We found an apartment in a neighborhood called Wicker Park. Kate had her sights on it before we left Minneapolis. I don’t know how she heard about it. It’s not like you would drive through and choose it. A lot of old brick buildings along Milwaukee Avenue and North Avenue, run down old shops, like a sewing machine store and a vacuum cleaner repair shop. Gang-bangers on the street corners, watching for the cops or talking to the cars that stop. The park was green in summer and grown over, but the tables were full with homeless people, drinking beer and fortified wine out of bottles hid in bags.
She said, “You can get a deal here,” and evidently you could. Ours was a sunny, roomy apartment on the top floor with a little balcony. “We couldn’t afford this in Old Town,” she said. It faced south and east, looking out over a carpet of treetops. You could see the tops of some of the buildings in the loop. We could have coffee out on the porch on a summer morning and read the paper.
She had some friends who were already working in the city who would come down to a few of the bars we had found, around the big intersection where North and Damen and Milwaukee all cross. Her friends always parked close and ran in to meet us. If they couldn’t find a space nearby they didn’t show up. She liked to walk up the street past the old storefronts. Some of them were vacant and filled with heaps of left junk. Some of them sold old things like used blenders and old battered tables you might see in a culture museum, or old beaten books that nobody was going to read again. There was something romantic about this to her.
She said, “It’s like your hometown.” But it’s not like walking the main street in Jericho. I guess you could say the old buildings are falling apart, like the ones along Milwaukee. But I don’t think they’re beautiful. I know them. I went in them when they were the Drug Store and Mr. Wallerud was behind the counter, ringing up the dime candies I bought or making a soda on a hot day that I had splurged and bought for Laura when no one was looking. Or the hardware store or the plumber or any of the other places along there. The buildings are old and the paint peeling and the wooden doors exposed and rotting apart. Just like on Milwaukee Avenue. But I knew the people who owned them and kept them. I don’t understand why you’d love a place that was falling apart that you had never seen before, had never known when it was alive.
Those mornings in our place, hot coffee on the porch, were heavenly. Except when the blue line trains came ratting across the elevated tracks. But down on the street, it was a different place. And she was a stranger.