The Boys of Rush Street

Friday is prime time for taking a chance on the chase. To be single and male is to prowl at a hungry pace.

The heat starts in the groin region and emanates outward like platoons, patrols, and lone snipers breaking away from a battalion and overwhelming a country until from head to toe the young man is nothing but occupied territory.

Lucretius called the genesis of this thing “a shudder in the loins.” But he was speaking of those first tentative tendrils of love, and who the hell knows what love is? Our young man will deal with Love if she smacks him in the face. But he’s been savaged by Love’s tough brother, Lust.

He must head into the city, to the bright lights, the chicks, to the action. It’s Friday afternoon. Work is done. A warm wind is blowing. Lucretius would understand. The good poet killed himself in a fit of insanity after drinking a love potion in 55 B.C. Nothing ever changes. Let the chase begin. . . . ‘

“I like to save up for Friday night,” says Jack, our young man, as he pulls his Datsun 280-Z out of the parking lot of the north suburban public-relations firm where he is an assistant account executive. Jack is 26, four years out of a Big Ten university, freshly showered, feverish, upwardly mobile, and decidedly single.

“I don’t drink much earlier in the week, and then on Fridays I take off an hour and go to the health club and work out,” he explains. “A hundred and fifty flights on the Stairmaster, 15 minutes on the weights. But I don’t want to get too tired. Friday is a tough, long night and it requires pacing. The workout is to get fit and ready.”

He looks himself over quickly, nearly veers off the road, recovers. Penny loafers, khaki pants, madras shift, blue blazer. No tie now. He made a conscious decision to remove it. Tielessness makes a statement of attitude as surely as does a pocket pen-holder in a nerd’s polyester shirt. What it says to a young lady is: I’m on the move and you know that because I am consciously not wearing the tie that I would wear if I were worried about being perceived as being uncool, lacking in status, a dork.

Sunglasses on a strap hide Jack’s blue eyes. The strap reads VAURNET FRANCE, which is more important than any protection the glasses may provide.

Jack is a nice-looking young man, though certainly no male model. Mothers might pinch his cheek, but attractive young ladies are not going to grow jelly-kneed just because he happens to be standing at the next table. Like thousands, perhaps millions of other single men in the United States, Jack must present his entire image—the persona of a well-dressed, hip, fit, sincere, sensitive, intelligent, whoop-it-up yet financially responsible working man—if he hopes to get lucky with a girl. He knows that beautiful females have hormones, too. But they’re funny hormones. They don’t spring from the loins. They seem to come from somewhere deep in the ladies’ brains, back where images of romantic hand-in-hand strolls through autumn fields and babies in carriages and swollen stock portfolios and evening gowns, caviar, and lovingly tended vegetable gardens all coalesce to form a pastel canvas entitled Elegant Security.

“I may be wrong,” says Jack, “but every girl down there is looking for marriage candidates. There’s no question that’s how they think.”

His mood has been decidedly upbeat, almost frenzied, but he has grown momentarily somber and he takes a minute to issue a serious warning. By “down there,” of course, he means the North Side and its hip bar scene.

“With me, these serious girls are feeding oats to a dead horse. I tell them, ‘You do what you gotta do. Me, I’m not ready for marriage.’ I’m honest. I’m not looking for a wife. See, the problem is, there are more single women than guys, and if a guy is, say, 32 and single, it’s by choice. But a gal at 32 and unmarried—I mean, the pressure increases as her friends drop off one by one and she starts examining her life. . . . The dangerous ones are the ones who don’t have any stability or direction in their careers—they jump from being a waitress to bank clerk to executive secretary, then back to waitress—and when they find a guy who has a good job, good potential—boom!—they’re on you like flies on poop.”

He brakes for a traffic slowdown on the Kennedy. It is 5:20 and lots of people are headed out of the city. But there are almost as many, like Jack, headed in.

“The scenario for me, I guess, would be to meet the perfect girl at 29, get married at 32, have two kids by the time I’m 40. Now, when my dad was my age, he already had two kids. He had tons more responsibility than I. But there’s no compromise in my life right now. I work hard during the week, and it takes a lot out of me being the conduit for other people’s requests, being in PR. But from now until nine o’clock Monday morning I answer to no one.” The phone rings.

“Hey!” yells Jack, grabbing the receiver, trying to keep the cord from yanking off his sunglasses. His phone is portable, of course, but he needs it most in his car. In the course of this 40-minute drive downtown he will make or receive five calls.

“Yeh, the Amazon’s out? . . . Blond friend? . . . About eight. . . . You little mink.”

