The plan was to drive to Wisconsin on Monday afternoon, but Kelly got sick, so we left a day later. She still wasn’t feeling well when we were leaving, so I drove. I knew it was serious because it takes a lot for her to relinquish the wheel. That woman loves to steer.
We stopped at the supermarket for dinner stuff, then picked up the dogs at Lynda’s. The last time I was up here it was early fall, but when I went into the house it felt so familiar. Not quite home but not not home. The bed upstairs where I sleep has the mattress we picked up from a lady a few towns over. There’s artwork I’ve given Kelly over the years scattered here and there. There are traces of me in this place.
We have our routine. We sit on the couch each working on our own thing, we walk the dogs, run errands, watch movies, drink, eat, talk. There’s few people in the world I love more than Kelly. We’ve been there for one another through a lot.
Last time I was working on the layout of the Soviet book; this time, it was the new one set in bars. As part of the research, I’ve been reading books set in taverns: George Ade’s The Old-Time Saloon, Finlay Peter Dunne’s Mr. Dooley’s Philosophy, but especially Joseph Mitchell’s Up in the Old Hotel. With a gun to my head, I’d say that Mitchell’s book is my favorite book. So rereading it has been a joy. To do so at a dear friend’s house is the cherry on top.
On Wednesday we went to Evansville, the town Kelly lived in the first time she moved to Wisconsin. While she was with her insurance agent, I sat in a cafe and drew out the window. The place was empty after a couple left, having finished their lunch. The two women behind the counter wore black chef smocks. The place was new and you could tell that it was opened with lots of ambition and dreams. Could it make a go of it in this tiny town? Who knows. It was the day after Mardi Gras so I order the king cake; no prize inside but it was delicious all the same.
After Kelly was done, we drove by her old house because she wanted to see how much further it had sunken into the ground. I’d helped her move into it about twelve years ago.
Friday we drove to Milwaukee for a Flat Five show. While Kelly and her bandmates were getting ready, I read some more Mitchell. Then I watched the crowd filter in from the merch table Kelly has set up. I like selling records and t-shirts at their shows because it makes me feel useful and gives me a good perch to listen, while spying on the audience. The band has a diehard fan base, but I could tell there were a lot of newbies this night. Most were converted after two or three numbers. One woman told me how grateful she was to hear joyful music at such a dark time in this country. I couldn’t argue.
On the way back to Kelly’s, we tried a couple exits before finding a gas station cheeseburger for my dinner. I would’ve been fine going without; it’s a privilege to help Kelly do her thing.
The painting I painted this visit out the kitchen window is the third in my series of views from Kelly’s house. I’ve now done north, south, and east. Only west remains. I hope that after I’ve done that one, she’ll ask me to come back. I’ll start another series. Maybe something from upstairs. Who knows?
I’d even be willing to sit through another episode of Project Runway. That’s how much I love visiting with the woman who lives in a house by a river in a one-horse town in Wisconsin.
—I reviewed a great new story collection set in the now-demolished Stateway Gardens housing project in Chicago and illustrated a story about the rapture coming to a small Southern town.