All Ages

After being grounded for two months, what I wanted more than anything in the world was to throw myself against—anything I could. Jake, Jake’s girlfriend Leah, Andy, Todd, Cindy and I rode the 18A bus to 7th Street Entry for a Sunday afternoon Replacements show. The windows of the bus were covered in fog and frost as I whistled “Kiss Me On The Bus” for Cindy, with her cheeks showing pink even from beneath her pale foundation. She played her part of the pantomime perfectly, leaning into me with her shoulders while still shaking her head slowly: “No.” Having her next to me, joining in the play, was even better than a kiss.
 
I could still feel the cold December air on my hoodie and jean jacket when the ‘Mats stormed into their set with “Hayday.” Jake drove to the center of the crowd, crashing against the small group in the front—the crazy motherfuckers looking to thrash while everyone else just bobbed and nodded in an undulating wave, an anemone of messy hair and stocking caps. I joined the melee when Gary Got His Boner, feeling Cindy and Leah get absorbed back into the mass of teenagers behind me. Jake’s green and brown flannel shirt was unbuttoned to flash the Van Halen t-shirt underneath and as I smashed against him and then into a kid wearing a bright red reindeer sweater, I could feel my clothes starting to stick against my skin.
 
My hair was sweat-sealed to my forehead and I was grinning like an idiot when the opening riffs of “Color Me Impressed” expanded our mosh pit to just about everyone in the Entry. After months of grinding out essays on dystopic novels, writing BASIC programs, watching Dr. Who on KTCA—only able to leave the house for school and for work at 7-11—the feel of another person crashing into me, the compression of their skin against their bones as we bounced off one another, the occasional uncertain moment when you launched high in the air and missed your target—the feeling that I might fall and get trampled, only to find an angle of adjustment that provided me with a target and a jacket to grab as I spin back to my feet and launch into the air again… the feeling that the despite increasingly oppressive presence of Donald and the prerogatives of The Proximity he brought with him… the dread of being a fuck-up with no idea where half the levers were, the feeling that even if we weren’t all in this together, we could scream and crash and pulse together long enough to find whatever comes after Plan B gets fucked to hell, too…? That feeling, and that I was part of it? Well, you know that feeling.
 
Cindy appeared in the mosh pit, her make-up fucked up with sweat, her hair showing it’s roots as it stuck to her ear, the back of her neck. She would come and go, connect and reel away; her face appear and disappear between beneath her hair and someone else’s flying sweatshirt—and after each absence, crash back into me with full force, sometimes wrapping an arm around me.
 
Pushing off from Jake, I leapt high into the air, higher than I’d jumped all night—and saw Kiley. And Matt. They were standing behind the railing in the back of the room. It felt like I hung in the air for half an extra beat—Kiley? Matt looked… almost bored, as much like he was babysitting as he was on a date. But there she stood, in her black and red cross country ski jacket and messy brunette curls and her gap-toothed smile as broad and pure as ever, her green eyes wide open and more amazed by the idiot genius of the Replacements as eyes could be. I crashed back to earth and tried to keep my place in the mosh pit but all the energy was sucked out of me. My heart was racing and I felt a sharp and immediate need to be anywhere than where I stood.
 
I looked up at the band and Bob had a face that Bob sometimes made: half concentrated on his guitar and half drugged Buddhist, smiling only partially successfully—radiant with the certainty that there was only so much beauty you could wring out of so much bullshit; unconvinced that all the brilliance in the world could pierce the surrounding darkness: but workin’ on it, as much to his own surprise as anyone else’s.
 
Then Paul and the boys launched into “Unsatisfied.” That song was always a gut-punch, but this time it kicked my fucking ass and I stumbled through the crowd, in the exact opposite direction of Matt and Kiley. Opposite, too, Cindy and my friends. If there was a hole in 7th Street Entry, I was going to do my damndest to find it and crawl in.
 
Bouncing along the edges of the crowd, along the walls, I soon found myself back out in street, freezing on 7th Avenue. The street lights were already coming on, even though it was only 4:30. A few punks leaned against the walls of First Avenue, smoking and huddling against the cold. Two of Minneapolis’ finest stood in their black and blue parkas, uninterested by the rebellion going on inside.
 
Kiley? …and Matt? The monks were roused to great laughter, not even bothering to pick up their staffs: my brain was beating itself up plenty without their aid.
 
I was freezing, and bewildered to a state where the frenzy of the mosh pit looked clarifying, so I went back inside, where I felt cold to the bone even after the steam of the crowd washed over me. Cindy had fixed her make-up, even as her hair still clung in strands.
 
“Where’d you go?” she asked.
 
“Outside.” I said, “I needed to cool off. Where’s everyone else?”
 
Paul was stumbling through a cover of a 70s pop song and the mosh pit had evaporated entirely, replaced by the random movements and facial expressions of kids wondering where their punk show had gone, and what love growing had to do with fucking school.
 
“Bathroom,” said Cindy, “or leaning against a wall making out, like Jake and Leah over there.”
 
As I scanned to find their PDA I looked for Matt and Kiley, but couldn’t find them. Cindy and I went to the bar to buy Cokes. And as I passed each person in the crowd, I both hoped and feared it would be Kiley.
 
The Replacements took us down to the hospital, told us to shut up, got us in trouble, then told us to “Go!” Cindy and I leaned against the wall for their last four songs. She reached her arm around my waist and pulled me tight against her clammy body, her boobs and belly pressing against me. She knew—at least something. It felt good to have her there with me. It felt like all the hell in the world.
 
When the show was over, we stood around dazed by the lights and the absence of sound pummeling us from the amps stacked on stage. Then we stumbled out into the surprising dark and cold of a December night in Minneapolis. We were standing at a red light on Hennepin when Cindy grabbed my hand. Her eyes were lit with mischief. Lips red. Skin white as milk. And her grip was pulling with purpose…
 
“Let’s go!”
 
I started forward but then pulled up, watching her disappear into a steam cloud rising from the sewer grate, then flash between two cars and stop at the other side of the street.
 
When Cindy turned around on Hennepin’s other curb and looked back at me, the first thing she did was blow me a kiss. Then she hugged herself against the cold and laughed at me while I waited for a green light, standing in cold red-tinged fog, waiting for the right opportunity—afraid to dash after her. The kiss she blew never got to me, froze in the night, dissipated in the cold of the night, in the fog of my regrets.

 

///

 

Nansen Cuts the Cat in Half

 

Nansen saw the Eastern and Western hall monks fighting over a cat. He raised it and said, “If you answer well, the cat is saved. If not, I will kill it.” No answers were given—so Nansen cut the cat in halves.

 

When Joshu arrived that night, Nansen told him the story. Joshu took off his shoe, put it on his head, and left. Nansen called out, “You would have saved the cat!”

 

— from Charles Waters’ translation, Lotus in Ashes: Koans from the Mumonkan and Hekiganroku

 


This is the fifteenth section of Zen Arcade, a novel by Joel Turnipseed. We will be publishing a new section every other Sunday until Summer 2015. Read them here or get an email notification when the new section is available.

# # #