He hangs up. That was Rachel, an old girlfriend. Jack smiles. Rachel now lives in Texas with her husband, but she is in town for a convention, and she and some other girls will be out on the circuit tonight. Rachel sells computer gadgets for a big company; she’s a great lady, but two years ago she got serious about her life and her relationship with Jack.

“She used to be wild,” says Jack. “A Lincoln Park bar type who got fed up with it. Real cute. Great in the sack. But she wanted to get married; the feelers were definitely out there. I cleared out and a couple months later she married some guy I never heard of.”

The thought of his old flame briefly puts Jack in a contemplative mood. There is an essential paradox to the chase, he explains. “You want the kind of girl who can sit at home on a weekend and read a novel or go out running,” he says. “You want somebody who isn’t so desperate.”

You want someone who won’t be where you’re going.

On a Saturday morning not long ago Lenny, Jack’s working partner, fellow chaser, and young man on the go, called Jack at home. Jack sounded as though his head had been run over by a truck.

“Get any poon?” Lenny asked. There was no answer for a time, only moaning. Then came Jack’s sporadic gurgles: “Heavy drinking . . . 5 a.m. . . . some chick some where. . . . Oh, God . . . coyote . . . my head…”

It had been a “coyote date,” which is a crude expression used to describe the kind where a young man wakes up in a strange bed next to a female so frightening that he’d prefer chewing off his own arm rather than wake the woman.

Lenny had laughed and laughed, exultant over the Friday Night Warrior’s painful triumph.

Later Lenny had told a friend of Jack’s, “Just watch, when you go out with him on Friday, it’ll get late and he’ll end up with this girl, this chick named Marcelline. She’s got an apartment right down there in the thick of the bar scene on Lincoln. He’s ended up with her about 50 times, and when he gets desperate that’s where he goes. Like a homing pigeon. Right, Jackieboy?”

Jack shook his head, waving his hand in disgust at Lenny. “Not a chance,” he said. “No way.”

Jack pulls into the garage at his high-rise apartment near Belmont Avenue and the lake. He should live out in the suburbs where he works—he knows this—but he moved into Chicago so he can be nearer the weekend action, so he won’t have to drive while in the thick of the chase. In a few minutes he will meet his college chum “Dwarfboy” at P. J. Clarke’s, and the evening will start. He makes one more call.
“Linda, why didn’t you call?” he yells jokingly into the receiver. “Oh. . . . Where you gonna go? . . . [pause] Hi. Have fun with her. . . . You bet. . .. [pause] He sounds pretty sharp. . .. Make sure you’re protected. . . .

Jack looks perplexed. “She put her date on,” he says in disbelief. He parks his car and hails a cab. He shrugs, then beats on his chest. “This weather makes it a prime night. Guys will go out in any weather. But women, they’re so fickle, they don’t like rain or snow. Girls’ll be mobbing the streets tonight, though. No question about it.” Once again Jack is bubbling with enthusiasm, a hunter closing in on the herd.

“Dwarfboy is an ideal guy to chase with,” he says. “He’s so outgoing, 260 pounds, a huge guy, and he’s not afraid to do anything. I’ll spot some ladies and he’ll go break the ice. Once he finds out if they’re engaged, married, or lesbians—pursuable, you know—then I’ll slip right in.

“How about the ladies tonight, huh, cabby?”

“Yeh, mon, they coming out,” says the driver. He is black, young, wearing wraparound shades. His name is Olasheni Omokayode and he’s from Kenya.

“Lotta tuna walking,” says Jack.

“No tips from ladies,” says the cabby. “I get phone numbers.”

Such talk excites Jack. He feels pure, rested, ready to explode.

“It’s like I’ve been to confession,” he exults in front of Clarke’s. “I’m a clean slate. A virgin.”

Inside the mad crush of the bar Jack sees Dwarfboy and four other young men standing at a table. All of them are chums of Jack’s from college, all are in suits and ties, all have blue eyes, all are single. A Scotch and water awaits Jack. Dwarfboy always has it ready for him. Dwarfboy is a massive man, with suspenders and a jolly face with a thousand expressions.

“Look at this cranium,” says Jack, cradling Dwarfboy’s head fondly in his hands. “His football helmet in college was a beer keg with eyeholes in it.”

The young men talk and scout the scene. There are some nice looking women here, but everybody is fresh from work, with friends, loud perhaps, but still civil. It’s too early for serious chasing. It’s not even dark yet.

