About a year and a half ago, my car went missing.
It wasn’t towed, which is what I first assumed. The parking spot my car was last seen it was now a full blown construction site. It was also not relocated, a term that I learned from the kindly 411 operator, which means that if the City has to start construction without giving residents at least a 24 hour warning, they will move your car somewhere nearby. I spent hours on the phone to 4-1-1, searching for my car, who emphatically told me over and over again that it was not towed or relocated.
At a loss for what had become of my beloved 1997 Toyota Corolla, which, with only a radio (no CD player clock, tape player to be found inside, except the existence of all of those things in the vast majorities of cars in 1997 assured me it could not have been stolen, I just started walking around the block where I had last parked it.
Within 15 minutes I found it, on a completely different street from where I had parked it originally with a ticket for $100.
I feel like this anecdote exemplifies how I feel now about the City of Chicago as an adult. But when I was 14, Chicago still had a bit of that shiny glow, the aura of a forbidden fruit. Like, getting my car stolen would have been a fun and exciting idea to me then, cause it would imply that I had a car to BE stolen in the first place.
I grew up in the Suburbs, although to anyone who I met in college, I emphatically was “from” Chicago. When further pressed, I would crack and confess my sin of being from a suburb, but would quickly remind them all that the CTA ran through Evanston so it was basically an extension of Rogers Park (it wasn’t). When you go to college with a majority of people from New Jersey, you can get away with a lot of things.
The purple line is solely responsible for the majority of my teenage sins. A gateway drug to the red line, to belmont and clark, to smoking weed outside of an open mic with kids who went to art high schools and had mohawks, to trying cocaine for the first time in a Walgreens bathroom before a punk show at the Ukrainian Cultural Center on Chicago Ave with my friend Christina, who went by Xtina at the time. She knew someone who was way too involved in the coke world for an 9th grader, but could get us "good" stuff. I was a pragmatic young teen. If I was going to try cocaine, I might as well try the best possible cocaine I could. So I did.
Now, I live 2 blocks away from the UK Cultural Center, and the Walgreens is now a CVS.
The first “boyfriend” I ever had went by the name Tim Poison. Obviously, that wasn’t his real name, which was Tim Pierzchala. He was very polish, he attended a private Catholic school, but he went by Tim Poison because it was punk rock and in keeping with his punk rock band, Poison Control. We met at a punk rock show for a band called the Infected (their lead singer went by moniker Luke Infected) and we immediately started chatting on AIM and within a week, he had asked me to be his girlfriend. I remember hanging up my Nokia phone and looking at myself in the mirror, looking for the physical proof that THIS is the Clare Austen-Smith with a boyfriend!
Tim Poison was the first boy I kissed - in winter of 2004 outside of a Burger King, now known as the 24-hour BK Lounge, in Downtown Evanston. If you’ve ever been an adolescent, you might remember the visceral elation and disbelief that comes with realizing that someone actually likes you, and your high school years and therefore the rest of your life might not be, as you feared, a stony path of rejection and celibacy.
And if you’re a 14 year old girl as I once was, you are immediately convinced that yes, you must like and date this person because this is probably your only chance at finding another being on the planet who thinks you’re attractive and is interested in you romantically. My low level of self esteem and ache for romantic success at the time is really the only way I can justify my eagerness to be in relationship with someone named Tim Poison. I mean, he wasn’t a super attractive guy either, but a particularly cruel girl at school used to “tease” me by saying that he had downs syndrome.
But, appearance and unfortunate monikers aide, he very excitingly lived in Chicago. I mean, it was Albany Park, but Chicago was better than Evanston. I not only had a boyfriend but a CHICAGO boyfriend. I had a very happy, stable, home life (aka, not punk rock), which of course meant that I wished I had divorced parents so I had much more to write about in my Emily the Strange Brand Diary. Tim’s religious Catholic school gave him a lot more to rebel against via angry AIM statuses - very cool.
The colors him and his friends chose for his punk rock band were purple and orange - are unpleasing to pretty much anyone and still gross me out when I see them together today. Yet, I still purchased multiple purple and orange bandannas - because that was the punk rock thing to do - to “rep” poison control at my suburban Evanston high school. Who I was “repping” to was an unanswered questions since literally nobody knew what Poison Control was or who Tim Poison was or who I even was. My incoming freshman class was 1,000 students and if anything I stood out as a girl who had really large ears.
