A Valentine's Post

I'll see John Foyston's nice beer-related Valentine's Day story (in the paper today) and raise him one. My story lacks the narrative sweep of his, but it has the virtue of being one I know personally.

In 1994, I was a grad student at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, trying to study Buddhism at the once-vaunted department there. Its reputation belied the fact that the department had broken into internecine war, and that students of the Tibetan-track professor, Geshe Sopa, had almost no chance of receiving one of the five coveted FLAS scholarships (Geshe-la didn't do politics). So I was on the hunt for a new school. I had struck up a friendship with a bright student from the East Coast, who was also disenchanted with the department (despite being one of the elected five).

So we had applied to other schools, and during a cold snap in January, we decided to go--platonically--down to the University of Chicago and see if it was right for us. Of all the months to visit the Windy City, January is among the rawest. It was a perfectly clear, sub-zero day when we arrived. Our tour of the campus was brief and mostly involved sprinting from key buildings to other key buildings and meeting some folks in the department.

The U of Chicago's a strange place. Folks there revel in their seriousness. They had recently placed dead last in a survey of the 300 funnest campuses (Madison was, as usual, in the top ten), and students were proudly sporting sweatshirts proclaiming the victory. There appeared to be a competitive spirit about who was most overworked and having the harshest experience. And so, as we surveyed the bereft landscape, it began to feel like not exactly the right fit.

But that was nothing. That evening, we decided to go out for a pint. Guess how many pubs there were within walking distance of the hairshirt campus? One--Jimmy's. I don't recall if we actually walked or how we got there, but it's groovy, old-school charm instantly put us at ease. It was the kind of place that served mainly macros, but they did have Guinness, which seemed like a small godsend after our day.

Something happened under the influence of that homey little pub and those Guinnesses. I had just come out of a relationship that hadn't ended well, and I wasn't looking for a girlfriend. Sally says that's crap and that we were being pulled inexorably toward a romantic moment (history bears out her version), but I was ignorant of it. Moments have many causes, of course. We wouldn't have been in Chicago together if we weren't looking for schools, wouldn't have been at the pub if the day had been a little less grim, wouldn't have been pliable under the effects of Guinness had there been no chemistry to begin with. Well, it's now 14 years and one month later to the day, and we are still together, married happily and living far from Chicago.

So, a toast to stouts and pretty redheads and the romance of Chicago. And happy Valentine's Day--