Chicago, IL

Crazy in Chicago

Sherry McGuinn

The reckless years.

Growing up in the 60s and 70s was one hell of a wild ride. Although I wasn’t old enough in the former decade to experience first-hand such watershed moments as Woodstock or the Democratic Convention and its ensuing riots, I was “there,” nonetheless.

“There” when the Kennedys and Martin Luther King were murdered. “There” when Joplin, Hendrix and Morrison OD’d. “There” when the “sexual revolution” grabbed hold of our loins and forever challenged our perceptions of who, when and how we could get busy.

As I got older and no longer had to sit on the sidelines — or in front of the TV — to watch life unfold, I took a deep, cleansing breath and dove into the murky societal pond head-first.

As I think about this period in my life, I am compelled to ask: Are you like me? Do you ever wonder how you made it out of your own life…alive?

Were you wild or staid? Was your behavior at times reckless? Did you do things that, when you think back on them now, were bat-shit crazy? And are you grateful that you’re even around to recall those doings?

I know I am. But damn, I had me some fun.

Perhaps you’re of an age where you can relate. What I remember most vividly: The music. The politics. The drugs. Everything combined into one hedonistic explosion for the senses. And I sucked it all in. With gusto.

Now that I’m in my 60s, I think back on my younger self and, although I’d like to bitch-slap her for some of the stupid shit she did, I marvel at her resilience, as well.

That woman threw down. And fell down, tumbling down hillsides and staircases and any number of obstacles throughout her many years of delicious oblivion. She could take a fall, scramble right back up and do it all over again.

Not wanting to cast myself in a particularly unflattering light, I’d like to back-peddle a bit and stress that everyone I hung out with partied hard, as well. My husband has said on a number of occasions that, when I was at a house party, or just out on the town, I acted like a prisoner sprung from jail.

My young, single self lived in an apartment in a somewhat trendy Chicago neighborhood, conveniently located near a popular Irish bar. It was friendly, cozy, and right on the corner of a major bus line. As I didn’t have a car for a while, and that was probably a good thing, I was on that bus a lot.

That place called to me damn near every night. In fact, its where I met the man who was to become my husband. He was the bartender! And his shifts were always the most popular because he played kickass music. I remember countless nights when there were people line up outside, waiting to get in.

Although I’m reluctant to bring up a “Cheers” reference as it seems rather pat, in this bar everyone did indeed “know your name.” It was particularly appealing to women because we felt safe going there on our own. The guys looked out for us. In between having sex with us.

During my Vida Loca period, I didn’t have a drink of choice, so to speak. I experimented. Enthusiastically. To this day, my husband loves to remind me that, at one point, I was guzzling down 151 Rum. That’s some rough shit but it went down easier than you might think. Of course today, it would probably kill me.

The pool table was a focal point in the bar and I turned into a pretty good shooter. Beating the “best of the best” was a high for me.

And speaking of “high,” we all smoked weed and would take regular breaks on the street corner to augment our booze buzz.

Dating wasn’t much of a thing back then. Having a “relationship” was more of a “Hey, it’s Last Call. Wanna come over?”

My taste in guys was somewhat questionable then. I went for the quintessential bad boys…the ones who didn’t say too much…about anything.

One of these guys was a paramedic who also worked security at The Aragon Ballroom in Chicago, which was a teeming hot spot for great music. (I fell down the stairs there, once, too!)

This guy was sexy as hell. He always wore a black leather jacket and tinted glasses. Not shades, exactly, just lenses that were tinted a dark, indiscriminate hue. He probably had shitty vision but I found it hot.

He also carried a gun, which I discovered in a roundabout way the night he was at my apartment and a former boyfriend (who had been stalking me), showed up and started banging at the door. It was a courtyard building and the security door downstairs rarely locked.

When the guy I was with opened the door and showed my ex the gun, he took off.

Good times!

The ex, by the way, was on parole after doing a stint in prison for transferring drugs (cocaine, I believe) across state lines. He was a very intelligent and artistic guy but had suffered serious trauma in that his mother took her own life and his dad died soon after. After his two older brothers took off, he basically raised himself.

Amazingly, my parents liked him. That waned the night we were at a party at their house and my dad found out from one of the guests, a cop who happened to be his best friend, that my boyfriend had a rap sheet, in his words, “a mile long.”

My dad’s buddy actually recognized him! What were the odds of that?

That relationship died its own death, but not without a struggle. I remember one very late night I was taking the Devon Avenue bus home from my watering hole, got off, and started walking toward my apartment building. When I started up the path toward the front door, two men came out of the bushes. Both were dressed “business casual,” and one was brandishing a gun.

“Get down on your knees with your hands behind your head,” the guy with the gun yelled.

I was stunned. Were they talking to me? I looked around wildly, only to see my ex-boyfriend on his knees behind me.

The guys were undercover cops, detectives, and told me that they’d spotted him following me and followed him, in turn.

They were going to arrest him, but I convinced them to let him go if he promised to never approach me again.

That experience slowed me down. But not for long.

How about you? Care to share your own crazy tales?

© Sherry McGuinn, 2020. All Rights Reserved.

Sherry McGuinn is a slightly-twisted, longtime Chicago-area writer and award-winning screenwriter. Her work has appeared in The Chicago Tribune, Chicago Sun-Times, and numerous other publications. Sherry’s manager is currently pitching her newest screenplay, a drama with dark, comedic overtones and inspired by a true story.

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Chicago, IL

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