There are, I hope we can agree, certain places in the world where one feels comfortable: home, of course; perhaps the library; a favorite cafe; or maybe just in the arms of someone you love, or alternately, someone with vast amounts of money. Conversely, then, there are other places in the world that have the opposite effect: they make you uncomfortable, awkward, or, in the case of, say, Olive Garden, suicidal. These are some of the places that make me intensely uncomfortable, for varying reasons, and I think about them a lot, because I pass an example of some of them every day on my way to work.
First on the list are vinyl shops. That is to say, record stores, but you don’t say that any more: vinyl shops. It’s just as well not to call them “record stores,” because those barely exist any more. When I think of “record stores,” the mental picture I get is sort of like out of High Fidelity; a kind of run-down fucked up sort of broken-homey place owned by man-boys who don’t particularly care if you wander around the aisles for six days at a stretch so long as you don’t do something stupid, like talk to them. These are going the way of the dodo, and what’s replacing them are . . . awful. They have baffling, specially coded store names designed to give a minimum of information as to what they could possibly be selling: “Set Oscillator” or “Cathodella” or “David Cronenberg’s Icy Touch of Retail.” Now I’ll admit that these are at least a bit more euphonious than, oh, “Sam Goody,” but look at what a paltry statement that is. You can at least manage a warm feeling at the prospect of stealing CDs from something so lame as “Sam Goody,” but you suspect if you try anything of the sort at a vinyl shop, they will somehow impregnate you with angry, pinching nanobots in the night, and you will die a shuddering mass of broken nightmares.
I don’t even contemplate going into these joints, not the least of which is because I have no interest in their products, despite the fact that I own a turntable. I don’t know who the fuck any of these groups are, or when I do, they are unrecognizable. Hey, Basement Jaxx, “Where’s Your Head At”! I know that! No, you don’t. Pick it up. “12 Inch Gass Huffer Bitch Remix featuring Gwen Stefani.” WHAT? Who wants that? Judging by the sheened, leathered, incredibly hip people all standing around listening on brushed-steel headphones, they do. The thing is, they never look like they’re enjoying what they’re listening to. They look more like pathologists, trying to discover some malignant pattern buried in the sounds they are hearing. GUYS! I can tell you that: it’s Gwen Stefani.
Speaking of cool people and terrifying music, that brings me to dance joints. Now I don’t want to sound like a total curmudgeon, because I really, really do understand why people would like dance clubs: well, they like to dance, right? And it always looks pretty cathartic for those out there on the floor, making with the air-fucking and sweating it up and generally just cutting loose. That’s cool; I get that. But it’s reaaaally not my bag. For one thing, I dance like something out of The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari, and for another, I can only take the whump-whump-whump for so long before I feel like I’m caught in a gigantic ventricle of some alien beast, though probably of European heritage.
I should also confess that the last time I was at one of these for an actual entire evening, it was pretty miserable. It was many Halloweens ago, and someone had lent me a Star Trek: Next Generation uniform replica, and with a little makeup and hair gel, I made a pretty outstanding Data. The plan was to go to Neighbors, a gay-oriented dance club with a bunch of friends, which we did. I was apprehensive but willing as we went inside, but I knew pretty much immediately that this was Not For Me. There were people everywhere, and I don’t do crowds well at all, and the music was almost supernaturally loud; as my friends all ran screaming to the dance floor, I excused myself to the table farthest in the corner and sat. Because of this, everyone else shoved their bags and purses and wallets on me, a logistical puzzle I solved by dumping all the smaller bags into one large bag. Now I looked like Data Clampett, waiting forlornly for the rest of the family to strap his shit on top of the car. This was, by now, clearly going to be intolerable without a drink or nine, so I left a coat on my chair and went to the bar.
Now I began to see the error of my costume. It fight tightly, and now I was wending my way through hordes of mostly men, some in costumes still illegal in Georgia, and the obvious began happening. They grabbed me stupid. I mean, they just mauled me, and why not? It’s Halloween, it’s a gay bar, and here’s a kid who wore skin-tight Lycra: I might as well have put a sign on my back reading FRESH MEAT. I finally made it to the bar, where I waited for the most current geological age to end before being served. Noticing this vast temporal span involved in getting one lousy drink, I did the obvious, and ordered six. The bartender made them, and screamed something in Farsi at me. I yelled, “GABLAPPA!?!” Or at least that’s what he heard, because of the deafening din. After a bit more of this silliness, I finally realized that he wanted money for the drinks; he was screaming, “FIFTY-FOUR DOLLARS!” Jesus Christ on a skateboard. The drinks were nine bucks apiece. I had exactly twenty-five dollars left after the cover charge, and didn’t feel like howling this dire information back to the already impatient bartenders. Then I remembered that I had everyone else’s wallets, those deserting bastards! So I merrily robbed everyone and bought my drinks, reasoning (correctly) that they would be too blasted to notice later. Then I made my way through the dread Gauntlet of Probing Fingers, thinking dourly that at least if I had raging testicular lesions, someone would at least notice and tell me, allowing me an early treatment that could save my life. And I sat there the rest of the night, getting utterly bombed on ill-gotten, watery drinks.
So maybe it wasn’t so bad after all. But it certainly didn’t make me want to go back. I certainly know I don’t want to go back now: I’m much older. Probably nobody would grab me. And that, ironically enough, would probably depress me even more. Then Gwen Stefani would come on, and I’d think, “Jesus Christ. I’d rather be at the Olive Garden.”