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  LIFE AS A LOSER #54: "LINE DANCING."  
   
   
 

 It was an unseasonably frigid night in Champaign, Illinois, way too cold for late October, and way too cold to be sitting on the sidewalk at 11:45 at night, waiting, waiting, waiting.

But there we were, Tony Pisterzi from 906, my roommate Andy and I, freezing our follicles off, waiting for The Record Store on Green Street to open their doors, to let us the fuck in. Tony didn’t have to be at Greg Hall until 10 a.m., but Andy and I both had 8 a.m. classes the next day. It was quite the chore for Andy to be out there; he had never been as big a fan as I was. But he was my friend, and he knew there was no way I wouldn’t be there, first thing, no matter what. There was no way anybody was going to be listening to In Utero before I did.

I had been at the University of Illinois for about two months, still adjusting, a little lonely, missing my high school girlfriend, trying desperately to make a name for myself at the student newspaper. Little made sense to me in this college world; I kept losing the keys to my dorm room, people kept looking at me like I was a hick, and suddenly I was meeting folks who cared about more in the world than just baseball. I was noticing how different people were here; there were people with nose rings, people reading books by some guy named Nietzsche - apparently, I learned quickly, not the guy who played linebacker for the Packers - people with facial hair dyed odd colors. This was most certainly not Mattoon.

I was desperate for some constant, something I knew from home, something that had given me comfort through the darkest high school nights. I needed someone who understood my lack of comfort in my own skin, that deep-seeded pain whose sources were murky, that fear of everything. I needed Kurt. No music, no album, no concept had ever made me feel like Nirvana’s Nevermind did; it put thoughts into words - no, not words; screams - that I didn’t know I was capable of having.

When it was announced that Nirvana’s next album, In Utero, was being released, I had to have it as soon as possible. So I dragged Andy’s sorry carcass the mile-and-a-half to Campustown, to The Record Store, where they were having a midnight sale. We grabbed our copies, sprinted home, shut off the lights, lay in our bunks and listened. We listened hard, over and over, until he passed out and, eventually, after writing down all the lyrics I could decipher, so did I. I still have my original copy of In Utero, and even though my stupid sister scratched it up, forcing me to buy another one, I suppose I always will.

It has been seven years since I cared enough about an album to trek to a record store at midnight to buy it, and, obviously, much has changed (still can’t grow facial hair, though). But then, last week, a double whammy hit; new albums by Radiohead and Paul Simon, two of the most vital and intensely personal artists making music, released on the same day. The same day! It was futile to resist, particularly when, well, I really didn’t have a job to wake up for the next day. Plus ... well, it’s been awfully rough around here of late, and the idea of doing something collegiate and unnecessary struck me just the right way.

I called the local Tower Records - I am now grown up enough to plan ahead and pencil such an activity in my scheduler - and was greeted by a voice that sounded a few hours past 15.

“Yeah, are you selling the new Radiohead and Paul Simon album at midnight tonight?”

“Radiohead? Well, I know we’re selling the new Green Day. I don’t know Radiohead, and, uh, I don’t think we sell Paul Simon. Hang on, lemme check.”

(Pause for all-encompassing silent, sullen treatise on the state of youth today.)

“Yeah, I guess we are. I’d get here early though. Should be a big crowd tonight.”

I didn’t dare ask for whom.

I showed up at 11:45 and realized immediately it was a mistake. A line extended down Broadway, up West Fourth Street and spilled out onto Lafayette. People were sitting in lawn chairs, and one guy I talked to said he’d been there since noon. I asked him if that was Sydney time. He said no.

Packing a toothbrush for the trip, I began the long, desolate walk past the line, avoiding the scathing glances of early arrivals. I set up camp at the very end, lodging next to three NYU students who looked like, well, they looked like three wealthy NYU students. Fortunately, they were there to buy Radiohead, not Green Day, though they noticed, like I did, that at 25, I was probably the oldest person in the line. They asked me if any other albums were coming out tonight. I told them Paul Simon’s new one, his first studio album in about a decade, was being released as well. “Yeah, I’m sure people are clamoring for that one. ‘Hey, Paul, where’s Garfunkel? Ha!’” To my credit, I admitted that I was, in fact, there to buy both Radiohead and Paul Simon. I paid for it though, considering they barely talked to me the rest of the night.

The line moved like a glacier stuck in frozen tar being pulled by legless kittens, only slower. The kids in the line didn’t look like Radiohead fans to me; they were all little angry punkers, pissed off that their parents didn’t let them use the house in the Hamptons last summer, wearing their Korn and Limp Bizkit and System of a Down shirts like iron-on tattoos. Most of them had bloodshot eyes and were dragging along clearly unwilling female partners, mentally checking off how many hours of sleep before that chem test this was costing them. A man who was actually older than me, probably about 40, looking like he’d lived every bit of those 40 years, sucking a few years from others along the way, tapped me on the shoulder.

“You know if they’ve run out of tickets yet, man?”

“I’m sorry ... tickets?”

“Yeah, man, the Green Day tickets. I hope they don’t run out. Those guys are fucking crazy in concert.”

Well, well, now that would explain the punky QBs known as McMahon that were ahead of me in line. Further investigation revealed that I was, dumbly, standing in an entirely superfluous line. A local radio station was giving out free tickets to a Green Day show, and the line to buy CDs was, well, it was non-existent. You could just walk in. I should have known. These kids were raised on Napster. Nobody waits in line to pay for anything.

Against my natural inclination for vengeance, I clued the kids behind me in to this news, and we jogged to the front of the store. I learned the one who mocked Paul Simon was 17 years old. Seventeen. This kid was 10 when I was in that line for In Utero. Christ, when Appetite for Destruction came out, this little shit was four.

I grabbed Radiohead’s Kid A and Paul Simon’s You’re the One off the racks - the guy behind the register told me I was the first person to buy one of the Simon albums all night, which means I’m too young to be that into Paul Simon and too old to be showing up at midnight to buy CDs - paid my 30 bucks, muttering curses about the days of 10-buck CDs, and went home, satisfied.

I ripped open the packages and placed both CDs in my player. No lyric notation for me this time, though. On this early October night in the year 2000, I pushed play, fed the cat, fixed myself a chocolate milk and balanced my checkbook.

And you know what? It was nice.

 

*BT*

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