No one knows where to stand
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It was my first night on the job. My pay was low, but I wasn’t in it for the money. Not yet. I was there for the experience, the credits, the outfits, the exposure. Someone had assumed that I could do something, which was flattering enough to make me say yes. Yes of course I will play bass for you.
Did I think I could do it? Yes and no. I was split into two: One half scared imposter, the other half a swindler eager to get away with it.
It was my first night on the job, but it wasn’t my first rodeo. I had booked tours, played shows, learned other people’s songs. Never with conviction though. Not before, and not tonight. I entered these scenes convinced I would be caught, that my shopping-mall denim and hand-me-down amp would catch a tasteful eye and expose me for the fraud I was.
Because playing your instrument isn’t the only thing required, according to some. The best in this world had a certain temperament — a laid back posture and a cool calm. They let their hair sit shaggy and styled, the way it ought to be, while I twirled mine nervously between my fingers. They dressed in unpredictable looks — patterned pants with wide legs, leather vest and soft berets, vintage dresses with torn lace.
While one of us parked the van, the other followed behind me. We carried black cases into a slender storage room stacked with chairs and folding tables. We placed our heavy things out of the way. I waited to be directed but was not, and so I rearranged our guitars, drums, and amps aimlessly.
This is how it always begins. The arrival of musicians and equipment, followed by chunks of time spent sitting, leaning, or drinking. Then you reach the climax of the set, and do it all in reverse until you disappear into the night.
I eventually drift into the event space. It’s a square room with a tall stage and nowhere to hide. What I want is a quiet nook where I won’t be on display. What I find is a staircase that I may or may not be allowed to ascend.
The swindler energy within drives me towards the steps. To get there, I must pass the headlining band, a group of well-dressed girls from New York unpacking t-shirts and records. Most of them barely glance up, but one girl really takes me in. Her bleach-blonde mullet and her sharp jawline frame a piercing glare that lives to be caught staring.
My shimmery, thrifted shirt and blunt bangs feel very basic in this moment. I’m wondering whether I have something better to change into, but now is not the time. I’ve been approaching these stairs with outward confidence, and I must go up.
Her eyes stay with me the first few steps, and then let go. I move with a steadiness into a dimly lit space which I now understand is reserved for bands only. No plebeians allowed, echo the cheekbones from downstairs.
I had hoped to find seats, maybe a lounge area with a spread of Ritz crackers and cut cheeses. But all I find is a closed gallery space and a single bathroom.
No one is paying attention when I come back down the stairs. They’ve all gone off to what I assume is the actual lounge area. In reality, they’re wandering around just like me, looking for an inconspicuous place to lean.