Archive Page 2

Airbnb: Remembering my guests

It’s been almost four years since I began hosting guests at my apartment through Airbnb! Now amidst all the controversy with the city and their mission to control home sharing, there is a chance I won’t be able to continue hosting. The Mayor wants to pass a law that would require all hosts to have a business license. Since most residential neighborhoods are not zoned for business, only a tiny percentage of hosts could obtain this license. I could go on and on about how silly this is in regards to people like me, sharing my kitchen bathroom etc. with these people. They are my roommates, it’s not big business and I’m not making a million dollars.

That said, I’ve been reminiscing about all the amazing people that have stayed with me these past years and I think it’s time to tell their stories. Most of my guests have stayed with me for between 1 and 3 months so I had the chance to get to know many of them quite well. Still, some of the shorter visits of 2-7 days led to some very special connections. These people walk into my house as strangers and they leave as friends. Some of them invite me to come stay with them at their homes. It’s been amazing and I wish I had documented each person from the beginning but better late than never. So here it goes. My next posts will be devoted to their stories!


A Train Story From China


Sixteen days ago, I sent a postcard to China from an address I received through Postcrossing.  She was a college student looking to add some color to the boredom of her studies. Among her list of favorites were train postcards. In my file box I have a whole category for transportation: planes, trains and automobiles. Since a lot of members request trains, I was down to my last card, the one featured above. She received the card and this morning I woke up to her message:

“Thank you for your train postcard, especially in shadow. I am touched by this scene. Two years ago, I took the train to our capital Beijing, to attend university. That day the train is almost full of people but when it’s ready to leave, the entrance of train is empty. I stand there like one on the postcard, say Goodbye to my parents then, cried secretly. That is the reason why I pay attention to train everywhere.  And Five Hundred Miles always appears in my mind. Overall, thank you for your postcard. It reminds me of that unforgettable experience.”

Usually when a member registers a card I’ve sent, I get a message like “Thank you for the lovely postcard” Rarely do I get a whole story but this example is at the heart of why I love writing postcards to strangers. The image of her from her story was so beautiful and I’m glad in her imagination she see’s this guy on the card as a compatriot instead of just another dude sending a text message! Sure this is an interesting photograph, even though that shadow seems impossible and is certainly photoshopped. Either way, he is not tearfully watching the doors close on loved ones, thinking of the 500 miles that will separate them. At best, he commiserates with a friend, mournfully, over the Blackhawks elimination from the Stanley cup finals. His eyes may have gone watery but no drips.

I picture this innocent girl standing there waving goodbye to her parents like a scene from a movie. It is not a movie in which I would be the star. In my movie, my parents drop me at the train. My mom’s crying and I’m also crying but they are tears of joy. I jump in the air and land with a clenched fist “yes!” as the train pulls away.  I have just hit that jackpot called freedom and all I can see is adventure as my parents shrink into the distance.

Postcard Brother From Another Mother


Making friends and the way we find each other has always amazed me. As I’ve walked through my life in Chicago, there are others I did not know, that walked a parallel path. We danced next to each other at Exit or Neo. We sat at the same bar on the same night. We were at the same Nina Simone concert at the Chicago theater. Or maybe standing next to each other in line for Rocky Horror Picture Show at the Biograph. We were always destined to meet and it was just a matter of time until we finally did. It’s like a grand puppet show, and the puppeteer is improvising with an all knowing wisdom and a bit of ironic humor. “Should I let them meet now…..nah, she’s dancing in a CAGE and entirely too drunk. Let them meet in 20 years at at the Green Mill.”  So be it!

However, that is not the way I met Matt.  He didn’t grow up in Chicago plus he’s living on the pretty far south side from my equally far north side. It’s possible we were at the same flea market shopping for postcards but who knows? Instead it was all about the six degrees of separation within the community.  I had to travel to Spain, to meet another  Unmet Friend, before it could happen!

