#537: They All the Way Around

October 2nd, 2015

I think this project makes more sense if you know it’s coming from a depressive who refuses to take medication.

Yes, maybe my life would be better if I had followed the experts who have told me that even my relatively mild flights of fancy and lows are mistakes of personality that should be drugged and ℞-ed away.

But I wouldn’t be me, would I? And I like me. I’m nice.

I do well in this overmedicated world, but it hits me now and again. When the rejection letters pile and months become years without forward motion, when I worry that the encouragement I get not to give up is because people want to root for the only one stupid enough to still be following teenage career goals when everything out there tells that journalism doesn’t want me back, I get a condition doctors like to call “Crabbypants McGrumpyface.”

And heading to work doesn’t help.

I crabbed and groused out of bed on Thursday, crabbed and groused to the train, to Clark and Lake, to Upper Wacker toward the tour boat that’s now my office.

Wacker Drive is downtown’s double-decker street. Lower Wacker’s a tunnel, Upper a catwalk festooned with all the fancy pretty to show the nice side of Chi for tourists and businessfolk.

There are statues of newsman Irv Kupcinet on Upper and of George Washington shaking hands with the two guys who footed the bill for the Revolution. There are pretty limestone railings and it’s a stone’s throw from the fancy-schmance Riverwalk below.

And there are beautiful cement planters that also function as benches.

They’re pretty and purposeful and only have one cement seat at a time so bums can’t stretch across them to sleep for the night.

On these curved, ornate benches, on the underside of a decorative groove carved in the surfacing, there they were: three butterfly chrysalides in a row.

I make no claim to know that term before sitting and Googling to write this story. I thought the plural was “chrysalises” and I wasn’t 100 percent on if the things I was looking at counted as chrysalis or cocoon.

But there they were: the hardened, left-behind shells of caterpillars-turned-flutterbys.

I stopped and stared and the evacuated little marvels. Perfect and tiny, the size of a child’s fat toe. Tourists and businessfolk rushed by as I stopped and stared and stared.

A woman walked by, a thick middle-aged lady smoking a cig and walking in a uniform for one of the tour buses that line the street across from my tour boat.

She stopped and looked at me and smiled.

“Looking at the cocoons, huh?” the lady asked, taking a drag off a rank cigarette.

I said yes. She smiled a little wider.

“They all the way around,” she said, gesturing at the planters with a nod before continuing on her way.

I looked back. There they were, around the other three sides of the planter, tucked underneath that decorative scour in the cement, surrounding it, encasing it: a dozen or two chrysalides, the hardened, wrenched-off skins of pupae, one after another.

I would later find out the city added milkweed to the cement planters this year, the only food monarch butterflies eat. The former inhabitants of those hard skin shells were now monarchs, maybe still within the two- to six-week lifespan that could have them flitting somewhere about the planet as I type.

I’m going to be OK.

I’m going to be OK so long as beauty remains so commonplace we don’t even notice it.

No, I’m not positing beauty as an anodyne to suffering. Murder, hatred, fear and violence aren’t cured by “Look at the pretty bugs.” I learned of another mass shooting while writing this story down. I got rejected for another job.

I’m no believer; considering the lilies would give me hay fever.

But beauty is there and it’s important to me. And it’s everywhere.

Rich and poor wandered by on Upper Wacker Drive, as unaware of the small and beautiful in the world as I had been two minutes before.

Support 1,001 Chicago Afternoons on Patreon

Another lesson in beauty from a downtown stranger

The Riverwalk itself

And now, Jolanda, the slowest fucking turtle in the world

What's this?

You are currently reading #537: They All the Way Around by Paul Dailing at 1,001 Chicago Afternoons.

  • -30-