Tuesday, April 13, 2010

The El

I was on the El traveling toward downtown. Only ten stops to my destination. I listened as the electronic voice rattled off the various stops. I counted for a while on the map. I couldn’t sit down, nervous energy in me. I hadn’t taken the El in more than a dozen years. It was strange to be riding on it again. The train moved and swayed and my body moved and swayed with it. I kept my head down. I was a surge of thoughts.

The El took me to doctors.

Poking and prodding, trying to figure out what was wrong.

The El took me to a hospital. I cried at five a.m. as someone tried to get my twenty-year-old self to sign a loan for a life-saving surgery. I had no one to call.

The El took me to despair.

The El took me home again.

The El took me to the city for a thousand follow-up visits.

Once I was raped on the El.

I once commuted everyday on the El.

The El was a friend and a foe. The El was this ever-present part of any number of hard-and-harsh memories. The El was necessary, and maybe a little evil. But I rode the El anyway. When I left the country I left the El.

But I got on the El.

And somehow getting on the El felt important, like trying to come to terms with who I am in this now, this place. And I’m not sure I’m ready, but I’m not sure I’m willing to keep avoiding it.

You slid the card in and it reads the number and the dollar amount and counts up how many trips you can take. I wonder how many trips it will take. I climb the stairs as wind whips around my jacket. Two people rush up next to me, hearing the train pulling up, but I don’t want to hurry. There is a time for reflection on the walk up and I don’t want to lose that. Crusty handrails trail on either side of me and I am afraid to touch them.

I get to the top and walk across the wooden platform. The clomp, clomp of steps on a lonely platform in the middle of a Chicago afternoon as I wait for a train. The sky is blue with high clouds, and the sun shines. I can hear the birds chirping as I breathe in, inhale the smell of it. The El is a strange mix of scents, both human and disgusting, wood and steal, iron and oil and electricity, and the sharp smack of ozone as the train nears.

I look down the track and I can see it pulling in. There is a moment, my heart beating fast and I find myself alone, captured on the platform of the station on a chilly Chicago afternoon. I stand and stare at myself in the reflective glass of the sliding doors. Metal and glass and there am I standing and looking back at me. Black curly tendrils drifting on the wind and dark glasses cover my eyes. I look into me and then I open up completely and step inside.

Monday, April 12, 2010

I'm a Satanist.

“And also, I’m a Satanist.”

I should have known as soon as I walked in the bar that it was going to be one of those kinds of nights. Faustina Von Feist says to come to her birthday party and I am expected to get to Late Bar in Chicago on time.

“It will be fun. It’s Twin Peaks themed. You can’t miss me. I’ll be the one wrapped in plastic.”


I have a myriad of problems, the first being that I know absolutely nothing about Twin Peaks aside from the fact that it is directed by David Lynch and contained Sherilyn Fenn who I have had a mad girl crush on since I was about sixteen. Indeed Sherilyn is the reason I know how to tie cherry stems in knots with my tongue. Well, that and I like to acquire new skills. Gods, the things I would do to Sherilyn Fenn with my tongue…

I seem to have digressed. Anyway. Twin Peaks party should have been a warning. Having only been in the states a few days I do not have time to really do anything spectacular for an outfit. I try to catch a few episodes of Twin Peaks, but mostly get stuck watching Sherilyn Fenn doing bizarre 1950’s logging town dances on YouTube on repeat for about six hours when I should be working.

So the day arrives I dress in something black and low cut and head to the Late Bar for a party. The pretty bouncer who checks my ID has the best piercing and is totally bald. I feel right at home. I order something in a tequila and proceed to read my book and wait for the party to arrive, since I end up being to the bar about ten minutes after ten.

The bar is blue lights flashing black and the music is a mix of punk/goth/New Wave that appeals. People dance alone on the dance floor comfortably moving their bodies like the girls in Type O Negative videos. I am strangely fascinated when I feel plastic wrap on my shoulder and turn to see Faustina in one of her nicest tiaras and a form-fitting dress that leaves everything to be desired. She is lovely in her deathly pallor and plastic wrap and I am immediately caught up in her spell and glad to share her birthday.

