by Dalton McGee
A group of New England kids come to Wicker Park to be bums and the locals don't like it.
|Trip and I walked through the open door of the Flat Iron, passing Sully, my roommate—his hair neatly tied in a bun and his beard unruly as ever—with little more than a glancing nod because he was busy watching out for not only those New England hoodrats who just appeared a couple weeks ago, but also the underagers, the neighborhood bums, and scalawags of all sorts who thrived on causing trouble.
We walked through the narrow, short entrance into a world of darkness and blaring music. A literally square room greeted us with graffiti scattered-walls and the smell of piss and stale beer and a crowd triple the size of outside doing nothing but yelling over each other, with a few playing pool and nobody dancing. I followed Trip as he pushed his way through the crowd and from time to time said hi to strangers who claimed to know him, all the while focused on one goal: a vodka-soda.
I hadn’t bothered to meet more people after moving here a year ago than the ones I already knew, either from back home, like Sully, or friends of friends that became regular friends like Trip, so entering into this atmosphere filled me with a slight anxiety—almost a sheer frustration at the amount of people here in which to choose my interactions—to the point that even conversing with a stranger seemed like a chore. Not to mention the shameless assholes.
At the bar: “Hey, get me a double-Makers straight!” I screamed over the noise to Trip. He faced forward, unresponsive. I tapped his shoulder, but he kept forward. I leaned close to him and with my hand cupped around his ear screamed, “Hey, motherfucker!” Trip dipped his head down, grasping the side of his head with his palm, saying “Shit, dude. Not so loud there. What do you want?”
“Double-Makers. Straight,” I mouthed. He nodded and turned back to the bar, pinky finger digging into his ear trying to scrape out the decibels. When the bartender, a moderately attractive dyed-red-head with a half-sleeve and decent tits, finally made her way to us Trip gave her our orders and turned and waited a minute before collecting the drinks and tossing her a couple bills. “How much?” I pulled out my wallet. Trip waved my wallet away and handed me a vodka-soda sans lime. I looked at the drink then at his face and mouthed, “what the fuck’s this?” and he concocted a wry half-smile and patted my shoulder.
“Pool?” he yelled, pointing to the table farthest from the speakers. I nodded and we made our way toward the front of the bar, to a sectioned off station on the other side of a raised sitting area adjacent to the bar, lousy with people you could tell reeked of humility and human decency—both sexes with thick-rimmed glasses and Urban Outfitters graphic Ts matched with a fanny pack and intentionally umkempt hair creating an air of androgyny that thickened as I stepped closer.
But, as we did step closer it became apparent that speckled in among the hipster collective were a few of the new bums, the ones from Maine or Massachusetts or whatever who thought that it was cool to be a bum, and to rely on the herds of people corralling through the streets of Chicago for their sustenance and support, and even at times relying on theft and mugging to gain long-wanted food, or more likely, booze. And it was these scattered and disparaging acts that changed our view of these people from harmless non-people to victimizing uber-bums.
Trip reached into his pocket for quarters to set on the edge of the pool table which would get us a place in line, but when he looked down there were no other quarters marking any other person’s spot. I glanced behind me to see Sully walking through the bar, I guess to make a switch with another bouncer. I waved casually. He grabbed his nuts and mocked licking me.
Standing at a table near the wall of the raised area stood a guy, who probably stood about to my chin, holding a pool cue and drinking what I can only assume was a PBR poured into a glass to make himself feel fancy, as the bar only served cans of the beer. I elbowed Trip lightly in the arm and motioned toward the guy and we walked over there. The music had faded, or someone had lowered it, or maybe it was off, but all I know is the conversation was crisp.
“Hey, you guys playing?” I said, pointing over my shoulder at the table.
“We’re waiting for our friends; they’re getting quarters.”
“Well, we’ll pay if you guys wanna play doubles,” Trip offered up. The guy shook his head. “C’mon, man. I mean, you can’t actually save a table if you don’t have quarters, we’re trying to be nice. This is a public pool table.”
“How bout you get the fuck away?”
“Why are you being such a dick there, man?” Trip said. The guy stepped forward, knuckles white from gripping the pool stick, maybe even his glasses shaking with a twitch of the cheek.
