What we saw of Regina from Chicago Theater’s ‘cheap seats’

Cheap seats or not,  what a soul-wrenching show I would like to rewind over and over.

I was an hour early in picking up Alexa, a big deal because I’m always bumbling into her life at least 10 minutes late. We petted her dog Bubba and had a drink with her boyfriend and his dad. They sat on benches on the porch, and I stood and paced until the beer kicked in. We talked about photography, social media uh-ohs, bumblebees, bee stings, and the shifty neighbors across the street. Alexa wore a choker and a long double necklace. She had a single braid in her hair. I was sporting a long skirt with suns and moons, sandals, and a jean jacket. We looked mighty fine this Friday evening. The boys, who were buzzing and enjoying the warm weather, asked if we were excited for our concert, and we shrugged.

It was bumper to bumper traffic to the city like always; good thing we had the extra time, I kept gloating to Alexa. We listened to a few Regina Spektor songs along the way as well as this one by Lorde that reminds me of our friendship. I couldn’t find the song with the one line about friends sleeping in the same bed, which reminds me of when Alexa and I had sleepovers on Friday nights at her house. I joked, “We weren’t kids; we were kind of young adults in college,” to which she said “Yeah, but we were making up for lost time.”

Sometimes I feel like I have to hide my unfiltered, gushing affection for Alexa. First, it tends to put her on the spot. It’s like I’m constantly pointing out that she has whiskers or elephant tusks on her face, and they’re indeed beautiful. That and it oftentimes comes off as alienating to others on the outside. But it’s a wee bit hard not to share this particular kind of love. The older people get, the less time we have for others, and the more scratchy layers we throw on, which can get in the way of enjoying a person. With us, we’ve been throwing off layers left and right. We could walk around in winter in tank tops if we had to. Our friendship has muddled past the deepest defenses and insecurities. I’m beyond blessed for this rarity, and I hope that others can find and work on a relationship like this because it looks good on everyone.

As we continued to inch forward in traffic, Alexa shared with me some of her comments on some writing I asked her to take a look at. She ran out of printer paper, so she printed out my story and poem on fancy stationary. The paper was thick and worn-looking and depicted a turtle wading in water between some reeds. She read her comments aloud. I was grateful for the suggestions she had for this story I’ve been sweating over. She wanted a little more reflection on the narrator’s walk home and thought I should add more detail about a particular prop by reusing it in another spot. It was a pretty thoughtful comment. She gets darn comfortable in a scene. A fellow writer and one of the best readers I know.

She had to pee and apologized about her bladder profusely, and I pounced on the first exit off the expressway. I told her to stop apologizing for something her body couldn’t control. We both apologize a lot for lame things. It was Alexa’s turn this week.

We parked in a garage on Kedzie. Only 12 dollars for the night (what a freaking snag). We walked the few blocks to the theater, using our phones’ GPS because we are two dopey deer that wandered a little too far from the suburbs.

Alexa and I joined the line wrapped around state street. It was a diverse crowd, and there were a lot more dudes than we both imagined. Everyone looked squeaky clean and dressed for the occasion. Two older women stood in front of us. They both wore comfortable shoes, short haircuts, and small silver hoops. They giggled and talked into each other’s shoulders. The woman directly in front of me had drooping blue eyes that hung onto every word coming out from the woman standing in front of Alexa. I was projecting when I said, “That’s us in the future,” but I didn’t care.

A man in a tattered flannel asked Alexa if she had any money to spare, and she rifled into her purse for a dollar to give to him. She said, “Who cares what he spends it on,” as if openly confronted.

It was colder than it was earlier, and I shivered in my jean jacket. A man carrying takeout and walking in the opposite direction of the line stopped next to me on the sidewalk. He asked me, “Excuse me, Miss, but do fries go with that shake?” I looked at the man closer, incredulously. He casually waited while I came up with an answer. I think I was most offended  about the polite commonplaceness of the comment. I mean if you’re going to harass someone, at least have some goddamn originality. I awkwardly pointed to the burger joint right behind the man, and said I bet they had some good shakes in there if he needed one. Alexa had a different take, probably the more accurate one. She said, “Excuse me, but you can’t talk to her like that.” After he scurried away, she told me I had to be more assertive, and I felt like I had failed her and all of womanhood. But if the shoe were on my foot, I would have bitched out the man as well, so I knew where she was coming from.

