The Songs We Sing

Sometime in the middle of May, in the blinking daylight hours between rolling fog and thunderstorms, the buildings along Lincoln Avenue inhale. The restaurant workers in their white aprons have thrown open the large, floor-to-ceiling windows that line the fronts of their buildings. You have to fight against the draw of their breath as you walk by them, and the gift shop, and that store on the corner that sells running shoes, because the sidewalk could pull you inside to a waiting wood-trimmed bar or cash register. But it doesn’t. Instead it pushes you farther up the street past a Bierstube (once upon a time your neighborhood was German Town) where a young man stops talking to his date long enough to appreciate a tendril of her hair blowing onto his wrist.

And you feel an unfolding inside you.

The doors of the gift shop are propped open with heavy chairs. The greeting cards in the spinning racks at the front of the store whistle as the wind vibrates between them. They are reed instruments accompanying the bass of traffic noise rising from the busy street. They play a tune you find yourself wanting to sing.

A gaggle—or is it called a Fitbit?—of joggers stand outside the shoe store. They stretch, popping one foot up on the free-newspaper racks and light posts. Or they lunge, the hems of their matching yellow shorts almost make contact with the pockmarked sidewalk. The runners silently form a rank and piston their way down the avenue. Your shoulders square as you watch them. Your spine straightens. Intersection after intersection, they stop traffic with their presence until they turn left and vanish.

You walk the four blocks to Lincoln Square. Las Lagunitas, a new cantina, is raucous with 20-somethings. Its patrons spill neatly out onto the grid of tables formed on the patio. Chartreuse margaritas beckon from every table. On the other side of the patio gate, couples sit on benches gripping the handle of a baby stroller the size of a Humvee in one hand and a paper cup the size of a golf ball in the other. Inside the cups, mini-glaciers of coconut, chocolate mousse, and roasted-banana gelato peek at you over the rim. The parents chastise their sons and daughters to sit still, then they dip the tiniest shovels you’ve ever seen into their cups. You smile as they take their first bite.

The Fitbit of joggers thunder past you. You join their most informal of parades. They breathe loudly and rhythmically, and you match them. It is not a surprise that they take you back to the shoe store and assume their scissor and jackknife positions up and down the sidewalk. It is not a surprise to you because this ritual takes place every year: the birdsong, the echoes of laughter coming from inside the pub, the guitar riffs only audible when the School of Folk Music door swings open. None of it is a surprise. You breathe, you swing your arms, you glide up the back steps of your apartment ready to begin again.

 

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21 thoughts on “The Songs We Sing

  1. I love love love your vivid and rich descriptions here! Takes me there and makes me miss Manhattan and revel in summer all at once – I’ve never been to Chicago (I know: !!!?). Did I mention I loved this?

  2. I just love this phrase: “…in the blinking daylight hours between rolling fog and thunderstorms…” There are evocative phrases throughout this, in all the right places, and you’ve done such a great job of sketching those first moments of spring when you feel like you can breathe again. Gorgeous, Nathan.

  3. This is beautiful. I have never been to Chicago but this pretty much takes me there – the joggers “pistoning” (and the posture correction, yup), the margaritas, the geography of walking down Lincoln, and all the sounds! You wrote sound so well!

  4. Nate, you almost, almost make Chicago sound appealing. Love your word pictures! I did enjoy Boston when we were vacationing a few years ago and I LOVE walking downtown in Knoxville, where I was raised. But overall these days, I enjoy the slower pace and quiet solitude of country living.

    1. I get that. I’m from a small town in Michigan, so I am lucky to have experienced the benefits of city and country. I opened a book store in Knoxville back in 07. Turkey creek? Is that a place? Anyway, Knoxville is a gorgeous town. I had a great time there.

  5. Spring is here! Your piece makes me nolstalgic for the streets of Manhatten in May (though I know you’re describing Chicago). I want to join the birdsong of breathing buildings, fitbit of joggers, and the parade of Humvee strollers. Loved those descriptions!

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