Shelley Howard rolled six tight joints, not fatties, but not pin joints either, so when he met up with Skip and John later, he’d be loaded for bear. He looked in the mirror: Hair looked good, if thinning a bit. Nik Nik shirt opened to the sternum — not down to the navel like the other dipshits. Tight linen pants, pressed with a knife crease. As the man who stood around outside the Cedar Hotel would tell him, “It’s Friday night. You need to be looking … correct.”
Shelley pulled on his black leather blazer and grabbed his keys. He’d leave the Chrysler in the garage for now. He’d just had it washed, and it sparkled. Later, when he’d tool up Lake Shore Drive, his ’74 New Yorker would look like a money ride, and that’d keep the cops away. Chicago cops were loath to mess around with anyone who might be an alderman’s son or brother or cousin. If you drove one of those vans with the dopey art on the side, you were fucked; the coppers would have your ass at Belmont and Western so fast you’d get a head rush. Open your mouth about your rights and they’d take the long way to the station and tune your ass up.
Shelley copped a gram of blow from the guy outside the Cedar. He was a nattily dressed Hispanic guy who always wore a two-piece from Smoky Joe’s — a vest and slacks with cuffed bells — and a gold chain around his neck. Shelley palmed him a C-note, simultaneously receiving a small brown vial in exchange, just like a dozen or so times before. The man gave Shelley a curt nod.
On his way to BBC for a drink, he walked briskly, firing up one of the joints and cupping it like a cigarette. He knew all the cops on Rush Street. They’d look the other way. He’d have a couple of beers and wait for Skip and John. When they got there, they’d all pile into the Chrysler and take a ride up the Drive until it ended, then turn around and come back. Lake Shore Drive gave you an amazing view at dusk, when all the lights were coming on and the skyscrapers looked like nothing so much as a collection of gangsters decked out in diamonds.
By the time Skip and John got to BBC, Shelley had a good buzz on and had very nearly banged an executive secretary in a bathroom stall. A stone fox with red hair and hazel eyes, she had demurred while writing her number on his hand, telling Shelley that she was on a date, and to let some guy in the john eat off the same plate was simply bad form. Shelley agreed and thanked her for joining him in a bump and putting some lovely impure thoughts in his head. He would call her tomorrow and suggest that they practice some good form. Skip and John grinned at the tale and each took turns doing a bump of their own in the bathroom before Shelley decided it was time to take a ride.
Skip Haynes and John Jeremiah were two-thirds of the band Aliotta Haynes Jeremiah. Later that year, a tune Skip wrote would become their breakout hit, “Lake Shore Drive.” It would get a lot of radio play, and when they’d hear it, Skip and John and Shelley would laugh, thinking about sailing along the Drive in the big Chrysler. They’d get some horseshit for the lyrics — namely, “Just slippin’ on by on LSD, Friday night trouble bound.” Some of the nosebleeds thought it might be encouraging youthful minds to try drugs. To which Skip and John howled, “No shit!” and they’d fall out laughing.
After their Lake Shore cruise — two joints and 10 minutes from the Gold Coast and back — they pulled up in front of Faces, feeling primed. They found a standup bar table and surveyed the room. As Shelley looked around, he couldn’t believe his luck: It was the redhead executive secretary from BBC — without her date! Fuck, what was her name? Shelley checked his hand and saw her number clearly enough, but her name was a V and then a chicken scratch of other letters. He decided to just call her V. He sidled over and asked where her date went.
“He didn’t like the idea of me doing a bump in a bathroom stall with another man,” she teased.
To which Shelley replied, “The man is a cad! Let’s go do another bump!” She laughed and readily agreed.
This time they snorted quickly and got down to business. She tucked her panties in her purse and they were ready. The confined space heightened the whole thing, and they both noisily got off. Outside the stall they could hear people laughing and clapping. They exited, V doing a curtsy and Shelley taking a bow.
