Liquor store, liquor store, liquor store, pawnshop. That’s how my friend Brett from Texas described his impression of DC as we stood in the alleyway of the 9:30 Club back when I was 15. Almost seven years later, little has changed aside from the addition of anti-Trump sentiment tagged on electrical boxes and streetlight poles. Within it, a scene that will probably be dragging itself by its bare arms alongside the roaches in the impending nuclear holocaust. hXc.
It’s a story I’ve told before. I was thrown into the Cro-mags pit two years ago, almost to the day. They were sandwiched in between five six slow bands, and I was sandwiched in between five fast fucks with something to prove. High and high heeled, I knew next to nothing about the hardcore world. But that’s a fact that’s changed tenfold since then, my perspective on all things constantly oscillating from the turbulence of a quarter life crisis. I was due for a second shot.
“Vegan self-reliance.” That’s what my sister kept shouting at me, a tone of honesty behind the jest, as she struggled to keep my on my feet at the Classhole show that fell in the heart of a bender of a month I hardly remember. Reliance is a relationship that I wish to withdraw membership offers to. I don’t want to treat someone else as an invitation to my problems, and I don’t want to be an invitation to outsiders giving me any. So, I walked as confidently as I could down the streets that didn’t feel so unfamiliar from my own any longer since I’ve grown up, splintered off, and joined the ranks of a place equally as honest in its slow decay.
Clenched fists shaking — that about sums me up. Trying to hold my own but always with wavering conviction. I asserted my way through the crowded bar of The Pinch, paranoid. I was in my Classhole shirt that I had slashed down the sides hours prior, exposing my tattoos that still managed to look foreign against all other exposed skin. Mushrooms and weeds, loudly fluid against wonkily-lined flags and harsh daggers. Right street, wrong house.
I made the unsurprising introvert exit to the bathroom, and man, I hit the jackpot. It was a single. To be fair, an hour drive on a half a tank of coffee to suppress appetites and alcoholic urges doesn’t make for the best combination. But more than anything, I needed to commune with some non-community. Nevertheless, I was happy to finally see a familiar face — the Mountain of Wizard sticker tagged on the toilet roll dispenser. I kneeled immediately down into the piss and paper flakes without question as if I were about to open my hands and receive the host. But instead, my hand extended into my pocket and then outwards for some sloppy self-shot. Stay stunting, it’s any scene’s backbone.
Decompressed enough from my time out, I evicted myself from the light to descend into the dark. And that’s not even another bombastic metaphor; a single string of holiday lights in the already packed basement served as a humble backdrop for Line of Sight, whose vocals packed a punch unleashed from an earnest Bobby Hill doppelganger. Triple-Sharpied hands gripped the mic tight as he reminded us that in here, we’re all equal. In here. They were gone too soon, but as they were followed up fluidly by a slightly more clean-cut aesthetic but matching decisive in intent, Protestor, my excitement began to rejuvenate — a reminder that I hadn’t turned out just to torture myself.
Gone, too, in a blink, I was nearly jumping out of my skin to see the band and the man who challenges every normative aspect of society that’s quietly making it destroy itself. But my spirit soon waned. The setup was much more time-consuming this go around. I understood why. Mags aren’t about to just beat any old drum kit. But the lag couldn’t help but extinguish some of my momentum constantly at odds with my cynicism. Eyes falling to half-mass and my arms falling to pretzel stance as if Harley himself had gone and sucker punched me in the stomach (too soon?), I absently eaves dropped on male fans with their tidy hair and wristwatches discussing “community” in a wryly meta tone.
“Your eyebrows are on FLEEK.”
A brave soldier wanted me to be welcomed in, but I wasn’t sure if I had remembered to pack my shovel needed for digging up the emotional energy needed for amicably negotiating randy conversations. It was a spirited goth chick, of all people, who introduced herself as Dani. I thanked her for her compliment and tried to focus my gaze on her chin ring and smiled and nodded at talk that I was struggling to hear. After what felt like ages, her doe-eyes widened as she insisted on offering me and another quiet girl, who had just caught my mental line of view, a drink from the bar. We both respectfully declined and she pushed through the crowd, leaving us in the throws of our-mutual-acquaintance-is-gone small talk. Her retainer emerged as she told me her name is Danielle, age 17, and had driven there by herself from the suburbs despite her being due for school bright and early. Can’t miss a show, right? As much as I was begging for conversation to cease, I knew the importance of looking in the mirror, even if the reflection was buffering at the same pace as the load-in.
We had broached the subject of college apps when I saw the boys starting to emerge. I tactlessly trailed off as I stood on my tiptoes, trying to catch a glimpse of John through the two rows of broad shoulders in front of me. Dani slammed back through right on cue. Well, there it was. My shot at redemption starring me deadass in the face.
I was doing so good. I stood, I fought, and I held my ground. No move went retaliated. No thought at backing down went unpunished. I periodically bumped into my young friend and threw her a thumbs up accompanied by a raised brow to check if she was okay. Dani had long since been swept up in the current. But, mid-set, which was dominated by favorites from Quarrel, I was beginning to falter. My long hair kept getting caught in between flailing arms suddenly sardined tight between stocky, sweaty torsos to the point where I thought it was getting to be ripped clean out. A surfer came overhead, sneakers walking along the low-hanging ceiling, and I put all my might into keeping him from anchoring, but the acrylic on my left index finger splintered under the pressure. I had suffered the most seemingly pansy of injuries; a broken nail — pain I insist on be categorized with paper cuts and gunshot wounds. I accepted a position towards the periphery, tucking my hair into the collar of my tank to avoid further incident on the way. Acceptance of powerlessness stemming from a tired frustration. Now that’s precisely what fed my disillusionment with radical politics. Not Marlboro and MD.
