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**CURRENT PRINT: FRIENDS FROM CINCINNATI: Installment 24 features this part coming-of-age short by Chicago's Patrick Somerville, author of the Trouble collection of shorts out in 2006.

Spencer Dew

On Saturday, July 21st, Chicago police shut down the Poetry Foundation's Printer's Ball event at the Zhou Brothers art space. Read more details here and here. --Ed.

They were waiting for the Glee Club to finish, and the Glee Club just kept building up a groove, smacking their tambourines and shaking their bones, so they milled, or were milled, the way pepper is, in a grinder, over a dull limp salad at some Olive Garden at the edge of another nondescript Indiana town, only more aggressively, of course, impatient, eager, and, yes, sure, armed, as if cops, in this day and age, go anywhere without their primary and auxiliary weapons, their guns and their restraints and their chemical sprays, their spare clips of ammunition, their flack jackets, their belts loaded up with etc. and extra etc.

Morris tells the story like it all played out in an action film, probably anime, lots of slow-motion leaping and bullets tracing their trajectories across the air, acrobatic dodging, clouds of blood. "Seized control of the mic," he says, but really, after the Glee Club finally shimmied off and got applauded and ovated, this one guy in what was not riot gear but just a normal Kevlar vest over a t-shirt got up on stage and tried to speak through one mic and tried to speak through another and tapped on a fourth and a fifth and maybe, yes, the guys back at the DJ booth were fucking with him a little, but maybe it was an innocent glitch. Eventually they got Alex up there, as main curator or managing editor or person legally liable for the event, and she made the announcement, naming the known unknowns, as Morris said later, saying she was as in the dark as we were but that it was time to go home without passing go. "We've all had a good time, a better time that we could have imagined having, maybe too good a time, a better time than we should have had." That was what Alex said, which maybe was just stalling or maybe nervous, mindless improvisation. We hadn't had that much fun at all, and not the sort that somehow deserves such an abrupt halt. On this, Morris and I agree.

Columbia College Fiction Writing Department

What interests Morris is moments of community, intentional or accidental, at once anarchic and utopian, predicated not on equality, not on sameness, but on difference, on the sense of everyone else being always else, other, but somehow coming together in some coincidental -- no matter how planned -- and effervescent, transitory event.

I don't pretend to understand it, but I've heard some of his papers on the theme, and own a copy of his book, his dissertation-turned-book, which I could read, one day, to get a better sense. In any case, things like this, the Printers' Ball, matter to him not just as a night out, paying too much for drinks in a gallery and getting free copies of poetry magazines or hobnobbing with hipsters and assorted media divas, paranoiacs, editors, artists, and career temp workers, but as some shimmering example -- or possibility of an example -- of this more important thing, community. Though true community, he says, can be achieved only in hindsight, is always recognized post mortem.

Morris is not a happy guy. He is nostalgic on a sliding scale, always somewhere between the extremes of mournful and bitter. I've seen him weep, frequently, and I've seen him lob empty wine and beer bottles at walls or down streets or, once, off the overpass just south of UIC, into highway traffic. We were tripping then, a little. He was still in grad school, frustrated. The cars, as far as we know, all managed to swerve.

We planned to meet at the Ball, but since CTA is such a radical gamble, I arrived early, to Bridgeport, this chunk of small-town Indiana transplanted west of the remnants of Bronzeville. I walked down 35th from the Red Line, past the stark, burnt-out looking hull of Comiskey, down broad and empty streets, storefronts giving way to miniature lawns giving way to storefronts again, past a police station where young black guys were being led inside, handcuffed, by old white guys. This is Bridgeport, I thought. There were sausages for sale at a stand, liquor for sale on the corner. Something in the air smelled like my grandmother's old house, like ribbon candy gone solid in the glass bowl, like plastic sheeting over the couch.

