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A Bar Story

In Limbo

By Elizabeth Ward

A schoolteacher, a dominatrix, and a hairstylist walked into a bar in Canada late one night, only to find it nearly empty. Yes, it was Sunday. But there had to be more to this scene than met the eye. (What met the eye was the fact that the bar staff outnumbered the patrons, which consisted of a lone, surly hipster sitting at the bar and the three of us.) Our arrival at the Bovine Sex Club, though seemingly anticlimactic, had been no small task; in fact, our efforts to be here, now, were embarrassingly valiant in light of the desolate scene at this place, which only yesterday had been a faraway legend in our restless young minds. We exchanged wary glances.

This trip had seemed like such a spectacular idea last night. Mia and I had been hiding from the sweltering Chicago summer heat in a dark booth in the cool, air-conditioned Beat Kitchen across the street from her apartment. She had entertained me with stories of clients who paid her obscene amounts of money in exchange for the strangest services. One man had paid her several hundred dollars for the privilege of painting her toenails. Another requested that she smoke a cigarette and ash on him. And she was considering a sizable offer from a potential new client who wanted her to dress in a black rubber costume and act out a kidnap scenario at the Merchandise Mart in which she tied him up and smuggled him away on the el. She was preparing to launch into a description of some of the darker and more disturbing requests when I realized there were some things I was probably better off not knowing.

After a few minutes of sipping our drinks in silence, we grew bored and tried unsuccessfully to determine our next stop for the evening. Nothing seemed like a satisfactory destination. Estelle’s was too crowded this time of night. It was far too early in the evening for Exit. We did not want to pay a cover at the Double Door. Rainbow was too much of a hipster fashion show. L&L would be much too stuffy on this muggy Saturday night. We were at a loss; how could Chicago hold so many venues yet have so little to offer us on this stifling evening? It occurred to us that it may be time to venture beyond the city limits. Should we try the suburbs? The answer was a resounding no. Ok, what are our options? Nearest cities? Milwaukee? St. Louis? Good God, there was nothing. And suddenly Mia’s eyes sparked. “There is this place called the Bovine Sex Club I’ve been wanting to check out….”

The name immediately sold me. “Cool, let’s go. Where is it?” I inquired, perhaps a little too eagerly.

“Have you ever been to Toronto?”

I had, in fact, been to Toronto, about three years prior. I had gone with my then-boyfriend, and we had done things like eat at cheesy seafood restaurants and visit a petting zoo on disappointing Toronto Island, where the deserted beaches were littered with skull and crossbones signs daring us to enter the apparently toxic Lake Ontario at our own risk. I knew in my heart that I needed to re-experience Toronto with Mia. The past year had been my first year as a suburban high school English teacher and had made me feel much too responsible-- and old-- for my age. And in another month, I’d be abandoning the sweet banality of life in the place I had always lived to join the Peace Corps. I needed to live it up now, and going on a road trip to Canada in the middle of the night with Mia seemed like a good start.

Our plan hit its first glitch when we realized that neither of our cars would actually survive a journey to Canada. We needed a third party: someone cool. Someone with too much time on her hands. Someone with a good car. An ice-cold PBR and half an address-book later, we had found our girl: Mia’s hairdresser Amy from the suburbs. According to Mia, Amy had a good car and was usually up for anything. Now all we had to do was get ahold of her and convince her to take us to Canada tonight. It was already 11:30 p.m.. We had no time to lose.

As a testament to Mia’s power of persuasion, Amy made it to the city in record time, bags packed, car filled with gas. I hadn’t bothered to go home and pack a bag, and Mia had hurriedly stuffed a few things in a black rubber backpack. We collected the peanut butter sandwiches, fruit, and other snacks we had assembled for our journey. Then we each popped some trucker speed, filled a travel mug with black coffee, and took off. It was 2:00 am.

At some point before the sun came up, and before we reached the US-Canada border, we stopped at a gas station and bought more pills. Yet despite our caffeine overload, the night was a blur. Amy, protective of her Altima, drove the entire way, and Mia and I faded in and out. Amy’s car did not have a working CD player, and she had only one tape with her: a homemade one belonging to a friend of hers whose ex-boyfriend had recorded love songs for her with what sounded like a child’s Casio keyboard and a Fisher-Price tape recorder. Somewhere around London (Ontario), the silence was threatening to put us all to sleep, so we slipped in the tape. Almost as if on cue, the sun rose. And the tape was a gem. By the time we reached Toronto, we were howling along with Amy’s friend’s poor, off-key ex-boyfriend as he spewed out bad adolescent poetry to the tune of cheap Casio keyboard demos. It was like listening to a young, white, suburban Wesley Willis. The remaining hours in the car melted away, and, eyes glued open, we pulled into the parking lot of the first hotel we spotted in Toronto.