In 2012 on the way to France, I took a short detour to Valencia. I was exchanging postcards  with Pedro, a member who loved to send and receive comparative views of places from past and present. Originally from Venezuela, he moved to Spain with his family and opened a candy store in the historic center of Valencia. I came to the store, met his wife and little boy and then we went for coffee.  He told me his knowledge of the English language was entirely gathered from watching American film! Suddenly the nature of all his short postal messages made sense! Then he happened to mention his other pen pal in Chicago and his name was Matt.

I already knew of Matt because at the time, he and I were tied for most postcards sent from Chicago in rankings. I know, it’s so geeky but I was going through a competitive stage…one day I’d be ahead and the next day he’d pass me up. He was like a postcard writing machine. No matter how hard I tried, I could never get far enough ahead of him! When Pedro told me they were friends, I decided to stop the secret postal stalking and instead say hello. I sent him a message explaining that I just met Pedro and he replied super friendly and open to a meet up.

Matt is crazy for classical music, so much that he has season tickets to the symphony in multiple cities.  So lucky me, our first meeting was for a performance at Orchestra Hall: The Royal Philharmonic Orchestra with Charles Dutoit conducting, Jean-Yves Thibaudet on piano. The Liszt 2nd Piano Concerto and Tchaikovsky’s 5th Symphony.  You all must be really impressed that I remember all that 4 years later. Well don’t be. I had to ask Matt because truthfully, I don’t know shit about classical music!

First we met for coffee to introduce ourselves before heading off to the show. The seats were amazing as we were sitting above and behind the stage. It was a totally unique view and so interesting to see the musicians from such an up close and personal perspective. Kind of like looking at a music box mechanism.  It felt like we were spying on them.  I loved it so much!

Our next meet up was a bike ride and picnic at Graceland cemetery. It may have been my idea to go to the cemetery but it was his to have a picnic. This plan, more typical of vacation in Paris,  was good creative thinking for lunch in Chicago! Cemeteries in Paris are not as uptight about people enjoying themselves among the departed. In Chicago there are signs posted at the entrance to all cemeteries prohibiting bicycles and dogs.  I can understand why they might ban dogs because of the poop factor, but bikes? Cars are okay but bikes might suggest recreation and fun. Would the dead be offended? I don’t think so, but the graveyard police disagree. They busted we renegade bikers and told us to leave, but not until we finished our picnic so it all worked out!

A lifetime Chicago resident and yet I had never been to the historic neighborhood of Pullman, until I met Matt. 25 miles at the opposite end of the city, it was a foreign land to me like most of the south side. This neighborhood has it’s own unique personality. The style of the buildings and the atmosphere, are nothing like any other place I’ve seen. Super charming,  like a village or a town, rather than a hood. Matt invited me to their annual neighborhood house tour:  It was fun and fascinating to get a glimpse inside these fantastic homes but also, admittedly, satisfied the nosey Alice Cravitz within!

Our strongest common bond, for sure, was the postcard obsession but Matt definitely wins the trophy for his collection of cards. His basement was a postcard wonderland! It was like a postcard writing workshop space. More cards than I have ever seen outside a store and truly even more than some stores. Not like a crazy postcard hoarder but an organized professional collector. It was supremely impressive.

It is hard to paint a true portrait of Matt with words. Just like Pullman, I’ve never met anyone  like him. He is beautifully eccentric. What he does for work seems to be the opposite of who he is in real life. No he’s not an assassin. He’s a financial consultant/investment banker.  And yet, he doesn’t have a cell phone, is more comfortable on a bicycle than in a car, and knows more about art then most people I’ve met.  He won’t let me include our funny observation about someone in the symphony because he doesn’t want to be mean and disrespectful. Finally, can anybody out there picture their financial consultant posing like Rodin’s Thinker, in a toilet graveyard?

