Heya hey. This is a story that I posted waaaaaay back last spring, but I can’t find that post in my backlog, so I’m re-posting it for your enjoyment. It’s a decent story…my university’s magazine published it, so I know at least they thought it was worthwhile.
Anyway, here is also the list of my other posted stories, if you haven’t had a chance to read them yet and find yourself sitting up on Xanga, bored out of your mind…
Reeser, Play A Song for Me : A story about when I was 15 and learning to play the guitar.
Coffins : A story about my 21st birthday and the beginning of those odd moments I now get where I suddenly realize that I will die. This story also won second place in a Halloween writing contest, and was published in an ebook available here.
Here There Be Monsters…Sort Of : A story where I am probably 19 or 20, and am in one of my favourite places, contemplating fairy tales and scaring myself.
The Awkwarding : Another story about my 21st birthday and the first time I saw my now favourite band.
Are You Here to Worship? : A glimpse at my foray into a Pentecostal youth group, and how I left because I felt like they were too “speak-in-tongues-or-else!” and also more anti-Goth than I was happy with. (Don’t get me wrong…I’ve liked most of the Pentecostals I’ve known, and I really admire one or two people that I suspect have Pentecostal leanings…but I don’t think I could have felt at home attending their church.)
This story is about fall 2008, when my mum and I went out to a concert in the Chicago area, and instead met something we did not expect…
I. Los Palos.
I’ve haven’t been in Los Palos for long, but I already know my way around. I blame Dad for giving us the wrong address for Days Inn. He accidentally sent us to the Bridgeview Inn instead, where the small Indian man at the desk stared blankly at our confirmation number before telling us that Bridgeview did not take reservations. Swell, Dad.
Mum and I drove around and around a triangular route between College Drive, Harlem Avenue, and Southwest Highway. Like an extended carousel ride, Wal-Green’s, Muslim Fashions, and a closed Smokes n’ Joe (cigarette and coffee drive-thru!) whizzed by at regular intervals, looking quite creepy enough without a calliope accompaniment.
Eventually, Dad got us the right address. Days Inn was wedged between warehouses on the industrial side of Los Palos—a charming place to put a hotel. Or, it would be for any species of traveler who finds it charming to drive down narrow roads lined with semi-trucks, while trying not to hit the flannel-wearing drivers as they cross the street without looking. Yeah, maybe someone, somewhere likes that kind of thing. Frogger champions, perhaps, but not Mum or me.
Still, I wasn’t complaining. I’d been waiting all month for a concert scheduled in lovely Los Palos, and now I was in the city itself with just hours left before the show. At least we weren’t staying at the shady motel I’d spied on the corner of Southwest Highway that, in mismatched letters, advertised rooms for “4 HOUR NAPS.”
And that brings us to now, where Mum and I are scouting out the concert venue before we get a bite to eat. Yet again, we turn past that creepy motel and onto Southwest Highway, looking for address 11234.
“11254…11248…” We’re close, and I’m all but pressing my face against the window. Some addresses are hard to see, and reading them is like puzzling out a “Where’s Waldo?” book at warp speed. Near impossible to get two right in a row.
We pass a strip mall, and I start laughing. One of the storefronts is very dark, and stands out from the white and green fronts of the golfing supplies shop and the jeweler’s…
“Wow,” Mum says when we reach the stoplight. “Is it that funny?”
I try to contain myself. “You saw that place, right?” No, she hadn’t. She was driving. “It’s ridiculous! Good thing I like Ashton Nyte, or I might be too embarrassed to go inside.”
It was the place we’d been looking for. How could it not be? The storefront wasn’t just dark, it was painted black. Even the windows are painted over, but I don’t mind. I’ve been to concerts in clubs with blacked out windows. No, it’s the shield that’s getting to me: a giant-sized red shield hangs on the outer wall of Damaged, bearing the picture of a fighting black lion, forever reared on its hind paws to claw at whoever dares enter the bar.
Mum doesn’t find it quite as funny. I tell her to make a left at the next light, onto College Drive again. We’ll be back later. That lion has little hope of keeping me out of his club.
Rawr! I think.
