(Today’s blog post is part of a continuing series of personal stories about living with Trigeminal Neuralgia, the most painful diagnosis known to man.)
Note: This post may not be about Trigeminal Neuralgia. But it might. We’ll see.
Something happened last week. Something that affected me in an unexpected way. I found out that a club I frequented virtually weekly in my twenties (and occasionally thereafter) is closing its doors after being in operation for thirty-six years. The name of the place is Neo and it’s down a dark alley just south of the intersection of Clark and Fullerton on Chicago’s north side. It isn’t the type of place that just anyone would go to and for most of its patrons that was part of the draw. It was a place friendly to what many in society would consider misfits – those misunderstood youth with black clothes, black lipstick and black leather jackets who found the hours from midnight to sunrise to be the most beautiful time of day. And I was one of those people.
Contrary to what some might think, I and people like me, clumped together into a group labeled “punk”, were not all doom and gloom. Heck, I considered myself to be pretty happy-go-lucky. I can’t speak for everyone, but for me, the clothes I wore, the places I hung out and the music I listened to was less about eschewing the mainstream and more about finding the real me. I was comfortable in my skin back then, even if my “skin” often brought rancor and unsolicited commentary from strangers on the street. My style also didn’t win me favors at the Catholic university I attended, but it didn’t matter (especially because I still got good grades). Wearing black lace, heavy eyeliner, Doc Martin’s and more than the required amount of patchouli was how I felt most comfortable. Hunting through thrift stores for a vintage gem on a welfare budget was like winning the lottery. And honestly, much of that same aesthetic is what still draws me today. It may be toned down in an age appropriate way, but even at fifty-one, black clothes easily take up over half of my wardrobe. I still wear my leather jacket and even fishnets on occasion. Oh, and the black eyeliner of course, which will have to be pried out of my cold dead hand. And usually, there is a skull somewhere on me, even if it is hidden to the public.
But here’s the thing…living in what might be called a fringe social group, even one that was misunderstood, was the most freeing time of my life. And Neo was a part of that. It and other places with names like Exit, Medusa’s and Smart Bar were private sanctuaries where the tie the bound us was a love for personal expression and for the music. Oh God yes, the music. And we all were grateful to be in on the secret.
I’ve gone back to most of my old haunts over the years, but Neo is the only one that still had the same feeling. The sense that regardless of how we looked, even how old we were, everyone was equal on the dance floor. It always felt like home. And when there, I always had that same sensation of freedom, regardless of the years, the corporate life I fell into, and the pain I live with as a result of Trigeminal Neuralgia. I felt more like me again. And its closing has hit me with a mix of gratitude and sadness. I look back on those days wistfully, glad that I was a part of an underground scene before it became more mainstream and commoditized. Happy that I was confident enough to be who I wanted to be even if it wasn’t always met with a positive response. And yet there is that melancholy. A time in our lives where we mentally compare who we were with who we are today. It’s of those moments that makes you feel like something in the universe has changed just a little, and not in a good way.
I’ve been hoping to get to Neo before it closes, but so far, my TN has kept me from going. But this Thursday, I have the final chance to have just one, no make that many, more dances on that familiar floor. To sink into the comfortable darkness and be me again, if only for a little while.
(Note – I should clarify that the folks at Neo have indicated that they are not closing for good, but have lost their lease at the present, and long-time location. It may open again, but unless they somehow transfer the history and patina of those black walls, it will never be quite the same.)