Return Engagements (Book Two) PART 16

(Continued from part fifteen)

The next morning I woke up with absolutely nothing to do. It was February 14th, a Tuesday, and Valentine’s Day. I ordered some coffee and toast from room service, washed up a little and pulled back the curtains on the windows. I wanted light and warmth.

I pulled my suite’s big chair and ottoman over to where I’d get the best light, dragged the coffee table next to it and set myself up to sit, eat and read. And I stayed there for an easy two hours. I sent the maid away when she showed up.

I amused myself with the Sports Illustrated I bought (“The Year In Sports”), Travel + Leisure, and a copy of 73 Magazine. The only time I got up was for some paper and a pen to jot a couple of notes. And I did feel like I was decompressing… or was at least in the first stages of a decompression. I took a bathroom break then settled back in to looking out the windows and keeping my mind in a low idle.

At some point in the afternoon, however, I had become hungry and needed to get out a bit. And so I took a shower, dressed and headed toward to Elfman’s Deli, another long lost place that I remembered fondly1.

As I went, however, I began to recognize that lunch wasn’t the first thing for me to do. I didn’t yet know what, but there was something else.

I took a slow walk through Marshall Field’s, even buying a suitcase along the way. I did need to eat, but there was still something else… something that was trying to rise to the surface in me. And so, as I’ve learned to do, I began to search my feelings… to try to recognize things that were floating around the back of my mind, somehow poking or pulling at me.

And while crossing Randolph Street, I found it. Somewhere in Travel + Leisure there had been a comment about beautiful blue waters, which made me think of the Bahamas. That was pointing me forward somehow. And so I walked the last block to Elfman’s very slowly, stopping in front of store windows merely for the delay, and finally understood: The Bahamas were light and warm, and that was something that seemed beneficial for me. But getting there would be hard, having no identity documents. Plus, islands can get lonely pretty fast, and I did want some human interaction. And then I realized where I should go, which was Miami Beach.

And so I bypassed Elfman’s and went to a travel agency I knew. It was run by an old Armenian couple in the 1990s, when I had an office next door. They were nice people, I was sure they’d be there in 1978, and they were only a couple of blocks past Elfman’s. As it happened the wife was out, but the husband took care of me. I asked him about traveling without a driver’s license (I said I had lost mine), and he said it would be no problem domestically. And so he set me up with a Thursday morning flight to Miami and a suite with a balcony at the Fountainbleau. The trip was set for a week but could be changed one way or the other with no real difficulty. I paid him, and he promised to have my tickets and reservation dropped off at the Palmer House the following day.

Now I felt like stopping in at Elfman’s. I found a table, had a hot corned beef sandwich and leafed through the Daily News, in its last days as Chicago’s afternoon paper. It was nice seeing the place again, and when I walked out I found that the temperature was falling, along with a light snow. But being comfortably-dressed, I took the long way back to the hotel, walking past a few places I remembered from the old days and ending up at Italian Village, where I installed myself at the bar on the third floor, had a drink and struck up a small conversation or two. I made it back to the hotel and kicked back to see if there was anything of interest on TV. There really wasn’t much for entertainment purposes, but as an exercise in memory and sociology it was engaging for a while.

* * * * *

Wednesday was much like Tuesday. I took a longer mid-day walk, ate at another old favorite, and sat at Italian Village again. I was doing a fairly good job of relaxing, but again young Paul was on my mind, and so I looked up his number and thought about phoning him, but decided against it while the phone was already in my hand. I’d just have to put it out of my mind until I was back from Miami.

Thursday morning I settled up with the hotel, made a reservation for the same room the following Thursday night, and headed out to O’Hare. And as it would happen, I didn’t see young Paul, but I did see the crew he used to work with.

I got a window seat on the plane, and as I sometimes do, I organized my life while in the air, sketching on one of my pads of paper.

* * * * *

1 I oversaw the electrical portion of a major remodeling there in 1982. From a professional standpoint it was fascinating, since almost everything in the building was still running on DC current.

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