Saturday, March 29, 2008

You Were a Photograph


Last Thursday:
He stood tall, and proud, while he waited for the traffic light to change, to cross the street, and he crossed the insanely busy intersection of Irving Park, Damen, and Lincoln with not nearly the same amount of foreboding I do. His eyes darted a bit, but his face portrayed that of a man who has calmly looked into the eyes of death and said not today, but if I have to tomorrow, I'm ready.
I fucking hate crossing that intersection.
I know when I cross the street there, I tend to convey a look, to the drivers coming toward me, of someone who would undoubtly use the last of their strength, if I were to be hit, to drag them out of their car and erase their face with the pavement. I know I would scare myself if I were to ever see that picture of my face, so I make a conscious effort to minimize the daggers shooting out of my eyes.
The death of the traffic-disobeying bicyclist a few weeks ago, at that same intersection, doesn't help matters much.
The tall and proud guy walked to the bus stop where I was waiting, to catch the same bus I wanted. He reminded me a bit of the Daniel Day Lewis character in In the Name of the Father, who, while decked out in the hottest 1970's duds, pathetically exposed his involvement in a crime he got paid well to do, by walking down the gloomy, dirt poor street he lived on, in said duds.
This guy's clothing was as close as you could get to a 2008 version of a super-cool 1973 outfit, right down to his perfect Bay City Rollers haircut. He looked adorable.
I read no irony on his face, no pride, nor contempt to the less fashionable around him, just a sense that he enjoyed this role he played on the bus this day.
Being a lover of fashion, I try my best to keep up on the trends, but I realised, looking at this guy, I hadn't been paying attention to the fashion world very much lately, because he was that convinced his outfit was right.
I decided there could be no irony on his face, because he wasn't born til the mid eighties, and he hadn't lived the 70's fashion like I had, and I was looking at him now how I'm sure people my age did when I was 20, when I wore my 1960's duds.
We both rose at the same time, to get off at Sheridan Road, and then I saw his hand.
Wow, he has white skin. I thought to myself. There is a rash of doughy looking guys on the bus today. This is the third guy I've seen with skin that looks like it's just been kneaded and floured and is waiting for the oven.
Wait, no, that's not skin. He has an artificial arm.
I saw nothing in his bearing or expression that broadcast his artificial limb. I was dumbfounded. Could I ever move about the world the way this guy did? Minus one arm, but with total confidence and humility? I doubted it. I doubted it because I was getting ready to have a long and dragged out pity party for myself, because of finding out that morning I have to wear glasses, because I'm middle aged.
Now I have to cancel the party.

In early 1989, I lost it. I mean really lost it. I went with B to Jim and Christine's new apartment on Sheridan, by the El stop, to hang one Saturday night. I've been seeing that stop a lot lately, because I've been taking the train to work again. I wonder, how many times I will have to pass that stop without traveling through a time tunnel?
I always found it odd that Sheffield becomes Sheridan Road by the train stop. Right by that other strange street, Alta Vista Terrace, which looks like a little piece of London dropped into Lakeview. That part of Chicago holds many ghosts for me, and I cannot think of that area without picturing it cold and rainy. In those dark and gloomy little apartment buildings, I spent many nights wasting time til the sun came up, with friends and enemies, often times, but not always, hating every moment.

I spent a lot of time in that neighborhood back then, but I was afraid to take the train from that stop. I still did it, Look at me! I'm tough! but I was sure I would be murdered before the train arrived.
B and I spent many nights with Jim and Christine, at their various apartments, but this night I couldn't take it any more. I couldn't take their stupid drug talk. Someone brought up H, wishing they had some, or just wanting some, and someone else chimed in agreement, and this went back and forth for a few minutes, til I flipped out.
"Are you fucking nuts! Bob just died! B is still a wreck because of it! He fucking ODed! And you idiots want some? You're assholes!" I screamed at them til B dragged me out of the room.
"What are you doing here?" I screamed at him, as I tore myself away from him and stormed out the back door. I waited for him to come after me, which he did, and I told him if he didn't leave with me, not to come home. He didn't.