“You know who you’re talking to? I’m Irish!” the guy said.
“Who gives a fuck?” I said. “So am I.” I pointed to a clearly Middle Eastern guy. “So is he.”
Trip pointed to someone he knew, “That guy there’s actually from Ireland. You’re not. Get the fuck outta here.”
“You wanna start something?” The guy took his glasses off and placed them in his shirt pocket and set the pool stick aside. He puffed his chest like a great ape, and I half-expected steam to shoot from his nose as he exhaled in a puff. “You don’t know who you’re dealing with.”
I turned my head and called out, “Hey Sully!” I looked around for him and called out again, “Sully!” Trip and the guy were still bickering in each other’s faces and before blows came to blows I spotted Sully standing on the upper part—peering out into the hordes—watching for exactly what was about to go down in front of me. I waved my arm, shouting again, and finally caught his attention. He titled his head, lifted his brow and opened his mouth, as if about to speak and say “What up?” I lifted my arm and pointed down at Trip and the pool guy, then waved my other hand in a fist. Sully nodded and walked across and down to us.
“What’s the problem?” Sully directed at Trip.
“This dude here’s being an asshole,” he said.
The pool guy pushed Trip and said, “Fuck you. These guys started it.” When his arm connected with Trip, Sully grabbed it and pulled him to the side.
“You gotta go, man,” he said. “Get your shit, and let’s go.” The thing is, even without the push to Trip, the guy was out. Customer—who is friend (plus roommate) of an employee—is always right. The guy did leave without much of a fuss, no having to be held back, Sully didn’t have to restrain or hit him, no cops had to be called.
Two guys stood on the other side of the pool table, away from the preceding conflict, not saying much, but definitely interested in the table.
“You guys wanna play teams?” I asked. They looked at each other.
“He doesn’t play,” on pointed to the other. “But I’ll play.”
“Find a partner,” I told him, then took a deep swig of the whiskey. “While you’re finding one I’m gonna smoke real quick.” He nodded. I looked to Trip and gave him the international sign for “cig break?”—two fingers put to the lips then pulled away as if taking a drag; not to be mistaken for the international sign for eating pussy, which, while nearly the same, adds the use of the tongue between the fingers. Trip nodded.
Outside, we stood off to the left of the entrance, near another door—the “exit only” door. Sully stood with us, taking a break from his duties and getting that sweet, sweet nicotine into his body. People had gathered outside the bar to smoke and talk and sell drugs—most people, if not more than most, had some sort of tattoo showing. There was the girl with the Aztec skulls interweaved with Mayan-inspired chaotic lines bordering everything, and connected to that Jesus on the Cross with the words “RIP, JC” written under it, and the guy with the mohawk and covering one of his forearms was just about every Misfits logo you could fit—from the grim reaper with his iconic grin to the picture of JFK in Dallas from the cover of the Bullet album. And of course you had your typical praying hands with the words “Only God Can Judge Me” while the canvas of a person snuck a sip of whiskey as Sully or whoever was at the door wasn’t watching.
The crowd formed tiny imperceptible cliques, indistinguishable to the untrained eye, but if you spent just enough time watching and talking with your group of friends, you would see the borders begin to be drawn around each sovereignty and realize that, in a way, they’re all the same, either smoking cigarettes, smoking weed and covering the smell by smoking cigarettes, too, sneaking drinks and doing key bumps hoping the people next to them (who were doing the same thing) wouldn’t see them.
“Man, when you called me over, I thought it was one of those fucking hoodrats from Maine or whatever,” Sully coughed out with smoke.
“Oh, no. I saw a couple of them there,” Trip said. “But they’ve been pretty mild-mannered tonight.”
“Not really, we had to kick a couple of em out before you got here.”
“Yeah?” I asked, exhaling a cloud of smoke. “What were they doing?”
“Oh, fuck, man…” Sully took a drag before continuing. “They were trying to reach over the bar and take a few PBRs.”
“Fucker,” Trip said.
“Sounds like something you’d’ve done a few months back, Sul,” I said. He rolled his eyes and smirked.
