Monthly Archive: February 2016

Ice kicking season didn’t come

To hasten the end of winter, I like to go down the lake and kick ice.

Every winter I’ve been here in Chicago has been brutal. Weeks and weeks of unending ice and grey sludge in the streets. Temperatures so low they lock up all the moisture in the air; getting bloody micro-cracks across my knuckles. The constant need to lotion up my shins (why those?). So cold it’s impossible to ride; or if you do ride, so cold you can’t keep the tires inflated, and you fear the bike will shatter into a thousand metal shards when you hit a bump. Or, so icy you fall down again and again and again until you give up, walking an hour home, dragging a useless bicycle with your numb hands, your backside bruised and wet with slush.

Soft, dirty ice, ready to go.
Soft, dirty ice, ready to go.

So when the melt finally comes, and on the first barely warm day, I go down the lake. Usually you can find great jagged piles of ice, kilometers long and meters high. The wind whips it up, you see the waves are driven up over the seawall, and they freeze there before they have a chance to run back into the lake. The snowstorms will drive the snow against the steps, where it’ll stick. Or there’ll be layers of ice, slightly melted in a weak sun, refrozen again when night comes. Oftentimes the ice is full of dirt–whatever has been churned up off the floor of the lake by the angry winter waves–and there’ll be a skin of more dirt that rises to the top of the ice wherever some water has evaporated. The ice lingers, great mounds of it.

The first warm day, I go down and I kick ice. Sometimes you can only bust up a little bit of the edges, and you have to move on to another patch. There’ll be other places where there’s a good soft spot, and you can bust through and really do some damage.

The fun of kicking ice is strategically making chunks big enough to break up with a foot, then giving them a great kick seaward, so the chunks go flying over the seawall. The noise it makes hitting the water is fantastic. Crash! If you kick a big flat one fast enough, you can make a ferocious splash. Other times, you lose velocity, and they limp over the edge, almost vertical, and barely make a sound as they ease into the water.

There’s a grave danger involved in this, which I respect but don’t necessarily fear. I wear regular sneakers, because they’re going to get dirty. I pick whatever is messiest or oldest, and thus also the slipperiest and most worn out. The cold, wet concrete gives pretty good grip, since it’s grooved, but it’s ice we’re talking about–it’s slippery. When you kick at it, you can usually tell where it’s going to go and (more importantly) how much resistance it’s going to give you. Just like in shooting, you have to judge the kickback correctly or you’ll hurt yourself. I temper the danger with technique: first I punch straight down on the ice with the back of my heel, several times if need be, then when I think I got a good one loosened up, I’ll give it a full pitch from the hip. Usually, this works and you get the splash. But there’s a risk of following the ice right into the lake. How much is it worth doing? How deadly would the water be? After all, it’s not frozen. Could I make it to the nearest ladder if I fell in? Respect the lake. But attack the ice.

I like seeing lake dissolve the ice. Like I said, lot of times the ice is muddy, it’s full of stones, the chaff that rises up to the skin of any melting and refreezing ice. When you send a good ice chunk into the blue water, a stream of brown silt usually flows off of it. The waves’ll wash over the ice chunk, carry away the silt, in a slow plume. Sometimes you’ll find a pure, white chunk under there. More often, it’ll fracture into a dozen pieces before you see any clean ice. Usually, it all just melts dirty, then gone.

It’s funny how long the ice can last, how many minutes. Drifting away like a dirty ghost. But it can never outlast the waves and the water–however cold it may be–because liquid water is always warmer than ice. There’s a solidity in that, a certainty. It’ll go.

And that’s the real reason to go down kicking ice. Every bit of ice you send skittering over the wall brings spring and summer that much closer. It’s a public service, getting rid of ice. We’ve got to get rid of it, because if the lake path is still crusted over with ice, then it’s still winter, and winter’s got to go.

Treacherous: sometimes you find it on the rocks, out in the water.
Treacherous: sometimes you find it on the rocks, out in the water.

I kick last winter right into the water. Sometimes only a bit. Sometimes it’s not time yet and I have to come back. Sometimes I find places where the meltwater is coming out, and there’s a small trickle already, or a big one. I can tell it doesn’t need much of my help. But if there’s a trickle I’ll build dams, sometimes, figuring if I can make a big pond of water, that’ll rinse away more ice and faster than I can do with my shoe. But usually I get bored of all that eventually and smash it all up and kick everything into the water.

It’s all got to go. My trips down the lake are restorative, peaceful. Nobody else wants this work; I get the whole city’s shoreline to myself, and as I say it can run on forever. So I walk, kicking, and thinking.

I feel cheated. This winter has been the mildest I’ve seen since I moved to Chicago. Right now there is not a bit of ice anywhere on the shore–and there isn’t even any slush or rutted ice in the streets, either. It isn’t fair. There’s nothing to do down the lake, and it’s not dangerous to go kicking, walking, thinking. And this weekend it was already crowded, at least by February standards. My good work isn’t needed.

Guest bathroom renovations (before and after)

In December 2015 I bought the Lake Shore Drive apartment I’d been living in for three years. It’s a great space, in a location I love, with killer views, but it needs some work. So for 2016 I am going to be having fun customizing it and upgrading it as I find the money, the energy, and the parts.

I decided to do the guest bathroom first because everybody said it just needed to be nuked. With the help of my trusty contractor, that’s what we did. Amazingly, he was able to get this done in just a few weeks and in time for the Apex Airways party.

It’s not completely done — I still have a glass shower door and some shower trim to order — but that’s coming soon. It’s done enough that I wanted to show it off now.

By the way. The coolest thing, to me, isn’t even in these pictures. If you look inside the medicine cabinet, there are outlets in there! I have never seen this. But it makes sense. If you want to charge stuff, do it in there. No outlets hanging around by the sink. (The old bathroom had no outlet by the sink, which was an annoyance supreme.)

The next project is the master bathroom.

The awkwardness of shouting in stores

Will shopkeepers stop yelling at me when I walk in? As soon as I’ve got through the door, I get a shouted “Hi!” Little is more predictably discomfiting.

You know what I’m talking about: you come in off the street, brush the snow off your jacket, blink under the lights, and immediately you’ve got to identify who is shouting at you and from where. It’s disorienting—like some kind of retail combat exam. I never can tell who’s just shouted at me, because there are a lot of people in this busy room, and I swear they don’t even make eye contact. It’s a mystery game.

Upon receiving the shouted “Welcome!” or “Hi!”, the rules of etiquette of course require a response, which from me is always an embarrassed Er, yes, hello… Usually, this has to be done at some distance, because I’m barely inside. The choices are to ignore the greeting entirely (rude); mutter out a response at normal volume, but potentially not being heard by whichever person has just taken all this trouble to notice and yell at me (also rude); or to indiscriminately shriek out “Hello to you, too!” at everyone in earshot (insane). In fact, what is sold as an act of friendliness is actually hostility: startling the hungry, needy customer with an etiquette dilemma within a second of entry. This isn’t how you put people in a spending mood, and no one who just wants Q-Tips or a burrito should have to face it. Urban life is grim enough.

It’s also transparently fake, saccharine joy. These people aren’t happy to see me, or at least, not that happy. Even if I were inclined to buy their friendliness, my spending any amount of time in the same place quickly reveals my not-uniqueness, as I soon hear the same greeting shouted at customer after customer. How many men did you fake it for before you gave it to me? I never thought I was special; but thank you, now you’ve proved it, every single minute as long as I stay.

Is there another place where shouting at strangers is so predictable and so jarring? Please, everyone stop yelling at me. Let’s save the niceties for if we’re actually being nice.