Itching for adventure, we latch upon Maxwell’s, across the street from The Edge. Though passing this club a number of times in pursuit of others, we have nonetheless absorbed and pondered those tantalizing tunes emanating from its mysterious pitch black interior, we’ve seen scores of lovely ladies swallowed up by the same. Rumor has it that Thursday is 1980s night and as such we can no longer resist.
After the twenty minute walk here and a wait in line very nearly as long, we finally gain entry into the club. Struggling to adjust, our eyes initially protest this unrelenting onslaught of black, not only the absence of light but also the predominant shade in both hair color and clothing among the freaks that populate this place. Goth kids, in other words, though accentuated with a plentiful dose of meek freshmen females, cowering in corner clusters, making us feel at home.
Aside from a remote DJ booth perched in a loft above the dance floor, reachable only by a wall clinging ladder, the layout is fairly standard here. Near the entrance, a number of tables and chairs, a couch by the DJ’s ladder. A u-shaped bar enclosed by the building’s front wall, with one lone pool table underneath a swinging lamp on the other side of it. Beside the pool table, the establishment’s only window, a giant plate glass affair affording a splendorous view of High Street.
Occupying much of the room’s center is the dance floor, elevated about two steps up from the rest of the club. Beyond lie two more couches and another pool table in a relatively well-lit section, the restrooms, and then a patio for fresh air whenever the weather allows. Assaulting our ears with panoramic supremacy, these golden pop nuggets such as Little Red Corvette, Just Like Heaven, and 99 Luftballoons. Depeche Mode’s Blue Dress, The Bangles reworking Hazy Shade of Winter, and seemingly every cut from the first two Beastie Boys albums. Given, these girls are less attractive than the selections at that subterranean club across the street, but they’re also less included to give us any grief when we approach – and we avoid the top 40 dance music prevailing over there.
All told we spend fifteen minutes surveying the establishment, at the conclusion of which Damon and Paul announce they’re leaving in favor of The Edge. I don’t care much about where they’re headed, because at long last we’ve finally stumbled onto a scene with substance and potential, the fleeting pot of gold, and to bail now is laughably insane. I have a seat on the back couch to soak it all in while Alan’s off at the john.
An overweight youth with wire rimmed glasses and bowl cut dirty blonde hair flops onto the couch beside me. He’s dressed like an overzealous sports fanatic, in the jersey shirt of a Chicago baseball team. The kind we cater to in the clubhouse at my restaurant, he admittedly appears as out of touch as us in this murky habitat. My eyes are momentarily riveted, though, to this short redhead in a tight black dress nearby, and I’m paying the corpulent White Sox fan no mind. Until, that is, he expresses his incompatibility with the place by launching this half full cup of ice into the air, impacting the pool table felt just as this musclebound thug with a shaved head is lining up to take his shot. Incredibly, no punches are thrown, but he’s attracted attention plenty.
“Ever been here before?” he asks, lounging still in perfect unflappable ease.
“Me neither,” he says, “and I’m never coming back.”
“Oh really?” I return.
“Yeah,” he says, “my girlfriend dragged me here. Some friends of hers come here all the time. We were over at their house and they were all doing coke and shit, so they decided to bring us here. That’s them over there,” he elaborates, nodding toward a group of three girls, among them my redhead in the tight black dress.
He introduces himself as Brian, and I’m suddenly interested in becoming his best friend. As this entire exchange has transpired in the time it’s taken Alan to secure a stall in the john, it seems ridiculously easy, though I suppose we are due some good fortune. At any rate if Chicago fits in here we no longer have any worries about assimilation. And if only this Brian will bridge the gap between me and the strawberry princess, I’m willing to suspend my disbelief, I’ll gladly endorse the notion of love at first sight.
From the group, he calls his own woman over, introduces her as Kathy. With a naturally attractive face readily given to smile, and a dash of makeup that, while sparse, is more colorful than what the other freaks are wearing, she’s a comely brunette in her own right, friendly and by turns either self effacing or putting down this place. But I can see no reason in beating around the proverbial bush, particularly with strangers I may never see again.
“I think your little red headed friend is hot,” I admit.
Kathy whistles to her two friends, who immediately join us. Like my redheaded beauty, the raven haired goddess beside her wears another tight black dress, clinging to a body only marginally less sensational. Their names are Tonya and Valerie, respectively, and to my astonishment after just a moment the redhead grabs my hand, leads me out onto the dance floor.
“Come on,” she says.
Just then, his timing immaculate, Alan returns from the restroom. I shout to him and point at Valerie and tell him to follow us on out onto the floor, which he does, he jumps right in beside her. Amidst the swirling lights and the throbbing beat, we claim our tiny parcel of land, as Alan’s beside his babe and I’m all over Tonya.
