December 12, 2003 I received an abysmally thin envelope embossed OBERLIN COLLEGE in the left hand corner. My heart pounded in my ears as I ripped it open: Just cause it’s thin doesn’t necessarily mean… I extracted the single sheet of paper where the phrases Unfortunately and We regret and Wish you all the best accosted me. That was it, it was all over. I didn’t get into my first choice college, the one my heart was so set on I applied early decision. I felt numb and captured my feelings of hopelessness in a one sentence entry in my high school blog: “I want to get super fucking drunk and pass out.” A normal 17 year-old girl would have called and cried to her friends. But I had, still have, loner tendencies (along with academically inclined friends, most of whom would later get into Oberlin but go to Columbia or Yale instead).
LIVE 105, a local radio station, was having its holiday “NOT SO SILENT NIGHT” concert that night, featuring Rancid, Jane’s Addiction, and my favorite band at the time The Offspring. I put on my Chucks, Dickies, my Amoeba Music shirt (which I still own and am in fact currently wearing) and told my parents I was meeting friends. Lies. I was in a “Fuck the world, I don’t have any friends” mood. And at the time I didn’t own a cell phone, so it might as well have been true. I walked the Bill Graham Civic Auditorium in San Francisco, the same building my high school graduation would be held 6 months later, determined to drown out feelings of failure with music that would leave my ears ringing ’til the wee hours of the morning.
A block from the venue I met a large intimidating man, “You going to Not So Silent Night?” he barked at me. I nodded, not making eye contact. “Sold out.” he informed me. I fought back tears. Was I doomed to fail at everything in life? Now what was I going to do? The man pulled out 3 tickets from his pocket, “How many do you need?” Just one, I squeaked. “$100.” More than double the door price. I only have two $20s, I said. He grunted “Fine.” Handed me the ticket, took my cash. I smiled at my good fortune. It wasn’t until I was in line to have my ticket scanned that I considered the possibility of being scammed. Knowing my luck…I held my breath as they scanned my ticket and let it out as the security guard waved me in.
I spent the night wandering around the huge event space as a wallflower, hoping someone would talk to me. There was no chance I’d approach someone, their rejection on top of Oberlin’s would have left me huddled in a corner in a fetal position. Nearly everyone was over 21 if not a full decades older than me. Iggy Pop was in the line up. I looked like a little lost child, shuffling around in my oversized red sweatshirt, my hair pulled back in an asexual sloppy bun. The effect was androgynous, not in a sexy high fashion way but in a this-stops-creeps-from-hitting-on-me-way. It was so affective creeps didn’t even notice me, but neither did anyone else.
I flung myself into a mosh pit of sweaty men that night, many of whom weighed at least twice my standing 125lbs. That was the only human contact I was so desperate for. The pain of hurling myself against other bodies was exhilarating and made me forget my disappointments. I admired the bruises that popped up all over my arms the next day. They were my battle scars. I went to a lot of shows by myself from age 15 to 17: NOFX, Reel Big Fish, Stroke9, The Aquabats, Sugarcult, One Man Army, The Matches. Smacked into over a hundred random people I’d never see again. I took pride in being the only girl in a pit. I always clung to the fantasy that a cute boy with chunky glasses, dimples, and floppy hair would come up to me, “I saw you out there, only girl in the pit! You’re awesome!” We’d dye our hair from the same bottle of ManicPanic, write poems on each other’s Converse, and make out listening to records of obscure, non-mainstream punk bands. That never happened.
When I turned 18 and entered adulthood, shows lost their magic. I belonged to the college community, I didn’t need the punk rock, outsider embracing world any more. My teenage dreams became distant memories.
You’ll still find me at the occasional show. They’re fun, I like music. These days I always go with friends, often my roommate who works in the music industry and gets comp tickets. So the other day when I found myself alone at a show in Brooklyn, I knew I owed something to my teenaged self. It wasn’t a final spin in a mosh pit, I can tell you that. The the minute one started, I backed away rolling my eyes- I’m so over mosh pits. They’re so 2002. I owed something to my teenaged and current self: proof of how far I’ve come since my wallflower days.
To be continued…