Mother’s Day Weekend Guest Post

We’d like to welcome guest writer and former reader Tori Szekeres for today’s topical post. Thanks, Tori! More about her at the end.  -Rose

My mother is really open about sex.

It was never to the point where she’d slip a condom into my bag if I were going out – she encouraged me not to make the beast with two backs until I had a ring on it – but as a kid, she made it clear she was a sexual being and someday, I would be one too.

As a result, she would embarrass me because she would talk about that part of her relationship with my Dad sometimes. I didn’t want to think about my parents doing the horizontal mambo, and as I grew up, I didn’t want her to think about me getting my freak on.

But as we edge ever closer to Mother’s Day, I want to tell you about an accidental gift she gave me last Christmas.

We were going to the ultra chi-chi Sundance 608 Theatres in Madison, WI on Christmas Eve to see Wild with Reese Witherspoon. We sat in our seats, popcorn and bottles of water at the ready when the trailers began. A cover of Beyoncé’s “Crazy In Love” began to play, and a young twenty-something sat nervously in a reception area in a corporate office.

“Mr. Grey will see you now,” an assistant said to the young woman.

Uh oh uh oh a no no no no, the music said. I found myself whispering, “Oh my god.” It was the Fifty Shades of Grey trailer! I haven’t read the books, nor am I into kinky stuff, but I know the story. Who doesn’t? “What is Mom going to say about this one?” I thought.  My mind raced. Would she ask if I was into S&M? This is the woman who has encouraged me in front of my entire family not to engage in anal sex – anything was possible.

Just then, she turned to me and said, “This is like The Love Machine by Jacqueline Susann.” I nodded and the trailer ended. We watched the movie without incident.

Thanks, Mom. For this and everything else.


Tori Szekeres is a stranger from a strange land. You may have heard of it; it’s known as Wisconsin. She ventures into the city from the Northwest Suburbs to do stand-up and storytelling with venues such as Zanies, Guts & Glory, Just Dickin’ Around, the kates, Beast Women Rising, Flabby at the Abbey, and Serving The Sentence.


Green Ghost Golden Hour

There are specific places that make me step back for a minute. It’s more than location. It can be a time, a temperature, a smell – those sensory details that give physical places weight and context. Sometimes these places are far-flung and exotic, either through distance or unfamiliarity: The sweaty, garlicky heat of a Taipei night market. A dusty stretch of Austin highway in a caramel Fiat the sales rep is still pissed you chose instead of a giant SUV. Pretty much anywhere in the South. Sorry Toronto, I know you’re technically in another country but it felt a whole lot like home.

Right now I’m really into my living room late at night. Early morning is good too, but like 10:30 or 11 at night is best. I do my stretches and look at the curtains.

They hang like green ghosts, illuminated by streetlights. I start by doing that thing where I walk my hands forward, feeling the stretch in my always-tight shoulder blades. I think about all the places I’ve lived that I wanted to be good so bad, but I was pretty bad at making anything good. I never wanted to come home. Home was screaming and immovable clutter growing up, then ants and roommates, then-

I do those weird chiropractic exercises that my boyfriend calls carpet-swimming. It hurts but it’s that good pain. Muscles and tendons shifting, I think about the guy who wouldn’t move in with me because he said my taste sucked (okay, there were other reasons too but come on), and all the stupid, shitty fights. How I never had my boyfriend over to my place because I was ashamed that I couldn’t do it, that trying to make my domicile cute inevitably ended in rage and crying and one time a punched wall.

I lift my head up to revisit the curtains. They’re cheap, gauzy numbers from Urban Outfitters seven years ago, sun-bleached and slightly shredded in places by our asshole cat. I bought them during a time when I was scared to do anything with my apartment because I felt like (I knew) I’d fuck it up. They sat there for years, never leaving their shipping boxes.

For the first time, I like coming home. I move into child’s pose and my gaze swivels up to the ceiling, but I can still see them out of the corner of my eye: something delicate and fluttering, a thin but present protection.


The Dress

This weekend, a friend of a friend posted a dress on Twitter and I fell in love. Parrots and palm trees on smooth white polyester. Size 8. H&M. Shift cut. Dreamy. It made me think of bare arms and good times. Pool parties and Lost Lake. Not waking up in icy darkness with a head full of dread.

That dress was a tropical vacation in a long and shitty winter.

It’s at the Unique on Irving and Kimball, she tweeted back. If you go it might still be there. I went back to her post and looked at it. Looked at it again.

And I went. And I ruffled through a million other inferior and just plain weird dresses but I got it. It was $3.40 because Unique has half-off days. And then I got fancy cat food for my fancy cat and the bus came on time and it was perfect.

