The train car gradually comes to a stop. I re-read the last sentence of the paragraph and closed my book. I step off the train and walked the platform leading to the street below. It was fall in Evanston, Illinois and the city becomes a poem written on the turning leaves. The staircase sighed and the steps felt cold against my feet. I’m just across the street from the station. I should feel good about that.
Home was a single room the size of a walk in closet on the third floor of an old mansion. I share a bathroom and kitchen with three other men I almost never see. John, an opera singer studying music theory at Northwestern University; Jin, a Chinese Professor of science also at Northwestern; and Bill, a Mormon Theology Student getting ready to graduate. All accomplished men passing through, I was twenty one and dividing my time between washing dishes at a diner and discretely smoking pot in my room. I secretly nicknamed them “the super friends” I should feel good about that.
I lay on my bed full of exhaustion and nervous thoughts of returning to work tomorrow. I drink Goose Island 312’s and watch television to pass the evening. Sometimes I’ll walk to the library or cafes in town and sit alone. I drink coffee admiring the beautiful women from a distance. They always look happy and composed, and I always feel poor and aimless.
I’m in love with a girl who lives in Kansas. She calls from time to time and I can hear in her voice all the rejection I pray she never puts in words. With a paper box full of fried food and a can of soda I listen on the other end of the phone as she tells me everything about Topeka.
“I’m working as a server at a bar in town. The drinks are cheap and everyone smokes. Most of my classes are early but I like them. My sister doesn’t live too far way so if I ever get too homesick I can go bug her. How’s Chicago? What are you doing now?”
“Dishes, I do dishes at a diner on Green bay.” I took a bite of chicken
It’s not how I wanted to answer her question or what I wanted to say at all. I wanted to tell her I was angry at her for moving away, that I was in love with her. But in the end she just went on about Kansas and I just mumbled my responses anytime she asked me anything.
I stayed home all weekend and drank wine alone. Sometimes during a trip to bathroom or kitchen I’d see one of the Super Friends and rather than force small talk I’d say nothing. I’d be working for them in one way or another for the rest of my life and I knew it. Adult life made me sad and sometimes I’d take a walk and think about my father. Poor men were full of labor and willing to exploit themselves to stay alive. The months fell off the calendar and I washed dishes and drank wine.
I awoke to wall muffled voices softly talking in the kitchen. I could tell right away it was The Mormon and the Opera singer. They got up early and ate breakfast together almost everyday. I kept a coffee maker in my room and filled it with water every night so I wouldn’t have to leave. I smirked beneath my sheets imagining them praying over bowls of oatmeal. I’d drink coffee with the devil and thank myself for having the good sense to steal the beans from work.
I cradled my mug staring out the window and dreaded going to work. I walked to the bus stop thinking of any excuse not to go. Washing dishes was hard and everyone talked down to me. I felt punished or ignored and dreamt of packing a suitcase and vanishing one day. I’ve heard of people starting over with less. The streets passed quickly and my anxiety began to grow.
I pulled the string and re-joined the brisk morning weather. I ran across the street and entered front door of the diner. Inside senior citizens ate breakfast and avoided death for one more day. I could see the manager instantly light up with anger as he vigorously motioned me over.
“Am I wrong or did I just see you walk in the front fucking door?” he gripped his tie and gritted his teeth
“Good morning Jim. ” he cut me off right away and stuck his face closer to mine so I could feel and smell his horrid breath
“Only the Manager and owners are allowed to enter through that door. That’s not your door. As far as you’re concerned that door doesn’t exist. You enter through the door in the back. Turn yourself around and do it right fucking now.”
I exited the front doors and turned the corner into the parking lot. The servers smoked cigarettes and argued politics loudly by the back door.
I wasn’t even registered to vote. How could I possibly contemplate politics or leadership of any \kind? I was renting a closet to sleep in between shifts at diner I wanted to burn to the ground.
