Friday, August 14, 2009

Friday in the Garden

Its a gorgeous Friday morning, and I’ve taken the laptop into the yard. We’ve had a series of picture perfect summer days now, and are due for a few more. I’m in my pajamas, sitting at the patio furniture that we got from The Great Escape a few summers ago, the orange umbrella in the center of the table fully opened. I have my favorite mug with me, it has the heft of an old time diner mug, and an outline drawing of a stack of pancakes sitting on a plate with a fork stuck in the top, a square pat of butter melting down the sides. Above the image is the word "Pancakes", below it is the text "make people happy". A black ant just climbed its way up the face of the mug, as if drawn to the image on it. Above me the thunderous sounds of fighter jets training for this weekend's Air and Water show has begun, a sound that will continue until Sunday.

I have an interview today for an unpaid editorial intern position. I responded to the posting in June, and was contacted yesterday. I'm making small footholds in a couple other local publications too, tomorrow I'll be attending a training for neighborhood reporters at the Chi-Town Daily News, and I might be writing for another local online publication soon too. I haven't gotten much traction with the usual employment route, and since I'm being paid unemployment I figured this would be a good time to try my hand at getting in print, even if it's not paid.

Since being laid off my tolerance for downtown Chicago has diminished, it happened surprisingly fast. I first noticed it on an interview in early June; the mad crush of bodies on the train was suffocating, and navigating my way through crowds on the street sent me into a Koyaanisquatsi-like trance. In just a few weeks the everyday patterns of commuting, cemented into routine over years of office work, had begun to unravel. There have been other changes too; I’ve let my hair do whatever it wants to, and its been liberating. Taming it has been a lifelong struggle, I was the only one in my family to have frizzy hair, and nobody knew what to do with it. When I was six years old my best friend Annie had hair that was straight as a pin, and she was always clean and well dressed. She wore neat dresses with ruched panels on the chest and sweetheart sleeves, cardigan sweaters, and bows in her hair. I was a muddy tomboy. I lived in overalls, wore the same outfit for days at a time, and barely bathed. I thought my hair was wild was because I wasn’t neat and clean like Annie. I tried to alter it by brushing it endlessly in front of a mirror, but all that did was make it frizzier, proof positive that I had crossed the point of no return. The concept of cosmetics and hair products was completely foreign to my family, I don’t think I’ve seen my mother in lipstick more than twice in my life, and I don't think she's ever owned a bottle of hair conditioner. Her bathrooms have always been spartan, containing no more than a bar of Ivory soap and a bottle of Neutrogena shampoo. She's never spent more than three minutes taking a shower.

I didn’t start experimenting with hair products until I was in my twenties, and these days there’s always at least one gel or spray product in my medicine cabinet that promises tamer, glossier hair. I started coloring it when I was sixteen, and have been going to the same hairdresser for over ten years. I had an appointment lined up when I got laid off, canceled it, and haven’t done a thing with my hair since. These past few months its gotten longer, and the color has changed - partly from swimming in chlorine, partly from being in the sun, and partly from new growth, and a handful of grey hairs have become visible on my temples. Its been like watching time lapse photography.

Apart from the occasional smudge of Burt’s Bees Lip Shimmer, available at Walgreens for $4.99, I’ve stopped wearing makeup, and I tend to dress comfortably. I feel like I’m reverting back to my natural tomboy self, like a manicured lawn that's suddenly been left to it's own devices.

Along for my tolerance for downtown, my patience for time spent in offices has diminished considerably. The few times that I’ve stopped by my old office to deal with unemployment paperwork or meet a former colleague for lunch I’ve felt oppressed by the tedious nature of office life, surprised at how much time passes when all I meant to do was fax one page or make one phone call, and have little tolerance for the persistent shop talk around me. Doing the same thing every day seems unthinkable now, and I’m dreading the day I'll have to start doing just that.

At 11 a.m. I go indoors and look for something presentable to wear. I pick out a pair of black slacks and a semi-casual top. I don't want to look too stuffy, this is for an internship at an alternative weekly paper with offices in a semi-industrial neighborhood. I dig up a pair of sensible earrings, put my hair up in a clip, and apply eyeliner and mascara for the first time in months. I load the dishwasher and set it to run, then walk to the corner and catch the Kimball bus to the Blue Line.

The interview is short - twenty minutes, and I'm not sure if that's good or bad. Normally I would send a thank you note, but now I'm second guessing myself - will I come off sounding out of touch? Do people send thank you notes for internship interviews? When I return home the dishwasher is still warm, and I change back into my pajamas. I set some water to boil and go into the garden for tomatoes and basil to serve with store bought ravioli. Our upstairs neighbors are avid gardeners, and we're taking care of the vegetable beds while they're out of town. The result is simple and fantastic, and makes me think about gardening. Hopefully some of the seeds I've been planting will start taking root.


j.cro said...

I just bumped into a friend/fellow commuter in the supermarket the other day - he had recently been laid off - he said if it's going to happen to you, summer was the best time.

I'm looking forward to next year when I get to quit the grind and go back to school... Commuting is exhausting after 11 years.

Your mug made me think of this -

Enjoy your discovery time and making it work for you!

j.cro said...

PS - send the thank you note - it couldn't hurt, right?