Chip Gatz RIP

I’ve met many, many people during the course of my life. From all walks of life. And I’ll often think about them — especially the ones who have come and gone — and wonder what life messages I can learn from their lives. . . I just stumbled across this photo of Chip, from 1994 — that magical year when anything seemed possible. And it got me thinking about Chip. A guy who had so much going for him, seemingly, and wondering what fatal flaw in his psyche somehow doomed him.

Unlike many people you meet on the street scene — who often come from broken homes or no homes or sketchy backgrounds — Chip was a child of privilege. His father was a big CEO of some big corporation in Chicago. And as a kid Chip grew up with court-side seats to every Chicago Bulls game — that’s sitting right in the front row, right on the court, on the same level as the players and the coaches — “back in the days when Michael Jordan still had hair,” as Chip, wittily put it.

And I always wondered if that might have been the cause of some of Chip’s later problems. Growing up with a first-class, front-row seat to life, to the point where you just consider it your due. Which must have caused some difficulties later on as the world often refused to grant him this privileged position out of hand. I think being an only child also added to Chip’s sense of self-centerness. Though I never met Chip’s parents, from what Chip mentioned of them, I got the feeling they may have over-loaded him with attention, as well as high expectations, that was stifling to him.

Chip was what I guess you’d call a “trust fund baby.” He got a monthly stipend from his parents that was enough to live on fairly comfortably, while also killing off any ambition to work and strive to make a life for himself. Chip always had a nice apartment, and a brand new truck, and the best weed, and the latest records and toys (he was the first guy I ever met who had his own personal computer back in 1993).. Periodically he would “dabble in the arts,” taking an interest in photography or music or publishing a zine. But he could never sustain his enthusiasm. He once told me his one aspiration was “to be a rock star,” which is probably as realistically as Chip ever considered a career.

Bereft of the 9-to5 lifestyle, Chip was drawn to the “endless party” of the street scene. Where you’ll always find people hanging out, socializing, drinking, getting high, making music, having drum circles, chasing after young women, etc. An instant social life for all the people who don’t fit in anywhere else. Which is how I hooked up with Chip.

The problem with relating to somebody like Chip — a person with a high degree of self-absorption — was that it was like getting sucked into an emotional black hole. Chip was one of those guys who you kind of dreaded when he called you on the phone. Because he would often subject you to a long litany of his latest problems and woes. Along with an insatiable demand for attention and sympathy. Of which Chip would rarely if ever reciprocate. And if you tried to change the subject to something like, say, YOUR problems, you could almost hear the click in Chip’s brain as he completely lost interest in the subject.

It wasn’t that Chip was a bad guy. He was a decent, honorable fellow who truly meant well..He just lacked some crucial feature in his psychological wiring. His sense of self-absorption snuffed out his ability to emotionally reciprocate with others, and in a way it doomed him to a life of alienation and loneliness.

Chip was one of those guys who could come across as pretty impressive in a bar on a Friday night, with his looks, charm and wit. And he often had success picking up women. And would occasionally even have beautiful girlfriends for short periods (though he lacked the emotional capacity for a sustained relationship). Chip once told me that his favorite thing to hear from a woman that he was trying to pick up on was that “she was only going to be in town for a couple weeks.” Chip would be like, “YES!!” He could sort of sustain his act for that long before he started falling apart, so he could enjoy her company for two weeks and then it would be over before it started to get real. Ha ha.

I remember this one time, Chip was bitterly complaining to me about his latest woes. He wanted to eat dinner at this nice restaurant but his parent’s had cut off his Gold Card (apparently he had used up his monthly allotment). I myself was living on the streets at the time, and often made my dinners from other’s leftovers. A point that Chip dismissed as “Yes, but you LIKE living on the streets, Ace.” Which was true. But that wasn’t really the point.

Another archetypal Chip story that always stuck in my mind. One day I was hanging out at an outdoor table at the Cafe Med, when Chip showed up and wanted to join me. So he asked the woman who was sitting at the table next to me — a young college student — if she would mind moving to another table so he could sit next to me. The woman agreed, even though it was a bit of an inconvenience — she had to pack up all her books and papers and food and coffee that was sprawled across her table. So I’m sitting there next to Chip and we’re talking, having a nice time. When the woman, who had moved to the table next to Chip, tapped on his shoulder. She just wanted to ask Chip something. When Chip exploded: “LADY!! WHY ARE YOU INTERRUPTING ME WHEN I’M TRYING TO HAVE A PRIVATE CONVERSATION WITH MY FRIEND, ACE!!!” And I just wanted to crawl under the table.

But that was Chip. He wasn’t a bad guy. But he just lacked a certain capacity in his wiring.

I remember the first time I really became aware of the depths of Chip’s problems. It was during one of his long phone calls where he catalogued all of his latest miseries. After awhile, after exhausting my capacity for expressions of sympathy, I mentioned to Chip that I had to get going. To which Chip responded, “OK. But I just want to let you know that I have a loaded gun on my lap and I’m thinking of blowing my brains out.” So I agreed to listen to Chip’s problems for a bit longer. Even as it was a form of emotional blackmail that would eventually alienate many of Chip’s friends.

Chip’s constant grappling with suicidal impulses was hard to understand. Because he had so much to live for. He was good looking, intelligent, talented, witty, and enjoyed a relatively comfortable lifestyle — especially compared to most of the other people I knew. But his torment was very real. And the more you knew him, the more you could see it was eating him alive.

I remember one time, coming down from a long speed binge, Chip went berserk on Sproul Plaza. He had his electric guitar and he did a Pete Townsend bit smashing it to pieces over and over on the concrete. A way to blow off steam. But you could tell Chip was high-strung, tightly-wired, with a LOT of steam in him.

One other thing I always remember and cherish about Chip was this fantastic color photo collage he made of all the street people who were part of the Telegraph scene circa 1996 (with Hate Man at the center of the collage, of course, as Dorothy from “The Wizard of Oz,” which was perfect). He had them printed and laminated at a local copy shop and they really were beautiful, and truly commemorated the magic that so many of us found in the scene back then. And I’m sure many people still cherish those collages to this day.

Anyways, around 2000 Chip moved on. I think he moved back down to Los Angeles. And for awhile people would get phone calls from Chip. But then after awhile he pretty much disappeared. And was mostly forgotten.

Every now and then, out of curiosity, I’d do a Google search on Chip to see what he was up to. But nothing ever popped up. Until around 2008 when I stumbled upon this charity event put together by the upper crust of Chicago society. And at the bottom of the list of charitable donations was a little note from Chip’s parents, who made a donation “in honor of the memory of our beloved son Chip.”

RIP Chip.


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