Ostriches and dating

IMG_9345Good news: I’ve finally stopped knitting tiny little kittens.

Bad news: I can’t stop knitting tiny little ostriches.IMG_9380People were getting tired of/annoyed with/genuinely concerned about my unceasing cat production (purrduction), so I’ve expanded my knitted animal repertoire by including these oddball members of the bird population (underrepresented flynority). Ostriches seem to have a very recognizable silhouette that’s reasonably easy to replicate, so I started with a spherical body, and then, through a series of i-cords, rapid increases and decreases, and judicious use of a tapestry (flapestry) needle, I ended up with these two ostrich siblings (and a whimsical second cousin, as it would appear).DSC_0338The hardest part was definitely the wings, which I ended up having to knit flat and sew onto the body separately. The second hardest part was trying to get this little guy to sit upright so I could have a full on photoshoot on this cafe counter (thank you, dollop, for being chicago’s first ostrich-friendly establishment).DSC_0349The third hardest part was figuring out the best angle to show off just how ostrichy this guy was (the fourth was explaining to the barista staring at me why ‘ostitch’ was such a great pun).

I even attached a loop to each one so they can be hung on Christmas trees or coat hooks or anywhere above ground really so they can be given a small taste of the miracle of flight!DSC_0350If you’re looking for a pattern, I’m sorry to disappoint but there probably won’t be one. I made each one of these in a rag-tag sort of fashion, and the assembly was so incredibly painstaking that I pretty much hate ostriches now and will likely not make another one. So I guess that makes this a limited edition daniel-knit animal (danimal), likely to be as valuable in ten years as literally any Beanie Baby ever.

Speaking of flightless birds and unprofitable plush fads, I have gone on a total of three first dates this year (i’ve also ridden a tesla, but that formative experience will get its own two-parter blog post in the near future). The first two were awful and awkward, which I totally deserve given how many train-wreck first dates I’ve eavesdropped on (one guy LEFT WHILE SHE WENT TO THE BATHROOM!). The third was less so. You can read more about it below.


One Four Ten

On our first date we had doughnuts. At least that was the plan, but I turned onto North Franklin that Sunday afternoon and saw the reclaimed barn door entrance stripped bare and decidedly closed. I stood there a moment with my intestines knotted around my stomach, and then, just when I thought that this was the sign, that I should turn around and ghost you, the door swung alive and you walked out hands full, holding the last two vanilla old-fashioneds of the day.

I said hey even though I had practiced saying hi, and you gave me a doughnut and a smile. We picked a table outside, determined to sweat beneath a blazing hot, summer sun.

So maybe I was wrong, and this was the sign, I thought, because I love old-fashioneds.

I remember we were wearing the same shoes, which turned out to be the most natural icebreaker in the world. I don’t remember how the doughnut tasted, though I think I inhaled it, wanting to eat but not wanting to be eating. I was full of balancing acts that day. Wanting to seem eager but not desperate, interested but not intrusive. Wanting to look but not stare. Flecks of glaze fell through the wooden slats of the table and disappeared at our feet, melting on the hot cement between our identical shoes. Around us couples strolled leisurely, looking into empty storefronts hand in hand and squinting against the darkened windows. We talked with our mouths full until our hands were empty, and then we got up and talked some more.

We started down West Kinzie just north of the river and then somehow found our way to the Loop, navigating a maze of glitzy skyscrapers made of granite and blue glass and braiding El trains teetering on rusty legs. We bumbled through getting to know each other as we roamed downtown aimlessly. We made flippant left and right turns and skipped across sewage grates and steam pipes and curbside puddles of gum wrappers and week-old cigarette butts. It was hot and we were parched, our mouths rich with sweet vanilla and bits of fried dough. At one point we stopped to get milkshakes. I think I inhaled that, too.

We walked until we reached the lake, and then we found a spot on a graded sleeve of grass by Buckingham fountain. Runners and bikers and teams of Segways and families of ambling tourists streamed by, too distracted by shiny sailboats and a stunning blue sky to notice the two of us. Buzzing electrons obliviously in orbit about an at-work nucleus.