“Man, fuck you, that was so long ago. I haven’t stolen in a while.” This probably wasn’t true, but I had no proof and as long as he wasn’t stealing from me, what did I care?
“Trip, you want to, uh…” I started to say, but trailed off when I saw who I thought was Jessi, but then regained my composure. I didn’t want to deal with her tonight, going off all high and mighty on “I went to Sarah Lawrence” this and “Israeli Defense Force” that. She held strong to the Jewish heritage that she claimed, even though she never practiced, and more often than not I was pretty sure she secretly wore a crucifix hidden beneath whatever “Poets are sexy” shirt she was wearing that day and I was pretty sure I caught her walking out of a mosque in Andersonville. Nonetheless there was something she did—and I never understood exactly—that made me call her when I was on the borderland of black out drunk and Trip or Sully had gone off to see whoever or couldn’t get any drug to keep us up talking faux politics and faux religion and faux friendship and probably something about nothing at all.
Trip said something.
“What?” I asked.
“Want to what?”
“Oh, yeah. Um, food. Want to get something to eat?”
“Maybe there in a little bit, let’s get another drink.” I probably sighed a little bit after this, but that may have been in my head. Getting Trip to leave the bar was like convincing a bible belt baptist that Barack Obama wasn’t antichrist. It rarely happened, and there was little I did about it. So, we flicked our burnt to the filter smokes into the road and Trip and I walked inside while Sully took his place back at the door, waiting for any creatures to climb out of the sewer and try to come inside to steal beer from behind the bar.
After squeezing through the herd of people, dodging spilled drinks and stumbling drunks, and screaming of the decibels of the revived music to the bartender to give me an actual Maker’s this time around, Trip and I wedged our way between a couple of patchouli-coated, dreadlock sporting hippies and a group of yuppies that somehow made their way west from downtown to score some college tail, or to sign an unknown band in order to ruin their music by having other people write it. And finally, after all that, made it back to the pool table, only to see scattered balls and one of those New Englanders playing on our table, that we reserved. All we were doing was going to smoke a smoke and then come back to play pool, and yet, someone took our table, which was downright rude. These newcomers, that now think they run the neighborhood, stole our table.
“Hey, man, what the fuck?” I walked up to the guy as he shot at the eight.
“The fuck do you want, yuppie?” The guy didn’t even make eye contact with me.
“You took our table there. We’re just about to play,” Trip said moving a little bit in front of me. “Will you fucking look at me when I talk to you.”
“You can’t save a table. I don’t know what these locals think they know,” the guy said to some other guy, a friend I guessed.
“This is our fucking bar.” Either Trip or I said or maybe said it synchronistically. Again, the music had cut out, or someone had turned it down to only a level some rare breed of cat could hear. “Get the fuck outta here, man.”
Again, I looked around, hoping Sully had come back in the strangely quiet bar, for any reason. And, as I turned my head toward the corridor that led outside, there he came, striding to switch places with another bouncer. “Sully! Hey, come here!” I yelled, which seemed outrageously superfluous as, at the moment, no one was talking, and I am pretty sure everyone was watching our events, waiting for the applaud sign to turn on above us and they’d be able to cheer us on as the miscreants got physically thrown from the bar.
Sul walked up, “What the deal, man?”
“These fuckers stole our table while we were outside smoking with you,” Trip said then took a drink of his vodka as he pointed toward the two bums.
The guy who was shooting walked up, staggering like he was shit-house drunk, and tried to argue, but there was nothing to be said. All they do is steal: beer, pool tables, probably the girl you just met if you didn’t watch it. “You can’t reserve a table,” the guy said.
“Dude, they already had their quarters down, and the other guy was just trying to find a partner,” Sully said. “You’re gonna have to give it up, man.”
“That’s bullshit! No. Not doing that,” the guy said and took a step closer to us.
“You gotta,” Sully took a step closer too.
