When a friend and I lived in the City of Chicago for a couple years, our apartment was situated on Clark Street overlooking Lincoln Park. We lived on the second floor of a building commonly called a two-flat.
Our landlord was a curious guy named Horace. We’ll change his last name here because he no doubt has living relatives. I was pretty sure he was dead by now, but I just looked him up on MyLife and Facebook and he’s still very much alive in his 90s.
What I’m about to share about the man is true. He was massively cheap with the heat in the buildings he owned. During the cold winters of ’83 and ’84, the temperature in our apartment dropped below fifty degrees at several points. I recall staring at the thermometer in our apartment and wondering if I could survive the night.
Keeping the buildings that cold was against the law in Chicago, and still is. This morning the Chicago Tribune carried a story about landlords who break the civil code by refusing to heat their buildings well enough. That was Horace, and I bet it would still be the case if the City did not crack down on him. He was retentive in a variety of ways.
No so sexy advice
Once when I was invited to his office to discuss the rent and some other business, he engaged me in a conversation about my dating life. Apparently, he’d noticed the young woman I was dating enter our apartment late in the day, so he felt compelled to offer up some sexual advice. “Never come when you’re having sex with a woman,” he warned me. “It gives them too much power over you.”
Even then I thought to myself. Isn’t that the point? Love is the ultimate risk of emotion and commitment. Sex is the expression of a willingness to take that risk, and live with it.
That woman and I broke up when I moved out of the city a few months later. She was so angry with me she punched me in the arm. I suppose I deserved that for leading her into a relationship that I likely could not fulfill. But I really did have strong feelings for her, and with any other circumstance in life at the time, it might have worked out between us. But another relationship won out. Suffice to say she took revenge in a way that hurt me years later. Such are the real risks of love and sex.
Engaged to pain
The fact of the matter is that I was engaged in a relationship with pain at the time. Running all those miles on the streets of Chicago was intense. In 1984 I raced 24 times and won a number of those races as a result of all that training. I was sponsored by a running shop, the closest I’d ever come to being a professional runner, which was truly a rare occupation in those days. I wasn’t good enough to go any farther or faster than that, but it wasn’t for lack of trying, and living with the pain of that effort.
There were nights when it was so cold outside the only way to get in a workout was to mount a bicycle that I owned on MagTurbo indoor trainer that I’d bought and pedal away until sweat broke on my brow and dripped down onto the floor. I was not a cyclist at the time, but strapping myself to that bike was the only way to raise my heart rate and force the oxygen through my lungs until carbon dioxide came pouring back out.
Nights of wonder
Still, I recall lying under those covers in that chilly Chicago apartment with the thermostat showing 48 degrees and thinking, “I’m not going to let this get to me.” And I didn’t. Threw on another layer of blankets and breathed in that cold night air until sleep washed over me in all its mercy.
The rest of my life has offered up some serious tests of character and will. I’ve faced the cold winds of death itself as a number of people close to me succumbed to disease and age. Yet sometimes, when the weather turns cold, I’m reminded of the chill factor in that Chicago apartment. That’s when I take stock of any situation and think to myself, “I can make it through this too.”
How about you?