First dates are like uncracked geodes, and we demolished ours thoroughly. Sibling dynamics, desert island past-times, college drama, questionable decisions under the influence. Childhood television programs and Halloween costumes. First times and last times and never have I evers. We asked everything with the greed of two people who might never see each other again, though that was looking more unlikely by the minute. We sat close enough so that I could see the sweat on your brow and the tiny hairs on your legs. So we were going in reverse, it seemed, and this was our goodbye turning into a hello.

Long, leafy shadows snaked along the pier and the concrete glowed as if lit by fire. As time went on we fell into a rhythm and lowered our guards, letting tiny ribs and bits of sarcasm leak through our politeness. I was able to look at you (I mean, really look at you) and examine this maybe-murderer who had stolen five hours right from under me. I took in your features and wondered how it was I had never seen someone like you before. After all, I had seen brown eyes before. I had seen brown skin. I had seen black hair and a short, straight nose spattered with freckles like an egg dipped in soy sauce. But, for some reason, this assembly of features eluded me. Why weren’t you more recognizable, more familiar, I thought. You were a stranger, and I was intolerant of that.

So maybe I was wrong again, and this was the sign.

I hugged you before I left.

On our fourth date we went to the zoo. It was overrun by teenagers on summer break and dads with babies strapped to their chests like Kevlar. We joked more and ugly-laughed, conversation flowing steady with no end in sight. I felt pleasantly lost in the collection of strangers and thought this seemed so easy but didn’t want to jinx it so instead thought something else.

Where do they put the polar bears during the summer?

I walked ahead to look for otters and you lagged behind to check a text. I didn’t even know your last name, and yet this was all old hat for us.

Once again, the hours vanished, time slipping between bushy macaques with sunburnt faces and lazy seals atop a scorching dais. I was dogged with my questioning, an endless supply of ‘why’s and ‘why not’s up my sleeve. We admired penguins in their faux-Arctic clime and cooed at a red panda asleep high on a branch. We traded rapid-fire truth or dare type questions alongside balancing flamingos, shouting secrets and deal breakers over face-painted toddlers screaming for funnel cake. We were comfortable with each other, comfortable enough to probe, rudely even, in search of skeletons in unexpected places and bits of black hiding in the shadows beneath our ribs.

We left the zoo without even realizing it, crossing an ivied arch and a broad stone bridge where hunched figures sat with their sketchbooks facing South Pond and the downtown silhouette. I was losing time faster and faster, and before I knew it we were on North Clark alongside a row of modern, brick two-unit walk-ups and you held my hand. A woman stepping out of her car looked at our hands and then at us. I stared straight through her and felt my neck get hot and sweaty and prayed that the same wasn’t happening to my hand.

I thought about a Linguistics professor I had in college who said that because of English we live in our hearts (‘It’s the metaphorical birthplace of emotion,’ he said, lecturing from his rickety wooden stool, ‘the seat of the soul.’) and I wondered where in the world do people live in their hands, and what must it feel like, and what must it mean to hold hands wherever that place is.

I wondered if it could possibly feel anything like walking on North Clark.

You squeezed my hand and began walking briskly, maybe sensing my anxiety. Though, as I would later learn, this was simply how you did things: head high and chest out, with one foot firmly after the other. We fell silent, the woman now a memory several yards behind us, and I wished the world were noisier. Things were changing, I thought, I was changing, because I don’t think I’ve ever wished for that before.

On our tenth date we went to La Salle, a small suburb where your mother had grown up just a few hours outside the city. You had to pick up a car that had belonged to your grandfather who had died some time ago, and you asked me to come along. We caught an early morning Metra from Ogilvie Station and spent the long ride in and out of sleep, watching our train pass through quiet plazas with toy town clock towers and neatly manicured gardens. I had brought my camera, so I took photographs from my seat of empty luggage bins and unknowing passengers deep in conversation. I captured your reflection in the window. You slept watermarked beneath grain silos and billboards advertising father-and-son legal counsel.

