I’ve been out of rehab for 3 weeks now and my Mom thinks it would be good for the two of us to go see my brother. I don’t have anything else going on, so I agree. She springs for plane tickets to Chicago.
I haven’t seen Jonas in probably 2 or 3 years. Let’s just say, I haven’t been the greatest older brother. Not during the year we were both going to college in NY and not in the years since either. Back in NY, he’d stop by my apartment in the East Village once in a while, but that was about it. I certainly didn’t make much of an effort to see him. Jonas rarely came out to the bars with me and my friends and he never wanted to do drugs. Not even weed.
After he transferred to a school in Chicago, besides the occasional phone call, there wasn’t much contact either. We were home around the same time two Christmases ago, but I was so focused on seeing old friends and rationing my drugs that I barely remember seeing him. So, I think it means a lot to Jonas and my mother that I am coming on this trip.
When we get to Chicago, my brother picks us up at the airport in his crazy hippy van. Inside, there are only two seats, one for the driver and the other for the front passenger. The back is open so he can fit all of his music gear in there. I am forced to sit on a milk crate in the back, so when Jonas starts off too quickly I end up falling over and rolling around on the carpet.
Jonas takes us on a tour of the city and then shows us his apartment where we get to meet his girlfriend Kirsten. She’s super-cute and plays bass in his band.
After dinner, we drop off my Mom and pack up the van with music gear. We head to the club, the cabaret Metro, where they have a gig that night. I’m once again relegated to the milk-crate. I roll around trying to keep my beer can upright. My brother’s band L_____ is warming up for the well-loved Chicago band, S______. This is a big show for my bro. He’s really excited that I’m in town to see it.
We get there and like half the people in line seem to know and greet Jonas. On the way in, my brother introduces me to Wesley Willis. Wesley is a massive schizophrenic black man with a Mohawk who plays a Casio keyboard. He plays us a song he’s written about my brother’s band. When he’s done he hugs my brother. I’m kind of scared for my bro, but it’s cool that Jonas is so clearly loved and respected by the people in this scene.
We go backstage and I hit the club-supplied free beer. In no time I’ve got a decent buzz going. I notice my brother has been restrained, nursing just one beer since arriving at the club. As it gets close to show time I leave him and the band to final preparations and head out into the audience.
When L_____ comes out on stage the club is almost full! I don’t know how many people are here, but if I had to guess I’d say the place could hold 500. I order a fresh beer and a shot of whiskey from a cute blond bartender.
Obviously I’ve listened to my bro’s music. I’m not that big of a dick. He’s sent me some demos over the years and he’s put out one album with his band, which I own. This is the first I’ve seen him play live though, probably since high school. I can’t believe it’s my little brother up there on stage commanding the attention of all these people! They end their first tune and get big round of applause from the audience. I wonder if my little brother is going to be a rockstar someday.
By the third song, my bladder is about ready to burst. I kill the beer I’m holding and on the way to the bathroom, I catch the blond bartender’s eye. She shoots me a smile.
I grab a stand-up urinal in the largish bathroom and halfway through my piss, I see a drug deal go down. I see one dude pass a packet to another dude with a handshake. Someone uninitiated might not catch it, but I’ve got serious drug-radar going so I see it clearly. I want to go “talk” to the dealer dude but I can’t stop pissing.
Finally I finish but they’ve left the bathroom. I run back into the club to see if I can spot them. I hear Kirsten singing on stage but my focus has shifted. I will find those dudes. The thought of getting some coke has sent me over the edge. I’ve got just the right drunk buzz. A line would be just the thing to set me right. I circle the bar and when I fail to spot them there I head to the front of the theater via the sidelines so I can look into the crowd. I don’t see dealer or customer anywhere.
I figure they had to have paid the cover to get in, so they must be around here somewhere. Maybe they’ve gone backstage or they work at the club and that’s why I can’t find them. I go to the bar. I figure there has to be a regular dealer. Every club has one or two. The blond bartender, aka my new girlfriend, comes over smiling. It’s loud as fuck but I ask her what her name is. I think she says “Lydia” and we shake hands. I order a beer and before I really realize what I’m doing I’ve thrown caution to the wind.
“Who’s the man around here?” I ask.
I should know better than this. I hear my brother in the background, singing the chorus to his song, “better off dead…”
“Where can I score some coke around here? Who’s the dealer?”
I regret the words as soon as I say them. I realize the stupidity of asking the bartender (of all the people!) where to buy drugs. I’m such a shithead! She relieves me though, by holding up a finger. She’s saying to wait! Phew! I guess it pays off once every thousand times. I can see my brother over the heads of the crowd. He’s winding down his song.
The bartender comes back. She points at a big black dude who’s coming my way and then points at me. This doesn’t look right. He’s got a flashlight. His manner is authoritative. He doesn’t look like a dealer. I hear the bartender clearly during a pause between songs.
“This guy asked me where to buy coke!” she says, pointing at me.
Oh shit, he is a bouncer! I take off into the crowd and try to get as far away from the bar as possible. What a dumb-ass I am. I know better. I’ve just had too much to drink. I don’t even really want any cocaine! I just got out of fucking rehab for Christ’s sake.
I fast walk over and into the bathroom and sit on a toilet seat. The bouncer doesn’t seem to have followed me in, so I relax a little. I try to listen to the music. They sound great. Fuck man, I’m so stupid! After a couple of minutes I slink back into the audience to watch my brother’s last song. Before it’s over though, I see the bouncer. He’s coming to get me. He says, “Come on. Come with me. Don’t make me chase you, you’ll regret it!”
I try and explain. “Hey man, that’s my brother up there on stage. You can’t kick me out! I was just joking man! I didn’t want to buy any drugs!”
“You’re 86’d. You’re out of here.” He says. We walk through the crowd, his hand under my bicep. He gives the slightest shove when we make it out the front door.
“You’re out. Don’t bother trying to come back. Seriously.” He steps back into the scrum of people and turns his attention to checking IDs. I slink away through the crowd, a little bit unsteady. I guess I’m drunker than I thought. I walk up the block and lean against a chain link fence. I smoke a cigarette. Shit. I guess all I can do is wait.
I wait and I wait. 30 minutes go by. 40. 45 minutes later, Jonas finally comes out of the club and out onto the sidewalk. I shout out to him. I’m too embarrassed to come over and chance seeing the bouncer again. I explain to him what happened. I tell him the truth. “I saw your set though… It was amazing. I’m so proud of you.” I say, meaning it. He thanks me, but doesn’t smile.
“Well, we gotta load the van up.” he says.
“K, I’ll be here.” I say and I light another cigarette. I imagine he’s disappointed in me. I wouldn’t blame him.