Adolescence

Sex Ed

Here’s a recording of our October 2015 show. The very spooky theme was Sex Ed. Readers included Kristin Mount, Kelly Connell, Julie Marchiano, and Kimberly Duncan.

-Rose

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[GUEST POST] Swimsuit Season

Swimsuit season.

Or as I like to call it, nipple-slip camel-toe permanent wedgie season.

My large-bottomed sister and I joke that our asses like to eat, because no matter the swimsuit style, after three steps toward the beach all we have left is a Sisqo fold and an overdressed butthole.

I’ve never found a bikini top with triangles that didn’t shift around like Scrabble pieces. The knot at the top pushes so hard into the nape of my neck that it aches for a day afterwards. Because of this, I’ve resorted to buying bra-style suits that manage my boobs like a cartoon grasping at a slippery bar of soap.

Maybe I should go back to the tankini. I was so relieved the first time I found a full-length top to cover what my brother lovingly used to refer to as “the black hole.” (My bellybutton).

At age 11 I found a purple printed swimsuit at Old Navy, a sort of half-tank with a flattering cinch to highlight my brand-new breast buds. I showed my mom and said, “I like it, but I’m just self conscious about my stomach.” She replied, “Why don’t you go lay outside for a little bit so you don’t feel like a beached whale?”

Her intention: A tan may make you feel slimmer.

My teen understanding: I’m a beached whale.

At 13 I wore my first bikini, one of many hand-me-down swimsuits from my flat-abbed older sister. The swimsuit was orange, with a hazy painted sunset. The bottoms never quite fit right and would at times slip side-to-side, providing a locker-room visual if I didn’t quickly readjust. It had pilling all over the butt from sticking to the side of the pool, but I loved it.

The first time I put it on, I weighed 74 pounds. Orthopedic surgery to correct my uneven legs kept me out of the eighth grade and on heavy narcotics (an excellent weight loss plan). I remember limping into the bathroom to look at myself before going out into the yard, and sucking in my stomach. I could see every single rib, and quickly let out my breath to hide them again.

By 16, I had put on enough weight to go through puberty a second time. I went on a trip to Israel with a hundred other horny Jewish teenagers, and nearly sharted in astonishment when I heard that boys liked me. Up until that point, boys had primarily treated me as the unavoidable tumor on a group of pretty girls, providing me with creative elementary nicknames such as “pot-belly-socks” and “peg-leg.”

Suddenly, these hot underage Jews wanted to rest their heads on my stomach, and invite me for back stairwell “PCs” (private conversations). My weight was almost healthy, nearing the triple digits, but I was still reeling from the sudden weight gain. The constant attention made me feel safe enough to wear a bikini, whereas my best friend on the trip ate one-third of every shwarma and wore Soffe shorts three sizes too big. We were two peas in a pod.

At 19, twenty pounds and s-e-x brought on a horror of self-awareness I had never experienced before, even in a bikini. Fucking was like reading a graphic novel featuring a fatter, clumsier version of myself. Captions read SMACK, CLAP, and SQUISH, and every issue ended with the heroine crying in the shower.

Looking back, my entire life revolved around looking in the mirror and seeing my body for the first time, every time. My life was like a really shitty dubstep version of “Mirror Mirror On The Wall”. I lost all ability to see myself clearly, and began depending on compliments- my clues to what I really looked like.

I wish I could say it was the strength of girl-power that changed my feelings towards myself, but the truth is that it took falling in love to disrupt my body dysmorphia. My post-college boyfriend honored my body with zeal that bordered on worship, and over time I began to see parts of my body the way he saw them. He didn’t call my legs “long” or my body “thin”, but he treated my ass like the third member of our relationship. I trusted his opinion of my body when I couldn’t form my own.

Now single and in my mid-twenties, the funhouse mirror has mostly straightened out. I have a general understanding of what I look like, but sometimes I still study pictures of my body hungrily, searching for new clues. In those moments, I try to recall the confidence I felt with a man who praised my cellulite, and helped me stop fucking in the dark.

When it comes to swimsuit season – accepting my body and all that – I may not have the confidence to buy a thong bikini, but my hungry ass will always be looking for a snack.

Lena Kazer is a Chicago writer best known for her platform shoes and affinity for swearing. An avid over-sharer, you wouldn’t call her an open book so much as a never ending gag reel. Her composition is 75% whiskey and 25% gummy vitamins.

