Monday, May 28, 2018

Things I Probably Won’t Do Anymore: Part 1

My daughter is due in nine days. I usually try to avoid saying “nine days” in the same way I avoid talking about my neighbors who live “three doors down,” because I will inevitably just go into a lazy rendition of “Story of a Girl”...but maybe I’m the only person here who remembers the group who did that song.

I was born nine days early, but it’s looking like my daughter won’t be. So in the meantime while I wait, I thought I would start to reflect on some of the things that I probably won’t really do anymore. At first I was sad to think about how much less free time I’ll have. However, upon further examination of the ways I’ve spent breaks from work and school, I’ve come to a new conclusion: I spend my free time doing a lot of dumb shit.

In this series that I hope to write, I’ll reflect on numerous solo activities that I’ve used to combat my phobia of down time: feigning an interest in organic farming, answering unsavory Craigslist ads, going to concerts that turn out to be birthday parties for someone else’s group of friends. I’m sure there are many, many, more stupid things I’ve done, but I’ll start with those topics in a three-part series.

Part 1: Going to Concerts Alone

There’s nothing wrong with going to a concert alone--in fact, I’d argue that it’s one of the best ways to go to a concert. No screaming in someone else’s ear between songs, no impossible quest to find each other after going to the bathroom, no annoying conversation about whether you should stay for the encore or flee the crowd.

Last summer, my husband was out of town and one of my favorite artists was playing at a little venue in the outskirts of East Nashville. It was for something called the 8th Annual Keoghfest, which, upon further examination, was an elaborate party held by some guy whose last name was Keogh. Were there set times for the different bands, I asked on the Facebook event page. “No!” cried Keogh himself, as if my question was an insult to his spontaneous, whimsical party.

It was at a real music venue and open to the public, so I think I might have overestimated how much this event was an actual concert. There were different bands setting up and performing, a bartender selling drinks (thank god!), a merch table for the different bands, but upon seeing the people there interact, it became quite clear that it was NOT at ALL a real concert. It was just this dude named Keogh’s birthday party. In fact, it seemed that I was the only person there who wasn’t from this group of friends who all went to MTSU together. (MTSU is like the hipster-artiste school about 45 minutes from Nashville--here in Virginia, the best thing I could compare it to would be VCU.)

So upon realizing this, the first thing I did (after ordering a large PBR and starting to drink it at a steady clip) was try to talk to people and make friends. And this is exactly where things started to go wrong.

It was the summer of 2016, maybe better known as the end of the era for fidget spinners. One of the bands was well aware of this fact and had purchased a bulk order of them. In the same way that you raise a lighter for an emotionally moving song, this band wanted everyone to spin a fidget spinner at the same time. I saw this as an opening to start a conversation with the person closest to me.

“I’m a teacher,” I said, “and these things were the bane of my existence this year.”

“Right?” he said. We talked about how stupid these things were as we spun them and stared brainlessly at the many dizzying concentric circles before us. He asked where I taught and I told him. What a coincidence! It was the same high school he’d gone to!

“When did you graduate?”

“Oh, I didn’t. It was just too weird for me--high school. I just felt like I was so above the level of everyone else around me. I finished my degree online instead.”

Pretty soon, there was a lull in the music and Kid Genius was still playing with his fidget spinner. “Weaponize autism!” he cried, mock-throwing the fidget spinner like a ninja star. Offensiveness and lack of humor aside, the people around us laughed and I thought that this meant that he was their goofy friend who was always saying random shit.

“Hey man!” he said to a guy standing near us. “How’ve you been?”

“Uh...” the guy said. “Do I know you?”

(I can’t remember his name, but let’s call him Creepy Steve. I can’t really imagine it being anything other than that, honestly.)

“Steve! Steve from MTSU!”

“Uh...have we met?”

I had to feel bad for Steve. He’d just tried to demonstrate value by showing me he had friends, and that value was totally denied. As eerie of a vibe as I was starting to get from him, this was just plain embarrassing.

Steve went to get a drink and came back with two. I got a sinking feeling as soon as I realized one of them was for me.

The night flashed before me like a Lifetime Original movie. It was late. I was a long Uber drive from my apartment. My husband was in another state. None of my friends knew where I was or when I was supposed to get back. There was no way that accepting a drink from Creepy Steve was a good matter how badly I needed said drink.

“Oh, no thanks, dude,” I said. “I’m trying to pace myself.”

Steve shrugged and gave the drink away to the guy who had just denied being his friend, who looked confused but readily accepted it.