Last Friday, in a fit of hormonal desperation, Dwarfboy flew in a girl from Denver for the weekend. She was born in Greece and she and Dwarfboy had met that afternoon by sending eight-by-ten glossies of themselves through their companies’ fax machines. Dwarfboy wired her ah airplane ticket, and all of a sudden there she was. He shakes his large head over the disaster. “She’d had two NERVOUS breakdowns,” he says. “She sort of twitched.”

He snaps out of it and turns to the girl drinking at the next table. “Aren’t YOU On L.A. Law?” he asks earnestly. It’s the first line of the night, and the other guys pretend not to notice, but they, await the woman’s response. She does nothing at first, then slowly turns toward Dwarfboy and smiles. “Men are all alike, aren’t they?” she says over the din.

Shortly, a petite redhead in a denim dress edges up to the table and with a long red fingernail pokes Dwarfboy in the navel. “It’s the Camp Fire Girls!” yells Jack. She and her sister are known to the group from previous Friday nights. Nobody has scored with either sister, but the guys think it’s clear that one of them could if he really wanted. This sister has a pretty smile and no bra, which the group works to its advantage by making her laugh and bend over repeatedly.

Soon the other Camp Fire Girl arrives. She is older than her sister and wears a black dress. She has flaming-red hair also, a small, athletic body, and a flat chest. She is cute, too, but again it is too early for serious work tonight there are going to be hundreds of better prospects than these bimbos. Jack and one of his pals survey the crowd of admen, lawyers, young execs, eager yuppies.

“The trouble with chasing is you gotta be in the mood,” sighs the friend. He nods at the girls and chuckles. “I’ll bet the Camp Fire Girls don’t even give it up.”

Jack looks at all the male competition in the room. “It is tough,” he agrees. “It’s when you’re not chasing that the Wild Stuff happens. Sitting around in dirty sweats, unshaved, belching—and bingo! Chicks drop on you.”

Jack looks absently up at the clock. “Jesus,” he yelps. “It’s 7:30! I gotta get to Butch’s! Come on, Dwarf.”

On the sidewalk in front of Clarke’s, Dwarfboy stops and says to Jack, “I want to take the one Camp Fire Girl to dinner with us.”

“No,” says Jack. “What do you think?” “Nothing. Dead cards.” The two men walk to the corner and turn right on Division. “It’s rare you see a girl again that you don’t want to run from,” says Dwarfboy quietly.

“It’s way too early, Dwarf,” says Jack. “Pace yourself.”

Dwarfboy falls into step. “Yeah, I’ve had too many fatal attractions recently.” He shudders. “Hi! Haven’t we met before? I’m sure we have!”

The pair enter Butch McGuire’s and walk past a framed magazine cover that shows Butch himself offering a beer to the world. Underneath is the caption “Father of the Singles Bar.”

Jack and Dwarfboy set up camp near the cigarette machine, order drinks, and begin searching for a blond girl named Kristin, who might show up or perhaps is already here. It’s all vague and disjointed; Jack has never even seen the girl, but some girlfriend of a friend said that he might hit it off with her and that she might be here tonight.

Dwarfboy proceeds to ask every blond-haired woman in the bar if her name is Kristin. No luck.

Abruptly the Camp Fire Girls enter. They look pretty good now. The boys have put away a few drinks, and as Jack says, “Six hours from now all you care about is if they got a pulse.” Looking at the black-dressed sister Jack says, “That’s what God does. Makes up for no pecs with a great butt.”

The Camp Fire Girls’ status has clearly skyrocketed. Dwarfboy throws discretion to the wind and asks the girls to come to dinner with him and Jack. Moments later he sits down, stunned.

“Dwarf, what is it?” asks Jack.

“They’re going to dinner on an 88-foot yacht with some 65-year-old bald guy.”

Jack laughs.

“Not 90 feet,” says Dwarfboy. “Not 86 feet. No. Eighty-eight feet. Teakwood deck, handcrafted in Italy. I am steamed.”

“They wanted us, huh, Dwarf.” “I said, ‘You materialistic little wenches! I got an 88-foot bulldozer! How do you like that?’

A few minutes later Jack’s spirits soar when his old girlfriend Rachel and another woman walk through the door. Rachel looks radiant m a denim miniskirt, denim jacket, white stockings, muscular legs, perfect nails.

“Did you two ever have sexual congress?” Dwarfboy asks her and Jack. “Have you ever made the earth move?”

But Jack and Rachel look longingly at each other, ignoring everyone. Rachel explains how nice it is living in Fort Worth, how she’s adjusting so well to Texas sensibilities, how she doesn’t recall Jack’s being in such great shape. A gigantic wedding ring sparkles wickedly on her left hand.