“Man, fuck you guys,” he said and jammed his fingers into Sul’s chest just hard enough to make him lose balance and take a step back. Sully shook his head and ran his fingers through his tangled hair then wrapped his arm around the guy’s neck and pulled him into a headlock. “Get off me, dammit.” The guy tried to punch at Sully, but couldn’t get a good angle and Sully pulled him down a bit more and dragged him through the bar as people stepped out of the way to make room, then the guy’s friend, another of the Massachusetts bums, ran passed Trip and I and grabbed Sully’s hair, pulling his head back and Sul squeezed the guy’s neck harder. Another bouncer, a bigger guy covered in pirate tattoos, ran to the scene and pulled the guy off Sully by the neck, his fingers seeming to wrap around his entire neck like when Homer strangles Bart, but the other guy’s eyes didn’t pop out of his head in a comedic, cartoonish fashion.
Sully continued to struggle forward, toward the doorway as everyone in the bar cheered on and someone, whoever controlled the music, blasted the roughest, burst-your-eardrums death metal, and after all was said and done, the two ruffians physically thrown to the curb, we finally got our game of pool in, and when we finished, I looked to Trip and said, “Hey, wanna get some food now?”
“Let’s do a couple more shots.”
“Ehhhh, come on. I’m hungry.”
“C’mon, I want to talk to that girl there, by the bar. Just another shot or two.” I blinked and rubbed my eyes, then squinted to get a better look at the girl. Just as I thought, hoodie, tattoos, septum piercing; another one of the typical girls Trip went for while he drifted through hipster heaven.
So, shots. About three more than I wanted to do, and about thirty minutes longer than I wanted to stay I left the bar, alone, as Trip talked the girl up some more, outside, while they shared a cigarette.
The air smelled like rain. The moon jumped in and out of ropes of clouds that plaided the sky but none of the clouds appeared grayish or even near gray, but that could’ve been the lights of Chicago flooding the sky and fading the stars from existence, and I walked home hoping that a torrent wouldn’t drop and soak me as I turned the corner to Armitage off Damen, right before stepping onto the stairs to my apartment door.
I looked down an alley, and there, tagging a barren brick wall were the assholes who stole our table with two of their friends. One guy stood off to the side I guess supervising the project and taking drinks of what had to be a stolen pint of whiskey. At this point, though, sleep coming over me as the clouds thickened threatening an in-land hurricane, I thought fuck it and walked on, not bothering to deal with the continual deconstruction of my city by these tourists.
When I did finally reach the stairs, wholly dry, I saw Jessi, sitting on my steps, smoking a cigarette like she was waiting for me, though she insisted she wasn’t.
“I’m going to bed,” I said.
“Okay, can you move so I can go upstairs?”
“Can I come with you.” This wasn’t a question, really, she was just telling me politely as she could that she was going to come with me.
“Yeah, whatever. Come on.” She put her cigarette out on the banister and we walked up stairs, her rubbing my back and trying to start up small talk. Inside, I poured another drink for myself and handed her a beer that wouldn’t get drunk because as soon as I sat down she got on top of me and started kissing my neck. I tilted my head a little bit and looked at the TV, then took a drink of my Maker’s Mark and set it on the table as she ran her hand through my hair, then put her hands on my cheeks and kissed me hard on the mouth with not enough tongue. There was never enough tongue with her, I didn’t know if she ever learned how to kiss properly, but it bothered me to the point that I almost—almost—told her to leave. But, despite being a shitty kisser, she was a great fuck and I thought, why not?
So we went to the bedroom, got naked, she tried to make out some more, but I put an end to that quickly and she went down on me, we fucked, and I rolled over and pretended to sleep, slightly ashamed at, again, having sex with her, despite my pleas to myself to not have anything to do with her. I was over it.
When I knew she was asleep, I got out of bed, slowly, making sure to not even give myself the remote chance of waking her, and walked into the adjacent bathroom I shared with no one, closed the door and turned on the light. In the mirror, a drunk, half-tired, half-bored caricature of a responsible adult, or what was left of him after a night of binge drinking and bar fights. I almost didn’t recognize him, but when he blinked, I blinked, and how he moved, I moved. He needed to shave bad, it’d been weeks, and he desperately needed some Visine and a cause of some sort. The people he associated himself with helped nothing, but just perpetuated this half-existence of which he couldn’t even remember. He, too, had a girl in his bed, one that he didn’t want to deal with, but one that was, on some level, at least a semi-accomplished poet, if openly prideful of it and annoyingly overt about her few accomplishments, but at least she gave him something to strive for, a purpose, a reason to finish the school he dropped out of six months earlier. Even if the purpose was to be more accomplished than her so he could get her to boast less and maybe he would then be able to tolerate her.
