Certain Types of Confusion
A story of metal and heartache
I’ve been trying to kill myself since the last time I saw Molly,
this is just the first time I’ve noticed it.
It started with the pipe, I think — the one I bought so we could smoke before our dates without borrowing one. After the dates stopped I used it alone — more — and drank the whole time too; attempting to recreate the warm euphoria of girl’s arms with the whiskey, the calm of her presence with a cloud of smoke.
I am twenty minutes drunk, still very high, walking to Bender’s tavern where my friend Torre’s band, Extreme Turbo Smash, will be playing. It’s been a long time since I walked around Cap Hill at night, and the nostalgic effect of the smoke brings memories back to me; of the cloudy, seemingly haunted city of my first year in college. I’ve lived in practically the same place since then, but the city has changed — it’s become smaller and more familiar and a way to someplace rather than a destination itself. Walking changes that though — and now, like then, I’m noticing things. From the sidewalk I see a man in a basement apartment meticulously constructing a pool table by himself. He’s nailing the green felt to the wooden base, a look of serene contemplation of his face. I wish I had something to focus on like that I think, then realize I do, and think of the reasons again that I’m not doing it. They all make adequate sense for now.
I pass the first Quiznos on 13th, and I remember attempting to discern the identity of the man in the pictures with Molly on Facebook, seeing that his profile was private but that his photo was in front of this building, pointing excitedly, a goofy expression on his face. “The first! The original! Oh man!”
“Fucking tool.” I say out loud, to no one in particular, to the Quiznos I guess. I have nowhere to place the anger. I will sit at the bar with hipsters and allure them with my self-loathing. I do feel like I’m in college again. I really thought that worked, back then, and no measure of poor success could convince me otherwise. The clouds look the same as they did then, my last semester when I walked in the rainy mist listening to “Chicago”, specifically the acoustic version, and thought about leaving Denver. I never did.
Inside the bar, I recognize no one from the band. I was told that I would be on some list, but I always pay anyway, besides the doorman was only holding a stamp. I’ve embarrassed myself before by bringing it up. I only did it once to try to impress Molly. “Who the fuck is Torre?” Didn’t matter, Molly hated them anyway. That was the problem with her, she couldn’t make sense of what she saw and it made her confused and secure people hate confusion. It makes them wonder if there’s something going on that maybe they missed, something they should have been alerted to before they became so content. I, personally, have learned to prize certain types of confusion, and Torre’s band is one of them.
I order a shot of Jameson and sit in the corner of the bar. I’d promised myself I wouldn’t be like this, but the mood I’d felt at Quizno’s takes me over and I rub my glass and sulk into the mirror behind the bar, watching the crowd behind me in it. The place is filled with three distinct kinds of people — those dressed in spring break attire (Floral shirts, sundresses, colorful hats, etc), those dressed as zombies (blood, torn clothing, white facepaint, etc), and everyone else, looking around in confusion, tapping the people next to them to see if they were here for the thing, or whatever seemed to be happening. I am here for the thing, though I didn’t dress up. To be fair the invite was a little unspecific — the event, dubbed ZOMBIE SPRING BREAK, gave no ancillary information on theme or attire, so people seemed to have gone in their own directions with it. I saw a zombie wearing a lei, drinking a Corona. That one was probably spot on.
I finally see Eric, the bassist, sitting at a table with a bunch of people I don’t recognize. I grab my whiskey and go on over. I’ve only met him a handful of times, so I’m happy that he recognizes me.
“You guys were great on the radio last night!” I exclaim, trying to supersede my bitter mood and drunkenness with sincere admiration. No doubt it comes off too enthusiastic, maybe a little creepy.
“Thanks man! I think we made a good impression. We’ve already gotten a few messages about it.”
At the table are a couple of pretty blonde girls I feel like I want to hit on, except I’ve already made myself out as some sort of groupie. It should be the blonde girls standing at the edge of the table, boasting excitedly about hearing the interview while I sat calmly beside the bassist.