Finally it was time for Regina. Alexa and I found our seats in the balcony. On the stage was a single light resting on a glossy piano. We snapped photos and double fisted our drinks. One beer and a cocktail. Not the best idea for a show without an intermission. Alexa and I swapped drinks because her Jack and Coke was a little too strong. I couldn’t even taste the Jack, and insisted she take my margarita.

Regina took the stage, and Alexa and I perked up in our seats. From where we sat, she looked like a tiny mime in her lacy black top, black flats, and black skinny jeans with holes exposing her knees. Undone wavy hair sat along her neckline. Her black clothes blended into the black stage, but her small, white face glowed under all the lights. She introduced herself to Chicago in a mousey voice then got comfortable in a large leather chair at the piano. What came soaring out of the piano and her mouth was the opposite of the initial perceived smallness.

Regina started off a little rushed. Her first two songs were effortless, but some of their usual longer notes blended together. By the third song though, she sank her hands into the bellowing elongated notes. Her voice clung to the rollercoaster chords. She has a signature playfulness that feels like you’re watching someone walk across a tightrope or you’re on a beach batting around an inflatable ball. I felt like a ball bouncing around in my seat between Alexa and this other woman. At one point, I told this woman that the current performance was “my version of football,” and she laughed.

Then Regina played some of her more moving, stomach-churners. She sang an entire power ballad in Russian, which she dedicated to an elderly friend of hers who used to visit her backstage every time she came to Chicago. This friend recently passed away. Regina is an artist who is completely engrained in her homeland. You feel her ebbing and longing when she speaks in her native language. I felt myself leaning into an understanding without a translation that Regina herself said we could “Google” if wanted. No translation necessary for me, thanks. I believe you.

She also sang Après Moi, which is in English and Russian. And it’s one of my favorites. I like militancy of the song and the way she seems to toggle back and forth between voices. It’s as if there are two people singing in this song, answering each other, building each other up. “I must go on standing,” is a takeaway line of this song, and you feel the full force of it.

Regina also said a few things that really stuck with me, as I’m sure others. Two of my favorite lines were: “This theater is so fancy. I feel like I want to swear in it … Fuck fuck fucking fuck.” And then there was the speech she made right before her more politically charged songs. She discussed what it was like to come to America as a refugee and her beginning journey as “a hungry, dirty artist sleeping on people’s couches.” She mourned our current political situation, but ended hopefully by saying, “Here’s to better days and better people to represent us.” Her song “Trapper and the Furrier” was menacing and relevant. Regina hunched over the piano all creature-like and banged on the keys, “What a strange world we live in,” she said. “Those who don’t have lose, those who got get given more, more, more, more.” MORE was the emphasis here. “More” was the word that hit the listener in the stomach like a dead-on punch. Perfect targeting.

A drummer and cellist also played on stage. They were equally moving, graceful, and effective, but complemented Regina in a way that reminded everyone that she is an ethereal one woman circus.

Regina kept giving, and the crowd extended its arms and ate her up, as they tend to do in the face of pure musical love and talent. Some people screamed, “We love you,” and she acknowledged each and every clear interruption. I payed attention to Alexa’s reactions. She wiped a tear away during the deeply sorrowful song “Blue Lips,” which explains that “blue is the most human color.” I choked back tears during two of her new babies, “Bleeding Heart” and “Tornadoland.” Lately, I have felt myself in a whirlwind of internal criticism and rejection. My thoughts have been racing so much faster than my words, and I feel like a slave trying to keep up. Excuse my analogy, but sometimes it feels like artistic constipation. So much force, with so little output. All anyone wants to be is heard in the form they’re most comfortable with. Regina established this with eloquence.

