First, there were boots on cobblestones, and after work chatter. There were babies in strollers and people waiting in doorways. It was still light out. It was cold, but the endless stream of bodies on the sidewalk as I approached center city made it feel warmer. Eventually I was alone, my hat was on. I lingered on various corners. I took the hat off, and put on headphones. I didn’t play any music. I passed through the streets, muffled. Slightly off the plane. I passed through subway gates and I climbed up, down, stairs. I struggled to find my direction, but instinct and an uneasiness with uncertainty forced me east. There, across neon Chinese Food lights, the line formed. I waited and I kept my distance from the few choppy hair, pierced concert attendees. I stood until I turned and there were abruptly three men near my side. All bearded, one tall, two medium height. Three different colors and three different voices.
“Hello!” I blurted out in a high pitch, more excited than I intended.
A chorus of soft and sweet “hello’s” found my ears, and I felt more at ease. Jersey boys, 30-something, out for good music and a good time. They found the bar, I found the coat-check. Whiskey for me, it feels like a whiskey night I said. Beers for the boys. Cheers and conversation for an hour, music starts to sound from the stage. An eerie and engaging opening act, then a long wait. Outside in the cold and the smoke there is a Puerto Rican man. He has photographs of his family in a plastic bag which he pulls from a beat-up backpack. Blond beard hands him $20 and the stranger begins to cry. He has no job and no home.
A few steps away there are climate-change deniers, because “it was cold last winter.” I turn from them and move towards the food truck. A song which requires the Charleston dance is pulled from speakers out onto the sidewalk. I receive a smile from the man frying my tater-tots.
Inside it is warm and we cheers again. The lights are getting dimmer. The smokey light overtakes the audience and the main act takes the stage, including my dear friend. I take some videos sparingly, but I forget to take pictures. I surrender to standing, to sore feet, and swaying to the beat. The bass drum beats on my heart and the guitar solos speak divinely to my ears, while watching Jason raise the neck of his instrument in passionate wailing.
I feel happy in this moment, but my mind persists. I think, “Tyler would have loved this.” I think, “What if someone comes running in here with a gun and starts shooting?” I think of the Bataclan, of Paris. I think of the people around. I make furtive glances. I check how my feet are positioned. I adjust my stance, I search for an equal spacing between myself and the other spectators. I make sure my phone is still in my wallet with my money. I think of bodies lying bloody on the floor, cell phones in their pockets ringing, with no answer.
Buddha, grant me the peace to live in this moment where things are good. I try. The encore ends, and I say goodbye to the Jersey Boys. I hover near the stage, feeling more important than I should. Soon Jason appears from backstage. A warm hug. Another old friend reveals his presence and I engage in pleasantries. Plastic cups litter the floor, orange light bounces around the room.
I spend too long inside my head, unsure of how to act. I do things I regret and I don’t do things I regret and I feel trapped in the loop of life moving forward. A time comes to say goodbye, and the friendly faces vanish. I step outside into the harsh air and press my back against the building.
My carshare arrives and I sit buckled in the back. A drunk man with a cheesesteak gets in a few minutes later. He eats and grunts as we merge onto the highway. There is no traffic, and I think about the driver in his sweatpants up front. A pop radio station is playing dance music, he stares ahead, clearly familiar with the streets. We pass City Ave and the car rolls to a stop. The drunk man is asleep. The driver honks the horn. I shout in his direction. He moves like someone caught in a bowl of viscous jello. Eyes barely open he leans forward. A feeling of eternity as he tries to exit the car, finally crossing the street.
The night is ending, it feels like threads dangling loose, not yet sewn into a fabric.
I think of the Puerto Rican man, the man checking backpacks, the ticket scanners, the coat check woman and her kindness. The bartenders, the Jersey Boys, the air we all inhaled and dust floating in pink stage lights. Guitar solos, bass lines, and all the things I should have said, could have said, but left buried and festering deep inside.