“We spent $120 at Party City for this show.” Eric informs me, smirking at the unspoken possibilities. We laugh a little about what this entails and I excuse myself and return to the the bar smoothly and without further incident. I am too drunk to hit on the girls, or rather the wrong kind of drunk — I feel impartial, like I would have hit on either, or both, at the same time, and would have solidified the impression that I am a horrible, impartial man. I suppose tonight I am. Some girl behind me is screeching. She is dressed as a tourist and different male zombies keep pretending to bite her on the neck.
At last I receive a pat on the back from Torre, which spills a little of my whiskey but not much. I mop it up with my sleeve. He’s not in costume yet, and he’s wearing the yellow backpack I remembered from when we worked together. He always looks so out of place in a bar. Aside from not drinking, Torre has a youthful sincerity about him that looks so strange perched on barstool.
“Here,” he says, handing me a drink ticket. “I don’t need ‘em, I’m just drinking soda.”
We talk for a bit about life and work, since I haven’t seen him since I was fired.
“So you found work?”
“I did. Small startup uptown.”
“Are you making more money than you were?”
“I am. Its a lot of hours but the money is nice.”
The hours are killing me, I thought, but you can never say things like that about your new job if you were fired from your old one.
“So the only real reason, right,” Torre approached the subject carefully, “Was because you couldn’t get along with the Creative Director, right?”
“Eh, mostly.” I admitted. I was over that part. “Can I give you some real advice though? Don’t ever date a girl you work with. It will — it will ruin the entire job.”
Torre nodded awkwardly. His noncommittal eye contact told me that perhaps there had been some speculation that I might answer this way. I know, it’s awful shitty to blame a girl for losing a job, for any horrible life decision, but I was drunk and that was how I felt.
“You want to help me make Easter baskets?” Torre motioned to the room where the bands were setting up.
“Sure, just a sec” I said, pointing at the drink ticket. Ok, no more of this sitting in the corner drinking whiskey. I ordered a tallboy and followed him into the venue.
The room where the music was to be played was not as large as I thought it would be — immediately upon entering you felt choked by the music and bodies. But once you started mixing in with the guitars and screams you realized that this was exactly the way it should be. Something was being choked out of us, intentionally, and really, that’s the reason you came.
The band on stage was a psychobilly outfit, Royal Dead — they had the genre nailed alright. The bassist was playing an upright with some intricate white pattern painted onto it, and Eric was playing drums with them. Not really my type of music but they were good, and the rich screams of their frontman hit some drunken chord inside of me and I realized that somewhere someone might cry to a song like this, and even though it wasn’t me I had some vague respect for that someone in someway.
Torre sat on a sort of ledge that had been converted into a row of merch tables for the bands, shaking a container of plastic eggs into a wicker basket. He tried to yell something to me, but it was too loud to hear — it was ok with me, I had moved on to the point of inebriation that no longer requires verbal communication, just nods of understanding and the occasional articulation of what you’ll have to drink next. I felt stupid for reaching the point so early in the evening, and this point so early in my life — but there I was, too drunk to fill an Easter basket with colored plastic eggs. Surely the next morning, I thought, this will be remembered as a warning sign of some kind.
The reverb of the last song fades out and Torre shouts “DO YOU WANT TO HIT THE PINATA?”
“Sure!” I say. Why not?
“Hey man, I’m going to let Nick hit the piñata,” Torre called to a fellow band-member that I know only as the polar bear. “Have you met Nick? He’s a good guy. We used to work together.”
We talk for a moment and conversation is not as stunted as I feared it might be. I guess I’m not as far gone as I thought. But when I go back into the bar I realize that my vision has changed and that I am now scanning the room for attractive girls. The two blondes are gone but a small brunette girl sits at a table between two zombies, quietly sipping out of a plastic cup. I smile at her as I walk by, but she doesn’t see me.
With a second tallboy in hand the music has become even more grand and meaningful. The next band look gimmicky and young. Their bassist is a young girl with a Russian accent, and what I could hear of her introduction of the band was confusing and not at all informative.
“It is, uh . . . it will not make sense if I say in English. I cannot find right phrasing.”
