Our landlord was a cheap bastard when it came to heating our building. At times, the inside temps sank to fifty degrees indoors. I’d struggle to keep painting or writing under those conditions. We complained, but it was no use. These days there are city codes dictating the allowable temperatures in all buildings. But back then, we shivered and complained.
And let’s not kid around here. The winter of 1984 was extremely cold. On January 19 I wrote, “It’s supposed to hit -25 tonight. I can hear the wind outside. Guess I’m one lucky person. Saw a cold old man trying to reach a bus tonight. Which among other things makes me think of money. Am I the only person scratching away at my principles like a contest entrant hoping to see a winning number underneath? I’ve got about $700 to my name. Have to make it last, but God always provides, it seems, if I use my abilities. I painted from 8:00 to 4:30 today. Ran ten easy miles too. My body feels real strong right now. I drank a half a bottle of wine tonight. It’s 10:05 and I’m pretty relaxed, as you can see from the handwriting.”
During one of those dark, cold nights I ran up to the park at Montrose and back with the wind blowing hard off the lake. At a point where the icy running path converged with the cement walls along the lakefront, a giant wave smashed against the shore and threw a massive wave of water over me on the trail. I stopped in a state of shock, and then instantly began shivering as the cold water soaked right through the Gore-Tex shoulders of my Bill Rodgers running suit. My Gore-Tex pants were soaked through as well. That’s when I realized that I needed to keep moving. I picked up the pace and ran a few miles back to the apartment where the shower could not get warm quick enough. Thankfully my body was already warm from the four miles I’d covered up to Montrose, or I might have gotten frostbite. Honestly, spending much longer outside in that condition might have been fatal.
We had multiple sub-zero days that winter, dropping to -5 and -10 below in mid-January. Some days I’d stay inside and placed my clunky Columbia bike on the MagTurbo indoor trainer that I’d purchased that winter. I’d ride hard into the night, sweating even in the fifty-degree conditions inside our apartment.
By late January my relationship with the runner girl blossomed into going out on dates and late-night dancing and sex. I was clearly torn about two-timing Linda, but the allure of the other woman was also strong. “I call Linda and love her,” I wrote on January 19. ” She’s dedicated, a sweet, sweet girl who I love in many ways. I call the other woman and she excites me, vaguely, as if I should pursue her. She’s obtusely strong, strong by the difficulties she seems to have faced. But the women in my life––are they meant to challenge me or assist me? I seem to start them up like cars with my conceit. But I feel such a strong need––as if I am not whole without being loved. And I am not. I need approval. I need love. I need people. I need to work. I have so many needs I am like a child. But I will not always let myself be childlike and learn, I must continue to learn. I just grow…I can be……great.”
The following weekend I went out again with my downtown lover along with my roommate and his new squeeze. “Spent Friday roustabouting with the crew…” I wrote. “Danced hard, foot was sore and sex was difficult when I got home. Couldn’t get it up. Her body was so firm and fine. She’s a very honest, unabashed sort. I like her attitude. Her sister asked where she’d been all day and night, to which she replied, “Having wild sex.” So I guess she must be pleasured to a degree. By the time I was hard in the am, she was dry. But I made her laugh and held her close even though we were both quite crabby from lack of sleep. I was lucky she didn’t just crack me one. But she warned me. It was so fucking cold in that apartment. I awoke with chills and fatigue…but the hugs…meanwhile, Linda and I made love that night. Shhweird. Then we had a good fight––she in tears and me in transit––but she refuses to believe I want to leave her. What can I say?”
It doesn’t make me proud to record some of these words for posterity. But they are the truth, and the arc of my life (and many others, I would assume) does not make sense without these perspectives. Admittedly I was a lovesick and confused young man. At once too selfish to commit and yet honest enough to try to tell the truth. I was conflicted. I did have feelings for that other woman. She was incredible in her own way, and professionally accomplished as well, making $90K (in 1984 that was big money!) for a large publishing company on the data and programming side of the business. I knew little about her larger family other than she was of Polish heritage, and strong in many ways because of it.
Frankly, she deserved better than my dalliances. And for all I knew at the time, she might have been getting it.
Consumed by creation
Like the author Henry Miller, I was consumed by passionate interests so diverse and deranged that I could see no way back to whatever someone else might call reality. I painted and wrote all day, creating as fast as I could wheneve I wasn’t doing graphic design projects on commission, and on the fly. In between, I lusted and dreamed. The two are often quite difficult to tell apart, and some of those sessions went on for hours, or else played on repeat in one creative act after another, until I was sore for the dreaming. Yet when reality comes in the door, what do you say to a woman who pulls you to the floor and says, “F*** my eyes out?” Don’t lie to me. When you’re a 25-year-old young man living in the city, you say yes, that’s what you do. I was reading Henry Miller’s Tropic of Cancer, and Tropic of Capricorn, and Sexus…and here’s what Henry Miller wrote about life…
“What I want is to open up. I want to know what’s inside me. I want everybody to open up. I’m like an imbecile with a can opener in his hand, wondering where to begin– to open up the earth. I know that underneath the mess everything is marvelous. I’m sure of it.”
He also wrote: “How we hate to admit that we would like nothing better than to be the slave! Slave and master at the same time! For even in love the slave is always the master in disguise. The man who must conquer the woman, subjugate her, bend her to his will, form her according to his desires—is he not the slave of his slave? How easy it is, in this relationship, for the woman to upset the balance of power! The mere threat of self-dependence, on the woman’s part, and the gallant despot is seized with vertigo.”
And finally, the passage that most applied to me in the cold heart of a Chicago winter: “From the little reading I had done I had observed that the men who were most in life, who were molding life, who were life itself, ate little, slept little, owned little or nothing. They had no illusions about duty, or the perpetuation of their kith and kin, or the preservation of the State. They were interested in truth and in truth alone. They recognized only one kind of activity – creation.”
I finished up a month of cold training in January 1984 with a 9:32 indoor two-mile out in Sterling, Illinois, a fair effort, but not as fast as I’d have liked. That building held one of the few indoor tracks in northern Illinois and hosted meets fairly frequently. Often top-level athletes showed up to compete. That winter, the long and triple jumper Mike Conley––who went on to become an Olympian––did sprints and jumps, while his friend Mark Witherspoon, I think it was, ran the sprints. It was exciting watching those premier athletes do their stuff.
I also spent weekends with Linda out in the suburbs where she continued teaching and lived with a teaching associate in St. Charles. “Spent last night and today with Linda,” I wrote on February 8. “She and I get along well. She’s very observant, keen of eye in the field and alert. Loves a walk. Loves me. Loves my work and prays for me. I can hardly deny her. There may come a time when I choose to let nothing come between us. Lust is all that really prevents me. That and a few naive ideals of hers. My closest friend is resisting in the same way. Physicality is what we crave. His woman and mine are similar, and they are such sweet souls and so affectionate that our hearts don’t mind the tie. As much as we irk each other now and then, I love my friends. If we all married up it would make six interesting people/couples. But am I ready? Perhaps I’ll never be and must just do it. The whitewater syndrome is quite strong in me. Adultery is like whitecaps on a quiet bay.”
By now, having read this far, it is easy enough to surmise that I would indeed go on to marry Linda. But a heady year was approaching. There would be many races to run, and many twisted nights to enjoy, before coming to any such conclusions. Coming out of the cold heart of a Chicago winter, I turned my sights toward my racing commitments for the year. My immediate goal was finding more work to sustain my journey, and making sense of life the best way I knew how.