Saturday afternoon I found myself in the position to dive into a grocery store for a quickie appetizer to take to my friends' place, as there was neither time nor energy to go home and make it from scratch. I had just finished a late lunch at Trio's in Kenwood but figured the best bet for food on the run was Hyde Park, where no one has time for much except shopping and being seen on a humid August afternoon. Problem solved when I ducked into Wild Oats in Rockwood-whatever-they-call-it and fell victim to the merchandising of lush green vegetables and packaged herbs. Could this be heaven on grocery earth?
Time was on my side, as I wasn't due to Mary and Jerry's Over-the-Rhine apartment until 5-ish. I let the mood take me from the produce straight to the coffee and smoothie department. I love the smell of coffee and figured maybe I should indulge in a dose of caffeine to get me out of the post-lunch coma I was experiencing. Of course, who can resist adding a little mocha to the coffee and why not the whip cream too? After all, if I'm gonna pay over $1 for a cup of Java you might as well dress it up a bit and make it seem like dessert. Still, who can afford these decadent cups of calories except in a moment of weakness?
Fortified from my coffee break and after catching up on reading CityBeat at the outside café table, I went back inside with a basket in hand to pick my poison to take to Mary and Jerry's. The grapes called out to me, as they were stacked high near the entrance and with the heat only light things seemed appealing. I mingled in the cheeses and looked over the deli section but felt drawn to the sushi section. California rolls and veggie rolls jumped in my hand-held basket as the healthy and light choice for my carry-in portion. For safe measure I grabbed a bag of mini-Milano cookies for dessert.
At the register I considered a bouquet of fresh flowers but was shuffled to another register before I could make a decision. My grapes rang up at $7.25. Organic or not, that's a little bit more than I'm willing to pay for seedless purple grapes. The register girl said that it was no problem to take them off when I requested as much. The sushi and cookies ended up being about $15, which made me realize that healthy isn't cheap. Home-cooked appetizers surely are more cost-effective in the long run but, hey, convenience comes at a price. Face it, Wild Oats is a visual beauty that we all have to pay for in separate trips.
Jerry happened to be on the street when I pulled up in front of their building just off Main Street, and we both marveled at my excellent parking space. He escorted me upstairs with my sushi and cookies telling me that life in the city is never dull in the summer months. Not that many children were outside in the adjacent playground and music was drifting up the stairwell as we climbed four floors to their place.
Having only seen their place on the day they moved in, it was with great pride that Jerry opened the door to reveal the loft in all its splendor. Now this is my idea of city living, with exposed brick walls and sky-high ceilings to die for. Mary wrapped her arms around my neck as I marveled at how well all their stuff fit in the place. The eclectic feel reminded me immensely of the two of them and how their lives have melded together in the last two years after first encountering each other via an Internet personal ad. People meet in strange places, but in this case it ends up in a great apartment serving sushi and homemade vidalia sausage from Findlay Market.
After stuffing ourselves with all the good eats, we decide to drive one car down to Sawyer Point for the Blues Festival, and again the parking gods were smiling on me when I ended up parking for free just off Eggleston. We took the short walk to the entrance and could hear the Blues wafting out to greet us on the street. Mary admitted that she hadn't been to the Blues Fest before, and it occurred to me that I must have been a fan for the last three years ever since Dr. Lemming turned me on to his creation of the dueling Boogie Blues Pianos under the arches. While the crowds have gotten bigger the last couple of years, it still remains the city's best outdoor music festival in my book.
We drifted from the piano stage to the Gospel stage and lingered at each to people watch and tap our toes to the beat. Mary agreed that it was a very eclectic crowd and not the usual downtown festival crowd that seems to prevail in the summer months.
Everyone seemed content to listen to music and snack on the barbecue or maybe the turkey legs. Unable to resist, we ended up with beer and roasted almonds before night actually fell. Unfortunately that meant soon Mary and I would be searching out the public facilities, where the men walk in and out quickly and women are forced to dance in line. Still everyone was friendly and upbeat, making time pass quickly enough that Jerry hardly seemed to miss us.
The musicians changed every 45 minutes or so, giving us time to experience the various stages multiple times before settling down on the bleachers in front of the pianos under the arches. This is what brings me back year after year, as it isn't just the enormous Steinways' ivory keys but the spirit of the fans that move me.
This seemed to me the type of organic entertainment we all need. It had no additives and no preservatives. The $5 entrance fee seemed a bargain.
I'd gotten caught up in redecorating Saturday night and lost track of time when the phone rang.
"Where are you?!" Kristine said. She sounded worried. "Are you OK?" She was starting to make me nervous.
I was supposed to meet my friends at a benefit show at Semantics. We hadn't set an exact time to meet, but apparently I was late. I grabbed my stuff, threw on some lipstick and raced out the door.
When I arrived, I tried several times to open the door but it wouldn't budge. I wasn't that late, was I? There were people inside and the lights were still on, but no one bothered to point me in the right direction. When I saw some folks emerging from a little alley on the side of the building, I found the way in, squeezing past people on the narrow walkway. The band Montclaire had just finished playing when I found my friends at the back of the building.
"Hello, Senorita," Victor said.
"Where'd you get the beer from?" I responded.
