Down and Out in Chicago

down-and-out-in-chicago

Hands in my pockets, I walked through Chicago in the rain, over a blaze of streetlights on wet cement, past taco shops and donut shops, Chevrolets in the street.

I’d been back in the US a week and everything felt new again: the wide roads, the fluorescent lights, the glass towers, the endless cement… Chicago, Chicago, Chicago. A squealing subway sparked by between brick buildings overhead, chanting Chicago.

I walked to my friend P-’s loft in Wicker Park and after beers we hit the street again. I’d been telling him I needed something quintessentially American before I traveled onward tomorrow, so tonight, my last night in town, we’d planned to crash an event called “Porn and Chicken.”

As we walked, we had little idea what we were in for. One of P-’s flatmates had told us about it, saying there’d be porn on big screens, trap music and buckets of chicken, but neither of us had given much thought to it. I’d never even heard of trap music. We just went, reeled in by the novelty.

We walked past a group of guys sharing a joint on a street corner and decided to turn back to see if they’d give us a hit. When we approached and made our request, they hid it and just blinked at us.

“Come on guys,” P- said. “We’re on our way to Porn and Chicken.” They immediately eased up. They usually hit up Porn and Chicken every week, they said, passing the joint our way; this week they had a party to go to.

“Should be a good one though,” one of them said. “Tonight they’re playing the Kardashian video.”

I’d heard vaguely of Kardashian, but didn’t really understand who she was. Someone famous for being famous. Armenian.

We continued walking in the Chicago lights, the street like a single key on the vast piano of America, and us: two Oklahomans strolling down it.

We reached the club and entered the fog and laser lights and looked around. On the television above the bar a skinny black woman was pulling down the panties of a thick-thighed white woman and licking her. Vague figures wandered through the fog.

We made our way towards the back bar and ordered tall, cheap beers and leaned against the stools and cheers-ed and looked up at the big screen. Displayed there, in four-foot-wide high-definition, was a woman in a nun’s wimple being sodomized by a priest.

The fog machines yawned awake, pouring a slumberous cloud onto the patrons, who at that point consisted of a half-dozen or so guys in baseball caps and blue jeans and a little clique of overweight Latina girls sipping cocktails out of straws.

On the big screen, the porn zoomed out, revealing the unholy union was taking place on the steps of a cathedral. As I stood there wondering how the hell they’d filmed a porn in front of a cathedral, I noticed the bartenders and wait staff were dressed either as nuns or priests.

Suddenly the screens went blank. Moments later, Kardashian appeared. On the dance floor, nobody was dancing. All eyes were on the porn. It was impossible not to watch it. It was too loud to talk, too dark to really see anyone, the mirrors reflected porn at you wherever you looked and the trap music was bumping so forcefully you could feel your pelvis vibrating, further stimulating the appetite.

Everything there was designed to be as stimulating as possible. I couldn’t help but surrender to the movement that was making its way through my hips and shoulders. I moved, watching others moving likewise in the fog. I observed the lone males nearby, who danced in a desultory, self-conscious fashion, their elbows bent to support their beer bottles at abdomen level, their eyes jumping from the porn to their beers to various women to their feet to the front entrance and back to the porn.

All were lost in the porn. The entire cosmos inside that club was pornography. Every once in awhile someone would escape it, looking away, looking around them with estrangement, but seconds later their eyes would be back on the porn.

Kardashian was lying face down on the bed of some hotel room, her bottom propped up while the cameraman spanked her. Nearby, as if by providence, one of the Latina girls was sucking on a blue lollipop while she watched.

The cameraman grasped one of Kardashian’s buttocks, opening it a little, just so we could see. The strobes began. The music intensified. More fog. Two spotlights suddenly illuminated the balconies overhead, revealing two women in g-strings and nuns’ wimples who began twerking, competing with Kardashian for attention. That went on for a while, then the spotlights cooled, the music slowed, the dance floor cleared and the manifold flavors of fried chicken filled the air. Two nuns brought out the meat on platters and sat it on a table surrounded by candles. The shadows converged. Within minutes, the meat was gone.

“You betta get some chicken,” some guy in a fake afro said as he danced by eating a wing.

Out on the dance floor, a woman in maroon lipstick was devouring a leg as she bumped her ass against some guy in a camo hat. On the big screen above her, Kardashian lay there like a recumbent doll, the narrator humping while he held the camera.

We stepped outside for a smoke. It was like stepping out of the unconscious. I paid some girl 50 cents for a Marlboro Red and lit it up and blew the smoke out thinking about how easy it was to control people with lust.

Some guy in a beanie was sketching crayon portraits of us smokers. He sketched me with the cigarette in my mouth, making me look like a hoodlum. I’m not sure if that’s how he saw me or that’s how he thought I wanted to be seen. I gave him a dollar and slid the portrait in my back pocket.

A homeless man wandered up: “You fellas spare some change for a veteran?”

I gave him a dollar. “Which war?”

“No war,” he said. “I was stationed down in Flawda. At the navy base down in Flawda. Was you in the service?” Before I could answer he slunk off.

I struck up a conversation with some drunk girls, asking their opinion on the Kardashian tape.

“All she does is lay there,” one said. “And she’s not fooling anyone with those ass implants,” said the other. “Did you see? That thing doesn’t even move when Ray Jay slaps it. It’s like hello, the rest of you’re family doesn’t even have an ass… She denies it though.” The three girls discussed Kardashian while I stood there in bewilderment. I didn’t understand any of their references. It was like another language. We stepped back inside.

Bellies full of chicken and booze, the Chicagoans were now getting down. We stood off to the side of the dance floor, drinking our beers, watching. On the big screen, Kardashian was in a swimming pool. And then she was doing something with her lips. And then she was capering along the beach in sunglasses and suddenly the video looped and the porn started over again.

A roaming camcorder was now making its way through the crowd with a spotlight. Whenever the spotlight fell upon a woman she would laugh coyly, put up a little protest, and then begin twerking. The cameraman would record her twerking for a few moments while a circle of men gathered around making whooping noises, and then the camera would move on.

We finished another beer and returned to the streets, our pockets empty, our senses gaping, two outsiders with hours to go before morning.

Read in Nowhere Magazine

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