Saturday, February 14, 2009

Heart Up in Smoke: Hookah with Blondie

by Zinta Aistars

Friday the 13th, 2009

All she has to do is ask. Blondie asks, and I toss my duffel into the trunk and am off. Chicago, here I come, here I come to spend my Valentine's with my heart's ever truest love, my baby girl. Toughest baby I know, so no one can tell me blondes aren't sassy and sharp and can rule the world. 

The skyline never fails to thrill me. It's night black by the time I speed into town, so the city is laced and dripping in strung diamonds. Blondie lives just a block off Lakeshore Drive, so that's the way I go, a relatively new route in for me, and although this is far from my first trip, I catch my breath nonetheless. The road curves just alongside Lake Michigan. Black silk tosses heavy waves to my right. The city shimmers to my left. It's a trick to keep an eye on the road and let an eye wander across the scrapers, down Navy Pier, the water below the bridges, the glowing windows, the pearls of traffic drawing ever changing lines of definition. I love this city. I am a wilderness woman, but I love this city, and perhaps it has something to do with the fact that I was born here, in Chi-town, and spent nearly all my childhood summers here, even when my mama and papa had moved me to Michigan. I thrill to visit my daughter here now, and it surprises me, not a little, that I have recently found myself taking long walks through her neighborhood, so close to the Lake, just off Belmont and Broadway, the perfect city mix, and envisioning myself ... actually living here. Moving here. Which is ever so slightly nuts, because the only dream I have consistently sustained since earliest kid years is the dream of moving north and living in northern wild places. 

I won't move. I don't think. But I love coming here to spend time with Blondie. I turn onto Broadway, heading for the parking lot where the parking attendant is, by now, beginning to recognize me, yet charges me a different price every time. Thief. Ah, but Blondie to the rescue! I called her on my cell as I approached the city, and there she is, standing in the parking lot driveway, waving me in. The parking lot attendant, a dark little man in wool cap and squinty eyes, has hunkered even smaller and stands just behind her, looking cowed. Blondie towers, proud and bright and beautiful and tough as nails. She's bargained the price down substantially for me, he dare not argue, and she waves me into my spot and thumbs up to signal I am in. 

We have better plans for wasting my money. After a quick dinner at a packed to the walls burger place, where we check off the items we wish on our burgers -- I pass on the shrooms, choose the guyiere, sauteed onions, red peppers, garlic aoli sauce -- order chocolate raspberry cinnamon shakes, and we dive in, dripping juice and sauce and giggles. 

Waste more  money, because this is Blondie, and this is Chicago, and this is the weekend to celebrate a free heart, so we scoot into a place she's wanted to try, just a half block from her apartment: House of Hookah. We have no idea what we are doing, but the long haired boy, stringy wisps falling into his eyes, so thin he will surely break if he leans over too fast, places the tall hookah pipe between us, sets the water inside to bubbling with his little spoon of charcoal atop. The air begins to fill with the scent of marlette, and he hands us the long, curving tube for a draw. Surprisingly pleasant. The flavor is faintly sweet and smooth and calming. We sit back and pass the pipe and blow smoke and bubbles and chatter nonsense into the Chicago night. Surely nothing better than a mother-daughter Chicago eve of sharing the hookah pipe. 

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