Monday, January 29, 2007

Red and Blue


Later, I heard that with the wind chill, the Fenway area was down around negative thirty degrees. I had my scarf and gloves, and I’d turned the flaps of my hat up and in so that my ears stayed warmer. Still, negative thirty is negative thirty, and I wasn’t wearing anything under my jeans but my boxer shorts.

I waited for awhile, out there while the wind whipped past me; through me. I waited for awhile and then I went inside. I had a night to begin.

* * *

I bought my tickets to Blue October on a whim. I’d been listening to their album pretty consistently since I bought it, and I’d liked what I heard … but I’m not sure if they’re ever going to be my favorite band. Still, I liked most of the songs I knew, and I had a crush on the lead singer, one Justin Furstenfeld. These alone were reasons enough to want to see them live, but the thing of it is: I never go to concerts unless they’re either (1) Bruce Springsteen or (2) Barenaked Ladies. My whole rule has always been that if I don’t know the majority of the material being played, why would I bother going?

But I bought the tickets anyway, and after giving up my heavy stuff to the bag check ladies, I bought a T-shirt, too. Also on a whim. After my sixty-hour week and some literally horrific news on the phone the night before, I decided my evening would need some whimsy.

My big fear all week about the show was that it was going to be me, and then about five hundred fourteen-year-old girls with cutting issues. As it turned out: nearly every single guy there was a chubby dude with a goatee, and almost every single lady there was the type of chick you’d see at a BNL show. I stepped into Avalon, downing my Red Bull into a surprised grin, and there ran into a sort-of buddy of mine from my karaoke days. His name is Rob (not of the Celt variety), and on his arm was a thin EMT named Kevin who seemed pretty cool. Thus armed with concert buddies, I finished off my Red Bull, tossed the can, and headed toward the stage.

The place was so packed that I could only make it halfway there. That was all right. I stood by the right side of the stage and waited, jittery. I’m not sure if I can quite explain what was going on with me. It sounds hokey to say that I’ve connected with Blue October’s lyrics … but I actually have. They’re all about living with pain – pain inflicted on you, pain you’ve caused, pain you’re trying to break free from. A lot of the songs deal with owning up to your mistakes, and living with the versions of you that came before the current one. And I’ve been in that headspace for a long, long time. Some might call it morbid self-examination; I call it therapy.

They took in a wash of blue light. Justin Furstenfeld – his hair standing straight up, as if afraid of the thoughts below it – strode to center stage in a long coat and a scarf. I couldn’t tell from my distance if he was wearing his mascara or not. I hoped he was. There’s something about a brazen touch of femininity in the depths of masculinity that can sometimes be utterly charming. Or maybe I just dig the goth thing.

Want to hear something amazing? I didn’t know the first song, or the second one … and it didn’t matter. I was grooving on the audience’s love, and the words I was allowing to sink in. Furstenfeld has this way of moving on stage, interpreting the words with his body, almost like mime but in a far more theatrical way. It’s fascinating.

Then, third song in, he broke into “She’s My Ride Home,” a song I’ve been listening to a lot lately. I sang along with him, and suddenly everything clicked into place. I ceased being a part of the crowd; I was the crowd. And once, he turned to me, and for a moment, even if it wasn’t the truth, I believed he was singing to me:

I’ll be reaching for the stars with you, honey
Who cares, no one else believes…

There I stayed, rooted in my spot, singing along when I knew the words and cheering along when I didn’t. They did “Razorblade.” They did “Into the Ocean.” They did, of course, “Hate Me.” And near the end, Justin drew himself around the microphone stand as if it were the only thing that could keep him warm. And he spoke these words, plainly, with little inflection:

“I want to learn to walk with others as an equal
I want to treat the ones who love me with respect
I want to tell the world I'll give them all a piggyback
And try to take away my negative effect.”

Those words: my words. The ones that have accompanied me to improv every night I’ve walked from the station to the theatre. The ones that follow me to work, from work. The ones that have served to define who I am and what I am to others, and how I see myself and how I deeply with to see myself better.

I knew, going into tonight, that he wouldn’t play my song. Then he did. Those words – spoken, then sung – echoed across Avalon, searing out over the crowd like they were written on my soul.

