Strange what fires the emotions these days.
The last few weeks I've been more active, done more random things, talked with more strangers, spent more waking time engaged with the world, than at any time since Katie's death. I have a bigger belly, stiffer frame, and persistent head cold to show for it. Hanging out with Don in New Hampshire, I remembered how, when we were in the Peace Corps together, he told me that, good or bad, he felt more alive in Bangladesh than he did the previous decade or so teaching in suburban Boston. Christmas with the Mayers found me leading a morning pilates session, then absolutely numb to the world and miserable, then watching Spinal Tap and writing a bunch. What a great group of folks to be around. Christmas came on the 23rd because everyone figured the skiing would be the least good that day. Don and I stuck to walking on dirt roads, staying away from the woods, eating good meals and drinking some of his home-brewed Barkley Beer Ale. Don went to bed around 8:30 every night and I joined whoever was downstairs around 10am each day. Some good low-key hanging out, a lot of rapid-fire humor, and a welcoming and fun bunch.
New Year's I checked out for the first half of the night, then went to some friends' house and played board games as the ball dropped. Man, did I forget, or just ignore until the 31st, the great New Year's of years past, what a big holiday it was for us, always, and that made for a pretty morose day. The turning point for New Year's was flipping through the channels and finding, on TNT, Ric Flair wrestling Triple H with his career on the line. Flair came through, but only after I spent some good time on the phone debriefing the extended wrestling lexicon with that Samuel Johnson of the Mat himself, Mike Creeden. Some tweener potatoed Flair but we lifers kayfabed Triple 's job on the Nature Boy. So he did, and so I got up off that great big couch, said good night to Mike, put on my walking shoes, and Balderdashed into the first hour of 2008. Good night, good luck, good riddance to a year divided right down the middle, great then awful.
I brought some well-honed bowling and billiards skills to the Windy City, after five days on the road with Ben Hubbard, but around midnight on the 30th Dave Cashman got hot, knocked down 191 points worth of pins to my 189, and still I swear the guy felt bad for winning yet again. In general it's been great to reconnect with old friends. Ben and I hit the Pez Museum in Easton PA and the Crayola Factory just down the road, but our best times where those we ended up in a diner or a bar in a small town off some state road, talking up our beloved Windy City, Warren Zevon, the pros and cons of studying creative writing at the undergraduate level. Ben took notes the whole time and has the names. There was the woman at the bar near Shanksville who looked up at us as the bartender told us flat-out, "I don't know you," and offered to rack a few as she talked about her deadbeat ex and her son the football team captain. The toothless, well-gutted codger who walked up and said "Man, S&%t-cago, I f$(%ing hate that place!" The guy flirting with the mother of four at the diner nearby, who hated both Bruce Springsteen and Jackson Browne. The 181-machine-strong pinball dealer in Akron, who said that "Twister" and "Tommy" were the biggest sellers because they threaded that pinball needle of game-a-bility and quality of design. Eileen's Diner where there never was an Eileen, it was just called that because, well, the building's always leaned a little to the left.
Exhausted, excited, coasting on adrenaline, I arrived to Jeff and Sheila's feeling like I had come back to the Ordinary World. It was good to wander around Navy Pier with Sheila and the boys, to take in the post-holiday holiday wonderland, everything covered in blue twinkle lights, Glass Tiger and The Bodeans blaring over the enormous ferris wheel. Who knew you had to be five to ice skate? Aidan and I rode down the up escalator a few times, but it didn't quite take the edge off. Next year will be a good year for lacing up the skates. This year, Sheila snagged a last-minute babysitter and we hit some of the old spots. Cafe Iberico's sangria is as good as it ever was. Jeff, Sheila, Ben, and I played some spades, and Ben was a capable fourth, even with some big, flannel-lined shoes to fill. Ben, Jeff, and I went up to the nature preserve on New Year's Day and spent some good time there together. I always feel so good once I'm walking on that path.
The whole trip back west, I kept telling Ben, half joking, half serious, that we should drive all the way west to Iowa in one shot and get there in time for the caucuses. Those emotions, they sure got stirred up watching Barack's acceptance in Iowa, and because those emotions got stirred up I hopped on and have blogged myself well past the alloted time. There are bags to unpack, syllabi to review, letters and cards to open, etc. But if you get a chance, I think the video below is pretty great.