Margo had circled the day on her calendar. Though she circled it, she hadn’t made solid plans. All she knew was that she had to get away. She would be eighteen and had graduated from high school. At least she had given her parents notice, and that was more than could be said for her brother.
Conflict with her parents had turned her into a rebel, but she didn’t want to disappoint them. She wanted to make a clean break, but she didn’t want to upset them. She wanted her parents’ blessing, though she knew that she probably wouldn’t get it. Still, she tried.
After some deliberation, she adopted the following plan: a letter from a friend would arrive from Chicago. It would contain an invitation and an offer of a place to stay. And why Chicago? Chicago wasn’t that far away from Richmond. And why would her parents let her go? They knew they couldn’t hold onto her forever. Besides as an eighteen-year-old, she was considered an adult. By getting away, she thought she could avoid ruin in a small town and perhaps prosper in a big one.
That winter was unusually cold, but invigorating. Without the wind, the hardy people of Chicago wouldn’t have anything to complain about. Margo felt pushed along by the crowds and the monstrous clock of her new boss, as she came to and went from work in the dark. People hurried to unknown destinations while the clock ate up the time. Margo, thinking about her new freedom and losing herself, knew she had changed and was no longer the person she was in Indiana.
Margo escaped to a small brownstone apartment. The first night, without a bed, she slept on the hard wood floor. She survived and, in spite of her mother’s worst predictions, established herself in Chicago. She found her job in The Chicago Daily News and discovered what brazen idiots did for a living. Her first taste of reality came when she discovered that jobs were hard to find. Who could blame her for not wanting to work in a gas station (her father owned one)? She wouldn’t accept just any job.
Thank goodness her mother hadn’t been a prophet, but she never let on that she was impressed by Margo’s success. With a little persistence, the young woman found the perfect job for her, for a person who enjoyed people who wrote books, drew pictures, and played instruments, writers, painters, and musicians. A sucker for artists, she worked behind the counter at Book Mart, the one just off of Michigan Avenue, near the Art Institute. She could be seen there most afternoons, exchanging courtesies with customers, and during lulls nibbling on sandwiches and reading novels. She also had plenty of time to dream.
Only a few of her dreams would come true. She didn’t know it, but she just left her inspirational source, her hometown, and it had been the main reason for her flight. She started an epic poetic drama, a psychological study of a young woman based on herself. Her treatment of the people in it would embarrass her parents and other people she had known. She hoped to expose their foibles and retaliate for unnamed crimes.
For one reason or another, this project never really jelled. She struggled to find the right words, which led to her predilection for procrastination. She made the mistake of waiting for inspiration. To write such a drama she would’ve had to reach beyond her grievances, which she wasn’t prepared to do. In the absence of inspiration, she pretended to be writing and met with other writers with the same problem.
Motivated by the same desires, most of them would remain unknown. Some would say that they were aspiring for something out of their reach. Some of them were so self-occupied that they would never have been satisfied. Because of their temperament, even with critical acclaim, they may not have recognized success. Most of them were part of the radical avant-garde.
There really wasn’t a way to judge the Michigan Avenue crowd. By and large, until Margo arrived, their work had been dismissed, or only appreciated by a very select crowd. Let their art be what it was, it was certain that the Michigan Avenue crowd was in some ways the same as the Top Hat Gang. They were close and consistently close. But what they mainly lacked was direction. One Cezannes or a Hemmingway among them would’ve changed everything. The people who did come and saw the pictures and heard the poetry, even when they were disappointed, mostly exclaimed their appreciation.
At first Margo didn’t show her work to anyone, and an inner voice made snide remarks about her slim output. She was also well aware of her weaknesses. She unjustly feared that she’d never be ready. Little did she suspect that she’d one day be discovered, but she was eccentric enough to appreciate the latest art trends. Her approach, even then, was messianic. This led her to helping friends, who partially through her efforts succeeded.
For now, she had to be satisfied with living the life of a rather poor working woman. An enthusiast and an amateur, she experienced the usual ups and downs of a pretty woman turned loose for the first time. Helping someone else mightn’t have been a problem had her own writing caught fire. She never thought it was enough to be an inspiration to someone else. She kept saying, “Those who are naturally talented will generally make it in the end, and those who give up simply fail.”
It was possible to fall somewhere in between. Margo was a bit too apologetic, but she felt pleased that she almost always found herself in the center of a crowd. She was lucky to have an outlet.
Her first apartment, before she knew the city, was on Addison, one block west of Wrigley Field. This was not very far from the elevated L, her only transportation and, when running late only a short jog to the train. However, she most likely would choose to be late. When she had the time, she’d wander around without a destination. She enjoyed the glory of wasting time. To escape the common place was a goal of hers.
Dressing as a gypsy didn’t last long. It was something she embraced for several months at a time. By wearing something weird and strange like Druid stones, and dressing in green and scarlet as Hungarian Gypsies did, she thought that she could automatically become apart of one of the small cliques that frequented the bookstore. However, to find similarities between Margo and these friends took a stretch of the imagination. For example, when Jasper tried to seal their friendship with “apo miro dadeskro vast!” or “by my father’s hand,” she, after asking what it meant, visualized her daddy chasing her with a hickory stick. In fact, with coins and pieces of silk woven in the strands of her hair, she began to view such exhibitionism with disdain. To her cultivating a special jargon spoken ungrammatically seemed a sham. It seemed reasonable that she would reject conformity, even to the point of rejecting nonconformity. However, her rejection of Jasper didn’t stop her from keeping the bangles and the rings he gave her or from cultivating an appreciation for Sartre and Liszt.
Instead of a writer, she would’ve rather been a gypsy. Already enthralled with romance, she could hear the creaking carts and the dinging bells and imagine swarthy men making love to her, while the mistaken idea that gypsies were all drunkards and harlots made her extremely angry.