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break the floor

I went out to the Union Club last summer to see Hannah’s sister’s band called Carpool. Her sister played saxophone. When the lights went down, Carpool stirred the crowd into gently bouncing, bumping motion as they shout-sang between golden horn wails and precise volleys of snare. They wrapped up with a cheery thank-you and a nod to the hand-painted shirts waiting on a folding table in the back.

We stepped outside between sets and a woman wearing .22 cartridge earrings that shone like streetlights came over and told me she liked my band’s new video. I told her thanks and sorry but I’m not in that band. She said it was a good video anyway and went off past a clump of unshaven men in ironic shirts smoking American Spirit blacks. Red neon spilled out from the shop window next door. Hannah and I leaned back against the brick and made fun of the guys and their pretensions.

“That one looks like the type of dude who’d ask you if you’d ever heard of Tame Impala.”

“He’d probably write whole poems about you and then ghost you because he needs time to figure himself out.”

“Bet he’d shove a gap into his teeth with a screwdriver just to look more like Mac DeMarco.”

We kept it up until the mockery became too much of a sport, and our own words felt acidic in our mouths, even as we stayed out of earshot. We went back inside and upstairs where the noise came washing and roaring like a swollen river. The next band was called Wimps and their songs were simple and ferocious. Two chord four/four piss and PBR. The Union Club lacked air conditioning and it was an August night and the bodies that churned and stomped in the front all slipped against each other, shirts sticking and skin gleaming. There was a photographer there, who came to nearly every show, cradling his expensive camera, ducking and weaving like a boxer as he waded into the pit. I remember feeling the lens on me, thinking of being documented, of The Decline of Western Civilization, of a swirl of painted, pierced, pimpled faces. I thought of Darby Crash in that movie. Crawling over the stage, letting a sea of hands pass around a blue magic marker to scrawl on his bare back like a bathroom stall, some drawing cocks or swastikas. How bad he slurred his speech when he shouted “just gimme a beer.” He died a few months after the film was shot.

At a certain point the air was elbowed out of my chest, and I went to sit out until I caught my breath. They had plastic chairs lining the walls, like a school dance. I watched the shoes. Boots and canvas sneakers launching skyward. The floor flexed concave beneath them like the surface of a trampoline. The man sitting next to me was tall and sweating. A tiny cut just south of his shaved scalp left a crusted trail of dried blood down the middle of his pale forehead to the bridge of his nose. I asked if he was good and he nodded. He watched the shoes with me a moment and shook his head, giving his disapproval.

“They’re going to break the floor.”

“You think so?” He was too close to my ear. I felt flecks of spit hit my cheek.

“Yeah. Yeah, they’re going to break the fuckin’ floor.” He sounded like Chicken Little.

“Well I hope not.” I could feel the wall behind me pounding. The floor went up and down like a breathing chest. There was someone else’s saliva on my face. I stood and launched myself back in, head bowed, elbows out, legs wide. If the floor did break, I wanted to be there, right in the middle, be a part of everything. A shoulder came up under my chin and my tongue caught between my teeth and I tasted pennies. The band played on, churning, raw-throated. I watched my own shoes and wondered if the bleeding man was right. If the floor would give way and we would plummet straight down into the bar below. If the fall would be far enough to break anything. If these soft bodies would come down on hard, sharp rubble. I wondered if everyone had noticed the way the linoleum beneath their feet strained downward, if they cared. It would make a good story, wouldn’t it? An even better picture, if that camera survived the fall. The photographer was up front, snapping away at the stage. I braced myself with each jump, with each punch of the kick. I thought about the fall being worth the story. About bleeding faces. About graffitied, drunk torsos. About macho masochism and self-destruction as performance.

Then the manager was there, scolding us on the mic in the voice of a bathrobed father interrupting a slumber party. Telling us about the tiles that had started to fall from the ceiling on the ground floor. That we’d better settle down or hit the road. It tapered off after that. Those tiles we’d managed to shake loose had slaked our bloodlust, and we were content to stand safely in place and nod our heads in rhythm ‘til the show was over and it was time to pour out into the sticky night.

Words by Max.

Photo by Eva.

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