“Bleeding Heart” was a saving song, a reminder to be yourself. The light show soared around the crowd, singling people out. Lights moved around in tune with the song and landed on individuals who laughed and blushed at the song’s important reminder.

She was so damn charming. At one point, she forgot the words to one of her songs, and someone had to shout them to her. She stood up a few times and swayed like her body was a Styrofoam noodle. Alexa appreciated that she was an “awkward mover,” and I agreed.

The encore was long, but her show was far from over. We clapped until our hands stung. Finally, she skipped back onto stage. She sang four more songs after the encore. Her voice hit her self-made spectrum of light, torpedoing notes and heavy, low, bellowing notes. At some points, I just couldn’t believe her humanity, and at others, I felt like she knew me on a soul to soul basis.

When Regina said, “I really do believe in friendship, love, and art…” I looked at Alexa and said, “Huh. So do we.”

TGIF

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Fridays are holy days for Alexa and me. I’ve never written about our Fridays. My guess is that I can’t paint them just right. I’ll smudge em up too much. Or maybe there’s something untouchable about them, something that’s reserved for us only. But lately we’re all about being brave and sharing what is most important to us — and that includes each other.

This Friday we went rollerblading through Busse Woods. Though it was a fairly mild winter, we still couldn’t help but seize the first spring-ish day. Alexa didn’t have work, and I was released into the wild early. We hopped into my little red Mazada, which desperately needs a car wash. We parked and feverishly laced up our blades. Alexa wobbled on her feet, asking, “I’m stable, are you stable?”

The pathway was mostly ours. Our muscles remembered the zigzag movement, the loud breeze blasting in our ears. Busse Lake was calm and stretching out in the sun. The trees protruded their nakedness. As soon as we began sweat clung to the middles of our backs.

Alexa and I talked about our plans. She told me how she wanted to be more spontaneous with her workouts, instead of stuffing them into a strict regimen. I told her I wanted to pick up running again, since this time of year is my favorite time to run. We talked about writing. She told me about her blog’s new look and setup, that she wants to work on a new challenge. Her last challenge was not to eat out in order to save money, and she rocked it. I told her about a recent blog I wrote about Trump that wasn’t very good, just something I needed to get off my chest, and also about this book of poems I’ve been putting together that I’d like her help in organizing.

We trucked through the eight-mile trail. We barreled up hills, rounded sharp corners, forgoing the treacherous sticks and patches of tar on the pavement. There was a point where Alexa was trying “too hard to be cool” and almost fell backwards. My heart skipped a beat as she flapped her arms like a crazed bird. We laughed at the close call, and she reminded me of the time last summer we went rollerblading, and I almost ate shit. I had instinctively reached for her arm. “So you want to take me down with you, huh?” she had asked.

We spotted a few of the famous elk lazing around in the grass. It’s amazing how the enchantment of seeing them in a town we’ve lived in most of our lives hasn’t worn off yet.

At the end of the trail, we both sighed our contentment. Even though the blades were off, it felt like they were on. It’s weird how certain movements imprint themselves into your limbs, how they stay with your body for a while afterward.

Before going to Alexa’s, we stopped at the Tensuke Market and picked up some plum wine and seaweed wraps for the sushi we were to make for dinner. I was distracted by all the adorable dishware to eat sushi from. I made a mental note to explore this store on my own, as I never had before. The young man who checked us out bowed each time he received and returned our money, which took us both aback.

Alexa showed me how to assemble sushi. You lay out the wrap, slap some sticky rice on the paper, line up the vegetables, wet the end of the wrap, and roll it nice and tight. The end product awkwardly enough feels like an erect penis. How adult of us to notice this. Anyway, then you slice the log into individual rolls. I think Alexa might have cut more rolls than me because I was talking a lot. I can’t exactly remember everything I said, but I do remember talking and talking. Poor Alexa. That shit has to get exhausting. I get really close to her face when I talk, a pesky habit of mine, which I think used to make her kind of wary. Hopefully by now she’s gotten over my bubble-popping invasiveness.

