Street conversations with unicorns

I try not to talk to strangers (stranger, danger) but one of the best parts of Chicago is actually the people who appear out of nowhere. Yesterday I was staring at a flyer advertising guitar lessons when a woman came up behind me and said, “Learn the guitar” with such a jazzy, enthusiastic spin on it, like she was remembering a time she learned the guitar, or maybe it was wistful, like she wanted to learn the guitar.

Last week I was walking down Berwyn when a man carrying a windshield washing stick and a bucket, long stringy white hair, overalls, a leathery Leprechaun who might’ve been bumming with Kerouac on that last box car, approached and said something about the weather. I got that vibe, that I was talking to a crazy person, so I started to edge away, and then he said “Just look at the leaves, so green, the way the sun looks when it filters through them…” and so of course I had to stop, because that’s what I’d been thinking too, so now if he was crazy, I was crazy.

And then he said he’d been thinking about all the roofs in the city, there were thousands of them… and what if you could just go up there and relax on any roof you wanted. What if there were hot-air balloons (like in Vienna, he said) little hot-air balloons that would take you from one roof to the next. You could just keep going from roof to roof, until you found one where you felt at home, and nobody’d bother you.

And for sure, I hadn’t been thinking that — except sort of, I had. That wish for the freedom to choose without consequence, without hurting, until something felt right. I started to nod — not the polite nod I’d planned, but a real nod, yes, rooftop to rooftop, and everyone’s doing it, sherbert-colored balloons against a pale blue sky, just stop when you decide you’re home and set down your picnic.

And then he said, “Or maybe slides… you could just slide from one roof to another……” and then I started to really envision it. Some would be slides, but then some would turn into de facto ramps because of the height difference… “And you could just slide right down into a nice cool blue pool at the bottom.”

I started to detach just then like I’d come face-to-face with a unicorn in the wild, and said goodbye, I had to get going, and backed away and turned down the sunny sidewalk, thinking of a sky full of bright balloons and silver slides. Slides would get hot in the sun, I thought. We’d have to teach everyone to fly a balloon.

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