A train that never came. An appropriately stressful way to begin an inappropriately stressful Saturday night. I opened Uber, eyes rolling. Beyond taking issue with paying more getting to a show than the actual price of admission is having to answer twenty questions about where I live and what I do and where I’m going and why. It’s weird how conversing is supposed to bring more humanity to a service job. I just see it as additional emotional labor for all parties involved. Branding and bullshitting. I don’t need every task I complete in life to be hosted by Disney.
I used the hotel I happened to be standing by as the point of reference — a rookie mistake, not only because it took Roger in his Optima two laps to realize I was by the valet stand, but because it opened Pandora’s box of 20. My patience with the evening already wearing thin, I was quick to throw the so where’re you from back in his lap.
We must have been birds of a feather because he didn’t respond much when it was his turn. The car fell silent and I turned my face to the night I had been warned about — Essence Fest, the most dangerous weekend of the year, as alleged by people I should refrain from identifying. All I saw were packs of stylish young people having the time of their life. What I felt more threatened by was the chance of having more words stabbed in me.
“Drop off Jenna,” Siri finally intervened.
Feeling simultaneously relieved and violated by the sound of my own name, I thanked Roger and had a cool down smoke before entering a surprisingly sparse venue. I had thought an Antiseen show would have been a near sell-out, yet there I was, one of about 25, and one of two women. The other, on stage, making brazen demands for more beer and a chalice of Trump’s blood for her to go vampiric on. I savored her words. I was familiar with the imagery of who it was I was going to be seeing, but I was less familiar if the same sentiment would, too, stand.
Not having wanted this to be one of those evenings of nodding off in inopportune places, I decided to take it easy in an easy bar stool with an easy High Life. I quietly observed the guard changing that interjected a different tone of abrasive. The frontman removed his shirt to reveal a large stomach reading 504. A cocktail of jealously and respect. One man’s empowerment is another woman’s shame. To think, I had had spent that afternoon at the park, simultaneously attempting to shed my breakfast and self-destructive thoughts before heading to Rite Aid for 20 twenty minutes of comparing the caloric makeup of every beer under $10.
He went on to continually reference a recent show that was played with the Dwarves — a mixed bag, knowing his talent was worthy of a bill of this caliber alongside the reality that they had recently come out in support of the other D’s, the Dickies, in light of their recent controversy.
But worse news was only yet to come. As one band cleared in preparation for the next, a bar worker intercepted the mic and announced that Antiseen was unable to perform.
I decided it was time for another smoke break.
I took my prime outdoor seat among the tiny lizards and big roaches, still trying to retain a portion of the energy already expended. In the tradition of rude interruptions and quick introductions, my prime was soon past.
“You look really down,” I heard a voice call down to me, its origins in a body that looked like a giant from my view.
“Yeah, I’m okay…I don’t know why my face always suggests different,” I said.
“Ah, like resting bitch face?”
I just looked at him. Hemp necklace, purple Dirty Ghetto Kids t-shirt.
“It’s okay, I have that too,” he said more gently, knowing that he was already fucking things up. “Here.”
He passed the bowl in his hand down to me which I popped up to greet. He passed his lighter, too. A giant galaxy-print butane. I took out my Bic mini.
“This is actually a really nice lighter,” he insisted.
“Uh huh.” I handed it back to free my grip for my two respectful hits, carefully inspecting the contents after he went on to say he had had a blunt cut with some type of mystery upper the evening prior. He prattled on while I watched Antiseen loading out. 504 was trying to mitigate the sour vibe. There was a random dog. I was lost.
“I wonder what this whole situation is about,” I finally interjected to Dirty Ghetto Kid, nodding in the direction of the van being packed tight in front of us.
Despite the digits on show right before us, homeboy didn’t have both oars in the 504.
I caught members of Antiseen’s crew cringing as they caught snippets of the increasingly one-sided convo, although the ice over my heart began to crack, just a little, as he attempted to ease my admitted anxiety surrounding the vastness of the universe.
“When you think about it…” he trailed before regaining ground. “Humans, we’re made up entirely of ancient particles. We’re all pieces of the universe, and in that way…we’re all gods.”
“Well Connor, it was great talking to you.” I turned to go catch the last band.
“Wait…maybe I can show you around the city sometime.” It, of course, had come up that I had just recently moved.
I sighed, but said okay.
He took the shattered iphone 4 out of the pocket of his sagging jeans. I noticed how horribly he was shaking. Normally I would have entered my identity as Jessica, a few digits off, but I didn’t have the heart. I went back in but he didn’t follow, blowing the cover that he didn’t have a cover to blow.
I slumped back on a bench by the stage. The makeshift headliner was spirited but the crowd had worn thinner. Five kids moshed around passionately nevertheless. A few Antiseen dads who had stuck around looked onwards from the bar. About six songs in, one of the kids copped a stool and chucked it into the center of the room, interrupting the meager wall of death. The rest scampered like ants.
