Contributing writer Wyl Villacres reviews the reading series Paper Machete

Things that happened in or around Paper Machete that may or may not include what Paper Machete actually is.


I had never been to the Green Mill.  This proves my lack of authenticity while talking or writing about Chicago.  It is apparently some super famous jazz club, but what impressed me the most about it was that they had the old Schlitz lamp—the one where the woman is holding the glass globe.  That was the coolest part, I thought.

Inside the Green Mill, at three o’clock in the afternoon, on a cold day in December—like all days in December, though this one was noticeably so—Emily and I walked in about five minutes before Paper Machete, billed as a live, weekly magazine, got started.  This was a mistake, as every single seat, booth, folding chair, barstool, and corner had been filled with people, and we got to stand in the midst of the “standing room only” crowd. No one wanted to wear a coat inside, so we all held them in our arms, take up twice the typical amount of space and nearly knocking over people’s drinks if they were placed precariously on the edge of their tables.  There was a fair amount of awkward tension, annoyance, and stress, as a female fronted blues band wailed away on stage.

I was hung over.  Too hung over to drink.  It is a rare state.



Somewhere between the first performer and the second, I started to feel itchy.  It was hot.  I was wearing a sweater.  I could feel the hives- were they hives?- start to splash across my back and arms.  I didn’t want to be that guy who is scratching and itching in public, desperately trying to use my nails to carve through my skin and unleash whatever itchy hellbeast lay within.  So I just moved awkwardly in place, swaying a little bit.

“That was ok,” Emily said, talking about the first performance, a poem from a character that was supposed to be the lost, lesbian Kardashian sister.

“If I knew anything about the Kardashians, I might have gotten some of those jokes,” I said, wondering if the taste of a whiskey and water would really make me vomit, or if I was just exaggerating my own nausea.

For a moment, during a piece about Mike Huckabee’s response to the Newtown massacre, which anyone with a shred of dignity or humanity would renounce, the entire room, every last person, was stone silent.  It was distracting.  Everyone in the Green Mill was thinking about their own humanity and how they relate to other people and where freedom of religion, freedom of speech, and the public square meet.  The silence hurt.  It was an eerie quiet, no rustling, no ice tinkling in glasses.  It sounded like no one was breathing.  The silence of the audience almost drowned out the speaker, and yet, that was ok.  When he was done, I’m fairly certain people cried.


The people who go to Paper Machete, or, better, the people who went to that particular Paper Machete are the same people who go to all literary events.  Upper middle to upper class white folks who wear a different pair of dress shoes on weekends than they do on weekdays, know how to use starch, and drink from three o’clock until midnight once a week so that they can feel like their lives are still fun and not at all dictated by the nine to five they work.  Women who use the word “titillating” and don’t giggle.  Writers who love words and love even more that Paper Machete is free.  Day drinkers who have no idea what is going on or why the bar is so crowded.  People whose existence will probably never really be noticed and will have absolutely no impact on the rest of the world.  Friends who don’t get to see each other as often as they like, and then feel awkward during the event’s downtime.  The mentally unstable who pass for normal because of their vogue style sense. First dates from internet dating sites.  Last dates of dying relationships who want to try something new, but end up arguing over how much one or the other is drinking.  Asshole blogger critics like me. Girlfriends who were dragged along like Emily.




During the intermission, shortly after being reminded that “Chicago needs more shame,” so that we don’t settle for politicians like Blago or Jesse Jackson Jr., a blond woman came over to where I was standing and called me by a name I hadn’t heard in over a decade.  An old classmate from elementary school.

“Have you come to one of these before?” She asked, a something and coke in her hand.  I guessed vodka and diet.

“No it’s my first time.  A teacher of mine is reading…” I started to regret the words.  I’m a super, super senior. Six years in under grad. Classmate went to Smith.

“Oh? You’re going to grad school?  Where at?”

“No. Still in regular school.  At an art school.”  The awkward silence started to wrap itself around us.


There is that look in people’s eyes when their opinion of you changes.  Chances are, you know it.




Samantha Irby and Megan Steilstra (who are two of my favorite people, even though I only know one of them) talked about vaginas.  A room full of people laughed at vagina jokes.  Take that, prudes aka republicans.  People united over vagina jokes.  That is what freedom and America are about.  Listening to someone talk about your mom’s panties getting soaking wet from the movie “Magic Mike.”  I could see a friend of mine, Jeff, laughing particularly hard, and assumed another friend of mine, Lisa, was laughing as well.  This was an assumptions, yes, but based on the rest of the audience’s behavior, I figured that scientifically, mathematically, artistically, the chances we high of laughter on the part of Lisa.  Part of me wished that my friends and I could all be sitting together, sharing laughs and drinking cocktails, but then my stomach churned again, someone behind me laughed on my neck, which was moist and awkward, and my knee started to lock up.


Then there was a comedian.


The whole time that I was at Paper Machete, I thought about how lucky I was to be in a city that give this much attention to a literary event.  That was before the band started playing a song which I assumed was titled “I won’t shave my pussy,” since that line comprised seventy five percent of the lyrics. Then I wondered if this band was singing this in jest or in earnest. I assumed, based on nothing, really, that the woman singing probably did not shave her pussy, though I had no other evidence than the song that was currently playing.  She was probably in her forties, and I assumed that she, like all women, realized that there is a time to just give that whole act a break and let their hair down.  Then I shuddered, realizing I was spending too much time thinking about pubic hair, and left.

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