-and-dry.
I, in short, need to go back to that night at the Starbucks at North, Milwaukee, and Damen. I need to realize that Amy wasn’t unjustifiably pissed at me that night. I could have left earlier, after all, and not relied on dumb luck to make sure everything worked out. Even if everything had happened the exact same way I needed to realize that she was unhappy because she saw an opportunity to do something that she wanted to do slipping away. She was, in short, someone who had goals and expectations and I had fucked it up for her due to my own (perceived, correctly or otherwise) mistakes.
It’s those realizations that convince me that I can never make life about just what I want and how I want other people to react to me. There are too many variables out there and the variables are often the very people I want or need around me the most. Ultimately, I think that’s why I’m not a fan of the whole idea of just going out to find the hottest woman around and trying to sleep with her. It’s why I’m not a fan of doing the passive-aggressive thing where you try to talk yourself in to someone’s pants from The Friend Zone.
The person across from you is, in fact, a person. That means you’re looking at someone with their own thoughts, hopes, and dreams. That means you’re looking at someone who you can help or hurt without even realizing it. That means you’re looking at someone who might see a coffee shop six years from now and have a sudden, unbidden memory of that time they were in that place with you, doing that thing.
It’s an important thought, I think. I don’t think I’ve done an even remotely adequate job of covering it, though. I don’t think I could do so in thirty pages or three hundred pages. But maybe telling a story and the story of a lesson learned got somewhere in the neighborhood of what I wish I could find the words to say.
For the record, my four favorite Chicago venues are The Vic, the Beat Kitchen, Joe’s on Weed Street, and the Double Door. I also like Schuba’s, the Riviera, and the Aragon, although the latter two are in one of the hardest parts of the North Side to reach if you’re driving. I’ve finally figured out that the trick is to park in a garage in River North that offers night/weekend rates and then take the Red Line or the Brown Line, depending. Or, y’know, go to a show after work. That’s always an option.
Parking on the North Side is an awful, awful experience. Driving on any of the surface streets in Chicago is also an awful, awful experience. The problem with taking the train at any time that’s not rush hour, however, is that if you miss your train you’re going to be waiting for at least an hour for the next one. If you miss the last one you’re stuck in the city until about 5 AM. Driving, then, is a necessary evil. The trick is to realize that you don’t actually have to drive to the venue itself.
Oh, wait, I remember two things: I left my freaking mp3 player in said Starbucks and had to go there the next day after work to pick it up. If I recall, it’s the same exact Creative Zen Vision:M that ultimately disappeared after I left it in the seat pocket of a Southwest Airlines flight when I went to Dallas the first time. It’s equally likely that the one from the Starbucks was my old Dell Pocket DJ, however. The main issue is that I don’t recall when, exactly, the Eggers near-debacle happened.