This period in my life also correlated with taking the CTA down to Belmont & Clark without telling my parents, attending 5 dollar punk rock shows, and wearing this jacket that I purchased from a TJ Maxx, J-Lo brand, and then reconstructed as a physical symbol of my punk rock attitude and desire to get away from the man, aka my parents, who also, it’s important to note, paid for the jacket in the first place. My friends and I would also sew our jeans tight - you couldn’t yet buy skinny jeans anywhere but online - with not thread, but dental floss. This also, apparently, was punk rock, but also spoke to the ignorance that you could buy thread for sewing denim at a fabric store for about the same price as some Oral-B Comfort Plus Floss, Mint Flavor. Unlike Tim Poison and Luke Infected, I never quite figured out my punk rock name, although my Xanga username was alternately “Clare In General” and “Ballroom_Reject.”
Tim Poison and I broke up when I told him that I did want to try beer, and I wasn’t going to be straight edge with him. The next album Poison Control wrote was exclusively songs about how much he hated me, with one of the tracks describing his hope that I would get run over by an 18 Wheeler (Entitled, 18 Wheeler) and a titular song called “Walk Away Girl,” with a catchy chorus that went “I knew you’d walk, walk away from may. Walk Away girl, you walk away.” Even at the time of being insanely vulnerable 14 year old, this was hilarious to me. However, the album was just the tip of the iceberg. I started getting messages on AIM from his friends and prank phone calls from anonymous numbers calling me a cunt, a bitch, a whore for breaking up with Tim. He told me that it wasn’t his fault that they were doing it to me, and he just wanted me to hate him so that it would be easier for him to “get over me.” About a month after the breakup, I went to a concert in which Tim’s band was playing. The lead singer of a band I had never seen before yelled “Fuck Tim Poisons Ex-Girlfriend” into the microphone. Later, he hit on me, not realizing he had told me to go fuck myself on a microphone hours earlier. Tim Poison sucked.
Despite the break up and the online and in person harassment, I was determined to persevere in my love affair with Chicago. I continued my deviant ways of sneaking into the city by lying to my parents about taking the train down with my wholesome grade school friends I had know since I was six, when really I was going to meet up with my punk rock myspace friends with the assistance of my friend Monet, who was one of those girls who was cool because her parents didn’t tell her what to do but also were very bad parents.
Once, coming back from an illicit hang out with my friend Kyle where I smoked a cigarette for the first time, I was caught in my web of lies because I became lost in the loop, thought the red line was the orange line, made it back to the red line, only to be told by a misinformed CTA employee the purple line stopped running at 4pm (later I realized he had meant the purple line express), and having to call my parents to pick me up from the Howard train stop at 10pm while a disapproving orthodox jewish couple listened intently to my phone conversation with my parents. I told my parents I had simply been watching the Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou and had miscommunicated the start time of the movie, as if that made up for the 2 hour transit nightmare. Why I thought Wes Anderson would be my saving grace, I do not know. Recently I watched this movie and it was pretty good.
We spent many nights drinking in plastic water bottles at house parties with punk rocks guys who were in their early 20s and had names like Bubsy (who once pretended to be in a gay love triangle to get on Jerry Springer and was kicked off the show), Jimmy Boombox, and Ping Pong. They were trash people, and you’ll notice I never named any women, because they were sane enough to realize that hanging out with 15 year olds in your early 20s is not only really fucking lame, but creepy. Eventually, I decided that I wanted to hang out with people who lived closer to me, both in locality and age, and my closeness to the punk scene of Chicago faded.
I saw Tim Poison at Delilah’s three years ago when I moved back to Chicago. He didn’t even recognize me at first, which was in a way a relief. Clare in General had evolved! In a way, it felt weirdly fitting that the first person I ran into as an adult on my own in the city was the reason I had started exploring it in the first place, regardless of how much of a garbage can he was. But It felt better to find out that he worked a Guitar Center while I had health insurance.