This is what 48 hours in Chicago looks like:
1. You meet Lyra, whom you’ve never met, (but who cares) for lunch. Falafels. The best pickles you’ve ever had. This is all you’ll remember about eating. The pickles. You adore her. Lyra. Lunch hour feels like lunch minute.
2. You spend all day Saturday — even though you’re meeting your daughter for lunch and going to a wedding — reading Joan Didion’s latest book. You start and finish BLUE NIGHTS and are not quite sure what you think of it. Even though you can not, not once, put it down until you’ve read the every last sentence.
3. On the way out to the wedding, you’re coming out of the elevator in your hotel as Jonathan Franzen —- Jonathan fucking Franzen —- is coming in. Your husband says, “Did you see ….?” and you try hard (dressed in your fanciest dress, spike heels, dots on your pantyhose, feeling like a sausage squeezed into it’s polyester casing) not to scream, “Yes I see Jonathan FRANZEN! I’m not fucking blind!!!!!!” (okay, you might actually say this out loud)
4. Next thing you know, Mr. Franzen comes back out and hails a cab. He’s tall, you think. Handsome. It occurs to you that you don’t have a purse, no paper no pen. Goddamn it!! You stare down Mr. Franzen, he looks at you, you look away. You focus in on the stiff white cuff of your dress sleeve. You touch it. He could sign this, you think. He could! Would he do it? Would you?
5. At the wedding reception, the bride and her groom (a 25 yr old Marine) are announced: Mr and Mrs. They glide, kissing, under a canopy of other Marines’ swords. You recall the Didion book, which opens on her daughter’s wedding anniversary. Joan’s daughter, with her long blonde braid, is years dead. “Seven years ago today we took the leis from the florist’s boxes and shook the water in which they were packed onto the grass outside the Cathedral of St. John the divine on Amsterdam Avenue.”
6. At today’s wedding your Marine groom, in his dress uniform with medals, will be going to Afghanistan. Back to Afghanistan. For his 2nd tour. The bride and groom dance their first dance to “Moon River.” You cry. You cry like a fucking baby and you can’t stop no matter how you try. People say “awwww,” with concern, and ask how you know the bride. You stuff it down. “Moon River” was your mother’s favorite song. The groom is going back to war. His bride, on the dance floor, has a long, blonde braid. Your mother, gone.
7. You text message a friend that you’ve just seen Jonathan Franzen. She texts back: Did you tell him you hated his book?
8. You recall Joan Didion’s author photo on the back flap. So frail, so pretty. It doesn’t matter if her book is good, does it? She’s Joan Didion. You’ve read most of her books. You’ve read THE YEAR OF MAGICAL THINKING a few times. (okay, maybe 5 or 6) (okay, maybe 10) You will read this new book, BLUE NIGHTS, again and you know it. “Good” does not matter in the equation. The style gets to you. Joan gets to you.
9. At the wedding reception, you tell the young gal sitting next to you about Mr. Franzen, that he’s staying at your hotel. This is how you stop the whole crying thing. The distraction. I don’t know him, she says with a thick southern drawl, and leans over to her in-charge husband, yelling over the band, DO YOU KNOW A WRITER CALLED BOB FRANZEN?! The husband, in his tux and bow tie, yells to you, NOOOOO. What does he write? You ask where they live. The drummer in the band bangs his cymbals! You ask how they know the bride. You ask how they met. You ask what they do, how many kids they have. The answer is 3. Three kids under 10. You’re all dried up.
10. You spend Sunday with your writing group, at a book store called “The Book Cellar.” The day goes by so damned fast you don’t know how it gets to be 5 pm. You recall inhaling a grilled cheese sandwich and tomato soup. A mocha latte, no whipped cream.
11. Roger Ebert is there, at the book store, signing his latest memoir. You’re afraid to interrupt, to bother him, but you ask if he’ll take a photo with the 4 of you. He nods, grins. His wife, Chaz, says, “Yes, yes! He wants to personally sign your books.” When you tell them you’re a writing group, from other cities, and that you’ve never met, in person, before, Roger smiles huge and gives his Thumbs Up. Chaz says slowly, Wow, that is so great. She is so lovely, so sincere. The camera flashes twice. (photographic evidence here)
13. You and Lyra can’t go home yet. You look for a place to have a beer. You’re convinced the first bar is too quiet — the smell of stale smoke and beer, the low stench of old men, a row of slow pedofiles lined up on barstools. The bar is called “Ricochet.”
14. Down the street, the 2 of you settle on a screaming sports bar full of New York Giants fans. You can’t hear each other. The girlfriend at the hightop next to you seems to have it in for Lyra from the minute you sit down. The evil eye. You hold your ground, drink your beers. The game goes down to the final 10 seconds …