Sunday, August 19, 2012
Flying into O'Hare
It’s best to write in a place where fiction and reality slightly overlap, otherwise, it’s like trying to teach something I hardly understand myself. I flew into O’Hare sometime in the afternoon. There was no one there to meet me. There hadn’t been anyone at the last four airports I’d landed at. I imagine that when everyone else came back they had friends and family waiting for them. I’ve never been any good at telling people what flight I’m on because I don’t like to think about them waiting for me. I don’t want to have that cruel existential moment of airport recognition. It’s better just to go home and look them up on your own time. Go and see them where you know they should be and where you’re comfortable with them being. That way nothing seems to change. O’Hare is a fine airport. No one really bothers you. I guess most American airports are like that, but being in Chicago is probably the best place to feel it. Europe and Asia are different. There are lots of tourists in Europe and Asia, therefore, there are lots of obnoxious, garrulous people. Not the tourists themselves, but the people that ply their trade to them. In O’Hare the tourists take care of themselves. It was a new America to me because I hadn’t seen it in over two years. There had been times, not many but they had occurred, when I didn’t know if I’d make it back. I wasn’t in a war, and I was never in any really dangerous situations, but, still, sometimes I wondered. But I was there, and it wasn’t even anticlimactic. No one greeted me. The customs officer didn’t even say anything about my two passports; one with a visa written in a different alphabet on nearly every page and the other with a few paltry E.U stamps. He just let me in. That’s what it felt like to be back home, and it wasn’t anticlimactic. To be so easily admitted into country, even my own, was surprising. Everything felt much more relaxed. I changed my remaining Euros at a horrible rate and found the El station back into the city. Somewhere, a taxi driver stopped to talk to me. We spoke English to each other and that, too, was surprising. I declined his ride offer and he hardly seemed to care. He knew I could take the train and he knew that I knew it. There was no reason for his cab for me. When I stepped outside I stopped, put my back down and kneeled down on the ground. I put my forehead on the sidewalk for a moment and then got up. I did this because I had told myself that I was going to. It was a good thing to do, because I had to do something to come back; with no one in the airport and no discerning customs officer, I had to do something. The weather was warm, and I could smell fresh cut grass. I’ve always loved that smell especially combined with cigarette smoke. So I lit a cigarette and found that I could hardly remember anything about where I’d been. It was already being relegated to memory, to the past. It was all already something I had once done that was now finished. It was colder downtown. I went to the greyhound station first to buy a ticket back home. There used to be a midnight bus from Chicago to Detroit that I liked to take. Since it didn’t exist anymore I had to buy a ticket for a bus that left around 10 am the next day. I thought about leaving my bag in a locker at the bus station, but they were too expensive. I didn’t call anyone, but went over to my friend Matt’s apartment. I hadn’t seen him in years. I hadn’t seen anyone in years. I walked with my hiking bag across two or three neighborhoods before I get there in the evening. I knocked and no one answered so I yelled, “Matt!” because the windows of the place were open on the second floor. It was not difficult to see him there. It is not difficult to see anyone from Michigan in Chicago. It’s always been our city anyway. I guess people from Iowa think about it in much the same way. There all upstairs playing video games. God, video games for years now. Ten years ago, I moved to Chicago and went back to Jackson to find them all playing video games. I have never understood the desire to play video games and I will never accept that my talented friends should spent any of their time this way. I am also the person who had spent almost entire evening staring out the window while living abroad. I also spend a lot of time preparing food that I eat alone. To me these things are still better than video games, but to others they would be the same, or worse. I understand that. Matt and I go to eat at a taqueria. I have missed this food terribly. I am almost sad to be in this place finally eating such beautiful food, drinking such an incredible tamarind agua fresca. Matt talks to his girlfriend on the phone. They were supposed to meet; I came and surprised Matt, now no one seems to know what the hell to do. He gets up and walks out with the phone while I am starting my burrito. There is so much memory in front of me, on my plate, in my mouth. I wish for others to be with me and I wish to be alone. I try but find I cannot eat slowly. When I am finished, Matt comes back. He tells me that his girlfriend seems upset. She told him that she wanted him and me to have a chance to catch up. I tell him I would like to meet his girlfriend and would be happy if she would come and join us. He told her this already. She insisted. Now he doesn’t know if she’s mad. She won’t answer the phone, he says, and when he finishes saying this, the phone rings. It’s her. I order another burrito and eat it for the taste. It’s as good as the first one. Matt comes back in and can’t believe I’m eating another one. I tell him that I’ve waited a long time. The cigarette outside tastes delicious. There is a little bit of activity outside the taqueria, but not much. There are a few other places to eat and their smells and some dry cleaning shops which in Chicago all have the same neon window displays of different colored hangers. We don’t walk while we smoke. It’s unclear if Matt has the same habit that I do, or if he remembers that I don’t like to do both at once. I’ve seen my friend Mikey ride a bike and smoke, eat and smoke, chew gum and smoke and I’ve never known what to make of it. The only thing I can do is drink coffee or beer and smoke. Matt’s roommates are still playing videogames, but now there’s beer. I drink whatever it is and it’s good and light after the burritos. We play some records and talk about who made them and when. This goes on for a while, as it always does. The discussion as to where we will go to drink beer somewhere else becomes more prominent and eventually we are going downstairs to find bikes for all of us. There’s one that someone left behind, a clunky mountain bike that suits me fine. We pass cans of beer around in the streets and stop to figure out where we are in relation to the bar. We don’t really stop but ride around in a circle at an intersection that’s not busy over and over again, laughing. I have to remind myself not to drink too many beers because tomorrow I will take the bus back to Michigan and I will see my mother whom I have not seen in over two years. But there are so many new and remembered things around me and the beer is still also new and remembered that it cannot bother me. The bar is dark and a few people are dancing to 1960s records that the DJ is playing. They are like the 1960s records in San Francisco, old songs that are better because you have never heard them, but also because they are familiar. Only in San Francisco, at that bar with the Scottish name, I remember there were always a lot more people dancing. I never danced and was happy just to be there holding a beer. Matt’s girlfriend comes to the bar and I get to meet her. She doesn’t say much too me, though, because she seems to have a lot to say to Matt. I go back in and order another beer and watch the people dancing, tapping my foot until someone comes to tell me that everyone is leaving. I wake up the next morning, before anyone else is up and take the blue line train back downtown to the Greyhound station. While I am waiting to get on the bus a Juggalo comes up and bums a cigarette from me. I am happy to see him, because he is such an American thing. He asks me where I am coming from and where I am going. I tell him I am going back home to Michigan and that I am coming from Asia, albeit in a roundabout way. He has a good way of seeming very interested in my story and this makes me feel like I have done something greater than I had previously thought and makes me like him even more. I cannot read and look out the window the entire bus ride. I get off at my home town and wait at the bus station for the city bus that goes by my parents’ house. When I get there no one is home. I go around to look in the garage and there’s a banner hanging up in there that reads “Welcome Home, Jonathan.” Around this message are multicolored clipart balloons and confetti strands. I turn away from the garage window and walk out toward the pond that’s up by the road, noting, along the way, that nothing has changed.