Icy gusts of wind are ruining umbrellas on Rush Street, lifting them like wire hoop skirts, and slamming sleet into the squinting eyes of every pedestrian. A large revolving door at the front entrance to the AC Hotel is a welcome sight and spins my shivering Kat girl into its warm embrace. I dip into the pie wedge panel immediately behind her, clutching two bottles of cheap red wine by the throat, one in each hand.
My exposed fingers have frozen to rigid claws. Katarina ungloves and reaches into the sticky pocket of my damp jeans to retrieve the key card necessary for access not only to our room but also to the elevator, a double safety measure here in the heart of the city. Innocent, searching fingers tickle and turn me on. I don’t say anything off-color, but I think it, and my blood pumps with a not-so-secret excitement that is both seen and felt. Kat rolls her eyes, “Really?”
Up we go to the top floor. Ding. The door opens on the eighth. We hang an immediate left, then a right, pass several rooms, take another right, and make our way down an unusually long hall to 809.
We pass some salt-and-pepper gentlemen. We think they might be preachers. Kat pauses and stiffens in a small nutrition alcove. She rips a loud one and instantly blames it on me. Both the fart and the accusation echo in concert down the hall. “Oh, damn!” she says, further startling me, and suddenly I find myself apologizing in a high-pitched voice as elevator doors slide close upon the three wise men, diminishing their red-faced laughter.
A clever and funny trick. Delightfully unexpected. Yes.
And there it is. The last door on the left. A swipe of the card. Click, click. Followed by a green light. Katarina turns the handle. We enter.
The room is spacious and nice. The bed is huge. The bathroom is clean. The faux wood floor is as warm as a hearth.
Entranced, Kat glides over to a wall-to-wall window which provides a glittering panoramic view of Chicago at night. As for me, I’m still marveling at the long ass walk to our room, realizing with a thawing fascination that we’ve walked a city block from the front end of the hotel to this romantic back-corner suite, one street away from the check-in desk.
“Cabernet sauvignon or merlot, my dear?”
“Merlot. Please, sir.”
I struggle with the cork. The cheap opener, purchased with the wine, pinches my already painful fingers. The plan is to sip and settle in while we search the internet for the best place to eat tonight.
I notice there aren’t any wine glasses, no plastic cups either—only cardboard coffee cups. I pick up the phone, dial zero, and inquire. I’m referred to the bar on the fourth floor where someone will be more than happy to lend us some crystal.
In less than fifteen minutes, Kat unpacks and hangs our clothes, organizes the toiletries, and freshens up while I stack my books (one of them a collection of Carl Sandburg’s Chicago poems) on a wide desk just beyond the large flatscreen television.
Katarina emerges from the bathroom. She’s catwalk beautiful as we zip down to the fourth floor. I’m Boho raggedy with a storm of blue static sparks snapping in my floating hair after removing a black toboggan (I should’ve doused the wild patch with water). We’re an unlikely pair but a perfect fit in so many ways.
We enter the AC Lounge. The man behind the counter has more hair on his lip than on his scalp, a mustache that is shoe polish black and resembles a paste on. His untrimmed uni-brow is just as thick and comical as a Muppet’s. I can’t help but smile. His lips are red and chapped.
Two other couples are sitting at the bar, watching us with a normal first entrance curiosity. Though Kat and I aren’t joining them, we offer a friendly nod. The men are exceptionally handsome, and their women are pretty, too, like catalog people. The bar tender and I are much harder to look at, commoners who must rely on charm and personality.
Groucho Marx has neither. He undresses Katarina while I’m addressing him. He’s not off to a good start. So, I duck into his view—overcompensating –and his dull shark eyes are forced to focus upon mine.
“What’ll it be?” he asks. His skin is pale, his face expressionless, a death mask loosened by the years.
“May we borrow two wine glasses, please? We’d like to take them back to our room—if that’s okay.”
Unashamed, Mr. Potato Head stares Katarina over again (as if I didn’t exist), “You’re not having a drink here?”
Kat looks at me, unsure. “Um—no. Not yet. We might come back later, though.”
“What’s waiting in room –?”
“947,” I interject.
One of the dapper men, a Tom Cruise type sipping a cocktail and sitting in a cloud of expensive cologne, snickers at my obvious lie. There’s no ninth floor.
Redirecting, I take Kat’s soft hand into mine. “I thought we’d start off the evening with some Two Buck Chuck.”
“Two Buck Chuck.”
“It’s World Famous, you know,” Kat adds.
One of the women snorts with laughter. “Have you been shopping at Trader Joe’s?”
Katarina (the fairest of them all) answers yes with a radiant smile and friendly confidence.
“That’s a great idea!” says the brunette nodding at the blonde. “To start out cheap, up in our rooms.” The men seem to agree.
The bartender, I notice his name is CLARK. I think of the candy bar, Halloween, and his suddenly creepy face. He’s already tapped deep into the wallets of the lovely foursome, draining the life out of them.
Reluctant, and slow as a sloth, Clark Bar hands me two glasses. The man is obviously smitten with Katarina and dragging things out. I don’t blame him. Her beauty is uncommon.
After a moment of awkward silence, I thank the man with a forgiving wink. He’s still watching Kat. I notice how Clark’s ample stomach, protruding through the brass buttons of his vest, deflates with an audible sigh of disappointment as my darling girl turns and walks out of his life.