Postcard #11: I Used to Work in Chicago

We sit in the Darth Vader, crumpling the remnants of our meal into a ball that we toss in the back, and watch the stars climb out of the darkness, twinkling in delight at their newfound freedom. For a while we let silence divide us, and we lose ourselves into thoughts and dreams entirely of our own making. In the corner, hiding away from the gleam of the street lamp, is a clown in a purple and gold dress dancing and smiling and juggling while a giant parrot perches on his back. The parrot takes flight, pulling the clown up into the air and disappearing in a pure film of the imagination. Still, I see the clown drop an object and I smile. Clearly my mind is telling me something.

” I told you about one sport I traveled for, but let me tell you about the other. I can’t tell you how excited I was that night, sitting in a bar across our rugby pitch, when seemingly out of the blue James Blond extended an invite to watch Ireland take on New Zealand in Chicago. It wasn’t everyday that I travelled with a group of people, especially on my birthday, so I immediately said yes without thinking of the implications.”

“What were the implications?” Oh, such an innocent and naive question. Shouldn’t I know by now? Of course not. It takes years, perhaps decades, for information to worm its way through my brain and actually stay instead of moving on, searching for something more gratifying to chew on.

Unlike other places, I did not suffer from a bus conundrum because thankfully I never took the bus. I waited for James Blond to get off the plane( we were supposed to take the same flight but the seducing power of sleep forced her to change her plans and I had no desire to wander aimlessly around Chicago, searching for the hotel I’d be sharing with Wanderlust, General Mayhem, and Swiss Army Knife; in hindsight I should’ve just called, but my inability to make decisions combined with the unfamiliar territory of interacting with human beings made the thought impossible to entertain) and together, with a few more of our rugby comrades, took a train through downtown Chicago. Or more specifically, we took the “L”, so called for being elevated off the ground and running angelically through the air. Well, not so angelically as more of an overweight wrestler trying to regain the glory days and going for a clunky run around the block.

I wish I could say I dove deep into the surrounding neighborhoods to gain a richer understanding of how different sections of the city overlapped but instead I was very much the child bouncing along and looking with wide eyes at all the shiny rides. Before I could get to the main event, however, I had to wade through the thick crowd of cubs fans whose team finally won the World Series after a thirty plus year drought. It was wild; people were packed in tight like boxes in the back of a van. There was hardly an space to move and when there was we took it, our hands linked and our bodies chained together so we wouldn’t get lost.

” The sounds were confusing: jostling bodies combined with vivacious and raucous yelling broke the circuits inside me and I was twisting and turning as a malfunctioning robot. I’d have to say, the only reason I didn’t join in any protests or massive celebrations is because I would be flooded, the sparks fizzling while the rest of me would sit in a corner, paralyzed in a dangerous area.”

“So how did you make it through a parade?” they say.

“I told you, we linked hands. I held onto James Blonde for dear life and I must say it helped rewire the broken circuits so the loops were connected once more. If you have people by your side, it makes things better. But people will not always be there, and if they are they may not be able to help you the way you need them to. Because people, yourself included, do not always know what to do and so we do nothing, afraid to make it worse instead of just trying,”I look back over at the corner, where the shadows shirk from the light and cling to the back of a Walmart. From the shadows a child lurks, a child with three heads each a different color. Green. Black. Red.

Ireland, New Zealand, United States. Those were the teams we watched in a stadium designed for football or soccer. Rugby is a relative unknown in the United States, so much so that other countries deem it undignified and unworthy of their time to compete with stumbling toddlers just learning how to walk. How else is a sport suppose to grow, though, if it isn’t given the chance to play? Although I cannot deny how much of a disgrace we were when the United States played against the equivalent of a third string team in the form of New Zealand. After meeting up with General Mayhem, Wanderlust, and Swiss Army Knife for some apple juice and cake- honestly it’s the simple things that cause the most pleasure, such as receiving a small zebra cake with a trick candle that just wouldn’t go out- we headed over to this cool bar to listen to some live music while we waited for a bus to transport us to the stadium.

“Remember how I said there wouldn’t be any bus problems on this venture? Well, I lied,” I say with a devilish grin.

“Dear Lord, what happened this time?” they say, turning in their seat with the eagerness of a dog waiting for its owner to return home.

“Traffic, mostly. And drunk people whose bladders were about to exploud. Everyone was angry and to make it worse some of the people made water noises. This resulted in James Blonde going unusually quiet, General Mayhem punching Wanderlust in the shoulder, and Swiss Army Knife making her jean pocket larger by stitching a piece of black cloth to the seam of the pocket. It was absolute mayhem, which accurately summed up the whole weekend. We started losing passengers on the bus because they couldn’t take it and the bus wouldn’t wait for them. One passenger, Dunkin Donuts Girl, did manage to catch up to the bus and board again. Once we arrived at the stadium, there was a mass exodus to the bathrooms, with everyone save me and Wanderlust, who on principal never ran if she didn’t have to, stampeding to the nearest stall.”