“Hey Nico” I heard Rachel the server say as I entered the kitchen.
Inside, oranges filled a bucket next to the juicer. Large mostly empty metal bowls encrusted with dried pancake batter sat stacked on long tables. The room was covered in work waiting to be done. Metal sinks filled to the brim with silverware, plates and glasses waved as I made my way to the break room.
The verbal choir grew louder as I rested my hand on the door separating me from them. Upon opening Spanish banter and group laughter rushed out like smoke. The cooks and the bus boys challenged each others sexual prowess and snorted fat lines of coke off of old laminated menus. They came from nowhere and had no delusions of their purpose in the states. Hated or not, they remained proud and focused. They prepared, served and cleared the white man’s plate with vigor and patience. Even their wives spent the day quietly raising Anglo children in parks and large houses.
“Que ay Nico?” Gustav greeted me
“No mas aqui, trabajando.” I answered and changed into my work clothes
I was embarrassed with how I spoke Spanish and made it a point to keep my answers brief. Growing up in the states mixed with my mothers motivation for us to speak perfect English affected my ability to converse in Spanish.
I punched in and politely declined a line of coke on my way out of the room. My hands ached and I could already feel the scorching water washing over me like a geyser. Eight hours of dishes and food preparation seemed hard and pointless, They might as well have sent me to the beach with a dust pan and broom. What made it worse was knowing I had the verbal and mental ability to be a waiter. Servers made double what I did and they didn’t do shit. Of course I knew why. Aristocrats didn’t drop thirty dollars on breakfast for a bitter Mexican kid to bring them eggs. They wanted beautiful college girls in snug button up shirts and tight black pants to flirt with. They wanted middle class scholars working their way through school happily groveling at their feet. Someone they could see a little bit of themselves inside of whether it be in spirit or penetration. The whole thing disgusted me greatly.
Dawn became dusk and I returned the last of the clean plates and silverware to the front. My hands were lined with throbbing blisters from hot thick butter knives and spoons. Defeated once again I walked to the back room and punched out. I drank a beer with the cooks, keeping one eye on the street for the bus. The second I caught a glimpse of it I charged out the front door to catch it.
“God damn it I fucking saw that” The manager yelled after me his foul voice fading with every step between us
The doors opened and I quickly produced my pass. I greeted the driver and found my seat. I missed my friends and longed for good conversation and laughter. Evanston, Illinois was dark, quiet, and seemed designed to depress me. I reached my stop and walked the few blocks back home.
I took a piss still wearing my coat and gripping my keys. I flushed the toilet and noticed a note on my door.
The cable line is reserved for paying customers only. If you wish to connect the cable to the television in your bedroom you must pay the additional monthly charge of ten dollars with your rent on the first of the month.
I smirked for the first time all day as I reconnected the cable auxiliary chord underneath my door back into the main cable line. I threw the note on the floor and unlocked my door that I quickly closed again. I turned the television on and set my back pack on my bed. I took off my perpetually soggy work shirt and scratched my chest. I went to the closet and changed into comfortable clothes. Now I was dry and hungry. I unzipped my bag and took out another pound of coffee and a small take out box filled with soggy eggs and hash-browns. I sat on my bed and consumed it with a plastic fork.
I heard a knock. I could tell right away that it was the opera singer. The Mormon knocked with conviction and the Chinese professor didn’t knock at all.
“Yes” I made sure to sound bothered
“Can we talk for a minute please?”
I opened my door a crack.
“I’m eating dinner is this urgent?’
“Most of us enjoy eating in the kitchen. Sitting down. With pants on” seconds passed
“This is what you wanted to talk about?” I began to close the door
“My Pan.” He began
“I noticed someone had used it and that’s fine but when I held it under the light I noticed small scratches leading from the center of the pan outwards. The scratches were in circular motion as if put there by an abrasive material. Nico, did you by chance use my pan and then proceed to wash it with the scratchy side of the sponge?’ He looked concerned and with much worry he stared down at his violated pan.
