MOODS OVER A SEPTEMBER MOON
A journey into life
Last week, Dad surprised us all when he’d lost his job. A few weeks before that, he lost another paycheck. Mom doesn’t like surprises either. She wasn’t too happy when Dad told her, how he lost his paycheck, “on a sure thing. Couldn’t have possibly lost.” I overheard him tell her this when I was passing their bedroom on my way to the kitchen. The kitchen is right next to their bedroom and as I was sitting there eating my cereal I could hear my mom crying. I hate when Mom cries. The last year or maybe, the last two, I’ve heard my mom cry a lot. Sometimes I’ll see her cry but that’s not very often though. Mom doesn’t like us kids seeing her cry. She does it in her bedroom with the door closed. She knows we won’t bother her when she’s in her bedroom with the door closed.
After getting dressed in my jean pants and tee shirt, Dad and me leave the apartment. On the way to the bus stop, once again I beg Dad to at least, give me a hint to where he’s taking me.
”Okay, okay,” he says. “We’ll be taking the elevated.”
“Do you mean the El train?”
“Yes, Ricky.” He pulls from his pants pocket a couple of C.T.A. (Chicago Transit Authority) tokens and then quickly switches them from one hand to the other, back and forth, back and forth and now my head’s getting dizzy. He finally stops, thank goodness, and holds out his fists. “Okay,” he says, “I bet you don’t know which hand they’re in.”
I point to his right fist and he unclenched it, revealing nothing. “All right, it’s in your left then.” I’m wrong again. Somehow, the two tokens had ended up in his ear, and I don’t know how, it just amazes me, seeing my dad pull out of his ears two bus tokens. The bus pulls up, we climb aboard, and again, I’m amazed. This time Dad pulls the tokens from his mouth and deposits them in the fare box. The bus driver looks at my dad like he’s crazy or something. We ride the bus to the El station; all the way I’m trying to guess on my birthday surprise. Each time, Dad assures me that I’m wrong. “No, we’re not going to the movies. No, not bowling.”
As we wait for our El train to come, Dad and me watch the pigeons. They’re waddling the platform pecking at bits of bread a big lady in a dark shawl is tossing. A couple of times the big lady throws the bread too far and they land next to the third rail of the track. Watching those pigeons swoop down to the tracks near the third rail is getting me very nervous. God forbid, they touch the third rail; they’d be “fried chicken.” I don’t know how many volts are running this track but Dad tells me enough to electrocute an elephant. I don’t think many elephants ride this line though. They’re usually on the circus train and I think those kinds of trains are run by steam engines, maybe diesel.
Beyond the blue spears of electric discharge, the Marina Towers, resembling two tall stacks of poker chips rise above the ground, giving me the chance to place another bet on my birthday surprise. This time I bet on a trip to the museum. I heard it’s downtown somewhere. But this bet doesn’t pay off either. Try again. Dinosaur bones, mummies and whatever else they have enslaved at The Field Museum would have to await my young and unwavering curiosity for another time.
As the el train whizzes along, I feel as though I’m flying. Through the window I see nothing but the city below. There’s nothing in between. No track, nothing. Veering to one side, my body pressed against the cool steel, I see the expanse of blue just beyond the line of gray edifice. It looks like the lake, the very big lake. The beach, that’s it, I bet we’re going to the beach.
“Dad, we’re going to beach, right?”
After negotiating another turn and then straightening out, in the distance, well beyond the breakers, boats, all kinds of boats begin to eclipse my view. I bet that’s it. I feel really good about this one. “Dad,” I say, “are you taking me on a boat?”
“Yes, Ricky,” Dad answers. “We’re going to take the two-hour scenic tour on Lake Michigan,” he says soberly. Now I’m getting excited, real excited, so excited that I nearly piss on the graffiti-laden seat. What a great surprise! Never been on a real boat before, only a small rowboat up in Wisconsin when I was either seven or eight or perhaps five.
“Dad,” I ask, “why did you decide to take me on a boat?” He looks up for a second, puts his index finger to his chin and begins to ruminate that his own father, my grandfather who I had never met, who died mysteriously well before I was born, took him on the same tour, but back then, “things were different, well, you know, the city wasn’t built as high as it is now, didn’t have a lot of these buildings we have now and no Ricky, no John Hancock building and no Playboy Bunny atop the building next to it either.”
As the train begins to sweep around the outer edge of The Loop, with buildings tossing shadows and shadows casting streaks across Father’s face, I’m kind of enjoying this ride aboard the elevated, although I’m starting to feel more anxious and excited about getting off this darn thing and getting on that boat. I feel a trickle down my leg. I’m kind of embarrassed so I look around at my fellow passengers, people of various age and color, most of them in light summer clothes, and realize they are all ensconced in business of their own and pay me no attention, none at all.
Soon we’re out on the Second Great Lake. A flotilla of pleasure craft, hewing and hawing, bouncing and bobbing, surround us. Aboard, young ladies, bikini clad and tanned, wave and cheer; beer-bellied men, bellicose and vain, grunt and growl. We’re a curiosity, an oddity, an attraction.