Night of Bliss | Our Town | Chicago Reader

Night of Bliss 

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It's 4 AM and I'm swimming through crowds of dancers. They're everywhere in this club--on benches, bar stools, tabletops, in every possible nook and cranny. The only people not dancing are the ones playing volleyball: two guys with Marine Corps hairstyles in neon yellow shirts, and based on their grunts and sweat stains, they're darn serious about this sport. A pile of vomit near the volleyball court goes unnoticed. Stick-girls ogle the sports.

"What's in this drink?" a super-orange girl in a DUKE sweatshirt asks a passing waitress, pointing to her aquarium-size blue-colored drink.

The waitress, white-toothed and aerobically fit, screams, "I have no friggin' idea!" and poof! gets sucked up by a crowd of boys in sunglasses.

A girl wearing less than half of a shirt climbs on top of one of the back bars and proceeds to writhe and lick her lips like a professional, while college boys applaud and try to climb on top of the bar. She knows they're watching and she embellishes her sashays and swings on their behalf. Her friend, pudgy and draped in several layers of untucked clothing, does her best to keep up, performing a stripless striptease. A few feet away three sorority girls who've been out of college a long time (but tonight wear their letters proudly!) climb on top of a table and perform a curious circle dance, hugging, fake weeping, and alternately high-fiving one another.

"You're the best!"

"No, you are!"

"I love you!"

"We rule!" they scream in unison.

A guy in gold and black tries to dance with one of the sorority girls but keeps losing his balance and falls to the floor. Finally he gives up and grabs a buttock instead. Its owner takes the plastic shark out of her drink and bops him over the head. He appears stunned, but quickly pries the shark toy out of her hand, and bops himself over the head. The sorority girls giggle while he yells, "I'm a fuckin' idiot!" and hits himself again. His four friends, stone-washed BugleBoys all, high-five each other and chug grain alcohol from a large trough with a burning torch in the center.

"Why are we here?" I overhear a girl ask her date. (To ask "why" is so Bud Dry it's almost scary.)

"What do ya' mean, why are we here?" her date laughs. "There's a volleyball court in this place! It's totally radical!"

What I want to know is why am I here? It must have been after corny toast number 14 that my friend Laura suggested we come here, to Bamboo Bernie's on Lincoln, to round out our "evening." We've been out since 4:30 PM celebrating a friend's promotion, and a half dozen bars later, my resistance to suggestions like this is low.

Now I'm leaning against a sticky wall, wearing a lei around my neck, watching a group of guys try to find a hoop earring for a woman in a polka-dot minidress. When "American Pie" comes on, the boys forget about the earring and start in on a karaoke thing. They ask me to join in--shoving a plastic shark in my face to use as a microphone. I can only hope there aren't hidden cameras here. This is the kind of thing that could ruin you forever if you wanted to run for office. Then, horror of horrors, somebody high-fives me and I high-five him back. Suddenly I've got a straw hat on my head and a corpulent guy wearing Vaurnets and a blazer wrapped around me.

The male-to-female ratio here must be seven to one. There's an abundance of white people, and good grooming abounds. Other than one lonely man at the front bar who's been trying to get a stain out of his tie for the last hour, it's a worry-free crowd.

A woman with a scrubbed Liv Ullmann kind of face gets pulled on top of a bench during George Michael's song "Freedom." (Most of the women here seem to know the words and the dance moves from the video.) She gets wedged between two boys in Hawaiian shorts. Guy #1 tries to break dance while Guy #2 sticks his tongue in her ear. She slaps him on the shoulder and yells "Back off!"

"Lesbo!" he shouts, and flips her off. His friend screeches, "I personally like lesbos!"

The girl climbs off the bench and finds her friends, who are sharing a giant red drink filled with mini paper umbrellas. Two of them are too drunk to use their straws as drinking utensils, so they make origami doodads out of them and throw them at strangers instead. A third girl climbs on top of a chair and sways back and forth. A mustached man tries to get on the same chair but instead accidentally spills his entire beer on her Polo. She laughs and he laughs and soon enough they're balancing on the same chair and exchanging vital statistics. A surfer dude with a tuft of blond hair and lots of teeth slips into the scene and tells Scrub Face he likes her eyes.

"My eyes?" She seems amused.

He nods. "I'm from LA, how 'bout you?"

Am I hallucinating or is that a couple actually doing the Texas two-step? And who are those balding businessmen balancing toy sharks on their heads in a Soul Train line dance?

A waitress begins hurling Jell-O shots at the crowd. Guys nose-dive. A girl falls to her knees and a shot lands in her mouth. People cheer. Another waitress gets on the bar and pours blue liqueur down the mouths of babes.

"Remember me?" a guy yells to a blond in Ann Taylor wear. A vein in his forehead pops out as he shakes to the beat of KC and the Sunshine Band.

"From the front bar?"

"Who are you?" Ann Taylor asks, seeming confused.

He says his name, but Nirvana is blowing out her eardrums and she can't hear him. He tries to put his hands on her shoulders and yells something about Gamekeepers in 1989.

"This place rocks!" he yells, playing air guitar. One of his friends, a guy with a slicked-back ponytail, pats him on the back.

"Aim high, brother!" he yells. (The Top Gun theme looms in the air like foot odor.)

We're on the cusp of 5 AM, but the flailing dancers still look like Beverly Hills 90210 extras. The volleyball boys have called it quits, making way for three staggering women over 30--as rare as sobriety in this place. Instead of hitting the ball with their hands, they all kick it back and forth and finally fall to the ground and roll in the sand, laughing hysterically.

"You wanna dance?" the surfer dude screams at Ann Taylor.

"You don't exactly have to ask," she yells, pointing to all the people dancing next to each other but not necessarily "together."

Surfer Dude laughs and gyrates his hips. "Let's do it!"

"I have to find my friends," she protests.

"Come on, let's rock!" He circles her and snaps his fingers to the Cure. Ann Taylor, whose pristine gold-buttoned air is marred by the smear of blue liqueur on her chin, rolls her eyes, gives in, and jiggles unconvincingly.

Last call is announced while bouncers in beachwear cruise through the bar, picking up bottles and muttering obscenities.

"Wanna get some breakfast?" somebody asks as groups begin their journey toward the front door.

"Are we coming back tomorrow?" a woman asks her friend. A loud belch rips through the front bar as we shuffle out.

And just as I open the door to leave, a faceless stranger delivers the evening's closing line: "Man am I ever glad it's only Thursday. That means I got two more nights of this bliss!"

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photos/Steven D. Arazmus.

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