Tonight, I went to the library to study without the distractions (and noisiness) of home. I stopped first at the Redeye, a cafe near my home, for a cup of motivation.
I chatted for a couple of minutes with with twenty-something barista before I hit the books. He was surprised to find that I'd lived most of the last 24 years in the neighborhood, North Center. I mentioned how much it had changed-- how dirty, crime- and drug-ridden and seedy it had been when I moved here in the Spring of 1986, less than a year after I'd finished college (or at least my first round of college).
I thought about all the changes in the neighborhood-- and in my life-- in the last quarter century. And then, right on cue, my portrait of Dorian Gray walked by.
When I first moved into the neighborhood, at an apartment on Ashland and Berteau, I'd walk down to the strip of Lincoln Avenue between Irving Park Road and Montrose for most of my shopping. Back then, aside from the Jewel's grocery store, it was an assortment of resale stores, cobblers, laundromats and such. Shifty looking people walked up and down the street-- there was obviously a drug scene (heroin) going on back then.
Through the two and a half decades, the neighborhood has changed. One by one, the seedy little shops have closed and a little fancier ones have taken their places. There are still a few places the same-- the Korean restaurant, the Jewel's-- but most of the places and people have changed-- including my "portrait."
I remember noticing this guy almost immediately after I moved into the neighborhood. He had a red "white man 'fro" and was usually wearing a dress shirt and a tie. My reckoning was that I was seeing him getting home from a job as an accountant or some other office job.
Over the years, I wore a lot of hats. I worked as a law clerk, a waiter, an assistant manager in a restaurant, a construction worker, a manager of a restaurant, a teacher. I saw a bunch of relationships come and go, including two marriages. I became a father. And I've gone back to school to set out on one more career. And all through it, I've seen this guy shuffling down Lincoln Avenue.
I saw a quote recently that you usually have the face you deserve by the time you're fifty. I've got a year and four months to go, but barring a serious accident, I have to laugh at this. For having used up at least 6 or 7 of my nine lives, I somehow managed to have a face (and with the possible exception of my right knee, my body) that's about ten years younger than what shows up on my driver's license. My classmates last semester were shocked to discover that I was the oldest person in the class. I suspect that it was a combination of good genes-- my parents both are regularly mistaken for being ten years younger than they are-- a pretty high physical activity level over the years, and a good diet; I'd made the decision as a teenager to eat healthily, despite all my other bad habits.
But tonight, as this guy, who's about my age, trudged by the cafe, slightly hunched, pasty, paunchy and nearly all gray, I had the oddest thought-- that over the years, he's been the one aging for me, like the portrait of Dorian Gray.