Friday promised to be a beautiful day, and I looked forward to my bicycle commute to work. After forgetting my work ID and misplacing my keys several times, I was determined to be more organized. The night before, I laid everything out. Since I pack my work clothes in panniers, I have to select clothes that won't wrinkle. I'd selected a simple black dress and a duster to wear over it in case the office was chilly. In the morning, I packed earrings and hair product and shoes and made sure I had my cell phone and work ID. Feeling put together and prepared, I headed off.
As usual, there was a headwind. (There are smug trivia buffs who claim that "Windy City" refers not to a meteorological phenomenon but to the breeze generated by the yakking of Chicago politicians. These people have never ridden a bike in Chicago.) I dug in and biked to work, making good time, feeling happy that it was Friday and warm and the beautiful lake was to my left along the way.
In my office I took my bags into the single-room bathroom that I use as a changing room. I laid out my things, and stopped. I looked in the bags again. I stared in disbelief.
I had forgotten to pack the dress.
I put on my heavy tights and donned the duster, but it was no use. The duster was a hoodie that fell to a few inches above my knee and closed by means of a belt. No buttons, no zipper. It was like a combination bathrobe and hospital gown.
And it didn't shut nearly well enough, especially around the hips. I put my black spandex bike shorts on over the tights. OK. I put on my shoes and fixed my hair, then carried my bags to my desk.
"Good morning," said James, the Scottish young man who sits next to me.
"Hi James," I said, rummaging through my drawer with one hand while clutching the duster shut with the other. I found one safety pin. Using it to close the duster across my chest, I asked him whether he had any safety pins.
"I seem to have forgotten my clothing today, " I explained.
We looked at each other and laughed. He had no pins. it was time to be creative.
"I'll be back," I said, grabbing my desk stapler and heading back to the bathroom. Once there, I tried stapling the front of the duster shut. The staples did not hold nearly well enough to instill confidence.
I returned to my desk. The other admin was gone for the day so I looked through her desk drawers for pins.
"Look at JC, poking through other people's desks! First she comes to work half naked, now petty crime!" crowed James.
"M--- has let me in these drawers before, " I called. "And she would understand my dilemma."
Just then another co-worker, a woman, came in. She had safety pins and, should I need to resort to it, a sewing kit. I went to the bathroom and pinned the entire front of the duster shut. The total effect was actually pretty stylish. I returned to my desk.
"Looking sharp there," said James, still very much enjoying my predicament.
"I think so," I said. "If I were on a runway in Milan or Paris, couturiers would be gasping at the bold urban edge of this design. People would shell upwards of five thousand dollars for this look."
At one point during the day I lost one of the safety pins fastened across my chest, so I grabbed a paper clip and worked it through the fabric. The head of the department came over to talk about something and as we talked, I saw her eyes flicker periodically to the paper clip. I wasn't sure whether she'd registered that I was wearing bike shorts over my tights. I considered explaining, but opted instead to preserve the mystery, and to carefully cultivate a reputation as a brilliant but eccentric admin.
As I prepared to leave at the end of the day, gathering my bike bag and gear to change for the ride home, James offered to text me a reminder on Sunday to bring my clothes.
"Why don't I just surprise you," I replied.