On most Fridays, I do a quick happy hour with my co-worker and her boyfriend to kick off our weekends. Afterwards, I will head over to another local spot to meet friends, or take the subway straight home. As I queue up my iPod when we part ways, her boyfriend always calls out the same words of caution: “Be aware of your surroundings, Hoff!” If he sees me walking in downtown while wearing ear buds, he will sneak up on me to try to teach me a lesson. He swears that he will get me to be more diligent. I swear he is going to get my elbow to the face one of these days by doing that.
I know listening to ear buds on the Metro or walking around is foolish. Being aware of ones surroundings is the best thing a person can do to prevent being attacked. I’m not a foolish person. With everything I do, I calculate the risk and reward. So why do I leave in my ear buds while carrying on around down?
It’s simple, really. When I have music playing, it drowns out the noise of harassment. The chorus of whistles and kissy noises with a catchy hook of “ooh, mami!” is annoying on a good day. On a bad day and towards particularly vulgar remarks, it fills me with the urge to shove the asshole into oncoming traffic. I’ve got a temper, but I keep it in check towards these jerks. After all, my pallet is too refined to spend the rest of my days eating bologna sandwiches in prison. When I am listening to music, it drowns out the verbal harassment, which is the lion’s share. What is left is just gestures, following, and physical contact. You know, the stuff that is far less common, but a very serious threat.
I recently went on an adventure out to Pappy & Harriet’s in Pioneertown to see my favorite band, the Mountain Goats. I was looking forward to this show for months. I’ve never been to this venue or to Joshua Tree, and seeing my favorite band in a cowboy town in the middle of nowhere sounded really awesome.
I reserved a Zipcar for the night, filled my iPod with all the Mountain Goats songs I could find, and hit the open road. A last minute change to my friend’s schedule had me making the journey solo, and I was okay with that. Nothing is as therapeutic as hitting the open road with some good music.
It was a beautiful drive out towards Palm Springs, watching the sun set over the jagged desert landscape. I love the way the desert glows at that time of day. Once the sun dropped below the horizon, the full moon and stars guided me the rest of the way, heading north towards Twentynine Palms and away from the eerie wind farms.
I arrived to Pappy & Harriet’s just around 9:30. The night sky provided some light to see this beautiful landscape, but not enough to see the forest of Joshua Trees that surrounded me, which I have never seen before. I checked in at will call, and made my way as close to the stage as I could.
As I was waiting for the Mountain Goats to take the stage, something dawned on me. I was the most present, aware, and in the moment that I have been in awhile. Since I was driving, I was completely sober. I was on a solo adventure, so I didn’t have a friend to chat with and pass the time. And I left my beloved ear buds at home. Why would I need them at a concert, or while driving?
The show was incredible, and I think more enjoyable because of how present I was in that moment. I laughed at John Darnielle’s brilliant on-stage banter and cried during the songs that have made a personal impact on my life. Such a wonderful performance at such a magical venue. I wish I could capture those moments during the show in a mason jar and keep them like fireflies.
After the show, I headed to the merch table to get a tour poster. After their shows, John Darnielle often comes out to show his appreciation to his fans and sign autographs to those that buy merch (clearly the other two signed tour posters and my signed copy of John’s novel, Wolf in White Van, are not enough for a super fan like myself). I scored the third poster in my collection, and patiently waited to see if I’d get lucky enough to meet John again and get him to sign it.
I stood toward the exit, near where the merch booth was set up. I was waiting by myself, which started out as a fun experience. Others joined me in hopes of maybe meeting the brilliant mind behind the band. I met some really cool people from Arizona, who were planning on camping nearby by made no arrangements for that evening. Eventually they left to figure out where they would rest their heads for the night. It was just after midnight at this point, and people were either filing out or becoming permanent fixtures at the bar.
I was then joined by a wasted bro in his mid 20’s. His friends were crowded around the merch booth arguing over whether Tallahassee or All Hail West Texas is the most essential Mountain Goats album (dude, West Texas all day). Wasted Bro made multiple attempts to engage in conversation with me. Even if I wasn’t stone sober, talking to a sloppy drunk who lacks the gift of gab is very low on the list of things I ever want to do. He admits to me, or to someone he hopes is listening, that he was dragged to the show by his friends and didn’t particularly enjoy it. Of course. Someone like this could never be a Mountain Goats fan. He asks, with eyes filled with date rape, if I am waiting for someone. I say yes, in hopes that he would leave me along. At that point, this guy is seriously harshing my mellow.
I feel like I’ve been waiting to get my poster signed for an eternity, which isn’t made easier by Wasted Bro. He ignores my answer when he asks if I mind that he’s standing by me. It became evident that John Darnielle wouldn’t be coming out after this show, and I decide to call it a nightt.
“Hey, where do you think you’re going,” Wasted Bro asks me. I ignore him, and keep walking. He asks again and follows me out of the venue. I then feel his hands on my hips, pulling me towards him.
“Get your god damn hands off of me!” I turned around, looked him straight in the eyes and screamed those words as loud as I could. This drew the attention of his friends, who looked towards us. Instead of creating more of a scene and tainting a magical night even more, I quickly left to get to my Zipcar. I didn’t get far away quick enough before he threw a final verbal assault my way.
“What the fuck is that bitch’s problem?”
I felt sick. I wanted to sit and cry for a moment, but I didn’t want to be near him any longer. I was hoping to explore around the area for as far as the lights of the venue reach, but that was out of the question now. More than anything, I didn’t want this piece of shit to take away my joy.
I put on the Sunset Tree album, rolled down the windows, and let the mysterious desert night wash over me.
As present as I was that night in Joshua Tree, it made me wish for the comfort and security of my ear buds. I could have easily avoided any conversation whatsoever with the Wasted Bro. I wouldn’t have heard his final comment, which was a twist to the knife he already plunged into my belly. Or, I could have been caught even more off guard and unable to react once Wasted Bro grabbed me, falling victim to his predatory ways.
I know my friend’s boyfriend is right when he tells me to be aware of my surroundings. Sometimes, those surroundings can be too ugly to want to face every day. It sucks that that is the reality.