Beth mentioned last week that we would be heading on Sunday to the Lagunitas Beer Circus to meet up with her nephew Brian. Well, we did. We have photographic evidence, supplied here.
Brian was a duly proud host and he took pains to take care of us, even though he was working.
It was a fantastic day that reminded me of springs past. That certain combination of nearly hot sunshine and a cool breeze that makes pretty much every nerve ending and every hair follicle scream to me, “You’re alive! Don’t ever go indoors again!”
We were among the older attendees—but we were by no means alone. And it felt like we were 20 on the University of Illinois Quad. Only this time, instead of frisbees and bandana-clad quad dogs we had roving and extravagantly dressed circus performers, a tower of percussionists that featured a guy with a drum kit being circulated through the air with a crane-like device, and some really great food trucks. (Pssst: Stilton and Steak Pasty from Bridgeport Pasty Company.)
And just like the old Quad days, we ran into friends. OK, it wasn’t exactly the same as say, 1978—back then our friends wouldn’t have included a professor, a chef, a high school teacher, a corporate attorney, a social worker, a sales manager, and a writer/editor. If I’d known back then what I know now, I wouldn’t have worried so much about where I’d end up. I’m sure if I last another 37 years or so, I’ll say exactly the same thing.
Lagunitas invited attendees to dress up and in particular, to wear a hat. Beth and I obliged. One of Beth’s memoir students loaned her a spectacular black feather hat studded with little rhinestones.
I had nothing so flamboyant, but I’ll put it up with the best of them. A few years back a well-established, custom hat company called Optimo opened up a location a couple blocks away from our place. It’s in the historic Monadnock Building on Dearborn, and Beth and I passed it countless times without actually going in. I’ve never been a hat guy, but the place oozes something good, and you kinda’ just have to stop and look at the racks and racks of hats on display.
Almost two years ago, my birthday fell on a Saturday, and it was not a happy time. My sister Kris had just entered home hospice after a breast cancer diagnosis and ensuing chemotherapy pretty much had done her in. Beth asked me what I wanted to do for my birthday. I wasn’t feeling too festive and really drew a blank.
So she said, “Let’s go for a walk.”
We headed up Dearborn and as we approached Optimo she said, on a lark, “Why don’t we go in?” I was pretty malleable at that point and that seemed as good an idea as any.
So we did. And we struck up a conversation with two delightful women who had me trying on hats in no time flat. I picked one, and they–with diplomatic honesty–told me they thought better. And they pulled out another style, I put it on, and gave two thumbs up.
“Whaddya’ think?” Beth asked. I liked it. I mean, I didn’t know if I’d ever actually wear it, and if I did, I had no idea where or on what occasion. But I liked it.
Then I flipped it over and looked at the price. It would be a totally impractical extravagance. I whispered the price in Beth’s ear. She didn’t flinch. “Get it. It’s your birthday present.”
So I ordered, and Beth paid. They’re all custom made—so it would be two or three weeks. It was crazy out-of-character escapist fun. Precisely what I needed real, real bad.
A few weeks later, my sister was gone and the Optimo long forgotten. But I got a reminder—“When are you coming in for your hat?”
Since then I’ve worn it sparingly. Only special occasions. Each time, I’m happy—not sad—to think of Kris. And every time, I’m out with my wife, who bought it for me.
And Sunday, I was at the circus feeling like a 20 year old.
Here’s to the circus.