Check out her personal blog at SheLikesBourbon.wordpress.com.

Hollywood Beach

Eddie worked in my dorm’s cafeteria and I don’t remember how we got to talking. But we did get to talking, a short, awkward 17-year-old and a tall, big Mexican guy in his early 20s. He told me about his boyfriend, how they’d moved up here from El Paso for their careers. They both wanted to work in fashion but weren’t having much luck yet, and lived all the way up north by the lake because it was cheap. I lived in the dorms which I knew were not cheap, but my school had rules about moving off campus and I was too chicken to break them.

It sucked sometimes because rent really was good in this almost-tip of the city by the Granville Red Line. There were still more hookers than brunch places in the early 2000s, and four convenience stores at one intersection. My roommate and I called it the UN of Convenience Stores, though in retrospect he UN of 7-11 would’ve been more clever. The owners were Korean, Mexican, African, and Middle Eastern respectively, a not-inaccurate reflection of Edgewater and immediate neighbor Rogers Park’s demographics.

Eddie and I were a couple blocks north of the UN when we ran into some people smoking a joint on the sidewalk. We were on our way to the beach. And we didn’t run into them so much as a measured amble. You could smell the pot from a block away. We looked and each other and slowed down. Two women and a man. A good combination. I relaxed a little. We wavered at the corner of their group until one woman gestured to us.

“You want some?”

I was too chicken to rent an off-campus apartment, but not too chicken to smoke with a stranger.

I sucked in deep and coughed, tearing up (it wasn’t the most quality stuff, I wasn’t the most experienced smoker), then passed it to him. He took a neat and delicate drag, letting smoke seep out of his nostrils like twin dragons. I was impressed.

I felt it curl through my body, releasing some of the ever-present tension. I closed my eyes, and when I opened them everything was soft and glowing, the streetlight an orange bloom. This was a good idea, I barely thought, it is good to be here. The woman was gesturing to me.

“Hit it again, girl, hit it again.”

I was already reaching. I offered it to my friend, who flipped his hand no thank you. We should go, he murmured quietly. I nodded.

“Thank you!” I chirped. Everything was great. Everything was so, so great.

We met his boyfriend at their apartment. He was small and thin, eating a baloney sandwich on white bread in their spare kitchen. I don’t remember what we talked about. I could smell the yellow mustard. I think we smoked a little more.

“Are you going to swim in that?” He gestured to my jeans and t-shirt.

“Uh. Yeah.”

He rolled his eyes. “Hang on.”

I ended up wearing his clothing as a makeshift swimsuit. It fit really well. One pair of metallic booty shorts and a mesh top later, we strode towards the beach. I tried to refrain from swinging my arms as I walked.

I was swinging my arms when we reached the lake. It glimmered in the moonlight, little waves lapping a curving shore of high-rises. I took off running, feet pounding the dark sand. I had to be in it, could not wait to feel that cold water around me. Eddie’s boyfriend followed. We waded out until it came up to our hips, screaming and splashing. I went out deeper so I could do somersaults and handstands then dove under, wet hair  streaming down my back like a mantle as I rose up.

Throughout all of this Eddie did not join us. He stood on the beach watching, hands in his pockets.

By the time I got back to the dorms I was freezing, bra and underwear sopping under my clothes. My roommate was gone for the weekend, a small joy: I stripped naked, wrapping my gooseflesh in as many blankets as I could find.

The clock read 2pm when I woke up. For a long moment I wondered where I was.

-Rose

Double Teamed

“Look at her,” he snickered, “hey man, look at her.”

The mid-July sun beat down on my bare shoulders, which were rising towards my ears. I stared down at the magazine in my lap, concentrating harder than ever on anything but the two guys a few feet away. Their whispers got louder, and then:

“Look at her. Look at the little whore.”

Tears blurred the words on my lap. I clutched my copy of Bust tighter, pretending to read. I didn’t know if that had drawn their attention, or if it was my tank top and short skirt, or big chest and long hair. Maybe all of it. Maybe none of it. Maybe being a girl between the ages of 11 and death hanging out by myself was enough.

“Little whore.”

It occurred to me just then that reading alone at a big amusement park wasn’t the best way to blend in. But I was an awkward 13-year-old. I’d brought Bust with me because I couldn’t read it at home. Not after what had happened with my dad.