Matt is presently ranking #35 on most postcards sent from the U.S. through Postcrossing. It seems he’s been slacking because I think he was #23 last I looked. This might be my chance to blow by him, so if you don’t see another blog post for awhile, picture me holed up in my apartment surrounded by my postcards and a fortune in stamps, with fatigued posture and a cramped right hand, writing and scanning, writing and scanning, writing and throwing my new shitty scanner out the window, still writing, etc. That’s right Matt, one day I shall wear the crown!!!






The Old Man in Place des Vosges


As a young girl, I had extreme prejudice towards old people.  I would do anything to escape interaction.  The elderly seriously creeped me out. I couldn’t imagine who they once were and didn’t care to. I was missing the obvious connection, that one day, if I lived long enough I would become one of them. I suppose I could blame it on my grandmothers who were both different degrees of horrible. In the movies, kids love their grandparents. In real life, my friends loved their grandparents. Unfortunately, I got the rejects! Rumor has it, my mother’s father was wonderful but he died before I was born. My father’s dad was nice but I rarely saw him and he died when I was 10. But those grandmothers….Pearl was dedicated to misery. They said she lived a hard life but no details were provided. She was always praying, rocking back and forth while she whispered words in Yiddish. It seemed like Pearl wanted everyone to feel sorry for her. I didn’t. Mean to my mother and indifferent towards me, she had no love or joy to give and didn’t seem interested in anything beyond her own suffering. Now Grandma Rose, she should have, could have auditioned for the Witch in Hansel and Gretel. She’d grab my arm with her claw like hand just a little to hard, trying to squeeze information out of me that my parents would not disclose. Ugh! Into the oven!

I moved through my 20’s keeping a safe distance from the seniors. In May 1990, I decided to take a trip to Paris by myself, for my birthday. It was our fourth date and I was completely infatuated. I never mind being alone with Paris. There’s too much beauty to discover to give the lonely factor a second thought.  One perfect day, I started walking from my hotel on the left bank, across the Seine to Le Marais. I wore a long flowery dress that always made me feel pretty. Paris winked and blew a kiss. I wandered to the park  in Place des Vosges, and found myself a bench to sit and write in my journal. There were lots of people in the park and not many vacant seats. There was an American traveler sitting backwards on the bench with his backpack taking up a potential seat between us.

Along comes a very, very old man. His posture is stooped with serious spinal curvature and he walks with a cane. His trousers are belted extremely high….it’s like he doesn’t have a waist. He stops in front of our bench, gazing at the backpack and asks the young man in French, if he would kindly move the pack. The kid doesn’t hear or understand so I get his attention and tell him this man wants to sit down. He snaps out of his daydream and apologetically moves it.

The old man sits down between us. Our bench is directly in front of a children’s sandbox.  I think this guy must love to sit here everyday and watch the children play. Then I can feel him looking at me. My old folks phobia kicks in: Oh shit, don’t talk to me, don’t talk to me! And then of course he talks to me, in French. I tell him I do not speak French. Then to my surprise, he begins speaking in perfect English, with hardly any accent.

He explains that he used to own a store and had lots of opportunity to speak English to all the tourists, but he has been retired for many years and now his skills are rusty. He tells me that he used to have a wife and son but they were long gone. Then I start to think this is Le Marias, a historically Jewish quarter. This man looks Jewish. He could have been my fathers age now, somewhere in his 90’s. When Germany invaded France he would have been around 40. I try to delicately ask him what happened. Did he lose his family in the war but he drifts away, doesn’t answer and changes the subject. We talk for a long time of many things that are less memorable, but the whole time I am feeling the tragedy of his unspoken history. Meanwhile, from across the park I can hear the saddest most mournful classical music, as if it were the soundtrack to his story. It is Tomaso Albinoni’s Adagio.