I splashed water on my face, dried it on a towel that I smelled like the beginnings of mold then went back into my bedroom, lay down and to sleep.
In the morning, when Jessi had left, and I skitched across Damen toward the twenty-one hour liquor store, dodging cars and cyclists in skinny jeans, 70s nerd glasses, plaid shirts, and fumanchus—the ones who populate Wicker Park and Bucktown, the ones you see on ironical websites about irony who are only doing it to be ironic. The afternoon sun reflected from every car top and every window. Across the street I removed my sunglasses for a split second before dropping them back to rest on my nose. My headache pounded the back of my eyes relentlessly and my mouth, despite the glass of water I chugged before leaving my place, still felt dry.
I reached forward, my hand about to bring my salvation of Vitamin Water and a pint of Svedka. The door’s metallic handle was unseasonably cool and I kept my hand on it for a moment before drawing the door toward me, and as I began to step inside a hand came down hard on my shoulder.
“What’s up, man?” Sully said.
“Hey, Sul.” I turned to greet him with a handshake-turned-hug, my cheek pressing against his long, oily hair, his unkempt, matted beard scraping against my neck. We parted and I got a full look at him. “What time’d you leave the apartment?” It was a rarity to Sully to be awake even this late in the morning as he more than often spent the early hours of the morning taking advantage of an open bar, after hours at the Flat Iron.
“Dude. Haven’t slept yet. You hear about what happened after the bar closed?” He ran a hand through his hair, catching it on knots here and there, then scratched his beard. His shirt and cargo shorts were wrinkled, no doubt left over from a drunken night of fucking who ever’d have him: more than likely one of the less attractive regulars at the bar.
“Some of those fucking Vermont bums were waiting outside for me and the other bouncers.”
“Wait, what?” The fact that those pricks had the tenacity to actually start something with a bunch of bouncers for kicking them out, after they stole our table, borders on irresponsible and insane. “Really? Why?”
“Well—,” he started.
“Actually, come in with me. I need to kill this headache.” I motioned him toward the open door and we sauntered in. “So, what happened?”
“I mean, nothing really happened, man. They just were like standing there. Some words were exchanged, and get this! They threatened to lynch us. Like… lynch us. Believe that?
“No, that’s ridiculous, though.”
“Yeah, no shit. Anyway, you hungry at all, dude?” he said.
“Yeah, I am. Call Trip; see if he wants to meet us. I’m gonna pay for this shit.” I went to pay for that shit. I honestly didn’t think Trip would be awake this early either, but I figured what the hell, give it a try. I put the pint in my inside jacket pocket and took a long pull on the Vitamin Water, replaced the cap and having no convenient place to store it, just held it in my hand. I walked outside, bummed a cigarette to Sully and we walked to the Milwaukee El stop.
“You get ahold of Trip?” I asked.
“Yeah man, he’s gonna meet us at the Al’s on Ontario.”
“Sweet.” We walked down Damen toward Milwaukee and the Five Corners and about a block down we came across a group of the guys from upstate New York or whatever sitting with cardboard signs that read “Pay me whitey!” and “give me cash, you corporate whore,” and their clothes were so dirty they looked like uniforms in the bright, warming sunlight raining down on everything.
“Hey, you fucking ponzi-scheme loving assholes, hope you’re ready!” the one who pushed Sully the night prior said.
“Get over yourself, man,” Sul said. “Why don’t you go back to New England?” They just laughed and continued to mooch off working Americans. Sully stopped and began to walk back toward them, but I put a hand on his shoulder shook my head and mouthed the words “not worth it” and turned him back toward Milwaukee.
We took the train east to the Grand Blue Line stop and walked the rest of the way to Ontario and Wells. As we turned onto Wells, Trip drove past, doing about a thousand miles an hour like he always did, and honked for about twenty seconds until he parallel parked about a block from Al’s and walked to meet us at the corner.
“How you doing there?” Trip said.