That could have been my night. That could have been my perfect night. I watched them leave the stage one by one, and in my heart and head I wanted to thank Justin Furstenfeld for understanding who I was, and why I do the stupid things I do sometimes, and why it’s okay to screw up and why it’s even more okay to forgive myself.

This is what I took from this night. It’s sort of rare to have who you are at a precise moment in time defined so clearly. It’s cliché to call rock shows epiphanies, and in this case, maybe it would be a little much to say that’s what it was. But as I headed back out into the cold, I had the distinct feeling that something profound had happened. Something that explained, to a degree, who I was right now. How cool is that?

As I said, that could have been my night. I could have gone home and been happy.

But my night wasn’t over. Not by a long shot. And believe me when I say it only gets better from here.


Central Square at just before eleven is desolate. Cars drift by lazily, their headlights poking out meandering paths in the dark. All the shopfronts are underlit; the homeless hunch in doorways for warmth, not even asking for change. The city is closed now, sedate, and the inexorable march of sleep is coming to claim it.

But not me. I’m blasting Blue October in my ears and bounding across the street toward the late-night liquor store. Beckoning me behind glass is a new flavor of Smirnoff Ice, Arctic Blue, and I’m jazzed at the cosmic coincidences of color. Or maybe I’m just high on the night.

Down the road, down past ImprovBoston, and just seeing it sitting there on the corner makes me smile. I’m heading to a party thrown by the people who make me laugh every week, and I can barely contain my excitement.

And another thing: I can’t get this image out of my head:

Hmmm. Hmmm.

* * *

It’s going to be hard to describe the party. For awhile now, everyone’s been hammering it into my head that yes, I’m accepted among the improvisers, and no, I’m not a gigantic circus freak for being the improv geek with the year pass and the hoodie and no acting experience whatsoever. Due to this, I walk into Serpico and Flynn’s with a measure of confidence. Part of this might have to due with the residual concert jollies. Or maybe the anticipation of drinking.

So I won’t go into how awesome it was just to be among those people, and how I’m starting to get to a point where parties are something I can be at and not be in charge of, and how it’s about time that I stop worrying about who’s invited and who’s not and just for the love of Christ enjoy myself. Because enjoy myself I did. It was one of the best nights of my life.

And it’s not even that anything major happened, you know? I heard the beginnings of at least five stories, including one told by Serpico that was interrupted right before he was about to impart some sort of life lesson involving steak. I’m pretty sure this one was put on pause due to the weird, three-legged massage device that glowed and looked terrifically like the little robot guy from Hard Time on Planet Earth. Or maybe this was when Josh decided to paint Serpico’s fingernails a pretty, pretty pink.

Speaking of Josh, a very quick hotness check here: You know how yummy guys always look hotter when they’re wearing gear featured in Kevin Smith movies? Like if they’re wearing the Infinity shirt that Damon wore in Dogma? Yeah, well, apparently this is the new rule. Josh showed up in a Mooby’s uniform shirt and for about ten seconds, I forgot how to think. So yeah.

This is of course not to take away from the foxiness of all the other dudes that were there, of course … but I’ve a feeling people are kind of sick of me dwelling on the physical awesomeness of them. Especially the straight boys. So, uh, sorry straight boys. Thanks for continuing to put up with Kev prurience.

But just: Katie and a guy I didn’t really know dancing to “La Bamba”; Adam playing “Me and Bobby McGee” in Flynn’s bedroom while Jacey and a bunch of other awesome ladies sang along, and Perich slept; Marino talking to me about writing fiction; stealing cagey glances at this guy named Mike (of course) who’s in Katie’s Buffy RPG; and of course Christine Flynn insisting that I do a shot, on top of all the Arctic Blue I’d downed, and the half-beer I’d sipped on the insistence of Brian Bridges. And me, saying Why, SHORE! Because I’m all about limits.

Josh drove me home after, a ride during which I talked in depth with Bobby Smith’s girlfriend – whose name is lost in a drunken haze Claire – about my writing (a subject about which I seem to spew forth the drunker I get). And then I got home and Shawn was waiting up for me, and wanted to hear all about it, and I realized I’d had one of the most perfect nights of my life. And I further realized that I needed to commemorate my night in some way. I wanted to save my memory in a bottle and take sips of it whenever I feel down.

