What makes an ordinary day extraordinary? Someone you meet? Someone you lose? Finding a dollar? Falling in love? Or does your whole world change—like mine did—with words scrawled on a piece of paper by a stranger?
Call me crazy, (or Hank, like everyone else does) but to tell you the truth, one of the things I really like about Chicago, well, Evanston, to be exact, is the winters. I don’t mind the snow or even the ice because the landlord shovels the steps and I don’t have to worry about shoveling out a parking spot because I don’t drive. What I really like is when the doors of the El rattle open and the wind hits you screeching in the face and it’s come all the way down from Canada, whipping up waves and picking up speed over Lake Michigan, just to slap you awake. Always reminds me of that line in Solzhenitsyn where the guy says, “How can a man who’s warm understand a man who’s cold?”
Never could explain why I like the cold, especially that wind. Must have been an Arctic explorer in a past lifetime. I have to confess that I also like the mystery of winters here and watching customers, especially the women, come in, all wrapped up, and seeing them unfurl their scarves and then unbutton or unzip until the truth is revealed and there they are, sitting in my café. Spring and summer just don’t have the same mystery about them.
Ok, maybe I am crazy to like Chicago winters.
But am I crazy to love coffee? Because coffee is what I love. The smell of it! Tea’s nice, and sure, we sell it, but it doesn’t have that smell. And I love the colors of coffee. The dark roast that’s so dark you can’t see your spoon in it. The color that cream makes when you pour it in slowly and it curves back up from the bottom of your cup to turn the coffee three shades of brown until you stir it in and maybe add some sugar if it’s been a long night. I’ve loved coffee as far back as I can remember, back to when my old man would dash off to work and leave just a little in the bottom of the cup and I’d sip that last bit of his coffee there just to see what it was like to be grownup. I love coffee and the memories it brings back. Not every cup, sure. But now and then you’re having a cup and before you know it you’re thinking of that cup of coffee you had with that brown-eyed girl in college the next morning. Your first cup of coffee with a woman.
Winters I like, but coffee I love. Which is why coming in to work today, early enough in the new year that people who made resolutions might still be keeping them, was such a shock. Finding that note under the door. Thought it was a piece of ice at first that I’d kicked off when I stomped my boots. And I wish I could say that that’s what it was, but it wasn’t and everything changed when I read it. You finally think you’ve got some things figured out, then something like this comes along--some little asteroid--and life changes and things start to get real serious real fast.
“90 days.” That’s all the note says. What’s this? I think. The hell? “90 days?” I look up and down the back alley. No one there. This someone’s idea of a joke?