“We’ve got WHAT in the trunk?” I demanded, angrily. “If I told you before we picked you up, you wouldn’t have come.” Responded Jim, as he violently weaved in and out of traffic, in the rain, on I-95. “It’s gonna be fine, man. We’ll be there soon.”
I shook my head, despondent, but nevertheless at ease; Jim tended to be right about most things. Indeed, had I not met Jim (or Adam for that matter, who was riding shotgun) I probably would still be the boring putz I had been, mulling around, waiting for life to happen. As it was, Jim and Adam acted as a catalyst for me to truly start enjoying my life. That fateful night served as the final blow to what was my fragile perception of normalcy, and led me to a truly left of center philosophy of life.
I met Adam through an Internet forum that served as a meeting place for musicians. Adam was a drummer, so after chatting and finding we were both Rush fanatics, we clicked immediately. Adam was good friends with Jim, a fellow musician and multi instrumentalist. A jovial sort, Jim was self confident, outspoken, intelligent, well versed in art, and for some reason, popular among a vast group of cliques. In short, Jim was everything that I was not.
Jim introduced me to free thinking, jazz and illicit substances. Jim, Adam and I would often enjoy a smoke while watching the stars, sharing thoughts on life, our discontent with the standards imposed on society as a whole and the shunning of the artists that would not fall in line, books we’d read, girls we’d fallen for, and all the while, of course, engaging in our brand of surrealistic improvisational humor.
Jim’s personality rubbed off on me in a beneficial way. Suddenly I was having more fun in life. I was questioning the things that had gotten me down in the past, realizing that they were merely transitory experiences that really could have no bearing on me unless I let them. I was both less and more critical of myself; less in the degree that I let trivial things melt away, more in that I strove for excellence in the endeavors I believed in, such as art, philosophy and most importantly music. Walls that had held my mind in a state of banality began to crumble.
I found myself no longer wanting (or rather, realizing that I never truly wanted) the wonderful marriage with two and a half children, the house in the suburbs and regulated lifestyle of having a nine-to-five job. I wanted to make my own way and to try to live outside the box; whether I succeeded or not was of no importance to me, as long as I knew I had tried.
“We’re here,” Jim said, pulling into a seedy parking lot in front of what appeared to be an abandoned supermarket. We were not in Kansas anymore; we found ourselves surrounded by dilapidated warehouses, and aside from a few other vehicles, not a single sign of life. Jim popped the trunk and took out the contents, and we began walking.
We found the warehouse we were looking for, and two shady characters stood watch by the door. A light, repetitive thumping and a brief flash of light now and then were the only indications of activity inside the building. Jim spoke briefly to one of the men, and he bade us entrance.
Three days earlier, Jim, Adam and I had gone to see a movie. Jim mentioned that a friend who he worked with was throwing a “warehouse party” and that he might be going. He asked if we would be interested. When we asked what a warehouse party was, Jim only smiled. Later in the evening he showed us a short video of what appeared at first to be a reenactment of an alien abduction. The video was dimly lit and grainy in quality, with scenes of laser lights and dancing people, all with a trance style techno soundtrack in the background.
“What the hell was that?” I questioned.
“You guys will have a killer time. I promise.”
Inside the building came the first feelings of uncertainty. The “foyer,” as it were, consisted of an entirely red color scheme. Furnishings were scarce; a table and folding chairs were set up for ticket sales, as well as a red couch which served as a resting place for two scraggly looking characters, who were entangled in a vicious make out session. Off to the side was a dark hallway, which led further into the labyrinth. This was a room straight out of “Alice in Wonderland.”
More frightening than the room, however, were the two ladies standing behind the woman selling tickets. Engaged in a normal conversation, they were dressed from head to toe in red garments with their hair dyed in an entire palette of colors. One of them brandished a cat o’ nine tails, while they other toyed with her fluorescent hair. I looked briefly at Jim, who only gave me a nod and a sly smile. When we found there was a mistake and we were not on the guest list, we called our friend who explained the mix up. For some reason there was a great deal of confusion, and we would be reimbursed for the tickets. We paid the fee and walked through the ominous hallway.
