LOVE LETTER TO BELMONT AVENUE

Late one night, I was mooned at the corner of Belmont and Halsted by some guys in a black Audi with the vanity plate TG AUDI II.  My first thought:  Invest in some Nair and Pro-Active.

My next thought:  Why can't I get mooned by a guy who works out?  Or, at the very least, gets off the couch every once in a while?

Let me back up.  I was driving west on Belmont Avenue when this same Audi slammed on its brakes in front of Mt. Carmel Catholic Church.  When we both came to a screeching halt, someone leaned out the passenger's window to take a picture of the fountain.  Don't get me wrong:  it's a great fountain.  But couldn't the driver have pulled over?

So I tapped my horn.

Okay.  Maybe it wasn't a tap.  Maybe I laid on my horn.  I might have laid on my horn.

***

Mama called while I was driving down Belmont to pick up my daughter.  I can’t talk and drive.  Hell, I can barely talk and walk.  So I pulled over to take the call because, when mama calls, I pick up the phone.  If I don't, I'll hear about the fact that I didn't pick up the phone and get grilled about what was so important that I couldn't pick up the phone.  It's a huge affront to her.  I'm not sure why.

Regardless, she informed me that Dr. Oz recommended turmeric for something (can't remember what) and she suggested I start taking it.  I assured her I would and pressed END.  At least I thought I’d pressed END.

When I pulled back onto Belmont, a car behind me blew off a STOP sign, came screaming up on me doing about fifty, laid on his horn, swerved around me and flipped me off.  It was one of those moments when you think, "Really?  He's breaking the law, driving like a maniac and he flips me off?  I felt slightly hurt.  That feeling passed quickly, however and, at the next intersection, I went on a rant into his rear-view mirror, "Aren't you extra special?  Aren't you the most important person in the world?  Do you think you own the road?  Do you?  Where's the fire, Mr. King of Belmont Avenue?  King of Belmont-coming-up-on-me-going-fifty-in-a-thirty.  You must own the road.  Do you own the road King of Belmont Avenue Smarty Pants?"

I was on a roll, reaching way back, insulting his mother's grandmother's uncle, his cooking, his dog, his tennis serve, his sister, his kindergarten teacher and college roommates.

We pulled through the intersection and, at the next light, he turned on his left blinker.  It occurred to me, at the moment I hit my left hand blinker, that I recognized that car from pick-up at my daughter's school.  But what were the odds?  It's a big city.

As we neared the school, I was fairly certain that I'd called my daughter's schoolmate's father, among other things not fit to repeat, King of Belmont Smarty Pants.  But he'd flipped me off.  Even Steven, right?

Of course, I hadn't pressed END and, as a result, my 91-year-old mother heard my entire rant.  When I pulled up right behind this guy who had flipped me off, I heard mama’s voice, 'Honey?  What's going on?  Who are you yelling at?'

I picked up the phone and assured her that it was nothing.  That I was singing a song called The King of Belmont Avenue.

So there I was behind the guy who I'd been berating for the last few minutes.  I was feeling sheepish and wondering if I should get out of the car and talk to him when he turned around, waved and smiled.

I did the same because, after all, I had a feeling we would be seeing each other, every now and then, on Belmont Avenue.

***

At the corner of Belmont and Paulina I pulled up behind a car with the following bumper sticker:

End Infant Circumcision

The image of an infant performing a circumcision popped into my mind and, for the rest of the day, every time I thought about it, I couldn't stop laughing.

***

Mama spends three to four hours every week shopping at the Belmont/Paulina Walgreens and, for years, Thomas sat outside the entrance selling Streetwise.  He was a tall, solid black man with blue eyes and this killer smile.  When he would see me pull up, he would grab a cart for mama and help me get her out of the car and I would buy a Streetwise and he would tell me about his daughter who had recently graduated from college.  He also said, on more than one occasion, that he was going to get a job driving big rigs cross country.

Thomas hasn’t been in his usual spot, now, for a few months.  Every day, when I drive past that Walgreens, I wonder where Thomas landed.  I wonder if he's in one of those gleaming MACK trucks, sitting way up, high above all the nonsense, comparing life on the road to his years spent on Belmont Avenue.

 ***

Most of the old-timers are gone:  Miss Eva and Mrs. Knorr and Bernie and that old lady down the street who used to sweep her sidewalk until you could eat off it.  All their neat clapboard homes have been bull-dozed and replaced by brick monstrosities.  There's only one old-timer left.  Her house is the little clapboard storefront swallowed up by cinderblock condos on either side.

It used to be an antique store; one of those little shops tucked right up close to Belmont Avenue's curb.  But she hasn't opened it in years.  Some days, when the weather is fine, I see her walking down the alley in her sensible pumps.  She always wears a print dress with a cardigan draped over her shoulders.  She walks very slowly but keeps her chin high.  She's always alone.  And she never talks.  And I never talk to her.  She's one of those proud people who wouldn't ask for a thing.  But she's getting old and I wonder if she has anyone to look after her.  I want to give her my number, tell her she could have tea with mama.  Invite her to Thanksgiving.  But I know I never will and she'll be gone, too, very soon, without us ever sharing a single word.

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  • LOVE this, I hope Thomas is driving the truck! Our seven-month-old's photo was in a September Streetwise with my Mom and her friends at Panera at Diversey and Pine Grove with their favorite vendor. Glad I'm not the only one who is expected to answer every call! HILARIOUS about Belmont and Halsted. I was born and raised there (OLMC for all of my sacraments). I cross that intersection every day and am just one parish over now. (www.lipstickandlollypops.com)

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    Christine Rice

    My most recent fiction and creative nonfiction have appeared in THE URBANESS, THE GOOD MEN PROJECT, CELLSTORIES.NET and F MAGAZINE. My audio essays have been produced by Chicago Public Radio’s daily magazine EIGHT FORTY-EIGHT. I also manage an online lit mag (yes...another lit mag) called HYPERTEXTMAG.COM. My feature stories have appeared in the THE GOOD MEN PROJECT, CHICAGO TRIBUNE and Detroit’s METRO TIMES and METRO PARENT newspapers. I’ve been an adjunct professor in the Columbia College Chicago Fiction Writing Department since 1992, have chaired the Fiction Writing Department’s Young Authors writing contest since 2000 and am the faculty editor of Columbia College Chicago’s student anthology HAIR TRIGGER.

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