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Midweek Memory #2
Sleepless in Chicago: December 2019
My girlfriend kicked me out, then broke up with me, so I go clubbing to pass the time. It's an acceptable escape—something to take my mind off things and help me forget, if only for a moment. Little happens there for me. I don't drink or take drugs, and anxiety is killing me socially. I dance, speak to a few strangers, smoke cigarettes, and generally don't like any of the people I come across. All that's genuinely tangible is the cold loneliness of the season. I hope to stumble upon some fleeting romance, someone to take my mind off the breakup, but this is unlikely.
Would I be able to take anyone back to my place from the venue? Probably not. Few people want to get in an '84 Econoline and go to East Garfield Park for a nightcap with some strange roommates floating just beyond the threshold. Even if there is a chance, my self-esteem ruins it. I'm in the dregs again. It's always dark, and when the sun's out, I'm working a handyman job about as satisfying as selling cheap toasters. But I tend to thrive here; besides brief exhilarating periods, the dregs are what I know. A couple freedoms come with another bottom. Not only are things likely to only improve from here, but I'm also able to give society a big 'ole fuck you without feeling any way about it. It's the latter kind of weekend.
Saturday night. From Underground, I went to an afters in the south loop. I figure there is nothing better to do while I wait for the sun to come up. The location looked promising from the outside. A run-down, seemingly abandoned industrial building with some nice cars parked out front. I have the notion that I found a hidden gem. I parked my Ford around the corner and considered my plans, concluding while finishing my McDonald's that I still have no better way to spend my time. I piss in some bushes and make my way over. The door's open, and the building has seen better days, no thumping subwoofers to be heard. I take my time and hear some voices from a group coming down the stairs. "Anybody up there?" I ask.
A chuckle, they seem disinterested, "yeah, there's people in there," a man responds, so I continue.
"$25 for admission. Cash only, please," the guy at the top of the stairs says, "I think you'll enjoy the people here. Really good people, we always have a great crowd." Did I tell him I'm new to the city? Why would he mention this straight away? It's a little suspicious, needing to make a sales pitch to push tickets. But I can hear basic sounding techno here; enjoyable under the right circumstances. I pull out my wallet and pay. Maybe I'll meet an exciting crowd. Images of some non-descript '90s hacker movie come to mind, a dark club with undertones of danger, and everyone has good fashion sense. There's a chance I could find that down the hall.
"That's good," I say, "the people make the scene. Where's the bathroom?" I piss again. The bathroom is deserted and half-clean; I think nothing of it and walk down the hallway.
"$10 for coat check," the lady behind a cheap folding table says. I'm sweating and pay. The door to the floor is behind me, and I glance through the opening. Not promising. The DJ looks insufferable. I hear a repetitive honking horn sound effect just slightly off-beat; I feel bad for his sampler but even worse for my mood. It's the little things that make the difference in music. Besides the honking, a 4/4 beat with little else going on can be palatable, but tonight I cringe each time the sound effect comes through.
"How's your night?"
I head into the main event with my coat shed, a stale smell of cigarettes wafting around, and shitty techno blasting with even worse acoustics.
There's seating on the left, a DJ straight ahead, a bar to the back right, some strange and cheap-looking lamps scattered about, and the floor is much too big for the number of people in attendance. Looking at the people. I see two college-aged boys way too drunk for their own good, some grown men dancing with wild abandon, lace-clad bartenders, and the only women are obviously working the event as marketing. This is not my scene, not even close to what I pictured. I stare more and wonder where the cigarette smoke is wafting from. Short of being like the grown men, cracked out and carried away by any form of loud music one can find, a smoke is the best I can do.
I find the back stairwell, open the door, and I'm smashed by the scent of rancid tobacco. There are three men and an overloaded ashtray. Besides needing to be desperately cleaned, the free-standing tray seemed like the only elegant piece of furniture in the building. With the men's eyes on me, I say, "hey, what's up?" to no report. The men continue to speak Russian amongst themselves, and I retrieve my smokes.
American Spirits, the black packs. My choice since I was selling tractor parts in Prineville. The best thing about smoking is its familiarity. The relief comes from smoking the same flavor on the same schedule. As a nicotine addict, one has to periodically squash the cravings. Nicotine also comes with a slight rush. One may say that's why we smoke, but after a few years of use, those things cease to matter; unless it's time to quit. But it's not time to quit. It's time to grope for any familiarity I can find in such an unfamiliar scene I'm in. It's not only the venue I already regret gaining admittance to, but the low-brow venue seems to have enhanced the feeling I came in with, the opposite of what I came in for.
I find a cigarette. I light it. One breath, two breaths. Exhale. At this moment, I'm okay. I regard the cigarette as it burns closer to the butt, watching it smolder. Then I wonder if the Russians drove the cars out front here, suck down the final bit of the tobacco, and retrieve my pack for another cigarette. The second one is gone quicker than the first. I stub it out and leave.