We sit, we drink, we order something for her in a champagne with something in it to celebrate the odd passage of time. Girls walk in with dresses so tight and low cut that I can’t help but stare. And I realize that part of this is because I am far too used to drinking in Korea where a low-cut blouse is something where cleavage is hinted at. I’m constantly adjusting the drop of my blouse in the failing light, but then girls walk in wearing nothing but tight corsets and bras and I try to remind myself that it is twilight and Chicago and my sense of decorum can take a walk out the door now.

Krueger enters full-on lumberjack and gets nothing but praise from Faustina about dressing appropriately for the party. He points at me.

“She said wear flannel.”

“You look good in flannel.” Fiest states.

“It was basically all I knew about Twin Peaks.”

“I think I only have this because someone gave it to me. Glad it fits.” And Krueger gets a beer and laments that he will have to drive later so he must drink responsibly now. I, on the other hand, see no good reason to drink responsibly at all and proceed to have the third of what will probably be a good dozen more glasses of tequila.

The music is loud and pulsating and it captures you. It touches you in that place between your ribs and low in your guts. It beats your heart for you. I get lost in it. I watch the crowd and the girls coming and going. I see people in their neo-goth, and post punk. Corsets and cardigans on the dance floor. A beautiful redhead with legs that remind me of the first girl I remember having a crush on stomps in heavy black knee-high boots and a short Mandarin-style shirt-dress to the pulsing rhythm of the music. I’m in love with her legs and the way her body moves.

Krueger rolls cigarettes and I ask if I can have one. It’s been a while since I’ve smoked. The inside of the bar has started to warm with body heat and rhythmic dancing and the coolness of the outside is a welcome respite. It’s chilly, enough to stand my nipples on end, but it cools my head and tequila fever. Tobacco tastes pleasant and like home, light on the tongue. I pull a stray leaf off the tip of my tongue and toss it at the ground when a tall girl with long red hair and nice bangs walks onto the sidewalk to join us.

She asks for a light and I give her Kruger’s. I manage to get it back as well. I look at her hair. She sways on the sidewalk as she smokes, the night, the breeze, and the booze a dangerous combination.

“I like your bangs.” I say to her.

“This is just the way they grow.”

“Well, they are pretty.”

“Thank you, so what kind of witch are you? You are a witch aren’t you?”

I haven’t been asked in a long time about my religion. Probably because I stopped wearing pentacles so long ago, but it amuses me to be asked. I can tell she is drunk, probably too drunk; at first I think she might be interesting, so I answer honestly.

“I’m a pagan. Old school. Sumerian pantheon.” I say.

She tells me the history of her religion. It’s a story I know. Christian to Wiccan, Wiccan, to Satanist.

“Satanists have the best orgies.” I quip.

“They do, but I can’t do the orgies, I’m a hypochondriac. Can you imagine?”

At an orgy? I think to myself.

“Yeah, but it’s true you know.” She continues, “I’ve cursed people. I had to kill someone. I did too. She was my best friend, but I cursed her and I killed her.”

“Sure,” I say.

“I’m a thelemaite now. I’m not supposed to be drinking at level one. Shit I’m not supposed to tell you that.”

My smile gets broader, and her crazy gets a lot deeper.

I can imagine and the thought makes me want to giggle but I try to remain composed because I can see just how serious she is about it. We keep talking and I start to wonder how to get out of the conversation. Eventually I decide I’m cold enough to want to be warm again and encourage her to go in with me.

At some point she mentions it’s her birthday and I can tell she is enjoying it, but she’s also at some point crossed the line. During the night I watch her slide downhill until after several long rolls around in the floor with her dress around her waist someone finally gets a bouncer to talk to her. She walks out with an amused look on her face and a drunk swagger. I smile for her, to be so nonplussed in the middle of it. Or maybe it is just the booze.

Faustina dances with me, her body pressed into mine. I let myself go in it. The dance floor and the happy and the people and the wild ambiance of Chicago to wash away the day and the years; a birthday celebration and feelings of being reborn at a late bar in the city.