Because I’m from a small town in Iowa and I was never super popular in school, I have done many a foolish thing in my life to appear cooler than I am. Certain items of clothing, jokes told in bad taste, middle school disloyalty – they all lay upon the bonepile of attempts at cool.
Walking under the el tracks this morning as a train blasted overhead, I covered my ears. It took me years before I was willing to do this. It’s Chicago, man. It’s the el, man. Don’t be a wimp. Only old folks and little kids plug their ears when the train blasts by. The el is Chicago’s chi: energy traveling through the body. You’re either one with it or you’re not.
I believed this, in so many words, and would endure physical pain when walking in an alleyway if the el came through. (The buildings on either side of an alley trap sound; a train crashing past is loud as a jet landing.)
I’m not sure when it happened, but I finally got over myself and now I put my paws over my ears when I hear a train coming in those situations. The freedom I feel to do this is heady. Isn’t that funny? Isn’t it strange? What we put ourselves through to be acceptable. I used to grit my teeth and bear it when an ambulance passed at close range, too. I had never seen anyone in New York City plug their ears when an ambulance or fire truck would roar past; it must be really uncool to do so. So I didn’t, and would grimace and hurt when that would happen.
You know what’s cool? Since I’ve begun covering my ears for a train or an ambulance, I’ve seen more people doing it. I’ll detect a fire truck down State St., for example, and as it comes closer and goes by, I’ll have my ears protected. I’ll look around and often see a couple other people follow suit. Maybe I just never noticed them before, but I don’t think so. I think sometimes one person has to say, “I’m not cool and I don’t care” and then other people say, “Okay, me too.”