Maitre ‘D: Abe Froman? The sausage king of Chicago?
Ferris Bueller: That’s me.
-Ferris Bueller’s Day Off
The next morning, Teddy and Brooke were sitting at the kitchen table having a quiet breakfast, reading the newspaper, when something she read triggered Brooke’s simmering enthusiasm and she couldn’t contain it anymore. She set the paper down and grabbed Teddy’s hands in both of hers.
“You know what,” she said. “You have more than enough material for your wonderful book! Let’s start putting it together! Today! You can dictate to me and I’ll transcribe!”
“Not yet, Brooke,” said Teddy, without looking up from the paper. “This is my project and I’ll decide when it’s time to begin the compilation.”
Brooke was disappointed, and kind of pissed, but she reined it in and responded conciliatorily. “I’m sorry if I spoke out of turn.”
“That’s quite all right,” said Teddy. “Your youthful exuberance can be charming. Now, I’m heading to the Newberry this morning to examine a manuscript.”
“Fine,” said Brooke. Let me get the dishes done and I’ll go with you.”
“Oh, there’s no need,” said Teddy. “I expect you’ll be bored. It’s just old books.”
And that was that. Brooke’s temper exploded.
“Goddammit, Teddy,” she burst out. “What have I ever done to make you think I was bored with this research? I’ve been enthusiastic over every discovery you’ve made. I’ve never complained, never sighed or rolled my eyes at what you do. And you sit there across the table so… so fucking dismissively! So sure that I’m just some dumb girl who could never understand what you do. Why, Teddy? What have I ever done to make you doubt my commitment to this project?
After a long, stunned silence, Teddy responded. “I guess I was just surprised that someone like you would be interested in this stuff.”
“I was interested in this stuff, Teddy, before I met you,” she responded. “I’m going for a walk. Just go to the library without me and I’ll see you later or something.
Brooke walked into the brisk November air and wandered around the Gold Coast despondently, struggling with her thoughts and holding back tears. At one point, she walked right past the Bulstrode residence. If she’d looked up, she’d have spied Susan Bulstrode in the window of her beautiful brownstone, sipping a cup of tea, planning the Thanksgiving menu. But Brooke didn’t look up and wouldn’t have known who Susan was anyway. Brooke remained blithely unaware of how close she lived to the seat of all that Lightweight power.
She worried at her relationship with Teddy. He was, after all, the same man that she’d sat next to at The March and been so enamored of. And he was the man who could help usher her into significance in the environmental movement. But she was so irritated with him! So frustrated at how he treated her.
She was so sick of always being in transition! She swiped away angry tears.
Coffee, she decided. She wanted some coffee and something sweet. So she wandered into a coffee shop and sat at a table with a hot cup of coffee and a rich, chocolate brownie. She shrugged off her jacket and settled into her seat, opening a copy of The Reader. Back in those dreary internet-less days, metropolitan youth relied on free weeklies to communicate with each other. The Reader was home to Savage Love and Life in Hell and some truly inspired personals. Brooke banished all thoughts of Teddy and the new wrinkles in their relationship and settled into enjoy her coffee, brownie and the paper.
It wasn’t long before she was feeling a little better.
When Will walked into the shop, he almost didn’t recognize her. She was sitting cross-legged on a chair, paper spread out in front, giggling at something she was reading. She looked nice!
“Brooke,” he said, walking up to her.
She looked up and, after a moment of befuddlement, said, “Oh! Will, hi.”
“Hey,” he said. “Um, do you mind if I sit here with you?”
“Of course not,” she said. “I was just reading the paper. Check out this Life in Hell.”
Will read it and laughed. “I love this strip,” he said. “Do you watch The Simpsons?”
“Well, not anymore that I live with Teddy,” she said. “He doesn’t have a TV. But my sister, Celia, and I used to watch it. It was the only thing we both liked. Most TV is so intellectually stunted and corporatized. But The Simpsons is post-modern and counter-cultural.”
“Not too mention funny,” said Will.
“Well, that too,” she said. “Maybe I’ll tell Teddy we should get a TV just for that. I bet he’d like it.”
“No he wouldn’t,” said Will, smiling. The waitress approached and Will ordered a coffee and brownie.
“So, how’s Chicago treating you so far?” Brooke asked.
“It’s good,” Will said. “Good and cold. I mean, San Francisco isn’t warm like you think California is. But this is a different kind of cold then I’m used to.”
“Will,” Brooke laughed. “This isn’t cold. It’s in the 40s for god’s sake. This is just jacket weather. Give it a while. It’s not really cold until you have frozen snot on your scarf.”
“Nice,” said Will, laughing. “So glad I have something to look forward to.”