“Same old. You’re up early, or haven’t you gone to bed either?” I asked.
“No, I have there, but I don’t know. Just woke up.”
“Whatever, let’s eat something,” I said as I turned around and walked into Al’s to get an Italian sausage with giardiniera and provolone. And after ordering and waiting and waiting, we got our food, and stood, legs about three feet back while leaning over the counter, elbows propping us up, in the most informal, lack-of-any-etiquette manner possible and sloppily bit into our sandwiches, letting the juices run down out chins and onto the counter and floor, but not onto our clothes.
“What’d you end up doing last night?” I asked Trip.
“After the bar closed, me and that girl there hung out after hours with Sully and had a few more drinks, but I really don’t know what happened after that. I didn’t wake up with her, but I was in my own bed and my arm kinda hurts.”
“You don’t remember leaving, dude?” Sul said. “We left, and those fucking Vermont bums or whatever were waiting for us when we left, remember? They tried to jump us, but I mean, nothing happened obviously. I don’t know what you did to your arm, though. That must’ve been after we split, man.”
“They were there there, waiting for us? Idiots.”
“Those fuckers don’t know where we live, do they? They didn’t follow you home or anything?” I asked Sul.
“I don’t think so, dude. I mean, I did stop by for a sec to pick up some beer I had, but… no.” We finished our sausages and beefs and whatnot, tossed the trash in the trashcan and left. “What are you doing now?”
“Me?” I asked.
“Either of you,” Sully said. I shrugged, and Trip answered his phone and walked away.
“Think I’m gonna go home and take a nap, I’m still beat and feel like crap,” I said. Sul nodded and said that he was going to come home too and sleep before he had to go back to work. We stepped to curb before realizing that Trip was still on the phone, so we walked back in the direction he took off in, but he wasn’t there. I looked back into Al’s, but he wasn’t there either, waiting in line for another sandwich. And finally, Sully walked to where Trip parked, but his car no longer was parked there nor was he just driving away. Whatever, I thought. I was sure he probably forgot he had to work and took off to get back to his parents’ to change before heading to work. Sul and I took the bus back to the train station and went home to take our respective naps.
“So, you just go to bed when you got home, man? I didn’t see you up when I got back,” Sully said as we stepped onto our steps.
“When’d you get back? Like eight AM?” A neighbor’s door on the floor below us opened and that quasi cute girl—the one that Sully claimed to have had sex with in the basement of the Flat Iron while he was on break—looked at us with this look that said what are you doing here? and then opened her mouth to talk, but stopped herself for some reason. “What’s up?”
“Can you guys like keep it down up there? I don’t what you’re doing, redecorating or whatever, but like I can hear you and it’s like annoying,” she demanded. Sully looked at me and I looked him at him, then to the girl. She was leaning against her doorframe, arms crossed, lips pursed in a mocking half-smirk.
“We haven’t been here for over an hour. It was probably our neighbors.”
“No, it’s like not. Because like I can’t hear them. But I hear you guys like fucking or whatever like all the time.” Sully and I looked at each other again and he gave me the don’t trust this girl, I mean, she did have sex with me of all people look. I shrugged, and Sully and I walked the last flight of stairs up to our front door, which, when we arrived was tore open. door frame cracked around the knob.
“Oh, what the fuck is this?” I walked into the apartment, and at this point ready for just about everything. After passing through the threshold a stench like a turd wrapped in burnt hair hit my nostrils with an uppercut and forced me immediately back outside to regain my olfactorial composure. Sully walked right in, not covering his nose or anything then said something. “What?”
“I wouldn’t even come in here, man. Let’s go to the Flat Iron,” he said.
“What is it?”
“Man, I’ll tell you on the way.” We closed the door the best we could, and it took both of us using all our weight to get it to click.
Apparently: My brand new HDTV was face down on the floor and leaking some sort of weird fluid, the glass coffee table was shattered, the wall paper was ripped from the walls and were there was no wallpaper, holes were knocked through the drywall. In the middle of the room was a dead horse head with a piece of paper nailed to its head that said, “say hello to my little friend” on it (oh, so clever), and where there weren’t holes was graffiti that said everything from “fascist” to “I hope you have fun fucking Dick Cheney in hell” to “American corporate whore.” Sully didn’t elaborate more than that, if he even could have.
