I live near the corner of Oak Park Avenue and Pleasant Street. Pleasant is pleasant enough except it’s everyone’s favorite shortcut – a way to avoid North Boulevard or Lake Street as drivers head east, especially during rush hour. There’s always a line of cars at the stoplight, morning and evening, frequently broadcasting their identity to the world in the form of music loud enough for all to hear. School buses love this route. So do trucks. Which is odd since the street is far too narrow to accommodate two-way traffic comfortably. For some reason, the village made the intersection of Randolph and Oak Park right turn only, which may explain Pleasant’s popularity.
At night, strangely, especially on weekends, that corner is a popular spot for people to turn off and stop for a spell – to adjust, argue, or just schmooze off the booze.
That was the case last Sunday at 3 a.m. when Ray and his significant other stopped to conduct an altercation. Poor Ray. He did not seem to be having a good night, judging by the reaction of his female companion, who bolted from the car in full fury, castigating him for a poorly considered remark.
“Get out of the f—ing car?” she quoted, repeating it several times to make sure she had gotten it right. “That’s it, Ray. I’ve had it,” she explained in her dulcet whiskey-and-cigarettes voice. “I’m through.”
Her voice became increasingly distant as she stomped off.
This evidently roused Ray who emerged from the car and called, “Come back. I love you,” several times. This, it must be noted, was among the least convincing “I love yous” I have ever heard, but Ray sounded as if he were treading water pretty hard at that point, barely keeping his brain above the surface of consciousness.
His significant other, who went nameless during the exchange, continued the argument from a distance. I like to think she was standing across Oak Park Avenue in front of the large nativity scene at St. Edmund. It’s the romantic in me, but I enjoyed the notion of the Holy Family providing an ironic backdrop to the unfolding melodrama – which no doubt had been replayed on numerous occasions. The lady in question wasn’t serious about her threat to leave or she wouldn’t have continued engaging her drunken companion from across a busy street. Eventually, her voice grew close again, though her tone remained severe as she spit out Ray’s name and the F-word for stylistic emphasis.
If mutual respect is the key to a successful long-term relationship – and I believe it is – it’s safe to say Ray and his other had lost some respect for one another over the years.
Suddenly, in mid-harangue, she effortlessly switched gears and elevated her voice. “No, I’m 10 minutes away,” she said to someone on the other end of her satellite signal, “I’m on my way.”
Oh no, I thought, don’t tell me there’s a child involved in all this – and some sitter, perhaps a long-suffering friend or family member, was wondering, you know, where the hell they were at 3 a.m. and if they were ever coming back to reclaim their waif.
But she didn’t miss a beat and the battle continued. Humanity is capable of great beauty, dignity, even nobility, but human beings are at their most unappealing when they’re drunk and arguing in public at 3 a.m.
I didn’t eyeball any of this, merely listened from the safe perch of my bedroom, where I happened to be awake and reading a painfully beautiful novel titled, The Feast of Love, which consists of various characters discussing their experiences with love – beautifully written, painfully true. Yes, irony abounds.
I thought briefly about calling the police to remove this sidedish of the Feast of Love, but I figured it would wrap up before the authorities arrived. Besides, how often does the Human Comedy pull up and begin serenading a writer beneath his bedroom window?
I’m glad I didn’t because it would have forced me to look down on Ray and his other. That would have been too easy, snug and smug in my bed, reading about love’s banquet but not really having a seat at the table. At least Ray and his other were down there slugging it out, needing each other in that strange, imperfect way that many people do – giving each other just enough to keep them going.
Finally, she ordered him back in the car, and they drove off into the rest of their lives, Ray most likely remembering nothing the next morning.
I thought about the F-word, which I have been known to fling with some abandon from time to time – a powerful word in its crudeness and cruelty, a word we should probably think about retiring.
As I lay in bed, feeling the ripples of the wake they had left in the stream of life, I decided to lay off the F-word for awhile. Probably not forever, but a while.
In honor of Ray and his other.