“Why did we split up?” Jack asks Rachel. “We’ve never talked about it.”

“We broke up—,” she replies, then stops to think. “Because you didn’t want anything serious.”

Jack turns to Dwarfboy. “Didn’t I tell you?” he says proudly to his buddy.

Dwarfboy asks Rachel who the bozo is that she married.

“A very nice guy. I just fell in love and decided this was the man for me.”

Rachel’s friend puts a finger in her mouth and makes gagging noises.

“It’s true,” Rachel says.

It is now after ten and the two young men leave to eat dinner. Out on Division Street traffic is at a standstill. Jack raises Dwarfboy’s pants leg and says to a carful of overweight girls, “Want a bite, ladies?” The girls quickly roll up their windows. Dwarfboy peers through the passenger’s window at the screeching women. make a freight train take a gravel road!” he bellows. The car swerves around traffic and down a
cross street.

Around the corner at Houlihan’s Jack tells Dwarfboy that maybe they should go back and get Rachel and her sidekick.

“I don’t want them,” says Dwarfboy. “Not unless they’re legitimate prospects. And they’re not.”

Just moments later Rachel and her friend appear at the pair’s table. Dwarfboy eyes Jack suspiciously. The girls sit down to eat with the young men, and all four order Cheap Sunglasses, a rum-based pink tropical drink that comes with a tiny pair of chintzy sunglasses dangling from each straw. Dwarfboy puts his sunglasses on and begins dancing through the restaurant. He stops at a table and picks up a man’s tape deck.

“This is hot!” he proclaims. “Let’s see some I.D., buster. I’m FBI.”

Dwarfboy dances to another table and proceeds to eat french fries from two men’s plates. His bouncy lunacy and sheer physical bulk are all that prevents the outbreak of violence.

After the meal the two young men exchange goodnights with the two girls. Rachel is dragged down the sidewalk by her friend as Jack is led to a cab by his buddy.

“I’m too sober,” says Dwarfboy, who sits in the front seat. “Cabby, I want your shoe. I want to sniff it.”

Jack is pensive. “I wanted sex with a married woman,” he says to himself. “I wanted to sin.”

Dwarfboy is attempting to untie the cabby’s shoe while the terrified man is driving.

“Come on! What’s your name? ‘Mogli.’ From Pakistan? Give me your shoe. I’m a wealthy man and I want it!”

The tiny driver laughs nervously. The cab lurches through the street as Dwarfboy grapples for the man’s shoe.

“I don’t want your first-bom male!” he roars. “Let me have your SHOE!”

Dwarfboy releases the cabby in front of Jack’s apartment and promptly jumps from the cab and approaches two well-dressed girls on the sidewalk.

“Now, why would a man . . . like me . . . want to sniff your shoes?” he asks, stroking his chin. The girls quicken their pace. The taxi is long gone.

Up in Jack’s one-bedroom condo—$25,000 down, $70,000 mortgage, decorated in one generic swoop by Marshall Field’s—Jack and Dwarfboy both change clothes. It’s midnight. Time to get casual. Dwarfboy brought clothes with him from work; Jack puts on different slacks and a pastel cotton sweater. He walks into the living room, where Dwarfboy is dancing by himself in a strange, dainty flamenco routine.“

Too summery?” asks Jack of the sweater.

Dwarfboy is gazing oddly at a com plant near the window that overlooks the twinkling urban battle zone beyond. “The plant lighting’s sort of special, Jack,” he says nodding. “That’ll work. That’ll knock their shorts off.”

Jack retums to his room, lifts up a neat stack of sweaters to reveal a cache of condoms of all colors and makes. Everybody knows this is the era of AIDS and herpes and genital warts and Chlamydia and calculating women and ruthless men and that simple sex may never be simple again. Jack selects a couple of condoms for himself and one for Dwarfboy. Time to enter the fray.

“Thanks,” says Dwarfboy, pocketing the foil packet. “But you know I really don’t care much about having sex. With all the complications that can happen, who needs it?”

He looks at the floor and sniffles. Then he raises his head in a sinister leer. “I’m lying!”

In the cab Dwarfboy sits up front and unlaces the driver’s shoe.

Dwarfboy examines the cabby’s shoe.

“What a rich, pure odor.”

The driver is in hysterics when the two young men get out at Sabrina.

“Hohoho. I must tell my girlfriend!” he roars.

