One That Got Away
by Tim O'Connell
Inspired by Pink’s “The One That Got Away” as performed Live at Wembley Arena. If you were thinking of downloading the video off iTunes, I would highly recommend it. I might stick out like an old sore thumb at one of her shows, but after seeing the video, I’ll be there the next time she’s anywhere near me. The woman knows how to put on a show. All at once outrageous, sexy as hell, strong, vulnerable, innocent, wild and she’s got a set of pipes that her albums just don’t reveal.
You know the one. That guy/gal that you had a slice of time with and you were both grinning from ear to ear like a couple of idiots. Then poof, they were gone.
It was one of those sweltering Chicago summer days in August of 1980. One of those muggy Saturdays that made you just want to stay inside and read and listen to music. I was 18 going on 19 and had just barely survived my freshman year of college. Going from a Chicago Public High School where I coasted through with A’s and B’s to a Jesuit run University famous for training young minds in the classical tradition had nearly done me in.
I got a call from one of the gals at the hotline I was currently volunteering/training at. She wanted to know if I wanted to hang out with her and another gal down at “Taste of Chicago.” Nancy and Annie were fun. Both were older, long since graduated college, gorgeous and with more money than sense. Okay, when it came to hanging out in the city outside of the better areas, they had NO sense. “Taste of Chicago” was one of those HUGE Chicago Street Fairs that Mayor Jane had set up to get people into and “revive” the downtown area. Food booths, music, beer, music, more food, and half the city’s population…you get the idea. Back then I LOVED huge crowds and a party atmosphere.
Why would two, older, more mature, drop dead gorgeous women want to hang out with me? One was a classic Jewish American Princess with more issues than most, the other was about as WASP as you can get in Chicago without being driven out of town. What the hell were they doing with a good Irish Catholic boy from da far North Side? Dog repellent. That summer I’d been working on a very physical show for a youth center’s Summer Program. Acting as assistant director/movement coach as well as a fill-in member of the cast, I was cut five ways from Sunday and because I hadn’t even begun to think of working on my “anger issues” I tended to scare the shite out of anyone I looked at cross-eyed. I considered my temper a way to get things done. Oh, and they were buying. Yes, I was a whore that way. If they wanted me to hang out so they could have a good time without other guys hitting on them while buying me beer and Chicago BBQ, I was okay with that. Also, I think I told you about my knight in shining armor complex. I was still feeding it back then.
I threw on a pair of black Converse, white painter’s pants multi-colored with various paint and dye stains that almost looked like it was done on purpose and a baseball jersey with the Pink Panther kneeling and playing an electric guitar in absolute Jimi Hendrix bliss. I could get away with it back then…okay, I thought I could get away with it back then. It showed of my muscles though so I figured it was the right shirt.
I met up with “the girls” at the Fullerton El station and we kept going south into the heart of the Near North Side. A very nice part of town, but these things drew folks in from all parts of the city. It always amazed me that these things never got out of control even with the large “presence” of Chicago’s finest.
We’d been bouncing around from music booth to music booth, dancing, drinking, taking time to have a gnosh here and there, dancing some more. One thing about Chicago Street Fairs, especially the ones the city put on, you could bet the music wouldn’t suck. Say what you want about Mayor Jane, she made damn sure the circus portion of her revels were well manned.
We were near the booth that was blasting music from the LOOP. WLUP, Chicago’s Best Rock. Remember, this was way back before Clear Channel. Local DJs and Program Managers still ruled the waves. You may not have heard the band playing on the LOOP in NY or L.A., but you can bet you could catch them at Biddy Mulligan’s or Mother’s. They played the hits, but they also played the local hero’s stuff too.
Anyway, Annie and me had been doing the pogo to some Blondie song, when all of a sudden Annie was gone and “she” was there. The one that got away. Shoulder length, naturally curly blonde hair with colored feathers strategically placed throughout. Crystal blue eyes. Wearing an Indian choker and leather bracelets on each wrist with what looked like Viking runes embossed on them. A very full chest that was sort of held in control by one of those buckskin vest/halter things with more feathers and silver bangle thingies. A ripped torso flared into tight, embroidered, blue jeans which in turn flared into Indian moccasin boots…not the cheap ones from a truck stop either, these came off the res up in Wisconsin or Minnesota.
Our eyes locked and we just danced. You know when you dance with your husband or wife or long time dance partner and you two have known each other forever so you know exactly what to do next? It was like that even though we’d never seen one another before.
The Blondie song ended and I wanna say something by Marshall Crenshaw came on and we kept on going. Neither one of us seemed to know or care that we were in the middle of a huge crowd, in the middle of the third largest city in the nation. We simply grinned and looked each other up and down and danced and danced some more.
We never said a word but the internal dialogue was along the lines of: “Yeah, I like that move, what do you think of this one? Ohhhhh myyyyy, yeah, you do that nice. What was that you just did with your hips? Oh Jeez, mine don’t work like that.”