I’d walked in to him raging around the kitchen, manic and self-righteous in his fury. Bust lay on the kitchen table. I tensed up. I didn’t know what was coming, but it wasn’t going to be good. A small part of my brain flickered angrily, wondering why he was reading my stuff, but I silenced it. Being quiet was my best defense – he’d logic you out of anything until nothing made sense and you weren’t sure who you were or what had passed. He was good at it.

“I found this lying around the house.” He waved the magazine slowly in the air, then plopped it back down. He was big on dramatic effect. I mentally rolled my eyes but my stomach clutched with anxiety, head and gut at war.

“Okay.” I placed one foot over the other.

“And I saw a section,” he inhaled, “Called ‘One-Handed Reads’.”

Ohfuck I thought, jolted. Butwaitbutwait, my brain raced, why are we talking about this?

Teenage Dream

(Wherein I do a lot of name dropping and pretending I was cool. Bear with me, if you care to.)

I started going to The Metro when I was fifteen. As a singer, it’s been my dream to perform there.

Remember Silverchair (Daniel Johns 4-EVA)? Seven Mary Three (7M3)? Poe (“Angry Johnny”)?

I saw them all live, standing in the balcony with my best friend, too chicken to stand with the masses down below, closer to the stage.

My parents would drive us down and pick us up near the McDonald’s at Clark and Addison. We’d buy a t-shirt at the show and wear it TWO days later, often getting my mom to call me in sick or late.

I saw Rage Against The Machine at The Aragon and didn’t die. I saw the Beastie Boys at the former Rosemont Horizon just after Hello Nasty came out.

Foo Fighters in Milwaukee. Smashing Pumpkins in Iowa. The Red Hot Chili Peppers at the United Center (tickets I won from the old Q101, THE alternative music station back in my day. Remember Wendy & Bill in the morning?)

I went to the B96 Summer Bash. The Q101 Jamboree and Twisted Christmas (where Fiona Apple performed live for the very first time).

I saw Common, Macy Gray and the Black Eyed Peas (pre-Fergie) at The Double Door of all places. I went to an outdoor concert featuring 50 Cent and Snoop Dogg. And yes, I went to ONE Dave Matthews Band concert (in college…C’MON, GIMME A BREAK).

It only increased once I turned 21. A friend of mine introduced me to indie music, and I’d be at Schubas, Empty Bottle, the Abbey, the Hideout seeing whoever I was into at the time, scouring Early Warnings in the Chicago Reader. Death Cab For Cutie, Spoon, Low, Ida, Iron & Wine, Sufjan Stevens, Ted Leo, TV on the Radio, Cibo Matto, Junior Boys, Ani DiFranco (a billion times), LIZ PHAIR PLAYING EXILE IN GUYVILLE SOLO AND ACOUSTIC.

Yes, I’m pretty fucking impressed with myself. Or really, blown away by the amount of live music I used to see.

It was my life.

My all time favorite band was and probably still is Pinback. I could listen to their stuff on repeat, album after album, all day long. I’ve actually done this.

I’ve seen them a handful of times, including once at the Empty Bottle, where I awkwardly went up to Rob Crow and told him how bummed I was to have missed them the last time they were in town.

But miss them is what I’ve done over the last couple of years.

Tonight they’re at The Bottom Lounge playing their entire “Summer in Abaddon” album. Something inside of me (youth? fangirl tendencies? denial of current situation?) is dying to go.

If only I could stand in the Pope’s bullet proof glass mobile, front and center, swaying and bopping and singing along in peace.

Alas, my thirty-five year old pregnant ass will most likely be at home, in bed. Or maybe I’ll sit and rearrange all of the old ticket stubs in my scrapbook.

-Carly

Siesta Key, FL

15867_183231219683_1411204_nDad, me and my little brother…in matching outfits.

When I was in grade school, my family would drive to Florida in the summer.

We’d stay at a vacation rental spot called “Midnight Cove”.

Right outside of Sarasota, Siesta Key (from what I remember), was quiet and beautiful. The sand really was white. We could walk a short distance and find ourselves on a private beach.

On the drive down, my brother and I would fight over the coveted “captain’s” chair in our champagne colored Dodge minivan, the one that had the cup holders and slot for random books or magazines. My parents would lose their minds, yelling “they’re exactly the same, that’s why we didn’t get the bench seat!” and we’d insist there was a better chair.

One of the games we’d play together was to write down all of the different license plates we’d see from St. Louis to Florida. We’d usually get to the upper 20’s pretty easily, and it was always fun to see something random like Alaska. Aside from this game, it’s the most interaction we’d have, since he didn’t like the water and given the chance, I’d do everything short of drowning him if left alone in the pool or ocean.

