Several years ago, I took a television job in Chicago at the height of spring. I sublet an apartment in the West Loop and walked the 14 blocks to the office. I loved the city. That easy breeze from the east. The sky to the west? Broad and deep enamel blue. The trees, speckled in an imminent green. The air still possessed a certain hangover from winter, making the blocks click past quicker. Every alley was a clever shortcut. Every storefront, a personal discovery. I fell into an idyll.
Then summer showed up and wrecked everything.
You can’t see summer coming in Chicago. It doesn’t arrive. It emerges, tawdry and ruinous. It rises up, like a fat cousin who’s been sleeping on your couch so long that you’ve forgotten what a pain in the ass he can be. And when that summer wakes, it takes over everything, the whole shebang. It’s a pushy, domineering, and unapologetic season.
The city is louder, brighter, stickier, and more exposed in summer. Every inch above the blazing cement is hotter than the last. From the nipples up, you suffocate. This may be why all men in Chicago—no matter how fleshy and pale their salamandered bellies—take off their shirts at the nearest opportunity. It is the only city where I have seen a man fall asleep on a bench with a can of Old Style resting safely on the uppermost plateau of his stomach.
Cut to late July, the very shank of the dreaded season. Same city, same walk, same stupid job—but the details spoke to me differently now. Torridity polluted the streets, which suddenly seem crowded with traffic. Pedestrians squinted into the glaring sun as they waited at crosswalks. Smells rose up in the alleys. The heat itself was a haze. There was no quickness or shine in the world. I started taking Uber. Morning, noon, night. I found myself inside more than ever. I lost touch with the city. By Labor Day, the TV show let me go.
I found myself standing on the street, holding the contents of my desk in a cardboard box. Midday. More heat than ever. Eventually, I knelt and set the box down, just to leave it behind. For whatever reason, it was cooler down there. So I sat. I had nowhere to go.
That’s when I could feel it—a little breeze. Summer was ending, and the world could start again.