Friday, January 18, 2013

Follies of Youth: Ray

I was in college at the University of Chicago in the late 1970’s.  I had gone through adolescence in a blue collar part of Eugene, Oregon on the other side of town from the University there.  I was an intellectual nerd and so had had no social life to speak of.  I never had to study much, and I was never grade oriented but I managed to be in the honor society and I got great standardized test scores.

The University of Chicago was Nerd Central and I was surrounded by like minds.  I quickly developed friends, real friends! and then slid into bad habits and wild company…. such as it was at the U of C,  where the unofficial motto was “Where Fun Goes to Die”.  So I partied and slept late and had to repeat some classes, while learning a tremendous amount.  Even at parties you discussed science and philosophy.

But the upshot was that I was not able to graduate in four years. 

In the fifth year my more studious and disciplined friends were gone.  I found myself among screw-ups and people associated with the university only tangentially if at all. Among these assorted people were Ray and Diny.  Diny’s grandparents were supposedly Russian aristocracy who escaped the revolution.  I do not know if this was true, but she was petite and fine boned, with a broad high forehead, thin fine blond hair, high cheekbones, a small pointed chin, and large sad blue eyes.  She looked the part of fallen Russian aristocracy.  She had gone to the U of C.  Ray was her exact opposite.  He was a big man, very muscular with short dark curling hair.  He worked out. He was part African American, part Native American, part Polish, and part Irish.  He had a menial job, he drank, did drugs, and had an explosive temper.  He also had the one thing few of us had, a car.

Ray could take us to the clubs.  Ray could take us to concerts.

The problem was that Ray would get wasted and then drive us all home.  It was impossible to get car keys away from Ray.  It was scary. You can pretend that you are in a taxi, glue your face to the window and watch the tall buildings careening by, but in truth I did not want to die in a car accident. 

The third time Ray took us to a club, probably O’Banions, we closed the place down at about 2:00 a.m.  Ray was reeling, bashing into things.  The three of us that lived in my apartment decided to get home some alternate way. We even tried to get Diny to come with us, but she wouldn’t leave Ray.

Unfortunately for us the Howard L which goes directly to Hyde Park was shut down for the night so we had to take the Dan Ryan L which would drop us in the ghetto west of Hyde Park where we would have to wait for a night bus.

So there we were, one guy and two women, all of us white as snow and in our punk finery; black clothes, black eyeliner and all, standing near the Dan Ryan L at Garfield, waiting for a bus in the small hours on a deserted street in a bad neighborhood in Chicago at a time when Chicago was one of the highest crime cities in the country. Still it seemed like a better idea than letting Ray drive us. At least it did until a gang of youths sifted out from an alley.

There were about five of them.  There were three of us. Two of us were women.  The one guy among us was a small, slender artist.  The gang surrounded us and told us to come with them to the alley.

Now there were gangs even in Hyde park in those days, and in fact our apartment was on Blackstone and part of the territory of the Blackstone Rangers. I was no expert, but I knew a little bit about dealing with gangs.  No Way in Hell was I going to go into an alley with these guys.  I had no desire to be raped and murdered. So I ran into the middle of the street.  It was largely deserted, but during the day was a big busy street.  I could see headlights in the distance head slowly in our direction.  One of the gang members said he had a gun.  My response to that was to duck behind a parked car on the street side.  My female roommate (Anne) was being pulled towards the alley by a couple of the gang-members.  My male roommate (whose name was Jeff I think) was nowhere to be seen.

“Anne!” I yelled, “There are cars coming! Come out to the street!”

Anne, who was not much of a physical person yanked herself away from the gang and ran into the street with me.  The guys started to come after us, but the lights of the coming cars were finally starting to light up the scene and instead the guys skittered away into the ally.

One of the cars turned out to be a cab.  A cab!  In the ghetto!  Sheer luck. I hailed the cab, but where was Jeff?

Jeff staggered out of alley, badly beaten, blood running down his face and matting his hair.  So we took the cab to the hospital in Hyde Park.  Jeff had had his wallet stolen, a concussion and lots of big bruises, but fortunately nothing more serious than that. 

Thanks Ray.

We lived in a strange winding warren of a basement apartment with three bedrooms a kitchen, and two good sized common rooms that were reasonably suitable for parties.  We had our own front entrance a few steps down from the street, and on the back side of the building our own back exit, a few steps up to a small lawn a tree and a parking lot.

Some months after the gang in the ghetto incident we had a nice big party.  Of course Ray and Diny were there along with the whole general circle of friends, and friend of friends etc.  As usual Ray was all hopped up on alcohol and some other unknown substances.  He was already in a foul mood and Diny was annoyed with him.  Then some typical U of C nerdy white kid said something.  I do not know what it was.  In the noise of the music and all the people I don’t know that ANY of us knew what it was.  But Ray was sure that the kid had insulted him.  Between black and Irish and Polish and Native American Ray was always finding insult, rightful or not.  But Ray flew into a rage and went after the kid who was shocked and promptly panicked.  So I had Ray lunging after this kid  like a Kodiak bear after a salmon.  Diny tried to intervene and Ray flung her aside Her head hit the corner of the dining room table and she went down.  Ray didn’t even notice.

I am not sure quite how I did it, but I got in front of Ray, put my hands gently on the center of his chest (roughly eye level for 5’5” me) and looked straight up into his angry dark eyes, and just quietly said “Ray, Ray, Ray, Ray” until it registered on him.  Somehow the hands on his chest stopped his lunging about.

“Ray, I need to talk to you” I said over and over.  He eventually focused on me and I said, “Too loud in here” and keeping my hands on him gently, stroking lightly like you would a fearful cat lead him along the winding halls to the front door, walked him up the steps, told him to close his eyes and take a deep breath of the fresh air…. then I turned and leapt down the stairs ran inside and slammed the door behind me, locking and bolting it. Ray roared and crashed down the stairs and beat on the door.  I zoomed through the halls, found the kid, who had been slugged a few times but was ok and sent him running away out the back.  It was complicated to get from the front of the building to the back without going through the inside.

Diny was sitting up which was good as I had worried that Ray might have killed her.  I suggested that she too go out the back and head home and perhaps lock Ray out.  She did not want to do that.  She would go out the back, yes, but then she was going to go around through the parking lot and alley and around the block to the front of the building and collect Ray and take him home.  She said he’d be sorry by the time she wound her way to the front.

And so he was, but I had had it with Ray.  He was too much trouble.  In fact my whole life was filled with too many problematic people.  Not long afterwards I left Chicago, shaking off most of my “friends” of that time with few regrets.  I was one credit short of graduating, but I transferred that credit from the University of Oregon in Eugene rather than go back and get sucked into that dysfunctional group which included my one and only boyfriend, who I have not even mentioned in this story, who I was also eager to be far, far away from.

Dysfunctional people are often very accepting of others and easily become “friends” with misfits and lonely people. 

Sometimes it is much better to be lonely.

It is certainly far better to have a select few good friends who are sane, thoughtful people than a whole circle of problematic types surrounding you.


Chris Clarke said...

Wow. Strong story, well told.

Michelle said...

Heather: I remember that!