Our kind of town

In this town, you never know what you're going to find.
Chicago is full of surprises.

Yesterday Gigi said both psychopathy or sociopathy constitute a way of being in the world. One may be more genetically-based, one more environmentally, but they result in the same way of interacting with others – namely, not letting anyone get in the way of what you want. I said, “What if someone is a psychopath but doesn’t really want anything?”

Gigi said, “Everyone wants something, even if it’s as basic as shelter or food.”

It was a weird house concert. Weird good, ultimately, but for a while things were shaky. The concert ringleader didn’t show up, leaving just the folksinger from New York, who’s house-sitting in the concert venue, and my brother Rolando, who doesn’t consider himself much of a singer, to perform. The only guests, other than Rolando’s wife Gigi and me and Dave, were a few confused friends of the ringleader’s.

The folksinger from New York had lighted dozens of tealight candles. Twenty or 30 were arranged at the top of the long flight of stairs up into the flat, for the house concert was technically an upstairs-flat concert, in an expansive Victorian-style flat, with wide views of Lakeview and original paintings and an un-Victorian modern kitchen and a chicken coop downstairs. Inside there were candles on tables and on the fireplace mantel and on window sills. In fact, just after we arrived a row of candles along the top sill of a window blazed up. I think the screen caught fire. Luckily Gigi noticed it and had Rolando put it out.

Other than tealight candles, the place was lit by many strings of Christmas lights, mostly the colored ones, strung around mirrors and table tops, and a fireplace, in which a picture perfect wood fire was burning. It went out just as Rolando and the folksinger from New York finally sat down on either side of it to play. “Aw man, you can’t stop now,” said the folksinger.

He clearly had put much effort into making everything festive. At the entrance to the two-flat, there was a sign that said something like, “Think of the password, and when you get to the top of the stairs, knock on the door and say the password.” Since we’d been talking at dinner about the difference between psychopaths and sociopaths, we decided our password was sociopath. Or maybe it was psychopath. It didn’t matter because at the top of the stairs no one asked for it.

There were all kinds of treats arranged on a huge table – candies and nuts and crackers and spreads and an aged cheddar the folksinger had bought especially for the ringleader’s (Irish) daughters, and butter cookies for the ringleader’s granddaughter, should the parents decide she was old enough to have one. He had several kinds of beer and wine, and a fourth guest arrived with a bottle of organic vodka.

The fifth guest brought a six-pack, and then went out to find his girlfriend who wasn’t sure where the house was. She wore a plastic skirt and reclined on a chaise lounge for the music. Her boyfriend sat beside her in a rocking chair. The vodka bearer sat on a settee under the windows. Dave and I shared a large padded chair that I hoped wasn’t the cat’s hangout. I started to feel nasally halfway through but it was probably just my cold that won’t leave. Gigi sat next to us, wisely – for she too is allergic – in a plastic lawn chair.

I’d been counting on “Doors open at 7:30, music at 8:15” because then we’d leave by nine-thirty, be home in twenty minutes and I’d be asleep early enough to knock my cold absolutely away by morning. But because there was no one there at 8:30, things drifted. The others arrived one at a time, and it kept feeling like no one else was coming. When the fifth guy left to find his girlfriend, I thought the odds were 50/50 he’d be back. He too was here for the ringleader.

We stood around and drank and nibbled and talked, and the folksinger from New York passed around organic vodka to toast with. By the time the singing started, it felt kind of like, “This is what this is going to be, and we will probably never be gathered in this way again, so let’s get on with it.” The folksinger sang the first song, Rolando the next, and on they went, for maybe three or four rounds.

Each played on the other’s songs, mostly just filling in but sometimes taking a solo. It was suddenly beautiful. The folksinger sang deeply poetic songs, tunneling way inside an emotion or image, almost like a meditation. In contrast, I realized that Rolando’s songs are mostly in third person, even the serious ones. They tread lightly and step back, showing you a moment and letting you draw your own conclusions. It was kind of like watching Thornton Wilder jam with Sylvia Plath.

They stopped too soon, which in my opinion is the best way to end a concert. One encore, the only cover of the night, where Rolando played “God Bless the Child,” and the folksinger from New York stood up to sing it. We hung out for a while after, and some people went down to the see the chickens. The folksinger gave me a bag of eggs and a CD. He said he had enjoyed his visit to Chicago. “There’s an edge here,” he said. “People are really creating, music and theatre and art.” I felt kind of proud of us, working our jobs in the Midwest and creating enough on the side to make a New Yorker say we have an edge.

We got a ride home from Rolando and Gigi, and my eggs didn’t break in the car. As a nod to New York, I won’t complain about getting home after eleven-thirty instead of before ten. I let a house concert get in the way of what I thought I wanted – namely, to get rid of my cold – and was rewarded with satisfying music, good conversation, free-range eggs, and a ride home. Sociopaths could learn something from Chicago.