In 2004, when these stories of my misspent youth begin, I was living in a decrepit apartment after moving out of the punk house situated next door. I needed something cheaper because I was trying to become a full-time writer, and $500 for a two-bedroom was an amount I was positive I could clear half of. The house and the duplex were original to the 1940s, on double-wide city lots; the apartment had been for several years prior the in-town shack-up for a “sea captain” buddy of my landlord and was sparsely decorated with faded maps of the Great Lakes, a long-stopped ship’s-wheel wall clock, and an overstuffed leather couch and errant office chairs. The heat probably worked, some windows could not be opened, others would not be closed; the carpet might have been a different color in another decade but now it was a mottled brown. I haphazardly redid the place; over a seashell mural, I striped down the hallway with $10 in Home Depot OOPS! paint and a careful hand.
Within a few years, both these places would be razed, and in the same space, four yardless alley-to-sidewalk townhouses that touched sides were erected, each with an asking price of $850,000. It was impossible to not be entirely aware of the transactive role we were playing in this neighborhood. The windowless warehouses we’d lived in, partied in, played in had gone condo as soon as we’d moved out.
We dragged gentrification along with us, this liminal time seemed to be a tipping point, and subsequently, a twilight. Adult responsibility growing visible on the horizon, my friends and I paced the city nightly on our bikes, worked as little as we could at scammy jobs, and put all our love, ambition and frenzy into our zines, our bad bands, shared ideals, and ill-attended DJ nights. I kept a daily, diaristic blog and made little zines—that writing is preserved and presented in this petite memoir, Night Moves, from which these excerpts come. Night Moves and these passages here are documents of that space and time.
1. CAREER OPP
First off, before it was time to talk to the eager froshes of DePaul University about “women in ze music biz,” I inexplicably drank two cups of coffee, the first caffeine I have had in two years. I stuck by my mantra of “no fighting with audience or fellow panelists,” but I think I sounded like I had just done a thirty-foot rail of speed.
Secondly, teenagers are genius. They are awkward and have no time for any adult’s bullshit. They offered elaborate theories on the Omaha scene myth and had an active interest in debunking Conor Oberst’s talent in the daylight. “Why is SPIN so on his dick? Why do they keep saying he is the greatest songwriter of my generation? He’s not! Everything I read is like, ‘He’s Bob Dylan! He’s drunk!’ Give me some insight that will make me care!” said the sophomore sage. I was like, “Totes. Totes.”
They asked me why 30-year-old musician dudes are always dating their friends who are nineteen and stupid, and does that creep me out like that creeps them out. (Yes. It does.) They asked me if all guys in bands are like that. I said, some, but it has more to do with being a thirty-year-old dude in an emo band, I think.
They told me about being treated like groupies in every internship they have had, and asked me what they can do so that the men they work for stop flirting with them and take them seriously. I did not know where to start with that one. They told me about how when they are booking a show, the promoter calls them honey, and how do they deal with it, without pissing him off, ’cause they need to get bands into that venue. They told me stories I lived a decade ago, and it was depressing. They gave me all the brownies I could eat, firm handshakes, too, and then I headed home. Huzzah to the ladies of DePaul Career Fest 2005 and their fighting spirit.
March 10, 2005
2. KEYS TO THE CITY VERSUS 532 WORDS OF FAME
I ain’t smoked a cigarette in four days, and I knew visiting clubland with Miles would be temptation island. But we were in and out, strolling simply on some return-the-favor shit, a karmic reboot, giving face time at the other marginally attended monthly DJ nights around town. Support Your Local Scene.
