In mid-November, my girlfriend Erika and I
started looking for an apartment. It was a journey of firsts: first time living with a
girlfriend, first time living with a cat, first time living on the North side, but that
didn't stop the cryptic messages from coming. Warnings like, "Domestic life is the end
of all excitement" appeared like blood spattered smears in a haunted house. "Get out! For
God's sake, get out!" |
My friend Matt, who is the feature in hundreds of
my deranged, youthful misadventures, vanished from reality well before his nuptials,
disappearing into the domestic bliss oblivion where adventure constituted a day trip to
Over coffee, another friend who recently popped the
question, started making a list of all the experiences he wasn't going to have; he told
me I might as well start writing my own. "You can still go to Europe." I countered,
looking at his list. "Not the way I'd planned," he said shaking his head. I am not sure
what he meant by that.
So was that it? Would my adventures center on
trying to outwit Erika's 18 lb. lump of black and white fur, Mojo (AKA Destructo), that
seemed so bent on my demise he designed Acme style blueprints pinned to the back of his
litter box? Would a "closet organizer" to accommodate Erika's unfathomable collection of
shoes become my quest for the Holy Grail? At 26 would I end up with a tattoo of the
Tasmanian devil, buy a motorcycle, start hitting on teenage waitresses, develop a
receding hairline and attempt to jump the shark, in some pathetic attempt to recapture my
A couple years ago, while covering an International Adventure
conference, I began looking for a definition of adventure, partly to compose a theme to
tie interviews with eco-challenge extreme sports enthusiasts and environmental scientists
together. I asked my friend Jeff, who was moving in with his girlfriend at the time, what
he thought, and echoing the words of world renowned super mountain climber, Reinhold
Messner, he said: "Adventure is experiencing the unknown while pushing beyond its
limits." Jeff insisted that moving to the city was an adventure that was just as profound
as when we backpacked across Ireland, camping in farmer's fields; I thought he might be
compromising a bit.
The first tour Erika and I took was a virtual open
house that paradoxically served as a "living" example of "virtual reality." Virtual
Reality is defined in Michael Heim's book, The Metaphysics of Virtual Reality, as "an
event or entity that is real in effect but not in fact." According to a pop up blurb in
our cyber tour, the apartment was ideal for students, or artists, or art school students.
On-line this appeared to be an understatement. It was a student/ artist/ art student
utopia, a glorious loft with hard wood floors, custom designed stain glass windows, art
Nuavo lighting fixtures, a fireplace, a washer, a dryer, a dishwasher and an "artsy
Oh, did I mention the whirlpool?
There was a
cyber door representing a real door salvaged from a hundred year old historical hotel
door, newly restored, and painted to give it a washed out modern historical look.
Our guide in the "real" world was named Trixie (or at least it should
have been). She appeared to have spent the morning free-basing Coco Puffs and snorting
Pixie sticks; she demonstrated the ample floor space with somersaults, the 11 foot
ceilings with a trapeze show and she would have chanted the place's perks if she
could've figured out something to rhyme with Nuavo.
The place itself was
somewhat rundown; walking through the apartment felt more like investigating a crime
scene in a cross-genre mystery/ cyber-punk novel than it did checking out an apartment
listing. To quote the Matrix: "Perception: Our day-in, day-out world is real. Reality:
That world is a hoax, an elaborate deception spun by all-powerful machines of artificial
intelligence that control us."
The custom designed windows were beautiful
- and the similarities to the Internet ended there - the whirlpool was one of those
bubble jet bath mats. The lighting fixtures appeared like robotic insects or mechanized
squids whose tendrils were capped with mini armadillos. They hung in every room like
something Tim Burton would've created, but then tossed into the wastebasket for being
too creepy. The place was a cluttered mess; the fireplace, wood burning, didn't work
exactly and the bedroom was only slightly bigger than a breadbox. The historic doors were
actually historic doorknobs and the "artsy ambiance" referred to the fact we'd starve
trying to scrape together the rent each month and be prone to long bouts of depression.
The next place we checked out was described in the weeks to come like
this: "You know that warehouse fire, that was like one of the largest in Chicago's
history?" (Which is no small feat for a city that actually boasts having had a "great"
fire). "Yeah, well, that's at the end of our block." By end of the block, I meant three
Living near such a pronounced landmark would have had its
perks, for example, directions would be easy enough: "Go to the post apocalyptic
wasteland, make a left - watch for mutants."