The first shock of the night was the most damaging. We walked into what appeared to be a bar from outer space. Standing in front of this bar was a balding, middle-aged man. On any other day, this person was probably a business owner, a teacher, possibly even a politician. That night however, all he wore was a pair of black boots, a Speedo, and a pair of angel wings.
“Pat, you’ve gone and done it this time. You’ve been through a LOT of shit, but there’s no way you’re making it out of this one unscarred,” I remember thinking to myself.
A freak show. Truly, no other description could fit the scenario better. The loud, stereotypical “boom chick” of electronic music permeated throughout the entire building. How we failed to hear it outside boggled my mind. Flashing lights that would send an epileptic into a fatal fit provided the only solace from the black lit bar; this was just ONE of the rooms.
The layout of the building past the entrance allowed for three rooms on two floors. The first, the bar I was standing in was, again, black lit. Signs that directed patrons to form lines adorned the walls; however, the bartenders had hung so many signs that no one knew exactly where to stand. The room directly ahead served as a “hang out” room. This was for those that needed a break from all the activities. There were fans, which gave some relief from the blisteringly hot and humid rooms. The third room adjacent to the bar was the dance floor. A rotating roster of DJ’s provided background music from a center position, and on either side of the room, stages were set up where performance artists displayed their talents.
The second floor provided a much larger area to recuperate from the intense milieu. Couches, bizarre chairs and even mattresses lay strewn about the room, with partygoers partaking in any and all varieties of illegal activities. This room also served as a more low-key bar as well. A second room on the floor had a single DJ, playing a more trippy variety of ethnic trance music. The dancers there looked like concertgoers at a Grateful Dead show: spinning and swaying gently, eyes closed, and occasionally sprawled on a beanbag nearby. The final room was entirely black lit with fluorescent paint on the walls, as well as a number of spinning, psychedelic displays. The music from the first floor reached this room as well, and there was a balcony from which you could watch one of the stages.
We began our journey in the large bar room on the second floor. We had met with coworkers of Jim’s who had also showed up, and we shanghaied a pair of couches and a table. Jim pulled out a large bag of herbs, and we began to roll a series of smokes, much to my chagrin; I did not realize until shortly thereafter that much worse things were going on in other areas of the building.
We were suddenly the most popular people in the room.
An attractive woman came up to us and pulled up a chair; she explained that she had come from California specifically to be at this party and that she was one of the performers. She provided her own supply and told us to roll some of that as well. It struck me as odd that someone would travel from so far to such an event.
The next person to approach us had similar mannerisms to Gollum from “Lord of the Rings.” Eyeing our supply of goods, he sidled up to us and sat cross-legged, off to the side so that we could not see him. Jim, annoyed that we had picked up a scavenger, told him that he would have to sit out a few rounds if he wanted to smoke. Scavenger agreed to the terms and he and I struck up a conversation.
“Wow, man,” he purred in the typical burnout fashion that I expected. “You guys look like you’re preparing for war. Thanks for letting me in. I’d have brought mine, but, you know, I was kind of scared to carry it over five state lines,” Scavenger confided in me.
What the hell’s going on? I thought to myself. Why do we keep meeting people from out of state?
As we proceeded, I looked up and saw a man in a similar angel costume to the gentleman from before. His face, however, was hidden by a mask resembling that of a ninja. We stared at each other for a few minutes before he pumped his lily-white fist in the air and yelled “Asalamalakum” at the top of his lungs. And of course, we reciprocated with an equally eager cry of our own.
Jim always has the finest stuff, so it did not take long before our group felt in the mood to be in such an atmosphere. It was then I noticed the group of people behind us engaging in hedonistic and erotic activities. To be honest, I did not feel all that uneasy in their presence, after seeing the Angel Man up front. Adam, who had already indulged in a few adult beverages, invited me to come to the large dance hall to see what was going on. I followed him.