Back at the table, they found that Skip and John had disappeared. After Shelley and V chatted for a while, she told him her name was Vivian. Casting his eyes down sheepishly, he said, “I was going to guess Vicky.” She laughed.
They decided to move on to Jay’s after Shelley spotted an old girlfriend giving him the shit-eye from the bar. He walked Vivian to the coatroom and grabbed her coat. Strolling across the street, they fired up another joint. When they ran out of joints, they decided, they’d call it a night.
Downing a couple more drinks, they got to know each other a bit. Shelley was an artist and graphic designer; he did all of the rock ’n’ roll work in town. If you saw an ad for a Jam Productions concert, it was Shelley Howard’s. Same with the ads for the hot clothing stores around Rush Street like Gatsby’s, or for hip boutiques like Peabody’s or City Slicker. Shelley made a good living and enjoyed life around Rush Street. He made a lot of art for himself, too, and took a lot of pictures.
Vivian told Shelley she'd majored in business and minored in English. “Somewhere, buried deep, there might be a writer in here,” she said, pointing to her heart. They promised to get together over the weekend and see a movie at the Esquire.
It was late, and they were all out of joints. He hailed her a cab, and she kissed him gently on the lips with her eyes open and said, “You’re not the usual suspect, Shelley Howard.” She turned and gave him a little wave as she got in. “See you!” He knew she would.
Back inside, he looked around and saw Skip and John trying to chat up some girls and not connecting — badly. They were obviously Lincoln Park, and Skip and John were Rock ’n’ Rollers. The girls were looking for the kind of guys who wore cufflinks. Skip offered to put them on the guest list for their next gig at Ratso’s, to which they politely declined. Skip managed a small, tight smile as the women moved farther down the bar. John looked at Skip and said, “Well, we won’t be banging them backstage anytime soon.”
Shelley moved in, shaking his head. “Man, thank God you fuckers can play music.”
They riffed on each other for a while until Shelley said, “C’mon, I’ll buy you guys some dinner.”
They made their way down to the Oak Tree, burning a couple of roaches. It was 3 in the morning and Shelley couldn’t make up his mind between a steak and pancakes. “I’m hungry enough to eat a baboon’s ass!” he said.
John and Skip each tried to one-up him. “I could chew the nuts off a skunk!” was the winning crack. Shelley nearly fell off his shoes, the platforms being a little less manageable when you were high.
Shelley got the steak and eggs, Skip got waffles, and John got two sunny-side eggs with pancakes floating in syrup. They shot the shit about the night, and soon the food had made them sleepy. Shelley contemplated another bump but decided against it. It was almost 5 a.m.
Skip and John went their separate ways, and Shelley decided to leave the Chrysler and walk home to Elm Street. He paused at Mariano Park, the grassy triangle between Rush and State, and realized it was getting light out. He burned his last roach and stood there for a moment.
Then he saw it.
A bull. Big as life. Staring right at him. It was mottled with black spots, almost like a harlequin Great Dane. It had the biggest, wettest eyes Shelley had ever seen. It was huge. Somehow unafraid, Shelley found himself moving toward it.
He spoke quietly: “Hey, big stuff, how are you?” Then he gave a light whistle, and the bull stepped back half a step. Shelley gently rubbed the bull’s snout, and the bull nuzzled Shelley’s ribs. He was sure he wasn’t hallucinating — or was he? — yet he had no earthly clue how this beast had gotten here. The stockyards had been closed for a few years, and the meatpackers had their cattle slaughtered out of state. He didn’t want to think about this animal and the idea of slaughter at the same time. Shelley began to sing quietly to the bull:
And it’s 4 o’clock in the morning and all of the people have gone away
Just you and your mind and Lake Shore Drive, tomorrow is another day
And the sunshine’s fine in the morning time, tomorrow is another day
The bull turned away and started to walk toward Oak Street, rounding the corner out of sight. Shelley looked around for someone to share the moment with, someone to ask, “Did you see that?” But he was alone. The only guy on Rush Street.