Wednesday, September 06, 2006
I've got stories from the forest rave to share, but no time to write them until later this week. This is a reworked combination of two previous entries from 2004. I fixed this up to submit to an online Chicago zine. They rejected it. Since the earlier versions were posted here before I had visitors to this site, let's pretend this is new.
I’m an alcoholic shut-in with a penchant for pouring drinks over my head and howling like a wolf, so it shocks me every time my nightclubbing friends seize me by the scruff and drag me out of the house. I’m unfit for the public eye. A first impression of me might yield the following: wrinkled clothing, tousled hair, bloodshot eyes, hostile sneer, lazy posture, and a bad attitude. In short, I belong among washed up old drunks in dive bars, not among the young, shiny, successful types that squeeze into downtown nightclubs, all glitter and spice and everything nice.
To be fair, I took the nightclub lifestyle out for test drive a few years ago, but the experiment failed. My personality type clashed with the scene, like death metal against pastel. Due to this brutal disconnect, I rejected the culture in favor of one more fitting for me, one of cynicism, self-destructive substance abuse, grating misanthropy, and indie rock.
My friends did not follow my lead, and to this day, they reserve Saturday night for dance music, strobe lights, overpriced drinks, and the occasional designer drug. Every week, usually around dinnertime on Saturday, I am gently coaxed, then laughingly teased, and finally aggressively recruited to join the clubbers’ cadre. Very rarely do I accept.
On a recent Saturday evening, these friends of mine managed to lure me from the safety of home by choosing a slightly different nightclub destination. I was intrigued to learn the establishment bills itself a nightclub cafe. Located on the outskirts of Chicago, in River Grove, Totu serves coffee and Polish cuisine and segues from a casual coffeehouse atmosphere to a full-blown dance club as the night progresses. Could this unusual fusion provide me a comfortable venue for my exacting brand of social catastrophe?
I arrived early, at eight, and entered a wooden barn-like room dimly lit in red lights. I took a corner seat and fished a menu from underneath a pile of scattered karaoke flyers. I couldn't read a word on the menu or the flyers, as both were printed in Polish.
Some examples from the drink specials placard:
Westchnienie ulgi bizona powracajacego z za krzaka
Bieg rozsazalalego Shamana na golasa ku rzece
Sep zdechly z nudow
Skowyt Czejena dzgnietego wlocznia w posladek
I was the only customer present. In the world of nightclubs, eight might as well be noon. There were two waitresses sitting at the bar. One was gorgeous, a svelte brunette in tight shiny leather. The other was hideous, apparently maimed by some unfortunate mishap. Her eyeball hung loose from its socket, a pendulum listing back and forth across her rosy cheek when she turned her head too quickly. The two conversed in Polish with the chef, who wore chef's whites and accented his booming speech with grandiose hand gestures.
The pretty waitress strode up to me and spoke words I couldn’t comprehend. I looked up at her, blinking and dumb. Realizing my quandary, she grabbed a translated version of the menu from another table. I scanned the selections. They served borscht, Hungarian meatballs, and fried vegetables, so I ordered coffee.
I began calling friends, my voice booming over background trance mix playing quietly from the overhead speakers. The staff trio were alarmed at the English words and shot me sidelong glances. They saw me looking about and heard me describing the decor and atmosphere. I think they were trying to discern whether I was a policeman, a fire marshal, a newspaper reporter, or simply a bedraggled reprobate scouting hot spots for friends.
I love listening to foreign languages, especially a room full of them murmuring, babbling, exclaiming, and rebuking. Despite this, I was desperate for conversation of my own, and after an hour of sitting alone, fifteen Poles had wandered in, most of them propping up the bar, ordering Okocim beer. Finally, the first of my friends arrived. Patrick had been practicing his house set for a few years, and was now accepting unpaid DJ gigs wherever promoters would take him. I’m not sure how he hooked up with the Polish crowd, but somehow he landed an hour at Totu. Finally, I had someone to talk to.
When Polish Tom arrived, Patrick’s gig made sudden sense. He plopped down beside me and the pretty waitress returned. They exchanged a few frantic words in Polish. I added a coffee to his order. My fourth cup of coffee was much stronger, came in a smaller cup, and contained muddy silt at the bottom. They'd been serving me domestic swill instead of their native brew. I was glad to be served their homeland mudcup. It packed a punch, though it was nowhere near as dirty or offensive as the Turkish or Armenian equivalents, both of which I hold in high esteem and affection.
By the time Patrick was slated to begin his house music assault, I was surrounded by ten friends. We drank European beer and prepared for the performance. Patrick decided to wear a costume that night. He wore a sport coat, tie, blue jeans, fake afro wig, and giant yellow sunglasses. I witnessed as my friend, a strange American boy, played giddy house music, acted like a cartoon, and made devil horns with his fingers before a crowd of sixty bewildered Polacks who couldn't decide whether to dance, kill him, or leave. I was impressed.
As the night wore on I spent plenty of time talking to a multitude of people, all of them English speakers. We formed a cadre of eleven, planted in the middle of a Polish nightclub, cheerful, the lot of us symbolically waving the colonial flag and representing our country amidst an enclave of European stubbornness.
Patrick finished his set and dashed off to the washroom. He’d been squeezing it in for a while. As he left the bathroom, he was accosted. A few Poles lurking near the exit grabbed him by the shoulders and spun him around to face them.
"Hey, Mr. DJ! We DJs too, we play the music!"
One grabbed his tie, tightened it, (a little too much, according to him) and adjusted his collar. Patrick, feeling nervous, smiled, nodded, and scurried away as quickly as possible.
I had a distinctly weirder experience during my bathroom visit about twenty minutes later. I walked into the bathroom expecting to void my bladder in silence and comfort. I entered the washroom to a peculiar sight: One hyperventilating mouthbreather was standing near the sinks. He began coughing, clearing his throat, and stamping his foot as soon as I entered. I noticed another fellow who appeared to be drinking from the middle urinal. I was not distressed by this unsanitary behavior. The drinker quickly hawked up some buttery loogies and loudly spit them into the urinal. He then craned his head to peek at me before shooting more gobs into the porcelain, concerned that I might be watching him.
It was plain to me they'd been taking turns snorting rails from the top of a urinal. I had no desire to cause either of them consternation, but I had to pee. They were using the middle of three urinals, so I walked past the loogie hawker and stood before the rightmost porcelain. I was enjoying a leisurely piss when a hand clamped upon my left shoulder. A face hovered within inches of my ear, breathing raggedly and yelling in Polish. I mumbled incoherently, unable to speak any sense. I kept pissing.
He said something else. It was time for me to respond. "I no speak-a the Polish." I hoped that would suffice. It did not. Was he looking down at my tinkling genitals? I flexed my shoulder and craned my head. He backed up. Thankfully.
The two of them began glancing at each other, mumbling and wringing their fists, searching for the right words. Finally the snorter's eyes lit up and he pointed at me. He exclaimed "Security! Security?"
”No, no.” I was finished draining. I shook, tucked, and zipped. They laughed uproariously and patted me on the back. I smiled and said, "Yes! The fun." I quickly rinsed my hands and returned to my table. Patrick was still talking about the weird tie straightening incident. I trumped the hell out of him, regaling the table with my tale of the mouthbreathing cokeheads.
I had fun, but there’s no chance of my friends dragging me out in public next Saturday. I’m staying in. 11:17 AM - Bottle Rocket Fire Alarm
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