It was one of those nights that makes you want to rush right home and shower, a night when you pop vitamins before bed in a vain attempt to stave off a hangover, a night peopled by incredibly tan, round-tittied, ashy-highlighted, shiny-lipped women in skirts so short they need two hairstyles, pursued by incredibly tan, gel-headed, waxed-chested, clear-nail-polish-manicured men in striped button-down shirts. It was a regular ol' Thursday night at Crobar, and DJ Jordan Zawideh had decided to spend his birthday there.
Zawideh, a Detroit native, moved here in 1998. By early 2002 he and Tommie Sunshine had an electro night at Red Dog, and six months later they took it to Smart Bar. In the summer of 2003 he got a call from the soon-to-open Sound-bar offering him a contract for double what he was making. "A young DJ like myself?" he says. "You never get handed a contract." But complications put the opening on hold for more than a year, and Zawideh's contract ran out before he ever got to spin there.
For the better part of the last year he and partners Tobias Berblinger and Brock Manke have been throwing monthly parties at Darkroom. Beyond that, though, he's mostly been laying low. "I've been saving money for production equipment so I can work on doing remixes," he says.
Except for last Thursday. On Thursdays Crobar opens up the glass-walled room on the second floor, usually reserved for VIPs, as the "rock room," and Zawideh persuaded the club to let him commandeer it to celebrate his 27th. He and resident DJ Andrew Vonn split time in the booth about equally; Zawideh favored straight-up beer-guzzling hits from the likes of Journey and Prince while Vonn preferred to zap partygoers into gear with gabber mashups of Depeche Mode or Poison.
By 1 AM two tawny-haired women in tight jeans had climbed up on a table near the booth, turned their backsides to the crowd, and started to grind. Turned out they were pros: Girl 1, who wore a black pin-striped fedora, dances at VIPs, the high-class strip joint down the block; she's also studying to be a physical therapist. Girl 2, who never removed her tinted shades, does bachelor parties and is studying psychology at DePaul. She screamed at me to interview her, so I asked about her job. "It's just nipples and whipped cream," she said. "No fingers, no tongue--I make $800 in a half hour."
Later that evening she put on a better show for free. She was having trouble walking, so she went over to sit on the couch behind the velvet rope, right in front of the DJ booth. Next thing I knew she was lifting up her shirt, exposing a white lace bra. Then she lifted up the bra, grabbed the nearest woman, and planted sloppy kisses on her face.
Within minutes she'd wrestled and pinned down two other women. She had her hand up this one's shirt and down that one's pants. Both victims were laughing but struggling a little at first; soon one was punching Girl 2 in the stomach. "Get this bitch under control!" she yelled. A group of men circled around, mouths agape. A bouncer approached but by the time I turned away he still hadn't intervened.
Officially grossed out, I went downstairs to the regular dance floor, where a dude in a brown velour warm-up suit had shoved his pant legs up into his underwear and unzipped his jacket. A blond in a deep-cut halter top had a nipple hanging out, and when I pointed it out to her in the bathroom she said, "Oh, it happens all the time."
A man handed me a glass of gold liquid. "Pure tequila," he said, and shuddered. "Livin' on a Prayer" followed "Sweet Child o' Mine," and soon I was feeling so excited to be alive I was doing jumping jacks on the dance floor.
A skinny dude in aviators and a white shirt with one too many buttons undone came up from behind me and caressed my rear with his crotch. "Watch this," I told my friend. "I'm gonna totally freak him out." And I proceeded to slam my rear against his crotch so hard I must've bruised his balls. In response he merely wrapped his arm around my waist, so I turned around and hissed, "Hey dude, I was joking." He smiled self-consciously and slithered off to a corner.
If spring calls for frivolity, autumn demands mischief, the sowing of as many oats as possible before winter pushes us all indoors. And since Saturday night felt like the beginning of fall, I felt like going a little nuts.
My housemates and I got to the Hideout Block Party late, missing Baby Teeth's set, so I drank my way through Mouse on Mars's awful frat-boy raver rock, as did several of my friends who snuck into the VIP area and guzzled Goose Island's new 312 beer for free. (Hint: Paper wristbands are reversible. When VIP calls for a light color, just turn yours inside out and walk on through. In the dark, contrast, not color, is the main thing doorpeople will notice.)
The only thing that made me sit down and shut up was the Scary Toesies puppet troupe. It was their last performance in town; Jayme Kalal is moving back to New Orleans and Drew Ziegler's heading off to LA. Every show I've seen has knocked my socks off: gruesome puppets die and kill, lose body parts, and perform magic spells, and if the plots seemed loose in the past, tonight's was beyond loose--it was undone. Kalal and Ziegler warped the sense of scale by attaching oversize, elaborately painted cardboard limbs, heads, and props to live humans, and then had the "puppets" dance to groggy noise music.
Just before headliners Mahjongg played the last song of their groovy dance-rock set, Hideout co-owner Tim Tuten announced that Mouse on Mars would start DJing at Rodan at the exact moment Mahjongg finished. Hoping to be three of the 76 people allowed into the bar, one of our default hangouts, two girlfriends and I hightailed it over there.
All the passing cabs were full so I stuck out my thumb and we jumped in the first car that stopped. The driver was local studio photographer Paul Sherman, who seemed more scared of us than we were of him. He dropped us off right where we asked him to and obliged us by posing for a photo.
Walking southeast from the North-Milwaukee crotch, I overheard a curvaceous thirtysomething woman begging her boy-friend not to get in a fight tonight. "Fight, do it! Fight!" I yelled. The woman looked at me like I was crazy. "How 'bout I'll fight you!" I told her. "C'mon, let's fight!"
"Oh, you're soooo cute!" she squealed, and hugged me. Then she held my hand for a ways as we all walked together.
Rodan was already so packed that there was a line down the street. The door guy, a friend of mine, had to take care of some quick business and asked me to make sure no one else came in. Stockholm syndrome in full effect, I barred everyone from entering, including myself. Then one meathead in a striped shirt (why do they always wear striped shirts?) tried to muscle his way in. "Hey!" I said. "You're taking advantage of my small stature!" As he pushed past, I maced him with Zand HerbalMist throat spray, to which I'm hopelessly addicted.
That's when I saw the curvaceous woman and her boyfriend walking by, this time from the other direction, brandishing open bottles of Budweiser. Running after them I yelled, "Hey, this ain't New Orleans!"
The boyfriend stopped. "You're right," he said, laughing. "This is Chicago, baby, and anything goes."
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photos/Andrea Beno.