Chapter 5 – The Lost Souls
One day in the warehouse back in Cleveland, this salesman dude named Ken came down from the office and started shootin’ the shit. As it always seemed to among us low-brow blue-collar male chauvinists, the conversation quickly turned from whatever it started as to topics raunchy and sexual. I’d been counting and boxing up hose fittings for an order, just enjoying the ambient banter until I’d heard Ken mention something about an upcoming “fetish ball” that was due to take place at The Cleve’s House of Blues.
“A what ball!?” I asked as I dropped what I’d been doing. “Did you say fetish ball?”
“Yeah, they do one every year. People dress up and do kinky shit to each other.”
“Really? Have you gone?”
“Nah, but my buddy went last year and was tellin’ me that this chick – some dominatrix in this revealing leather get-up – had some almost-naked dude on a leash and was makin’ the guy crawl around on all fours the whole night.”
“Yeah, and uh, my buddy happened to be in the bathroom at the time when she made this dude crawl in there on his hands and knees on the already piss-soaked floor, then lift up his leg like a dog, take a piss on the wall and roll around in it while she insulted him in front of everybody – callin’ him a ‘naughty boy’ and shit.”
“Oh my god. When is this?”
“I dunno. Just look it up online. It’s called the Cleveland Fetish Ball or something like that.”
During lunch that day, I googled “Cleveland Fetish Ball” and the first thing that came up had been a link to a site called Fetish Playland – a site that provided information about the event that Ken had described which is formally known as “The Organ Grinder’s Ball.” Along with the date of the event which was due to take place sometime in April, there’d been photos as well as a video of the highlights from the year previous. Just so I could get an idea of what to expect had I committed to the idea of going, I hit play and was exposed to a black leather parade of whips, chains, handcuffs, titty-tassels and some of the kinkiest non-penetrational perversion I’d ever seen outside Madonna’s video for the song “Justify My Love.”
Right after watching it, I sent the link to a bunch of friends back home asking, “Who’s down for this shit?” In return, I got a bunch of ambiguous answers and a few “I’m down”s from unreliable sources I knew would never take the initiative to drive seven hours out to Cleveland. The only legitimate “yes” I’d gotten was from my buddy “Dusty Cundiff” who I knew I could trust as a man of his word. Because of his response, I’d been quite pumped until I came to the realization that a visit from an old buddy to go to a social event would absolutely definitely one-hundred percent mean that I would have to drink.
The Organ Grinder’s Ball had been scheduled to occur in April 2012 which meant that by that point in time, I’d had about seven months of sobriety under my belt. And in regards to goal-achievement, things had actually been going rather well for me in Cleveland. I was saving a bunch of money, I was working out every day, I was getting a bunch of writing done and I’d even been putting together some songs on the piano. The downside to my life out there, however, was that I was dying of boredom. I never went out except to go to work or to get my groceries for the week every Saturday morning and felt like I was in fuckin’ prison.
On the Saturday of the event, I’d been sitting up in my bedroom writing when I got a text from my buddy Dusty saying that he’d be at my house in less than half-an-hour. I looked at the clock on my computer and it’d only been about one-thirty.
“K. See ya soon,” I texted back.
So, Dusty shows up, we shake hands and have a cigarette on the back porch and what-not and catch up on how each of us has been over the past however many months it’d been since we’d seen each other and then just stood there looking at one another with nothing else to say.
“So, uh,” I searched my soul, grasping for what I’d truly wanted out of the situation, “you uh, wanna grab a case and start boozin’?”
“Hey guy,” he responded coolly as always, “whatever you want.”
“Yeah, okay,” I nodded my head. “Let’s do that.”
So we got in his car, drove to the nearest liquor store, picked up a case of Pabst and another pack of smokes and headed back to my house where we proceeded to have ten-plus beers apiece over the course of the next few hours before catching a cab to the area in which Cleveland’s House of Blues is located. By the time we got down there, we still had a good couple hours to kill before the kinkiness kicked off. To kill the time, he and I ended up wandering into some bowling alley where we posted up at the bar and guzzled another five or six beers.