After falling into another half-massed coma, the set finally wrapped and it cleared out quick. I was happy to see my new girlfriends were nowhere to be found, but still turned longingly to see the Mags snapping pics in the performance area with a few hapless but harmless fans. What did I have to say to them? Not shit, or at least nothing that I wish I could say. I abandoned the embrace of the warm darkness for the oppression of the cold.
Unfortunately, I heard a scream as soon as I exited the venue. It was the ladies’ club.
“THERE YOU ARE!” Dani shouted at me, mid-embrace with Danielle and another girl, clearly two sheets as she caused their huddle to wobble. Before I could protest, she pulled me in. All I wanted to do was go, to be welcomed by the relief that my car hadn’t been towed, and to celebrate with some hot heat. But I didn’t. Because after all this time, I still don’t know how to say no. Sugar and spice and all that. I gradually became complacent in my new source of warmth — hair and hoodies and hot breath.
Dani suggested we walk each other back to our respective cars, which were scattered without pattern around the surrounding blocks thanks to DC’s notoriously piss-poor parking. I let out a yes with my first bout of enthusiasm of our entire encounter. Even though I didn’t have the courage to fully circumvent the situation, at least my endgame was in sight. Only one hang-up: this chick had to go find her MIA boyfriend before we could go. Apparently I wasn’t the only who liked to hide, and for good reason. The nameless chick discretely fled the scene on her own. I was about to do the same, but I looked down at Danielle, still in my arms. I didn’t have it in me to leave her at the hands of a drunk girl and her mysterious beau over a decade her senior, even though I knew I was probably overthinking.
We at least agreed to go back into the warmth to wait for him to manifest, making use of a vacant water-covered table a stone’s throw from Cro-mags’ merch. With Danielle still at my side, Dani sat opposite. With a grinning gaze she kept on an endless loop, teetering back in forth between expressions of resentment of her a man and her appreciation of our beauty. Danielle was quick to return the compliments, going on to explain that she had not one but two girlfriends and would be 18 in a matter of weeks. To keep the thoughts I’ve kept repressed since I was younger than Danielle herself tethered down, I took my view to the distance. I could see John making his rounds and switched gears by expressing how I wish I had the courage to talk to him. Dani, clearly unfamiliar with the bounds of insecurity, insisted I go and grab him by the booty. Too clear of my mind, I declined. But as he approached our way, she kept on it, quickly whipping her camera out of her tiny messenger bag. I found myself extending a lot more patience towards her once she was willing to offer me a piece of her confidence. Take in order to win; that’s how the fit survive. Some constructs can’t just be left at the door.
We stood up to greet him, my heart pounding.
“GIRLS!” he said with a giant smile, sliding in between Danielle and I with a tight grip of our hips. Clearly out of seasoned instinct, he was ready to pose. After Dani snapped, I turned to him in a jumble, all of my words coming out at once. “Iloveyousomuchyou’rethereasonI’mveganIIoveyourbook.” It was everything I wanted to say but the complete opposite at the same time. I wanted to tell him the truth, that I’ve been lying to myself and to him and to everyone. That I use veganism as a tool of restriction, to live up to the standard of evil that he rails against. That I wish I could be like him, with an undiseased mind and pure intentions. But no one wants to be that girl. He gave me a big kiss on the cheek and told me to look out for his new cookbook before slinking off to his next task.
Before I could even consider another thought, I was interrupted by a burst of cold as the door propped open. It was a man in a tattered Reebok jacket sticking only a single foot inside. He called out to no one particular. “Can you spare a dollar?” The first bouncer I had seen all night seemed to emerge out of nowhere, quickly shooing him out. “You can’t do this in my bar, man,” he insisted firmly, placing a hand on his back and turning him around in the direction of the street.
“Yeah, yeah, you can’t do that here,” Dani slurred with her hand slightly raised towards the man. Luckily, bae finally put in appearance, but it was time to leave regardless. Spilling out, spilling in. It was all too great of a mess to fit tidily into an acronym, and there’s no point in chasing safety when the finish line shows itself to be no more than a mirage.
Out into the night. Us girls walked as an arm-in-arm trio, our links periodically broken by the dozens of poles holding up the world’s most ambiguous parking threats. Dani’s boy trailed behind. He offered to take Danielle and me to our cars via theirs. One problem: he couldn’t remember where he parked. I was freezing and ready to pop off as we wandered aimlessly down a side street. Suddenly, we were hit with a huge waft of kush as two individuals came out from behind a corner and walked intently down the opposite alleyway. Dani immediately broke off and rushed after them while her man was attempting to scan a Google Map, oblivious. “CAN I HAVE SOME?” I heard her voice reverbing. Danielle turned to follow her, but I immediately yanked her back, not even out of protection, but just out of wanting it all to end.
Thank god, the boy finally had an epiphany and ventured up towards the next block, where his SUV sat on the corner. Without a second thought, Danielle and I hopped in the back. No one spoke of Dani until minutes later when she busted in between us by diving through the gap between the driver and passenger’s seats. We all embraced once more, discussing our dread of the pain of the impending Monday morning as the clock inched towards midnight. Luckily, Danielle was dropped off first, appeasing any lingering guilt. Finally, it was my turn.
“Text me when you get home!” Dani called out after me as I slid out from the side. I thanked her boyfriend for the lift and assured her that I would, even though we hadn’t even exchange numbers.
My favorite plain-sight hide-and-go-seek spot: the front seat of my car, alone. On a trip from one city to another, you’re bound to forget something at home. This time, it was my PMA. I must’ve left it in my other jeans, assuming I ever even had it at all.