We were welcomed to the
neighborhood by groups of people clustered on the corner yelling things at the car and
waving in a unique fashion. It's possible they were just trying to present us with
massive fruit baskets, but we didn't get a chance to stop.
apartment would have had a fragrant campfire smell that could perfume all of our clothes,
free of charge, and a brilliant view of the fire scorched, garbage-strewn lot surrounded
by a barbed wire chain link fence and book ended by battered brick walls. Nonetheless,
living on a block, immersed in abandoned buildings, made me somewhat weary, not just of
becoming a crime statistic mind you - but with a post apocalyptic wasteland in your
backyard, you are bound to have the four-armed Cyclops mutants motivated solely by human
flesh as neighbors.
I asked our future landlady about the safety of the
neighborhood, what with the abandoned buildings and all. She reassured me that the
neighborhood had become a pretty hot commodity. "In fact, there is a big time realtor who
has been trying to buy up land in most of the area." She told us. "Personally, I think he
was the one that started the fire, you know, so they would have to sell it." Thankfully,
arson always sets me at ease.
We hadn't had much luck looking on our
own, so Erika enlisted the help of a realtor, "Hip Cats Realty: We Measure Hip-ness by
the Square Foot." Our agent, Alex, went by Alejandro, not because it was his given name,
but because "ethnic monikers were very fashionable this season."
a ratty grunge style sweater (meaning the sleeves had been chewed off and tattered),
under a sports jacket (to exhibit his high professionalism), and a pair of designer white
washed jeans with designer gaping holes. Alejandro proved his coolness by treating Erika
and I as if we weren't really there. He read listings as though he were mumbling to
himself. He ate a bagel at his desk while we sat in the waiting room and he drove away
from the curb before I got in the car -- how cool is that!
Alex/ Al applied this same ultra trendy attitude (or 'tude as abbreviations are very
fashionable this season) to city traffic - he ignored it. He barreled under
semi-trailers, veered in and out of traffic, even scared the hell out of taxi drivers (an
impressive feat in itself) – which may not have been as bad if he hadn't insisted on
giving a blow-by-blow description of the three car pile up he witnessed that morning.
Having survived Alex's whirlwind six-apartment death race, we checked
out one last listing on our own. It was a garden apartment being leased out by an
eccentric artist, Ellen, who informed us that the building had been there for a hundred
years and was originally a swamp shack when the North side was little more than a bog.
The garage had originally been a barn and it still had a hayloft with an old rung ladder
in the wall. Ellen's eccentric artist friends had painted the walls - comic book images
side-by-side with abstract reliefs.
How's that for "artsy ambiance"?
Ellen's sister lives on the first floor, Ellen on the second - they are
always around; they are animal people. The garage/ barn/ canvas also serves as an animal
rescue; they each have numerous cats, a couple dogs, so on. Ellen's sister even has a
pet hippo! Though I haven't seen it myself, I know it exists -- she's not a big woman,
yet her footfalls sound thunderous through the ceiling and reverberate the walls. I
thought for sometime that it was an elephant, but Erika told me that was ridiculous
(probably because the ceiling is just too low to accommodate elephants) so I came up with
the hippo theory.
The thing about animal people is they like to spread
the love. We hadn't signed the lease before we were offered an emaciated, rather
skittish female feline, Ginger, as a companion for Mojo. Last week, Ellen brought her
over and Ginger barricaded herself in under the bed. Ellen told us it'd take about three
days for her to come out.
Erika tried to speed up our loving family by
crawling under the bed after her. She triggered a pet version of Keystone Cops with
Ginger in the lead, Mojo close behind and Erika taking up the rear with a bag of kitty
treats like the animal-adoring tiny toon Elmyra trying to hug the stuffing out of
unsuspecting cuddly wuddlies. Ginger freaked out. She vanished into a hole in the walls
that we hadn't known existed and headed for the ceiling hiding. We spent the rest of the
evening removing tiles, jiggling treats and rummaging for our new cat. After awhile, we
sent Mojo into the ceiling after her, which seemed logical until we lost him, too.
Ellen came over the other day to help us look. She brought a flashlight
and a ladder (two essentials we were lacking); Ginger didn't turn up. There are cats all
over the house, including in the walls. Ellen plans on contacting a friend who
communicates with pets - psychically - she'll e-mail a photo of Ginger to her, so the
friend will know whom to look for on the astral plane.
waiting in line at "Home Depot" to buy a "closet organizer" to accommodate all of
Erika's shoes, I thought back to the definition of adventure I had come up with a couple
years ago. The consensus had been reached after a number of interviews with hard core
mountain climbers, amateur archeologists, renegade environmentalists and a running list
of professionals who make adventure a career. I wrote: "adventure usually encompasses
immersing yourself in new cultures and interesting people, in experiencing the unexpected
often involving a physical challenge or a hint of danger." I smiled to myself and shifted
the weight of the "organizer". You know what, I couldn't be happier.