With fifteen minutes to kill between deliveries I went to Dave's Records. Unfortunately I arrived at 10:58am, two minutes before they opened.
A pawn shop just north of Dave's Records piqued my curiosity. Just the other night after the Rush show, the band had a drink at Corcoran's. We sipped our beers with Scott, an improv guy I've known for ten years. The subject of pawn shops came up, and the band admitted to never having frequented one.
"I'm surprised," Scott observed, "with you guys being musicians and all."
We all nodded as Scott continued.
"There's a lot of broken dreams in there."
Thank you, Scott.
I guess our dreams are still intact for the moment.
The pawn shop's buzzing door revealed a fluorescently lit prize wonderland. It was reminiscent of the old Wheel Of Fortune, when winning contestants had to spend their winnings immediately on a revolving carousel of crap. What the pawn shop lacked in ceramic dalmatians and wall barometers, they more than made up for in knock-off Stratocasters and the jewelry of victims. With an about-face I was buzzed back to the icy sun of Lincoln Park.
It was five after eleven when I returned to Dave's Records. Unfortunately they were still not open.
The talk at Corcoran's that night had turned nostalgic about the record stores that used to dot Lincoln Park like currency exchanges: Dr. Wax, Wax Trax, 2nd Hand Tunes, which had a vinyl shop separate from the CD and cassette shop. There was also a place just south of The Wiener Circle that sold budget LPs and a large selection of bootleg concert videos on VHS.
Now there's just Dave's Records, and they don't open on time.
The McDonald's on Clark and Wrightwood piqued my bladder's curiosity. I hadn't been in that McDonald's since the early 90's, and I hadn't urinated since I had coffee with breakfast this morning.
It was a sunny autumn day in 1991 when Greg, Dan, Rob and I pulled into that same McDonald's parking lot. We were 16 and 17 and clearly from the suburbs. Greg had hockey hair, Dan was going through a Manchester faze, Rob wore a leather jacket with shorts, and I donned my brand new Samhain Initium shirt, depicting Danzig and his pals covered in blood. It would be a fun day of spending our disposable teenage income on records.
At McDonald's we ordered soft drinks, then headed on foot toward the records shops. A guy in the parking lot yelled something at us and we chose to ignore him. After all, how important could it be? We were going record shopping.
That day I purchased my first Misfits album, Legacy of Brutality, buried in a shady row of the vinyl 2nd Hand Tunes. It would add a gasoline-soaked bail of cotton to the fire of my blossoming Danzig worship. Later at Dr. Wax, I found the Who bootleg Who The Fuck? for an unbelievable $5. It remains my favorite Who bootleg of all time.
I couldn't wait to get home and listen.
When we returned to McDonald's, of course Greg's car was gone. Someone inside McDonald's gave us an address for E&T Towing, located just west of Ashland near Clybourn. Pointed in the general direction, we followed a xeroxed map as the sun began to set.
We felt like idiots.
Because we were.
I imagine we walked west on Wrightwood for a mile and a half, and talked about the different types of idiots we were. E&T was located behind a Wendy's. The Wendy's still stands today. E&T does not. It was a dirty towing yard on a polluted river inhabited by greasy know-it-alls with rap sheets and the upper hand.
The teachers of life's lessons didn't resemble the teachers in our high school.
It was going to cost $70.
We didn't have it.
This was before ATMs and cellphones.
So Greg used the pay phone at Wendy's to call his Dad, who begrudgingly agreed to wire money to a currency exchange in Wicker Park. Dan and Rob stayed at Wendy's while Greg and I made the trek to get the money.
Greg and I walked another mile south Ashland. It was an ugly stretch of road, under the viaduct of the Kennedy, and past a bunch of crappy nothing. I remember seeing a neglected concrete playground rotting behind a rusty, molested fence. It gave me a false sense of comfort
as we blindly headed toward 1938 W North Avenue. By now the neighborhood had changed greatly from Lincoln Park, and I suddenly felt completely vulnerable in my tough guy murder and blood T-shirt that had been washed exactly once. By my mom.
Squinting against the sun, an approaching shadow stopped us. A blue collar voice show compassion.
"Hey you guys, be careful. They're crazy down there."
He pointed further west.
"You don't look like you're from around here."
And then with more emphasis.
"They're crazy down there!"
Chicago in 1991 was a different town. Wicker Park was in the embryonic stages of gentrifuckation. Only gutter punks with nothing to lose were moving in at the time. The intersection of North, Damen, and Milwaukee was a loud confluence of hollered salutations, violent threats, and the sick, competing with the rickety roar of the L. On Damen sat a sedan, charred black to a crisp.
The currency exchange featured bullet proof glass and an angry man screaming at one of the tellers. I was hoping it was due to the thickness of the bullet proof glass. Otherwise I might have ended up the fourth bloody body on my shirt. We got the cash and high-tailed it back to the tow yard, looking back only to check for would-be thieves.
Back in the burbs that night, Greg and I rented Henry: Portrait Of A Serial Killer. It's a fun, light movie that takes a look at Henry Lee Lucas, a real life man who claimed to have murdered over 300 people. There's this wonderful scene where Henry and his friend Ottis rape and murder a family of three, seen from the perspective of a home video camera lying on the floor. Suffice it to say, the movie has been known to scar.
At one point in the film, Henry is questioned by the Chicago Police. He gives his address as being in the 1800 block of west North Avenue.
"Hey! We walked past Henry Lee Lucas's house today!"
A creepy end to a weird day.
My reminiscing ended in correlation with my urinating at the McDonald's.
I returned for the third time to Dave's Records. It was ten after. Unfortunately it still had not opened and I had to get back to work.
I guess it's not the 90's anymore.
Work was non-stop.
I found fifteen minutes to lie down in the back of the van in the four o'clock hour.
Then it was off to Batavia to make a delivery during rush hour. Starving in Batavia, I spent my record money at a Burger King 46 miles from Chicago.
Maybe it still is the 90's.
By the time I got back to the city it was close to 8pm. Lauren was performing an improv show with Second City at Gilda's Club in River North, so I hung around there until she was done.
She was in good spirits.
Unfortunately I was exhibiting bullshit personality flaws.
I suppose being behind the wheel in constant traffic for twelve consecutive hours (minus a fifteen minute nap) can do a number on one's mood. For me, it creates a combination of swallowed rage, seething selfishness, and silent pouting.
We went to The Bottom Lounge, where the Chicago Reader was hosting an evening of Valentine's Day horror stories. Lauren had submitted a bad date tale from her Los Angeles days, in which a man revealed his penis to her in his unfurnished apartment. The man enticingly referred to his member as "globular."
Unfortunately Lauren was not on a date with this man tonight.
Instead, she was dating a psychotic loner brooding with murderous contempt at hipster hyenas in a claustrophobic bar.
The readings were like the slam poetry versions of storytelling. Lots of hand motions and EMPHASIS and mugging. It felt like the stories were being shoved down our throats, making laughter more of a gag reflex. The banner behind the storytellers could have said EXTREME Valentine's Day Massacre Brought To You By MOUNTAIN DEW!!!
It was me that was the only one not being bullied into having fun.
After a couple of beers I started to loosen up.
But it was too late.
Being an asshole sure makes me tired.