It’s Friday night and you’re looking clean, too early to start the rounds
A ten minute drive from the Gold Coast back, makes sure you’re pleasure bound.
~ Skip Haynes (Aliotta Haynes Jeremiah), “Lake Shore Drive”
He 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. Shelley 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, but pressed with a knife crease. As the man who stood around outside the Cedar Hotel nearby would tell him, “It’s Friday night; . . . you need to be looking . . . Correct.” Shelley thought about this and smiled. Indeed you do, sir, he thought, as he 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. When he tooled up Lake Shore Drive later on, his ’74 New Yorker would look like a money ride. The car served two purposes: Chicks loved it and there was a spacious back seat for romantic assignations, and it was a car that said you were somebody, keeping the cops away. Chicago cops were loath to fuck 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 for you.
Shelley knew better. Even on Rush Street it was “Yes, Officer” and “No, Officer”; it was the smart play. These were Daley’s cops; Rush Street was a plum walking beat and they’d let nobody fuck that up. You get out of line? They’d slap the shit out of you and drag you to the Chicago Avenue station, if you were lucky. If you weren’t? It was Belmont and Western, which meant you’d be spending the night. And if you were a special kind of asshole, 26th and Cal, where you could enjoy the tender mercies of guys who would—again, if you were lucky—only piss on you while you were passed out. Shelley would leave the rogue behavior to the dipshits from Bridgeport, or Tinley Park, or some far-flung suburban hole.
He 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 thin 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 and said, “Looking Correct, as usual, Big-Time.” Shelley thanked him and moved on.
He shook his head at the thought of it and made his way to BBC. He fired up one of the joints and walked briskly, cupping it like a cigarette. He knew all the cops on Rush Street and they’d look the other way, since Shelley was kind of like the Mayor of Rush and a goodwill ambassador all rolled into one. He’d have a couple of beers there and wait for John and Skip. 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 had an amazing view of Chicago, especially at dusk when all the lights were going on and the skyscrapers looked like nothing so much as a collection of gangsters decked out in diamonds. It was the city at its most luminous.
By the time Skip and John had gotten to BBC, Shelley already 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 smiled widely at the tale and each took turns doing a bump of their own in the bathroom until Shelley decided it was time to take a ride up the Drive.
Skip Haynes and John Jeremiah were two-thirds of the band Aliotta, Haynes, and Jeremiah, local folk heroes in Chicago. Later that year, Skip would pen a tune that would become their breakout hit “Lake Shore Drive.” It got a lot of radio play, in Chicago at least. It was a stone hoot to Skip and John and Shelley to be listening to their song, thinking about sailing along in the big Chrysler on the very street that had gained added mystique thanks to their music. They were getting some horseshit in other markets—and even at Chicago’s WLS—for some of the lyrics, namely, “Just slippin’ on by on LSD, Friday night trouble bound.” Some of the nose-bleeds had problems with this thinking; it might be encouraging youthful minds to try drugs. To which Skip and John howled, “Well duh?! No shit!!!” and they’d fall out laughing. Skip would say, “Actually, the song is for people already doing drugs,” and they’d all fall out again. Still, it was something to hear their song on the radio. Not an easy thing to do for an outfit from Chicago.
They pulled up in front of Faces after their Lake Shore cruise—approximately two joints and a 10-minute ride from the Gold Coast and back, and they were sure they were pleasure bound and primed for the rest of the night. They found a stand-up bar table and surveyed the rest of 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 legibly enough, but her name was a “V” and then a chicken-scratch of other letters. He decided to sidle up to her and call her “V,” asking her 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 both ready. The confined space heightened the whole thing and they both noisily got off. Outside their stall they could hear people laughing and clapping but, oddly enough, neither of them were embarrassed. They exited the stall, with “V” doing a curtsy and Shelley taking a bow to even more clapping and laughter; it was obvious many of the other couples in the men’s room were there for the same reason.
Back at the table, they found Skip and John had disappeared. After chatting for a while, she told Shelley her name was “Vivian” and he could stop calling her “V.” Casting his eyes down sheepishly, he said, “I was going to guess Vicky.” She laughed, and for some reason it suddenly seemed howlingly funny.
They soon decided to move on to Jay’s after Shelley spotted an old girlfriend giving him the shit-eye from the bar; he didn’t want it to turn into a thing. He walked Vivian to the coatroom and grabbed her coat. Strolling across the street to Jay’s, they fired up another joint. When they ran out of joints, they decided, that’s when 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-and-roll work in town. If you saw an ad for a Jam Productions concert, it was Shelley Howard’s. The same with ads for all the hot clothing stores around Rush Street like Gatsby’s, or for hip boutiques like Peabody’s or City Slicker—he was the guy. Shelley made a good living for himself and enjoyed life around Rush Street. He made a lot of art for himself and took a lot of pictures.