From what little I remember of the fetish ball, it’d been pretty much the exact same as in the video I’d seen on the internet beforehand – dirty dancing, dildos and all. I also vaguely recall trying to hit on some tattooed black chick with a fat ass and a fat rack that looked like Lil Kim who’d basically just laughed in my face as I slurred every word I said to her. But after that, I reverted to oblivion.
I came out of the blackout around 3:30am and, as per usual, I’d been staggering in a random direction down a random street. I recall thinking I was still living in Milwaukee, trying to find my way back to Marquette’s campus. Stumbling right next to me through an unfamiliar industrial part of town with total faith in where I’d been leading him had been Dusty who’d appeared equally as hammered as I.
Somewhere along the line we started bullshitting with some forty-something-year-old black dude who’d been hanging out on a street corner. I have no idea what we’d been discussing, but I remember calling my buddy Dusty a “fag” and telling him to “suck my dick” and this gangsta-ass motherfucker had taken it as a personal offense.
“Hey man,” he got up in my face, “you don’t talk ta’nother man like dat. Where I come from you gitchya ass beat for doin’ some’ like dat.”
“Dude,” I was so taken off-guard I had no idea how to respond, “we come from where you come from.”
“You come from where I come from?” he was flabbergasted. “How ‘bout I cut ya dick off den dey won’t be nuttin’ left ta suck? How ya like dat?”
“No, I don’t like that. Please don’t do that.”
“Aight, well, you apologize to ya buddy den.”
“Sorry Dusty,” I mumbled as if I were in the principal’s office, attempting to evade detention by offering a bullshit apology to one of my classmates whom I’d just given a wedgie or a swirly.
“Sorry Dusty!” I shouted.
“Das mo’ like it. Now go awn – getchya ass up outta here. White boy sayin’ he come from where I come from…sheeyit.”
While continuing on the road to nowhere, we passed warehouse after warehouse after warehouse and I finally came to realize that we were in Cleveland and not Milwaukee. I didn’t have a number for a cab and neither of us had smart phones to look one up so we just decided to keep walking, hoping one would drive past us on that desolate stretch of asphalt and shattered glass. Eventually we came to pass some warehouse with a bunch of cars parked around it which also had flashing lights and a techno bass line thumping from within. We decided to go check it out.
“Hey,” I asked the first girl I’d seen on the inside, “where can we get some beer?”
“No more drinks,” she said, “last call was a couple hours ago.”
We looked around the warehouse and saw the strobe-lit outline of the ten or so people left on the dance floor, still going strong to the music.
“You mean to tell me that no one here is drinking?”
“Alright, well, in that case, can you call us a cab?”
So, this chick calls us a cab, the cab came and it was operated by some nineteen-year-old Somalian kid. The fare to my house ended up being like forty dollars but we decided his efforts were only worth half that and hopped out his ride, stiffing him out of twenty bucks just because that’s the type of inconsiderate drunken assholes my grade school buddy and I grew up to be.
All in all, I had a pretty good time and I’m glad I’d decided to party but, to me, none of the aforementioned details about the night had been quite as interesting as a conversation that Dusty and I had engaged in while posted up at the bowling alley just before the fetish ball commenced. It was a topic we hadn’t yet discussed since its occurrence nearly a decade beforehand.
“Yo man,” I slurred to my drunken buddy as he sat on the barstool to my left, “’member the time we burnt down that warehouse?”
“Yeah,” he nodded, “that was fucked up.”
The instance of which we spoke had occurred back when we were fifteen-years-old and we’d both been part of a neighborhood pseudo-gang called The Lost Souls whose only real criminal enterprise had been getting drunk, breaking other people’s stuff and stealing the occasional old lady’s purse for drug money. The organization seemed to be a conglomerate of emotionally – I don’t wanna say “disturbed” here as to avoid stigmatizing myself too terribly, so let’s roll with “confused” – emotionally confused misfits from the neighborhood who’d either come from fucked-up alcoholic homes or guys who just decided to be huge assholes for no fucking reason. Not to say that these guys were all dumbasses ‘cause that’s not the case, but The Lost Souls seemed to be a bunch of societal outcasts who’d never be able to fit in or function on what’s considered a “normal” level – a posse of punk motherfuckers who felt the universe owed them something they were never gonna get from it. And it was from this group that I’d gone seeking atonement and deliverance for things I’d experienced growing up that I viewed as unfair.
