You’ve been of age for years, but midway to the bar you still get nervous.
Walking there, it’s dark out and your jacket is too thin to block the gusts. Wet, coarse asphalt, alongside the concrete, alongside chainlink guarded baseball fields and three-story apartment buildings. The occasional back-alley yellow-cab making that dopplered paper rip noise cars make as they coast past through shallow puddles. Street-lights tinting things the rarely realistic slight-sepia of city night.
At the entrance your nervousness peaks as your wallet is in motion preparing to provide identification. Why the guilt?
It’s deeper than being afraid that they might not believe you’re you, or that even if you are you, that you’re simply not old enough. Instead, the standard they’re applying has always had some unspoken aspect to it, something more sophisticated, more quality-related than a yet-to-come birthday. Not any of that superficial distraction either: e.g. clothes, entourage, velvet rope. By now you’re reflexively over and above petty vanity like that, unaware of its existence at the same level of unconsciousness that you ignore panhandlers and protesters. It’s boring. Both need to lose the signs and the jingles. But in the other direction, there’s this bar. This is a scene you’ve volunteered for. It’s attractive. It has serious potential. You went out of your way to be here. To be terminally judged here is to fail against your own standard. A standard that you’ve never fully laid out for yourself and, in its ambiguity and through your own self-doubt, a standard that you’ve always wondered if you will ever meet. All of this is encapsulated in the more manifest embarrassment of neither knowing what to do with your hands or where to look (and for how long) as the guard reviews your license. Confidence is elusive.
A glance later, he unceremoniously hands the card back to you from his outdoor bar stool, while at the same time turning his head to the next person in line, his expression unchanged, the whole algorithm, simple, fluidly executed, effective from the venue’s perspective. One disinterested guy doesn’t arbitrate The Scene. They know that, he knows that, and now that you’re in you remember it too. And so with your proof accepted, the whole scaffolding around the doubtful feeling collapses, and so the feeling implodes and pops out of existence. You start to toy with whether or not you’re going to check your coat, regularly unaware of your hands again, excited about good music, cocktails, friends, the mystery of idealized strangers.
Through the threshold, you pass into The Scene. Are you part of it or observing it? Are the decorations hip or hipster? Chic or ironic? Are you? Opinions flow turbulent like a chipmunk’s GPS. Look at all these kooks. Posers. I wonder when my friends’ll get here. She’s cute. Does anyone here know how to read? Do the readers know how to drink? Was that the drummer?
Past the entrance hallway, you prove your ticket, and get inside the venue where the show is between opening and headlining sets. The lights are up, but dim. The bar is operating like a dependable engine. “What can I get ya’?” … “Leave it open?” Glass left to pour itself unattended as she sets up the tab, pushing different sized squares, paging through sequential options on the touch screen, finishing with just enough time to cut the tap, pass you your drink, pick the next customer, and shoot out the finger-gunned “what can I get ya’?” all over again.
Scanning for your friends, you see circles of people chatting. Some of them have their coats draped over interlocked arms, most are holding pint glasses, beer. You get in line to check your coat, and attempt to text one of your friends, but get distracted by the habitual cycle of digital litter. Cycle complete, you send the text and look up leaving the phone in your hand. The coat’s checked, yet no return text. What to do?
You start with a lap around the place, passing bodies with a drunken-boxing rhythm, carrying non-existent hot coffee to the front of the pit, focused on reaching the rail of the stage. Arrived. Take in the sights. Set-lists, just out of legible view. Gaffed cables. Behind you, the atomized clusters of people who already know each-other that, together, make up the crowd. Some of them with the beginnings of show-glow, an offering left by the opener. You gracefully ignore the assumed (brief) scowls projected at the back of your head by the last group of people who you just elbowed past. Glance at your phone. Still no response.
What do you call this kind of a moment? There’s a restless emptiness to it. It’s a void. No hand to play, but the body keeps moving. Gaze scattering around, energy focused into ticks like checking the phone, looking at the ceiling and over the shoulder. It’s anxiety over the lack of stimulus, and yet you know the show will start in minutes. There’s nothing to be responsible for, nothing to aim at. All that’s required is still, calm waiting. But it’s difficult. The flywheel hasn’t slowed in years, and if it stopped wouldn’t that mean death? Standing still, even when you know it’s the right thing to do, is difficult. More difficult than moving. Shouldn’t the required effort, and not the lack of effort, relate to how difficult something is? It doesn’t, always. Why?
There’s your friends.
The difficulty is forgotten. You snake your way back through the crowd with intent and its provided relief. Wrinkle-eyed, high cheek embraces. The lights dim further. A wave swells. This moment is right. The first chords are awesome. You close your eyes and smile wide open.