I performed Too Much Light at my old school, the University of Chicago, sometime in my first year with the company. There are three things I regret from that show.
The first: I didn’t do the Countdown. I had been thinking about it since we got the gig. I was going to do something a little blue about social theorists (there was a girl I almost dated who got turned on reading Marx, and she had friends who said the same), or about the PE and swim test that school makes all incoming students take (I got out of the PE requirement, because the registrar liked my eyes and, like the guy who administered the PE classes from the basement of a biology building, my dad went to Notre Dame), but when it was time, Bilal jumped at the clock. He was always quick to get there, and I had stupidly set up myself on the opposite side of the stage.
The next was doing the play Honestly. I think it’s called Honestly. I should remember. It’s the play where a cast member’s picked by the audience and asked direct questions. If it’s not called Honestly, it should be. Slickman wrote it.
I was picked because I’d gone to school there. They asked very U of C questions. Had I graduated? (Yes.) Was my GPA was over 3.5? (Yes, apparently a surprise to that audience.) Does P = Not P? (No idea. I had to read the Wikipedia when I got home.) And last, they asked me if I had a crush on Kristie, who was in the cast. I laughed and said no, and I’ve since felt bad that I answered like that. I guess I regret that I laughed. Of course I would have had a crush on Kristie except she was married and we never really were in the show together and I already had a crush on another woman in the company and that company’s just too small to have crushes on more than one member at a time. Anyway, later in the show, I also fucked up one of Kristie’s plays by breaking a vial of glitter I was supposed to pour over her while she sang Sea of Love and played the ukelele. Instead of being tossed gracefully, the glitter was stuck to my hands, and I rubbed them together, my hands above her head, so the pieces would become unstuck and still fall in some way over her.
My other regret is that at the top of the show, like when we call for pizza, I didn’t call Ribs ‘n Bibs from the stage to order a bucket of rib tips.
That place, Ribs ‘n Bibs, on 53rd and Dorchester, was my favorite restaurant. Probably ever. They closed in May. I don’t think a reason was given. They’ve closed before, but always reopened. This time it doesn’t look good. The day I heard — in a text from another woman who was in my dorm my first year of school and now lives in New York — I went to a Memphis style barbecue spot in Gardena, California to grieve with a pork shoulder sandwich.
I loved it for the food, for sure. Walking by in college, super broke, it just smelled good. I don’t think I really ate it much until I’d left school. It was always one or two dollars more than seemed responsible to spend on a meal.
Then I graduated and got a job, teaching at this alternative high school at 47th and King. After a year, actually while I was on summer break in Australia, they fired me and hired this other kid from U of C, or who was somehow connected to the Executive Director of the Blue Gargoyle, the non-profit community service organization which ran the school and was sort of affiliated with the University. They shut down from financial problems about 5 or 6 years ago, and that school, Bronzeville Alternative, had closed a few years before that.
I lived in Hyde Park another four years after graduating. Most alumni move out of Hyde Park, and Chicago, pretty soon after graduating. I think Chloe moved north right after graduating. I think Malic moved north while still in school. For whatever reason I stayed. There was a crew of students who did, and as each of our social circles emptied, we condensed, and we formed a new one.
I started bowling with this group on Tuesdays at Miami Bowl, on Archer and Pulaski. They had 2-for-1 games on Tuesdays, and six or seven of us would take 2 lanes. (That place closed as well. It was open 24 hours, with two sides, maybe 50 lanes on each. On the weekends, when it was packed, one side was all black and the other side all Polish. The only time I was there on the weekend was one time when my folks and brother were in town. I also remember seeing Theaster Gates, who now runs the Arts Incubator that borders Washington Park, bowling there one Tuesday night with two women.)
We also played sports on the Midway: football in the winter when it was cold as fuck, and 16″ softball during the summer. One time we were challenged by the softball team from Jimmy’s Woodlawn Tap. We beat them, a huge upset. And I almost got into a fight with one of their bar backs. He was talking shit, but pitching balls that kept falling a few feet in front of the plate. I eventually moved up, 5 feet closer to him. This pissed him off. I still wish we had fought, and my buddy Mike afterwards told me the same thing. We were pretty even. It would have been fun. In any case, we won the game, despite all odds, and it produced a moment of wonderful intimacy for me with that group.
My favorite meal was the Tips ‘n Links Combo (about 16 rib tips with lots of sauce, two sausage links, fries and white bread). Sometimes I’d get the Bronco Cheseburger, but it was usually the Combo, which originally cost $10.80 and then, after they raised the prices, was a bit over $12 with tax. It became a regular part of my diet after I’d moved out of Hyde Park, and had started living on the near north side. I’d usually get it whenever I happened to be in Hyde Park, and would sometimes go to Hyde Park just for that.
As good as the food was, the best part was the guy who worked behind the counter. I don’t know his name, but he was big, bald, around 50. I remember the first time I bought the Combo, I dropped it to my side. The guy told me to hold it flat. But the thing, the thing I loved the most, was after you gave him the money, and he gave you the food, he looked you in the eyes and said, Have a wonderful night. It was always sincere, always had its own space, and it was always directed right at you.
I haven’t been in that theater at U of C since that day I performed as a Neo-Futurist with Ryan, Kristie, Bilal and Eliza. I had only been there a few times before. A couple times to see concerts, once after I snuck in to see Carmina Burana. I saw Cornel West speak there with my dad one time he was visiting. The first time I was there was during student orientation, my first week of college. I sat up in the balcony. After the campus comedy team did some things, and a student body representative warned us about depression and suicide, one of the campus police guys, probably the head, told us where we should and should not go. He described a rectangle, between 51st and 60th, between the lake and Cottage Grove. The message was: inside of those boundaries you’re safe, outside of them you are not.
A week or two after we did that show I was back in Hyde Park to buy a TV. I’d recently learned there was a University of Chicago message board where people sold the usual stuff — basically Craigslist, but for U of C people. Buying electronics, it just seemed a safer place to go than Craigslist, where everything felt stolen. And I guess I was some kind of nostalgic and wanted to feel connected to that community, or a community, while shopping online. I also thought I would find better deals. I had almost bought a car from that message board a month or so before.
When I went to pick up the TV, I was wearing my Too Much Light shirt. There were a couple of kids who had just graduated and were moving out, and they were selling a 30″ (first-generation) flat screen. It was to replace the 19″ TV I’d had since my last year in college which I’d bought for $47 on sale at K-Mart on the urging of a girlfriend — who was less interested in me having a TV than in me just seeming more normal. It turned out that these guys lived in the same apartment that this girl had lived eight years before. When I walked in, they realized they’d seen me a week before, performing at what had been part of their end of school festivities. It was super awkward as one of the guys helped me — a fellow graduate, now in the world — carry this already out of date TV, for which I’d just given him $50, though he’d probably asked for more, down to my car, a red, 1986 Chevrolet Cavalier convertible I’d bought from my uncle’s brother, an elected Illinois county judge, a few months ago, and was still driving, even though a kid from Ohio driving an Audi with his dad had rolled through a stop sign in Pilsen and braked just too late, so that he ever so slowly hit my front right tire, and ever so slightly bent it in. His good insurance ended up paying me what I’d paid for the car, and told me it’d been totaled before, and after paying a few hundred to have the wheel fixed, I drove it around for another few months, while things on it kept breaking down and it started leaking exhaust. I then sold it to a guy I worked with for $100 — a guy who’d taken literacy classes at the Blue Gargoyle, thinking for a while he’d get his GED —, so he could fix it up and give it to his step mom, who lived just south and west of the rectangle the head of the U of C police had described for us in my first week of school.