It is hot as blazes. According to WGN chief meteorologist and Chicago institution Tom Skilling, the 1913 record of 97 degrees might be broken today, with heat indexes reaching 105. We've been indoors all day, moving as slowly as possible and turning the air conditioning on when we can't take it anymore. I'm dressed in a tankini top and summer weight pajama bottoms, my hair up in a clip and contact lenses in my eyballs because its too hot to wear glasses. M is in a t-shirt and madras shorts. This kind of heat causes me to hibernate as tightly as severe cold, but for some reason it makes me feels worse. Maybe it just feels that way because its summer - ask me in six months and I'll probably dream for a day when I sweat the afternoon out in my kitchen.
There's almost nothing to eat in the house but neither of us wants to go grocery shopping, so I've been excavating the pantry. I would have food delivered, but I can't muster up enough appetite to think of something I want to eat badly enough to pick up the phone and talk to someone about it, and I'd feel responsible if anyone died of heat stroke on the way to my house just so that we could eat a plate of cold sesame noodles. Here's what my spelunking has uncovered:
The remains of a 16 oz. bag of farfalle;
Two 6 oz. cans of tuna, dusty;
One 15 oz. can of Del Monte sweet peas, dusty;
One 15 oz. can of Trader Joe's whole kernel corn.
I don't really want to boil anything, but it's better than our microwave option: one freezer burnt Trader Joe's southwest chicken quesadilla to split between us, and there's no way I'm turning the oven on. I set some water to boil and grabbed a cucumber from the fridge, along with a container of kalamata olives and a jar of mayonnaise. I boiled and drained the farfalle, opened a can of tuna and plopped its contents into the same saucepan used for boiling the pasta, the heat from the pan igniting the aroma of canned fish and a sudden interest from the cat population of our household. I cut up some olives and cucumber, and tossed them in with mayo, salt and pepper. The final product looked like something out of a 1950's cookbook for children, and smelled like cat food. I plated two dishes, arranging tomato slices on the plate edges in an attempt at presentation.
It's been three weeks since the triathlon, and I've been floundering between projects. The week after the race I volunteered as a camp counselor for the final week of summer camp at the Alliance Francaise, I'll get a free class out of it. I worked with a group of five to seven-year-olds, and one week was about all I could handle. From 8:45 a.m. to 4:15 p.m. every day I herded them towards whatever project was on the schedule. I was the oldest counselor by about twenty years, which made me the obvious choice for dealing with the behaviorally challenged kids. I found myself saying things like:
"Is that really working for you?" to the seven-year-old girl who pouted and cried her way through the entire week because two children who she'd decided should be her best friends were ignoring her. When she wasn't whining and pouting, she was interrupting people, and rolling her eyes and neck.
"They're being mean to me," the pouter said, leaning into my leg and resting her tear sodden face onto my breast.
"Well, you're not being very pleasant right now," I'd say, "I don't really want to be near you either. Is pouting and crying really working for you? Maybe you should try a different strategy."
The highlight of that week was a tossup between some misunderstood lyrics to a Michael Jackson song, and signage in the break room. A sign by the coffee pot read: "It would be nice if everyone would bring some ground coffee so that we all can enjoy a cup of coffee once in a while. Thanks." It reminded me of something my teacher Tim had said about the French cultural penchant for understatement. If a French person really likes something, he explained, they're likely to say "it wasn't terrible," rather than "it was great!" A sign by the sink read: "Please wash your plates and cups after you use them. Please "DO NOT" leave them in the sink. Thank You", the quotation marks undermining what they meant to stress.
One little girl kept singing Billie Jean, but it came out: "Billie Jinx is not my love, she's just a girl who says I am the one, but Chan is not my son." At one point she asked me if it was Billie James or Billie Jinx. I asked her which she thought it was, not wanting to ruin the entertainment.
We took them on a field trip to Oak Street Beach, leading them past a sleeping bum on the sidewalk, and steering them away from an empty fifth of vodka and clusters of beer bottles scattered underneath the lifeguard's perch. One boy was transfixed by something floating in with the tide that appeared to be a decomposing tampon. "It's garbage," I said to him, "leave it alone." This worked for a few minutes, but he turned his attention to it repeatedly.
Lunch for the counselors was provided by the Alliance, and consisted of a few plates of thinly sliced cold cuts, off-brand bread, iced tea and candy bars. Every day after lunch the director asked if I'd had enough to eat. I always said yes, but I was lying. I began joining the children at their 10 a.m. and 3 p.m. snack times, and carried granola bars with me in my purse. On one particularly tiring day I walked to the closest Starbucks for a strong coffee at lunch, and witnessed a bum being asked to leave Mr. J's Dawg 'N Burger. The counselors ate together in the atrium next to a baby grand piano while the kids ran around the courtyard, and conversation usually revolved around campers who were being particularly difficult.
I took a shine to one of the girls who worked with the 8 to 12-year-olds. She had long dirty blonde hair parted far on the right side of her head, the strands cascaded across her face creating a slight Flock of Seagulls effect. The braces on her teeth were offset by a small dark hoop pierced into the right side of her lower lip, and she texted constantly on her iPhone during lunch. She wore blue metallic shorts over her pale chubby thighs, tank tops that exposed her soft belly, and flip flops. She developed an instant crush on the teenaged son of one of the instructors, he'd assisted during a cooking demonstration.
"Mireille's son?" I asked.
"Do you know her?" she asked, eyes wide.
"No, sorry," I said, "I don't have any inside information for you." At the end of the week she asked if we could be facebook friends.
That weekend M and I went to Michigan with his parents, his sister, and our seven year old niece, who was a breath of fresh air compared to the children I'd worked with all week. The six of us spent three days in a cabin on Magician Lake with no internet access. We played Clue, Scrabble and Boggle when it was cloudy, and swam, canoed and fished when it was sunny. With no computers around it felt more like a week, and we returned to Chicago refreshed, our car packed with blueberries, peaches, corn, beans, tomatoes and cucumbers from a local farm stand. I turned on the computer almost immediately after returning home, logged onto facebook, and there it was - a friendship request from my teenaged co-counselor. In her profile picture she's leaning over in a tank top with six inches of cleavage visible. I haven't decided yet whether to accept.