Now I had someone to talk to, but it was becoming painfully clear that he was just as out of the loop of this group of people as I was. Not only that--something was just off about him. Between songs, I tried to do a hard reset on the night by going to the bathroom and coming back and standing very far from where I originally stood.

But by the end of the next song, he’d found me again.

“There you are!” he said, as if he were in a horror movie. This was not going to end well. He kept talking to me and sharing charming little anecdotes about himself. Here was a picture of his dog. He just loved taking photos with a Nikon. Here was his Instagram address. Could he get mine?

The next band picked up the pace, and as people were jumping around, I took the opportunity to jump right out the back door. Out back was a fenced in area that reminded me of going outside at a frat party...for some type of performing arts fraternity. There were lots of tattooed, pierced, purple-haired people smoking cigarettes and talking dramatically to each other.

They looked more like the people I wanted to talk to, but I didn’t have any kind of in. This was like a college reunion for them, and they were all catching up and talking shit and reminiscing about the good old days in Murfreesboro. I looked back at the door and I saw Creepy Steve making his way outside, looking everywhere for someone, presumably me.

I had a couple of options, but the one that made the most sense at the time was to hide.

Over along the far side of the wall, not illuminated by any light except the tips of their important-looking cigarettes, two girls with thick glasses and indie-girl bangs were having a hushed conversation.

I squatted beside them in the dark and whispered, “Sorry, I don’t mean to interrupt. I’m just trying to hide from someone.”

They were intrigued.

“Who are you trying to hide from?” they asked.

I gave a general description of his appearance and demeanor.

One of them perked up. “Oh no,” she said. “Creepy Steve?” (Like I said, I’m not positive his name was Steve, but she definitely said “Creepy” before whatever it was--Creepy Steve, Creepy Dave...something like that.)

I remembered his name on Instagram and pulled up his page. I showed her a dramatic headshot that he had taken of himself.

“Oh yeah, that’s him!” she cried. Her friend couldn’t quite remember.

“You know! The kid that I made the meme about! And everyone said I was so mean. But this is exactly what he does! He can’t keep doing this and expect to get away with it!”

She went on to tell me the story with this guy. He didn’t even go to MTSU, he was just a random townie that lived in a house with some people they knew. He would just kind of linger in situations, like this one time where they were all on a porch talking, and every person there assumed that he was someone else’s friend when really, he was just a random stranger who knew no one. (Ironically, kind of like me at this birthday party.) There was another story where their friends across the street were having a yard sale, and then had to leave to go somewhere. When he thought no one was looking, he tried to get into this house of people he barely knew, as seen from across the street. He was harmless, the girl assured me, but everything she told me about him was vaguely unsettling.

He wasn’t friends with the people he lived with, just a random guy splitting the rent. The other guys were all in bands and would have basement shows at their house, and Creepy Steve would just use it as an opportunity to try to meet girls who didn’t want to meet him.

The meme, which everyone thought she was so cruel and heartless for, was a cutout picture of his face. In that all-white meme font, it said above his head: Have house show. Below his head: Acquire friends. “People have killed themselves for less,” one of her friends had insisted. She just shook her head. “I don’t care. He needs to know he’s creepy.”

So apparently in picking someone to talk to, I’d picked the exact wrong person to talk to, an infamous creep who just sort of showed up places and aggressively tried to make friends with people, especially lonely girls.

I thanked the girl and let her get back to her conversation. I went back inside and hung out in the back of the room until my band went on. I made conversation with Keogh’s dad, a cool senior citizen who probably should have been the person I picked to talk to in the first place.

When the concert ended, the college friends started playing their favorite inside-joke songs. Among them was Kesha’s “Blow.” One of the friends got down on the floor and did a hilarious, jerky dance on his back. By the way everyone laughed, you could tell it was apparently a party favorite. Then Creepy Steve got down on the floor and did the exact same thing. It was surreal to watch--like when a toddler sees his big brother do something for laughs, and then copies that exact thing. I honestly felt bad for this kid, but I also never wanted to see him again.

He found me and offered me a ride home, but I told him my Uber was on the way. When I got in, I looked out the window to make sure he wasn’t following me. It was 3 AM and for East Nashville standards, things were pretty quiet on my ride home. My Uber driver and I talked about Alkaline Trio and an upcoming Emo Karaoke night and I was reminded that about 95 percent of the time in Nashville, making conversation with strangers is a good thing. I just have a knack for picking exactly the wrong strangers that other 5 percent of the time.

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