I was wearing a long knit poncho that is a Neil Young for Girls model from the thrift, mostly purple and stripes. I like to wear it when I am about on the bike ’cause it makes a good shadow, makes me look like a bird, arcing long across the ground between street- lights, fringe as feathers. It conjures a superheroic feel. Apparently, no one else is getting this vibe, as two separate pairs of drunk lubbers a mere block apart called out to me, asking for “pot.” Both times the people made a squinchy face and mimed a puff-puff-pass. Both times the men asking for weed had wet-looking hair and untucked black dress shirts over light-rinse denim jeans. Perhaps someone posted a note on Craigslist that around bar-close on weeknights an elf-sized girl in a purple cape rides down Chicago Avenue, tossing lids of fine Humboldt County bud out of her front-mounted plastic bike basket. They must have been standing there waiting for their drop, and got me confused with her.
It was a funny thing—funny “haha” and “god’s handiwork” funny—tonight when, after ol’ Al B. stopped by for catch-up and tea and grilled cheeses, we went off to Kinkos. He to Xerox his new comic book and me to pick up the mini-reissues of Hit It or Quit It that I had printed up. They are 12 years old, their masters are crumbly and stained, with brittle ancient tape around the edges and grunge’s cruel irrelevance. On the way home, I stopped and picked up the Reader with my first piece in it. I was carrying these two stacks into the house when I realized they were the exact bookends of my writing life. The little fanzine I brought to the Uptown Kinkos in Minneapolis in 1991, because no magazine or paper or monthly shill sheet would let me write for them—and like magic, here, 13 years after the fact, I am finally living my teenage dream.
April 01, 2005
3. THERE IS A LIGHT ON MY BIKE THAT NEVER GOES OUT
We were off to Edmar, which is decrepit, Polish, and smells like only old grocery stores smell—a little mildew, a little grandma cologne, and the musk of coriander. They are open ’til midnight and mostly sell jarred food. I got a hazelnut-ridden candy bar for a dollar; it was very big and thick like those kinds I used to sell in order to get to go on class trips back in junior high. In the lot, I noticed for the first time, on my new/old bike, that I had one of those friction light generators, same as on my roommate Cris’s bike. The same kind of light that three minutes before I was calling magic. And voilá, it turned out I had one, too!
I flicked the friction maker on the back into its lock- spot and with a mouthful of chocolate and a quick start, I illuminated my path into the wet Chicago night. “I’m shining!” I yelled to Cris and reached out to give her a mini-brick of the bar. We rode towards home, pulling the tinfoil off the candy and devouring it, powering our tiny lights in tandem. Cris would just hold out her hand and say, “More.” I was so happy.
As happy as I’d ever been. I told the man in the Jeep at the stop sign, “We have lights on our bikes!” because I wanted him to notice, to not miss the opportunity to witness such safety and inventiveness in motion. I got all the way home (four blocks) and realized I could not be home—I had to go power the light some more.
Every time I saw someone I knew, I stopped, offered them a square of chocolate, and showed off the glow of my new light. “See!” They would eat the treat and then head in or out of the bar door, congratulating me on my newfound luminescence. I ran into Telo, who was going into the Kill Hannah “Halfway to Halloween” 18+ dance party at the nouveau Italian restaurant. She coaxed me in. Over approximately seven minutes, I drank a water, wondered why every girl in the place thought a push-up bra/corset and underpants with a pair of Skechers was a costume, heard the Killers for the first time, and bummed a cigarette I only took two drags of from a daddy goth who rocked both a sparkly cowboy hat and Shari Lewis’s eyelashes. He called me “babe” and made that clicking sound like he was goddamn Telly Savalas.
I checked out some asses and got back on my bike.
I did not mean to stop at the bar with the big open windows where everyone looks good and seems wasted, but they yelled my name, beckoned me over. They were celebrating new tattoos and twenty-third birthdays and dogs they loved and drinking “to Berlin!” with many small bottles of champagne. I gave them my last candy squares. Then, from around the doorway, a boy I spent six years with appeared; he was working the door. “You have treats?” he asked.
“Nope, those were my last ones,” I said. It was not supposed to be weird, but it was. I think he thought I was just being vindictive for that time he ruined 1997–2002. I held up the empty wrapper for evidence. “Sorry!”
I hopped back on my bike, waved to the faded, and floated home, my little light showing the way.
May 10, 2005