How to Make Friends in Chicago

by Jake Blackwood

The first thing you’ll need to do is move to Portland and get a job checking IDs at a big, gaudy venue on the southeast side of town. An old theater filled with blacklight circus art where punk rock royalty promises to pay their tab. Check IDs and get to know the regulars. Fight and grapple with assholes, drunks, and drunk assholes. You'll get your eyebrows split open and they'll droop on one side after healing. Break your hands and stick them in bowls of ice. Let them heal into burls.

Meet Miranda. A trust fund art school kid who became obsessed with Niki de Saint Phalle and Annie Sprinkle. She dropped out and became a stripper. Miranda's roommate is a ballerina. Not a ballet instructor or a girl who used to do ballet, but a real-life ballerina. Realize you weren't sure ballerinas were actually real but now one is standing in front of you. She's smiling and you want her. You’ve always liked sleeping with women who are above your socioeconomic status. You get off on being a dirty secret and for a moment imagine a fairy tale. A Himderella story where you fall in love and she brings you into the world above your own. That world where MFAs are debt-free and gallery shows sell out before the doors open. A world where book readings are well attended.

Miranda and the ballerina will stay until closing time. After you herd the rest of the customers out, sit down and drink with the two of them. Say you always wanted to be a ballerina and listen to them laugh. Miranda is going to ask if you want some cocaine. Nod and smile. She'll chop up thick slugs. Pull out your knife, cut a straw into small pieces, and pass them around. A crowd of staff and their friends will gather around and soon the coke will be gone. The ballerina will whisper in Miranda's ear. Miranda will smile and ask if you want to go to their apartment to hang out. Go with them.

There's more cocaine at the apartment. Sit on the floor next to their coffee table and begin working your way through a pile of it. The ballerina will linger for a while whispering hints as she drapes her arm around you. Stop thinking about ballerina sex. There is cocaine to do. Feel happy when the ballerina goes to bed because now there's more cocaine for you. You'll realize the pile of cocaine will soon be gone. When you feel the itchy frustration cover your whole body, ask Miranda if she has more. She will say no but that she’s going to pick up tomorrow and you can come with her. Tell her you don't have any cash. She will agree to front you. Survive until morning.

In the morning you’ll both still be high as Miranda drives and talks in circles about how much she likes The Killers. Make sounds of agreement and nod while you wonder where exactly you’re going and why she loves The Killers so much. She’ll park in front of a used furniture store. The display windows will be filled with cheap monstrosities comprised of lacquer, cheap gold hardware, and particle board. The kind of furniture that gets left behind after an eviction. Miranda will send a text message. Follow her to the front door. A middle-aged Ukrainian man named John will greet you. You'll know he’s Ukrainian because he’ll say, “I’m John, from Ukraine.” Go with him to the back office where his mother is cooking sausages on a hot plate. She will ask if you want some sausage. Decline, saying you already ate. She will say you must. Hold the sausage in a paper towel as you talk with John.

John is going to ask where you live, when you got here, and where you were before. He's going to ask about your work and rattle off names to see if you recognize them. Then he’s going to propose that you begin selling cocaine that he fronts you. He'll say he expects to get paid weekly at $30 per gram. Agree to John's great proposition because you're still high and want more cocaine. Next, leave with a bag of cocaine and the sausage wrapped in a paper towel, not comprehending that in seven days you'll owe John $3000.

Start doing the cocaine by yourself and with friends. Wait a week until it's time to give John his $3000. The cocaine will be gone and you will have $270. Ignore John’s phone calls. Ignore Miranda's phone calls. Check IDs at work like you always do. Wait for John and another man to come around the corner. John will yell something you don't understand and smack the side of your head. The man who came with John will swing at your head. Duck and tackle him. The back of his head will crack open on the curb and he'll stop moving. John will be kicking and throwing punches as you stand up.  Pull out your knife and drive it into John’s chest. Be surprised at the lack of resistance you feel as the blade enters him. Watch him fall to the ground. Look into his wide roadkill eyes as you hear the gurgling and spraying from his mouth.

Run through side streets and parking lots until you reach your apartment. Fill a duffel bag with some clothes, toiletries, and a few books. Go to the Greyhound station. Use your $270 to buy a ticket to Chicago that night. Spend two days on the bus thinking about how you'll never have ballerina sex. Arrive in Chicago. Find a dirty bar and get a job as a door guy. Check IDs and get to know the regulars. Wait for one of them to offer you cocaine. Ask them if they know where you can score some of your own. Get introduced to a Puerto Rican guy named Thiago.

Jake Blackwood is a writer and artist. His work can be found in Misery Tourism and in the upcoming issue of SCAB Magazine. He writes under a pen name so you can’t look up his mugshots. He often deletes things he says on Twitter at @JBlackwoodSays.

Image: Alvesgaspar. Edited and republished under the Creative Commons license.