It all felt vaguely familiar, the moments that passed between the hours of 8:30 and midnight last Friday evening.
The characters were different, and the outcome most assuredly pedestrian in nature, but the oddity in its strangeness was masked with something I used to recall. Like driving by your childhood home, the one with the patchy lawn and paint-chipped sides, you knew you once inhabited this domain, even if you couldn't put your senses on the specifics now.
The night started like any other, a routine stuck on an endless spin cycle. A close friend of mine was having a music gig. Don't they all? Nary a week goes by when someone I care about doesn't have a viewing of their art. A concert. A play. A screening.
It's one of the advantages of living here, as everyone has something creative brewing in their listless weeks. Something to look forward to, to X on a calendar.
You can be crushed by the sheer weight of the flash pops at every street theater and dank bar in walking distance, or fill up with inspiration-laden cocktails that won't, and can't, end. You can get intoxicated by the energy, even the kind the poseurs belly up with.
I've moved on from those days, resigned to my little corner, happy to explore in new ways. It finally is about the excitement, and not the results. Least to say, getting me out of my comfort zone takes a bit of effort. This isn't to say I don't fully support my friends. I think I've shown that I do. Exhaustion is what runs through my veins now, an unfortunate side-effect of the years and words stacking up.
Worse yet, I'm propelled by the suddenly very apparent shot clock winding down. I still have minutes left, and I don't intend to waste them on those less inclined to provide the same structural support.
But this was someone close, and someone I very much believe in. So I found a passage to the night and took to the freeways.
The rush of trying to reach the moment on time was just like it used to be, back when I'd drive forty minutes out of the way just for 90 minutes in a bar I'd never enter again.
It didn't matter, because they were all the same then, just as they are now. Wood panels etched with the sweat and dreams of thousands that pass through the open doors every year. A humming glow of some neon sign. A jukebox where packs of wannabes argue the same points that they did when I first heard them in 2002. The only audible difference is the constant debate regarding Michael Jackson. This didn't happen then, but it might as well have.
When I enter the bar, I quickly realize I'm no longer the freshly arrogant kid everyone isn't quite too sure about yet. I'm now 34, and looked at as a man. If I'm there, surely I have scars that grant me access. And I do.
I tip better now, especially if the bartender is older. I get it. I get where they're coming from, even if they don't realize it.
Surveying the landscape, one might be fooled into thinking this is like any other bar in the country. The denizens here could exist in Texas, Ohio, or Florida.
Only a closer look, one tinged with experience, can see the shades of Los Angeles dripping though the smug faces surrounding you.
Over there, the same asshole strutting around in a feathered sheer jacket from back then, is here now. Back then, you might have been fooled into thinking this guy had something special. Now you can see the awkward way his eyes dance, the sight of someone terribly unsure about who he is. It's also 80 degrees inside.
There's a pack of girls doing shots in the corner. You know them well, even if you forget.
My friend plugs in, and I take a deep breath. I've seen dozens of these shows, and rarely have I thought an actual band is taking a stage. I'm sure the same was said about me at one point in my own endeavors. It probably still is. Cynicism is the moonlight of this town.
Thankfully, my friend is good. His band is tight, and the night takes a more optimistic glow about it.
At that moment, it's all worth it. The nostalgia of my youth invades everything I see from then on. The complex maze of streets we wove to arrive. The anger at parking. The irritation at a cover charge.The dri nks. The beer. The conversing with people you don't know and aren't sure you ever will.
His set finishes. Another round is ordered.
I teeter with the past, buzzing on the reminiscing in my mind.
I could order a few more. Play some Bowie. Shout a bit. Dartboards are just next to me.
I know this night so well I can recite it backwards.
Another bar on Fairfax, united with the dreary hopefuls that bounce around happily.
We're all in it together, even the kid in the corner who just got here from Iowa thinking he's the next big thing. Maybe he is.
And then I turn to my girl, give her the nod, and out into the night air we step.
It's not to be.
It's a nice movie to visit, but I lived it once.
And tonight I'm happy to be a visitor and nothing more.
The clock reads 11:22.
Familiar, but not the same.
I need to get up early, for the shot clock is ticking...