We watch the war begin on television. The networks' scrambling first minutes of awareness give us a sense of helpless despair. Their disorder makes unfolding events seem runaway and the world a place out of control.
Brooding, my companion and I decide to go out. We take to the streets in the dazed manner of people standing in bathrobes outside their burning home. We are not sure which is more appropriate, drinking to get drunk and feel sad, or drinking to get drunk and forget; but a night of bar stools and company seems in order.
Lakeview Links, a new two-story sports bar owned by our friend Richard, is opening tonight, and there's supposed to be free food and drink from six to nine. We call to check. "Sure," says an unfamiliar voice across the wire. "Just say who you know at the door."
At the door we say "Rich" and are ushered into a crowd of well-groomed recent-college-graduate types. We meander through the main bar and a side room full of bar games--pool tables, Foosball, shuffleboard, Pop-a-shot, puck bowling--checking each of the first floor's five televisions. On some is news of the war, impossible to hear over the classic rock; on others is the Bulls game. In search of more breathing room, we head upstairs and find miniature golf and ping-pong instead. War has not dulled anyone's appetite here. The food--six-foot subs we are told--is gone, and the putting greens are jammed.
We push to the bar and order a couple of Rolling Rocks. The guy beside us offers a shaky toast with his Bud, "To all the many fine babes here."
Feeling low and not quite up to mini golf, we head out to quieter and more familiar haunts in Wicker Park.
At Jimo's we sit nearly alone and catch the tail end of a jazz set over two more Rocks. We ask our muscled waiter, "How's it going here? How are you guys doing?"
"Fine," he says. "Business has been good. Good crowds."
It's not exactly what we were after, but we don't elaborate. We don't want to burden others with our own emotional uncertainty.
Paying our bill, we are surprised by the two-dollar entertainment fee added to our five-dollar tab. "That's OK," says the cashier as we pat our pockets for more cash. "You came at the end. Five dollars is fine."
We say, "Thanks; stay out of the war."
"No problem," says the cashier. "It's already over."
Across North Avenue at the Borderline, the live jam is too loud and too peppy for relaxed cocktails, but the waitress hopefully sets napkins before us. We tell her we might not be staying, we're just looking for a place to hang out on a war night.
"Oh, I know. It's so freaky. I was riding in my car and I thought gosh, maybe I shouldn't go to work."
That's how we feel too: What's the point of stuff like work, and parking, and doing dishes? And how can these people snap their fingers in time to scat while our country drops bombs?
Down the block, Urbus Orbis has the plaintive aura we're after. There is no music. A small group of crystal-necklaced hippies and thick-soled urban youth huddle around a television on the counter. We make our way to a table in the back of the crowd and are greeted by the room's collective eyes. A woman with a head wrap whispers, "Can I get you something?"
We order coffee. She pours and then pauses beside us, pot in hand, to watch the president speak. Afterward, people chuckle cynically and murmur "fuck" or "I can't believe it." A woman at the counter turns and addresses the room. "Can you believe those words they use, those euphemisms like 'engaged' and 'neutralized' and, and..."
"Suppressed," my friend offers.
"Yeah, and 'suppressed' and 'taken out.' We are at war and a lot of people are dying tonight. We're fucking killing people."
Another woman at the counter momentarily stops chewing her bagel to speak. "Does anyone have a car? Can someone give me a ride home?"
The feel of the gathering is something like sitting around the kitchen table with family. Experiencing the same trauma seems to have made everyone more approachable. We can all discuss what has happened to "us," and what it is the hell that "we" are doing over there.
We offer the woman with the bagel a ride. We cram three into our two-seater and joke about dropping the top. "Why not," says our guest, who introduces herself as "Kate...from Maine most recently. I just moved to Chicago, and today I got arrested by this asshole cop downtown. I got harassed a lot and I almost fainted because I need to have protein every four or five hours or I wig."
We are relieved to learn the arrest was for action in the peace rally and not for murdering the last two folks who offered her a ride home.
In front of her building, Kate squirms from the car. "See you at Urbus tomorrow if I'm not in jail," she says. "Come march downtown if you can."
We say we will, but drive away thinking we won't because neither of us feels very useful in mass protests. Rather than feeling empowered, we feel insignificant. Then we think, "But someone has to do it." We agree it needs to be done and we'll go tomorrow.
We decide to stop again before home at Smart Bar. We head for the basement where DJ Jesse De La Pena is spinning alternative punk-funk. Only a certain breed stays out after 2 AM in the middle of the week. They are the unemployed or the deviant, the pale people who are club regulars. Henry, our friend who tends bar here, finds us sitting at a table behind the railing. He says, "So glad to finally see someone I know among the freaks....I worked upstairs tonight...not so good. I made about 20 bucks."
He's heard a lot of power chords and not much news. "I'm glad I was here though. I got to blow off a little steam. Now I got to go see what's up." He bids us good-bye and mumbles something about late-night CNN.
We wish the music was softer so we could talk, but as it is, the volume is too loud not to dance. Surrendering our pledge of morosity, we shake to "Been Caught Stealing" by Jane's Addiction until some thrash anthem transforms the floor into a slam pit. It's a pretty docile pit, but even the minor impacts seem bruising and ignorant on this, a night when our tolerance for violence is low. The next song returns the floor to normal, and as we catch our breath we sense some tension lifted, some minor rage released by the slamming. Somehow it makes sense that the partying remains undampened in this submerged bomb shelter of a club. With the noise, and chain-link, and darkness, it's an insulated environment, a good place to dig in and carry on despite what's in the air above. It's all we can do.