Friday, August 15, 2008

A trip to City Hall, another day in court, and a ride on the Brown Line

by Michael Dymmoch

Actually it was a trip to the Cook County side of the building, but City Hall is more melodic and has more of the associations I’m trying to evoke—Don Quixote and his windmills. I had to fill out a form for the Cook County Assessor, and I decided that going there would be less frustrating—or at least more interesting—than trying to get through the telephone maze. So I hopped on the El.

Where I observed that chivalry is not dead—yet. At the Washington & Wells stop, a twenty-something gentleman offered to help a young woman with her suitcase. Unfortunately, she was too busy yakking on her cell to notice. I wonder how many repetitions it will take to completely extinguish the young man’s generous impulses.

At the county building I had to take a number, but it was only five above the number being served. So I got to watch people, but not long enough to get tired of the sport. I spotted a cute man in his late teens lending moral support to his mother. His Tee-shirt said “I’d Do Me.” When my number got called, I was astonished to be helped by a pleasant, patient, super-competent woman who had me in and out in 15 minutes!

It was hard to hear what was going on in court yesterday. A large contingent of friends/family members of three accused murderers was in court to lend the defendants support. While the visitors were waiting for the case to be called, they carried on as if they were waiting at a bus stop, conversing loudly. (Easy to see that the defendants might be guilty of the ultimate breach of rules. And why.) The deputy who usually evicts children and confiscates cell phones was absent, and his replacement was a lazy-ass wuss who just glanced at the noisys and went back to doing essentially nothing. Nobody said anything about the breach of rules and etiquette until a cell phone went off and the judge threw the offender out. People who first come to court notice these things, but they don’t speak up. Maybe it’s just the way things are done. And who is a visitor to comment? By the time you’ve been around long enough to know what’s out of line, you’ve been worn down into accepting the status quo— the problem is just too big to tackle.

When I was a kid, I didn’t get why old people were so cranky—always telling us to be quiet, be respectful. Now I’m old. I get it. Most rules were made for good reasons. Old people’s impatience is because they don’t have the energy or time to deal with rule-breakers—to tune out the dissonance they cause, or to convince them to be civil. Most of us old fogies save our effort for fights we might win.

Last night I took the Brown line to Lincoln Square to attend Marcus Sakey’s launch party for Good People at The Book Cellar. (Marcus’s friends, family and fellow writers showed up—including Judy Bobalik from Indiana, and New Yorkers Rosanne and Reed Farrel Coleman. Marcus is a class act, and the party was terrific.) I got a kick out of the El trip, too.

There were three twenty-something couples waiting at the Merchandise Mart stop. Couple number 1 appeared to be casual friends—fellow students or coworkers. They conversed in a relaxed, friendly manner until the train came, then got lost in the ingress. Couple number 2 was more interesting. Both were fashion model gorgeous. The woman, in flared jeans and double tank tops, was slim and blond and clinging to her companion like a teen in the throws of romance. He looked like he was posing for a GQ ad. He didn’t push the girl away, but he never took his hands off his hips. And he seemed to more interested in being seen than in looking at her. When the train came, they stalked down the platform in search of a sparsely populated car. The third couple embraced briefly when they arrived on the platform, then stood close enough to one another to make it obvious they were together. The woman was apparently more comfortable with this than the man, but he sure didn’t act as if intimacy was a burden. I didn’t have the nerve to go up to any of them to ask what they were thinking. So I’ll do what most writers do—make up a story.


Barbara D'Amato said...

Wonderful people watching! I think you are much better at this than I am, and I hereby resolve to improve. Great descriptions. Thanks for the heads up.

Michael Dymmoch said...


Thanks for the good word.