My heart: I’ve been working hard to keep it on lockdown. To use it tactically, like Aleppo pepper or some other wonderful spice that will take over a dish if you let it. And only on the page. Because I’m on the march, with no time for surprise feelings. I have goals. I have things to prove to people who were mean to me in 1978 and 1990 and also this April. I have losses we can’t talk about. I have chips on my shoulder like you wouldn’t believe. I’m sculptural with them.
Last week I told a friend: “I think the key is to learn how to never want anything.” I was proud of myself for figuring this out! Because there are things I want very badly right now that are largely out of my control. What am I supposed to do, tolerate that? No. I’m supposed to not want them in the first place. I explained this to my friend and waited to be told how wise I was. Instead he said “Sure, but is that realistic?” Realism: the crutch of the unimaginative and of binary male thinking. I may have said something to this effect.
But anyway, my point is that other than being chronically misunderstood by people who are supposed to know me, everything about being on lockdown was fine until the Violent Femmes fucked it up last Saturday night.
(If you are a Very Young Reader of this blog, first: don’t drink or take drugs. Second: in yesteryear, when I was in high school and video games were mostly played at Pizza Hut, the Violent Femmes were the most shocking band imaginable. Not because of how they looked or acted on stage–they were just three young guys from Wisconsin playing acoustic instruments. The actual songs were shocking–baleful and clammy and tense and driven by the kind of teenage sexual need that’s 90% desperation, 5% payoff, and 5% instant regret. Something was wrong in those songs that you couldn’t quite put your finger on. To hear them for the first time was a bit like witnessing a crime. Young Readers, you could go check them out for yourselves on iTunes, but for the full experience I recommend you find a babysitter or lab partner to hand down a well-worn Memorex cassette.)
Anyway, the Femmes were in town and a girlfriend suggested we go and I thought Well sure, why not? And that is how we two nice women found ourselves in a sold-out room of drunk, roiling, sweaty pandemonium.
Maybe you are wondering what it’s like to be sober in a situation like that. (I used to wonder and I didn’t have anyone to ask.) I will tell you: it’s like being a minor Greek god. You don’t lose your credit card. You don’t have to stand in line eight times to pee. You don’t have to stand in line at the bar for a gross well drink in a plastic cup. You know exactly how you’re getting home. If the moshers in front of you start getting overly amped, you have the core strength to stand your ground–and if they start doing blow off each other’s backs and getting super double overly amped, you can decide calmly whether to hang out where you are or move back. (I hung out.)
So, being a minor Greek god is pretty sweet. But yeah: you feel a little apart, too, perched in the foothills of Olympus. I stood there steady and clear-eyed in my moto boots and bifocals, surveying my territory, making decisions. I decided the songs were still creepy as fuck. I decided the genial, middle-aged Gordon Gano seemed like a cool high school science teacher, the kind who would trade Spotify playlists with you but still expect you to work hard. I decided to dry-shampoo my sweaty hair before I went to bed that night. I decided I would never have voted for my state to legalize marijuana if I’d known people would start lighting up in non-smoking clubs.
It was all very pleasant. And then, a drag of saxophone and the band plowed into my very favorite Femmes song, an album track from their underwhelming tried-to-be-pop third record, e.g. something I’d had no expectation of hearing that night.
“I’m gnawing on the knowledge that I have been burned,” Gano sang. “I’m learning things that I should have already learned.”
Me too and Me too, I thought.
It’s a buzzy, bouncing, forward-rushing song. A barn-dance song. (I’ve never actually been to a barn dance. Shocked, aren’t you?) The moshers had locked arms and were do-si-doing wildly. I felt a little carbonation in my chest.
“I don’t even remember if we were lovers, or if I just wanted to,” he sang.
Heh. I have those don’t-remembers too, I thought. (Not about you–you I’m sure I would remember.) I had a sudden vision of my heart–the actual only, only prettier and more Valentine pink than it probably really is. It was wiggling. Shimmying, if you must know. With memory and the flat circle-ness of time, or with giddiness. Or maybe just with relief at the room to move.
A craggy mosher in a knit cap and flannel grinned broadly at me. I figured he was smiling at someone else until I realized I was grinning too. I’d smiled first, in fact, though not at anyone in the room.
I have not been in the habit of smiling first on this forward march of mine. I didn’t think I could spare the energy, with so much else to do. I thought I needed to lock it down.
“Beautiful!” he shouted over the noise.
“Beautiful,” I shouted back, with tears in my eyes.