Four years ago today – rocking out with my friends. It was the closest I’ve ever had to that fabled, only-in-the-movies experience of “being in the band,” where you throw yourself into the music and the lights, and the headaches are many but worth it, and you spend far too many late nights and too much money in the bar, not because you’re trying to drown your sorrows but because you want to have as much time as you can with these delightful people who are somehow all here together.
I’ve spent the past few days incapacitated by rage and also regret that I did not punch somebody in the face.
It was just a few days after the happy memory from four years ago that we went to a nearby bar following tech rehearsal. My assistant and I were the last ones to arrive (par for the course for stage manager – first ones in, last ones out), but as we approached the table where we saw our colleagues, we could tell that something wasn’t right. The place was surprisingly packed for a Wednesday night, even in Hell’s Kitchen, and the energy was… charged. And not in a good way.
You know how difficult it can be to remember more than snippets of dreams? And how the parts you tend to be able to remember are whatever have the most narrative coherence? Because it’s a challenge to hang onto things that just don’t make any sense. So I can’t tell you many specifics of what we overheard being said. But it was enough to, in the moment, put together that we were in the middle of a bar packed full of Proud Boys.
Yes, those Proud Boys.
It wasn’t clear if this was their event itself or some sort of hangout following a meeting. Either way, we heard all varieties of offensive things, ranging from simply bizarre to simply hostile.
The feeling of violation was visceral. Intellectually you might know that “it can happen anywhere,” but it’s a hard slap to the face when it actually happens, especially if you’ve had the privilege of being relatively sheltered from the blows of the world. Or maybe there’s a special sting with the awareness of how harsh things can be elsewhere – “at least here, in this place of my own, I find safety.”
Eventually, they noticed us gawking at them. That’s when things threatened to get ugly. One man began aggressively getting in the face of the largest white man in our group, demanding that he answer if he was “a Republican, a Democrat, or an American.”
I can’t remember if that was the trigger. I can’t remember if it was another trigger. I can’t remember if the trigger was anything in particular or just a final straw landing on the camel’s back. This is something that I know about myself – I’m very precipitous, a stretch of even ground that’s almost too extensive to be able to see where the cliff drops off. Simply as a matter of personality rather than any sort of conscious decision, I don’t do warning shots. So all I know is that at some point, I saw red. And that was when I felt someone grabbing onto my elbow and pulling me outside.
My friends and I absconded to a nearby little hole-in-the-wall gay bar. (Has that refuge survived the pandemic, I wonder?) We got many drinks and shouted our outrage to each other. When I got home that night, I couldn’t sleep. I grabbed my iPod classic, put on clipping.’s Splendor & Misery, and went for a 3AM run in the (technically closed) park near my apartment. If anyone had had the foolish idea of messing with me, it wouldn’t have ended well, but that part of my night, at least, passed without incident.
A few days later, I put on my cowboy boots and returned to the bar to demand answers. The owners weren’t in, but the bartender, who was outraged on my behalf, took my information, and the owner called me later that day. He affirmed that that wasn’t what their establishment stood for and that such gatherings wouldn’t be tolerated in the future. A week after our incident at the bar (although unconnected to it, at least specifically), the Ghostlight Project gathered theatre practitioners to pledge to stand for and protect the values of inclusion, participation, and compassion for everyone – to create a light in the darkness.
What a fine, fine resolution that all was.
All I’ve been able to think about over the past days is that I should have just fucking punched someone in the fucking face.Continue reading “If I’m gonna die, I’ll life the live that frees me”