Sometimes when I’m in a particularly bad one, I complain to my dude that I need a big win. A really big win, a windfall, my ship finally coming in, a Powerball-level punch to my racing heart and sad sack mind and all the things I want to change or go away. And then I realize I’m an educated white girl of average build with features in a more or less okay arrangement – my whole life is a win. (I still want to win the lottery. I still want everything to suddenly work out all at once.)

But sometimes it’s not the big win. It’s a three-dollar dress. And sometimes it’s not even that, although yes it is perfect. It’s the walk there, the anticipation, going slightly off path and succeeding. It’s breaking routine – a reward and more often, a necessity.


Red Line Rubdown

It was light jacket weather when that guy jerked off in front of me on the Red Line. Kind of chilly but not quite fall. I was heading downtown from Edgewater. It was late afternoon. I was 18. I remember these things, but mostly I remember that I denied what was happening up until the point of no return, and let me spoil it for you: His dick was out. His hand was on it, moving up and down. He was jacking off just across the aisle. I turned away so fast my neck cracked.

I’d seen strange peen in the wild once or twice before, the odd crazy or perv exposing themselves.  And there’s always dudes grabbing their denim-clad junk, either at you or in the general sense, offering their dong to the world. I should have been prepared.

In fact, I should have been super prepared, because my friend and I had talked about this the week before. We were on the Red Line. Mid-Loop. She was telling me about some dude who’d whipped it out on the train recently. She’d stared straight at it then looked away. It took his power away, she said, to not react to it. She was older and wiser. I was impressed. What a badass, I thought. She’s so much better than me.

But in that moment I was in mild shock. Again, maybe because I’d been lying to myself hardcore from the moment he stepped on the train.

It was an empty train car. He took the seat directly behind me.

That’s odd. But not super odd.

I went back to texting on my cool new Nokia brick phone.

His breathing sped up. He leaned towards me, so close I could feel his breath on the back of my neck. My stomach churned, but still I refused to believe it. I needed to see it with my own eyes. I was about to get my wish.

The train stopped. The doors opened. As they closed, he moved like a snake to the seat directly across. I didn’t have time to contemplate how someone so short and stocky moved so fast because his hands were fiddling with his pants.

Maybe he’s just fixing his fly FUCK it’s out, his dick is out, yup it’s totally out. FUCK. 

Not only out, but fully hard and getting more so by the second. He didn’t look at me, but stared straight ahead the entire time. This was somehow worse.

I swallowed. I said nothing. I did nothing. When we got to Argyle, I ran to another car.

Sorry, older friend. I wasn’t strong or feminist about it. I was scared and grossed out. He won. But I think it’s like when people yell at horror movies: “Don’t go into the basement!” “Why don’t they stay together?!” “Hide all the knives!” It seems obvious from the comfort of your couch that duh, you’d make the right decision. But really, shock and adrenaline make a person all kinds of confused and cowardly. You might run into the basement. You might do nothing while some dude jerks off a few feet away.

And that’s the point, isn’t it? Fear and disgust addle our smart and brave parts, pulling the focus off you and onto in my case, some creepy fuck with his dick hanging out of his pants.

Trust your instincts. If you think he’s going to jerk off, he is going to jerk off. And however you react is okay. I’m not going to judge you. But if you can, don’t let the dick-monsters from the Red Line Horror Show win. Take a picture. Raise your voice. Send it to the police. Put it on the Internet. Do something. Don’t make the world safer for creeps and pervs, and worse for girls and women. The world doesn’t really need your help.


Mildly Eventful Beginnings

Top Five Kinda Alright New Year’s Eve’s:

  1. 1999: Y2K! Even as a teenager the threat never seemed too real. I babysit a 10-year-old, feeling like we’re too close in age for this business and she could probably be left home alone. I drink Martinelli’s, eat snacks, and watch a Twilight Zone marathon. Happy millennium!
  2. 2004: Home for the holidays. A mistake. My friends from back home feel claustrophobic and unfamiliar. I don’t know what to do with myself. I go to some goth-industrial party in a warehouse a few blocks away from my mom’s house. I drink a lot beforehand. Everything is blacklight and makeshift tunnels. I crawl into one of these tunnels, make out with the guy I came with, then fall asleep. I don’t remember most of this. It’s slightly weird between us for a short period of time. I spend all New Year’s Eve’s in Chicago from that point forward. Happy 2005!
  3. 2008: My boyfriend isn’t into going out. I say I’m okay with it. I miss going out. We do random things around his apartment while I brim with vague resentment. This feeling is starting to become familiar. I go to bed shortly after the ball drops. I don’t know it yet, but 2009 is going to suck. Happy 2009!
  4. 2010: 2009 sucked. 2010 was so solid. I don’t want to let it go. I want this gentle upswing of a year to continue and am afraid the bottom is going to fall out any minute, a persistent and paralyzing life fear I should go talk to someone with a certificate on their wall about. Instead, I go to some friends’ adorable storefront studio with my nice newish boyfriend and his friend and girlfriend. I like them. I like him. We don’t know a lot of other people but it’s okay. We look at their screen printing stuff, knick knacks, new kitten. At midnight they play Ratatat. There’s this on the wall:


There isn’t a real number five. I have a limited number of New Year’s Eve tales, and am saving the worst for our next show: Gallery Cabaret, 1/28, 7pm. Readers to be announced soon. Have a good rest of 2014, or just get it out of the way. Either way, I hope your last day of the year is memorable.


