Our last meal out


Halfway through dinner, I glanced over at the next table where the manager was holding up a lifeless diner.  The diner’s legs were still draped over the chair he’d been sitting in, while his upper body fell over the manager’s arms like a heavy pile of dry cleaning.  The manager held the diner from behind, vainly administering the Heimlich maneuver.  The man’s head lolled unresponsively, his forehead and bangs covered with a thick blob of mashed potatoes where his head had fallen forward into his plate.

It had all happened without a noise, without the dinnerware rattling, without a shriek from the guy’s date, or a peep from the strangers at the neighboring tables, who were now raptly gazing at the man.  Our cousin got out her phone and called 911, while the manager, shifting tactics, let the man’s body slide down into the chair again until his torso was bent over double, pounding on his back between the shoulder blades.  It was like practicing urgent care on a dummy.

By now our cousin had withdrawn to an unoccupied part of the restaurant and was yelling at the 911 operator to hurry.  “We have a man here who’s choking,” she was saying; “we need help immediately; he’s only got a few minutes.”  The operator wanted the exact address, which of course neither of us knew because everyone knows where this particular Rush Street restaurant is.

I couldn’t stand having to look at the unconscious man, or not look at him, so I went outside and told the valets that there was a medical emergency and the EMT guys would be coming.  Another woman who had followed me outside to smoke groused about the slowness of the fire department.  The street was quiet.  No approaching sirens.

I went back into the restaurant’s bar.  All its patrons were silent, intent on the drama in the dining room.  The man now lay motionlessly on the floor.  Two women standing near me asked if he were part of my party.  No, I said; he was at the next table.  I didn’t know anything more about him than they did.

Finally, the EMT people came and, trundling the young man’s still unconscious form onto a low gurney-like contraption resembling a beach-chair, wheeled him swiftly out into the street.  He was a resistless, insensate bundle.  It seemed that a long time had passed.

The table where he had been sitting was reset.  No one knew whether he was living or dead.  The waiter came over and asked us if we would care for dessert.  It was not his fault, but our dinner was over.

Resting places

A hilltop graveyard on a winter day.
Recently my family traveled to Pennsylvania to inter my father’s ashes where nearly all my ancestors have been buried.  His headstone, heaped with flowers, lies just a short distance from where his grandfather, who died at a relatively young age in a mining accident, leaving a widow and nine children, was interred nearly a century ago.  My mother’s grandparents are buried nearby also, and her parents and many of her brothers and sisters are buried in a sister cemetery on a neighboring hill.

The cemeteries are filled with unfamiliar names, but the more I’ve looked into it, the more I understand how many were linked, and the more the graveyard seems an almost lively place, where clans and a neighborhood have come to rest.  Some of the histories to the headstones are startlingly familiar, conjuring up the larger-than-life figures I knew as a girl.

Personally, I take comfort in a graveyard.  I like its permanent and historical character: a glacially evolving representation of the past planted beside the highway of conflict and flux.

A prayer in Chicago

Turbulent dusk, © 2016 Celia Her CityBind up the wounds of all who suffer from gun violence, those left alone & grieving, those who risk their lives as they rush to our aid, & those who have died this week in Chicago, including Arshell (19), Abner (23), Anthony (21), Ladrell (24), Alfonso (31), Antoine (31), Yanong (27), Louis (30), Johnathan (17), Johnny (27), David (22), Winston (50), Dontae (30), Stephan (22), Jamie (22), Cortez (25), Demarco (32), Julius (18), Andre (23), Anthony (44), Erik (27), John (28), Cory (28), Denzell (24), Ireal (22), Michael (61), William (25), and Lee (43).  Give us power to rise above our fear that nothing can be done and grant us the conviction to be advocates for change.

A prayer for mercy, in a Chicago church.

 

The chaos of growth

Rose mallow buds and bloom
“I miss Celia,” one of my friends said over a meal.  “I miss Celia, too,” I replied.  For Celia preserves what is sweet in life.  To that sweetness it has offered an imperfect homage.

Celia has not been a book; it has not been an argument.  It hasn’t oozed personality.  And it hasn’t gone viral.  Perhaps my most visited post features a pork-chop recipe, solving the problem of what to make for dinner.  A post I wrote years ago about the history of the Hancock Plaza has also done well, plagiarized for school assignments, probably.

I set out to make Celia about perplexities, but it’s shirked its duty.  I haven’t written about material cares, being childless, or loved ones dying.  Celia has sipped life’s inconclusiveness, its boundlessness, carefully refraining from taking a gulp and getting wild.  The stimulus of the day—its shocking fleeting beauty—the sensory tonnage that floods in on us: some tiny part of this relentless spool has made its way into my camera, and days or weeks later I have written about it, in posts that ‘steady the camera’ in some way.

Several weeks ago, I heard a priest named Duncan Swan give a sermon.  He likened the kingdom of God to a neglected garden with just one tiny area under our cultivation.  The idea that there is something more expansive beyond the tiny area that we experience corresponds to the spirit and scope of Celia’s undertaking.  Beyond what I can picture and express is a chaos of growth, a whole truth bigger even than modernity.

Over the estuary

seen from the observation platform
The recently completed Galien River boardwalk in New Buffalo spans a beautiful estuary.  Berrien County, with the aid of the Pokagon Fund, created this simple but impressive park.  It features a 60-foot-high observation platform and a long water-level boardwalk, enabling visitors to explore a locale where the waters of lake and river meet.  The observation platform, which juts out from a bluff, offers a panoramic view of the wetland below. More

My Edwardian girl

Framed picture of an Edwardian girl,© 2016 Celia Her City
The tag read “Victorian-era painting of girl in a mahogany frame with original wavy glass.”  Even though I knew the portrait wasn’t a painting but a print, possibly made as recently as the 1970s, still I bought the thing after getting the price knocked down.  The subject of the picture, and the way it was framed, spoke to me.  I figured I’d learn what I’d bought after getting it home. More

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