"B, let's go to NA. Or AA, or whatever A there is. I know they can help us. We can't stop this, B. Drugs have taken over our lives. Bob's dead, and look at us! We're worse off than we were before. We have to try and do something!" I said to B.
I couldn't believe the words that had started coming out of my mouth lately. I never talked about anything; I never told B or anyone how I really felt, but here I was doing it. Something took over me. Maybe it was my love for B, and wanting to stop his downward spiral. My subconscious knew I had to break out of my silence, and try to save his life.
I couldn't convince him to go to NA or AA for his problem. His. I didn't have a drug and alcohol problem. I was just broken. Fucked up. I wished I was an addict or alcoholic. Those seemed like an easy problems to solve. Mine were much more complicated than that. But I must say, it did feel right to ask him to go to NA or CA or AA with me, and I felt this feeling of 'exposing a truth' about myself to B. I told him I would go for him, hoping it would help me, too.
I couldn't convince him to go, because he heard the meetings were about God, and God forbid our lives became about God, because that is so much worse than what it was really about.
I did understand the heart of his argument: the homophobia that wears a 'God' mask, but I was used to seeing that mask, and felt I could go on pretending it wasn't there, if it meant I could be shown a way to live my life without drugs and alcohol.
But we didn't go. We never went. I did make a secret promise to myself, in 1989, that if I did any drugs ever again, I would get some help. I made that promise because I told Brad let's go to NA or CA or AA, not you need to go.

A few weeks later, I had to ask B to move out. I hated asking him to leave. I know he was at Jim and Christine's because of drugs, and I couldn't handle it any more. I knew if he didn't leave, neither of us would live to see 1990. He didn't put up much of a fight; he knew it would end badly if he didn't. He didn't even move into Jim and Chris's place; he moved to Milwaukee, with someone there he still kept in touch with. I asked him why he didn't move in with Jim, and he just looked at me with a look that said I'll die there, without saying a word.
This is about life and death. I said to him, without saying anything to him.

A playlist for those grey, gloomy days on the Northside, for the class of '84...

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Sex and Dying in High Society


Some strories, and some crimestories, from 1988 and 1989, in honor of the movie Public Enemies, which has recently begun filming here in Chicago, and for X performing at Metro...

Click on the radio, The Beth and Tim Show, a conversation:
The Rapture is happening tonight. By midnight tonight, you will either disappear, or you will be left behind to fight WWIII. What? Disappear? Yes disappear. That's what the Rapture is: the good Christians will disappear, taken by God up to heaven in an instant. It doesn't matter what you're doing; you could be driving or flying a plane or performing an operation, you will cease to exist on this planet. Where is this coming from? Who said it? It's from a book I recently found, 88 Reasons Why the Rapture Will Happen in 1988. Remember I told you about that book? I was saving talking about it til tonight. Thanks for the warning! You could've let me prepare. Well, the author gives a window of this week in September when this will happen, and this is the last day of his prediction.

Will I disappear to heaven? I thought to myself. Am I a good Christian? Hell no! I don't even clean my cat box enough. I'm not a good anything. Could I get a special dispensation for all the crap I had to endure in my life? A sort of get out of jail free card?

Get ready! If someone comes for you tonight, go with them! You don't want to be stuck here with all us sinners! The second coming of the lord means the rise of the anti-christ! We will be left to do his bidding. I'm sure that won't be fun. Oh yea, no, that would be bad. I hope I get to go to heaven. Do you think I will go to heaven, Tim? Am I a good person? I don't think the Rapture has anything to do with being a good person or not. It's about being a good Christian. I think we both fail that. Maybe, I guess. So following the Rapture, there will be seven years of tribulation, where millions of people will die, and we will see the worthy dead rising from their graves, to go up to heaven, too. Wow. Reanimation. Wow. I'd like too see that. Really? I wouldn't. The world will be thrown into chaos as all these people disappear, and the dead come back to life.
There is some good news, though. Those of us left will get a second chance to go to heaven, if we become good Christians, you know, do good things: sacrifice yourself for others, etc. Wow. Seems we might have our work cut out for us, starting tomorrow. I hope you're ready! I hope someone comes for us, Beth! I hope we get to leave tonight...

God, is this real? Do people really think this? Is WWIII starting? Will I disappear tonight? Ding-dong! My door bell! My door bell is ringing! What do I do? Should I answer it? I'll peek out the window to my one's there! I'll go downstairs and one! I'm freaking out! I'll walk out my front door...
As I leave my courtyard, I see Dehli walking up the sidewalk.
"Yes, it was me! I forgot something in my car."
"Oh. Hi. I thought it may have been Jesus Christ..."

