A pulsating sound reverberates in my head. A smoke alarm? A screaming baby? A screaming dictator? My eyes shoot open, and I’m blinded by laser sunbeams piercing through the broken blinds.
“Wakey, wakey eggs and bakey!” My old college roommate appears at the guest bedroom door. He’s wearing sunglasses, a shirt cluttered with tiny pink flamingos, and kakie shorts.
“Mike, what’s happening?” I try to get out of bed and take in my new surroundings, looking for the source of the offending sound. “Is that an alarm?”
“Huh? Oh. Wait. What? Oh. Hold on. Are you talking about…? Oh, wait. Yeah, that’s DJ Felix downstairs. The bookstore below me turns into a DJ brunch spot on the weekends during the summer.”
I think about my apartment in Phoenix above Healing Hands, an energy restoration business that plays nature sounds, setting the tone to sell crystals and analyze customers’ auras.
“Get dressed, man! I only have one day to show you a Chicago summer. Since it took me forever to get you to visit, we’ve got a lot of ground to cover. Lucky for you, it’s the hottest day of the year.”
If that were true in Phoenix, we would all go home, sit in front of the AC, and peel off our skin.
At breakfast, I struggle to hear anything Mike is saying. DJ Felix is spinning records three feet from my eggs. I look around at the other people in the restaurant. The staff, the patrons, everyone seems like they are going to a casual wedding, like one where the bride and groom don’t really care what you wear but they do.
I look down at my t-shirt and cargo shorts. “What is everyone dressed up for?
“The sun, dude! It’s a celebration!”
“A party for the… sun?”
“Look around. Some of these people have been cooped up in a 250-square-foot studio apartment for nine months. It’s not like they were pissing in mason jars and eating their own shit, but it was not not like that.”
I was trapped in my apartment for two hours during a dust storm. I wonder if was like that.
“We’re free now, man. Free from the cold and seasonal depression. Now it’s time to get high on vitamin D. If that makes some guys want to match their belts to their shoes, then shit man, cheers to them.” Mike drinks the last of his beermosa.
Walking down Milwaukee Avenue, my mind prepares thousands more questions. I try to suppress them, but they fall out of my mouth like a dry socket.
Question 2: “Why are these people lined up? Is there a celebrity book signing?”
Mike’s answer: “They are in line for a spot on the patio at Fred’s Tacos up the street. The wait can be up to three hours if you don’t have a reservation. Here’s the kicker, the tacos actually kind of suck. Luckily your boy scored reservations for us four months ago.”
Question 7: “Is that lady crocheting on a fire hydrant?”
Mike’s answer: “Yeah! No one wants to feel the guilt of sitting inside on a sunshine day!”
Question 35: “Why does everyone have an ice cream cone?”
Mike’s answer: “During the summer, we survive on a pure diet of ice cream and hollandaise.”
Question 329: “Is that dog humping a taco?”
Mike’s answer: “100%, my man!
We get to the taco place and the patio looks like a scene from every summer blockbuster from 2002-2011. Everyone is living like the day could be their last. Three guys with slicked-back hair and linen jackets take shots of tequila. Two women treat their stubby wicker dining chairs like lounge chairs. One guy is staring directly at the sun with a huge smile, his eyes bleeding.
No one has ordered tacos.
Without placing an order, the waiter brings a pitcher of margaritas to our table. The tequila warms my insides while the sun warms my outsides, like a double hug from the universe. A few glasses in, I can see why Mike loves this place. The sun hits different in Chicago. I ask if he wants to do shots.
I see DJ Felix from breakfast take place on a small covered stage in the corner of the patio. I rub my eyes, beginning to feel like I’m hallucinating, but DJ Felix is still there. He starts the same set as before, but this time bubbles spill from the stage. I look back at Mike who doesn’t seem to notice. He had found a woman at the Bloody Mary bar and invited her to our table. I realize this woman will one day be his wife.
Letting the sun fall on my face, I start to wonder, Is this heaven? Have I ever been this happy? Will I ever be this happy again? I stand up and start to dance. I don’t care that Mike isn’t joining or anyone else for that matter, but dancing feels amazing right now. I take another sip of margarita and tilt my head toward the sun. It’s starting to burn, but it feels so good.
After a few minutes, I become suddenly chilled. The wind has picked up and some of the umbrellas covering the tables are tempting to fall over.
“Don’t worry,” Mike says, after taking a break from making out with his new lover. “It’ll pass by in minutes.”
I take the moment to survey the land again. Many on the patio seem to have finished their drinks a while ago, yet they continue sitting and conversing. How nice, I smile.
Outside the restaurant, on the sidewalk, there are still people waiting in line past where the eye can see. I had completely forgotten about them. The first ten people in line seem dazed. Their fists are balled and their mouths are salivating. Their eyes, like daggers, are fixed on a large table of customers. I look back at the people sitting at the table and suddenly fear for their lives. They have finished their drinks and don’t seem to have plans to order tacos. Are they aware that there are people fifteen feet away that want them dead? I look further down the line and see a twenty-something-year-old woman staring at me. She too looks angry. Her eyes have turned red and her right leg is kicking like a bull.
I look back at our margarita pitcher. Empty.
“Hey, Mike. Should we go? I think there are other people who would like to have this spot.”
He stopped making out. “Hell no, you know how hard these seats are to come by? We aren’t moving. Those people can wait.”
I think back to all the patios I’ve been to in Arizona. None of them required waiting like this. In fact, there was plenty of space to go around. I look back at the woman. She mouths, “Die” and moves her middle finger across her neck.
I shutter and look around for protection. Mike is no use. He and his lover’s faces are now drenched in spit from top to bottom. The waiter approaches our table again, and I order steak tacos, planning to give them to the woman in line to help ease her hunger.
Minutes later, the tacos arrive in a plastic basket. There are two, and they are sad a wimpy. It’s no wonder customers don’t order them. I ask the waiter to follow me to the line and he hesitantly does. I stop a few feet from the woman making death threats.
I place the tacos on the ground and gingerly scoot them toward her with my foot. “You looked hungry so I got you a snack.” She bares her teeth and doesn’t pick up the tacos, so I say the next thing that comes to mind. “Lovely weather we’re having isn’t it!”
She opens her mouth wider than any human I’ve’ ever seen and growls. The waiter runs for the manager. She steps on the tacos, lunges toward me, and grabs my neck with both hands. What follows is a series of tugging, kicking, shoving, and bleeding. Then I see Mike and his lover at my side, trying to talk the girl down. And it immediately works. The woman lets go and runs past us. Not, as I learn, because of anything they said, but because our table was now up for grabs.
Around four in the afternoon, we are back in Mike’s apartment. I feel exhilarated. I have lived today more than I have ever lived before, and I have nearly escaped death. I never would have guessed that a summer day in Chicago would have so much to offer. I vow to visit Mike more often.
I look down at my forearms that I didn’t notice had turned a deep shade of red. “Mike, do you think this is sunburn or windburn?”
“Both,” says Mike.