Her dog Bubba was licking his beautiful, big chops, waiting for us to drop food on the floor in the kitchen. Alexa caved into his demands, giving him a meatball for rolling over. Gale was in the living room, focusing on this new sketch she’s working on of a German Shepherd. She was precise, using a ruler to measure out the face’s dimensions. She showed me the sketch of a friend’s backyard that she had been working on. It’s as inviting as the real thing. The koi fish, the grass, the knick-knacks, Stanley the cat’s tail flickering around the shed. Gale has a way of capturing real life and then some. In my room is a framed sketch that she drew of me. It’s so beautiful I was intimidated to put it up when I first received it. It was like she tapped into something that I sometimes have difficulty seeing and believing myself.

Alexa and I went into her room. We wolfed down our sushi rolls and sipped the plum wine. We scrolled through social media, and read about the Bernie rally that some of our friends had attended. And then it suddenly occurred to us: why didn’t we go?

It dawned on both of us that it would have been really something to be a part of the history we were watching before our very eyes. There was Sanders in his element and glowing, waving his conductor hands, hitting on all the big ones — healthcare, college loans, Wall Street, women’s rights, the lead-poisoned residents in Flint, and the U.S.’s dwindling infrastructure, etc. People of all colors, ages, genders, and ethnicities cheered behind and around him, armed with their “A Future to Believe in” signs. Muse’s Uprising began to play. “They will not control us… We will be victorious…”

Here is a man who has dedicated his whole life to people’s rights, who flies down escalators, who talks with his hands. At 74, he’s awakening a tired and angry America looking for more long-term change. Sanders represents all of them. And he represents Alexa and me. We could have been there, standing shoulder to shoulder with all the others.

In any case, I was happy that I was watching the rally with Alexa. When she got up to go to the kitchen for some more sushi, I gave her hug. I told her, “Man I can’t believe we’re alive right now.”

This was also the same night that Chicago protestors shut down the Trump rally. UIC, one of the most diverse campuses in a melting pot city. This had to have been planned? A publicity stunt. But in any case, the protestors had the place surrounded. They shut. it. down. I’m proud of their efforts, but I’m anxious to learn about the next city to replicate the maneuver — next time with people getting seriously hurt. The truth is I’m scared about the chaos, just like a lot of people I know. The Nazi incitements, the violent Trump rallies, the amount of blatant hatred being tossed about the streets in large hoards of people, which is nothing new, exactly.

I mean everyone seems to be calling this a revolution, and the thing about revolutions if I can remember right from the textbooks and people who are alive to talk about living through one, is that it goes beyond the breaches of electing a president. This is something that needs to be system-wide, population-wide. And I feel we still have miles to go if we want this to happen.

Here’s what I know about organized chaos, since I’ve been somewhat versed in it on a micro level — right now is a chance for great opportunity for those who want to help. During this very alarming time in our country my gut tells me that now is the time to start showing extra strength and kindness. Now is the time for the ones who care to start thinking outside the box to finally get outside the box. I don’t know what that means for me just yet, but I’m willing to be open about it and find out.

I petted the extra soft parts on Bubba’s paws, between the pads. I tried to move him so I could have more room on Alexa’s bed, but failed. He’s such a large animal. His humans keep him safe and happy. And he spends the majority of his day just loving people.

***Alexa and I challenged each other to write about this Friday together. Check out hers here! http://alexawynne.com/2016/03/14/the-politics-of-rollerblading/

 

The office, my office

The real test came to me after my obsessive vulturing over my inbox; the half-crazed pep talks in my car and bathroom mirror. It came after the interviews that were like gut punches no matter how prepared I felt.

The real test actually came after I sealed my first fulltime job – when one of my co-workers spared me the paranoid silence and cut right to the chase with an ultimate warrior question of initiation.

Still somewhat fresh off the hot plate of university, I had the irrational belief that my answer to his question would be crucial to my longevity at my workplace and any chance of a relationship with my peers.

People sometimes forget that the smell of Easy Mac mixed with the almost desperate need to have answers and be liked still cling to graduates’ clothes months after graduation. This quasi delirium/confidence is said to be what one needs to obtain a job.