All You Can Eat

Merry Christmas and Happy Hanukkah. In this season of excess, I’d like to talk about an area of excess very close to my heart: The buffet. Buffets and I go way back. When I was a kid, “We’re going to Sizzler.” was music to my ears. I was a pain in the ass about food, and Sizzler worked well with my unrefined palate. I can’t imagine my parents loved it. But I did.

Out in the first-ring suburbs of San Francisco, I’d load up on chicken tenders and spaghetti with marinara, plus a giant Sprite. The salad bar and carving station were lost on me. But not the dessert. Sizzler. had. soft-serve. machines. And it was awesome. Sometimes I’d lay a cube of red Jell-O gently to the side of my Oreo-crusted chocolate-vanilla swirl, an artistically placed fruit cube sure to make my sister roll her eyes.

The soft-serve with gelatin backer tradition endured. I was 23 at a Chinese buffet on Belmont and Elston, but this time it was my then-boyfriend snorting at my creation – a neat vanilla twist with green Jell-O and fortune cookie garnish. He eyed the rows of almond cookies, his hand hovering over their rounded, pale yellow tops.

“I’m sure they’re not vegan.” I said. I was mad at him.

He sighed. “Probably not.”

We liked buffets for some of the same reasons. We both liked Chinese food of varying quality, from Chinatown’s best to China Fast Wok to Panda Express at the Des Plaines Oasis (It’s like McDonald’s for Chinese people,” he said, and I mean he was born in Taiwan so who was I to argue). And we liked to eat a lot of it. He didn’t eat animal products but wasn’t highbrow about where his non-meat came from, and liked anywhere that let him load up on vegetables, white rice, and tofu, plus the never that great kappa rolls for garnish. Then another round for noodles and fried rice. We took advantage of endless trips, pacing ourselves to get the most out of our experience.

And it was an experience. I liked to look at other diner’s selections. Every now and then you’d see variety platter from the American section: dried-out pizza, sad fries, and that grossly delicious prepackaged garlic bread. Usually this was kids under seven. Sometimes it was a giant pile of sweet and sour shrimp, the small mound of rice an afterthought. Sometimes it betrayed their not-so-secret sweet tooth, a double plate stacked high with fresh fruit, cookies, and brownies – in my opinion, a waste of stomach space. My own plate was potstickers, green beans, crab rangoon, rice, whatever Hunan or Szcehuan chicken was available, and sometimes beef with broccoli. That was round one. Round two delved further into the starch families: chow fun, chow mein, and occasionally a chunk of cantaloupe for color. Round three was dessert, and maybe more chow fun. It varied, but that was the general format.

I wanted everything. He didn’t. This extended past buffets, into areas beyond limitless egg rolls and General Tso. We didn’t last, but my love of buffets persisted. I haven’t been to one in a long time, not so much out of relationship nostalgia and more the noble and boring goal of trying to eat less like a jerk. But I remember them, a uniquely Chicago United Nations of endless food: Indian. Polish. Pizza. Thai. Old Country Buffet or Golden Corral. Flattop Grill totally doesn’t count.

In theory, I sort of get buffet hate. You’re probably going to overeat. They’re not fancy places. But buffets speak to me of possibility: everything you want is here for the taking. Pick up a serving spoon or metal tongs and go for it – it doesn’t matter if you have a little or a lot, because you can always return. Your decisions aren’t written in stone. You’re allowed to make missteps. It’s freedom, and it tastes really good. Like the fat and salt in a lot of my buffet favorites, that feeling is delicious and addictive. It is important to feel like lots of things can happen, and that you have agency over them. You screwed up the first round with honey walnut shrimp, which with its mayonnaise contents has no business being out there in the first place? It’s cool – theres a gleaming, golden pile of combination lo mein waiting for you. You can make a mistake and come back from it.

Plus, soft-serve machines. Come on.


Hungry Brain

Sometimes when you love a place it creeps up on you. You don’t fall hard and fast right away, and it’s definitely not love at first sight – it was never that pretty. It’s a gradual thing that builds up over nights and then months, until it’s hard to think of the last ten years without it. But you remember your first time.

