Friday, February 11, 2005

The No-Man's Land Between Winter and Spring

We're entering the home stretch of winter where we don't know how layered to dress from day-to-day. I'm chomping at the bit to break the shorts back out. Looking forward to spring, when I can break open the windows and let in fresh (for Chicago) air to my apartment.

My nose has become attuned to the fresh firing of the gas heater and the fresh burst of carbon monoxide it emits. It takes me back to the days of grade school, walking over to John Hay Elementary to catch the bus that would take me to Prussing Elementary on the Norhtwest side. The city finally started integrating the school system in 1977, and my mother worked hard with neighborhood community leaders to make sure it happened.

In the first year of forced busing the city we were shuttled back-and-forth in run-down CTA buses- the "green limosines" of the day. It was sort of a "fuck you" from the city to the Feds: "We'll comply, but we don't have to like it."

Anyway, winter came and my brother and I would make the four-block walk to John Hay with our landlord's kids. I was enthralled by the science behind seeing your breath in cold weather. Hell, any form of exhaust. So I would walk into every form of exhaust I could fin- dryer exhaust, furnace exhaust. My favorite, however, was car exhaust. Car exhaust had a sweet smell to my nose to which I had no resistance. Depending on the make and model a car could produce enough exhaust to fog up a quarter block. I was attracted to it like a moth to a flame. I would walk up to the exhaust pipe and just let the exhaust cascade all over me.

After a week or two of coming home smelling like a garage my mother found out about my fascination with the "car breath", as I called it. She started escorting me to school every day to make sure I didn't pass out or show up at school light-headed. I still find myself fascinated with exhaust fumes. Even though we know so much more about the dangers of carbon monoxide, walking into my apartment late at night wakens the eight-year-old in me.

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