He had played a wedding that day — not a usual occurrence — so he was pumped, energetic. He danced a bit as he moved.
“Hey, guys,” he said when he caught up with the rest of the gang, our assembled crowd of journos and finance people. “The guy at the door said there are lingerie football players in here.”
“He must have meant on the TV,” I said, pointing to one of the many flat screens blasting visuals of strippers in helmets and shoulder pads beating the living shit out of each other.
“No,” he said. “Like in here in here.”
“Hmm,” I shrugged. “Must be the girls giving lap dances to each other.”
I gestured at the women two booths over, the ones wearing identical micro tank tops, the ones who kept getting closer and closer to each other as if one free drink was the only thing stopping them from full girl-on-girl.
“Saturday night in Wrigleyville,” I thought to myself with a sad smirk.
Wrigleyville, for those who don’t know, is the neighborhood around the Chicago Cubs’ Wrigley Field. A mixture of corporations, faux Chicagoana and the promise of sex with tanned people who don’t love you, it’s the frat part of town. During the summer, thousands upon thousands of ticket-holders pour into the neighborhood to deposit money and empty plastic beer cups into the community, then leave in a puff of Hummer.
In the winter, it’s worse because the tourists are gone. Those who chose to live in an environment manufactured for summertime memories, those people have something wrong with them. You hang out at a sports bar; you don’t sleep there.
But it was where my then-girlfriend’s friend’s band could get a gig.
Although the financier with a voice like the devil caught fire has gone on to bigger and better, I liked this initial band of hers. It was nerdy and fun. The gig was at the bar of a Chicago beer company, the type of place your mom thinks is wild. A few bands are given a shot at a stage with instructions to wrangle 30 people to come in and say to the guy at the door, “Yes, I came for this band, not for any of the others.” If 30 is met, the band can get future gigs.
My then-lady had arranged a group of her friends to help her buddy make the 30. Suburban print jockeys like I was at the time, some mag folks like she was then, a web guru or two like our suit-wearing wedding-pumped friend, a Trib writer of some renown. We were, in a word, journalists. In another word, nerds. Nerds asea in the land where baseball caps are king.
After the friend’s band played, all nerd and fun, we were chased to the next bar by the overly serious and clearly coked next band. The floppy-haired tight-pants lead stopped the show at one point to make sure everyone knew that they, unlike the previous band, were not a cover band, that they wrote each song themselves. (“With our brains,” I kept adding during my repeated and increasingly drunken impressions of them.)
So we went to a nearby martini bar, “where we could talk.” And, if by talk, I meant scream over thumping music while packed tight against a teeming fester of product-wearing erection-toters lined to buy drinks for lingerie football players, the night was a success.
It took until just this moment now, when my roommate put on some slow and southern jazz to go with his beer-dinner that I found the refrain that had been escaping me.
These are our gin joints. These frantic packings of humans around booze and tits and desperation are our legal speakeasies. They’re the places we go to mingle, to splurge, to cut loose and dance and sing. They’re our Algonquin. They’re our Coconut Grove. And as I looked on that scene of the tight and fashionable clustered bills in hand to buy drinks for football-playing strippers, I realized my nerds were the only ones I cared about.
We’re not cool. We’re not as popular nor as fun as a lap-dancing linebacker. We care too much about things that matter and too little about stuff that doesn’t. We’re the freaks of the world, but damn it, we’re the only ones worth saving.
Written late winter 2010