Hillbilly Chicago (continued)

 

Jean, who had never been to the bar where her boyfriend Ron worked as a bartender, kept trying to find out what she could about it from the not-yet-spouse and me. Mostly our reply was, “It’s nice.” She would find a way to ask again. And then she began to seem suspicious. “When does the bar close?” “How long do you think it takes to clean up when it closes?” “Do a lot of girls hang out at the bar?” “How do the girls look?” Finally she broke down and told the not-yet-spouse that she was worried that she was losing Ron to someone at the bar. The n-y-s replied that we had not seen anything like that, but continued, “Why don’t you go out and surprise him? He would love that.” Jean replied that she could not compete because she did not have anything nice to wear and, of course, she could not go because she had to take care of the kids. The n-y-s had a solution: She would take Jean shopping, and I could take care of the kids for at least part of the night of the surprise visit.

The not-yet-spouse took her to a discount store that sold everything from percolators to screwdrivers to clothing, kind of a precursor to a dollar store. Jean, however, did not have money to buy any new clothes, but seeing that Jean kept eyeing a particular blouse, the n-y-s bought it for her. It was white and satiny and frilly, and it cost under five bucks. (Ok, it’s a long time ago, but you get the point.)

The night came. Jean had no way to get to the bar, but the not-yet-spouse was going to go with her and drive her thee. And then Jean appeared, and I saw her for the first time in her new blouse. The n-y-s and I enthusiastically complimented her. It did look good on her, but more important, Jean liked the way she looked. She was shyly smiling, but also exuded a confidence I had not before seen in her.

They left in the early evening, and I was with the kids. On my front, everything started out just fine. I got my charges some sort of dinner, and the little girl got tucked in. But the deal was that I was to be on call for only the first part of the night, and that a relative of Jean’s–a sister or maybe it was a cousin–was to relieve me at some point. The time for my relief passed. And then more time. The older boy and I continued to play the ice hockey game. More time passed. Normally I might not have cared much, but this was occurring during the final exam period at the end of my second year of law school. I had an exam the next morning at some ungodly early hour, and I was planning to spend an hour or so reviewing notes before going to bed. More time, and still no relief. I did not know what to do, and I finally said to the boy, “I am sure they will be home soon, but I have to go.” A look of panic came over him, and he bolted out the door into the late spring night screaming, “I can’t do it anymore.” I felt sorry for him because of the responsibilities that had been put on him, but I now had little kids asleep in the house, a boy running through the Chicago night, and an exam looming. I quickly ran around the block but did not find him. I went back to the house. He was not there, but the kids dreamed on. I found the telephone number of a non-relief relative. She tried to pretend that she knew who I was as I explained the situation. Within fifteen minutes she came over. I spent an hour, maybe two, looking for the boy, but with my test but a few hours away, I finally gave up. (I don’t remember where he went to hide, but he was eventually found. Physically he was fine. And, of course, this is the main reason I did not become a Supreme Court clerk.)

I was sleeping fitfully when the not-yet-spouse returned somewhat before dawn. She reported that the excursion to the bar had been a huge success. Ron was surprised by Jean’s appearance, and he was delighted. He proudly showed her off to everyone in sight. He was beaming. Jean was beaming. Jean was so happy that she insisted on staying until the bar closed when she came back with the n-y-s. I was still worried about the footloose boy, but pleased about Jean and Ron. And then I went off to my exam.

(Concluded February 11)