A few years back I worked for a company in a building just a few blocks south of the Water Tower shopping center on Chicago’s near north side. One morning a bunch of us were avoiding work by standing around talking about how our expectations for romance had become more realistic as we’d gotten older.
“Realistic, heck,” I said, “at this point if I could meet a woman who could get through one date without saying the word ‘piss’ I’d marry her.”
One of the women there gave me a sharp look. Linda said she didn’t use that word under any circumstances. I said every woman I knew used the word all the time. She said, again, that she never used the word. We talked a bit more and made a date to go to lunch that afternoon. (This is a different Linda than the Linda’s I’ve written about earlier. In my life I’ve known a strange surplus of women named Linda and women named Joanne.)
That afternoon we walked west and did some window shopping along the cool shops between Michigan Avenue and State Street. We had lunch at a small cafe. We had a good time, nobody used any unpleasant words and after lunch we walked slowly back to work.
As we approached Michigan Avenue, I began to search for the words I’d use to congratulate Linda on being a person true to her word. At Michigan Avenue we stopped at a construction site an entire block wide. A new skyscraper was going up and the entire block was fenced off with a high wooden wall. Linda pointed south and started to walked around the block, but I stopped her.
“Look,” I said, “we can see Michigan Avenue through the doors in the wall. I bet we can cut right though the construction site.”
“We’re dressed in business clothes,” Linda said. “We’ll stand out. We’ll get caught. We’ll get in trouble.”
Just that second, as if on cue, a team of five or six businessmen and women walked past us and entered the construction site. They must have been architects or inspectors or something. At any rate, we were dressed just like them. When they walked past us, I grabbed Linda’s hand and pulled her after me and we followed the well-dressed people into the construction site.
“Look official,” I said to Linda.
We walked along a narrow pathway made by wood boards lined up in the mud and gravel. The iron girders of the new skyscraper towered above us ten or twelve stories. All sorts of machinery roared around us. Concrete mixers spun around. Torches blasted blue and orange flame. Cranes somewhere overhead dropped empty pallets on one side of the pathway while other cranes lifted pallets full of construction supplies. The noise was so loud we couldn’t hear our footsteps. The boards under our feet were constantly shaking from the huge equipment all around us engaged in putting up the new building.
About halfway through the site the team of well dressed people turned off the main path and entered a shadowed area directly under the metal skeleton of the new building. Linda and I continued walking straight. I put my hand on Linda’s shoulder and gestured as if I were showing her something. I was trying to look official. We continued walking through the site and exited onto Michigan Avenue.
I clapped my hands and laughed, turning to look back the way we’d come. I pointed. “That was cool!” I said. “Did you see all that stuff? We should do that again. That was fun!”
I looked at Linda. Her eyes, now, were strangely narrowed and she was looking up and down Michigan Avenue in such an odd fashion I got the idea she wanted to kneel down and kiss the sidewalk. Then she looked at me. It wasn’t a happy look. Her eyes became even more narrow. She slapped me across the stomach with the back of her hand. “That’s wasn’t cool!” she said. “That wasn’t fun! That was terrifying! That scared the piss out of me!”
My eyes went wide. I pointed at her. I said, “Ah-ha!”
Linda rolled her eyes and made an exasperated sound. She turned away and started across Michigan Avenue without waiting for me.