Frank writes me Wednesday morning to say Olivia called in sick and he’s trying to find a new model for that day’s class. I write back that we’ll manage. Not to worry about it. I pack my book along with the Bluetooth speaker I always bring and start the ride west.

Three years ago when I first taught out in River Forest, I tried a half dozen bike routes. This time around I’ve mostly avoided Lake Street, favoring Madison or Division for most of the trip.

My least favorite part of the route—the same for most trips north—is the mile or so along Ashland Avenue between Archer and Cermak. It’s a bleak industrial stretch with plenty of broken glass and few traffic lights. Cars gun it like it’s a speedway along this stretch and I don’t feel safe in the roadway at any hour except 3am returning from bar shifts.

The trouble is it’s the most direct way to get me to every other place I’m going. Every other option adds time and distance and I’m not about riding for the sake riding ever. It’s always a means to an end.

I get to Dominican with about half an hour to spare. I like to take my time setting up the easels and the model’s chair. Normally, I plop my bag and coat in the far corner of the room but this time all of it goes in the middle of the room. I get a pillow from the top of the equipment closet and place it on the seat of the chair I’ve chosen. I sit down and open The Books of Jacob in my lap to see how I have to hold it to be able to read both pages without moving my head. Then I sip from the Styrofoam cup of cafeteria coffee and wait for the kids to arrive.

A couple weeks ago Diego asked half-jokingly when I’d be posing for the class. I think I said when Hell freezes over. Be careful what you wish for, Diego.

For the hundreds of times I’ve drawn and painted posed people, I’ve rarely returned the favor. There’s nothing about attempting to sit still for someone else’s art and/or education that is at all appealing. Time stands still and previously unknown parts of the body ache and otherwise call attention to themselves the longer you do it. It’s a miserable experience.

When everyone who will show up shows up, I break the news to the class. I tell them if they make me ugly they’ll flunk. No one looks too worried one way or the other.

I open my book and start reading.

I’ve been chipping away at Olga Tokarczuk’s epic for over three years now. I’m around two-thirds done. In the two hours of posing, I read about forty-five pages. A good clip for me. Jacob and his followers make deals with Polish officials, wife-swap, drink, and feud with traditional Jewish sects. My legs fall asleep. My neck hurts. There are itches all over. I call it around 3pm.

In the hallway the kids put up their portraits of me next to their homework—self-portraits drawn lefthanded. Seems like most of them had a good time. I tell them about the crit when I was in art school when our teacher’s girlfriend put up a big painting of him shirtless stretched out on a couch like a beached whale watching TV. No one knew what to say then.

This was less embarrassing than that.

Wrote a bit about my time on the East Side.