Marshall Crenshaw ended and went right into “Good Times Roll” by The Cars and we danced even harder and more manic, doing a shoulder to shoulder circling thing that got the Irish cheering.
The Cars came to an end and we moved in close to talk/yell at one another “in private.” Maybe Neil Young was playing, but I always remember that she smelled like cinnamon and apples.
Next thing I know Nancy is grabbing my arm and shoving me through the crowd while I squawked and tried to keep sight of “her.” “She” was gone as quickly as “she’d” shown up.
Apparently Annie was in trouble. Well shit, that’s what Annie does. Nancy led me to what I consider a “very bad situation.” Annie was between two guys my size, who were “dancing” up against her like a couple of drunk, mobbed up, Roxbury Boys with muscles. People were either ignoring what was happening, or laughing and cheering them on. Somehow I managed to convince two slimy drunks wearing Member’s Only t-shirts, chinos, and too much Polo that Annie was my little sister and only 15 and apologized profusely for letting her out of my sight. They were either just drunk enough to buy it, or they didn't want to deal with me. While Annie was cute, she was also 25 and looked 35 thanks to a decade of coke use. I’m grateful to this day that they were drunk enough. Guys who dressed like that back in ’80 almost always had a fucking stiletto on them. Nothing I hate worse when things are tense than the sound of that “SNICK!”
So the slimeballs went their merry way and I tried to get Annie calmed down because she thought for sure that they were going to rape her right in the middle of Michigan Avenue. One of Annie’s less endearing qualities was how she always managed to tease her way into free drinks, drugs, cars, etc. and then was shocked, shocked I tell you, when the guys wanted something in return. And it wasn’t like she couldn’t have bought any of it for herself, I think she just liked seeing how much she could get away with. All it took was one look into Annie’s eyes and I knew she’d gotten something off of them. Nancy brought a few beers over and we found a curb to sit on back across from the LOOP booth. Must have been a shitload of speed in whatever she’d done, ‘cuz Annie wouldn’t stop talking even though Nancy and me hadn’t begun to listen.
“She” was nowhere to be seen.
I was pissed/bummed/grumpy. Even the cop that stopped to give my underage self and my beer the once over didn’t say a word.
Nancy lit a cigarette, looked at me funny and asked me, “So…who was the blonde?”
I looked at her matter of factly, “I have no idea.”
“Yeah, nice ass too.” To this day she doesn’t get sarcasm.
“I hadn’t got that far.”
“…sorry, you know…shrug…gotta love Annie.”
“I’m sitting right here ya know? And did you see the size of that one fucker’s cock? He would have split me in half with that thing…giggle…hmmmmm…hey ya wanna head to the club, the bar’s almost open.”
Nancy gave me a look and said, “Alka Seltzer tube. I’ve got 50 bucks that says if you’d have kicked him in the balls, you’d have cut him to pieces.”
“Good to know, guy that size, I kick in the balls first.”
“Come ON…I wanna hit the club before all of this heads that way.” Annie waved her hand like she was shooing a fly. We were about 3 miles south of Rush Street and she was right…once this thing broke up, there would be no room in any of the clubs.
Although, Annie had apparently forgotten that her uncle that owned the club she was talking about had already taken one look at my goy, young self and had threatened to call my boss and have my ass fired for crossing the line. What is it about older Jewish guys? They all know one another no matter how big the town is. It ain’t fair.
I was giving Nancy cat on black velvet eyes (That's Puss in Boots from Shrek eyes for you younger folks) as we headed for the El, hoping that the day wouldn’t be a total loss. “So, you wanna drop Annie at the club and ummm go to your place?”
“I’m supposed to owe you for losing your Indian Viking Princess?
I gave her my best “ain’t I cute” grin. “Well, yeah.”
She patted me on the cheek, but she was thinking about it. “Sigh, Tell you what, take this as a lesson to teach you that when you see something THAT hot that’s looking at you like she wants to eat you alive, get her number first.”
“What if I hadn’t danced with her?”
Nancy grinned and raised her eyebrows. “And that would be the other lesson. You’re learning. Give me a couple more years and I’ll have you trained.”
“Yeah, but then you won’t want me anymore.”
“Hey…I’m coming! WAIT dammit!”
Annie ran up cigarette in one hand, hair flying, bag in the other and wrapped her arms around Nancy and I both in a chummy, “Oh shit I hate coming down this fast.” sort of way. Her, “I love you” embraces didn’t require me to half carry her.
I’ll leave the rest of the night to your imagination, mostly because I can’t remember how THAT particular night ended.
But the blonde? Back in a dark corner where my inner juvenile delinquent plays in concrete canyons, she’s still there. Dancing like an Indian Viking Princess and grinning like she wouldn’t be happier doing any other damn thing. Making me believe that rock’n’roll angels exist. If there’s a heaven, after I check in on my folks, she’s the first person I’m looking up. I mean damn, I never even got her name and that just ain’t right goin’ through eternity like that.
Who got away from you? Do you still think about them?