JCB purples-up some prose in an effort to out-drama this Chicago winter…
Winter’s working her wiles on us all. Some of us flourish out of sheer pigheadedness, like the fools who are racing down Ashland Ave. on bikes in the post-blizz road jizz. Others, myself included, act from a more instinctual cue and hunker down, burrowing deep while nature exacts her price for a wonderful summer past. Many who travel the latter path are saved by what they think of as the chains that bind them, i.e. their jobs: the rich grandma whose stubbly cheek must be kissed (and warmly, at that) if the rent is to be paid …the lumpy-lapped great uncle whose veiled leer promises to keep your phone’s data plan unlimited, etc. Many of us tend to think of our jobs with a mental sneer you reserve for thinking about long lines at the DMV and indifferent servers. I was one of the many until I recently found myself unencumbered with such things as firm wake up times, worries of what to wear, the social obligation to a standard of hygiene, and direct sunlight. You see, I was made redundant at the end of January.
As someone who was initially looking forward to a little mandatory vacation, I must say that I am appalled at how thoroughly corrosive the state of unemployment has been on me, both corpus and psyche. I shuffle past mirrors, determinedly not looking at my reflection, lest I once again want to be taken aback by a visage so disheveled that even the most urbanized Starbucks barista would pause for consideration before buzzing me into the restroom. I smell like a packet of powdered soup mix that someone set on fire, the bouillon-y tang wafting to your nose only to be corroded by the stink of burning aluminum and plastic liner. I eat, not only out of boredom, but out of some twisted self-pity, putting away even the dry goods like they’d rot in the next minute if allowed to roam outside the empire of my gastric whims.
Being subject to no man’s clock has brought on erratic sleeping habits; between Super Bowl Sunday and the following Tuesday I was awake for 38 hours straight, then fell into the same sort of napping schedule kept by warm, well-fed cats and people who live in places like Dawson City, where sometimes night is just an hour long. I’ve developed a borderline narcolepsy; I’m down from 7am to 1pm, then up from 1 to 9 then down till 2am, then up till 8, etc. Through intense research and development I’ve even found a new way to nap, sort of like snoozing in reverse, jerking and snapping my circadian rhythms until they sound like Ginger Baker snorting the entire Afro-beat movement through his ears and projectile vomiting it out through his wrists and ankles.
I’m watching more bad TV than I ever knew existed, and that’s really saying something coming from a cynical cunt that can’t wait to bemoan the downfall of culture, writing, and artistry whenever a new reality show premieres. I finally know who the Kardashians are and could pick them out from a backward-facing line-up of assorted pseudo-exotic Mediterranean nymphs. I have been cake bossed, pit bossed, and even bossed under my cover. I’ve seen the true Hollywood story about True Hollywood Story. And when things were at their darkest I have buoyed myself on the sea of misery that is A&E programming with Intervention, Hoarders, Obsessed, and Heavy (with a lineup like that, you just know A&E’s dying to travel back in time and scatter some cameras around the Frank attic).
Between episodes of carbo-loading, relay naps, and Cheaters reruns keeping the background silence from vaporizing me and at the same time shifting my internal monologue (which has always sounded just like me) to the preening, self-righteous caw of Joey Grecco –which is a problem because I never wanted my inner narrator to sound like he had a higher sperm count in his larynx than he did in his balls. Between reproachful glances at my laundry, and the dishes, and my coffee pot (my kitchen’s new ‘it’ girl), and she’s putting in overtime like I’ve been dreaming of a man with a burned face and knives for fingers….
As I wait on my first unemployment check, marinating in my own juices, staring around my apartment and noting (for the Nth time) the many areas in need of improvement. Situations ranging from lightly dusting the TV stand and bookshelf to heavily napalming the kitchen sink, behind the toilet, and all around the hamper; I attempt to stare past winter into the hope springing eternal from March.
March is when I begin rehearsals for a show called Passing Strange, a Tony-award winning show about a musician who leaves the familiar behind to find himself. I first heard about it about a year ago when Chris, our saxophonist, mentioned that he had seen it on PBS. He told me he caught it partway through, but it was about a black kid that didn’t fit in at home and who goes to Europe to come of age and begin finding his artistic voice. As someone who ran from home the moment he was unfettered I was immediately interested, and that night I looked up the show, found out when it was airing again and caught it. I was blown away by the material and more so by the honest presentation -no big sets or setpieces, no hiding the band from sight, everything was out in the open, including the actors -making for a really organic feel, something that cut to the essence of theatre, a presentation that said “siddown, we’re tellin’ a story -we’ll let you know when to suspend your disbelief“.
So I found a new show that I liked, so what?
So nothing until this summer when I get an excited text from Lil asking if I’ve heard of Passing Strange… long story short, one thing led to another and we’re on track to have this show up and running 9 months from that first text -almost to the day. I’m especially excited because with my extended sabbatical from theatre I thought that I’d squandered whatever caché I’d built up in the Chicago theatre scene. This is a perfect storm of availability, awareness, daring, right placement, right-er timing, and a healthy dollop of good, old-fashioned, horseshoe luck.
It will be the Chicago premiere of this show and, as I mentioned, it will also be my first show in a long while. Even better, while I’m up there narrating this tale of daring and xenophilia the onstage band is our own Uptown Sound, which means that they won’t have to sit on their thumbs while I get my jollies treading the boards. It is being produced by Bailiwick Chicago and directed by the afore-mentioned Ms. Lil Brown (who is finally back in Chicago after setting DC on fire this winter in Second City’s A Girl’s Guide To Washington Politics). Passing Strange opens April 29th and is running until May 29th at the Chicago Center for Performing Arts, then JCBUS is back in full force with a summer tour, a new album, and a few other surprises that we’ll be rolling out as winter eases its boot off our necks.
The new season of You’re Cut Off aside, there’s definitely some stuff to look forward to and these are the only things keeping me from doing a little jig a few inches above my salt-streaked floor. –I know, I pump melodrama harder than the heart of a fourteen-year-old girl staring into the eyes of her first crush (or a forty-year-old woman staring at the back of her last), but I will persevere as I have so many previous winters, if only for the sweet caress of the spring sun not on my cheek, but on my arm, recently escaped from the prison of hibernal haberdashery. I need to tweak the technique of my relay naps until I can slurp enough from the spring of sleep to drown the doldrums trying to drag me deep. Then it will be March and I can emerge from this cocoon a beacon of positivity and energy, acting like rock bottom was part of the plan all along.