Due to the absence of liquid memory, I had to settle for ink. I think it was a good choice.

Good times happen. And they’ll happen again. I know this because I’ve got friends, I’ve got words, I’ve got music, and I’ve got a symbol to remind me how awesome things can be when things are awesome.


In the midst of all the being drunk, I ran the concept of the new tattoo by Shawn, certain that he’d be all freaked and crazy and “OMG your body is a temple,” or something. Shawn’s approval rate for my body art is pretty high, but when he’s against something – the Trek tattoo, the incipient BNL logo – he goes a little psycho.

But what he said was, “Wow, that looks pretty cool.”

“I’m getting it in red,” I explained vehemently.

“Wow, red! Sounds neat!”

The next day, I had trouble getting out of the house, mostly because I was sprawled on my comfy chair with my duck pajama bottoms and my Spider-Man fleece covering me, and Shawn and Jay and I were digging on the VH1 Top 20 Countdown. Outside featured none of these things. My original plan was to leave the house early, get the tattoo first thing, head out to Boston University to see the IB Groaners & Boners show, ricochet around the sun, save some whales, then make it to Lowe’s Boston Common by four. Sadly, what with all the fleece love, I only had time for one of those things. The ink had it.

I strode up the ramp toward Chameleon a tad nervously. This was the very first time I’d been to get a tattoo alone, and the first since my DD where I haven’t had a photographer. I suppose in a way I wanted to be all stealthy about it. The original plan was for Tracey and I to get Canada Band tattoos this weekend (me, Barenaked Ladies; she, the Headstones). But then Tracey caught ill and couldn’t go and I … well, I wanted some ink, dammit! I’m just a man!

Crowding Chameleon with their I’m So Hip attitudes and discussions of getting bumblebee tattoos on the sides of their neck are a gaggle of eighteen-year-olds who annoyed me before I even entered. I spied Kelly, the best inkslinger in all of the Boston Metro Area, leaning over the counter with his head hanging low. I’m guessing he was pretty annoyed with the young’ns, as well.

As I approached, he looked up, smiled slightly, and beckoned me over with a flick of his index. “What’re you looking for?” he asked, and I showed him the design. “I can do that,” he said.

“I want it in red,” I explained.

“I can do that, too.” He thought for a second. “For you, a hundred.”

“Sounds good.”

The lady at the counter looked up, questioning. Kelly laughed. “He’s my favorite geek,” Kelly said, and here I stand, all puffy with pride and … well, let’s just say pride.

“When can we do it?” I asked, meaning exactly what I said and absolutely nothing else, I swear, kthxbye.

“How about right now?” I just want to underline here that I had a, um, inkling of an idea the night before, headed to Harvard Square on a whim, and was now heading in for permanent impulse less than a half hour after leaving my Spidey fleece back at home. I plunked down my money, followed him up to his studio, and moments later, needles were being jabbed into my flesh.

Quick Kev Sensory Moment here: Every time it happens, it’s like the first. The burn. The edge of pain that melts into a weird sort of pleasure. The insistent hand on your shoulder as ink is injected into you. I don’t know how anyone getting a tattoo can see it as anything less than an erotic experience, no matter who’s doing it to you. I just happened to have Kelly, the wonder tattooist. And man was I happy about that.

At one point near the end, he stopped and asked, “Oh, so what’s this tattoo of?”

In my head, screaming, was this voice: It’s for Blue October!? And the lead singer!? LOOKS JUST LIKE YOU!? OH MY GOD ISN’T THAT AWESOME!? HAWT!!!!!! LOLLERCOASTER!

What I said was, “Oh, it’s a band I saw last night. I probably won’t like them in ten years, but it was an awesome concert and I had a great night. I just sort of want to commemorate it, you know?”

“You know,” he said, “I have band tattoos all over me.” My head: ZOMG SHOW ME WHERE!!! Him: “It’s cool if you don’t love the band later on. It’s still a cool design.” You are the coolest guy I’ve ever met EVER MET!!!!


Fifteen minutes later, I had a bandage on my ink and I was heading away. I called up Shawn immediately.

“So where did you get it?” he asked. “Because I realized when you left that that was the one question I didn’t ask.”

“Um,” I said. “On the back of my neck.”


And we’re back.