The man in the urban-cool cabbie cap took the stage. He looked out on the crowd of hooting, howling drunks. And with a smile, he turned on the PowerPoint presentation.
“Boris Yeltsin is one of my heroes,” the man said as an image of the former Russian president appeared on the screen.
Over the next few minutes, we saw video of Yeltsin drunkenly dancing, saw pictures and news articles of booze-related Yeltsin anecdotes, learned about the night he wouldn’t let the pope go to bed because he wanted to keep drinking and talk about Italian women. We learned about the Russian culture, heard about the man born with two livers who wouldn’t give his dying brother an extra one because then he couldn’t drink as much.
The brother said he wouldn’t take the liver anyway for that very reason.
And we hooted and hollered and damaged our own livers a little bit more.
Once the tales of Boris Yeltsin got us in the proper lather, the man in the urban-cool cabbie cap turned us over to a large gambler who told tales of betting on the University of Hawaii and other bad decisions booze and casinos have made him make. A comely Italian woman followed — Yeltsin would have loved her — to tell a story about getting drunk with her mom, going home with some guy and promptly vomiting over everything.
The event was the Blackout Diaries, a monthly showcase upstairs at a bar called the Beat Kitchen where professional comics like the Italian woman and hilarious amateurs like the large gambler tell their best drinking stories.
Let’s just say that in this case, “best” does not mean the time they were urbane, witty, charming and home at a reasonable hour.
Bolstered by PowerPoint presentations, Blackout Diary tales involve vomit, inappropriate dancing, bad decisions, photos from inside legendarily hellish night club Berlin. Two sisters, drinks in hand, talked about things they screamed at 4 a.m. A Southern man talked about getting drunk in his religious hometown. A somewhat frattish man had a presentation that involved Simpsons characters and hoots from his friends in the back.
After every presentation, the emcee in the cabbie cap would lead the audience in a brief Q&A with each presenter so we could ask follow-up questions and learn more about what happened. Or at least what they think happened.
Chicago’s bar culture is a thing of beauty in the right hands. From 4 a.m. dives to upscale establishments to that Spanish-language social club I was taken to at 6 a.m. one morning and have never been able to find again.
The Blackout Diaries celebrates those nights where it’s in the wrong hands, where just one becomes just 20, where you bet on Hawaii because it’s still game time in the Pacific, where you puke in a guy’s hallway, end up at Berlin. We don’t need those nights — as a culture we would probably be better off without them.
But it would be a less funny world without puke, Hawaii and Boris Yeltsin.