My boyfriend Justin claims to hate hearing stories about Cleveland, which I use to illustrate just about everything. You can take the guy out of Thunderdome, but you can’t get him to stop talking about growing up in Northeast Ohio, evidently.
Justin is just jealous, I think, of all the myriad wonders of “The Land of Cleve”, as he’s taken to calling it, because his family moved around a lot before finally settling in Eureka Springs, Arkansas (where he went to high school). He’s, thus, not really “from” anywhere…whereas I get nostalgic when passing chemical plants near Chicago, because their sulfurous belching sends me on olfactory time treks back to my 80s boyhood when LTV Steel still employed tens of thousands and kept Cleveland encircled in a forest of job-producing fiery smoke stacks.
There isn’t a day that goes by when Justin doesn’t hear something about my hometown…and about the nuns who taught me in grade school.
Justin plays some sort of online computer game with elves and warlocks and the like, where he creates these little characters that run around chasing dragons, taking him on all sorts of adventures. “Quests”, he calls them.
I watch him playing this game on his computer some days and I think about the last time I played a video game (you guessed it…back in Cleveland!)….and how the nuns in grade school always said these things were stupid, and wastes of time.
It makes me smile, remembering them scolding us for talking about “We Are the World”, “Dirty Dancing”, or “Thriller”, or whatever was big in pop culture that year, because the nuns never minced words and refused to tolerate nonsense.
They still wore the big black and white habits, still had massive wooden rosaries draped around their necks, and still carried those foreboding rulers.
I thought about these nuns last night as my friends and I ambushed our friend Cassie in a bar to confront her on her drunk driving.
Apparently, others I knew have been aware of Cassie’s problem for a long time, though I have only appreciated how much trouble she’s in this last month. I knew Cassie drank too much, but thought she lived nearby and was stumbling home in Boystown with the other drunks after last call. Because I used to work special events in Chicago, and I cover the Boystown beat as a writer, I know all sorts of people who drink too much…but none of them, to my knowledge, drink and drive.
Except Cassie…who I learned actually lives across the border in Indiana, and drives home drunk after working in a popular Boystown bar every night…where her coworkers very stupidly ply her with shots and she even more stupidly guzzles them down.
When I was in grade school in.Cleveland, I went to three funerals for young people who were killed by stupid, reckless drunks who drove their cars after being overserved.
The first was my cousin Lisa, who babysat me once when my parents went to see “Poltergeist” and thought it was too scary to take me along. Lisa had seen it already with her boyfriend, so while my parents were gone we ate Rascal House pizza and she told me all about the movie, in the dark with a flashlight aimed at her chin like we were at a campfire in the woods. She made all the scary voices and sounds retelling the highlights of the movie. Afterwards, she turned back on the lights and got out my crayons and we drew pictures of our favorite parts of the story…probably so I wouldn’t go to sleep scared chased by nightmares.
Lisa was a great babysitter, who only watched me a handful of times.
She was killed by a drunk who ran a red light one Friday night not long after Lisa reenacted that movie for me. She was crossing the street, in the crosswalk, and never saw the car that killed her.
It was the first funeral I ever went to, and the first time I ever saw any of my teachers outside of class. Every nun from my grade school was there, because they had taught Lisa, too, a decade before…and the nuns never forgot their students or stopped caring about their lives.
Before I hit high school, two more people I knew were killed by drunk drivers, both neighborhood kids around my age. One of them went to my school; he was the lunch lady’s son, and kind of a bully, four years ahead of me. Brian’s funeral was held during a school day and it seemed like all of Cleveland, even the Mayor and Bishop, turned out to not just say goodbye to him but to personally drill into all of us kids that we must never drink and drive or allow anyone we knew to do so either.
That was more than 20 years ago, but I can still smell the incense and can still see the red in the nuns’ eyes after that funeral. I never saw them cry, because those women were all tough as steel and masters of their turf…but I knew they had been stealthily sobbing somewhere, because the loss of life was so senseless and the tragedy so great.
When I walked into the bar last night to confront Cassie, something Justin jokes often about popped into my head. Whenever I get revved up over something, he tells says, “Lookout, you’ve got the nuns and ninjas thing happening again”.
He claims that instead of having angels on one shoulder telling me to calm down and be passive, I’ve got a gaggle of ghost nuns from Cleveland brandishing rulers, all set to crack skulls.
“And on the other side you’ve got ninjas telling you to kick even more ass, or to tell you to talk about voter fraud or Pigford or the other things you go on about that make people mad at you”.
Contrary to what Justin believes, I do not enjoy being the guy who has to confront people about terrible things or write about something bad that’s happening so people are shamed into stopping it.