“Thank God I don’t drink beer,” they say shaking their head.

“Oh Gods, yes. So many complications that are not worth your time. Besides, its amusing to watch drunk people say ‘I love you’ a thousand times. Or annoying when they keep running away, losing a shoe and credit card in the process. You’ll find out soon enough. Maybe.” There I go, saying too much once more. Again, what am I trying to accomplish here?

We had to split up once inside the stadium because we all didn’t have seats together. Part of me wonders what had gone down over in Wanderlust, General Mayhem, and Swiss Army Knives section. Were they bombarded by an eagle mascot too? As awkward and uncomfortable as it was at first- what was I supposed to do with my hands? Was I supposed to make small talk? What do I do?- it ended up being delightful, if only because I had James Blonde to run back to.

When the Maori All Blacks took the field, I was caught somewhere in between awe and fear. They come out chanting, their dance fierce and fiery, and demonstrating a piece of their culture which I found both inspiring and intimidating. Often times I found myself stuck on top of the fence, unsure of which side to land on. It was no different now, as my allegiance drifted to a team consisting of only Maori. It wasn’t hard, too, to side with them when the scoreboard went higher and higher and James Blonde’s attention turned to the massive bulk and thighs of the players on both teams. It clearly wasn’t about the game anymore.

The real match would be saved for the next day, when Ireland took on the All Blacks in a historic match in which Ireland failed to earn a single win in a hundred years. In the meantime, we went back to our previous bar(because once you find a good bar, you go nowhere else) and shared drinks around a fire pit. I smiled; the warmth I held wasn’t from the fire, although I could argue that I had been carrying a fire with me all day.

“If there is one thing you should know about the sport is that it brings together all sorts of people from different backgrounds. it doesn’t matter who you are or what your story is, you are quickly absorbed into a second hand family who are willing to do nearly anything, including murder I suppose depending on the temperament, no matter how angry they may be at you or how different you may be. Because in the end, there is always a common thread and that is the love of the game. In no other sport will you find someone who literally has your back, or in many cases your butt.”

“Are you sure about that?” they cast a doubtful look, their brain trying to configure what took me so long to see. Once I saw it, though, something from my chest lifted and the air I breathed was no longer stale and full of poison.

“I’m sure. And another thing, unlike many other sports they carry their own songs, which you can argue either transforms the community into a cult or tightens the bonds the bind us. Sure the songs are pretty vulgar and offensive. I don’t suggest a devout church goer without a sense of humor in their bone listen to us belch ‘Jesus Can’t Play Rugby’ while chugging beer because they’d be running for the nearest pew, praying for our corrupt souls and renouncing us as vile sinners. My personal favorite is ‘I Used to Work in Chicago’ because of the puns. Yes, they are certainly always sexual but the creativity is impressive. It usually went something like this…”

I used to work in Chicago, in an old department store
I used to work in Chicago I don't work there anymore
A woman came into the store one day looking for some furniture
AUDIENCE: Some furniture from the store?
Furniture she wanted, a one night stand she got

” And then if you hesitated or messed up, you were strongly encouraged to shoot the boot, or drink from a nasty shoe. Again, a little culty.”

” I don’t think I’d like that very much,” they say.

“Trust me, you’ll become desensitized after an extended period of exposure,” I say with a smirk.

If I thought the crowds were bad on Friday, my eyes were violently shocked on Saturday. The stadium was brimming with thousands and thousands of folks,and while not every seat was filled it was more than anticipated. After watching the first half by myself, Swiss Army Knife had room beside her so I finished up the match, cheering vigorously at the hard tackles and quick slips through gaps which led to breakaways, with her by my side. Swiss Army Knives presence would be clutch as Ireland took away the monumental victory and the stands erupted in boisterous uproar, the Irish fans feverishly clamouring in a display that would last hours.

I pause. ” You know, I’ve realized something after all of these years. At the time, I didn’t understand the perspective because I hadn’t really seen it, only heard about it or seen it through secondhand eyes and media outlets. Remember the Cubs parade? Well, there were police monitoring and at the time we made a joke-besides the one about the officer tragically skipping leg day and having poorly built thighs- about crossing the barrier and risking the wrath of the cops. Of course, we only thought that meant being put in jail. But if we were black, that would have meant certain death. We had the privilege of making the joke, of hypothesizing a risk which meant minimal consequences because we were white. We eventually found a way out of the parade, but for others, on the pretence of seeing them pull a gun out of a pocket when it’s only a pack of gum, they would not have.”

