Sunday, April 20, 2014

No. 46 – Acrobat

Performer: U2
Songwriters: Bono, The Edge, Adam Clayton, Larry Mullen Jr.
Original Release: Achtung Baby
Year: 1991
Definitive Version: None.

So how did this obscure closing track from U2’s best album become my favorite U2 song over Bullet the Blue Sky, which had been my favorite U2 song for 25 years? It could be due to relative newness, but I don’t think so. Acrobat was Jenna’s favorite U2 song back in 1992, which I think I mentioned somewhere, but it was lost to me. I found Acrobat a few years ago, and I liked its frantic build more every time I heard it.

By the time I started this here list, I had Acrobat pegged for top 200, then top 100. Every time I’d run through my song list, I’d move it up just a little bit. I hesitated for a long time before I decided to put Acrobat ahead of Bullet, until I couldn’t deny it. Yes, if I were on a deserted island, and I could have only one U2 song with me, it would be this one.

When Laurie’s 50th birthday arrived in January 2010, I was as excited as she was—maybe more so, because I knew what was coming. All I had to do was spring the surprise.

Part of my surprise was that I would take the day off from work—actually two half-days. I wanted to have the afternoon of Laurie’s birthday to make final preparations and then the following morning to sleep off the celebration. Laurie, of course, had no idea about any of this until after the fact.

I knew we’d be dressed up for the birthday, but I had to have work clothes the next day, and I figured Laurie would want to wear regular clothes home on the L. So I packed a bag for us to take to the Peninsula—necessitating the half-day off on Wednesday, because I wanted us to just go straight to our room.

On the weekend before, I packed a change of clothes for each of us and some toiletries while Laurie was away from home. I took the suitcase to my car and tossed it in the trunk, where she’d never see it and thus suspect what was up.

I tried to pick clothes that she didn’t wear much, so, naturally, on Sunday, Laurie wanted to wear the corduroy pants that I packed the previous day. Have you seen my beige cords? Umm, no … I can’t find them. (Of all the luck.) Well, I’m sure they’ll turn up at some point … (heh heh). It was all very mysterious to Laurie.

Finally the day arrived. I drove from my train station to the L and took our luggage downtown. I checked in at the Peninsula and tipped the receptionist after she gave me a tour of my room—a first.

It wasn’t a suite, but it might as well have been. The bathroom was massive, with separate bathtub, shower and toilet room. A dressing area was outside the bathroom and then the actual room itself had a gigantic king bed, a sofa and executive desk.

I unpacked and hung up the clothes, put the Mikimoto pearl necklace in the room safe and called the desk to order a bottle of champagne to have chilling in the room for when we’d get back from dinner, about 11 by my reckoning. Then, there was nothing to do but wait.

It was only about 3 when I was done setting up things. I didn’t want to go home, because I usually got home about 6, so an earlier arrival would arouse suspicion. (This was when Laurie was between jobs.) So I decided to hang out in my room. I set up my computer on the desk and did some work, making a couple phone calls and editing a story.

As I sat there, in my incredible room in the best hotel in Chicago, I thought about all the arrangements I’d made for that night and smiled. So THIS is what it feels like to be rich. Rich people do this stuff—the Peninsula, Charlie Trotter’s, nice jewelry—all the time, because they can. I could do it only once, but it felt great.

I got home about the usual time, and Laurie and I cleaned up for our big night. Laurie knew we were going out to dinner and to someplace nice—I’d dropped big bucks on birthday dinners before—but she knew nothing else.

Of course, I wanted the big reaction when each new surprise was revealed. Part of the fun is the oh-my-GOD freakout factor. The first one would be the limo. For years, when I’m out walking around with others, I like to joke when I see a limo that “there’s my ride” instead of a Honda Civic. Now, I couldn’t wait to walk out the door of our apartment, see the limo and say “there’s our ride … No, really.  THERE’S our ride.”