“Well, I’m weird,” said Brooke. “I kind of like the winter. It’s so cozy when you’re inside and the snow can be pretty. And fun. I remember when I was 10 or so, there was this fierce blizzard that shut the whole city down. My parents couldn’t go to work, and school was canceled for like a week. It was great! It snowed so much that my sister and I opened a window from the second floor and slid down a snow drift to go out and play.”
“How’d you get back in,” Will asked, fascinated.
“Through the front door, dummy,” said Brooke, with a snort. “It was drifting, not 15 feet deep.”
“I’ve never seen a snow like that,” said Will. “I’m kind of excited about it.”
“It’s pretty enough at first,” said Brooke. “You almost don’t mind what a pain in the ass it is. Well, I
don’t mind what a pain in the ass it is. Normal people do.”
Will bit into his brownie. “Are your parents still in Chicago?” he asked.
“My mother died not too long after that blizzard,” said Brooke. “My father lives in the suburbs with his new wife and kids.”
“Are you close to them?” Will asked.
“Not really,” she said. “My mother died when I was in 8th grade and Dad was just kind of …gone after that.”
“My mother died when I was young too,” said Will.
In the warm coffee shop, with the snow beginning to flurry outside, the two found themselves bonding over shared experiences.
Brooke told Will about coming into the kitchen after her mother died and seeing her father just standing there with a cereal box in his hand, confused about what to do next. How she’d had to take the box from him and make him a bowl of cereal. And then, somehow, he met this woman and moved off to Naperville with her. Brooke and Celia stayed in their Rogers Park apartment. Brooke thought it all sounded a lot sadder than it was. Their father loved them a lot, but just wasn’t equipped to parent on his own. And she and Celia were pretty good at taking care of each other.
Will told Brooke how his mother was sick for such a long time before she died. She was a free spirit hippie-type with a huge group of like-minded hippie friends. Whenever she got sick and had to go to the hospital, Will went to stay with one of them. They’d feel sorry for the kid with the sick, dying mother and let him do whatever he wanted. He told Brooke that he could eat pizza for dinner every night and watch whatever he wanted on TV so it got to where he almost looked forward to his mother’s trips to the hospital. “It was all pepperoni pizza and Sanford and Sons reruns,” he said. “It was fun and then I’d feel guilty because it was fun.”
“I was happy when Dad moved out,” said Brooke. “He was so sad that we always felt mean not to be that sad too. And then I felt guilty that I was glad to see him go.”
The two sat silently, sipping coffee, remembering sad, guilty things.
“Well,” said Will. “This is a cheery conversation we’re having.”
“I know,” said Brooke. “I don’t normally talk about this kind of stuff. I’m not even sure Teddy knows about it, can you believe that?”
“Actually,” said Will. “I can.”
“Oh, lay off Teddy,” said Brooke. “Let’s talk about something else. Tell me about your political future.”
“Well, you know we have a little family history with it,” said Will. “And Chicago politics are so fascinating. It just seems like a good place to be.”
“I wish there were some political cure for the shit we do to the environment,” said Brooke.
“That’s the only cure,” said Will. “The only real change will come when you get it legislated. You should be spending your time lobbying congress about this, not curled up in dusty old research with Teddy.”
“But Teddy’s work will be the thing that makes the change,” said Brooke.
“No it won’t,” said Will.
“It will,” said Brooke. “It has to.”
She left a little while after that and headed home. Will stayed at the coffee shop for a while longer, leafing through The Reader and thinking about Brooke. She was beautiful and smart and she seemed like a nice person. What the hell was she doing with Teddy?
Then he landed on a classified ad looking for a bass player. Maybe he could do that to fill in the time while he waited for his political future to begin.
Brooke made a roasted chicken with mashed potatoes and broccoli au gratin for dinner. It was Teddy’s favorite. When he got back from the library, the table was set and wonderful smells were coming from the kitchen. Teddy sat down and smiled, accepting Brooke’s tacit apology.
Why on earth is Brooke apologizing when Teddy is clearly in the wrong here? He’s rude and demeaning and cannot be bothered to take even the most cursory interest in Brooke’s life. He hasn’t even bothered to learn the sad story of her dead mother and absent father.
But that’s who Teddy is. Teddy has constructed a narrow world, fooled himself into thinking it vast, and lost the inclination for inquiry into the lives of others.
Brooke, on the other hand, found the world (especially the part with people in it) threateningly vast and was willing to bend to his manipulation. Teddy would change the world and in doing so, Teddy would shore her up. So long as Teddy takes her with him, she can admit her own weakness, forgive him his, and move on.
Of course, Teddy was sure the world was about to end and it was none of his fault. He collected evidence of its imminent demise the way other people collect butterflies, pinning buggy corpses onto cardboard for no other reason than because he can.
Don’t worry. Eventually Brooke will figure all this out.