I hadn't worn these in a while. I thought as I put on my running shorts from my teenage days. I should actually use them some time. I wonder how I look in them. Probably not as good as I did back then. Oh well, everything else is dirty, so I have to wear them to do my laundry. Who knows, maybe some cute guy will like what he sees...
I had a lot of laundry to do, and I was in and out of my apartment via the back courtyard into the basement many times that day. It was a little too cold for short shorts, but what can you do. After the second or third trip, I felt eyes on me, and after the fourth or fifth trip, I stood on my back porch, scanning every square inch, because something felt wrong. Someone was out there. The courtyard wasn't that big, so after my long scan, and seeing nothing, I felt it was just my imagination. In the laundry room, I kept one eye on the door, just in case.
Mid way through my chores, Dehli came by for a visit. She lived a few blocks away, and liked to come over spur of the moment a lot. After a few minutes of chitchat with Dehli, a loud scream blares from across the hall, from my neighbor's place, and I fling open my front door, because I happened to be standing by it, and in an impossibly short amount of time, she is out her front door, and in the courtyard yelling for someone to call the police.
"Are you OK? What's wrong?" I call to her from my balcony.
"Call the police! There is a man in my apartment! She yells back.
During this time, in early '89, there was an unfortunate rash of rapes occurring in Chicago that had gone unsolved, and my neighbor was his next intended victim. I tried to invite her into my apartment to wait for the police, but she was too afraid to go back inside. She was, in fact, too afraid to even stay in her apartment, and moved out a few days later. Dehli ran home, so I called Erin and asked if she could pick me up to see a movie; I needed to get out of there, too.
I came home a few hours later to find the police still at her apartment, dissecting the clues he had left behind, and questioning her. They never questioned me.
The next day, I knocked on her door to check on her, and she gave me the story:
She came home to find her cat running around her apartment, freaking out, and opened her closet to put her coat away, when a man jumped out and tried to attack her. She was able to evade him, as I witnessed. I never saw someone move so fast my whole life, I told her. And the police found things under her bed that weren't hers: lengths of rope and rolls of tape.
"They dusted everything of mine for prints, trying to find out who he was. They said he came in the back door. Did you see anything? I just can't think about what he might have done. I can't live here anymore. I'm moving back home." She said.
I told her I had been home all day, and in the back courtyard a lot, but hadn't seen anything. I tried to assure her by saying I was sure I would have heard something wrong coming from her place, if she hadn't gotten out when she did. Maybe I was trying to assure myself.

1989, II:
"Come on Brandon, let's make-out in the closet. Let's have sex in the closet. It's a big closet!"
I said to my old high school classmate, whom I drug home with me one night from B's bar.
"I aways had a crush on you." I confessed. He might have had a passing interest in me that night, but he ran out of my walk-in closet after a minute or two, each time I pushed him in there.
"Aww, come on Brian, let's hang out with B in the living room." He said. B had brought a guy home with him, too, and a big stash, assuring a long night of partying was imminent. I tried to coax Brandon in one more time:
"Alright, just for a little while." He said. But after a minute, he said "No. This is weird." And went home.
A little later, B started to get hot and heavy with his guy, and I didn't want to watch, so I spent the night passed out in my closet, alone.

Sunday, March 09, 2008

Photographic Pictures


Go over to my friend Johnny's blog, A Hole in the Head, to read a story I wrote for him.