I'd have to squeeze past the folks again for a cup of beer from a keg. But I didn't feel like disappearing again quite yet. In the meantime, Kristine shared her beer with me in exchange for a cigarette. I noticed a stamp on her hand. Apparently, you had to get stamped to get in. You did? I walked right in, well, sort of. Clearly, I'd missed any kind of direction at the gallery this evening.
Shortly, a girl walked up and asked for a light.
"I waited on you at Ferrari's last week," she said.
It was a funny coincidence. She happened to be our server there the previous Tuesday for my birthday dinner. I'd never expected to see her again, so it was a nice surprise.
She'd moved here from St. Louis a few years but had never been to Semantics. It was funny, as I'd been there before but tonight felt like a stranger.
"Where've you been hiding out?" I asked.
She was a Northsider, but I couldn't recall seeing her around. It's amazing how you can see the same face over and over and not recognize it. Until you make some kind of contact, people blend into the scenery and you just sort of accept it. The girl and I realized we both knew Becky Lomax, who'd moved to Chicago recently. She'd actually been Becky's roommate, but I'd only met her via this online column. It was tripping me out -- it seemed we were destined to run into each other.
Finally, I was ready for a cup of beer and offered her one, but she was on her way out.
"Maybe I'll see you at The Comet sometime," I said. Which really translated to, "I'll recognize you now when I see you."
The girls from the band Shesus, who coincidentally live upstairs from the gallery, were celebrating their birthdays. So we marched up to the third floor apartment to say hello. The kitchen was crowded, but I honed in on a cracker tray and suddenly realized I was hungry.
Since there was no place to sit, we eventually wandered into another room. It looked like a studio, with a large table topped with brushes, drawings on the wall and, for some reason, a bathtub. By now, our group had grown to five. Victor and I sat on the edge of the tub -- no chairs here either -- and the others stood. I suggested we take a bath. Since we were already filling up with drink, it seemed appropriate.
Our group meandered from one room to another, feeling unsettled. Kari offered us a delicious chocolate cupcake with a tiny plastic can of Budweiser decorating it. Normally not a fan of cupcakes, this one renewed my faith in the foil-wrapped treats. She wished me (a fellow Leo) happy birthday. Obviously, there was a whole pride of us wandering around.
After a while, the restlessness returned and I began to realize we were unable to talk to each other, we had to go up and down stairs to get beer and I was getting tired of squeezing past the people posing inside doorways. Kristine kept suggesting we go to her house, but I knew if I did I'd instantly fall asleep.
Back downstairs, I ran into two familiar faces. Jim had recently called me out of the blue to tell me he was moving to Mexico City. Since he was leaving next week, I figured I better get my good-byes in and asked him to meet me at the gallery. I wanted to talk to him, but there seemed to be a cosmic situation happening that kept any kind of extended conversation from existing at the gallery that night. His girlfriend left his side to go mingle.
I dragged my friend outside to better talk and suddenly felt awkward. I hadn't seen him in a while and didn't know where to start.
"What's new with you?" he asked.
Suddenly, I couldn't think of what to say. In the last couple of years, my friend has reverted back into the acquaintance arena. Anyhow, nothing seemed as interesting as moving to Mexico City.
"Still smoking?" he said with a smile, as I took a drag.
He was leaving for a least a year or two to teach English to people of various cultures. He was leaving his girlfriend behind. In many ways, Jim was a rebel. And I wished I had some of his guts, the wanderlust, the ability to work somewhere, save a bundle of money, then pack up and go.
We went back inside and I found the rest of our disconnected group. Kristine and Jim said their hellos. Suddenly I felt tired and wanted to go home. I remembered how much I hate good-byes.
At one point, Victor brought me a Jell-O shot and we settled on a rock wall in the tiny alley. He'd seen some friends of his soon-to-be ex-wife. People who never leave their houses were obviously crawling out tonight. I tried to console him but wasn't prepared. My friend, who's usually such a chipper fellow, seemed awfully depressed. He threw back his shot while I held mine until it stopped being Jell-O. Luckily, Guy and Karina found us and I introduced Karina to Victor as "Trina." I was convinced that was her name for some reason. The expression on her face convinced me otherwise.
It was 1 a.m. when I headed to the front of the gallery and ran into Karina and Guy again. She was a forgiving sort and didn't bring up my butchery of her name again. She was exhausted from signing all night for her friend Sarah. They were waiting for her to drive by, as proof she'd made it to her car. Sarah, who'd lost her hearing at age 5, could kind of read lips and sort of talk. But she basically didn't know what the hell was going on half the time. Funny, but I felt much the same way that night.
A couple of guys I'd seen stalking people in the gallery came up to us. One with a gentle voice saw me light a cigarette and bummed one. He sounded so nice I couldn't say no. The older fellow with a gold, tribal collar around his neck held a large portfolio containing samples of his boyfriend's work. The boyfriend skipped off with the cigarette.
The art was intricate with colorful designs that would take me a while to decipher and describe. It's true, they belonged in a gallery. But I couldn't understand if he was selling them to us or what. It seemed strange to peddle art outside a gallery to strangers. Suddenly, I felt claustrophobic like when Christian people try to convert you at a bus stop The guy told us his artist friend was a Mennonite. And I wondered, can you be a gay Mennonite?
Just then Kristine, her boyfriend and Victor emerged from the gallery. Kristine invited us over for "parlor games." Before I hadn't wanted to, but now it seemed a way to regroup. And the interruption was the perfect excuse to break away from our entrappers.
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