I thanked him for talking to me, wished him good day and started crying as soon as I turned away. Not gushing, nor sobbing,  just involuntary tears flowing steady and sober as I walked towards that music. They were a string ensemble gang of violins, violas, cellos and bass, by the name of Classique Metropolitain.  It felt like a gift to hear such skilled musicians playing for free on the street instead of inside an opera house. They were an interesting combination of young and older musicians. I stayed till the end of their set and bought a CD. When I want to bring back that experience, all I have to do is listen to their music and I’m there!

It was at most, a 20 minute conversation with a stranger in a park, yet it had a profound effect on me. Did I start volunteering at a nursing home? No. However, there was a shift in my perception, expanded awareness and more compassion. It was a moment in my life for which I will always be grateful.

PS. I have a small list of my elderly super heroes:

Alice Herz-Sommer, 110, from the documentary: The Lady in number 6

Iris Apfel, 94, Documentary: Iris

Patricia Teeter, 86, who does a head stand on her birthday each year and is fabulous!

Francine Christophe, 82, Holocaust survivor







Scan 1079

The world was not ready to lose David Bowie. I never imagined that brilliant life force burning out.  He’s always been there/out there, for me. The day it hit the news I got so many texts and emails from friends offering their condolences. Everyone thought of me, as if I had lost someone close. It felt surreal.

I thought about all the positive ways in which he influenced me at a key time in my young life. In 8th grade, my cool new friend from New York, turned us on to The Man Who Sold the World, Hunky Dory, and of course the most beloved Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars. I had never heard anything like it before! The music shook me up and inspired.

I was a creative soul living in suburban hell. Most everyone dressed the same and to express ones self as an individual was uncool to the masses.  I did have my little tribe of friends, and found my place within the schools art department. Bowie was my muse and by freshman year of high school I had my own version of glam rock fashion sense, mixing vintage dresses and hats with glittered makeup.  I would prance down the hall between classes and suffer the critical eyes of jocks and cheerleaders. I’ll never forget this comment from an older boy: “What do you think, it’s Halloween?”  My heart clenched but I held my head high and tried to maintain dignity. It was good. An early exercise in self esteem.

October of 1974, David Bowie came to perform at the Arie Crown theater in Chicago.  My friends and I scored main floor, I think 23rd row seats. I wore a 1930’s dress that I found outside a thrift store, in California. This dress still lives in my closet and sometimes gets resurrected for special occasions. For instance this is me dressing up as my 15 year old self for Halloween at the Lizard in 2012.


We are sitting in our great seats but when the show starts it’s not good enough. I need to get closer so I march up the isle and sit on the step next to the first row, right in front of the stage. I was mesmerized and time froze for an elongated minute, before security booted me back to my seat. Another five minutes and I did it again, but this time others followed and they couldn’t stop us all!  Bowie towered above us, in all his rock star God like glory. He didn’t seem to see me or anyone else and was completely inside his performance. It was the pivotal concert experience of my youth.  I don’t recall which songs he played or anything but the image of him in front of me on that stage, wearing his new persona, in baggie pants and padded shoulders. I was totally filled with awe and wonder!

Fast forward to May 19 2004, just a few days before my 45th birthday.  A friend gets tickets for Bowie in Milwaukee and there are 5 of us going. We have amazing seats and also miraculously  BACK STAGE PASSES! At the time I think this means we will be meeting up with the band, literally behind the stage. We are invited by a random association to base player, Gail Ann Dorsey. I can’t believe my luck. It’s been 30 years since that Arie Crown show. I’m trying  not to get too excited at the possibility that I may actually meet my teenage rock idol. I just focus on the beautiful moment. The show begins, and there he is looking fab, of course.  He weaves a great combination of new songs intermingled with old favorites. What I love most about this show is that he sheds his theatrical mask. He seemed very serious about himself in 1974. Now he has become real for the Reality tour. He looks so happy to be here,  smiling sincerely and looking at all of us. Maybe he sees me and thinks “Hey, isn’t that the girl that started the aisle uprising  in Chicago?” It was supremely cool. I savored every song and couldn’t stop smiling.

