Somehow my previous reality of keeping too busy to write has evolved into me trying to hurry home to reflect while battling the amazing distraction that is my life. I guess that’s an improvement somehow. That said, the combination of still feeling really drained of energy yet trying to make the most of a rare week in my hometown means that it’s taken me all weekend to finish writing a post. Fortunately, despite my sluggishness, this weekend shaped up to be classic Chicago fun.
Friday was pretty mellow for most of the day; I spent a lot of time catching up on sleep, laundry, and other important things. Much later in the evening, I threw on the most fabulous thing I could muster amid my piles of laundry and neglected/disorganized belongings, ventured out in the rain, and jumped in my old bandmate’s car to go do merch for them. I always enjoy the music and the vibe at Black Bear Combo shows, but I’d rather be doing something helpful too while I’m there. Also, the way I was feeling, being useful was the only surefire way to get me out of the house.
I’d told some of Inferno’s Chicago fans about the show. My fiery haired friend and the biggest fan (literally) came out. Veeery tall guy, but I taught him how to polka nevertheless, hoping his Polish heritage would kick in. Also, thank you DDR for giving geeks a dancing foundation on which I can build. He caught on quick. It doesn’t hurt that I’ve learned to dip myself without any assistance. The height difference might have been an issue, but due to the rain and not riding my bike, I wore insane platform boots I bought at a yard sale a decade ago. I was very tall for a change, so the fact that both of my dancing partners at the show were well over six feet tall was no problem.
Usually any event I go to thrown by DJ Romasol – an awesome lady and excellent DJ – is followed by some sort of late night debauchery with enthusiastic Eastern Europeans. This evening could’ve gone that way in any number of directions, but I was still feeling a combination of exhaustion and homesickness from which not even the most handsome and well dressed of Bosnians or Serbians could distract me. I might have been lame for going home to bed so soon (granted, by soon I mean asleep by 3am), but at least I was comfortable, warm, and lame.
Saturday I eased slowly back into the puppetry busking routine. I forget if I’ve already mentioned it, but a large part of my Chicago life for the last half a dozen years has been the Puppet Bike – street performance gig of my dreams. I barely ever get to do it anymore, since I’m so seldom in town, but I really do miss it. Imagine a Punch and Judy show but without the talking, just sweet little animals dancing – plus a little tug-of-war and posing for pictures – in a booth affixed to a tricycle. It’s indescribable, almost magical. Needless to say, anytime I get to pop into the box and do an anonymous little show is a joyous occasion. I generally smile ear to ear the whole time, doing my own little dance inside the box. The puppeteering is fun on its own, but it’s the reactions of the people passing by that really get me. A couple different women stopped and giggled the entire length of songs. One teenager stood there with their mouth hanging wide open in shock for a good long while. It touches everyone in different ways. I’ve heard all sorts of weird compliments ranging from beautiful to scary, but they almost always refer to the puppeteer as a man… or even assume the whole thing is mechanical, which is completely ludicrous.
I spent the rest of the afternoon seeing musical theatre cabaret, then picked an old friend up at the train station. I know her from her bike courier days in Chicago, back when the Chicago Courier’s Union started. She’s in town from the Southwest and brought with her all that relaxed energy and insightful wisdom those folks seem to exude. It was a very edifying night, and just the sort of mellow introspection I needed. I’ve definitely missed having her around, and it was awesome to hear about the community building she’s been up to. We fell asleep productively discussing the problems of the world, an exercise we could all benefit from a bit more of I’m sure.
Sunday was another slow morning leading up to a guest stint in the Puppet Bike. Since it was a relatively low traffic day, I rode my bicycle on the streets to get downtown, rather than the lake path. I find I concentrate better and thus ride faster when I’m constantly trying not to get hit by a vehicle. On the way, a jeep with two old men kept pace with me for miles, tapping their horn every time we passed each other. Finally, I found myself at a light where they were turning. I stayed a car’s length back, because you never can know quite what to expect. The driver, who’d been flashing me smiles the whole way, leans out his window and calls something back. ”Did you just say I look dorky?!” I shouted in amused disbelief, coming a little closer. ”No, I said you look gorgeous,” he replied in a thick accent. ”Oh… Thanks!” My face turned from laughing defensiveness to an embarrassed grin as I rode away. Weird, but flattering I think…
I got in a few joyous numbers with the puppets, the other puppeteers humoring my need for a nostalgia fix amid their loosely defined shifts. Nearby, my friend’s band was playing a free show in a large and lovely hall. Eyes Manouche is essentially a rock band that draws from Balkan folk tunes and a bit of gypsy jazz, pretty fun stuff. After their set, there was a short documentary about the band, then a long feature about The Shukar Collective. The documentary was right up my alley, both as someone with a big interest in Gypsy culture and as a touring musician. It was also cool to see how an actual collaboration between folk musicians and electronic music producers played out, not to mention the inevitable culture clash. If the subject matter wasn’t enough to grab my attention, there were bizarre interludes, including dumpster diving bears. It’s been a while since I sat for an hour and a half and watched a film, it was a welcome luxury.
On the bike ride home up the lakefront, which was startlingly beautiful as the sun set across town, I ran into circus people by the side of the path. How medieval. How unsurprising. This juggler I met way back when I did circus promotions was playing with three of his friends on a… slackrope? No, they used some other word, but it was some sort of a tightrope. I invited them to the monthly full moon fire spinning and drum jam set to happen further up the lake after sunset. Strangely, the usual meeting spot in the park was still empty by the time I reached it, so I had time to run home and relax and eat. Did I make it there in a straight line? No, of course not! I heard a familiar sound coming out of a taxi garage between the park and home, and sure enough it was a sax/accordion/vocal trio playing Balkan music. I stood outside feeling kindred, but knowing that a gadjo ex-pedicabber who tries to play their music was still not going to be that impressive to actual Eastern Europeans who drive actual taxi cabs. When I pulled up in front of the apartment, there were birds chirping, and I began to believe that Spring had actually arrived.
Eventually, I made it back to the lakefront to find no fire whatsoever. Apparently, the jam had been cancelled the day before in anticipation of worse weather. I hand my hoop with me, but resisted the urge to light up and entertain the drum circle and hangers on who saw no need to obey a cancellation. I called a friend who is one of the main organizers and, sure enough, it wouldn’t be such a good idea for me to surprise the park district with unexpected fire spinning. As much as all signals pointed to defiance and entertaining a ready crowd, I certainly wasn’t going to hurt the spin jam’s chances of continuing their monthly event. Community before rebellion in this case.
By the end of the night, I was actually glad I hadn’t gotten to firehoop in a tank top in the increasingly cold wind. Unfortunately, my friends and I dawdled too long chatting on the lakefront, and I had a needless short bike ride home in the cold rain. That was enough to put me in for the night, no matter how many board games they claimed some nearby bar had. Sure enough, I woke up in a cold sweat halfway through the night. I’d wondered if I was fighting getting sick all week, so was relieved to feel it break. Maybe now I’ll finally get back to my normal amounts of energy and not feel like a listless teenager anymore. I still have so much to catching up to do before I leave.