“I listen to you talk everyday, and you are making NO sense right now.” The guitarist bantered back, adjusting the nobs on the amp behind him. People began to trickle out. But when the talking stopped and the music started, they weren’t amateurish or gimmicky at all. I leaned against the ledge just watching them convulse on stage to this jerky hardcore emo that completely enthralled me.
“These guys are sooo good.” the man at the next table called to his friend. “Why is everybody leaving?”
It really made no sense. You could call their sound dated, I guess, but I wouldn’t have rather heard a single other sound than what was coming out of them at that moment. It was the sound I remembered from 2006, the music I listened to as I walked the dark cap hill streets; christ, I was almost crying. I joined Torre and some of his friends in the center of the floor — there was maybe five or six of us left in the room but we were right there up front. I don’t know, maybe I was the only one having a religious experience. Maybe it was the alcohol, the weed, the heartache, the nostalgia, but I was at a state of peace and understanding inside of this moment. As the song built to a peak the guitarist leaned in hard and kissed the tiny Russian bassist, and I realized that I was witnessing something I would never hear in a recording. You can’t kiss the bassist. You work with her. The melody suddenly felt fragile and all the more sacred and important.
I was definitely drunk. I decided to text my sister.
“I’m at a hipster dive bar drinking PBR, helping Extreme Turbo Smash make Easter baskets. I’ve been asked to break the piñata. This might be the best show ever.”
“WHAT. Amazing. I’m having champagne slurpees with my roommate.”
“That is surely a uniquely American activity”
“My hangover will be a first world problem.”
Sometimes we play this game of who’s-night-will-be-better and text highlights back and forth. It was apparent we were both ready to play.
“When you guys come on,” I called to Torre, “Walk through the bar, get the crowd back.”
“Yeah, that’s what we’re going to do.”
I go sit out at the bar to get ready. I pull my phone out so I can record the entrance:
To describe Extreme Turbo Smash is to try to define Persig’s “Quality”. They are the Andy Kauffman of hardcore. As soon as Torre and the rest emerge from the green room the show has begun — they rush the bar, dressed from head to toe in full animal costumes, their giant bobble heads rocking back and forth as they trip over each other on their way to the stage. The music hits. Its loud and out of tune and then louder and in tune and choking and the drums hit as the panda screams and falls off the front of the stage.
The lights go out, the music continues, they flicker on and the rhythm section is ripping open bags of colored balloons and tossing stuffed snakes into the audience while the grinding, painful screech of guitars yell ardent juxtaposition to the confetti bouncing off the ringing snare drums. Its lights and noise and heat and laughter and agony, its blood dripping from the paw of the panda while he sprays the audience with silly string. The crowd pans, looking for an expression to latch on to, some visual clue as to how the music is supposed to make you feel. And that’s the best part. You don’t know what it is, you just feel.
There is something undefinable about them, beyond the gimmick, and for the first time you realize you are at a concert, and you realize what music really is — not a prepackaged, stamped and certified genre piece for the most promising return on investment. It is about exploding, in creating this glimmering ray of silly string and screaming and bass and balloons, of rage and humor, not holding anything back or in. I think an Extreme Turbo Smash show is the closest I’ll ever come to Vonnegut’s chrono-synclastic infundibulum, the place “where all the different kinds of truths fit together.” That’s why I needed to come tonight, because I needed so many truths to fit together, and starting right then, they did.
Extreme Turbo Smash is on the stage for twenty minutes before a tech comes to the front giving the “cut it” hand gesture, which is either ignored or not seen through the animal heads.
“Get them off the stage!” the man yells angrily to the tourist girl that had been accosted by zombies earlier. She nervously mounts the stage and grabs a mic.
“Ok guys, thanks! But we are going to have to ask you to leave now.”
“What?!” Torre retorts, surprised, as he stands in the center of a wet, trashed stage in a panda costume as a frenzied, full house tears maddeningly through the balloons and stuffed snake.
“Its my birthday party, so I get to call the shots!” she says, sweetly winking, but in a way also saying ‘please don’t make this difficult’.
This is the inevitable end of every Extreme Turbo Smash show. The band begins to break down equipment as someone from the audience shouts “Bullshit!”