And with that, It was time for Thomas to leave. She had seen everything.
One more cigarette and unsolicited convo for the road.
“Can I ask you a question?”
A glaringly conventional-looking dude had me cornered.
“You just did.”
“Why can’t you smoke cigarettes indoors in this country?”
“I wish I knew.”
He told me he was visiting from Turkey. I told him I was from Baltimore — that city by the capital.
“Why would you move here?” he nearly screamed, wrinkling his nose.
“Uh, I don’t know. Just needed a change.” I shuffled and dragged.
“No, but really…here?”
It was as if I just told him I wash my dishes in the shower or something.
“I mean…are you serious? I love it here.”
Well, I didn’t love being so close between the wall and him, but the rest of the city is pretty cool I guess.
“So what kind of music do you like?” he asked in an attempt to break the awkward silence that had fallen.
“Uh, I mean I don’t know…” I looked out towards the street car tracks. “Depressive black metal.”
“Oh, you like Xasthur?”
I debated about whether or not I should break the news about my weekend with Scott.
I nodded. “I listen to ‘Prison of Mirrors’ everyday,” I said solemnly.
“Oh, that’s great. Yeah, I love Xasthur.”
The goo-goo eyes were ensuing and I made a hasty exit into the heavy air.
I walked back through the Quarter, against all promises made to concerned co-workers of Kenner, alone. Stay Uptown by the schools where it’s safe, they say. You know, with all the frat boys and college athletes and dumpsters of opportunity.
Legs hitting their limit, I took one last seat to grab one last beer, but I hadn’t sooner took my first sip before I turned to see three college-aged boys to my left, staring.
“What is on your tattoo?”
“Oh…it’s just, like, a lady and some plants and shit.” I flipped my wrist to expose my forearm. “Some mushrooms.”
“What does it symbolize?”
“How much time do you have?” I joked, but they just continued to stare back, smirking wide-eyed. “Uh, well, just the self and the earth.”
“The self and the earth,” the one in the middle laughed.
I shrank and I drank, gritting and bearing the firing squad, waiting to be thrown from the net back into the water.
“Yeah, I actually got it down at the shop right down that way,” I said, gesturing towards the other side of Esplanade.
“Where did you get it done? I was thinking about getting one,” the one in the back chimed in.
“Right down that way.”
“Are you from over there?”
“No, I’m actually from Baltimore.”
“Why would you move here?”
I looked at him.
“I was thinking about getting a dreamcatcher on my back,” he went on.
I looked at him
Waking up with groggy guilt of one more beer that turned into ten, I quickly put on my sneakers and Walmart Soffes and went off to the park. nothing,nowhere. in my ears and on my tank, I tried my best to drift off. I had almost made it to the end of the trail. I had almost made it. Almost.
“Excuse me,” a man called out from my peripheral vision. It was that shirtless dude I had seen earlier holding a novel six inches from his face while he walked. Sweat had his curled chest hair matted.
“Yeah?” I asked, removing an earbud and expecting to have my suspicion confirmed that I had dropped my lighter a few yards back.
“Do you know where I could find the nearest bookstore?”
“Oh…” I guessed he had finished the one he was using to wipe his forehead. I offered street names and reference points, but he didn’t seem to be putting the mental energy into processing them.
“What’s that on your shirt? Nothing no how?”
“Nothing, nowhere,” I said, confused as to what this had to do with books.
“What kind of band is it? Gothic industrial?”
“No…like, emo revival, I guess.”
A middle-aged couple turned to look at us as they passed by, probably trying to figure out what the fuck type of spectacle was going on.
“I would have guessed that with what you look like and the way you’re dressed you would be into, like, gothic industrial.”
I wasn’t trying to look like anything, except for maybe like I don’t like Miller Lite.
“I mean I really like all different kinds of music,” I said, an edge sharpening in my tone.
“Really? Like what.” he said grinning arrogantly.
My head hung in disbelief.
“I don’t know. I’m going to go now.”
“Hey, maybe I could go with you. You can show me directions to that book store.”
I put my earbud back and broke out in a run that typically requires a much larger bout of PMA than what I was currently containing. The waves of pain from past brushes with violence arose — violence not perpetrated by the black man in the black trench coat, but rather dudes who had had an in. After a lot of zigzagging and throwing glances over shoulders, I determined he stayed in his place, and thus, I could return to mine unbothered. But first, Rite Aid. 96 calories and $5. That’s the cost of washing off the shame of having taken the time to answer a question that wasn’t really a question at all, but rather, a fish for an in.
Sharp words from behind a microphone are internalized to justify treating others as an invitation. Fortunately, unfortunately, I can’t lose a sense of comfort I’ve never known. But let it be known — you can’t dismiss discomfort you’ve never felt.
Contrary to ignorant misconception, I won’t want to be special. I’d rather just melt.
I’d rather sink into the cracks of my cold bedroom floor with the severed roach legs.
I’d rather be invisible.
Hell, then I could drink all the beer I want.