I especially hate when people I love do terrible things warranting the nuns and ninjas treatment, but even good people need to feel the rulers every now and again.
Like a bar here in Boystown that’s one of my favorite places in the world…but whose owners kept playing nasty anti-woman, misogynistic videos (in particular some aimed at Governor Palin, and one showing a dog raping an old woman). I called them out on those selections for “comedy night” and apparently hundreds of calls and emails came in telling them to clean up their act. To this day, that bar is still actively mad at me for writing about the darker side of Boystown’s rainbow…but they sure stopped playing those disgusting videos, you betcha.
Running HillBuzz for three years now has made me as used to being a petpetual pariah in some circles as a person could ever be…all because this site calls it like we see it, and calls out those who need tough love (or more).
It is also a site that asks people to pray for various individuals who seem to need wisdom and grace, which is a surprisingly controversial thing for me to do apparently. I still get absurd hatemail from people who tell me that since I am gay (and now live with my boyfriend) that I can’t pray for anyone since God no longer wants to hear from me.
Simultaneously, my anti-fanclub on the Left insists if I was “really gay” I wouldn’t turn to prayer because religious people allegedly hate gays…according to what the Left and DNC-media alliance wants you to believe (and what damn fools in the Cocktail Party GOP establishment ALLOWS the Left to get away with in terms of the lies they spread).
Well, considering the fact Justin’s snoring away next to me as I type this on my phone, I am “really gay”…as well as being the product of 13 years of Catholic school who, at the age of 33, finally understands the immense and world-changing power of prayer.
I was both horrified and terrified at the thought if having to confront Cassie about her drunk driving. Cass is not a close friend; in truth, I know her from my days as an event planner back when she was in the business too. I consider her a friend, but I see her once a month, twice tops. I doubt very much I am on Cassie’s speed dial.
So, I was indeed at first afraid of confronting her about her drunk driving.
Then I prayed on it.
That convinced me to get my facts together and make sure things were as bad with Cassie as my gut told me they were. I did my due diligence, saw her behavior firsthand, and knew she had to be confronted and that I was the only one on the field who would do it.
So I prayed on it some more…and it came to me that I should reach out to HB readers for not only their advice to Cassie, but their prayers too. I asked all of you to pray for a woman you will never meet, who works in a Boystown gay bar, and the prayers just poured in.
Sunday night, not long after I went to bed, I wrestled with what I wanted to say to Cassie and how I was going to confront her. Because she posts her work schedule on Facebook, I knew what time she’d get off work Monday…and as a friend I knew where she would head for after hours.
I honestly felt this surge of calm and reason wash over me as I planned this intervention. It was a sense of peace and strength I know was summoned by your prayers. Very clearly, I instinctively knew just who on the ground I could ask for help with Cassie…and when I reached out to them, they all agreed to do whatever they could for her, including joining me in the intervention.
As soon as Cassie saw a group of us walk into that bar and head towards her, she knew something was up. I told her directly that we loved her and were concerned about her drunk driving. I told her that she was drinking too many shots after work and that it’s been noticed…and that much more than just me believe she is going to kill someone if she does not stop her drinking. I commanded her attention with the stories I shared above about those I’ve known who were killed by drunks, and I read her many of the comments readers shared on posts the last several days on this topic.
Cassie listened calmly. Her eyes reddened, but she did not get mad.
“I know I have a problem. And I know I should not be driving. But I need help to stop,” she said.
What followed was a three hour conversation with her and my friends where we got to some of the roots of what’s been happening and brainstormed between us a workable solution to this that keeps Cassie from drunk driving ever again. We incorporated many of the ideas that were shared by all of you in the threads.
I honestly and truly do believe God was with Cassie last night, because of your prayers, because she stepped up and took responsibility for what she had been doing. She didn’t just promise to never go overboard and get behind the wheel again, she took action…starting with marching back to the bar she worked and telling the bartenders who have been overserving her that she will no longer be doing shots from them.
I hope you can appreciate what a big deal that was for her, because the woman’s honestly been scared of losing her job for saying no to these guys. This, too, is part of the dark side of the Boystown rainbow, where bullying is very prevalent. Getting a job in these bars is a competition most often based on looks, where guys age out and are fired once they hit their mid-30s and women are included as tokens here and there on gay bar staffs. Cassie has always felt that if she said no to the shots, she would be punished in some way, since her coworkers don’t like her to begin with because she is a woman (and refusing the shots would give them ammo to call her antisocial and start to make problems for her).