“Now, let’s not forget what we’re really here for.” The girl on stage reprimands us. “Human trafficking is a touchy subject, but its a major problem in many parts of the world. Devin is going to be walking around collecting emails for our mailing list.”
I really have no idea what this event was supposed to be. Maybe there was more information on the invite, and I had just stopped reading at ‘zombies’. However, the people know what they’re really here for — the area in front of the stage is packed again, and this time with fervor and a willingness to dance and move. I text my sister -
“They just got kicked out of the venue. I’m having such a good night”
“Bahaha Niiiiice! Where to next?”
“Cute metal fans everywhere, time to embarrass myself”
“DO IT! Respect your youth!”
“I just swallowed glitter”
The next band had taken the stage and the lead singer — she was an absolute vision — she danced in this white, ruffly skirt clenching fistfuls of glitter, making it rain tiny fragments of light reflected off of every surface in the dark, crowded space while her bandmates pounded notes angrily out of their respective interments. I leaned hard into every heavy breakdown, and the crowd became an electric conductor, and for the entire set we were all one big something, instead of the many little pieces we’d entered the doors as.
Back inside the bar I sat at a table alone while various member of ETS gave me high fives as they walked by. In a warm cloud, glowing, I starred off at the small brunette girl sitting between the two zombies.
“We’re going to Breakfast King if you want to come.” Torre asked. I had no mode of transit and was too drunk for waffles — and that’s saying something.
I decide to hang out and text my sister some more. Some unnamed itch had caught me and she had unwittingly signed herself up as ground support.
“Girl at table, with to zombies. Do I approach? Thai to buy her a drink? FYI i an kind drunk”
“Meh, might as well ☺”
I wait until the right moment — my can is pretty much empty, the zombies turn away, and, BAM! I deliver a thundering tap on the shoulder. She looks at me as if she already knows what I’m going to say.
“Hey, would it be weird if tried to buy you a drink?”
Career charmer alright.
“I’m actually just drinking water tonight, but thanks.”
The plastic cup, of course! Should have been a dead give away. I’m clearly in over my head. She hasn’t had a single drink and I’m getting that feeling like I need to know exactly where the bathroom is. I should give up, but I don’t.
“Well. Would you maybe, want to drink your water with me?”
“No, I’m just having a fun time drinking with my friends, thanks.” she smiled and didn’t look too offended, so I decided to walk away before I think up some further removed third option for her to consider. I swallowed the last of my beer and walked back out into the street, into my old familiar neighborhood, where the clouds were still doing that thing that reminded me of being young and sober and happy.
I start talking to myself again — first about the show and the girl and then of course about Molly, and the guy with Quizno’s in the background of his picture. Then I start singing Chicago quietly to myself. I made a lot of mistakes, in my mind, in my mind.
The validations of youth are simple — I never remember feeling then like I do now, like a steamroller of every past regret and poor judgment. I felt more free when I had less, when I had fewer escapes, when there were fewer options. When I was in love with a girl in this neighborhood I would walk this way, down 12th, after school to make pasta with her and watch bad TV. I come to the girl’s block and walk by her building, or the building she lived in then, five years ago. I pretend like I’m skateboarding again, cause that’s how I got around — I do a mock nose stall on the raised ledge by the doorway. I used to always do that. I walk around the block and up the back alley, to where we took the trash one night when it was snowing a little and her dumpster was full, look at the garden beneath her window. Its not about her anymore; several years removed from its source this place is now about me, and about who I used to be, and the things I used to feel while I was here. It’s weird standing here again, and that’s why I like it — its a certain type of confusion, something I don’t understand but enjoy the feeling of.
“Any luck?” My sister asks.
“Swing and a miss! She saw me coming.”
“Lol the night is still young! Just be safe!”
“Here’s one for you — I’m standing behind Sydney’s apartment. What should I yell?”
“I’ve had better’ then run”
“Hahaha no I won’t though. I’m walking home now, I’m good from here.”
“Excellent, lots of water then bed ☺ Lots of memoir material collected tonight.”
She’s right, I think, and as I try to put my phone in my pocket without dropping it I tell myself that its ok sometimes to think of this place as a pathway, instead of a destination.