Our bodies grind together and the whole time I can’t help but think this is it, I’ve finally arrived. She pulverizes my crotch with her ass and I’ve got a hand on each of her hips and it doesn’t matter that we’ve barely spoken five words to one another, total. All that matters is the moment, every twitch our bodies make to the music, every ounce of sweat, the way the occasional pinspot light sets her lustrous hair afire and her green eyes dancing in the dark alongside us.
We maintain this frantic lockstep for two or three more songs, then separate. Needing no coaching of his own, Alan fixates upon Valerie in much the same fashion as I have upon Tonya, and now’s he’s priming me on the finer points of seduction. The girls are still dancing and Brian’s kissing Kathy on the couch while we hold up the back wall, three distinct islands within eyesight of one another but playing this scripted game of social conduct.
After ignoring our prey awhile, we spot them walking out onto the back patio. Alan turns to me and says, “come on, let’s go talk to them.”
Meeting the girls outside, we converse with them a short while. If club time is expressed in songs rather than minutes, then this discussion clocks in at approximately one and a half. Eventually, they hear a beat they can dance to, or maybe the well of our conversation runs dry, the flames of discourse momentarily extinguished. Either way Tonya and Valerie make a beeline again for the floor and as the crisp air around us feels like a splash of cool lakewater after sweating indoors, we’re in no hurry to follow.
“Now when we go in,” Alan explains, “we need to act like we don’t even know them. Don’t even look their way.”
“Okay,” I nod, as we step inside ourselves.
We besiege the dance floor again, this time without the girls. Neither of us are especially fleet of foot, but he insists this is our best ticket, and as I don’t known one tenth of what Alan does about girls this becomes our next grand maneuver.
He comes off like a genius, then, when the hottest girl in the entire bar swings her hips over to where we are. A tall skinny girl with sandy hair, in untucked white tee shirt and tight black slacks, she immediately begins dancing with us. Beneath those pants lies the most amazing ass I’ve ever seen, a feature made no less incredible in viewing it under such intimate circumstances. She jumps frantically up and down with the big 80s beat, inching closer and closer, until that luscious behind is flush against my crotch, grinding out the rhythm of the song. I do my best to keep up and move along with the girl, rubbing her wondrous rump with my hands.
The song ends and she wanders off without a word, but it doesn’t matter, her impact has been felt deep and wide. Tonya and Valerie are against the back wall, eyeing us and talking in what appears even from this distance as conspiratorial plotting. That the skinny girl with the tight ass deems us worthy enough for a dance only improves our standing with these other two, it seems.
“Look at them,” Alan says to me and nods his head in the direction of the cigarette machine, against which Tonya and Valerie are standing, “they haven’t taken their eyes off of us.”
The house lights come up and it’s time to leave. Bouncers in black shout venomous instructions herding everyone to the door, and meanwhile, our two girls are still staring at us with an expression equal parts wonder and awe. I can’t wrap my head around the luck we’ve enjoyed this evening, but do my best to act as if it is an everyday occurrence, sensing this is a front worthy of Alan. Brian and Kathy are nowhere to be found, but we offer Tonya and Valerie some perfunctory goodbyes before stepping out into the night. Euphoric, Alan and I scarcely notice the winter chill biting our extremities.
“Dude, it’s in the bag!” he cheers.
“You really think so?”
“It’s in the bag,” he repeats, and I believe.
Needless to say, the next time we run into these two, they don’t even remember meeting us. Such is the scattershot nature of these unhinged outings in a half dark room stuffed with strangers. The lame attempt at conversation with this Tonya is one of the more awkward, dorktastic moments of my life and I soon enough retire this charade.
We have plenty of other adventures on the docket to keep us entertained, anyway. Mondays for example mean goth night at Maxwell’s. We arrive to check it out hot on the heels of our Thursday adventure, and encounter about one third of the crowd. In a sea of black inkier even than 1980s night, we gape in open amazement at the handful of pierced loners in dark clothing and raccoon mascara, writhing along to Nine Inch Nails, trying to act mysterious. Howling till our sides hurt for nearly two hours, before calling a much deserved end to our evening.
A pair of additional, unexpected complications will append any voyage to these clubs. One such issue is the matter of coats. Wearing a coat to this strip of bars, if walking as most do, is always a tricky strategy to navigate. You could do without, although the weather will not necessarily permit this. Otherwise, it’s either wear the thing around, carry it with you, or find a place to stash it. Each of these options has its obvious faults. Paul and I try hiding ours behind this couch at Maxwell’s, only to have them both disappear. The other challenge to navigate is the attitude of the bartenders if attempting to order a water. Though considerable lip service is donated to taking care of the designated driver, or even just the sensible babysitter, in today’s society, these dudes apparently didn’t get the memo. Open hostility awaits you at first, followed by being ignored outright once they begin to recognize your face. The weird thing about this is, there’s no guarantee of a tip even if these (underage?) drinkers are ordering beers and cocktails. On the other hand, plenty of folks would tip on a water if delivered without an attitude. And it isn’t like tap water is more difficult to pour than a draft, or a bottled one tougher to lift from a cooler than your 12 ounce Bud Light. Unless these barkeeps are business owners, which I seriously doubt is the case, it shouldn’t much matter to them. Actually even if actually owning the business, it shouldn’t matter – Maxwell’s for example was collecting three dollars a head on Thursday nights, minting a small fortune in the process from that revenue stream alone.
