Monday, September 18, 2017

A Tourist in My Hometown

Even though I spent the first eighteen years of my life in a small Midwestern town, I think of Chicago as my hometown. As the saying goes, "Home is where your heart is." In the town where I grew up, I was viewed by many people as "weird," but in Chicago, the vast majority of people are weird and it's actually considered "weird" to be "normal."

That's why when a relative offered to pay for my plane ticket to Chicago in exchange for my taking care of their two dogs for a week this past summer while the relative was out of town, I jumped at the chance. I was happy to spend time with those two adorable dogs, who snuggled by my legs when I slept and insisted on being carried around 90% of the time. 

I was also happy to be back in the city where I lived for more than a decade. When I was walking down State Street, here's a small sampling of what I heard:

"I hate you! I don't know you, but I hate you!"
"Oh yeah? I hate you too!"
"GET OUTTA THE WAY! Where'd you learn how to drive, freak show?"
"Dude, just be cool. The cops are right there!"

Even though it was supposedly summer, I had to wear several layers of clothes because it was so cold. Some guy pulled my hair on the El after I didn't smile when he ordered me to, and I responded by kicking him in the leg and then running off the train. A woman yelled at me in Spanish and threw sunflower seeds at me while I was eating a Chicago-style hot dog. And all I could think was, Ah, Chicago. It's good to be home.

Although I made sure I spent enough time with the dogs, such as taking them to the dog park and playing with them, I also did the things that tourists usually do in the Windy City. I rented a Divvy bike and took a ride by the lake. I visited the Art Institute (I've always loved the Impressionists' paintings and the Thorne Miniature Rooms best). I ate Chicago-style pizza and window-shopped on Michigan Avenue. I wrote in my favorite coffee shop in Lincoln Park. 

I took a selfie by the "bean" in Grant Park, and I walked around Boystown, my favorite neighborhood (aka East Lakeview). I couldn't help looking at the handsome, muscular men in Boystown, almost all of whom are very friendly and nice, and I thought, Dang. Too bad they're gay. I also got to hang out with an old friend who lived in Boystown.

I visited the American Writers Museum, a new museum that just opened in the Loop. It's small, and it has things like pictures of famous writers, as well as displays of their most famous quotes and information about their books. I thought it was wonderful and high time that writers got their own museum in this city.

I was quickly reminded by how fast Chicagoans walk, unlike most of the people in Small Town, who like to take their time walking, driving, and talking. Chicagoans, on the other hand, will not hesitate to push people out of the way and/or swear at you if you're walking too slowly. (I must admit that I was exactly the same way when I lived there.)

It felt so good to be back in the city again, if only temporarily. But it felt different this time around. I felt more like a tourist. It almost felt like I didn't belong there anymore, maybe because it had been more than two years since I'd lived there. And I felt sad, too, thinking of all the memories that that place held.

There was the beach where I and some of the other teachers took our students one afternoon as part of a field trip, back when I taught high school students. I had to keep telling students that I would call their parents and/or give them detention if they kept trying to drown each other. There was the spot in Grant Park where I hung out with some casual acquaintances that I thought were cool, right up until the point where they pulled out a joint and offered me a hit. I was all, "Uh, I just remembered that I'm late for my flamethrowing lesson. Gotta go!" There was the school where I taught my first class as a college instructor. There was the school where I earned my PhD, and I tried not to fall asleep during boring lectures by thinking of funny moments from Jersey Shore.

I remember when I was a kid, I wanted to be an adult so that I could do whatever I wanted. But the thing about adulthood is that you realize that you really can't do whatever you want. You can't stay out until 3 A.M. because you have to get up early for work, and anyway when you reach your thirties you actually want to go to bed earlier (at least I do). You can't eat ice cream for dinner because you're worried about your waistline (although I will admit that I have eaten ice cream for dinner, and that was because I "accidentally" burned the healthy meal that I prepared). And I can't stay in Chicago forever, even though I want to, because the rent and sales tax are too high (and don't even get me started on their soda tax) and I can't find a decent full-time teaching job there, at least not right now.

That's why I ended up first in Small Town and then in College Town. In academia, there are way too many PhDs and not enough jobs, so you have to go where the work is. But one good thing about being back in the Midwest is that Chicago is not as far away from College Town as it is from Small Town (though it's far enough that I can't go there every weekend, or even every month). But at least I won't necessarily have to wait until next summer before I go back for another visit.

Chicago will always be home. But another thing about adulthood is that you have to accept that some things don't last forever, and you have to move on.

What about you? Where is the "home" where your heart is?

Wednesday, September 6, 2017

Ottomans, Ice Breakers, and Anxious E-mails

I've been living in College Town for about a month now. It doesn't seem that long because I've been so busy.

For one thing, I had to deal with the movers and unpacking all of my stuff. Fortunately, the moving company I hired this time around did a MUCH better job than the furniture-stealing, price-gouging, we-were-out-getting-high-or-who-knows-what-and-THAT'S-why-your-delivery-was-several-days-late-but-deal-with-it-SUCKER scam artists I hired the last time around. None of my furniture or belongings were stolen or damaged this time, and the movers showed up when they said they would. And they didn't scream at me like the last movers did (the scam artist on the phone literally screamed at me when I asked them why it was three days past the promised delivery date and I still hadn't gotten my stuff yet and he just kept yelling, "I don't KNOW!").

Since I hope to stick around in College Town longer than I did in Small Town, I've actually made more of an effort to furnish and decorate my apartment. I've made a "wish list" of things I'd like to eventually get for my apartment, including a storage ottoman that could double as a coffee table, a bedside table (to replace the one that the scam artists stole two years ago), and another bookcase (the moving company from two years ago not only disassembled my bookcase and refused to put it back together, they damaged it so badly that I couldn't reassemble it myself). I also have a wish list of pop songs I want to download, including the solo singles of all the members of One Direction, but that's another story.

I went to the orientation for new faculty at my new school, and it lasted several days long, for eight or nine hours a day. We had to do various ice breakers that everyone else seemed excited to participate in, whereas I was all:


The fall term just started, and I've literally already gotten dozens of anxious e-mails from students that say stuff like, "I don't have the textbooks for class yet! I won't get an F for that, will I?" or "I might have to miss class for two days in October. I won't get an F for that, will I?" or "I think I bought the wrong books for this class. But it's not like I really need the textbooks for this class, right?" My response to that question was basically like this:


But so far, it's been okay. The other faculty have been pretty nice to me, and the campus at my new employer's school is beautiful and much bigger than the campus at my old school. College Town is all right, too. There are more shopping and dining options than there were in Small Town, which is nice, because I no longer have to drive several hours just to go someplace like Best Buy, a shopping mall, or a restaurant that doesn't play country music 24/7 (actually, I basically had to drive OUT of Tennessee for that last one, because that state is all ABOUT the country music).

As far as socializing goes, I set up an account on, and there are a few meetups that look interesting in College Town. One of them organizes get-togethers almost every week, and they have one coming up pretty soon. I'm planning to go and hopefully meet some nice, interesting people who I could possibly be friends with, and whose personalities don't make me want to head-butt them.

What about you? Other than Meetup, how do you meet new people and make new friends?