I was feeling confident. It was a warm spring afternoon in the Old Town of Chicago and I was just coming off an interview. Feeling sexy and cute in my blue linen suit, impulsive and single. As I traveled on the northbound el train, thoughts began to arise: I’d watched him in Say Anything
too many times. Fantasized that the girl in the house for whom he held the radio over his head, blasting Peter Gabriel’s In Your Eyes
, was me.
Fresh out of a long-term relationship with a man twenty-five years my senior and looking curiously into my future – to spend it with a man my own age -- I bolted out of the train doors onto the wooden Sedgewick platform. The train rapidly departed as briskly as it had arrived, steel squealing wheels as it rounded the bend.
Long, curly tresses flipping around and blowing in the wind as I trotted along, happily, past the horse and carriage barn where I spent much of my time on so many other days – just not this one – I arrived at the five-story newly renovated brick building in the middle of the block. Searching for his name on the mailbox, curiosity arose: Brave
, it spoke. Then reason: He could see me as a celebrity stalker
Ringing the bell, inquisitiveness answered: “Yes, who’s there?”
“You don’t know me,” trembling and excited responded, “but I’m here to see John.”
Buzzing for a longer time than was necessary, I whipped open the glass door to the empty lobby inviting me toward an elevator. To John Cusack’s urban penthouse. On a side street in a funky, up-and-coming neighborhood in Old Town. Hip and happening, a recent renovation bordering the outskirts of one of the most dangerous minority housing projects, Cabrini Green. Freshly laid granite floors betrayed the truth of this building: this was no project housing. It was people like John moving into the neighborhood that changed it from what it was to what it was to become. Standing in bright, shiny and new, the elevator took what felt like hours to arrive at the fifth floor penthouse apartment. Opening, precisely and vulnerably, right into his kitchen.
Greeted, not by John himself, but by four anxious and curious up-and-comers themselves. Equally as good looking, all in that age bracket. Yet, they weren’t him.
Nervous now greeted curious. “Come on in here,” an unidentified male voice beckoned.
Hesitantly I slowly stepped off the elevator – careful not to catch my high-heels in the crack in between. Mind the gap – and mind yourself
, counseled impetuousness.
“Is John here?” asked the obvious.
“Sure, he’s here,” replied the disappointed. “But don’t you want to talk with us?”
Anxious and now nervous responded – “Well, I’m here to speak with John.”
“We’ll get him,” disappointment murmured, rising to retrieve John from another room.
Arriving hesitantly around the corner in what felt like hours later, John revealed his handsome yet I’m just a regular-kind-of-guy appearance. Untucked t-shirt and faded blue jeans. Unsurprising, remarked levity. Introducing himself, he extended his hand – his eyes asked: Was this woman going to turn into one of those celebrity stalkers? Do I need to hire a security guard to stand in the lobby 24-7?
To my surprise, he motioned me out of the kitchen of humiliation and into the openness of even deeper embarrassment - the privacy of a secluded terrace overlooking the downtown skyline. The John Hancock, ensconced in steel grey Midwestern skies, looked down on me in the backdrop some distance away, witnessing my moment with the guy I dared to look up. My heels were sinking into the soft rubber roofing material, still warm from the summer day. Shifting my weight from foot to foot, I went forth.
Stammering spoke: “I’ve always wanted to say hello. I drive carriages right down the street. You know, the horse-drawn ones that you find downtown at Water Tower Place. My friend Jean – do you know her? – she knew you…She said you lived here.” Bravery urged me further: “I was kind of wondering, would you like to go out for a drink sometime?”
Reluctance, certainty answered: “Well, I do appreciate your courageousness in coming up here, uninvited and all. And I’ve got a girlfriend.”
My heart sank. Blood rushed to my cheeks; vulnerability was tugging me back inside. Somewhere between certainty and curiosity lay my reality: I had dared to ask John Cusack out for a drink. And now I wanted to unglue my spiked heel from that tarred roof and bolt backwards, off that urban rooftop, through the kitchen of humiliation, and never be recognized by him again.
Politeness peppered the awkward silence now settling in between us. “Well, perhaps you could come by sometime and pick us up in your carriage, and give us a ride downtown?”
Sure, that’s what I’ve had on my mind all along.
“Absolutely,” stupidity and humiliation sputtered.
“Great,” relief entered. The exchange continued for what seemed like hours. Over his movie, his penthouse, my carriage driving career. My carriage driving career! What led me to his doorstep, into his kitchen. Flush and fully processed with embarrassment, a hasty retreat my only means of salvation, I abruptly ended the conversation: “I’ve got to run, to get my horse ready to go out on the streets tonight. I do appreciate your time.”
Backing away slowly, I returned back down to the scene of the kitchen – with John’s four pals seated at the table, much as they had greeted me. Smirks on their handsome faces, they uttered their well wishes and goodbyes.
I shifted my weight from heel to heel waiting for that elevator. Opening doors met me with a rush of cool air – or perhaps, just the relief of leaving the presence of the Lloyd Dobb of my twenty-nothing dreams.
I stepped quickly across the gap – Mind the gap
– carefully. Turning my back to the four at the table, I bade them adieu and rode that elevator back down to the lobby, walking soberly out of the glass doors, down the sidewalk and into the entrance of the carriage barn.