But these are minor blips. Maxwell’s offers a veritable cornucopia of delights, depending upon the night and your inclinations. Learning the what and when of this outrageous campus spectacle prove equally important to the who and how, all chapters of our own ongoing education. Wednesday nights each week, this club hosts a one dollar door charge techno gala, termed Maxwell’s House, while every Tuesday and Sunday, they sell pitchers of draft for the rock bottom price of twenty five cents. None of these hold a votive candle to Monday’s goth night, however, which itself dims literally and figuratively against Thursday Big 80s. For factors you can never quite determine, certain elements resound better against your own interests, the arc of your ambitions. In theory nothing should surmount scraping together a few dimes and nickels for the plastic pail drunkfest, but we feel most comfortable here on Thursdays, networking our faces and names then, without ever resolving why.
Quarter pitcher night, it must be pointed out, is somewhat of a gimmick. Oh, the prices are real, but the problem is they keep running out of pitchers. You must maintain a death grip on yours at all times or else risk someone stripping it from you in a beer fueled frenzy.
“I wouldn’t even waste my time with those quarter pitcher nights,” Paul advises us after the fact, having had the sense to avoid this scene, “all it will ever be is skunk beer they’re trying to get rid of.”
A plate glass window in front of the pool tables, wedged into that street facing corner behind the bar and before the dance floor, affords awesome opportunities for people watching. Another Thursday, we’re bringing a couple of newcomers to this freakish scene which has somehow become our surrogate home, in the form of Damon’s girlfriend Shannon and my buddy Doug.
Enduring the customary block long wait, the clock above the bar already reads 12:30 and much of our night is shot. Alan and Doug go in on a pitcher of the cheapest brew available, and, hitting it off as well as I envisioned they would, stand in our normal central observation post, by the cigarette machine. Shannon’s suddenly not feeling well, on the other hand, checking Damon’s own enthusiasm, and I’m not compelled to drink at all. With an impressive adaptability he rarely extends, meanwhile, Paul’s good cheer survives the bartender’s word of a Heineken outage. Though detesting the skunk draft beer, as he calls it, Paul orders a plastic cup of foamy Michelob, and, continuing his astonishing if potentially short lived transformation, agrees to join me as partner in a game of pool.
For a change of pace we put some quarters upon the front table, in this corner of the bar we rarely occupy. Waiting our turn, joined by Damon and Shannon, through the mammoth plate glass window we watch college student swarms file past en route to other watering holes. Two clean cut, carbon copy males, constituents of that same army, have run this table for a while, but my first turn out I sink five consecutive balls. Though a considerable liability, my partner has little work ahead of him as we quickly swat these lads from their pedestal.
“He’s awesome,” Paul whispers to Damon, who nods in polite disinterest, as if plotting his escape. Addressing me, Paul adds, “that was cool how you came out of the gate like that, showed em who’s boss.”
“Hell yeah,” I grin.
Paul never plays pool and watching him stab at the cue ball with his feeble left-handed shot always provides some much needed humor. Occasionally he strikes gold, but for the most part represents a pure handicap. Still, as the ring of onlookers gradually morphs, aspirants to the throne, we’re now up against a pair of tall cheerleader types, their abilities neatly delineated into the same demographics as ours. The sandy haired one, she’s a shade worse than Paul, while the Nordic blonde, squinting when she speaks, introducing herself to me as Amy, has impressive command of the table. We promptly dispatch them, impressive in its own right, doubly so considering the relentless force of Paul’s chatter.
Under normal circumstances, Damon we could not pry from an opportunity such as this, even in his strictly observational role. But citing Shannon’s mysterious illness, they evacuate. When the rotation of turns permits, Amy and I stand against the bar’s backside, separated from its cooler by a thin plywood wall, spray painted black, cracking wise about the world outside this window, those dressed with unintentional hilarity within, the ineptitude of our partners.
But Maxwell’s will suffer a curious fate, before eventually shuttering and being reduced to rubble. Always a freaky place to begin with, as soon as school breaks for the summer, it somehow transforms into a gay bar overnight. Alan and I drift up there one night, but unearth little to hold our interest outside carnival attractions such as a seven foot tall bald guy wearing a frilly pink dress, and our go-go boot girl making out with some other chick. Figuring it must only be a summer thing, we give the place a rest until school resumes in the fall, and yet for whatever reason, Maxwell’s never does revert to its prior form. That rainy Thursday in September will mark the last time any of us set foot inside those doors, the end of what had been, not even three months earlier, a weekly ritual.