Unfortunately, that part was spoiled when the limo driver called to announce his arrival. When I booked the limo, I specifically said I didn’t want the driver to say anything about where we were going, just give an address. But the call, just as we walked out the door—I had been on the lookout for him, so we’d be outside when he arrived—kind of wrecked the moment, because when Laurie saw the limo, she knew something was up.

It still went over pretty well anyway. I’d never been in a limo before, and it was pretty cool. It was stocked with wine and beer, and we had a beer as we sat beneath the purple LEDs and took in the view of our city from the Lake Shore.

Laurie had no idea where we were going—even when we pulled up—for dinner. That was good, because the limo driver came down the street the wrong way and, to pull up on the same side of the street as the restaurant, did a U-turn in the middle of the street. Think: Austin Powers trying to turn around that cart for a visual.

Finally, we were out and going up the steps. The only signage at Trotter’s was the logo on the door. There were no signs outside, so it wasn’t until a black-tie-and-tails doorman opened the door and welcomed us to Trotter’s that she had any idea. Laurie was genuinely pleased, but I still didn’t get the reaction I wanted, because, well, she thought she had to keep herself under control given the circumstances, as she told me later.

Dinner was fantastic in every way—the food, the wine, the service, the ambience. If you never got a chance to experience Trotter’s, you missed something. Given the chef’s untimely death a year ago, I’m all the more glad to have done it once. That said, it wasn’t the best meal I ever had. (That honor goes to another upscale restaurant in Chicago: Arun’s. Go there. You won’t be sorry.)

We did the carnivorous prix fixe menu of nine courses and the wine flight. I had an inkling of what the bill would be at the end of the meal, but four years later, it remains the highest of any dinner tab I’ve ever seen. For comparison’s sake: I recently took Laurie, Casey and his girlfriend, Claire, to dinner at the aforementioned Arun’s, and the tab for the four of us was below what the amount was for Trotter’s that night.

The limo driver, whom I called about a half-hour before we finished, was back in front, waiting for us when we left. As we climbed into the back, he called through the window from the driver’s seat, “OK, now we go to the Peninsula, yeah?” ARRGH!!

So, yes, we went to the Peninsula. Fortunately, because Laurie and I had been a few times to the tony hotel bar, she didn’t think anything more of it than a nightcap until I turned the opposite direction from the bar out of the elevator. “Let’s go this way …”

When we got to our room on the seventh floor, it was an anticlimax but no less a nice surprise for Laurie. I did get more of a reaction when she saw the room itself, particularly with a chilled champagne bottle and two flutes—and some courtesy chocolates—on the table next to the sofa. She particularly loved when I opened the coat closet. Hey, look! How did your beige corduroy pants get in here?!

We were like kids after I opened the bottle of champagne, kneeling on the sofa so we could look out the window at the Water Tower, the park below and the Hancock Tower rising over everything. When we sat back down on the sofa, I announced that I had one surprise left.

I went to the safe and pulled out her present. This time, I got the reaction I had been seeking all day, and Laurie showed me her appreciation by putting the pearls on and taking everything else off. I didn’t even mind that we left the curtains open.

The next morning, we had to be up and out by a certain time, because, well, I still had to get to work. Besides, Laurie had a lunch date with a friend. Unfortunately, I didn’t pack a sensible pair of shoes for her to wear, so she’d have to wear her heels on the L. A chance to do a little shoe shopping wasn’t a bad thing.

Before we parted, Laurie still in her pearls, we had the world’s most expensive breakfast at the Peninsula—$120. I’d never approached a C note for breakfast before, but, well, I’d gone this far. Why not go just a little further?

So, yeah, when she went back to the cast of her play and reported why I hadn’t spent much on her actual birthday (good ol’ No. 228), everyone agreed that I more than made up for it. For the record, I dropped five grand on Laurie’s 50th birthday all told, and I’d do it all over again. It was worth every penny.

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