The raw air lashed our cheeks as we trudged.
Three below, excluding the wind chill, is merely a statistic. I know it’s cold because my Amazon-ordered, Soviet surplus Ushanka isn’t even partially preventing my lips from welding shut more thoroughly than the iron bars that ensure that we stay out of the dining hall after 8.p.m. College kids, man. They’re dangerous!
Always one for mediocre-at-best quips, I suggest to the group that “this is so Stalingrad.”
Ken laughs, at least. It’s one of those throaty, bellowing laughs that, in the moment, seem out of line with a pencil-thin frame, horn-rimmed glasses, and black combat boots. He’s thin…POW thin…but can easily put down ten shots on a Tuesday morning. It makes less than no sense. And it’s the highest honor I’ve received in weeks.
Ted’s carrying the group’s right flank. He shakes inside of his sweatshirt and asks us to stop. A trembling hand reaches inside a breast pocket. Hardly a scene of Napoleonic grandeur, he instead takes out a hard-shell plastic package of discount wine-flavored cigarillos. Only God knows where they came from, and I certainly don’t want to find out.
Ted drags in, but the material—whatever it is—won’t catch. As he labors in vain, the question arises as to whether getting cancer should really be this difficult. Ad hoc is the man’s specialty, and I see him disappear and then just as suddenly reappear with a goofy smile and a lit cigarillo. Of course, he emerges from behind a particularly grimy dumpster filled mostly with ice and forties of Corona.
No, this group’s mannerisms are not representative of the general population. Call it strange, call it gritty, call it screw loose. I call it real.
Ice also covers most of the sidewalk. We collectively watch our step to avoid falling victim to the grim prospect of face to the concrete. Nobody commits a misstep, no joy is to be had for the pavement which allows us transport, but lies in wait like a well-meaning but slightly sadistic younger sibling. The fateful green street sign now appears; dusk hasn’t managed to quash the austere splendor of the two characters: 53. We make the right turn.
The populace here isn’t emaciated. No one that I’ve seen, even on the most precarious of nights, has resorted to slaughtering Lincoln Park zoo animals for food. A college army does march on its stomach. And real people have to eat real food.
CLARENCE’S CHICKEN SHACK: CHICKEN, WINGS, FISH, and PIZZA
Pizza. Ordering pizza at an institution nationally known for its fried chicken. Sounds like a gamble with stakes somewhere between a crate of gas station sushi and Russian Roulette.
We enter. Vagabonds, professionals, homeless, students, lifers, professionals. If Winthrop was here, he’d see a City upon a Shack.
The kitsch is beyond comprehension; the group smiles collectively. The paramount logo features an axe-wielding chef chasing a chicken that’s sweating. My heart leaps at the fact that PETA hasn’t yet hit the South Side. Perhaps the bulletproof glass which separates cashier and customer, and is permeated only by a metal slot into which money can be placed, has scared them off.
We revel in our meal. What is $3.51 for half a chicken, some fries, and a gratuitous amount of indigestion but the ultimate in college grunge? A liter of orange soda packed into a standard-issue brown bag also finds its way through the also-bulletproof lazy Susan which functions as a calorie-delivery system. It’ll certainly be entertaining to brown-bag a bottle of water in class, come Monday. One last look at the menu has an “Extra Bag” listed for five cents.
“I’ll take three wings…with a side of bag, please,” says Ted.
The group erupts.