We sat at the bar taking turns throwing down shots of tequila and in between sipping on cans of PBR. There were only about two other people in there, standing at the video bowling machine taking turns and swearing quite loudly. The clock read six and I was about ten drinks deep. Sully wasn’t quite on par with me because he thought he worked at four, but his boss told him that he worked the ten to five shift, not the four to ten.
“I’m gonna call the cops,” I said.
“No, man. No. No. No, you’re not. No.”
“Why not? Fuck them. We know it was them, it’s obvious. They’re so anti-everything, the graffiti proves it.”
“No, man, I’ll deal with it.”
“How?” I took a sip of my beer and then held two fingers up to the bartender then pointed to my shot glass. She nodded.
Sully slammed the rest of his beer and tossed it over the bar into the trash. “Don’t worry about it. We’ll get it cleaned up later. I’ll deal with it.” The very idea of having to clean that mess up made me sick to my stomach, but I choked back the vomit with another tequila shot. I guess even if we called the cops they wouldn’t have cleaned anything, and knowing our two-bit, no-English-speaking landlord, he wouldn’t’ve done anything about it either. We’d be stuck. First things first when we got back, though. The horse head was to be thrown over the balcony and left for that prick to take care of even if he did issue a memo to the entire building, it was their faults for not recognizing someone breaking into our place. “Actually, I’m going to make a few calls, man and get something to eat before work. What are you gonna do?”
“I’m going to go to Jessi’s.” Sul scoffed at that, but I shook it off, stood up and walked outside. Before leaving, I leaned into a corner and lit a cigarette because the wind bowled off the lake looking to strike the city, breaking it into factions bent on destroying each other. Cars streamed in early that night and I watched as the cavalcade approached the Five Corners and split to follow the vein-like streets: some to the heart of the city, some to the far off arteries where only the dealers and addicts flowed, and some to just park nearby to enjoy a night that would probably be ruined by the likes of the bums from Martha’s Vineyard or whatever. I walked down the street to the bus stop and waited until my bus came to take me over to the Red Line so I could catch the train up to Edgewater.
The threat of rain from last night came back, but it didn’t seem like it would amount to anything. The graying clouds formed patches across the sky, but the smell wasn’t there. The sound of cars and horns honking and people shouting increased until I had to put my hands over my ears, my cigarette dangling lazily from my lips. Finally, the bus arrived and I tossed my cigarette down and jumped on in less than a second, cutting off two or three others waiting near me.
After forty five minutes of people watching, and waiting for anyone to call my phone to get me out of this devastating rut I had been digging as I walked back and forth between the same bars and same houses night after night, the train stopped at Thorndale bringing me to hopefully some remnants of sanity in the form of what I now realized was a girl that could possibly push me to get out of this self-destructive mudslide of an existence.
I turned the corner on Norwood and walked toward Clark. I lit another cigarette and called Jessi’s phone to tell her to come let me in, that we had to talk about something important. No answer. I kept walking. As I approached her building the front door opened and Trip walked out then Jessi. That’s where he had gone? Jessi of all people? He hated that girl, that dumb fucking girl, that dumb egotistical, presumptuous slut.
“Fuck this,” I said. “Fuck this shit. Fuck everyone.” I turned around, took a drag from my cigarette that would kill an infant, tossed it at Trip’s car when I passed it (though I hadn’t noticed it earlier) and pulled out my phone and dialed 4-1-1 and when the automated menu came up I pressed zero to get straight to a real person because talking to the meandering robots that do the same thing everyday wore on me to the point of insanity.
“What city and state?”
“Chicago police department please.”
“Thank you.” The automated robot didn’t even give me the number, but merely connected to me. At the police department another fucking robotic automated machine picked up but this one’s zero-to-operator function had been disabled. When I finally got to the menu and the extension I wanted I was on the verge of tears and ready to throw my phone. Without thinking I walked back into the Thorndale station and stomped up to the platform. Everyone could’ve been looking at me, but I didn’t know and didn’t care what kind of spectacle I made. I was going to get this report filed and get the hell out of this city.