I vaguely remember using his fucking pan in a drunken stupor the night before and he could see it in my face.
“You did it? It’s ok. You did it right?” he was reaching for a confession
“Yeah, I did. I got really drunk at Nevin’s Saturday night and when I came home I had a strange craving for eggs and bacon. So I when ahead and cooked them while I finished off the tall boy in the fridge. Then I washed the pan to avoid having a conversation much like this one. And wouldn’t you know it, we had it anyway.” I closed the door and waited. Tiny footsteps entered the communal kitchen as the creak of the cabinet confirmed he was putting the pan away.
I watched television and packed the last of my herb into a pipe constructed out of an apple. I opened my window and leaned outside. I ignited the top of the apple and took a big hit. Slowly the smoke poured out and joined the evening breeze, holding hands and vanishing all at once. I laid on my bed and listened to the random jazz on the radio.
Often my mind would wander in thought and I’d picture myself on a stage behind a microphone. I’d burn through written material with a healthy and rhythmic pace. I’d choose my phrases carefully and deliver wit with precise timing. The audience roaring and cheering the whole time. The opera singer would sit in the front row with arms crossed clutching the pan sitting next to my asshole manager. The booming laughter stinging them like potent venom. They had come to watch me fail and instead my glory burned them as if they were standing to close to the sun. Maybe afterwards a woman would linger and tell me how much she enjoyed the set. I would say something charming and she would respond well.
It had been about a year since I had sex or dated anyone. With every passing month I grew more restless. In movies I could walk to the market and start a conversation with a quirky art student. In real life I was poor and too embarrassed to ever show anyone where I lived.I didn’t know what to do about it. I just knew a woman’s embrace could be strong enough to crave and dream of, strong enough to smell in the streets and feel in the heat of the passing trains.
On nights like this, I accompany the darkness home and listen to the wind babble through the buck-thorn trees. Old steel train cars slowly buckle over each tread shaking the immediate city above me. My pale orange lit shadow streaks my exhaustion like a bleeding pen. Small thoughts are born and shed down the disfigured avenue’s industrial scar. Here among the abandoned spaces I find a cautious solace. A small stretch pure and ugly enough to be ignored. No well lit ads or shake-spray convictions. Only the land re-claiming itself. Wild grass flooding the moon peppered evening. At home the curtains sway with the music. The beer is cold and the day has all but vanished against the horizon.
Sometimes legends make reality, and become more useful than the facts. (click the pics)
How to Fall in Love with Chicago
By Nicky Zabic edited by Dr. Snezana Zabic
Tal Rosenberg, you’re fired. I read your review of Quentin Tarantino’s newest film “Django Unchained” in The Chicago Reader (1/3/12) and it was as boring and lifeless as the Chipotle you wrote it in on your lunch break. Much like the purpose of getting a journalism degree, you missed the point of the film entirely. Instead you went on a poorly written rant about why you don’t like Quentin Tarantino’s latest work. Now I shall best you. Why? Because I am the Good Will Hunting of being a smart ass. (And I drank a cappuccino after 6.)
Chicago winter is here and for a lot of us that means a lot more time indoors. Like any Chicagoan, I get whisked away by the home luxuries of internet, television, and bathtub sex, but one must venture outdoors. I decided to ask my wife on a date and we were off.
A couple trains and a nice stroll down Lincoln avenue lead us to the charming Davis theater in Lincoln Square. I call it charming because it’s super old and kind of dirty, the seats are bigger than the screen, and the place hasn’t changed since I was a child. Other theaters look like deranged manifestations of a crazy person. Why is ice cream in pill form? And why are people so excited about 9 dollar “Hottie Dogger bites”? My point is, this is the theater that Quentin Tarantino wants me to see “Django Unchained” in and while I’m certain he accepts profits from everyone equally, I know what I’m talking about.