So, here’s how the test goes.

My new co-worker, Mark, clears his throat and adjusts his glasses before he asks his question. I can feel my armpits moisten. I might as well have my hand hovering over a red buzzer. Mark wears a buttoned up plaid shirt and khaki shorts, which I learn soon enough is an all year round ensemble. He shifts his weight from side to side in a pair of long socks and black Vans.

My eyes catch what appears to be a shaded gun with a ribbon of wording wrapped around it. I read the words “Han Shot First” on Mark’s wrist. Its positioning and curling blackness reminds me of the Dark Mark Death Eaters use to summon Lord Voldemort.

“My one and only question is: what are your thoughts on Star Wars?”

Another co-worker, Jim, pokes his head from his office at the sound of Mark’s question, and the rest of him emerges. Jim also sports glasses and plaid, but has a distinctive swoop in the front of his hair, like a classier version of Ace Ventura’s. He wears a grin that’s hard to pinpoint – halfway past amused, not quite cynical.  Jim and Mark both stare at me, their eyes the unfilled bubbles on a Scantron.

I unclench my shoulder blades and let them sink back into place. But I don’t relax entirely. I still believe this is some version of a moment of truth.

I know the answer because I believe it, but I don’t answer too hastily. I play it cool. I might as well be a high schooler flicking a cigarette. “Well, here’s the thing. I’m not so much into the episode business. The old school stuff is pretty awesome, though.”

The guys look at each other for confirmation. Mark pauses for effect, then he says deadpan: “I think you’ll fit in just fine here.”

And that’s how my first day went.

For the rest of the week, I studied the hand drawn floor chart with everyone’s name that Sadie, the blue-eyed office guru gave me. Eight people. There was a lot to learn. Sadie only laughed a little when I read the chart upside down.

Up until this point, I’ve never worked in a small office before. But I can tell you one thing: if you’re like me, and you generally like to be surrounded by constant interaction and stimulation, by people of all kinds, you’d find this lack of numbers slightly unsettling at first. But then you’d get over it and take what you can get. You would bounce from office to office, trying to learn the ins and outs of the few faces you see eight hours every week day.

In a small office, you notice your co-workers. You notice the tear drop engagement ring or the roughly five pound weight loss. When they’re wearing their hair in a high bun instead of long curls that day. The bike helmet and the sound their leather chaps make when they walk past your desk. The crumbly pineapple upside down cake not just calling your name, but seducing your name, in the break room. When they blaze through the front door on a cellphone or with a downcast stare. When they’re pacing back and forth, checking to see if the mail has come in yet. You notice the niceties over the phone. You realize “have a great day” can mean so many different things.

You notice when they’re there, but you notice when they’re gone even more.

I noticed when Sadie, our office assistant, left and moved to Florida. Except I didn’t know her as the office assistant. I know her as the skinny girl who eats a piece of pie for every meal and hoards Sour Patch Kids in the top drawer of her desk. I know her as someone who laughs only when she means it and who makes F bombs look classy. I also know her as someone who adores her family, likes to shop at Target, cleans obsessively, and who has two pit bulls who sit in your lap when you visit.

Just recently, I and everyone else, noticed when Jim left for Colorado. Jim has a voice that doesn’t apologize for being loud. Despite his large voice and presence, he doesn’t have a pompous bone in his body. And I know this because I went beyond noticing Jim. I listened to him closely and liked what I heard.

One portion of a seminar I attended for work focused on finding mentors and how worthwhile that is for one’s career. Though I’m sure there’s a million definitions of “mentor” sitting around on countless Powerpoint slides that cover corporate leadership, what I gathered is that a mentor should be someone who does what you do jobwise, is someone you trust, and who would give you plenty of feedback and encouragement.

One day, I waltzed into his office. I looked from his monstrous piles of papers to his half-full bottles of Sriracha sauce, to his imploring face, and threw the role of SARAH’S MENTOR at his feet. He had no choice.

