"Is that the Whiskey Bar back there?" I asked the only other guy to turn up at the wrought iron gate leading to an alley behind the bar I'd found locked earlier.
"Yeah. You don't go in this way though. The front doors open at ten."
Someone had told me the event began at nine, so arriving a half hour late to convey a casual attitude was now arriving a half hour early, conveying the bored desperation of a loner, or revealing it, if you want the truth.
We talked for a bit; he seemed to take me for just another regular or would-be regular. Doesn't he see how old I am? Probably, but not just how old. But one thing about Portland, it's less weird here for someone my age to show up at a club. At least I think so, and have been told as much; I haven't any real frame of reference. I hadn't been out to a proper nightclub in over a decade, I surmised.
"Wednesdays are a little weird." He said.
"I don't know. A friend of a friend is doing some thing here, so I came out. I thought it started at nine."
Turned out he was one of the artists for the live-painting event.
"So you know Tasha, then?"
"A friend of hers from work. I've never been here before." I don't know why I felt the need to explain myself.
Another guy showed up, a friend of the first. He immediately starts in about his new tattoo, a calf-job under a sheen of Vaseline. He doesn't know how many tattoos he has. Maybe forty. More and more people claim to have lost count.
"I have no ink." I confess at some point. I've been talking to the second guy as if I belong here--he has no idea who I am and takes it for granted. Turns out he's another one of the artists; he's the third. I help him carry his stuff--an unremarkable pattern on a canvas with which I assume he's going to do something interesting, some effect-lights, materials. I skip the cover charge by playing roadie like this.
"You need a stamp." The first artist said, just after I had decided I would go back up front and do this, and that it would be a good move, for which I would now get no credit.
He doesn't know how to take me, I can tell. No one does. But I'm more at ease having established rapport already, and with two of the performers, such as they were. The place is nearly empty, and that's just as well, too; the music is typical current club dance music, which I have no ability to categorize. Even when I stayed current with electronic music years ago I could not, would not, bring myself up to speed on the categories. I could not tell jungle from house, and still can't. Drum and bass is easy enough, though I don't really understand that it's all built around the "amen chorus". I recognize it when I hear it. The music is as seductive as it is idiotic, throbbing through the empty club.
About a half hour in the turnout was looking to be poor for the night. A pair in animal pajamas danced at one end of the floor, a guy who looked to be in his thirties, wearing a warm-up jacket is doing break-dance moves at the other.
The friend who invited me showed up. She's young, very young. Immediately it's awkward. I had expected a full house: I would see her, maybe not right away, we'd chat a little and that would be it. I would see her a couple of times more in the evening, have the friendly, shallow exchange I was good at, and that would be it. Now, here I am, having arrived early, the place is empty and she can't escape me, maybe she didn't even expect me to show up in the first place. To top it off I went in for a hug, that she did not intend, awkwardly and all but forcing it on her, spilling my beer in the process. I feel compelled to mention the awkwardness. But it's okay. I tell her I've been hanging out with the artists, maybe that will help. It's okay. I'm not a stalker! I'm not a weirdo! She shuffles off with an apologetic air.
Later I see her at the bar and recover somewhat. It's all like a journey back in time; nothing has changed from the days when all this meant something. Nothing is on the line now--I'm just trying to get out of the house--but it feels more fraught than ever. Just like years ago, in my head it's a campaign of reverses, advances, uncertain meanings, like a war with an opponent who may not even care that one's being waged. Nothing changes, even after everything has changed.
The friend of a friend shows up later--I do not know her well--and there's a quick embrace. She sees it; good, see, I'm not a stalker! I'm not a weirdo! I just don't know how to act. I never learned how to act--that is I don't know how to behave--I'm acting all the time, even when I'm alone. Was it still the goal--was it ever the goal--behind all of this, "going out", meeting people, love, sex, relationships, that one should meet someone with whom they no longer had to act? Or was it just me? I don't think I had even the good sense to pursue that hopeless goal with real conviction. If it happened, it happened, I thought, as I thought about everything else. Whatever the case, I never found it.
The first two artists made desultory and indistinguishable changes to the mostly complete canvases they brought in; there was no relation to the music. I had seen something years ago on television where a guy did a quick painting of Jimi Hendrix to a playing of some Hendrix standard (probably "Purple Haze"); by the time the song's over he's finished. I had thought this would be something like that, gimmicky as it was it would be worth seeing. Tasha does much better, opening up a sketch book and improvising ink-drawings from scratch, showing more talent and imagination than the other two.
The place never filled up, but that's okay; I got to talk to a young beautiful woman for much of the night. It's also okay she had nothing better to do and I served as a sort of backstop to a disappointing evening. She tells me all about herself, the way people do to half-strangers; I don't know. I'm consumed with how I'm perceived by everyone, right now it's this person who in a few short months will be gone from my life like countless other people I never really got to know. They so outnumber the true intimates, who are so few and precious, that any single one of them--this charming, beautiful, messed up kid whose only interest for me lies in this selfish need--feels like a dread weight I can no longer carry. I wonder if this is cause or effect of my solitary life.
She invited me to hang out with some of the other youngsters after, but I thought it would be better to quit while I was ahead. Later I excused myself and fumbled the goodnight, just as I fumbled the hello, knowing the quick hug was probably out, but the awareness of it was there in the air. I don't even like the quick hug routine so much--I just don't know how to act.
I spent the next day in a typical psychological funk--a day shorter than last time--ruminating over how I came off, how pathetic it is that I care, how it probably means nothing to these other people whose image of me is so important and so meaningless at the same time. Plus ca change.
But I will get out of the house more, and drink less.