I don’t like large groups of people. They scare me.
I wonder if this fear comes from some vestigial, lizardly part of my brain that stays stuck, frozen in amber, in the time where lion attacks where a daily concern and that one neighboring tribe that looks funny may slit our throats and steal our resources in the middle of the night.
As I’m writing this, I’m sitting on the upper level of the 12:40 (last) Chicago train to Aurora, on this blessedly final day of Lollapalooza.
For the uninitiated, Lollapalooza is a massive conference of cloned fourteen year-old girls and their strangely muscular boyfriends.
I assume they talk about clone and muscle things.
This large group of bodies crowds the many forms of public transportation available in Chicago, the most notable of which (i.e. affecting me) is their usage of the Metra trains inward and outward bound from the city. My once quiet, peaceful, contemplative train rides are now congested with CamelBaks and some discussion on what “dabbing” is and how best to coordinate some group “dabbing” among residents within the car.
The journey outward from Union Station, to Lisle where I’m living, for the past four days has been a complete fucking nightmare.
The boarding procedure seems to have been rewritten to: everyone crowd as much as they can around the track entrance a full thirty minutes before boarding, start some chants and odd misogynist/homophobic outbursts (a popular conversation piece among the clones and their minions), and bum rush the train as soon as its doors open, screaming and flailing as though the train will leave in the next thirty seconds rather than it’s scheduled time.
I am a body in a sea of bodies, and were it not for my odd rage issues and willingness to be aggressive among the commoners, my 5’5″ frame would likely perish in the proceedings. I jostle and scurry, plotting a weaving course while also following whoever is brave enough to run on the very outskirts of the crowd and clear a path for me, keeping my hands in front of me like an over-the-whole-thing boxer, brushing against the occasional shoulder-high tricep and praying that this one slight bump against a clone won’t upset her Anglerfish tumor.
I remember the advice of that one talkative Uber driver, a self-proclaimed Michigander, who had buckets and buckets of suggestions on how to avoid this city’s nasty habit of “chewing you up and swallowing you whole.”
Granted, he was referring to the South Side in layers of middle-class fear and coded racism, citing most vividly the way gangs would approach blocked traffic on the Gold Coast and just “knock people out in their cars and take their wallets right there,” an image that will never leave me in a way that makes me want to retch and shake this man’s hand with gratitude.
But the one most useful nugget he gifted me was to “walk with your head up, look straight ahead, do nothing to draw attention, and you should be fine,” concluding with the catchy aphorism “there are lots of pretty girls here so you’ll enjoy yourself,” a statement so lacking in censorship that I can’t help but smile, despite my college-implanted heteronormativity alarms ringing at a painful frequency.
So I do just that. I keep my head up and walk with purpose, putting on that solemn and slightly perturbed face that I’ve been perfecting my whole life, lab-grown to deflect any type of public interaction in a way that says: I’m a serious man with serious man things and no I’m not twelve so don’t mess with me, punks.
And every time I survive. Yet still this fear lingers, this distrust of the horde, this strange, nagging sensation that this tan dude in the Captain America tank top will rip my headphones out from my ears, and that when I inevitably punch him out the gasps of surprise and arousal will be audible for miles.
While this fantasy make me smile, a minor leakage in the testosterone pack that I assumed was sealed pretty tightly by this point, it’s also a bizarre reminder that I am just an animal, and that no matter how much I do battle with Pynchon or jam out to Grainger or commit fully with my heart and fucking soul to being a silent tree-to-end-all-trees in that one campground scene, I’m still a meat robot that needs calories and has base survival mechanisms.
It makes me feel like a walking organ sack, a bag of liquid instinctively responding to stimuli, like a single cell flexing one of two muscles on the side most hit with sunlight in the primordial ooze, and all of a sudden my decision to favor khakis over jeans to appear more sophisticated seems foolish in the grand scheme of things.