Wednesday, March 05, 2008

The Curtain Falls to No Applause


In the first week after moving into my current apartment, I went grocery shopping at the store conveniently located across the alley. Grocery stores forever hold a special place in my heart, for my life seems at times to revolve around them. When I think back on my life, I always start with where I grocery shopped. My mother once told me she went into labor with me while she was at one, so that may have something to do with it.
Anyway, one night in the early stages of my relationship with my new store, I noticed two boys walking up to the self-check out lane. They must have been 14 or 15, and tall for their age. Their clothes were dirty, weeks dirty, and hung loosely on their thin frames, and their shoes were old and worn out, and also too big for them. They knew they were dirty. They knew they weren't dressed like other people. They knew people thought little of them, and they kept their eyes on the floor and slouched as they walked. They wore the weight of their dysfunctional family, which can feel like the weight of the world when you're that age, palpably on their shoulders, and deep within them. But they also had an aura of humility and sweetness to them, that seemed to fill the room. At that moment while I stood trying not to stare too much at them, as they ripped my heart out, they allowed themselves the briefest moment of quiet glee over the bottle of soda and candy bar they were buying. They had spent some time carefully figuring out how far their money would go, for they slowly scanned the items, and checked the monitor to make sure they didn't go over budget.
Again, a brief smile crossed their lips when they realized they could leave the store with what they wanted.
I remembered when I was a boy, and a can of soda was something special. I remembered when a small, happy moment shared with a brother or friend was a welcome oasis during the trials of childhood.
I wanted to give them every cent in my pocket. I wanted to cook them a big dinner. But what I wanted most was to set them free. I wanted them to know no matter what was going on in their lives now, they had the power within themselves to create any kind of life they wanted.
I didn't talk to them that evening at the grocery store, mainly in fear I was projecting something of my own life onto their situation that may or may not have been there, but I look for them and think of them every time I go back.

It's Up to You

I thought B moved out of my apartment on Pinegrove after Christmas of 1988, but I found the Valentine cards we gave to each other, in 1989, so now I don't remember when the hell he moved out. But I do remember that Christmas of '88...
Christmas. I don't know what it is with me and that holiday, but there is something.
That year it was especially cold, and now, as I write this, I remembered B was still tending bar at Windy City, and had to work Christmas Eve, and I didn't want to leave him home alone for the holiday, especially since the last time I did that, someone died.
Erin and I went Christmas shopping together at Oakbrook Mall, where she worked, and I bought Brad some under ware and cologne, and she gave me my present there, at her work. It was a brooch with a built-in perfume bottle, which I, of course, still have.
How I managed to spend any money on gifts and not drugs and alcohol, is a mystery to me, especially since my landlord had to call me every month to remind me to pay him. I always did, but always late. Thank God he lived in Florida, and probably wouldn't be knocking on my door any time soon.
I spent Christmas Eve with B, at his bar, til 4 am, and when it came time to leave, he didn't want to stop the party. We went home to get the money I had purposely left there, for fear of spending it on blow, to go buy some blow.
We walked to Halsted, to his connection's house, in the bitter cold. B rang his bell, and told him what we wanted, and heard But it's Christmas, B. over the intercom. Yea, I know what day it is. You have any or not? B answered back. A pause, then the buzzer let us in.

I sat on the stairs, trying to squeeze some warmth back into myself after the long, cold walk to this apartment, while B knocked on the door. When the over-weight, middle aged, bleached blond man opened his door, I could just see a sliver inside his place. It was a Christmas shrine. Every square inch was decorated, and all of it glowed on fire from the post dawn sun streaming in his east facing windows. Dozens of presents sat under the opulent tree, as he sarcastically said Merry Christmas, and handed B an envelope. A waif-like Asian guy, clad only in bikini briefs, gingerly tip-toed up behind his benefactor, to see just who was making such an early Christmas Day purchase. He quietly said Hi B with a smile, as the blond shut the door.
For someone who peddles such shit, he's sure full of the holiday spirit. I said, as we walked for a cab. B said nothing.
I noticed in the car on the way home, it somehow got colder. Everything was covered in a thin layer of white ice. Nothing moved, nor seemed able to move, and the newly risen sun burned an acid yellow glow into everything. Everything looked dead.
The end. This is it. It's over. This is never happening to me again. I thought to myself.

I awoke Christmas Day at around 5pm, and quickly ran out the door to buy a holiday feast at White Hen I didn't have to cook, (no stove, remember?) and a log for the fire place. I had to beg B to get out of bed to eat something, and to share some sort of Christmas together. Give me another hour or so: Bob. He said. All he would have to say to me was 'Bob', and I understood.
I spent the time in the kitchen, making the meal look nice, and sat and waited for B to get up, to give him a nice Christmas.
He eventually did, and we ate our meal in the dark, save for the glows of the fireplace and the TV, as we watched a movie neither of us had seen before, It's a Wonderful Life, choking down cheese and crackers and swigs of beer through our tears.

Thinking of You

Links: The Colourfield, The Specials