Ya see, a couple weeks before this building got torched, The Lost Souls – I wasn’t there for this one – had broken into a neighborhood home and trashed the fuckin’ thing from top to bottom. These guys broke whatever they could without discrimination. According to reports, they smashed all the china and glassware in the place and had even gone so far as to tip the fridge over, push the thing over to the top of the basement stairs and then shove that motherfucker right down them shits. And they got away with it too.
It just so happens that The Lost Souls’ version of Makeover: Home Edition had gone down during a time when the alcoholism was rife and familial turbulence at its apex in my household. Right around that time, one of the incidents had gotten so out of hand that the police ended up knocking on our door. It wasn’t an unexpected appearance in response to a domestic disturbance report called in by our neighbors or anything like that. It was actually in response to an unintelligible 9-1-1 call my dad had made for an ambulance after I’d stabbed him in the stomach with a steak knife that I’d electric-taped to the handle end of a hockey stick he’d gotten me for Christmas a few years beforhand. It was only a flesh wound – my intention wasn’t to kill, only to get the point across to stop being such a drunken dickhead all the time – but my dad was super dramatic about it, got on the phone and had slurred a bunch of ridiculous shit about, “My family’s beating me up.” We called right back to cancel the ambulance which they did, but the police showed up anyway.
I remember them arriving on the scene as my dad crawled to the front door with blood trickling down his belly while I stood in the living room where I’d earlier flipped all the furniture over, threw a baseball through the wall and smashed a lamp with a baseball bat, hoping to break up my parents’ fight. As per usual, my efforts were in vain because each of them always had to have the last word and/or shove – they couldn’t be distracted from the disorderly struggle until I busted out the knife and shit got real. I don’t really remember much of the police interaction other than them standing on my porch telling my mom she should seek an attorney and that I should see a counselor after they’d peered into our house, had seen the state of the living room and asked who’d made the big mess. In response to all of their uninvited advice, I told them not to fuck with my family and slammed the door in their faces.
With all that shit going on at home, I felt inferior to and was pretty resentful and jealous of my peers at school. I hated overhearing my classmates’ conversations about their family trips downtown over the weekend and all the super cool shit that they were so happy about in their lives and stuck wondering why I hated everything and everyone so god damn much. Perhaps that’s why hanging out with The Lost Souls sounded so appealing to me at the time. Because there’s no doubt about it, I knew that what they’d done to that house was a totally and utterly repulsive act. Yet, I felt totally and utterly compelled to partake in the havoc.
As it happens, one weekend when I’d been hanging out with these guys, I think there were probably around seven or eight of us – a girl or two included – and we’d been slummin’ around some alley behind a warehouse on The Windy City’s northwest side. It was a two-story brick building – not huge, but maybe about the size of two or three standard Chicago lots. All Souls had been doing some drinking back there except for me because at age fifteen I was still totally against it on account of what it’d done to my family life. On top of the sauce, a few guys had been passing around a bottle of computer keyboard cleaner or some shit like that, putting the spraying mechanism up to their faces, opening their mouths wide and huffing this shit through paper towels. I don’t know exactly what type of effect it’d been having on their judgment and perception, but they were definitely getting fucked up off of it.
Probably when all the booze was gone – I don’t remember for sure – one of the guys I was with started kicking the rear overhead loading dock door. It was old and made of wood and had a bunch of identically indented two-foot by three-foot rectangles, equidistantly interspersed, forming the door’s design. After having received a few solid boots, one of those rectangles gave way and all The Lost Souls instinctively crawled through it to the inside.