“How can I help you?” I told the officer what had happened to my apartment, the immediate and extensive destruction, the thousands upon thousands of dollars in damage and who I thought was responsible. “Are you there now?”
“No, I’m up in Edgewater. I’ll be back there in an hour or so.”
“We’ll have an officer meet you.”
“No problem, sir.” For once the police were going to do something in my favor, not heckling me and the people I associated with for minor acts of vagrancy that amounted to nothing more than drug use and extreme public intoxication that bordered on dangerous to me and others. The damn people that chained me to that neighborhood and threw the key in the Chicago river only to be found by some half-baked asshole in Buffalo on the beach of Lake Eerie and give him the idea to locate the owner and set him free by destroying his apartment.
When I finally reached Wicker Park, I jumped off the bus, lit a cigarette and began the walk to my building, the last building in Chicago I’d ever live in. The streets were so strangely barren that I expected Doc Holliday and Wyatt Earp to come out into the street ready to take on the McLaurys, and for people to be peaking out of windows to watch the struggle, women holding their baby’s ears, protecting them from the sound of violence.
I turned the corner onto Armitage to the cops holding Sully and two other bouncers down, handcuffed, and two others already in the back of a cruiser. I walked up, slowly, not wanting to startle the officers or cause some sort of insurrection in the back of the cars. I walked up and somewhere off in the distance another gunshot fired and a woman screamed, but the cops didn’t do anything and perhaps I was just hearing the sounds of the OK Corral still. An ambulance roared in the distance then pulled around the corner and parked next to the cops, and that’s when I saw a pair of feet around the side of the complex.
“Sir, we’re going to have to ask—,” an officer began to say.
“That’s my roommate. What’s going on?” I replied, walking closer to Sully.
“Which one?” He motioned toward the three on the ground and the two in the back of the car. “We’ve got six.”
“There,” I said, pointing to Sully. “The one with the pony tail.”
“Did you call us about a vandalism and burglary?”
“Yes,” I said, walking closer. Sully turned his head, we locked eyes. His were screaming at me, saying all the things he couldn’t out loud without repercussions from the officers. My hands shook as I rubbed them together, and my chin quivered. What the hell was Sul, thinking? What was he even doing? I didn’t even want to see who the body was, I was afraid it might be someone I knew, someone I secretly didn’t disdain. “I am.” I shook my head. “I did, I mean.”
“Do you mind if we ask you a few questions?”
“No problem.” Over the course of those thirty minutes of just giving details, I didn’t dare look at Sully even as they ducked him into the back of the other cruiser and took off into the sullen night. I was cleared of any serious wrong doing and was free to go.
I moved what stuff of mine wasn’t destroyed entirely—which included about half my clothes and a guitar that was in a case in the back of my closet—out that night and checked into a hotel paid for by my renter’s insurance. The first person I called after I checked in was Trip.
My voice shook, “What’s up, man?”
“I can’t believe you there, dude,” the sound of wind whipping in and our of the car dominated most of what he said, making it hard to hear clearly.
“What do you mean?”
“What do you mean ‘what do you mean’? I just bailed out Sul from the cop shop, fucker. You called the cops?”
“I didn’t mean to—” I lit a cigarette and looked at downtown lights reflecting off Trump Tower and dancing into the night sky creating an illusion of aurora borealis.
“You didn’t mean to be a good friend there? No? Man, fuck that.”
“Man, you’re a shitty friend, too. I saw you leaving Jessi’s earlier,” I said, trying the only comeback I could think of, which in reality was erroneous.
“Don’t turn this around there. You don’t even know why I was there and now I’m not gonna tell you.” With that Trip hung up.
The fake aurora disappeared as clouds gathered overhead and threatened rain once more as I exhaled a cloud of smoke creating a thicker haze in my room. Below me in the streets someone got mugged and someone else gave a bum some change to make themselves feeling better for cheating on their spouse, and I tried to make a good decision in the face of something I didn’t even start and began down a long road starting with the narrow, dark hallway into ostracism from not just my friends, but from the underagers, the neighborhood bums, and scalawags of all sorts who thrived on without me.