Every once in a while you have an experience in your own hometown that's so far from your personal reality that you feel like you're in a foreign country. It happened to me a couple Thursdays ago at the Victor Hotel, when I stumbled into a benefit called Bar AIDS. Forty-seven clubs and bars were donating between 30 and 50 percent of the night's proceeds to AIDSCare, a nonprofit that provides shelter, nutritional counseling, alternative healing therapies, and other kinds of support to underprivileged people with HIV or AIDS, and the Victor was participating.
My friend Martha and I had walked into the West Loop club (which isn't really a hotel but has a nice old sign that says it is) on a whim, just to get away from our usual haunts. A petite, orange-tan Ken doll named Mickey Sigler stood on the dance floor with a crowd forming a semicircle around him. Sigler spoke earnestly about AIDSCare and what it's done for the hundreds of people it's served over the past 14 years. It took the DJ several minutes to turn down his techno track, which obviously irked Sigler, who kept blinking and losing his place--and even then the attendees were whooping it up so loudly I could barely hear a thing.
When he finished, James Flosi, AIDSCare founder and CEO--and a minister--gave a moving speech about a Hispanic man with AIDS whose family shut him out because they thought HIV was a disease for homosexuals. Now, thanks to organizations such as AIDSCare, "AIDS is no longer a disease just for gays," Flosi said. "AIDS is a disease for everyone." That prompted an animated cheer from the audience, which seemed a little strange.
Flosi told how the Hispanic guy took his dying breath while lying in his arms, and someone from the organization handed out candles and matches. Then Flosi asked for a moment of silence to consider the deaths caused by AIDS-related illness. Those with lighted candles bowed their heads and closed their eyes. The DJ waited about three seconds and then dropped a totally phat house beat; everyone let out a collective woo! and blew out their candles and started dancing like they couldn't wait to go home and fuck.
I walked over to the bar in disbelief, watching rumps in ill-fitting garments hump other ill-dressed rumps. "I'm so horny!" I heard someone exclaim. Along one wall a couple were making out on a king-size waterbed with no sheets. A Viagra parody hit on Martha with a "Wow!" and, when that didn't work, hit on me with a "Whoa!" and an invitation to go make out.
Everywhere I looked was an abomination of flesh and fashion: pig tits smashed into a translucent white strapless dress, French-pedicured toes splayed over the fronts of wobbly giraffe-heeled shoes, a tree-trunk body with a baby butt in camel-toe jeans, tube boobs barely contained in a bikini top. Who were these people, and what were they doing in my city? I'm sure they were wondering the same about me.
Seasons are like fashion, where you get so excited about the next thing you start buying into it months before it happens. Back in March I was pretending it was summer while I was still in boots and a wool coat. I was blabbing to anyone who'd listen about my brilliant plan to throw everything in storage and spend June and July living with a gorgeous, highly entertaining woman who has precious few boundaries in her filthy-rich ex-boyfriend's Hummer. My friends were concocting plans in the same vein of crazy and were already going to the hospital for injuries incurred in really dumb ways. So began the Summer of Bad Ideas.
The Summer of Bad Ideas was supposed to be about having wild, stupid cockamamie schemes and charging into them. At least that was my take. My intern screen-printed T-shirts, bandannas, posters, and undies with the slogan, and about a dozen of us started revering its name as holy, as if it were an Ultimate Truth as unprovable as it was unnecessary to prove. I know I'm too old to have theme summers, but what the heck.
I never did set foot inside the Hummer, but I did manage to share my bedroom (and my bed) for two months with an ex-lover who'd returned early from a failed tour of Europe with his noise band. We called ourselves brother and sister, inspired by the main characters in Jean Cocteau's book Les Enfants Terribles--a story about a seriously unhealthy relationship between two jealous, headstrong siblings, both of whom end up dying in extreme gestures of heartache. We fought like maniacs, often in public. The nadir was when I tried to pour bleach on his face. Or maybe it was when he threatened, the next night, to kill my pets.
Our friends also got into it whole hog. One girl with a gang problem around her house slept with someone in her block's rival gang, a crack dealer fresh out of prison, and caused an uproar. Another friend, a musician, spent a long weekend high on mushrooms and jumped into a five-foot-deep pit of old tires, thinking it would be fun. She sliced her Achilles tendon and didn't realize it was a problem until several hours later, when a convenience store clerk told her to get out because she was bleeding all over the floor. The poster band for the movement was Carpet of Sexy, two guys who beat each other up onstage so badly that at least one of them seriously bleeds. But the whole concept kinda lost its luster when it turned into a Jurassic Park-like situation, where it stopped being a choice and felt more like we were trapped by the aftereffects of our bad judgment.
Last Thursday night Lumpen threw a party at Sonotheque to officially end the SOBI. Carpet of Sexy's performance was the same old nuts-punching, body-slamming, beer-dousing, pants-falling-down, battle royal screamathon it always is. Nothing of import, or even interest, happened all night. I was glad for that. The Summer of Bad Ideas was a balloon that got so full of air it had to eventually pop.
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photos/Andrea Bauer, Liz Arsmtrong.