Now that I think about it, the place kind of reminds me of my buddy’s dad’s warehouse in Cleveland which is a major guilt trip, but then again, every fucking warehouse looks the same to some extent. From my scouting, all the goods and the shipping area had been on the first floor. I don’t know what they sold and I didn’t really care to find out. And on the second floor – an area which’d only taken up half the building’s total space thus forming a balcony overlooking the shipping zone – were the offices where the business end of the shit had been conducted.
After chucking around some shit on the first floor, a few of us moved up to the second where we indiscriminately brought destruction upon all in our wake. After gaining access to one of the offices, a few of us began tipping over the desks, opening the drawers of the file cabinets, removing all the papers from inside ‘em and tossing that shit up in the air like paper fuckin’ rain. We then picked up the computers – they were really old computers – forcefully ripped ‘em away from whatever they’d been plugged into, carried ‘em over to the aforementioned balcony and began spiking ‘em down onto the warehouse floor below whereupon they busted like watermelons at a Gallagher show.
The whole thing made me feel quite strange. Part of me thought it was kinda funny and gave me a weird sense of satisfaction but at the same time I felt sick to my fucking stomach. I thought of the golden rule that I’d been taught back in Catholic grade school – ya know, “do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” And I obviously wouldn’t ever have wanted a group of young angry jag-off’s to have done that shit to something that I spent years of my life building from nothing. Yet I did it anyway.
After tossing a computer monitor, I went back into the office to grab more shit I could break with insouciant abandon when I noticed one of my shithead buddies’d had his lighter out and was putting the flame to everything in sight. As I mentioned, papers were everywhere after we’d emptied out the file cabinets. The whole room was going up in smoke. The last image that remains in my head from being in that building as I stood in the doorway of that office watching it burn is my buddy holding his lighter at the base of a wall-sized map of the world which was quickly consumed – continent by continent – all the way up to the drop ceiling.
After that, I ran out of the building, ran away from everybody else, ran, ran and kept running until I got home where I hustled up to the safety of my bedroom and started bawling my eyes out. It wasn’t so much that I felt any sort of remorse for what we’d done as much as I felt frightened I was gonna get caught and be sent to prison. I also felt so overwhelmingly powerless in the situation. I felt as if I didn’t have the choice to not partake in the destruction – as if I were a victim in the incident because of all that’d happened around me when I was growing up.
Not long after that, the totally burnt-out building was demolished and abides as an empty lot to this day. Even though I’m not the one who decided to pull out the lighter and torch the place because that sort of thing doesn’t get my dick hard, I was there as part of The Lost Souls. I often stop and think about the livelihoods we may have stolen from a group of people, the lives we may have ruined by doing this – of course, that’s if I wanna see the glass as half-empty. If I wanna have a positive outlook on the arson, I say to myself, “Maybe the owner of the place hated his life and was hoping something like this would happen. Maybe he was able to collect big on the insurance and moved out the snowy-ass Midwest to a dreamy holiday island where he married some sun-kissed PYT that walks around with her perky little tits concealed beneath a coconut bra. Who knows?”
In the aftermath, weeks after this’d happened and we’d all gotten off scot-free, I’d been sitting in the passenger seat of my dad’s truck as we’d driven past the scene of the crime.
“Hey, yo,” I began, “see that empty lot over there on the right where they just knocked that building down?”
“My friends and I set that building on fire.”
“That building that used to be there just a couple weeks ago…my friends and I burnt it to the ground.”
“Holy shit, why would you do that?” asked my dad, the Chicago fire-fighting veteran. “What if a fireman had gotten hurt trying to put it out?”
“I wouldn’t have cared,” I replied even though I really would’ve cared and felt immensely guilty for the rest of my life but said otherwise in hope of tugging at my dad’s heartstrings to get him to stop drinking so much all the fucking time, “firemen are all drunken assholes.”
Not another word was ever mentioned between my dad and I about the incident and the drinking around the house went on like business as usual. This is when I learned that there’s nothing you can do to change the destructive behavior of someone else – only your reaction to it. No matter what awful shit may have been done to or around me in the past, I came to realize that a victim mentality is not a “get out of jail free” card.