Tribal beats echoed through the dance hall and we stood in awe of the spectacle; on stage, a group of dancers in neon outfits shook with all their might to the furious primal rhythms. It was too much for me to handle; the frenetic pace of the twirling, mostly nude dancers as well as the swirling of the colors of their outfits (on top of everything else, mind you) made me feel a bit light headed. At the end of this show, I turned around and was horrified at the display behind me.
A dead on representation of Napoleon Dynamite, complete with curly red hair, coke bottle glasses, and ridiculous boots was busy spinning balls of fire attached to chains. Faster and faster he went, until he began tossing them into the air and catching them. The precautionary stone floor provided only a vague sense of relief; as I watched the fireballs go higher and higher into the air, my breathing became more tense with anticipation. When he finished, two gorgeous scantily clad girls began their own routine. It only took a few moments before I realized that one of the girls was the one whom we met earlier in the evening.
All the while, people crowded the dance floor gyrating wildly. I wanted to dance and mingle, but I was so taken in by the entire scene that I was reduced to a statuesque pose, leaning against a support beam and trying to hold a conversation with a girl wearing an outfit a stripper would blush at. It was then to my horror that I realized I had been separated from the rest of my group of friends. I was surrounded by half naked people on all sides: go-go dancers on poles to the left of me, fire twirlers to the right, a young woman feverishly engaging in an animalistic dance in front of me.
Somehow I made it back up to the second floor, in an attempt to coordinate my thoughts and get my bearing. As I leaned against a wall I heard a voice.
I turned around to find myself staring at what appeared to be a homeless man. He asked me for something, but I could not hear him over the din. I shook my head, and asked him what he wanted. He apparently did not hear me either.
“Come on man. I got ‘shrooms!” He showed me the bag to prove it. “We could trade!” I shook my head again.
At that moment I saw a man walking around with a beer in his hand. I realized I knew him, and I shuddered. Every day outside of the store where I work, this man walks his dog. I had painted in my head an image of this nerdy looking fellow as living in his mother’s basement, playing Dungeons and Dragons and spending all day on the Internet. I was so wrong. In that moment, he and I were the equals; my perception of him shattered into a million pieces. He and I now shared something.
I ran back downstairs and went to the other “hang out” room. I saw a crowd of people sitting around a young man who was pontificating; it appeared as the enraptured audience drank in all of his words as if this young sage were a great preacher with all of the knowledge of the universe. As I got closer, I realized that their nods of approval and contemplative thoughts were directed at nothing more than this man who was speaking completely incoherent gibberish. That had about done it for me. I was quickly reminded of how many times I had seen people taking in the garbage that the talking heads on mainstream news broadcasts dished out to them; how many times has REAL news about the economy and the war been preempted for the sensationalist dreck of Natalie Holloway, Britney Spears, Jon Benet Ramsey and Paris Hilton, all without questioning from the public? Forget religion; television is the opiate of the masses.
As I stumbled out of the room, I ran into Jim, who was laughing. He handed me a bottle of water that I downed quickly, letting it cascade over my desert of a mouth. I had forgotten how hot it was and how thirsty I had become in the ridiculousness of the situation. He slapped me on the back and we went on to enjoy the rest of the night.
I took it all in. As terrified as I was, I relished the moment and bathed in it. This was all going on right under everyone else’s nose. All the “normies” who were ignorant of this whole scene, they would never experience anything like this. There were as out there people as the man in the speedo, as well as “regular folks” who looked dressed for a backyard barbeque; it was not just a freak show by any means. They all shared a secret that they hid from the world. On this night, and surely others like it, no one could disown them or put them down; we all were the same.
The following night, Jim asked me what I thought of the party. I told him that I had a blast. He informed me that one of the DJs had come from Germany just to perform that night. People from all over the world had come to this dingy warehouse in Philadelphia the night before. This was no mere party; this was an upper echelon event! I had participated in something that a fraction of a percent of the population would ever know. He also informed me that when I disappeared, he had met with the fire-twirling girls, and easily could have introduced me; to this day I still have not forgiven him.
The world often appears mind numbingly boring, with its drone-like characters bustling along fulfilling their mundane lives. The façade has fallen away for me. I know now that there are people willing to live outside of the machine. I am proud to be one of them.