First appeared in The Woolf
Tales from the Pit no. 2
CODES OF CONDUCT (PART I)
Two energy bars in the parking lot and three hours at the door – but this is what it takes. Luck is no coincidence she once read online. When she snags the only seating near the stage, it finally makes sense.
Her friends show up and dole out the high fives. Before they can squeeze onto the couch, she suggests they spread out their parkas to claim the wooden ledge that runs along the wall and is just wide enough to sit on. “The best of both worlds,” she explains, having spent an hour weighing the perks of each spot. Ledge: a clean view to the stage and a place to rest Mojitos while dancing. Couch: for taking a breather and preventing others from sitting.
The rest of the room and the balcony fill up. The area around them does not because, tucked away in a corner and raised off the floor, it could be mistaken for a VIP lounge. She has just thought, ‘I could get used to this,’ when two older women barrel up the step. Without a word, they shove the parkas against the wall to make room for their elbows.
An emergency huddle. No one wants trouble. Still, a breach is a breach.
When the taller one goes to the bar, she meets the other woman’s eye and smiles. “I’m sorry,” she starts, pointing to where the woman is standing, “those spots are reserved.” When she gets nothing in return, she adds, “I mean, it’s fine right now, but when the main band comes on we’ll—”
The woman’s head bobs as if she just drove over a speed bump. “But that’s not how this works.”
Fact: If you want to get close to the stage, you have to prepare. Some call it a military operation. I call it war.
I get to the venue near the end of the opening act. After tanking up and voiding the bladder with optimal efficiency, I wait at the back until the music stops. The flux before the headliners gives me time to assess the size, distribution and mental acuity of the crowd. As a precaution, I execute a partial scan of the uniforms and faces of security personnel, who have been known to freelance across venues.
With the initial check complete, I locate a corridor and head in on the diagonal. The plan is to get to the front by weaving through the gaps, but tonight they shrink up and choke halfway to the stage. I rotate, fists locked, and maneuver through warm bodies and spite. A switch in my gut flips, but I manage to trip it after clomping on only three feet.
At the edge of the room, I pivot and creep along the wall until it gives way to a hidden VIP lounge. I consider – the area is not cordoned off – but the elevation could catch the attention of the bouncer who, despite the three-day growth, does look familiar. I decide to wait it out for the first few songs and am just backing up to the wall when two women, in a moderate state of agitation, step off the platform. The short one knocks into me.
A switch flips. My jaw twitches. The distance from teeth to target: confirmed. I think of the welt my chompers once left on a pretty thing’s arm. How cold it was when they threw me outside. And stand down.
Signal transmitted and received – I should leave now. The lights cut. A riff explodes. The signal has been transmitted and received.
The band’s faces glow in the spotlight, yet their bodies remain in shadow: he is as amazed by this special effect as he is by the racket four people are capable of generating. His girlfriend’s face is also a novelty, taut and tilted like a plastic mask. He has never before seen such concentration on people in one direction and indifference to those in another.
He shuffles behind her to cup her shoulders. She flinches and jerks her head around, but when she realizes he is not an assailant turns back to the stage. He begins to swivel her upper body to the beat – left on one, right on three, left on one, right on three – because this is their favorite dance. In a profound act of solidarity, the band picks up the tempo. He can almost feel her smiling as they go left on one and right on three, faster now, to a song he recognizes from that ad with the squirrels. On the chorus he even manages to chant along in her ear, muting his voice on the words he should have learned when he bought the tickets.
She wriggles free to adjust something on her boot. It takes her a few seconds to sort out the problem. By that time everyone is jumping up and down. He tries to resume the dance but falters when the guy next to him lurches. Before he can regain his footing, three bouncers charge over the barrier. The fracas is only a few feet away – someone with gnashing teeth is in a headlock – but she seems to notice nothing but the singer, whose face pulsates like a signal.
When she rushes the stage, he heads to the men’s room. On the way back, he sees that the phone cover with the band’s logo is almost sold out. She had called it ‘adorable’ and said she was in fact ‘in the market for a phone cover’ and was ‘99.9-9% positive’ she would get one after the show. He could pull out his wallet right now and surprise her. Or he could order a beer, text her a picture of the cover and ask her what he should do.