But, Cassie went up to the three worst offenders in all this and told these men that she’s felt they have been pushing shots on her after she’s said no and that she’s been driving home drunk as a result — and she pointed to us saying that she’d just received an intervention and that it was her wakeup call to stop. One of the bartenders got upset with her…and incredibly defensive saying he never pushed shots on her, but Cassie didn’t argue with him. “You know how you are, John,” is all she said, and left it at that.
In terms of her driving, Cassie honestly wants to get rid of her car altogether, as it’s too expensive to have in the city anyway. Part of the drunk driving problem for her was the draconian parking measures in place here in Chicago. If Cassie got too drunk to drive home, she couldn’t just take a cab back to her place because if she did at 6am when the parking meters started back up again she’d be ticketed and/or towed…and she can’t afford that. In Chicago, it’s either $1.50 an hour to park or it’s $5.00 for a residential permit (available only to residents of the neighborhood, and only good on certain streets). Since Cassie doesn’t live in Boystown, she doesn’t get those residential permits and has to have her car out of its parking spot before 6am…which she would not be able to do if she cabbed it home (even incurring the massive expense of a cab ride to Indiana).
Cassie has been wanting to move to Boystown to be closer to her job, and last night we helped facilitate that because during the intervention my friend Althea worked her phone emailing everyone she knew to see if someone who lived nearby would be looking for a roommate soon….and it turns out a mutual friend who knows Cassie is indeed looking for someone to live with starting in June. She and Cassie are going to meet tomorrow to talk about making this happen, and Althea is going to be there too to make sure this works out.
That leaves us with two months in which Cassie will be watched like a hawk to make sure she indeed does not drive drunk. Cassie’s managers and coworkers now know she is not to be plied with shots after her shift and when she says no this will indeed mean no in terms of forcing these drinks on her.
Through Facebook, Foursquare, and other social networking sites, Cassie’s friends have pledged to keep track of her every night to see where she is and what she is up to…and if she ends up at an after hours bar, she’s going to have a buddy there to make sure she does not drink too much. Getting her to stop drinking entirely is impossible, as much as I would like her to just give it up. But we negotiated a no shots rule for her that she has promised to stick to until she moves back to the neighborhood. She can drink one free beer after her shift and can have a beer at afterhours, but no more than two drinks in a night for her…AND if she drinks she has to stop for an omelette at IHop or the Melrose Diner before she gets in her car.
I have volunteered to be her breakfast buddy since I am up all night anyway and Justin loves omelettes…and we are close enough to be able to meet Cassie for breakfast every night if she needs it. Both Justin and I set our alarms for 145am on our phones to remind us to text Cassie and find out where she is and what she is up to every night before after hours starts, until she moves and is no longer driving.
I don’t delude myself into believing we have solved this problem with Cassie entirely in one night, but I marvel at the ground we covered. I didn’t expect Cassie to be anywhere near that receptive to the intervention. I thought she’d scream, cry, and bluster over being called out. Instead, she said she knew this was coming and thanked us for caring.
She would NOT accept the idea that she is an alcoholic and insists she doesn’t drink to function, but instead drinks because she is scared of telling her coworkers no. I believe only Cassie can accept an alcoholic’s label and don’t think it’s my place to push that on her…but I asked her if she would be willing to talk to someone in AA who has had drunk driving problems and knows about peer pressure and she said she would be open to that. It just so happens that in reaching out to people to find Cassie a new roommate, Althea discovered that someone we all know (who used to work in the nightclub industry) had a similar situation to Cassie’s and he is willing to meet with her this weekend. Althea is taking ownership of this as well, to make sure that talk happens.
I don’t think this issue should end with Cassie, though, as I think a wakeup call should be sent to all the bar owners in Boystown telling them that they need better training for their employees so NO ONE, ever, pushes anyone to take shots when he or she says no…especially people who are going to be driving. I won’t name Cassie’s bar (and I’ve changed her name) because I don’t want to get them in trouble before they have a chance to correct this, but Cassie admits she and her coworkers have been drinking too much, for free, once the bar closes every single night. I don’t think the owner knows what’s going on, so I’m going to speak with him. And if he doesn’t get a handle on what’s going on, I will write a story about what’s going on, naming names, here on HB so the whole world will know how he’s letting his staff get bonzo drunk after their shifts before some of them get into cars. But he deserves a chance to correct what’s happening…and I think every bar owner here in Chicago should preemptively take a look at their own operations because I can’t believe Cassie is the only “Cassie” in town.
Maybe reading this story you can think of bars near you that should take a look at what’s happening after hours to see if their staff needs retraining and coaching as well.