I basically said something like, “Hey Jim, sooooo… you’re kind of my mentor. I’ve decided. I hope this isn’t a problem. Okay, great, bye.”

I was hoping Jim would be a woman. The seminar I went to was focused on women in a male-dominated industry flocking to each other for growth and encouragement.

But Jim’s not a woman, and I’m okay with that. I guess I like that Jim is a hard worker and thorough editor, and is pretty knowledgeable about his industry and media contacts.

But if I were to be completely honest, it’s more interesting to me that he can strike up a hearty conversation on what makes a good Marvel movie. I will miss his start to every morning—the unfiltered, logical yet still passionate discussions he and Mark would have on Doctor Who and Star Wars. Sometimes I joined it, like after we all saw Guardians of the Galaxy, and couldn’t wait to get to work to tell each other our own versions of getting to be a kid in a movie theater again.

If I were to admit that I’m also a little sad that Jim’s leaving, I would. Maybe I even cried in the bathroom when I found out he was leaving and had to compose myself before going back to my desk. Maybe. You see, Jim listens to me. He has the ear of a 20 something, and the experiences of 40 year old. He remembers what it’s like to experience life as a scared shitless and suddenly self-aware human. He tells me to give myself credit, and tells me I’m very put together for a young person. He’s helped me in so many ways stomach my first “real” job.

If I were to tell the whole truth, I’d say he’s a mentor because he can openly say what he cares about. He loves his wife. He loves his Westie. He loves his Packers. He loves his baby daughter, who has the mug of a Muppet and a lot of things to say that she’s just beginning to put into words for the first time. You can tell he loves her more than anything else. Jim’s move will hopefully allow him more time to spend with his family.

Though being a Packers fan or any sports fan for that matter, is something I would generally leave out of any story, it serves a purpose in this one.

Jim is the first man I have ever met who can give a real probing, intimate reason why he loves sports so much. Being more of a film and Marvel junkie growing up, he didn’t play them or really get into sports until his adulthood. But now he can have quite the conversation. It turns out Jim is one of those unwavering fans, meaning he goes down with his Packers’ ship or he barrels through the storm with them. The kind who invites the same people to his house every big game in the privacy of his own home. Not the kind who sits in bars and wages drunken wars. Not the kind who cowardly hides behind his Facebook, attacking other fans when his team wins or loses.

What got me was Jim’s story about seeing Aaron Rodgers play. Since I associate sports talk with small talk in elevators, my instinct is to tune Jim out. But I don’t because he’s Jim, and as I’ve learned, he attaches meaning to most things in his life.

Obviously, I didn’t know anything about Aaron Rodgers. I didn’t know he was the kind of scrawny, unremarkable guy with good grades and who didn’t receive much attention from the football gods until much later in his career. Apparently, he’s a little weird too. Jim tells me he quotes Princess Bride and laughs at his own jokes when his teammates don’t understand his references. Jim says he is the player who people said couldn’t, but who did anyway.

Jim told me he was at a game when he saw with his own eyes Aaron Rodgers getting mocked by players from the opposing team. One player acted like Aaron Rodgers, dressed like him and exaggerated his scrawniness. The opposing team’s mascot was beating up the fake Aaron Rodgers. A clever joke. Jim watched Aaron Rodgers’ reaction. He says he’ll never forget it. Rodgers just stared and stood in the middle of the field. Then he plowed through his next plays like the beast the Packers fans know. They won the game.

It’s not unlikely for sports fans to have heroes. Hero worship is often a critique of sports sociology. And maybe the critics are right. Maybe Jim idealizes Aaron Rodgers a little bit. But so what. Jim can’t help but be inspired by Aaron Rodgers, care about his wins and losses, see him as a quirky, relatable dude with a tremendous spirit that affects his entire team and a screaming mass of people cheering him on.

In the end, I’ve learned that co-workers tend to move on. Sometimes, they send you Christmas cards, grab a drink with you once in a while. But they leave impressions whether they know it or not. In most cases they don’t. It’s my belief that we should tell them.

I wish Jim the best because he is one of the best.