Old Town angst

Old Town is not a place I like to go.

It’s just…y’know…not my scene. There’s plenty of people out there who like faux-Irish pubs filled with bros and tepid nachos. I’m sure many spandex-clad weekend warriors are rightly thrilled to have 27 spin class options within a three-block radius, eager to burn calories between beer binges. If that’s your thing, by all means, please, please enjoy. However, for my part, being a pretentious and judgemental writerboy who wears thrift store blazers, sipping craft gin and rolling his eyes at every mention of fantasy football, I feel out of place in this neighborhood.

So: last night I had to make the journey out there. I did so because when my friend Jonathan has piece in a showcase at Second City, I must set aside my prejudices for the greater goals of theatre and friendship. Also, I knew I could show up buzzed.

Within 45 seconds of alighting from the North Ave bus, I was audibly assaulted by a roving crew of bar-crawlers on the sidewalk. Each one of these gentlemen was sporting an outrageous hat of one sort or another—€”from a red-and-white striped Cat-in-the-Hat number to a fuzzy animal that may have been a happy mouse, or maybe a rabid opossum. None of this bothered me. What bothered me was the way these dudes were straight-up yelling “Where’s your hat? Where’s your HAT???” at each person they passed, which included myself, as well as the tiny middle-aged woman in front of me who was trying not to drop her shopping bags.

I imagined how surprised the loudest yeller would be if I tackled him and shoved his hat into his mouth, but I kept my gaze fixed straight ahead and kept walking.

Finally, I reached my first destination: Corcoran’s Grill & Pub, where I planned to get some much needed food and even more needed Guinness before heading in to the show. My dark draught was delicious, though a bit hard to drink, due to the d-bag next to me whose constant suggestive comments to the pretty bartender were a messy mixture of somewhat gross and incredibly clumsy.

As I finished my burger, all the better for its melted Irish cheddar, the bar was filling up to fire code levels with hordes of tipsy patrons. Time for me to settle up and get out. While I began to drain the last of my pint, someone shoved his way into the empty spot at the bar next to me, and ordered a Bud Light.

It was the Cat-in-the-Hat guy.

After his confusing exchange with the bartender, who—€”bless her heart—€”had to break it to him more than once that they had Miller Lite and Miller Lite only, I noticed that he was looking at me. He was looking at me again and again.

“Damn it,” I thought, “please don’t yell any more things in my face. I just want to get out of here before the 5th grade Irish step dancers start their show…”

I asked the bartender for my check, and that’s when Catman spoke: “Hey.”

“Hey,” I said flatly.

He leaned against the bar, and I waited with gritted teeth for what sort of comment he was going to make about my hipster glasses or my lack of a hat. He cleared his throat, and in a voice much softer than he’d had on the street, asked me: “Can I have one of your fries?”

I looked over at him. Was he screwing with me? Nope. This poor guy just really needed a french fry. And you know, I’ve been there. I think we’ve all been there. Sometimes, when you’ve had a bit too much, and the bar crawl has been roaring, and the night is drawing on, you really need some fries to make things better.

I told him yes, of course, go right ahead, have as many as you want, I can’t even finish these. He thanked me and gratefully pounced on those fries like a stumble-drunk panther.

The bartender froze when she returned with my check, staring at the man devouring the remainder of my plate. “Woah! Did he say you could eat those fries? Did you say he could eat those fries?” I laughed as I gathered up my things.

At that exact moment, the young step dancers began their performance and the thickly packed crowd started cheering. I pushed my way upstream through the river of bodies converging on the dance area, and stepped outside.

“Okay,” I said to myself as I adjusted my Warby Parker frames and Rickshaw bag, “on to the show I actually bought a ticket for.” I crossed the street to the theatre to meet the next set of characters for the evening, but first I glanced back at the pub, where a truly excited audience raised their glasses for the smiling little dancers. Despite the first throes of the snowy winter blizzard desending on the streets just then, already covering my shoulders in ice, Old Town felt pretty warm to me.

Maybe one of these days, when I’ve had a bit too much to drink, and I’m wearing my own playwright-y version of a funny hat, a kind bro will let me steal a few fries. Until then, I guess I’ll do my best to enjoy the absurdity lining the pathways to Second City, and try to leave my monocle somewhere between Bucktown and Wicker Park.

Cheers, Chicago.

UncategorizedChad Eschman