May 10, 2005

The Prequel

I mentioned (here too) that just before leaving for Chicago Sunday I fell into an absurdist movie for a few minutes. It happened thus:

I was leaving about 15 minutes earlier than I thought I had to if everything went smoothly in Chicago. On the way to my car, I realized I had left my cell phone charging in my apartment. I turned back to get it. This was my mistake.

By the old folks' home up the block, a man in a wheelchair asked me how far away the Jewels was. Realizing he meant the Osco/Jewel drug store, I told him it was at the next traffic light, turn right and cross two streets. He was upset, saying he was tired. I told him that I would go to the drugstore for him but I had to be in Chicago at 6 so had to go. He asked me if I was going all the way to the end of the block, but I wasn't.

While we were talking, a car was driving out of the home's parking lot, about fifty feet away. "Why is that guy driving out of the lot over the curb?" I thought. Then I realized that there was no one in the car. My brain shut down for a second or two. The car thwacked head-on into a tree. If not for the tree, it would have gone straight out into Prospect Ave. The couple walking along between us and the car were quite startled.

(Here it occurred to me: What would I have done if they had been in the car's path? They'd have no reason to look over their shoulders. The thing to do would be to shout "Run!", but how could I have conveyed that I was talking to them, or why they should have run? It would've been hard to put the situation into words.)

I got my phone and came back out.

Someone was driving the car back into the lot (back over the lawn and the curb? I think so). The man in the wheelchair was up talking to someone who seemed to be supervising this; then he came back down, even more agitated. He was clutching a prescription and saying that his other papers had blown away. (We're almost on the lake; it's very windy.) I saw some scraps of paper on the other side of the street and nipped across to look at them. They turned out to be just scraps, but the man wanted to cross the street just there, so I stepped out and stopped traffic (just a couple of cars) so he could cross at the corner of Royall Place (no light).

Now he began to say that a man who had given him something--possibly the money for his prescription--had parked a car on Royall Place (he pointed to the car) and gone up the stairs into a building (he pointed to the building). This was the Charles Allis Museum, which I've never visited even though it's basically across the street. He wanted me to look for the man inside the building. I said that I would ring the doorbell.

I did, and a woman came out. The man began to tell his story of someone vanishing in the building. The woman from the museum was confused--understandably, I suppose--said that no one had come in since she'd been sitting there, and asked if he wanted to visit the museum (which I think was closed). Having passed the issue off, I slipped away. I had used up my 15 minute cushion, and I had to go; also, I thought he was building up to a touch.

At the corner of Kane Street I stepped of the curb when I was engulfed in a flock of motorcycles turning left on red. This is legal there (Prospect and Kane are both one-way), but still startling. I'm not conveying why this seemed so absurd--it was like there was no traffic and then the motorcycles condensed around me.

And then, dear reader, I went to my car, and headed for Chicago, where I little knew what awaited me. But you know the rest of the story.

Posted by Matt Weiner at May 10, 2005 09:34 AM