14 February 2002

Drama planet

Mapping the dating landscape of Wicker Park

MUSICIAN WALKS INTO A BAR. Bar's in Wicker Park. Another musician, end of the bar rail, says, "If you can't get laid in Wicker Park, you're either not trying or not in a band."

"That's so 1999," second musician tells the first.

"That's when you stopped dating!"

"So it goes," he laughs. Wicker Park. Every miserable cliché is true.

"Everyone seems only to be concerned how others see them," a friend says. "I don't like going out. I like to go to music, I like to drink, I like to watch girls," he says, "but I'm stranded on Drama Planet every time I go out."

Drama Planet. Sounds better than "Empty Bottle High." Pick your passion poison: the Bottle, Rainbo, Danny's Tavern, Fireside Bowl, Double Door, Flying Saucer, Leo's Lunchroom, Jinx, Atomix, Lava Lounge, Reckless Records. What is it like to date in Wicker Park? No one dates. Everyone dates. Any night of the week, a rip-roaring ratfuck awaits. See the exes mess with pretty boys, visit with the genre of petite art school brunettes. Visit damage or have it visited upon you.

In a crowded, overheated, surging Saturday Empty Bottle show with an all-local bill, a woman with an angry ponytail jokes, "It's not there's no ventilation, it's that you can't vent. Mention someone you're pissed at? They're sure to walk into the club before you finish your sob story, let alone your drink." (Feydeau's definition of farce: A to B: "I hate C." Knock-knock. Enter? C.)

Connect the dots, connect the lost loves, connect desire to love and sex. Listen to a description of any given circle of twentysomething liaisons in this neighborhood. Any dating history with its internecine intrigues sounds like it should end in "in the house that Jack built." What's it like to flirt in a fishbowl? To watch conspiracies of sex and love played out relentlessly, represented, misrepresented in public space? Are you there to love or be loved? To see or be seen? Love comes to those who look in the mirror, or as another friend joked about a band with notable hair, "How large do you think the mirror is in their rehearsal space?"

Just public places, rest stations between moments on the street. Like endless fashion week and Milwaukee Avenue an unending runway.

"I'm very like defensive about myself and I'm very like protective about myself, you know what I mean," a woman says to a man with glazed eyes. When I wonder aloud about why some people pose so, someone says, "We are surrounded by women who can't trust anyone who believes they're good or beautiful or smart. I mean, if you're available, you are so not desirable."

And what about the men? "We tell each other stories about them, not knowing whether to pursue them or to run," a woman observes. Who's she/he dated? Each potential lover's name is accompanied by the band he/she's been in, a tuneful history. The rockerfuckers and the boys and girls who love them. It's the lizard brain. It's primal. It's dark, the music is hot, the booze is cold.

Wicker Park was a post-Fire suburb. A working-class neighborhood, Polish, then Puerto Rican. Then a place where artists could live for cheap. Where the admirers of the artistic life could linger. And finally, a place where a Concrete Masonry Unit condo could go up along with the price of coffee at the cafe on the corner. It happens. It's the essential transformation of traditional bohemia into a simulacrum rife with pose, pretense and sweet little boutiques. A cross between Carbondale and Chelsea, a prairie dream of a life interrupted only by booze and longing, kisses and consummations. On the way to somewhere else. On the way to another life. On the way to life and love and see you later, babee.

[Newcity, 14 February 2002]