You ever feel like running your car over someone’s face?
This particular Saturday felt with its cold gray clipper blowing in off Lake Michigan like the first real day of winter, even though a month of days stood between now and its official start. In the Windy City, this weekend before Thanksgiving, when the sky wouldn’t cry but it would blow, the bow of my car froze in traffic on Lake Shore Drive. I get wonderfully cut off twice on Michigan Avenue, where the taxis and horse drawn carriages stalled in a disheveled assembly like they staged for a parade. Either that, or POTUS was in town. I get cut off twice. Ah, my first chance to use the bubble wand I got at my cousin’s wedding. I promised I would blow bubbles instead of swearing at discourteous drivers or threatening to get out of my vehicle and chase them down. One of my gay friends said it was the gayest thing he ever heard. You should’ve seen me, blowing bubbles on one of the busiest shopping days of the year to a guy with Florida plates in a monster SUV. Maybe that’s how he figures we do things now in the City of Big Bubbles.
I got cut off by a cop on a four wheeler and yelled at by another cop, so I figured I’d quit before I ended up in lockup. I parked almost got run over by a delivery truck while I crossed with the walk sign in the cross walk on State Street. I ran from the traffic like I used to run from the bullies in my old North Side neighborhood. Where was that bubble wand when I needed it? And I hadn’t even gotten to the Starbucks yet.
I hustled toward Rush and Oak in the grim dusk. Rush Street stood as a Chicago Times Square, painted with Gucci and graystones and crammed with flocks of tourists bobbing their heads this way in a crosswalk trance and pigeons bobbing their heads that way in a crosswalk dance. Cutting through the car honks and engine squawks I heard a high-pitched cacophony; the squeaks of birds. Thousands it sounded like, all chattering and chirping with each other. Where did it come from?
There, across the street, they congregated in a linden sapling, which even in that late November sky still hadn’t lost its leaves. Dozens of them—jousting, barbing with each other for the best spot as the immature branches swayed in the cold wind. The sky had turned oo dark to make out what kinds of birds roosted in the dense foliage of the linden, but from their profile, they didn’t seem like locals. Chicago’s on a flyway route, and I guessed this flock stopped over on their way south.
I stood there for five, ten minutes as people hustled on past. That whole tree sang. Alive, vibrating with chaotic birdsong. I dare not stand under that tree. Frequent poops rained down like grey leaves from the flimsy branches.
All that symphony and birdshit washed away my city sneer. When I’m feeling low, that’s where I go. And it’s better than any drug (except caffeine) for what ails me. The birds just did their thing, fighting for the best spot on the branch. And together, they seemed invulnerable to the callousness that I’d let seep into inner skin. A music tree healed me that November 20th, 2004. Tiny birds washed away my disillusion. What gifts God brings, unbidden, unearned. And the givers, just doing their noisy things.
© 2015 by Michael C. Just