Shelley was a shrewd guy who knew that no neighborhood that people loved and grew accustomed to was immune to change. Old Town was pretty much gone, although Bizarre Bazaar hung in there like a champ, which was a good thing. Shelley needed a place close by to grab papers, one-hitters, and the occasional hash pipe when there were some decent chunks of hash around. Other than that one store? It was mostly gone; the hippies had left college and bought suits. The revolution had stalled after Vietnam ended.
Vivian told Shelley she had majored in Business and minored in English, explaining, “Somewhere, buried deep, there might be a writer in here” as she pointed to her heart. Their conversation was easy and pleasant and they promised to get together over the weekend and see a movie at the Esquire. She was tired; it was late and she was ready to grab a cab home. “After all, we are all out of joints,” she purred. She kissed him gently on the lips with her eyes open and said, “You’re not the usual suspect, Shelley Howard. See you!” She turned and gave him a little wave. He knew he’d see her again.
He looked around and saw Skip and John trying to chat up some Lincoln Park girls and not connecting—badly. They were obviously Uptown and Skip and John were Rock & Rollers. They 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, saying, “That place always looks a bit . . . unseemly” Skip managed a small, tight smile as the women moved away farther down the bar. John looked at Skip and said, “Well, we won’t be banging them backstage any time soon. Jesus; I feel like a fucking leper!”
Shelley moved in, shaking his head. “Man, thank God you fuckers can play music.” Looking up, John replied, “Oh, it’s Mr. Poontang; thanks for ditching us!” Shelley countered, “Oh, sorry, I forgot; only rock stars are allowed to get any ass in this town!” They riffed on each other for a while until Shelley said, “C’mon; I’ll buy you guys some dinner and explain women to you.”
They made their way down to the Oak Tree, burning their last roaches. It was three in the morning and Shelley couldn’t make up his mind between a steak or pancakes. “I’m hungry enough to eat a baboon’s monkey ass!” he said. John and Skip laughed and tried to one-up him; “I could chew the nuts off of a skunk!” was the winning crack. Shelley nearly fell off his shoes, the platforms being a little less manageable when you were really high.
They dug in. Shelley got the steak and eggs, Skip got waffles, and John got pancakes with two sunny-side eggs on top, floating in syrup. As disgusting as it might look? It was actually really good, although the protein and sugar boost along with a cup of coffee would kind of end your high. They shot the shit about the night.
The food had made them kind of sleepy. Shelley contemplated another bump but decided against it. It was almost 5 a.m. when they got out. Skip and John went their separate ways, and Shelley decided to leave the Chrysler in the garage and walk back to his home on Elm Street. He paused over by Mariano Park, the triangle-shaped park in the middle of Rush Street.
He burned one of his roaches and stood there for a moment as it got lighter out, and then he saw it.
A Bull. Big as life. Staring right at him. He was mottled with black spots, almost like a harlequin Great Dane. He had the biggest, wettest eyes Shelley had ever seen. He was huge. Oddly Shelley didn’t feel at all threatened by the animal, and found himself moving toward him. He spoke quietly; “Hey big stuff, how are you?” He gave a light whistle, and the Bull stepped back a half-step. Shelley gently rubbed his snout and softly sang to him. The Bull gently nuzzled his snout into Shelley’s side over his ribs and Shelley realized just how HUGE this beast was. Still, he was docile. Shelley had no earthly clue how this Bull had gotten here. The Stockyards had been closed for a few years, and the meat packers still in town slaughtered cattle out of state. He didn’t want to think about this animal and the idea of slaughter at the same time. This guy was gentle and Shelley continued to sing quietly to him:
And it’s four 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 quietly away and started to walk toward Oak Street. Shelley looked around for a moment for someone to share it with, but he was alone. The only guy on Rush Street. He looked toward Oak and momentarily worried about the Bull being hit by a car or a cab. He didn’t see a single car. The Bull just kept ambling down the street until he turned a corner and was gone.
Shelley looked around and wanted to ask—anyone—”Did you see that?” and still he was the only living soul on Rush. He couldn’t remember if he’d ever been alone in this part of town. Ever. He knew it wasn’t the reefer or the blow; it wasn’t a hallucination. But he couldn’t explain it.
He decided he wouldn’t. Everyone would think he didn’t have all the dots on his dice.
Shelley decided it was a sign. A mitzvah. A moment of Grace. The Bull was good luck. A missive that all was right with the world. He smiled and dug through his jacket. He found one more roach and fired it up.
The sun had come out.
It was a gloriously autumnal golden red.
The traffic and the morning people had materialized.
It was tomorrow.
It was another day.
He had it made.