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The Last Bash

Pee was mingled, minds were opened, fun was had. R.I.P., Buddy.

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Wicker Park's Buddy gallery has thrown its final party so many times that it's started to seem like the live/work/play space that cried wolf. But last Friday's farewell was, sadly enough, the real thing. By the time you read this, Buddy will be history. Its three-year lease ran out in June and its six or so inhabitants, plus a couple people with offices there, have to clear out ASAP.

Since opening in 2002, Buddy has hosted some of the best parties anyone I know has ever been to. The greatest ones ended only when the police showed. In retrospect, the cops were fairly tolerant, rarely taking anyone down to the station--they usually just scribbled tickets and spouted threats. At last year's party celebrating the 13th birthday of Lumpen magazine, though, my friend Ed Marszewski, Lumpen's editor and one of Buddy's chief proprietors, was escorted away in a squad car for a noise violation. After everyone else cleared out, about 15 of us hung around, thumbing through old issues of Lumpen, reminiscing about the space we thought was closing forever.

An hour and a half later Ed walked through the door. "Hey guys, what's up?" he said, laughing. In the car he and the officer had got to talking about Ed's dad, a policeman who died 24 years ago. The cop showed Ed some of his drawings--portraits and perspective studies that looked like the art our friends make--before letting him go.

Several hundred people showed up at last weekend's for-real, no-take-backs final final-party, a three-room mock rave called Exodus complete with free glow sticks, suckers, and pacifiers at the door. To prevent people from throwing bottles at passing el trains or pissing in the alley, Ed had erected fences along the rooftop's perimeter. We felt like caged animals and acted accordingly. A punch grazed my face when I accidentally found myself in the middle of a fistfight. Then a dude grabbed one of my pigtails and shook my head violently. I left through the back alley, where my boyfriend was stopped and searched by the police for no apparent reason. Exodus was hard and dirty and dangerous, but not in any of the ways you'd hope. It wasn't at all the way I want to remember the place that cracked open my head and gave names to ideas that had been rattling around in there with nothing to stick to.

My first Buddy party was in the summer of 2002, a month or two after the place opened. It was an 80s-themed evening called Lumpenwave, cohosted by Heaven Gallery. A thousand people squeezed in to listen to Ed's first band, Tango & Cash, run through a medley of 80s hits. It was all very ironic and insular and not my cup of tea.

I went back anyway several months later for Rotten Milk's Improvise With Your Buddy night, a weekly event where musicians were matched up via lottery to improvise a set together. In the kitchen I saw leftovers from a party the night before that I hadn't attended. I felt left out and sour-grapesish. Fuck these people, I thought.

But as I got to know the four or five folks who lived there in the early days, my jealousy turned into admiration. These kids just did not give a fuck. One rainy night they got tired of their spare refrigerator and threw it out the window onto the sidewalk. Another night someone (who's now my boyfriend) passed around a bucket for everyone to pee in, just so there would exist a bucket of everyone's pee all mixed together. He kept it in his room long after it had started to smell putrid and mold spores had appeared on its surface.

Birthdays were always debauched events culminating in group make-outs and, once, a giant wrestling match that ended with ripped clothing and lumps on everyone's heads. We played countless 4 AM Uno, Spin the Bottle, and Truth or Dare games, listening to screaming showdowns and extravagant collapses above our heads, at the upstairs gallery and performance space High School.

All that was what went on behind closed doors. When it opened to the public, Buddy cleaned up nice. In addition to hosting numerous film fests and marathons--Lost Film Festival, Anarchist Film Festival, Erotologique--it screened rare art and political movies, often as benefits for activist groups like GeneWise and Topless Humans Organized for Natural Genetics. Ed is most proud of the annual Select Media and Version festivals, where hundreds of artists from at least a dozen countries converged at Buddy and allied spaces to lecture, screen films, conduct how-to workshops, play music, show art, explore digital culture, fuck with the powers that be, and party their asses off. The most recent Version fest drew about 5,000 attendees, according to Ed, who hopes such politically conscious caucuses will continue at a new space. He's been looking in Bridgeport, Pilsen, and West Town.

One of my favorite regular Buddy events, 20x20x20, held on or near the 20th of each month, was a nerdy show-and-tell. Anyone could sign up via e-mail and present a slide show of 20 images, with 20 seconds to explain each one. The presentations ranged from the practical (how to use your iPod to download a whole operating system off any computer at the Apple store, how to make kombucha tea) to the absurd (most memorably a historical overview of elves in art, from fairy tales to Alf).

Of course it wasn't all warm fuzzies. Buddy could get pretty gross sometimes. During its last year residents, friends, and travelers who had heard that this was the place to be used movable walls to create temporary bedrooms. Usually a couple of people were sleeping on foul fourth-hand couches or wrapped in blankets on the bare floor. Longtime resident Marc Arcuri, aka Safety Pin, made his bed in the utility closet.

Some winter days there felt like a Dickens story: no heat, because they refused to turn it on, and stone soup for dinner. I can't believe the stuff I'd eat there: whole meals of mushy black potatoes, innumerable rotting, half-frozen vegetarian wraps coaxed off the back of a delivery truck. The kitchen floor was painted baby-shit brown, and for a long time the bathroom was a dull prison gray, until Arcuri covered it with a collage of pictures torn from magazines: old nudie pics, beer ads, and photos from the latest couture shows. High School's sewage would occasionally stream down the bathroom walls.

And the rats! I've never been keen on cruelty to animals, but these fuckers had it coming. Perhaps emboldened by the habits of the human inhabitants, the rodents would get into bed with you at night or pry their way into locked cupboards, where they'd happily snack on the hunk of stale bread you'd carefully stored away for breakfast. Creative rat killing became a sport. I once watched someone catch one in a trash bag and try to stab it with a giant kitchen knife.

Buddy made it extremely difficult for me to get my ass to work by 1 PM. Why did I have to have a job? None of the kids at Buddy had a full-time gig, and they all got by just fine--actually, their lives seemed a lot better than mine. They cared more about fun and freedom than they did about money. They went swimming in nearby public pools in the summer and made phallic snow sculptures in the winter.

Buddy finally inspired me to quit my day job. It gave me a new measure of freedom and changed my feelings about friendship, romance, art, politics, and the business of everyday life.

When I walked past Buddy on Sunday I saw a brand-new stencil on the sidewalk outside. DON'T GO, it read. I'LL MISS YOU Bye, friend.

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photos/Andrea Bauer.

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