After the show I find out that “Backstage” means we go to a big convention type room, far from the stage and wait for the person in the band who got us the passes. We were fortunate enough to meet Gail, but D.B. was not coming to the party. That’s okay. The idea of meeting him seemed too fantastical. What would I have said? I’ll say it now in hopes he can hear me  from his spirit locale:

Hey there, Mr. Bowie!  You may not know me but I grew up with you. I want you to know that you being you, helped me to find the real me. Your music, the way you dressed and all that you represented gave me faith in my right to be different. Not “fitting in”  was suddenly a gift! It was freeing and exciting to discover my own unique image and realize that I was one of kind,  so why pretend otherwise? The world unfolded and the path of infinite possibilities revealed itself. I’m sorry you had to go but so grateful for all the musical souvenirs you left behind. I have a plan. When spring arrives and I take my first bike ride by the lake, I’ll play Ziggy Stardust and sing every song out loud as I ride down the path. I’ll have to go really early so that no one will hear and if I were you, I’d insert your celestial earplugs. My voice sucks but my intentions are full of heart!




The Unmet friend within

Scan 1962

It’s been particularly windy lately in The Windy City. For me as a bike rider, I have regarded wind as the enemy. Every morning I check the weather forecast and try to plan my ride around it.  Out of the north, south , east or west? MPH? Which direction will I suffer the most? Always wishing to start hard and end easy. There were days I abandoned the ride because I couldn’t psych myself up to battle the wind.

Today it was pretty damn windy. Not the worst but less than ideal. On the other hand it was the first warm day in awhile so I embarked on the journey. I left around 11:00 am and noticed there were not so many people out for such a beautiful Sunday. For a moment I entertained the thought that there were no runners on the path because of the Chicago Marathon. Immediately following that brilliant idea, I saw one, two three, four runners pass by.  Yep. Note to self: Not all runners are marathoners!

As I write this I am sitting in my yard and I will say that the wind is serious: whipping branches, leaves, table umbrellas and all renegade trash in the alley. By comparison, this morning was tame but none of these wind facts mattered because I was in an altered state. It was a crazy beautiful day, colors more vivid, water extra sparkly, and people reflecting the same joy I was feeling. I ditched my wind battle in body and in mind.

Suddenly the wind changed it’s attitude. No longer confrontational, it was instead loving. It circled me with invisible arms. stroked my hair, then messed it up mischievously! While the wind worked it’s magic on my senses, I began to have this thought. What if the key to happiness is letting go of judgement, impatience, and anger?  Sometimes I am like a giant walking clenched fist. As I move through life there’s always something in my way. If it’s not the wind it’s something else but the most vicious criticism is saved for myself. Why not relax and surrender? Is it possible to de-program a lifetime of bad behavior? Who would I be without those ugly things that lurk below the surface? A better friend, daughter, sister, artist? I don’t know for sure, but I want to meet that woman. The one who really only has love in her heart.


Push ups in Paris

Scan 1956

Today I will reach a long cartoon arm back in time to snatch a beloved story from the archives. Now that I’m back on this blog I want to keep the mojo flowing and I reckon a good old story never told before in writing will triumph over evil writers block! Okay, so come time travel with me: 🕓🕒🕑🕐🕛…………………………………………….

Yay, it’s 1987 and we’re in Paris! Check me out. I look pretty much the same (from far) accept 28 years younger and no giant purple 80’s glasses. I’m with Sue, standing in front of Notre Dame in the designated spot we’ve planned to meet Julie, who is there for the summer. Imagine that. Pre cell phone or email we had to pick a day and a time, months in advance and hope for the best. It’s springtime, the sun is shining and I’m wearing a long white dress. There she is! We can’t believe it worked. It’s all happening!