La Salle felt like a sleepy town, a series of broad streets lined with pick-up trucks and local banks I hadn’t heard of before. You walked me through your grandfather’s house, which was already emptied and cleaned and ready to sell. You showed me each of the bedrooms—small and cozy with light wooden paneling and sun-faded cloth blinds embroidered with tiny flowers. Your grandfather’s old reclining chair was the only thing left in the living room and you patted it fondly. I didn’t tell you, but ngeen ngeen had a similar chair in my home, a coveted spot on our green Lay-Z-Boy couch that, after she had died, seemed difficult to fill and impossible to remove, affixed to the carpet by that same massive, incredible weight. She lived in a place like this, I wanted to say, stuffy and warm with old carpeting and dusty, sepia overtones.

The DMV was empty except for three women who couldn’t care less, stationed behind a sparse counter. A set of plastic school chairs collected dust off to one side and quiet, local country radio played overhead. I watched you shuffle through your grandfather’s legal documents while cracking jokes, and the woman handing you a license plate laughed in a high-pitch, ringing trill. Another in the back office let out a chuckle and I joined in. I was proud and at the same time reassured—you were a person like everyone else, susceptible to the mundane, which, somehow, I still had a hard time believing. But beyond that, we were in La Salle, Illinois, on a Saturday afternoon, sifting through paperwork in an abandoned DMV, and we were smiling. You were indomitable.

Afterwards you took me to your favorite childhood diner in Peru, a small suburb just west of La Salle. I was hesitant to cross into such cherished territory (and somewhat alarmed by the slant-eyed cartoon Inuit displayed on the wall), but you walked me through it, reciting the menu from memory and making that same charming small talk with our waitress. The food was good (I remembered this time), and as we talked about family and growing up and old memories, I imagined sitting across a six-year-old you: you’d sip eagerly at a cherry Coke with ears too big for your body and I’d make mean jokes and wonder what you were thinking. Our basket of fries went quick, and the wooden bench creaked and groaned beneath us as we filled the diner with conversation and obnoxious laughter.

We stopped at a Walmart on the way back to Chicago. It was nearing October and you liked to wander the Halloween aisles so you could pass harsh judgment on the selection of costumes and seasonal candies. At this point our hands found each other like magnets. By the electronics section, a man wearing long white compression socks stared at our hands and then at us. His eyes were bloodshot and his stomach bulged and fell into his shopping cart. I had never seen someone look at another person quite like this. My feet were stuck in cement and my blood ran cold, but at the same time it felt like I was touching fire.

In Japanese, intentions arise from the stomach.

In Kuuk Thaayorre, the ear is the seat of intellect.

In Malay, profound sadness is not a result of a broken heart, but rather ‘patah hati’—a broken liver.

Sitting shotgun in your grandfather’s car, I counted on one hand how long I had known you and came to the conclusion that it makes sense. They are two sides of the same coin, I realized, and it was naïve of me to think I could flip heads forever. It makes sense, through some phenomenon of social psychology or the laws of the space-time continuum, that the same person who can fold an experience into something miniscule can just as easily unravel it as an accumulation of painstaking moments. It makes sense that the same person who turns hours into minutes has, perhaps, an obligation to do the opposite as well, that pleasure and pain hold time by the same, worn leash.

With one hand on the wheel you held my hand with the other. Neither of us was going anywhere but our hands fell together like a pair of marbles on an outstretched bed sheet. As the car gently rocked, I kept still until your hand disappeared. Soon after my hand disappeared, and then my arm disappeared as well. I looked down and saw the alien knot of fingers resting on the plastic cup holders between us and thought what a mysterious thing holding hands is. What could be hiding between our palms, I wondered. What could be so captivating, so utterly arresting in that tiny, quiet pocket of darkness.

I looked at you, but you were focused ahead, with brown eyes I had seen a million times before. The road wound its way through reedy marshes and softly sloping hills, lined with outlet stores and newly built condos on shiny asphalt with driveway basketball nets.

With a slight adjustment of my elbow electrical impulses surged, reminding me I had not one arm but two. I flexed my fingertips and my hand returned, each digit snapping reliably back into place. And then, as fast as the hand can talk to the head—and to the heart as well, I suppose—with a neural message brimming with energy and fiery potential, with warmth and reassurance and just a spark of danger, there you were. I didn’t even see you move, but there you were, your hand rushing back to hold mine.

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