Owner and radio personality Garry Meier stands just inside the door of this new club, greeting the privileged guests who, like Jack and Dwarfboy, have status cards that allow them to walk past the poor mopes waiting in line for admittance.

Inside, the music pounds like a giant heart. Lights flash under the canopied ceiling. Dwariboy spots a girl he knows and asks her to dance. She is a dental hygienist and during a break she examines his teeth.
At 1:40 the houselights come on. It’s time to close. Jack has spoken—yelled, actually—with a couple of women, but he has come up empty. Now, out in the street, garbage trucks roar past with the depressing sound of industry and the workaday world.

Dwarfboy has latched onto another girl, Sally, an old semiflame (“I had the hots for her, but she had a boyfriend,” he says), and she and her girlfriend, Lynn, offer to drive Jack and Dwarfboy to Gamekeepers on Lincoln for a nightcap. In the car Dwarfboy whispers in Sally’s ear. She whispers back. Dwarfboy’s chin falls.

“I value your friendship?” he says. “That means I am . . . nothing.”

Jack sits at the bar at Gamekeepers with Lynn, who presently begins to look around for her friend. She sees Dwarfboy slouching back in through the front door and out on the street sees Sally slamming the door of a cab, speeding into the night. Jack tries to console Lynn.

“Obviously, they had words,” he says helpfully. But shortly his girl also leaves.

It’s now three in the morning, desperation time.

Jack gets Dwarfboy and they walk across the street to the Ultimate Sports Bar and Grill. Couples dance in the boxing ring and others shoot freethrows while ESPN highlights play on overhead TVs. Everyone is paired up except for stray, surly-looking men, a few comatose drunks and frat boys, and a random woman or two who look too mean, wily, or overweight to approach.

Our two young men are stymied. “The problem is,” Jay Mclnerney wrote in Bright Lights, Big City, “for some reason you think you are going to meet the kind of girl who is not the kind of girl who would be at a place like this at this time in the morning.”

“Last call!” bellows the bartender. And his voice is the hideous iron clang of reality. A woman at the bar has an Afghan on a leash. Dwarfboy gets down on his hands and knees and crawls over to the dog and purrs.

“Stop it!” shrieks the lady. “Can’t you see you’re scaring her?”

Out in the street Dwarfboy looks at Jack. “I am not drunk,” he says. “Where did we go wrong?” Jack asks.

They both shake their heads and stand still, the question spreading, enlarging, then dissipating like circles in a pool of dark water. The boys walk over to the entrance to Game keepers, where people are filing out. It is 4 a.m.

“How about a quick one?” Jack yells through the glass.

The manager shakes his head. “Just a shortie to go?”

No chance.

The young men stand limply on the sidewalk. Two women exit, followed by a little man.

“Ladies, want to go have breakfast?” asks Dwarfboy sweetly.

The women keep walking. The short man sneers at Dwarfboy. “Looks like you already had enough breakfasts,” he says, joining the women. Dwarfboy is in shock. Minutes go by.

“Should I have hit him?” he asks. “What was that?”

“Come on,” says Jack with a sigh. “Let’s go.”

Jack leads the way down the street to a low apartment building. He opens the door and the two young men slowly climb the three flights of stairs to the top apartment. Jack knocks softly on the door. A sleepy-eyed woman opens the door; she seems neither surprised nor excited by the guys’ visit. “Come in,” she says.

“Thanks, Marcelline,” says Jack.

The three of them sit in the living room of the apartment that Marcelline shares with another girl. The other girl, a cocktail waitress, is out somewhere. Who knows where. Several cats slink into the room and then leave. Marcelline says that in the summer she goes to bed with the windows open, listening to the voices of the weekend carousers below. “When I first moved here I couldn’t sleep,” she says. “Now it doesn’t bother me at all.”

Dwarfboy finishes his vodka and tonic, sighs, and stands up.

He walks to the door. “See you later,” he says. Jack and Marcelline watch him from the doorway as the huge man descends the long stairway.

In a cab Dwarfboy says to the driver, “Can I have your shoe?” The driver turns way around to look at him.

“You wacky?” he asks. This cabby’s from Chicago.

Dwarfboy gets out in front of his coop near Wrigley Field and says to the other passenger in the cab, “I got an extra bed downstairs. Got breakfast in the morning and the paper, maybe screwdrivers. You don’t want to have the sun rise on you, do you?”

But the sky is already turning pink. And the passenger says no thanks, he’ll let the cab take him home, back to where the chase has long since been replaced by compromise and convention. And blessed rest.

The names in this story have been changed to protect the identities of real people.

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