Sometimes events conspire to remind me of an old memory I thought I'd forgotten. If you'd asked me yesterday morning whether I'd ever had a good blind date I would have said, "No." But last night, sitting with friends in a hired car at the foot of the Adler Planetarium to view the city lights, I remembered J. K.
During the early years of Viet Nam, my former college roommate and her husband were stationed at Rantoul Air Force base in southern Illinois. Rantoul was far enough away from Chicago to be a road trip. Occasionally I would drive down there in my beloved Mustang, the car that was an exhilarating gift of freedom, literally and figuratively -- my ticket to ride around the country that I punched early and often. I might not be able to afford the plane fare somewhere, but I could always gas up the the bronze helmet and drive there. Gas was twenty something cents a gallon. And my car got 24 MPG. Thirty on the open road. You do the math.
Since Rantoul and hairy armpit were nearly synonymous, from time to time my friends would come up to Chicago with another Air Force couple they met from New York for a weekend of R and R.
One weekend the New Yorkers told me they had a friend from college who had just moved to Chicago. Would I like to meet him? Saying yes was easy. I was young enough that optimism could still trump experience.
Funny what you remember of a first meeting. J.K. had a simple silver pinky ring made from hammering a dime into a circular band. As small as it was, I noticed it right away and asked him about it. I generally didn't like guys who wore pinky rings. But clearly he didn't fit into any of my pinky ring stereotypes -- greasy mobster, ethnic lothario, uptight eastern prep school swell, or gay hairdresser.
He looked like a poster boy for the All American Surfer -- blond, blue-eyed, square jawed and athletic. His smile was blinding. His personality was outgoing and fun. Okay, I liked what I was looking at. Did he like what he was looking at? I watched for signs of rejection -- talking to the married folks to avoid me. Heading for the bar to get a drink and staying there. Pretending to listen, but looking around.
I soon realized we were both laughing and smiling at each other like a couple of goofs.
Somewhere the marrieds left us to our own devices. I don't remember where they went, but they were gone. I also don't remember much dancing or drinking. What I do remember is talking. We closed one place and walked somewhere else. At four in the morning when everything shut down, we walked to a 24 hour cafe and had breakfast, still talking. I suggested that we get my car and drive over to the Planetarium so we could watch the sunrise over the lake. Anything to delay the end of the evening, which was now turning to dawn.
For you horndogs wondering why we didn't just go back to his place or my place and have our ways with each other, J K. lived several miles away and I had a roommate. Even worse, my roommate and I shared a space-saving bunkbed, since our one bedroom apartment had very little room.
Back in those days, as heady with dope smoke as they were, while some people had random sex with partners whose last names they didn't know, some of us, me, still debated whether or not to kiss on a first date, no matter how long the evening lasted.
I did not want it to end. So I worked hard to sell J. K. on the idea of watching the sun rise over the lake, like we were going to the World's Fair. I described in detail how the sun would start to peak over the horizon, eventually spreading its flaming orange and yellow colors across the lake, making the water look like it was on fire. We got to the Planetarium in plenty of time for the big event. Waiting for the show to start, we even got a good look at the skyline behind us, where out of town reporters often position themselves to prove they're in Chicago.
Meanwhile, we continued our talkathon. Ultimately the sunrise would become mere backdrop for the start of something else. The sky became lighter and lighter but there was still no sun. At seven o'clock I finally realized the sun was a no show. The sky I thought we were watching was completely obliterated by gray clouds. We looked at each other, laughed and left.
After parking my car back at the garage, I walked with J.K. back to my apartment. Saying goodbye took at least another hour. He sat down on the stairs in the hallway outside my front door, leaning back on an elbow, while we actually had a discussion about whether or not to perform the ritual of the goodnight liplock, an event already rendered moot by the amount of daylight.
I honestly don't remember what we did. Kiss or not kiss. I do remember having a hot two years with J.K. that didn't have to end, but like so many choices I have made, slowly ground to a halt.
Last night, some forty years later, there I was again out on the Planetarium promenade. This time, interestingly, with the daughter and son-in-law of one of the couples who used to drive up from Rantoul. We had driven out there, hoping to provide a visiting cousin of theirs with a view of the city, not unlike the one I had once promised to J.K.
Somehow it seems fitting that the glorious view of Chicago we came to see was completely obscurred by darkened car windows, icy rain, and fog. We all looked at each other, laughed and left.
The circle never ends.