Mum pushes open the red front door. I follow her in, not knowing what to expect. The near-empty parking lot gives me a funny feeling, like something isn’t quite right. Only four other vehicles are out front. Is the opening band really going to be that terrible?
Inside, everything is red and black and dark all at once. How peculiar I feel when I realize that I would describe my bedroom with the same words. I’ve never been inside Damaged, but already I feel at home. Not until I’ve left does it occur to me that this is a little creepy, this knowledge that somewhere in Illinois, there is a bar that makes me think of my room at home.
But I’m not creeped out yet. Instead, I’m focused on a pale, familiar face by the far wall.
Tom Cruise is peering at me from a movie poster for “Interview with the Vampire.” Fangs bared, he looks annoyed that the shield-lion didn’t keep me out. Like he means to step down from the poster himself, and send me straight back the way I came. Maybe he knows I didn’t like him as Lestat. Or, perhaps he’s looking past me, at something I should see for myself…
“Hey there, can I help you?” Says a voice with an accent borrowed from Canada.
“Hello,” Mum says from behind me.
I turn to face the bar. The man on the other side of the counter is the only person in the bar. The only one. Maybe Tom Cruise knows something I don’t. Mum says nothing, and I know she means for me to ask the owner where we’re supposed to go. I hate that.
The man at the bar doesn’t look at all like the sort of person who would own a place like this, either: glasses, grey sweater, hair and beard clipped short—he could easily be a professor at my university. Mum hovers near the entrance, arms crossed, waiting for me to sort things out. Talking to strangers isn’t my forte, and as I wander up to the bar, I decide I’m glad that Professor Canada looks friendly.
“Hi. Er…we’re supposed to be here for a concert tonight. Is this the right place?”
“A concert?” He puts back the glass he’s been cleaning, and leans over the countertop. It’s something I thought bartenders only did in movies, but now I’ve seen it in real life. “A concert? What—can you tell me what band it was? There isn’t anything scheduled here tonight, but I might know where you’re trying to get to.”
“Er, it was for Ashton Nyte, and I was pretty sure it was here.” The skin beneath my leather neckband feels warm and itchy. I hate talking to strangers, but please, please don’t tell me that…
I can’t finish my thought.
“Ashton. Ashton Nyte…?” Like a Google search, the bar owner is scanning his memory for my keyword. Funny, I’ve never sat at a bar before. I take a seat on a barstool, thinking that the look in the owner’s grey eyes is just as distressing as a web page that reads “No matches found.”
Finally, he slaps his hand on the counter: “You know, that show was supposed to be here. It got cancelled.”
“What?” Professor Canada cannot be telling the truth. Can he? He’s still talking, and I force myself to listen. Maybe he can explain what happened.
“…took a gamble on that show. There was three promoters invested in it, and Michelle—she was supposed to make sure Ashton got plane tickets and whatnot,” he shakes his head. “It didn’t pull through, so he’s stuck in South Africa and the promoters cancelled the whole thing.”
“Wow. That’s too bad,” I say, wondering who Michelle is. So far, she’s been more effective than the fighting lion, or Tom-Cruise-as-Lestat for keeping people out of this bar. Unfortunately, I wasn’t one of those people. Michelle, Michelle…just what happened here?
Mum is still behind me somewhere, and she hasn’t said anything. Is she disappointed? Is she annoyed with me for not knowing? I can’t tell. Despite the owner’s seriousness, I feel like this must be a joke. Any moment, he’ll laugh and tell us we’re looking for a place a few streets over.
“Yeah, that’s what happens if I let other people schedule my shows. Wouldn’t have been cancelled if I’d arranged it myself. I’m sorry you guys didn’t know.”
“We’re sorry too,” I tap my fingers against the bar. “We’re actually from Columbus, Ohio. Pretty frustrating that we didn’t know it was cancelled.”
“Columbus, Ohio?” He looks unhappy. “Gee, you guys come all the way from there? I’m sure sorry you didn’t know.” If he didn’t mean it before, he does now. “Hey, like I said, there’s nothin’ doing today, but you can come back and see the concert room if you like.”
“Sure,” I glance at Mum, and her shrug says, We’ll go if you want to.