Morris has all kinds of trouble with cops, not the cops or individual cops but the idea of cops as an abstraction or a stereotype. He also hates ID cards and despises waiting in lines. Who knows what it was like for him at the door, what sort of subtle, muffled, into-his-collar snarl he managed, some inaudible smart alec aside. Morris desperately wants to be a shit talker, a thrower of bricks, but he is, foremost, a coward. In his system authority exerts a stronger grip anyway: I've seen him refuse to sign mundane students petitions in the cafeteria, claiming he'll be monitored, tracked down, that files are kept, records. He once knocked on the door of the office I share with the other Truman College adjuncts and asked me about 401K and TIAA-CREF and whether these were acronyms for government control. He's not always sure about these worries, but entertains them at least, like how immunizing children might secretly be a cover for injecting them with microtech lowjacks of some kind, or possibly a kind of truth serum, a drug Morris speculatively calls Shut Up and Salute.

When I went through the door the cops were joking with people, telling them this was all for their own safety, the security they provided. People asked about the vests, mainly. Police, equipped like that, looked out of place, checking ages and marking the right hands of legal drinkers with Sharpie figure eights at the entrance to an art gallery, the entrance to a literary party.

"They are here as exemplifications of violence, reminders, living representations of the element of danger that otherwise would be absent from this scene. They're importing it in, then promising to contain it - not to prevent disorder but to preserve disorder." This was Morris's take, later, when we met up inside, by the dream machine, a piece of art operated by an anarchist theater collective of which Morris is a fan and friend. The men in lab uniforms who worked the thing claimed it brought your dreams to life, and they affixed the long silver tube end of it to Morris's head and cranked a crank and dialed knobs until a howling noise came out from the speakers, harsh and low, like a whale undergoing slow torture. "Yes," said Morris, his eyes wide, "Yes. That's what's inside my head."

Morris knew lots of people at the Ball, associates from arts programs or arts centers, underground political resistance organizations. There was the guy with all the freckles, for instance, who ran a cooperative seeking widespread social change. What they did was put stickers on things, labels, computer printed. I was given a sheet with fourteen small rectangles bearing the word struggle. "Just stick them wherever," the guy said. "Bathroom stalls are best. Or maybe on the CTA."

Morris got a sheet with the words quiet desperation. He wore one on his shirt, like a nametag.

So this was Printers' Ball, right, a blowout, with everyone there, or at least everyone of a certain demographic, to which maybe marketing terms or other less specific adjectives could be affixed, a strand of literary types, a subsection of scenesters, certain recurrences of facial hair, boots, straps, tattoos. Everyone spent a lot of time waiting in line for drinks then standing in big rooms talking to people they knew, meeting and being introduced to people they didn't. How else to describe such a thing? Some folks sat on the ground reading journals, comic books. The computer that writes poetry was demonstrated, and there was music, of course, and things to look at on the walls, and free hotdogs, about which someone said to me, "This is true democracy," and in reference to which someone else gave me a lecture about factory farms. Someone else, a needle-thin guy with a lazy eye, in a shirt that said beating meat is murder, told me the hot dogs were made of pulp, of recycled poetry magazines. "It is a well-known fact that the taste is entirely chemical, a matter of additives, preservatives, and spice."

The other reason I have so little to say about the Ball is because around then, right after the Glee Club performed, before the party, qua party, had really even started, it got shut down. That cop took the stage and checked all the mics, tapping them and trying to speak. There was a roiling around the DJ booth, men in black. Then Alex was up there, square-edged and gorgeous as always but also clearly shaken, straining slightly for her usual kick-your-teeth-out nonchalance. She told us that tickets were being written, complaints were being filed. She thanked us and told us that in a superficial way at least she loved us, felt warmly for us all, the crowd, but that we now needed to exit, immediately.

Morris is a bad driver generally but much worse on mushrooms, which alter his otherwise already confused sense of directions -- reshuffling the map, as he said, missing a second turn. We ended up taking Ashland all the way up to Wilson, with Morris occasionally rolling down the window to call for the highway like a lost pet. Eventually, he stopped in front of a building that he insisted was mine. I walked the last half hour, alone.