There's a couch by coat check. Trailing smoke, I make my way to it. I have a new mission in mind. I've been messaging online accounts with at least 50k followers and asking if they would like to have me paint a portrait of them. A marketing strategy; pour my life and soul into a piece of art in the hopes of getting a quick shout-out. Potentially gaining followers and commissions. I am a man of my time, but I still don't understand the economics of this trade. I don't know why there's such a high buy-in to get people to care. As far as I can tell, that's what everyone else must do; why should I be above it? So, I sit on the couch and start messaging. I glare at passersby, letting them know that I paid my $35 too and I'm gonna use it how I see fit. The marketing women go by a few times with drinks in their hands, different beverages each time. They don't seem to care whether I'm having a good time or not, and that's exactly how I want it.
I decided to leave when the clock showed five. The night is closing which means it's time to find some rest. I step past the doormen and keep it cordial. My exhaustion blunting the feeling of getting shook down for a shit party. Then I'm off. Walking out. Then out to find the next thing to spend my time. Though I was at an event with a less-than-spectacular crowd, not to mention the music, it had been a place to be. Exiting the building sent me back into the purgatory of having no place. My consciousness being as flighty as it is, hasn't even had a home within my skull. I keep walking, taking each step with intention, controlling what I still have control over.
It's cold, but the snow hasn't come with full force yet; still technically Fall, I think. I haven't made the wrong decision coming to Chicago. A variety of people I've met here seem to want me to consider it, especially with the coming winter. But it's necessary. If not for the Shakespearian drama with my ex, then for the new experience. If not for the new experiences, then for the nondescript feeling that there was some puzzle to be solved here. There's something I'm supposed to do. I just don't know what it is yet. To me, the move here seems like such an unlikely decision, so unpopular that something interesting has to come of it. I'm from the west coast. Everyone fleeing their small hometown there seem to make one of a few moves: Seattle, Portland, LA, or San Francisco. I tried Portland years ago, and the rest have no appeal. I like the salt-of-the-Earth crowd in Chicago. I like that Deerhunter played a show here once; that's all I thought of before moving.
When asked why I came here, I tell them it's a long story, but "essentially it's to work," is what I say. That's not the truth, but I'm not lying either; I can't tell what the work I'm supposed to do is. Is it my art, the podcast I have for networking, the construction industry, or my writing? 5am on Sunday morning in an industrial corridor is not the set or setting for solving these questions. My ears are ringing as I step into my van and go home.
Is this what it looks like to have spent the last two years clean and recovering from addiction? For me, it is, and so I take it. I had few plans for myself in recovery. In the beginning, all I wanted to do was find a way to live without using drugs, to get by so that I could have fun with my life. Then I was swept off my feet and had visions of marrying old money and living the good life. I realized first that the fun I wanted was fun through a definition that was continually shifting and soon utterly changed. "The good life" was only good in terms of economics, everything else being insufferable. I wonder what I can gain from this next period of figuring out what I don't like. Not many other things cross my mind as I drive. Maybe living a good life is a process of elimination. Trying new things, realizing you don't like them, and avoiding them from that moment on. That process is what I want from being clean and involved in 12-step; everything else is a bonus.
I think my priorities in life are different from most people's. I orient towards optimization. It matters very little what life looks like or how it feels. Slowly moving towards an optimized life full of meaning and exciting experiences matters. That seems to be the good life for me today. This good life may come with flashy cars, beautiful clothes, and perfect women, but it's not a prerequisite. Those things are much more enjoyable if they mean something other than communicating a message to others. Today, I have some fine clothes. Beyond that, there's little else. I know this is a turning point. There's excessive chaos, though mostly in my head. That's the only indication I need. From chaos comes potentiality, and potential begets change. I'm depressed, but the potential placates me.
Thoughts drift, and I'm on my street before I know it. While parking, I see blue lights flashing behind. I turn off the van, put my hands on the steering wheel, and watch the officer approach.
"Hi, the lights for your rear plate aren't working. Can I see your license and registration, please?" I hand them over, "what are you doing out here?"
"I live here, just moved. I'm, uh, coming back from a friend's place."
"Okay, I'll be back," he says. I sit and wait. I know he pulled me over to see if I was high or trying to find that state. I don't blame the guy and would assume the same thing. I see him coming back.
"Looks like you're all good to go. Thanks for your patience. Look, kid," hesitating as he started to walk off, "seems to me you're not doing so well, so I have some advice. Chicago is a meat grinder; get outta here or move to the north side. You don't belong here."
I belong everywhere I've been; I just don't fit the scene. And so I went in and slept.