Hungry Brain is a bar without a sign, but you remember it’s just past Oakley. You’re 19. You like bars. You’re too chicken to get a fake, but your friend works the door and lets you in, accepting the cupcakes you’re carrying with a nod. You asked him to look he other way just this one time because it was your friend’s birthday, just this one time, and he does. He lets you in the second time too, then the third and fourth. “You don’t cause any trouble,” he says in his froggy, rasping voice. “And you bring treats.”

There is no special occasion the fifth time but it feels significant. You drink cheap gin and tonics and look around at a space that resembles a sort of cool older cousin’s basement, if that cousin had a stage and decent beer. It’s comfortable, like a low-key house party where you know enough people to make it familiar but there’s some strangers to keep it interesting. The lighting is low and that makes you confident. There are couches and tables. The tamale guy comes by around 10.

Being Thankful for Stories and (Open) Books

November’s theme is Body Hair, and in the spirit of Thanksgiving we’re excited to be giving back – not body hair (ew, please don’t do that) but to Open Books, a group we think is pretty great. Here’s the deal: For our just-before-Thanksgiving show, we’ll be accepting cash donations for the nonprofit that provides literacy experiences for tens of thousands of readers each year through inspiring programs and the creative capitalization of books. More about Open Books’ mission, programs, and upcoming events can be found at the links attached to those words.

But wait, there’s more! Besides the opportunity to donate to a great organization, we’ll have stories by Samantha Irby, Alyssa Sorresso, Jessica DiMaio, Lillia Rissman, Maya Marshall, and Lisa White. Plus, mashed potatoes, stuffing, and pie. Hope to see you there.


Sounds or Songs

My roommates and I were waiting for the Purple Line at Howard. I don’t remember why we were going to Evanston; they never wanted to go to the movies as much as I did.

We were making that weird, slightly anxious small talk you make when you’re waiting for something and are afraid you’ll miss it, even though that’s unlikely – like when someone’s going to call your name for your takeout or coffee, or there’s trains coming and going and even though you’re probably not going to miss a big purple sign that says Linden, it’s the first time you’ve ventured north of Jarvis.

A sudden burst of bird sounds exploded from somewhere nearby, startling us with their chirps and cries. We lapsed into silence for a minute then started up again, replacing them with our own trills and warbles.

Then the bird sounds came back, a cacophony of squalls and cheeps seemingly louder than before. Yet there were no small, feathery bodies to be seen, or even droppings indicating avian life.

“There aren’t any birds,” I was good at stating the obvious.

My red-haired roommate’s face brightened – she had this. “No no, it’s a recording. They do it to keep the other birds away.”

And then the train conductor, who had been listening amused for who knows how long, was standing next to us.

“No, ladies. It’s a mating call.”



Telling Someone Else’s Tale

I was at a special edition of The Stoop last week, and something about the the way one of the readers was introduced stuck with me. The always-awesome Lily Be presented Erica Clark by saying Erica’s story was one she’d told to other people because even though it wasn’t her story, it was so interesting and WTF (for lack of a better word) she had to repeat it. It got me thinking about when I tell other people’s stories, and that idea in general – when something hits you so hard, makes you laugh so deep, or is so flat-out weird that you have to share. It has nothing to do with you, but that something makes you want to tell it again and again.

It makes me curious: When do you tell other people’s stories? What sticks with you enough to repeat when it’s not about you?

Some other people’s stories I keep coming back to:

  • How one of my best friends got her pet bird. She was working in a pet store and had no idea parrots lived for a million years. Then I pull up this picture.
  • That time my mom got caught shoplifting as a teenager, the girl that was also caught, and how they both got off.
  • My friend Wendy’s story about going to a survivalist camp. Or how she found out about canned butter. She has a lot of good stories, okay?

Bonus – when I asked my dude for an example, he pulled up this one immediately. It has a lot of the elements I think make a story get around: a faint but present personal connection, tension, and shock value. Like most stories, it’s better told in person. Sorry. If you run into us, I’ll make him tell it.


Tim went to a party and a guy told Tim this story, so I told it to people in Ann Arbor. Every time someone new showed up, I had to tell it – I got really good at telling it.

Essentially, this guy knew a guy who was with some friends in Florida. They were out on a boat, drinking a lot, and they were really drunk. They see a manatee swimming by. This guy’s friend is really drunk and he’s like, “Do you dare me to jump on this manatee?” His friends are like no, that’s stupid.

He’s super, super drunk though, so he’s super excited about it. But no one really wants him to jump on this manatee. He’s so drunk that like, he thinks that they all want him to do it.

He stands there and says “1…2…3!”, and jumps off the side of the boat. He jumps on top of the manatee.

He jumps through the manatee. The manatee was dead and it was decaying.

He’s kind of stuck in this manatee and they have to drag him out of it.

You have to embellish a bunch of stuff though….like, he jumps into it and just starts throwing up on himself.