The movie begins and I’m a little nervous that film’s violent reputation might be too much for my wife to sit through. After all, before we came here, she suggested we see a French film about a middle-aged man questioning his validity in the world and existence itself.
The film is scored well and the sight of men in chains makes me a little sad. Still, I realize that with every film Tarantino is modernizing genres for a new generation. “Kill Bill”—kung fu, “Inglorious Basterds”—war movies, “Django Unchained”—period piece. Of course a lot of people are gonna go after Tarantino for making a spaghetti western/revenge fantasy full of plot holes. When is the last time you watched a John Wayne western and started asking yourself why the Indians are wearing tan cargo pants? Give me a break. I suppose you’ll tell me “Lincoln” (playing in the next theater) was any more accurate. Steven Spielberg hasn’t made anything watchable since he stuck his old grey hand up a dinosaur’s ass. He’s doing the same thing as Tarantino, which is making the movie he wants to make. The movie is super violent; maybe it’s because I haven’t been to a movie in a while, but at first it’s kind of disturbing. It makes me think about all the shootings that have happened lately and how we shrug off the idea of people just filling one another with bullets all the time. “Django Unchained” is number 2 in the box office, which means a lot of us are going to see it. The thought floats away and I wonder of where I would have been during that time. I’d like to think I would be fighting to abolish slavery in one way or another. I can’t imagine America was much more loving towards Mexicans at that time. On the other hand, I might be at a theater with my wife taking in a show and putting it out of my mind altogether. I consider how atrocious of an act slavery was and how people shrug that off too as if it wasn’t this nation’s collective history. Slavery exists in many forms today; after all children are not only our future, they are also the makers of our shoes, clothes and toxic electronics. (I’m typing this on one.)
I notice a recurring theme in the film. “Business.” “Flesh for cash”. Two men crossing this nation killing men who profit from enslaving other people. All of them justifying their actions with business and the intention of human will. All the characters are reserved gentlemen or cold-blooded murderers. An important scene it the movie sums it up well. Dr. Schultz and Django are exposed the extremely savage murder of a slave. German Dr. Schultz is visibly disturbed while Django masks his contempt. When asked why he isn’t as disturbed as his partner he replies,
“I deal with Americans a lot.”
I think the film is urging America to ask itself: What are we willing to ignore for in the name of business? Who are the polite killers in our society? And when are we gonna gain the nerve to kill our masters? Or at least liberate ourselves?
The movie ends and we stroll down the block to a bookstore where I look for but don’t find Stephen Colbert’s new book “America Again: Rebecoming the Greatness We Never Weren’t.”
After a little more browsing we find nothing and agree to go eat somewhere in the neighborhood. Trattoria Trullo looks way too nice to walk into with a hoodie I haven’t washed since Christmas but we decide to splurge. After rejecting their beer selection and ordering the pasta dish most parents order for their picky children from a curt Italian server, I wondered, Is there an Italian word for “emasculated American who orders meat sauce”? The meal and the conversation were as delicious as the picture of “Christopher Columbus’s Shame” I drew on the paper tablecloth. Remember guys, always carry a sharpie. I left a few extra dollars out of guilt and we walked off our hearty meal heading to the Damen bus. On the way we saw a cafe where a friendly hipster whipped up a pretty tasty cappuccino at “Perfect Cup” and while I would never take in music or use drugs with that young man, he made a great drink. I ranted between sips about how corporate companies introduced coffee culture to America, but the small businessman was preserving the quality of the product. I thought about how I might run a business and how doing something I loved by myself in the coming years might be a good way to liberate myself and preserve the quality of something I love.
I proudly present an original track by Bob Rok and DJ MAR
Source: SoundCloud / Bob Rok
Write a better song than this and you too shall become un-fuck-with-able!
Hasta Luego Enjoy my Club hit for Europeans!
Source: SoundCloud / Bob Rok
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