The owner comes around the counter and leads us through a pair of heavy, black doors. On the other side, the word garish is alive and well: black café tables crouch against gaudy purple walls. I swear I’ve seen that same purple on cans of grape Crush. The neon pink ceiling lights aren’t helping.
“I’m going to have the walls bricked over sometime soon,” the owner says. It sounds like an apology.
“That should look nice,” Mum says. She’s so polite.
In the back corner is the smallest stage to ever receive a cancellation. I’m sure of it. The poor thing looks like it couldn’t hold a drum set, and never mind anything else.
“…you’re what? Seventeen?” Mum had been talking with Professor Canada, but somehow I think that question is meant for me. I smirk.
“Seventeen?” The word feels funny in my mouth, like a lyric from an ABBA song. Dancing Queen or something like that. I don’t like it at all. “No. I’m twenty-one.”
“Twenty-one? Jeez,” he puts a hand to his forehead and takes an exaggerated step backward. “Wow, I’m sorry.”
“Don’t be,” I say. I sit down again at one of the café tables. “When I’m older, I bet I’ll be glad I don’t look it.”
“Ain’t that the truth. Twenty-one. Wow,” Does he really think I’m offended? “Guess I’m no good at guessing ages. I just got through my thirties, and I don’t wanna deal with my own kids getting older at all.”
“That’s how it is when you have kids,” Mum agrees. She taps her the side of her head. “I’ve learned that age is all up here though.”
“What?” He runs his hand over his brown hair. “Yeah, it’s getting thin, alright—oh, no, you mean it’s all in my mind. Well, yeah, I guess that’s true. Still weird though, my kids getting older. I’m like, ‘what? No, you’re not going to no dance!’ ‘What? You wanna borrow my Sex Pistols record? Well, just put it back later.’ Crazy.”
What an ironic person. I wonder if he’s considered the lion out front lately.
Mum sits down with me, and the three of us chat about music for a while, and how another venue has been trying to run Damaged out of business, and about the story I was planning to write about the now cancelled concert. Then it’s time to leave.
“Well, if you guys wanna come by later, when all the freaks are out, you’re welcome. When we don’t have live shows, we’re spinning Goth and Industrial records. You know, music that disturbs people.” He hands me some stickers with the bar’s logo and information, and seems sorry to see us go. “Was good to meet you.”
“Yeah, thanks. If there’s ever anyone we like playing here, we’ll try and come back.” I say. We shake hands before Mum and I go outside.
“Sorry,” she says as we get into the van. “I’m so sorry the concert was cancelled. We could have left sooner, but I felt like we had to stay and talk. I didn’t wanna be rude and leave right away.”
“It’s okay. We were nice.”
“Were we? I felt like we should have stayed, but I don’t think I’m bar material. Neither of us drinks, anyway…He just kept talking.”
“He had a soda,” I point out. “We could have gotten sodas. I’m sure it’s okay though. We were nice.” I buckle my seatbelt. “Too bad the concert was cancelled.”
“I’m so sorry,” she says it like my best friend has died. I wish she wouldn’t feel bad.
“No, it’s okay, Mum. I’m not upset. Promise.”
Mum purses her lips like she doesn’t believe me. Wish she did. It’s not her fault.
Later, we’re back at Days Inn, watching “School of Rock”. Amusing as Jack Black is, my thoughts keep hovering around the cancellation…how I missed it…who else I could ask…
Oct 26, 2008 9:16 PM
re: cancelled show
“So sorry you had to drive out to a cancelled show . We sent out many myspace bulletins as well as newsletters to let everyone know that the promoter had cancelled the show.
If you’d like to send me your e-mail address, I can add you to our official mailing list, which will hopefully keep you well informed .
Apologies again for the inconvenience!
Bulletins only last for about ten days on MySpace, so maybe I just missed them. Maybe Ashton had already thought of that and knew that I couldn’t check to see if it were true. Maybe he’s just embarrassed that MySpace turned out not to be the most effective way to communicate with his fans. As for me? Maybe I’m just embarrassed that I dragged my mum all the way to Chicago for nothing.
Maybe, in a red and black bar in Los Palos, Illinois, Michelle is sharing a drink with a black lion and The Vampire Lestat, and laughing at the rest of us…