We had arrived. And as I had anticipated, this trip proved to be quite different from my previous visit to Toronto. Our first stop was Bata Shoe Museum, followed immediately by the Fluevog store. From there, we proceeded to visit nearly every sex shop in the city of Toronto. Mia was on a search for the ultimate corset. Amy and I were…helping her look. We saw lingerie and leather and toys and costumes and gels and games and devices. Mia was right at home. Amy peacefully browsed the racks, purchasing all kinds of goodies. I, on the other hand, realized at maybe our fifth shop that, although I wanted to want at least one item from one shop, I really did not desire any of it. After the seventh shop, Mia gave up her quest, and, disappointed, we ducked into a dark bar for a conciliatory drink.

Operating on caffeine overload is interesting. You are not sleeping, but you are not really awake either. None of us really remember the hours between that celebratory drink and our descent upon the Bovine Sex Club that evening. We must have gone back to the hotel, showered, and eaten something before finding ourselves at the cluttered, junk-riddled doorway to the bar for which we had journeyed such a long way. Now we stood there contemplating our next move. Underneath the deafening music was deafening Sunday night silence. We quickly realized that spontaneous international road trips are not always as wild as one would imagine. This situation needed a remedy. Mia took charge. “Three Jamesons, neat, please.” We tossed them down, fast, and ordered more. Two or three more people filtered into the bar. Reverend Horton Heat flared up on the jukebox. Our situation seemed to be improving.

And then the bartender announced the Twister contest. For the past year, Mia and I had milked our teacher/ dominatrix status everywhere we went. Guys seemed to love our combination of good and evil, and we rarely paid for our own drinks. A Twister contest would have been the perfect avenue with which to ensure the continual flow of free drinks and adoration had there been more participants, or at least an audience. Alas, Amy, Mia, and I were the only three to enter the contest in a flailing attempt to make this disappointingly quiet night as wild as we possibly could.

“Right foot yellow!” the bartender announced, and the game began. A game of twister among two friends and an acquaintance in an empty bar with no one but the announcer watching is just as awkward as it sounds. After a few tweaks of the spinner, it became evident that Amy really was not into Twister. She gave up rather quickly, and then it was Mia and me. Time seemed to slow dramatically as we lie trapped in uncomfortable positions on the otherwise deserted Twister mat. With my right foot on red, left foot on blue, left hand on green, and right hand somewhere in the air, time seemed to stop altogether as we waited for the command of the spinner. And suddenly Mia collapsed. The announcer called me to his table to collect my prize. Like the rest of our experience at the Bovine Sex Club, winning Twister was rather anticlimactic. Until I saw my prize: a Misfits lighter and a glass bowl.

A bowl? Surely this prize, when displayed to my friends back home, would serve to make this impromptu night out in Canada sound much wilder than it actually had been. I took mild comfort in that thought, until I realized that traveling across the US-Canadian border with drug paraphernalia may not be the best move. I subtly set my bowl down on a table, wistfully knowing I would not return to pick it up at the end of the night. Momentarily, though, we all perked up again, as Amy and Mia agreed to play another game, since I, having won, was barred from playing again. By this time several more people had filtered into the bar, and a drunk, middle-aged woman who looked like she had been beamed to the Bovine Sex Club directly from a Def Leppard concert circa 1986 swaggered up the steps to the Twister mat and joined the game. With each new command of the spinner, the woman seemed about to flail but then somehow caught herself and made her move. Once again, Amy fell early on, and Mia and the Def Leppard woman battled it out until the woman attempted a sort of back-bend move and fell on her head. Stunned, she staggered back to the bar, and Mia strutted down the steps to collect her hard-earned prize: a hot pink thong and a couple of condoms. If our first two games had wielded sex and drug paraphernalia what on earth would the winner of the third round receive? Unfortunately, we would never find out. While we had wandered over to the bar to reward ourselves for our hard work with whiskey sodas, the staff had stealthily packed up the Twister game. It was only 11:00.

We worked hard to make the rest of the night cool, sipping Irish whiskey and pouring quarters into the jukebox. But there was no denying it was Sunday, and there was only so much that could be done. We were gone before last call.

The next morning we set out for Chicago, tired, hungover, and slightly sheepish about the daunting ten and a half hour drive that lay ahead. There was, in addition to the vague dissatisfaction regarding our Bovine Sex Club experience, the unspoken knowledge that by the time we made it home, we would have spent more time in the car on this trip than we actually spent in Toronto. We sought consolation in Amy’s friend’s ex-boyfriend’s soulful tape, and as we flew down the highway, windows rolled down, hair flying in the warm summer wind, we wailed along to the pitiful tunes. Most of the tracks were love songs, but a few told meek stories of heartbreak and disappointment. The wretched lyrics divulged unmet expectations, visions unrealized, uncertain futures. For weeks after we arrived back in Chicago, I could not get those damn songs out of my head.

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