A couple Fridays ago I went to a fundraiser for a film site I used to write for and met a woman. The room—a suite for a film production company—was cramped and ill-suited for a party. I threw some money into a glass jar and got a raffle ticket, then squeezed my way toward the windows. She stopped me cold. Then she came up and started talking to me. A few minutes later, her friend arrived and she excused herself but asked for my number so we could meet again. I left the party in a daze.
My college girlfriend, Caroline, moved to town to work as an assistant director on the final season of Empire. We had dinner downtown at the chichi hotel they were putting her up at before she moved into an apartment. Then, a few days later, I was carrying an Ikea mattress up the stairs to her new place. She found it through my classmate, Noah, who’s lived in the building twenty years. It feels like a weird time warp for her to be here. We haven’t lived in the same city since 1993, when I left town to go to Boston and become a cabdriver.
I rode my bike to the Rainbo on Saturday and sat in the corner watching young people pile in from some summer street fest down the street. I watched a guy order his very first shot of Malört—an ironic rite of passage for Chicago yuppies. He crinkled up his face after the vegetal concoction went down his throat, then him and his knowingly-laughing pals had a long discussion about what Malört was. A version of this scene plays out at millions of Chicago bars multiple times a night. It makes me sad when I see it because I know the people for whom this is a ritual have no true interest in this city and are just passing through. They’ll recount it decades later, sitting comfortably in whatever cookie-cutter suburb they were always destined to settle. They’ll describe Malört as the most disgusting thing they ever drank.
I pedal to the Hideout and catch the Nick Mazzarella Trio’s record-release gig for Counterbalance. It’s beautiful music with enough ruminative moments to allow my thoughts to drift. As it has every spare moment the last two weeks, my mind returns to the woman at the film party. We’ve met up a couple times and I think we’ll see each other again. At least I hope we will. As I leave the bar, I pass a cluster of people discussing the music they just heard. “Will you be humming that on your way home?” one asks sarcastically. I didn’t hear his friends’ answers, but I hummed some version of it all the way back to Bridgeport.
—RIP João Gilberto.