My Next Big Adventure
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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 "Home Depot."

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 youth?

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 ambiance."

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 houses down.

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.

Our new 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."

He wore 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!

Alejandro/ 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.

Yesterday, while 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.

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