On Wednesday I called in sick to work in order to finish writing a midterm essay that was due that evening, doing that thing I do where I put myself into a sick-person mindset in order to sound convincing on the phone and consequently end up feeling like a genuine invalid all day. Which only gets worse if the thing you’re staying home to do is sitting at your computer for hours while the perfect October sunshine waves outside your windows, crisp-edged October shadows parading slowly around the room.
Finally I went out to get lunch at Nhu Lan Bakery across the street, which was a good decision. The weather was a real masterpiece. It’s exciting to be walking around in the day when you’re usually cooped up in the office. You think that maybe if you kept a different schedule you’d have a better outlook, if your workday wasn't bookended by angry Chicago rush hours. I get the same effect when I have to run a lot of errands on my lunch break, riding around on my bike. The people I see out walking during the day look disproportionately attractive, happy, interesting. It seems like they probably have cooler jobs than everyone.
The women behind the counter at Nhu Lan are invariably charming, usually beaming. They have always indulged and encouraged my forays into the weirder parts of the Vietnames dessert canon -- taro-coconut-mung-bean pudding! sesame balls filled with red bean paste! -- without condescension, providing instructions as to their proper preparation (heat the coconut milk just a little first) when needed. Catching them earlier in the day meant that they had even more good cheer to share. For instance I always order my banh mi without mayonnaise, and this time a woman drew my attention away from the bizarre Vietnamese TV program that was playing -- some “comically” dressed soldiers were mugging their way through a mournful song -- to ask if I wanted veggie pate instead. What a nice idea! It was delicious, though I’m not totally sure what the pate is made of; the bright pink food coloring thwarts any real investigation.
Maybe it’s sad when a good lunch seems like the high point of your day. But it made me feel less like I was about to flunk out of my life. I hadn’t stayed home just because I was too incompetent to finish my school work on time. I had stayed home to taste the particular pleasures of an autumn afternoon on Lawrence Avenue, and tinily succeeded.