We’d have a variety of snacks and my mom would pack us individual sandwiches of our choosing that we’d keep in a cooler alongside their favorite beverage of choice: Caffeine Free Diet Coke. I was rarely the reason we had to pull into a rest stop for a bathroom break, conscientious of how much liquid I was consuming. Dad ALWAYS drove and mom was the perfect shotgun rider, ready to hand you a tissue, stick of gum, pen, or your half of a sandwich neatly wrapped in a napkin. My dad would keep a very accurate calculation of how long it was taking us, how far we’d gotten the year before, and the gas mileage. The ONE time my brother got to sit up front, he accidentally reset the mileage and I think my dad might have momentarily lost his mind. We’d always make a stop, typically somewhere in Georgia, eat a meal and spend the night in a hotel.

The condo had a kitchen, so we’d usually have breakfast in. We’d stop at the local grocery store and pick up frozen Lenders bagels and a multi-pack of cereal. Each morning, we’d devour Fruit Loops and Pops, leaving the chocolate Rice Krispies for my dad and hoping “someone else” would eat the boring corn flakes.

I’d head to the beach with my dad. My mom wasn’t much of a water or sun fan, which seems weird to me now since that was our one big vacation every year. He and I would leave early, an hour or two after the sun would come up. Over the years, we got a little savvier with our beach furniture. Better chairs and an umbrella (or so I recall). He’d bring a book and I’d do my thing, heading straight for the ocean, sitting in the shallow areas, lying on a raft floating around or using it to catch waves and ride into the surf.

We’d come back around lunch time. I’d be starving, always happy to chug a glass of lemonade or eat a piece of refrigerated fruit. Sometimes I’d retire to my room to nap or read. Back then I consumed books like food.

I never really liked being away from home, so it was always an adjustment moving around the condo, with its unfamiliar tile and carpet. The stiff sheets and hard mattress. The strange feel of air conditioning and humidity.

But it was always relaxing. There was a nice rhythm to each day, with small variations like lunch at Hooters with my dad. Yes, THAT Hooters, where one of the waitresses told nine year old me that they didn’t have a big enough kid t-shirt. Some nights we’d walk to a local restaurant for dinner and on the way back, stop and get ice cream.

I miss those vacations in particular. Everything felt very simple and calm.

I’m grateful to my parents for those summers.

-Carly

“Wedding Day At Troldhaugen”

I played piano for eleven years, most of them begrudgingly.

I never practiced, and often showed up to my lessons unprepared, fumbling and sweating over the notes.

I’d practice extra hard the day after my lesson and then blow it off the rest of the six days. Rinse and repeat.

It was a shame too, since I had a really great teacher, who saw potential in me, but could hardly hide her disappointment in my lack of effort.

She entered me into contests and organized recitals.

I’d win a blue ribbon here and there. I’d get through a recital with only minor slips.

But I just didn’t see the point. I never cared all that much about the music or even about getting better. Until what turned out to be my very last recital.

Bully

There have been a few defining bullying moments in my life that have shaped who I am today.

I suppose in many ways, I’m thankful to be so much more self aware. You see, when someone you’ve never spoken a word to hates you, it’s impossible not to internalize that. Something  about me made someone else want to punch my lights out.

So I learned how to tread lightly. I toned myself down. I made myself a little more scarce. I only let go to my friends and even then, felt keenly aware that my behavior could be off putting.

Along with that comes the constant apologizing. I’m sorry I’m taking up space, breathing your oxygen, making an appearance, affecting your thoughts and feelings.

What can I do to make you like me? Or at least, what can I do to take the negative attention away from me?

Sometimes it felt like I was fighting an invisible war. In seventh grade, some girls from a different elementary school picked on me mercilessly. Once I was shoved from behind in the hallway. In music class they’d throw things at me when the teacher turned her back. It was agonizing, unable to defend myself, no one sticking up for me. Then one day, I broke down crying. Inconsolable, I was brought into the vice principal’s office where I explained what was going on. When the girls were questioned, they said a girl from my elementary school had put them up to it. I don’t know what I did to that girl, but she had it out for me.

I thought moving would be a good thing, but instead I became the target of a different group of girls.

What do you do when you’re in eighth grade and someone leaves a message on your answering machine saying “I’m going to fucking kill you, bitch”?