The Serbian cafe in Lincoln Square: extra-shiny black windows, the door’s open when it’s warm, inside’s dark and velvety and maybe a night club on the sly… At the round metal cafe tables out front, old men hold clinky-iced drinks and frosted-blonde women smoke lipsticked cigarettes.
Once when Amanda and I were in college, we took the El down to Lincoln Square to watch Being John Malkovitch at the Davis and then afterwards we wandered in and sat at a table. The sign outside said Cafe Umbrella. We wanted coffee and this seemed to be a coffee house. But something was wrong. The dark velvety inside, the cigarettes (indoors, then). Everyone stared at us. We could’ve walked into Starbucks naked and gotten less of a weird vibe. But we stayed. The waitress explained that this cafe was Serbian, did we want Serbian coffee? Sure, we said. And when it arrived, syrupy and full of grounds I knew we’d done one of those Chicago tricks, traveling by just stepping in off the street.
The coffee kicked us in the teeth but we wrote on a square white napkin how we’d never be married if married meant boring or old or the same.
And now here I am, still in Chicago, instead of moving every other minute like I used to. So instead of me changing places, things are changing around me.
The woman who waxes my eyebrows was mugged in Wicker Park; I read it in the news, but I can tell she’s different. She used to zen me out and make me wonder about her badass artsy life, with her one arm full of tattoos and her flexy waxy schedule. But she dyed her hair blonde and now her eyes dart around the room, and instead of that easy conversation she talks like a receptionist, and I worry about her, and about us, all of us, women finding our way through whatever ails us, small or large or in-between.
And finding our way toward whatever makes us whole. And finding our own definitions of boring, old, the same.
And even if you don’t try to change, you change anyway. And Cafe Umbrella isn’t there anymore, I don’t even know what it’s called, it’s changed so many times, but the old men out front still smoke cigarettes and stare at me when I pass.