Shitting Nickels in Chicago, and other stories

Colin told me he’d been shitting nickels. He told me while we were in the Art Institute, sitting on one of those much coveted benches, looking at some of Monet’s haystacks.

“If it’s more than $10, I’m not going up the Sears Tower. I’ve been shitting nickels all weekend.”

This expression was new to me. I’d never heard of shitting nickels. I tried to piece it together. In context, it seemed to mean, “spending a lot of money,” but nickels are only worth $.05, so you’d be shitting a lot of nickels to, say, buy dinner. And that would hurt a lot, I thought. So it’s about the pain of the pocketbook.

“Really? Shitting nickels?” I said, anyway, “Where’d that even come from?”

“When I took the car’s old rims into the shop last week, Keith said, ‘You should make your Dad shit the nickels for this.'”

The truth was, I had also been shitting nickels in Chicago.

I started shitting them the moment I missed the first Illinois toll I had to pay. Colin retrieved his change jar from his backpack and had it at the ready. It probably had legitimate, non-shit nickels in it. But it didn’t matter, since, speaking of shit, we were listening to NPR This American Life, “True Urban Legends,” ( and I was totally absorbed by the idea that rats can, and have, actually climbed up the plumbing and into the toilet. It isn’t a myth. While chewing on the prospect of sitting down to take a pee and having a rat squirming beneath you, I only sort of paid attention to the sign indicating IPASS lane verses CASH lane. These days, as it turns out, there’s a median between the two. So if you miss the CASH lane, you can’t get over. There we were. Listening to how one might attempt to flush a rat, change jar at the ready, zooming through the IPASS lane.

On the train into Chicago, the conductor skipped us and we didn’t buy tickets. As it happened, that didn’t matter because all weekend tickets are round trip. The odds were pretty low of getting skipped again on the way home, so even though it felt like we’d gotten away with something, spent less money than we had to, that was not true at all. We’d somehow managed to sit a little too long over our reheated flavored coffee back at my parent’s place, and I had to use the bathroom without delay. I’ve been in train bathrooms before, and looked on this necessity with dread. The ride was an 1 hr & 1/2 long, so holding it was not an option. I would surely have met my demise like Tycho Brahe with a bladder explosion, and no one wants that on their tombstone. The bathroom was somehow worse than I’d envisioned it. The toilet was built into a platform and impossible to squat on, the train jerked along while I made an awkward attempt to squat anyway, and I was very nearly propelled into the wall while trying to pull my pants up.

I can tell you, I would have shit nickels to have any other seat than the one kitty corner from some boisterous cubs fans getting their drink on. One rowdy sumbitch was talking in his outdoor voice, projecting with actorly force at his compatriots about his level of intelligence in all areas of life, from his job as an accountant to his natural talent for Spanish.

The Fairmont, our hotel, was not inexpensive, but we’d secured a bit of a deal on Priceline, and the mere fact the room came with robes satisfied me completely. From our window we had a view of the Aqua Building fit for snooping. Our Neighbor

This made me particularly excited, as I’d recently read an article about it in the New Yorker:

One thing I’d never shit nickels on: Segue tours. These are just plain ridiculous. You have two legs, people. Walk. There’s also this invention called a bicycle. I know that both require you to expend energy and could reasonably be called “exercise” but I’m sure of a few things, one being the fact that American’s need exercise, that Segue’s represent, in some ways, the epitome of laziness, and that ya’ll look like big, touristy fools.

Speaking of touristy fools, the Shed Aquarium on Saturday was a hot mess of an adventure. There we were, waiting in line for the better part of an hour while Chicago wind whipped through us, the line Nazi making sure that no one budged in the gap where a group of people were walking for autism. Once we got inside it was a cluster of families and children bunched at every display case, their kids elbowing their way to the front with no regard for anyone else around them. There were clueless women taking photos with the flash where they were not supposed to, popcorn kernels littered the ground everywhere and infants cried. It felt like the circus. In my ideal visit, I would have sat on a bench, taking time to watch the seahorses swim. Maybe there would be some melodramatic, life-changing, Garden State-esque music playing on my soundtrack. Probably not.

The Blue Man Group was the highlight of the trip, as it should have been, with the price we paid for tickets, believing that they were all sold out. In fact, there were plenty of empty seats scattered throughout the theater – granted, they were not in the “you have to wear a poncho” splatter zone, but still. I enjoyed the smart humor of the show, but during a section where black lights and strobes were turned on, and yards of industrial-textured toilet paper was rolled through the audience, I could not help but find myself wondering about whether they recycled the paper, or if it was, itself, recycled paper and how much they used in a week.

We grabbed the 4:00 Sunday train back to my parent’s place outside the city, feeling proud of our overall success at navigation all weekend long, and the triumph of understanding the bus and L schedule well enough to never have taken a taxi. I dozed on Colin’s shoulder while we zoomed by industrial dump sites on the way towards the suburbs. A teenager sitting on the second tier of the train got out his guitar and played the opening lines of CCR’s  “Suzie Q” over & over.

I drove us home, Americano in hand, singing along to the Avett Brothers. I managed to take us through the CASH lane and Colin finally got to dump his nickels on the tollbooth attendant. I was absorbed with thoughts of the coming week – substitute teaching and getting ready to move up to the Peninsula Players. Colin was absorbed in a game he discovered on my IPOD.

About 15 minutes from home, my muffler, which had been gradually falling off all the way from Chicago, finally shook loose and sent sparks flying as it dragged along the pavement. It was 10:45. I pulled over.

“Aren’t you glad this happened here?” Colin said. “What a nice, quiet, starry night!”

I didn’t answer. I suppose if it had to happen, I was glad it was here. I could hear Tenacious D pouring out of the driver’s side door, Jack Black’s voice saying, “Listen honey, Thinkin’ ’bout a couple things to say to you, Showin’, growin’, Man I’d like to place my hand upon your fuckin’ sexy ass and squeeze. And squeeze!” Colin grabbed a pair of boxers out of his backpack so that he could pull my muffler the rest of the way off without burning his hand.

I supposed I would shit nickels on that later in the week.



  1. I did as instructed and came immediately to read your blog post. You did, in fact, have me laughing out loud. One thing I pondered (it is early yet) was drinking flavored coffee at your parents (we NEVER drink it unless Uncle John is here) but then realized you meant your other parents, and, for some reason, your links aren’t working. This was something of a disappointment. If you fix it, I will come (back). Have a great week / weekend, Bitty.

    • I don’t know how to insert the links so that you can just click on them…if you copy and paste them into the address bar, though, they’ll take you to the right place 🙂

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