Julie has made friends with a big group of international students and that evening they take us to a restaurant on Ile St. Louis. It’s only my second time in Paris and I don’t know my way around yet. We meet them by the Metro stop Hôtel de Ville and snake our way down those twisty turny cobblestone streets, to a place called Nos ancetres les Gaulois. If I noticed the name of this restaurant on arrival, I surely forgot it when I stumbled out several hours later. It’s one of those medieval feast restaurants with many courses plus all you can drink from giant barrels of wine. Happily, it’s minus the King and serving wenches, one would find at the equivalent style joint in London. We’re in the larger group room in the basement. The walls resemble a cave with vines growing over them.

We are a mixed gang of Austrian, French, British and Americans sitting at a long table just opposite another table of already drunk and rowdy French people. There are several ceramic pitchers on the table and we take turns going to refill and then swill. Of course, there is some kind of drinking game where the penalty is….guess what? Chug that glug! It is all very sophisticated. The two French girls in our group, a bit more refined than the rest of us, appear to be scandalized.

There begins a singing competition starting with national anthems. The French drunkards ace it while we Americans begin with confidence, then stutter forgotten lyrics only to crash and burn. Now we move on to the solo performances.  Different people take turns singing and the most memorable song comes from the tall beautiful man from NYC. There is a basket of vegetables on the table. He grabs a cucumber (microphone) that someone has already carved into a penis and sings a perfect rendition of  “New York, New York”. Major applause. Better than the original!

I look across the table and I see my friend Sue, stealthily throwing pieces of bread at people when they’re not looking. She has morphed into an intoxicated 13-year-old. Cool! Then, oh no, is that me painting a stripe of Dijon mustard, top center of NY NY’s clean-cut Afro-textured hair? OMG, he’s rubbing his mustard head into Julie’s neck!!! There are no rules. It’s amazing. We are more than just a table full of drunkards. We are complete idiots but WTF? No one to judge us but the waiters….and maybe the two French girls.

There is another guy from NYC and he stands behind my chair and announces to the room in French: “This woman can do more push ups than any man in this room. Who will challenge her?” Uh oh. How does he know this obscure and unlikely fact about me? Was I bragging about it in between gulps of wine? Well anyway, three guys take the bait.  Everybody gets up and someone tries to clear the table for these crocked olympics. The waiters intervene: Absolutment, pas! Okay, on the floor.

Me first. I remember the adrenaline, heart pounding OMG I cannot believe I’m doing this feeling. The whole room is counting in french: “Un, deux, trois, quatre, cinq…” Sue and Julie are standing up high on the benches flexing their muscles in body builder stance as they count, hoot and holler in support. I keep going and I think I have reached 60 before I collapse. Alas, losing my grip of french numbers, I have only done 50.

My first challenger does 40 before crumbling. The next guy manages 4 and the third one aborts mission altogether. I am victorious. The spectators pick me up and I’m paraded around the room in all my push up winning glory. Holy merde! Who is this American girl?

There is a Gerard Depardieu look-alike ( back in the 80’s he was really cute) and he REALLY wants to talk!  There is about 15 minutes of trying to have a conversation using a French-English travel dictionary. A little pantomime would have been more concise as he just wants to get, you know….naked.  Well even if he has a chance,  which he doesn’t, I am yanked away by my friends. Out on the late night streets of Paris, there are more crazy encounters with strangers before Julie, the french speaking, semi sober one, shoves us into a cab to our hotel.

In the morning, I feel like complete and total shit but I have the overwhelming realization that if I die today (from the hangover) I have had the most fun night of my entire life…thus far.

I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about how to access this kind of adventure in my daily life. Is it unrealistic? After all, vacation is vacation and home life is composed of routine and responsibility. Does routine kill adventure? Is this paragraph killing my story? This particular experience involved a lot of drinking but that was not it’s true spirit. It wasn’t the alcohol that created magic in this room full of strangers. We can’t plan it. It’s the synchronicity and flow that happens from having a totally new experience! Gotta break away. Take a step outside our norm. At the end of our lives what will we remember? For me it will be love and maybe push ups in Paris.


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