” If we were amused by the near riots that would evolve- the Irish fan jumping on a street lamp waving a shirt in the air- would we be appalled if it turned more violent because the voices that begged to be heard no longer would remain silent? Would we flee, as I did that night to avoid being separated by friends and getting lost in a city I was unfamiliar with, and ignore the voices being ruthlessly stomped on by a society whose greatest fear is losing control? Or would be stand and fight, joining our voices to strengthen those already weakened by the constant deaths they are forced to swallow?”

I stare out into the night. Underneath the streetlamp I see nothing. No clown or wild child with three heads. Not even the devil himself. My imagination is blocked by shame, partly of myself but mostly of others who wish to drain the world of its magnificent array of colors.

“Whatever you do, do not stand by. Understand your privilege, even though you have your own struggles that others may not understand. Yes, people will want you dead or fixed, but not as much as they want others dead. It may take a while for the fog to clear from your windshield, but once it does you need to see and listen and try. Try, try, try, try.” It is all I can give for now. My body trembles and I wipe away the tears staining my cheeks.

I watch perched near a window
The fire that soars into
The air
Burning, burning, burning
Every day, every night
All that we are afraid
To lose
Because we won't listen
Every day, every night

I watch from the kitchen table
A spoon in my mouth
As he
Leaves, leaves, leaves
Every day, every night
Dressed in blue
And I watch with a spoon
In my mouth
As he returns
Every day, every night
Washing, washing, washing
His hands covered in blood
While the fire rages on
Building, building, building
Everyday, every night

I watch from the doorway
Wondering if I should step
Into the night
And smell the air
Burning, burning, burning
Everyday, every night
Of the lives we have broken
And done nothing to heal
As those who never held 
The blade
Wash, wash, wash
Away the blood that stains
Their hands anyway
Everyday, every night

Every day, every night
The fire will
Burn, burn, burn
Until I pick up the pail
With my neighbor
And his neighbor
And her neighbor
And toss the water onto
The flames
So they no longer have to
Burn, burn, burn
Against those who have
Lost their voices
Screaming, screaming, screaming
Every day, every night

Perhaps this is too much for them and I should take the card and destroy it. No, they need to know. Only the oblivious live in bliss forever. But they can’t ignore the bad. Still, I think it’s best for them if I return to something good. How can I expect them to pull themselves up from the cliff if there is nothing on the other side to give them joy?

After the victory, we tried to reunite by the statue outside the stadium but that turned out to be impossible. James Blonde was sticking with her family, General Mayhem and Wanderlust were heavily inebriated and wandering around with dead phones, so Swiss Army Knife and I were left, along with our fellow compatriots Mighty Joe Young and the Scrumhalf, to navigate through Chicago.

We decide to make our way towards James Blonde’s hotel, managing to reunite with her in a fancy bar suite where everything was made of marble. I swear, even the ice cubes were marble. So. Much. Marble. At least, that was my take away. It probably wasn’t that excessive, but it felt fancy and my sense of style and comfort belongs inside a barn.

Honestly, who doesn’t have this picture stored somewhere on their phone? Classic.

Anyway, eventually Swiss Army Knife and the others retire to their beds and I am left alone with James Blonde and her mother to explore a bar aptly titled Rock Bottom. It’s hard enough to be left with James Blonde- what do I say? how does friendship even work? This wouldn’t be an issue if I stayed inside like the hermit I was destined to be- but now I have to engage with a parent who will must certainly be questioning why in heaven is their daughter interacting with a troll whose face is stuck in permanent awkward mode? I should have gone and found General Mayhem and Wanderlust, who were conveniently passed out in the hotel room. Then I wouldn’t have to speak and share secrets I may or may not regret sharing, although in retrospect there are always worse things to regret.

“The next day wasn’t eventful because everyone was nursing a hangover and leaving Chicago to return to the comfort of home. Yet just because it wasn’t eventful doesn’t mean it was any less special. I was climbing out of a cave and I must admit the sunlight felt nice across my back. I never expected anything much out of these people, but these people gave me a gift I will hold on for as long as possible.”

“As for Chicago, it gave me an additional gift, one that I didn’t see under the bed for many years. The mask that has blinded me is gone, replaced with one that recognizes the privilege of certain lives over others and the injustice of it all. And underneath that second mask is a third one, craftily engraved with the thoughts and ideas gathered over the years to make me more educated and more willing to try to break from social fears instead of hiding in the shadows.”

Published by whiteleyh2

A youngish aspiring autistic writer who wants to tell stories and share perspective on just about everything I come across, which I mainly get from just walking out of the house.

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