Thursday, May 29, 2008

Couch Surfing, Chicago Style

Consider the context: Suburban Mom (sexy and mysterious with groupie-like tendencies) taps into kids’ community college fund for a bajillion dollar scalper’s ticket on eBay to see the band Wilco whom she’s seen twice already in the last six months and I mean, she has to cut back somehow. So she Couch Surfs.

Now the average Couch Surfer is closer in age to my kids and writes in their profiles stuff like “self discovered and discovering, ready to be inspired and inspire.”

I sought out someone a bit closer to my mother’s age.

And out of the 1,456 registered Couch Surfers in Chicago, yes people it is an organization, I found a married couple right in the middle.

As I read their profiles, I almost had a heart attack. OMG! She’s a published writer! And I'm a published writer! She’s reading the Egger’s book! And I'm reading the Egger's book! He organizes a film festival! And I go to film festivals! He loves Kieslowski movies! And I love Kieslowski! And they live near Lake Shore Drive! And (I'm guessing) they know the cool places to get coffee! And hear blues! And meet Jeff Tweedy after the show!

How cool is that?

I arrive in Chicago early and head to the Art Institute. To kill some time before meeting my new best friends, I take pictures of art.

And people looking at art.

And sculptures.

And the reflection of myself looking at sculptures.

I phone my new Best Friends and talk to Film Guy. “Just have the person at the desk ring us when you get here, and we'll come down to meet you.”

OMG! They have a person at the front desk! This is somehow more intriguing than a black lab at the front door.

I get off the El and walk to the hotel; it’s called the Chelsea Hotel—how cool is that? I enter and am followed in by a homeless guy. We walk up to the front desk. The clerks give him a granola bar. I look behind the desk and see boxes and boxes of granola bars. I look around. It's a casual place with people sitting in the lobby playing guitars.

I mean, really, how cool is that?

Writer Woman appears in the lobby and gives me a hug. She leads me through a large kitchen/dining area. Behind a counter drying dishes I spot a guy in dreadlocks and a leather pirate hat. He has the leather vest, the leather pants, the chains wrapped around his boots, and the tattoos. Near him I see a woman in a corseted dress. She, too, has the tattoos, but her hair is magenta.

How cool is ….wait a minute…

"Ah, are those real taxidermied rodents hanging from her hair?" I ask Writer Woman.

"Yes," she whispers. "She always wears them--gets them on eBay, I think."

“Interesting. Ah, just wondering...what kind of place is this exactly?" I say.

This is her exact straight-faced reply: “Oh, we’re a commune. But we’re not weird or anything.”

Writer Woman leads me up the steps to the fourth floor. We dodge the bicycles, strollers and Fisher Price toys that carpet the narrow hallways, as well as the exposed electrical wiring hanging from the ceiling.

Once in the apartment I am introduced to Film Guy. I sit down on a wooden bench and look around. There’s a chair, a desk, a hot plate and a small ladder leading to a loft. It takes a few moments to realize that this is it. That tonight I’ll be sleeping on a church pew in a dorm room.

"Oh, you won’t be staying here," Writer Woman says, noticing my look of concern. "Emily down the hall has a softer couch. But she lives with a white rabbit who watches Dawson’s Creek. Is that OK?"

"Ah, sure. Gotta love that Katie Holmes." I turn to Film Guy, "So, what kind of film festival do you organize?"

"It’s a part of a large Christian Music Festival we hold in the summer."

"Oh." Christian. Swallow. Music. Hard.

I take out the CD mixes I brought as gifts and scan the titles. Christian Music. Hmm. The first song is ‘Godless’ by the Dandy Warhols. And then there’s a song by the Brian Jonestown Massacre called 'Prozac Vs. Heroin'. Then there’s a song by Steve Earle written from the perspective of the American Tailban member, that says something like Jesus is the infidel.

"Ah..." Swallow. Hard. Again. "I’m not sure these CDs qualify as Christian music."

"Oh, don’t judge us," says Film Guy. "We’re versatile. Our ministry has all kinds of people in it."

"Your ministry?"

"Yes," Writer Woman answers. "We’re The Jesus People. We formed in 1972 out of the hippie movement. In fact, there are 450 of us in this building. We’re the largest commune in the US."

And then I heard a loud pop. It was my fantasy--these folks would not know where Jeff Tweedy hangs after the show.

But they were great. And we had a great conversation and great goulash in the communal dining area with more dreadlocks then I’d seen at a recent ska festival.

And the concert venue was a three-minute walk from their apartment. Although they didn’t know any place to get a micro-brewed beer, they told me that the Green Mill Lounge was one block up from the theatre.

The Green Mill Lounge. That sounds familiar. OMG! Wait a minute! Isn’t that where….yes, that’s where John Cusack has a drink in High Fidelity!!

Of course, Wilco was great. I was standing in a crowd six feet from My Jeff Tweedy and I loved every minute of it (except when he dedicated a song to his wife).

Afterwards, I went to the Green Mill and had a drink. But alas, another failed stalking attempt. No Johns anywhere (inside the bar, that is).

But hey, I was in Chicago. And returning to a soft couch and a white rabbit. I mean, how friggin' cool is that?

For songs by My Jeff Tweedy, scroll down two posts. For more dreadlocks, check out Humor-Blogs.