I am beyond exhausted this morning from a very, very late night dealing with this but as I close this out I just want to thank all of you out there who chimed in with comments on how to help Cassie…and most importantly I want to thank all of you who prayed for her. Cassie, without being told about the prayers, said that in the last few days she’s felt something egging her on to face this problem but she didn’t know where it was coming from. When she read all of your comments — which I let her keep — she was visibly upset by the horror stories of drunk driving you sent her, but she was touched by the concern for strangers’ well-being evident in everything that was written.
I think that love, and those prayers, set the tone last night. It is going to be a battle to break Cassie’s drunk driving habit and it is going to require a lot of work on the part of me and my friends, but we are committed to seeing this through and to making sure she does not drive drunk again. Between now and the time she moves back to Boystown and gives up her car, Cassie knows she is being watched…at work and after hours.
She also knows that if I catch wind of her slipping up, we’re going to the cops and getting them involved to watch her drive every night. This is her one shot to resolve her problem without getting a DUI and she knows it.
For those of you who sometimes wonder if prayer ever makes a difference, I just want you to think of this instance and know that it does. In fact, every single time I have ever reached out and asked HB readers to pray for anyone I know, that person has benefitted from it. Things have not always worked out the way we wanted them to, but a sense of peace, love, and strength appeared when needed as if sent directly by God. I do not believe that would have happened without your prayers.
I am so humbled to have so many good people stop by here every day, who care so much about people they will never meet. I hope one day to be able to return a fraction of that kindness. Your prayers and kindness inspire me to keep speaking out like this unafraid of blowback when what needs to be said comes from the heart and is what’s needed in the moment.
Thank you so very much for that. And for everything.
Firefly is a little bistro in Boystown that part of me still thinks is a CIA safe house or a front for the mob, because of the erratic hours this restaurant kept in the six years or so it has been around. Some days, apparently, the staff would just not feel like opening, so it would be closed on random week days with no explanation. There were menus posted that implied it should be open every day (and not closed on Sundays and Mondays like a lot of restaurants here in Boystown), but I swear this place was closed more times than it was ever open when I walked by.
My friend Panda loves this place, and was heartbroken when he learned it is closing. Apparently, he was privy to the double secret squirrel calendar of when it was actually open, so he had more of a relationship with it than I ever managed to (but, then again, last night at 2am Panda was frantically texting everyone in his phone that a monster had attacked Japan and was headed for Tokyo…only to “nevermind” and backtrack a few hours later when this all proved to be the work of an earthquake and not the Chuthlu or even Oprah).
I actually had one of the weirdest Boystown experiences in Firefly. This was maybe five years ago, and my friend Robby’s sister Ann-Louise had asked me to do her a favor and show her friend from New York around Boystown while he was in Chicago on a business trip. I volunteer to this day with the Chicago Greeter program, which pairs Chicagoans up with tourists so we can show them around, and I especially love taking people around Boystown so I was happy to do Ann-Louise this favor.
I forget her friend’s name but he was the original inspiration for the “Eeyore” term I have used ever since to describe a person dragging around their own personal rainclouds. This guy was the absolute most negative and picky person I had ever met.
Everything was terrible to him.
It was late August and one of those perfect evenings in Boystown where a cool breeze picks up the crispness of the lake and all the colors seem so vibrant and happy…like the whole neighborhood is a giant theme park filled with pleasant and attractive oddballs with adventure around every turn.
But, not for Ann-Louise’s friend, who loudly told me how much he hated everything he saw on our tour. Everything was better in New York, of course, and none of the restaurants we passed on Halsted were good enough for either him or his gourmet Manhattan palate.
Until we got to Firefly, which he agreed to try only because he was a Joss Whedon fan and it shared its name with his short-lived SciFi-Western that FOX canceled several years before.
The only time this guy stopped complaining or issuing his nonstop running criticism of a gorgeous day in Chicago was when his fork was delivering bites of chicken something-or-another to his otherwise perma-frown at Firefly. The food was not just good that night…it was evidently seasoned with pharmaceutical magic, since it seemed to have a positive narcotic effect on this Eeyore. He actually cracked a smile while eating and honestly licked the plate like a basset hound when he was done, because it was so good.
I imagine various waiters in New York to this day still listen to running streams of complaints regarding how poorly Pastis or 21 or wherever compare to Firefly…a restaurant that was open only when it felt like it, but apparently laced everything its chef touched with industrial grade anti-depressants.
Ann-Louise later explained to me this Eeyore is an air traffic controller…who was working at one of the New York airports around 9/11. “I swear, he never used to be like this. But he has never been the same since 2001. He really liked that restaurant you took him to, though, Lightning Bugs or wherever”.