In the car he expounded a theory he'd been shadowboxing with of late, that community is always an illusion, nonexistent, not even, as he'd held before, a retrospective reality, just pure fantasy plastered on the past. "A lie," he said, several dozen times. Then he leaned on the horn for a block.

To say goodbye he slapped a quiet desperation on my shoulder, which I later peeled off and affixed to a railing of the bridge at Lawrence, by the big sewage vents and the dig site for the new "parkview" condo development.

What most stuck with me about the night, the feeling that lingered, like the unnamable emotion that haunts you after a bad dream, were those instances of leaving, in the stairwell and right after, or how the second floor just emptied out. People didn't leave, they fled. They made themselves scarce. You expected scraps of paper to blow around, tumbleweed.

Alex just stood there on the stage, not watching the exodus, looking down at the toes of her shoes, standing there like she was waiting for something. I asked her what the story was, why this was happening, and she said she didn't know, she didn't know, repeated it like that, and while, sure, later, plenty of reports would come out about the specifics of the liquor violations, city code, whatever, I think the question and her response stand on another level altogether. The confusion in her eyes was that of heartbreak, not logistics or law.

I went down the stairs in front, surrounded by silent people, and met Morris by the table offering subscription discounts that was now littered over in empty and not empty drinks. He was shredding cocktail napkins in protest, building up a plastic cup full of them, muttering to himself. I hadn't known about the mushrooms before then, but apparently he thinks they help him with crowds, takes them before concerts or movies or faculty meetings. They make objects and arguments stand out, distinct, or so he says, though this must exclude highway signs.

Really it had been just minutes since the Glee Club -- that beaming, motley swarm on stage -- had risen to a pitch of momentum and sound, and then we were all filing -- or being filed -- past these female cops flanking the front door, appliance-sized middle-aged women in polo shirts, badges around their necks, telling us to have a good night, to drive safe.

Some burly guy picked a minor fight, repeating that he had rights, that he'd only just arrived in time to be sent home, that he wasn't harassing anyone or blocking the door, that the cops had been programmed as children, were fascist machines. Morris said something in agreement with this, but in a whisper. I said, to someone I'd never met, a woman the color of whose kudzu-like arm tattoo matched her dress, making her seem all tangled up in some kind of green-blue weed, "Well, at least we'll get to see someone get maced," but she didn't respond and that didn't, of course, happen.

It can be so beautiful, the recent past. It can seem so rich with potential, that which had just been lost, stripped away. How impressive, the transformation, all of us, pushed by our own numbers out into the harsh streets of Bridgeport, soaking in urine colored streetlamp light, a stale summer evening, too early, and here we were rendered back from being an anonymous group to being anonymous individuals. Hands went into pockets. People petered away, picking different paths. Cliques spoke in lowered voices, loaded up in cars.

Who knows how it ended for the others, for everyone else, or what it even meant for them, if anything, but the abruptness of it, that ending, the surprise and the denial of choice, the lurch and crash of what before had just been a rupture, really, is what I felt, a shock, bringing into high relief that which, without it, wouldn't have even been noticed.

This, too, can be an allegory for everything else, I guess.

On Monday, at work, Morris asks me if we had any fun, meaning not just he and I but anyone, everyone. "What do you mean by fun?" I ask, and he says, "Exactly" and starts snapping his fingers the way he sometimes does, rapidly, grimacing.

He's seen his friend, from the cooperative. They're neighbors, apparently. He has a new label page, stickers that say to remember is to forget.

To me, that's too close to the words of a song, so for the rest of the day, in and out of lectures on poetry and politics and language and longing, I'm humming that other tune, until I can't even so much as recall the percussive beat to that last, loud, Glee Club number, though it was something like a pep rally, something like a pulse.