The two-headed calf stared at us as we walked in the door, or at least one head did.
The other head peered in the other direction, taxidermied into immobility to stare out forever over the shop of blips, baubles and morbid curios. Animal heads, a glass case purporting to be human skulls, old books, a shelf full of medical X-rays from god knows when and god knows whom, a plastic basket full of (human?) vertebrae to pick through the way another store might have a basket of gumballs, buttons or other cheap tchotchkes.
It was ghoulish and it was morbid and it was carnival-carved circus joy. It was the absolutely perfect place for a 1,001 Afternoons in Chicago story.
“Ready to go?” I asked my companion.
She looked at me, then around the storefront on Foster.
“No?” she said, her body language filling in the “This isn’t what you’re looking for?”
“No,” I said, my body language filling in “No, it isn’t.”
The feminist bookstore is famous, of course. You might know the one I’m talking about already. It’s been spoofed on “Portlandia” and is one of the holdouts from the days when Andersonville was full of lesbians and Swedes instead of the current crop of rock-ribbed urbanites wandering sidewalks with gourmet coffee cup and ergonomic stroller.
We walked in this store too.
In it, books of course. I could and have written odes to watching bookstore crowds. The milling happiness of some lounging readers there to be surprised by what they’ll encounter. The anxious looks of those who want something in particular but haven’t yet found if the book exists. The gasps of delight when a chance glance finds the thing that is The Thing, the melding of object and thought that a book provides, something to be clutched to chest and run to register so you don’t waste any more of your life not reading this.
This was where a 1,001 story lived.
“Ready?” I asked my companion.
She nodded and we left.
The toy store brought games and joy, thoughts of childhoods past and ones we haven’t yet created. It was perfect and it was wonderful and we spent less time there than in the bookstore. We spent even less time in the record shop. Both were perfect. Neither were what I was looking for.
The site’s a tricky bird based more on gut than plan or analytics. I write only what I want to write and nothing else. If it’s not what I want to write, why write it at all?
So what do I want to write? Why was my gut being so fussy that day?
We walked along sunny streets, shop to shop, looking together for something to excite. We laughed and joked, held hands at points, sometimes put arms around each other or just reached over to touch, silently making sure the other person was still there. I smiled and got quiet. She asked what I was thinking.
I shook my head and lied to her. I said something innocuous about the weather or schedule — I can’t recall my fib.
What I was really thinking was that the story was strung between stores, in a walk down sunny sidewalks with her. I had found what I was looking for.