Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Chicago at Christmas

December 23rd

Fulton Market cold today and Patrick Firpo flies home. One more morning up early; everyone is exhausted. It’s the cold, drawing out the water in all of us. My hair is straight, my skin is dry, we’re all thirsty. It’s the extreme freezing, and the effort of holding ourselves upright and warm in it. We will miss Patrick: his ingenuity, creativity, resourcefulness and his alter ego: his sharp, jaded wit. Here we are at the Hard Rock bar, having a send-off beer.

We walk to MOCA, and it’s so cold, my cheeks tingle. You can see wisps of snow blowing across the sidewalks ahead of us. Jaz forgot his gloves, hands dug into his pockets.

Ironically the exhibit is called “Sympathy for the Devil: Art & Rock and Roll since 1967.” On the second floor a couple are making love on the landing. So to speak. Fully clothed and in slow motion. Kissing and tumbling while others watch. So disciplined, they continue in their choreographed two step for more than 2 hours. I am full of professional pride, as I am a performer too, but would not engage in this difficult kind of work. Still, we watch.

“The Other Vietnam Memorial” shows three million names of Vietnamese people killed in that war, each name etched onto a metal surface. Three million people. Each one living a life full of detail, each one human and loved and born a baby. Without my glasses, it’s difficult to read a single name, there are so many.

But, the museum shop is perfect for gifts. Jaz gets a full color book called "50 artists" for Tim - his cultural baptism into visual art. For Ari, who is already well versed in music, a thin tome on mathmetics & music. I snatch a book for Jaz and buy Gord's artist-designed gift while they have their backs to me.

December 24th.

The crew works a full morning and afternoon, but we get tomorrow off. I meet Sarah, Penny and Lauren at City of Chicago -- say hello to Jason and Laura. After the morning @ Fulton Market, we meet at La Salle Bank to cash per diem checks, with a fingerprint & two pieces of id. Our usual pre-Christmas melt-down, thankfully, doesn’t last long. Then, arrangements for Christmas day dinner at China Grill. And, naptime, the cozy, do-nothing bliss of it.

To Valentine’s for a Christmas Eve party. We can't find Jaz, who is supposed to accompany us to the party. Finally, he appears in the lobby, not ready. We say goodbye. Our cab driver is from East Somalia. The U.S. is bombing his country; it’s like Iraq there everyday, he says, fighting and killing. America paid Ethiopia $100 million to control Somalia, he says, but “You cannot control another country by force for long. It doesn’t make big sense. Soon, there will be no where to bomb.”

We go indoors and meet Valentine’s family and friends around two Christmas trees and a fire, a delicious ham. Four young, beautiful children; Chloe holds the mini-dogs down the steps.

Studs Terkel, a hero of mine, by now past 95, sits in front of the fire. (!!!) He says he can’t hear well, so I write him a note.

“Hello, Mr. Studs Terkel. My name is Caitlin Hicks. I am a fan of yours. “Working” - I used some of the stories for acting monologues.”

“Yes,” he replies, “Others have told me so.” I scribble again.

“After reading your books, I concluded that really, people are good. I felt your benevolent intelligence listening.”

“Thank you, “ he says, “that’s quite a compliment.” He agrees to have his photo snapped with me “Here’s to us, Merry Christmas, Happy World,” he toasts.

Valentine plays the piano and we sing Christmas Carols. We pose in front of the tree.

Valentine passes out gifts, with one for me.

We are just getting going when we are ushered into a ride back to downtown Chicago with Tony and the chief of the Chicago fire department. As the door closes behind us, we think, too late, to invite them in for a drink. But there we are, back home at 9:30 PM, in the lobby of the Hard Rock, employees outnumbering guests, while everyone in my Pollyanna vision of the world is wrapping presents.

Christmas morning we have a very wonderful breakfast at the Hard Rock Hotel.

And Jaz tells his amazing Christmas story, too long to repeat here, but magnificent, life altering: his serendipitous encounters with a stressed out woman, a hustler, and a well dressed preacher man with amazing visions and a powerful personality. A remarkable story, "The adventures of Jaz and Tim in Chicago streets on Christmas Eve", a true story, which as it unfolds, has us sitting on the edge of our seats. Jaz and Ari have heard it already, Tim was part of it, but as Jaz re-tells it I can feel them listening again. My heart turns as well and I somehow find meaning in our lives at this moment; the story helps me piece together a version of what we might be capable of as human beings. A tale which puts into perspective all the goodwill and parallel selfishness of the season of silver bells; a glimpse of survival for the poor, of spirituality/ insanity/ truth and illusion. On Christmas morning, we are all transformed by Jaz's willingness to look at the people in the streets, to talk to them, to give them something they need -- to challenge them, and ask them for their two cents, which in this case, seems like wisdom.

He tells us the story in three parts around breakfast. Funny and poignant, and full of character. We all get into it, our reindeer antlers atop our heads throughout breakfast.

We open gifts in our suite overlooking the street. At Millennium Park, we can see the Christmas skaters. We want to participate, but outside looks cold.

I call my PX - a family tradition, and speak with Marc Hicks, my brother Timothy's eldest son, who is on the swim team at Redlands University in California. I think of all them, though, all fourteen of them, my eight brothers and five sisters, their children and families, try to imagine them in their worlds. I talk to Tim, Mary and Bernadette. Jaz phones his sister in California and tells her the story. Here they are, earlier in December where we celebrated an early Christmas - the big gift was the rocking horse for Hayley.

We'd shopped for hors d'oeuvres and spread them out at the table in our suite with wine & beer. Then supper at The China Grill, hosted by Andrea Jackson, (on the left, looking like Oprah Winfrey) and our server Yasmine. They set a white table cloth for us and serve our pre-arranged menu -- delectable signature "Asian Fusion" -- which, after all, we can't finish!

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