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com/Left-Loop-Tim-Brown/dp/140102033X Set in the mid 1980s, Left of the Loop chronicles the misadventures of two roommates living in a decrepit loft building just west of Chicago’s famed Loop. Narrating the story is Spungkdt, a poet who uses the raw material of the surrounding meatpacking district to give his writing verve. His roommate Stark is drummer for a hapless rock and roll band pursuing ever-elusive success. Contemporary pioneers, they confront the ugly sights, rude sounds and foul smells of the urban frontier. With dark humor and biting wit, author Tim W. Brown smashes the popular myth that the 1980s were all about BMWs, cocaine and junk bonds for most young people, and he captures the essence of an historic neighborhood that has long since lost its soul to gentrification.
Wanda Takes Off Her Shirt Chapter from Left of the Loop, a Novel By Tim W. Brown The night Wanda took off her shirt was hot. But not the definition of hot that describes clapping and hollering men gaping at a showgirl taking it off. Rather, it was Chicago-in- mid-August hot; it felt like all the chemicals polluting the air were adsorpting into a thick paste that covered every inch of your skin. To make matters worse, the neighborhood around Sangamon stank like a thousand refrigerators were thrown open, each one emitting powerful smells of spoiled meat, sour milk and rotting cantaloupe. Adding to the close environment was the band, over for its usual Sunday afternoon practice. The loft had the air of a gymnasium too crowded for people adequately to exercise. I say this because they still had not played a song all the way through, even after two hours. They’d play through a couple of verses, but when they got to the chorus, everybody would stop and drink a can of beer. That is, all of them except for Wanda, who drank peach-flavored New York Seltzer. It was during one of these breaks that Wanda took off her shirt. “They say it’s the humidity, not the heat,” said Danny, their bass player. Although I thought this observation was self-evident to anyone who lived in the Middle West, I didn’t have the energy to shift everyone to a different topic of conversation. “When I lived out west,” I said, “it got to ninety or a hundred degrees, but it was fine, because the humidity was like eight or ten percent. It was semi-arid country.” “I wish some of that semi-arid shit would blow in here,” said Stark. “I wish I were out at Coney Island right now,” said Rudy, “with a cooler full of margaritas in mayonnaise jars.” I tried to imagine Rudy on a beach, wearing the clothes he was then wearing, his usual outfit, consisting of a charcoal gray, long-sleeved work shirt, black jeans, and black steel-toed work shoes. The way his clothes hung so loosely off him, I would say that if he ever went ocean-side and took off his shirt, he would be the runtiest guy on the beach. Now, none of the rest of us guys had especially great physiques, but at least we were
dressed for the weather with our shirts off. Stark and I wore only gym shorts and shoes, and Danny wore flowered Bermudas. Wanda was wearing a turquoise leotard, with a billowy, cotton-print skirt tied around her waist. She had long since tossed off her pumps; as she ran around barefoot, I found myself worrying that, given her klutziness, she might walk through a glassy patch of floor and cut up her feet. Regarding Rudy’s dress, she must have been thinking along the same lines as me, for she suddenly said, “Why don’t you take your shirt off, Rudy? I don’t think I’ve ever seen your chest except when we have sex.” She winked at Stark and me. Stark looked nauseated by her joke. Rudy demurred. In response, Wanda said, “We’ll both take off our shirts.” Then she did it: she pulled down the straps to her leotard, uncovered her breasts, and arranged the leotard around her waist like a belt. “Put your shirt back on, Wanda,” Rudy said. “You’re embarrassing the other guys.” This was true; all of us turned away, and suddenly the mood became very uncomfortable. Stark looked mortified. “Why? We’re all adults here. It sure beats roasting in our skins. C’mon, honey, take your shirt off, too.” Rudy acquiesced, and, break over, everyone except me returned to the band area, all of us averting our eyes from Wanda’s chest. Since Wanda’s back faced the rest of the band, everyone gradually became less distracted -- despite their shaky start on “Pepsi Cola in Petrograd,” they eventually settled into the proper groove. I normally sat behind the desk, out of eyeshot from the band, but with Wanda bare-breasted, I sat at the kitchen table, a place which afforded an unobstructed view, and pretended to read a magazine. Without being too obvious, I periodically snuck glances at Wanda. In between singing verses she nonchalantly fanned herself with an Elle magazine, as if nothing was out of the ordinary. To this day I believe that she meant nothing prurient by taking off her shirt; indeed, she appeared innocent of the fact that her breasts had an impact on anyone in the room. Maybe in her modeling days she spent time dressing in front of photographers, lighting people and makeup artists, who, being professionals, were
oblivious to her nudity. I got the impression that, like a naturist, she took off her clothes and figured that if people were offended, that was their problem. My naturist analogy broke down, however, when I noticed that she didn’t have a lick of tan on her -- except for her black hair, red lips, and maroon nipples, she was perfectly white, like the color of limestone. Then it happened again: while gazing at her, for a fraction of a Platonic second I saw the feminine ideal, like Wanda had metamorphosed into a marble sculpture from ancient Greece, and all of her flaws fell away. With the blink of an eye, she returned once again to her normal self. I’m not exactly sure how to explain it, but I have this capacity to see the essence of a woman, but only in short glimpses. When I was dating Stark’s sister, I saw her in this fashion one morning while she reclined on the bed talking to me after I had spent the night. Maybe the sheets tangling around her like a toga affected my mind as if by some Hellenistic spell. I often wonder if this phenomenon is supernatural. Or perhaps my friend Stevo’s girlfriend suggested a better theory; though she never had set foot on Sangamon, she was pretty correct in pronouncing it a “male bastion.” This implies a likelier explanation: I was starved for female companionship. In any event, Stark didn’t share my Hellenistic attitude; he appeared to adopt a decidedly Hebraic attitude toward Wanda. With a marked look of distaste, he announced that he was “having a heat stroke.” He stood up, whispered a couple of words to Rudy, then took his fan into his room, presumably to lie down. Denied the services of their drummer, the rest of the band packed up, Wanda pulled her leotard up, and everybody left. When the band had been gone for several minutes, Stark came back out of his room with his fan. “Do you believe that shit she pulled tonight? I mean, that was totally crude of her,” he said. “She didn’t mean anything by it, Stark,” I said. “That’s just the way she is. You have to love her for it.” “After tonight, I’m not sure if I even like her.”
“You’re such a prude.” “Look, I like women as much as anybody. But they have to know me pretty damn well before they can show me their chest.”
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