Monday, May 9, 2011

What Did I Do Last Weekend?: A True Life Quest

On April 30th, 2011, Dustin Monk - White Gourd Drink drinker, beard aficiando, beetle hugger - set upon a journey to recover The Silent Land by Graham Joyce and Up Against It by M.J. Locke. He plotted three bookstores throughout the Chicago area: Unabridged Books on Broadway, Half-Price Books in Niles, IL, and Book Cellar on Lincoln. Dustin enlisted the help of Moddang, Mandy (aka A. Lynn), and Justin. There was also a lot of talk about Indian food.

In the morning Dustin and Moddang visited Unabridged Books. The sun was high already but it was not. Already, Broadway bustled with people and parked cars lined the side of the street. Yet, Dustin was lucky and found a parking spot in front of the bookstore. He took this as a good sign.

However, Unabridged Books did not carry either The Silent Land or Up Against It. That was too bad. On the plus side, it does carry one of the best collections of LGBT selections in Chicago; it also carries smaller, independent publishers and authors, a lot of which one cannot find in the chains. Dustin nearly purchased an on-sale hardback copy of Ian McKewan's Solar, but neglected as it was not part of the Quest. Moddang explaimed, as Dustin perused the various Samuel R. Delany books, that she was hungry and A. Lynn and Justin were probably awake and awaiting our arrival. This made much sense.

Onward to Kedzie, to A. Lynn's garden apartment. Dustin and Moddang listened to The Antlers' new record, Burst Apart, honking and braking their way from Broadway. Then, with A. Lynn and Justin showered and in tow, the foursome headed north to Niles. To H-Mart, the colossal Korean grocery.

They ate a quick, but slightly expensive lunch. Dustin had bulgogi beef. Moddang ordered spicy beef soup. A. Lynn: pork dumplings. Justin ate a salad concoction everyone marveled at. The fluorescent lights weighed heavily. A butcher carved a large, red tuna. Dustin itched to continue his Quest; though this side-quest was certainly interesting. He was excited to find Pennywort Drink, but disappointed there was no smoky, syrupy White Gourd Drink. A. Lynn purchased a rice wine that tasted like soy sauce. It was delicious only to Dustin. Justin stopped in at Gamestop and bought Portal 2 (he has his own side-quests.)

The four Questers, bellies sufficiently full, returned to their vehicle, driving along tree-lined Caldwell Street, hanging a left on Touhy, expertly following Dustin's phone's Google Maps to Half-Price Books. Justin commented that, with his recent purcahse of the Amazon Kindle, he had no desire for "paper books." Dustin was ready with fisticuffs and various phrases essentially boiling down to, "How dare you!" but Moddang calmed him and gave him a sip of her pure cane sugar drink.

Half-Price Books carried the thick tome We, the Drowned by Danish writer Carsten Jensen that Dustin had been eyeing in bookstores for awhile; bookmarked on page 74 was a pamphlet of Mr. Jensen's touring schedule, indicating an appearance the following Saturday at that very store. Dustin considered purchasing the book, despite it not being part of the Quest, because he thought he might like to attend the reading and be able to ask pertinent questions about the book. Deciding that anything sidetracking the goals of the main Quest was, at the least, unheroic and, at best, near-blasphemic, Dustin put the book back on the shelf. The four left the second bookstore somewhat discomfited and ready for a victory, even a small one.

It was Moddang who spotted the replica of the Leaning Tower of Pisa on their way back to Chicago. A. Lynn said, "Let's have an adventure." Dustin parked the car in the adjacent YMCA parking lot. A. Lynn believed the four could climb the tower and look out over the city of Niles.

Sleeping stone lions guarded the entrances of the tower replica. A plaque posted on one of the tower's walls indicated it was ninety-seven feet high, about half the height of the original Leaning Tower of Pisa. This tower was a storage facility for water. No climbing allowed. They checked anyway, but the doors were locked.

The four Questers returned to A. Lynn's garden apartment, tasting the rice wine and shivering at its unique aftertaste. Afterward, they watched the first episode of Game of Thrones, waiting for hunger pangs to strike. Justin showed everyone the Kindle. Dustin tweeted something about a quest. Moddang watched A. Lynn play Call of Duty.

Finally, hunger. Darkness. Cool night air. A wind full of abandon. They set off for the much talked-about but seldom-mentioned Indian food. Though originally the dinner was meant as a celebration of Dustin's new job, it turned conciliatory as the position didn't pan out. Perhaps, in some small way, this "un-panning out" was Dustin's reason for his Quest. Perhaps he is simply addicted to bookstores.

Essence of India on Lincoln Avenue is one of the best kept secrets of Chicago. For drinks, everyone ordered chai tea except Dustin, who ordered a bottle of Kingfisher. With the serving of garlic naan came three delightful chutneys. They were visited by the chef, who explained that the murg makhani - butter chicken - that Moddang and A. Lynn ordered was the most popular dish at the restaurant. It is a fairly common dish at Indian restaurants, but Essence of India's butter chicken is the best. The four Questers' spirits were significantly raised.

Reinvigorated by the good food and beer, Dustin Google-mapped a final bookstore within walking distance. The Book Cellar. It was late. The smell of beer and exhaust mixed together. The foursome passed a water fountain in the middle of the street. A taxi cab honked its horn. Lincoln Avenue was a circus of lights and people and cars and bars.

The Book Cellar was nondescript, nosed between two buildings almost as an afterthought. Dustin expected to be disappointed again. It seemed the Quest was all for naught. He was right about the M.J. Locke: the Book Cellar did not carry it. But...

There, in the shelves between Tree of Smoke and Ulysses, smaller than the other books, was Graham Joyce. The Silent Land. He'd found it. Dustin had found it! His shoulders relaxed. A weight was lifted. He felt warmth in his belly for the first time that day. He looked through The Silent Land's pages, perusing, running his finger along the lines of Joyce's words in the quiet dark of the bookstore.

Yes, he wanted it. Yes, this was a Quest. A True Life Quest and he had found half of the Grail. Wasn't that enough?

Dustin put The Silent Land back on the shelf. It did look great in its place. Moddang asked if he was going to buyt it. "Not tonight," Dustin said. "Not tonight."

Justin exclaimed the Quest was anticlimactic. He shrugged his shoulders exasperatedly and rolled his eyes and slapped his forehead and cursed the Quest a thousand times. Moddang said, "You came all this way!" A. Lynn did a little dance (she needed to use the restroom). Dustin said, "Half the grail is not enough."

The foursome returned once again to A. Lynn's apartment to watch the second episode of Game of Thrones. It was very sad when Eddard killed Lady. The next morning Dustin ordered Up Against It and The Silent Land from Amazon. Yes, he thought, it was very anticlimactic. In the meantime, Moddang has perfected her version of murg makhani.

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