I will always call this place “Enigma”, the restaurant of mystery, and will be sad to see it go…leaving another empty storefront in Boystown, right on the Halsted main drag…joining all the other odd, trendy, fancy, and enigmatic little “how do they stay in business?” places in Chicago that have been around since I moved here…but are dropping like fireflies in our hopechangey Obamaconomy.
A common thread with all of them, oddly enough, is that I honestly remember most of the staff and proprietors of these small businesses being big Obama nuts.
Firefly plastered its windows back in 2008 with those creepy blue and red Shepherd Fairey “Hope” posters…and soon those same windows will have the “Closed!” and “For Rent” signs that are depressingly ubiquitous in even the most trendy and magical parts of town.
Do you have stories like this about little shops that seemed to stay open no matter what for years that are now collapsing in this The Golden Age of Hope and Change?
How do we really draw public attention to just how poorly Obama kept his 2008 promises…especially to small business owners like those who ran places like Firefly, who believed in the Media’s Obamapropaganda…and who were ultimately destroyed by their own stupidity in voting for him?
There is a growing spontaneous eruption of Alaskan chic in Boystown.
Watch gay culture for trends that hit suburban and rural areas a year or two later.
I have never seen flannel shirts and lumberjack beanies on more gay guys (and some lesbians) in all my life.
Not to mention all the moose, deer, and other antlered ungulates displayed unironically everywhere from clothing shops to eateries.
Lots of guys rocking Todd-like goatees or full on grizzly beards too.
It’s an outdoorsy, aggressive, pioneer spirit rising as a definite undercurrent here and there in Boystown.
And it is NOT in Palin-mocking mode…it’s a legitimate effort on the part of the trend-obsessed Brendens of Boystown to look hip and relevant.
In 2008, it was all about the hopeychange super-creepy Shepherd Fairey propaganda posters, and corresponding gear.
Now, these same guys want to butch it up and masquerade as Iron Dog snow machine teams.
These Brendens always go where they think the zeitgeist will flow in a year or so.
If they are wearing flannel and rocking Todd-like makeovers, then I can only imagine what all the bitter clinging Midwesterners and Independents will be doing in 2012.
People are still…STILL…putting out random chairs to guard parking spots even though most of the snow from the Snowpocalypse blizzard earlier this month has melted away.
Will those chairs still be there in June?
Where is the line between the City respecting the quirky “I dug this hole into a snowbank on public property so now it is MINE forever” Chicago spirit and sanitation workers clearing away these eyesores as the garbage they are?
How many days should anyone be able to use old furniture or other garbage to stake their claim to anything?
Unemployment so rampant it’s now ubiquitous double entendre.
This isn’t unique to Chicago by any means, but whenever people have to dig their cars out of snow, they leave chairs, milk crates, random pieces of wood, and other sentries to guard their spots so no other motorists will poach them.
It is a bright sunny day here in Chicago, with people still digging out from the Snowpocalypse blizzard on Tuesday.
Those snow forts were built by twenty and thirty-somethings and not small children.
All the sidewalks are warrens of little canals dug into two to three feet of Global Warming.
It is all rather pretty, actually.
All day today, Chicagoans have been digging out from the blizzard last night.
There were 900 cars stuck on Lakeshore Drive, one of our freeways.
Reports have come in of people coming out of the skyscrapers adjacent to this traffic mess and handing out food and water to motorists…some of whom were trapped for 12 hours in their cars.
I spent the day with my boyfriend Justin helping his neighbors dig out their street. The city plowed the main streets, but the side streets are all closed off still.
As a male child of the 80s, when someone starts talking about “Thunder Snow”, I immediately think it’s some kind of polar-based vehicle for half-man/half-jungle cat superheroes to tool around on in a cartoon.
But, last night my boyfriend Justin and I had dinner with friends at Ping Pong in Boystown, which has floor to ceiling windows the entire length of the Chinese restaurant. It was the perfect place to watch the snow swirl around in the blizzard…where we caught a glimpse of the two bursts of “Thunder Snow” Chicago experienced.
I had never heard of this phenomenon, but I witnessed it while sharing some orange chicken, kung pao beef, and other goodies, where I learned that it’s lightning and thunder that happens during a massive snow storm. The lightning actually gets projected across the white canvas of snow, causing everything around to glow purple and pink for a few seconds.
It was eerie and amazing, like special effects in a movie or cartoon.
EW.com has a video up of a local Chicago news reporter experiencing “Thunder Snow” for the first time as well. He has the same reaction I imagine someone from the distant past would have upon spotting an airplane for the first time. He didn’t quite shout, “Beware! It’s a DRAGON!”, but he came pretty damn close.