It was three years ago. I'd had enough and the fates had conspired and so I loaded my life (or what would fit) into a van and hauled ass out of town for good. I'd split the cost of the van with my parents about seven years before and had never once regretted the purchase. This van had seen a lot. Every major move, my first deliberate hot-box, and the most visceral and violent verbal exchange I've ever had with my step-father. If we had lost control and actually killed each other that night- the van would have been the only witness. TONS-OF-FUN, as Addy called it was taking me across the country one more time. To a new home just across the border from Red-State-Hell. The misery that is Missouri.
In my short time back home after college I came and saw very much and conquered very nothing. Even so, I had fought and won, loved and lost enough for ten lifetimes in this bland and dying landscape. I still have, or keep plenty of affection for my former stomping grounds. The land of my younger and more formidable years. But it is a distant affection. More for something dead and removed and remembered. Not something you can visit or see or touch. My future was never clear in The Show-Me State, but it would have been miserable. I was always certain of this much- I was always meant to come here. The city of Mamet and Letts. Steppenwolf and Second City. Real pizza. Art- with balls. The worst winters, highest murder rate, and a history of political corruption to rival Tammany Hall! It was in the stars. (if you believe that sort of thing) God's plan. (if that's more your brand) I've always called it the next chapter. The next step on what I hope to be a very long and eventful journey.
Three years is time enough to have learned that this is where I belong. A land without financial security. Where the almighty dollar will never be the motivator. Where everyone has some song and dance to share which comes from the heart and soul and fire and has nothing to do with turning a buck. A community so determined to support and risk and play and continue on and on until their bodies break down and crap out for good. This is my beloved prison. My chosen asylum. This is fucking Chicago.
My anniversary fell on a Tuesday this year so I took myself out. I passed Taco Tuesday specials, two for one deals, and three-dollar well drinks and drafts back to where I've vomited up more screeds than my more avid readers would care to remember. Lick it up, lovelies. We're goin back to the Red Line Tap.
She approached me directly at the bar in between sets.
What are you writing?
not an easy question.
Sorry. Maybe I should let you finish.
No, it's okay.
I was stuck. There were so many thoughts all trying to get out at once. Her eyes were green. Or maybe brown. Definitely not hazel. She had recently started playing fiddle with the band. I had seen her a couple weeks before but we hadn't met. Her slim frame and passionate hustle and flow told the tale of a woman who'd amassed about a ton and a half of life experience in a precious short amount of years living it. She'd never rehearsed with the group, she told me. Just gigs. Standing, bouncing, jamming along. Plucking and listening for key changes. Shredding a hot lick when she was in the pocket. The momentary sloppiness of sound was completely worth the bright shining madness that sang from her instrument. Added a hell of a nice flavor to the mix. I told her as much as we talked about sexism, the gay rights movement, capitalism, cultural impasses, and comfortable American complacency. A fellow revolutionary ready for a fight worthy of her efforts and energy. A hippie-dippie badass my mother would be proud of. Not bad for a chance meeting at the bar. Her eyes found mine about twenty minutes before during the first set. She was scanning the tiny crowd assembled- some sitting and bobbing their heads to the beat, others in the back playing pool, still others locked into the third game of the San Jose series they clinched in OT (one more win and they knock LA out of the playoffs- it would serve them right, fucking LA) -and she landed on me. Smiling at her from my perch just above a half-wall as she stumbled, bumbled, and bowed sweet glory. She held my gaze much longer than your typical mid-song glance. After a moment of scrutiny, her smile would finally release. This happened a few times during the set. I found myself wondering if it was just the confidence booster she needed to jam out with ease on her next solo. Or maybe this was all in my head. Maybe she was just drunk.
Where was she heading tonight? Did she have a car? A home? I figured, yes. Her clothes and belongings suggested as much. Even so, something in her direct yet fragile manner made me wonder if she hadn't long ago given up on secure consistent living situations. She said she wrote as well. That she was a refugee from the music department at some university in Denver she said just wasn't for her. An artist. Not a student.
Everybody isn't both. I don't think everybody should be. I wish more artists were told this when they are young. She told me about her bicycle tour through Europe. Camping and cycling and blogging from one region to another and noting more than a couple hundred thousand cultural differences which bordered on bedrock principles making one reexamine their own worldview and life choices.
A young jackass in a Cubs hat interrupted our conversation to interject a useless ignorant collection of bile
and bullshit. She was much more polite than I wanted to be. I was enjoying our talk a great deal. Five minutes discourse with this sensitive perceptive soul was more than enough to learn she was sharper than most of the liquored up booze-hounds in the hospitable not-too-noisy haze. Nobody invited this fuck-stick to throw in any amount of his cents- two or otherwise. He had nothing relevent to contribute to the greater conversation. He had no interest in our dissection of the complacent huddled masses drowning in the sea of capitalism force fed to them since birth. He had no real insight into the ever-growing wealth gap brewing and breeding this nation's next violent revolution. He wanted the attention of the attractive fiddle player with the great rack and definitely not hazel eyes. He was doing what every young drunk male fool does when sitting next to a strong beautiful woman who's out of his league. He talked and talked and talked some more all the while saying absolutely fucking nothing. I sat quietly as long as I could hoping he'd run out of steam and shut the hell up. I lose my tolerance very quickly with people like our new persistent young friend. Lucetta really listened. She said her name was Lucetta. This compassionate patience is not a quality I share. She really humored him, allowing him to finish his fractured thoughts and slink away into the night keeping even pace with his friend who'd had sense enough to keep himself to himself. They've always got to have some cronie with them. Too insecure to go out alone without an umbilicus to turn to for reassurance. A cheerleader to help them feel safe. It wasn't long after this Lucetta had to get back onstage for the second set. The drinking set. And so she did. It wasn't long after this I needed to
get home to snag terrible sleep and batten down the hatches for my impending hangover. And so I did. I wonder if I'll make it back to Red Line next Tuesday. I wonder if Lucetta will be playing with the boys again. I wonder if she'll remember me or my smile or our talk. I wonder, wonder, wonder... -JN