Chapter 27: Unfamiliar Awkwardness



Chapter XXVII: Unfamiliar Awkwardness 
Part 1: Broadway’s

It was dark, dreary, and the beautiful scenery was not visible. I had told several people in Milwaukee about Asheville and pretended in my head that some of them were with me and I was a tour guide. Seeing it on this gloomy rainy night was nothing special—it looked just like any other place. I just made as if I were saying to the class, you are going to be amazed when you see where you are in the morning daylight.

I walked down Tunnel Road, and it took me a few moments to remember which direction I needed to walk. It’s amazing how fast a person can forget minor things such as direction about a place that used to be home. Walking in Asheville is not easy walking either; I realized that I wasn’t in as fit of Asheville walking shape as I used to be. I walk several miles a day in Milwaukee—it’s flat; Asheville consists of walking up steep hills constantly. Seeing the tunnel made me smile, although I walked through there cautiously. There were a lot of sketchy homeless people in Asheville and they sometimes slept in the Tunnel. One has to keep on guard for they can be belligerent to casual pedestrians or tourists. The realization that I was currently a tourist was unsettling.

Asheville was dead that night, and I knew it was going to be. I tried to recollect what I had done the previous New Year’s when I lived there—a night with some girl named Jade, another with Jen and I getting stoned at Adam’s house discussing how Sebadoh was actually a Shoegaze band. There was nothing incredibly extravagant because New Year’s Eve in Asheville becomes overcrowded with tourists pretending to be aberrational punks.

Once I neared downtown, a warm feeling rushed over me as I could not contain the huge smile… Asheville. Even though I was sick, even though it was cold, even though it was raining, I was thrilled to be back in Asheville.

Things had changed obviously. Fred’s Speakeasy was no longer in business. Furthermore, I wasn't even sure what would still be around or what would be open or closed—all of the restaurants were closed. Plus, it was getting late as it was now around midnight. There was nobody on the streets, which rarely happens in Asheville.

After a quick stroll around downtown, I stopped at my old favorite place—Broadway’s. This is a private club that required a membership. Again, I hadn’t been there in two and a half years and wasn’t sure what to expect. Once upon a time, I knew all the people who worked at the door, but now wasn’t even sure if I would be allowed entry.

I walked in, the doorman was somebody I somewhat knew, but never really hung out with. When I lived here, he worked at The Emerald Lounge next-door and was a frequent customer at the Shell station I worked. It was somewhat awkward at first, we shared puzzling looks, and I signed in on the sheet. He asked if I was a member and I said yes; he didn't argue.

The bartender I kind of knew, but totally forgot his name—I hadn’t even thought of this person in the 2.5 years I’ve been gone. This was by far the most dead I had ever seen Broadway’s. Aside from me, there were only a few other patrons. And these people… I sort of knew them back in the day, but they were not my closest friends. Again, they were people I had completely forgotten about; and they had forgotten me… but I think we all looked familiar but not sure where. It was a bit peculiar.

And so I sat there by myself, deciding what I should do, drinking a beer. Some other people entered, and again, same deal… people whose faces I recognized, but could not place any association with the face as I attempted to recall any conversations we might have had. This other dude entered who I remembered, but never really knew too personally. He was quite popular around town as he was DJ and considered to be a music expert. Admittedly, I was always somewhat intimidated by him because I suspected he knew more about music than me. Somewhere in my head, I always wished to impress this person with my own music knowledge, maybe have a deep intellectual music conversation and learn some new bands, but it simply never happened.

At one point, I was well known in this town, and was also considered a music expert—people would enter Shell just to discuss music or have me make mix CD’s for them. I was unsure if he ever knew that or not because we exchanged glances frequently, spoke to each other briefly or in passing, but it never extended beyond that. We were never properly introduced.

With nothing better to do, and displeased with the unfitting silence, I desired to play a song on the jukebox. Selecting a song for this very moment was something I considered extensively and applied a great deal of effort and thought. I figured I was an outsider now and had to do something in order to identify myself. The current atmosphere needed to be considered; it was dead, but did it need to be lively, or were people content with the quiet setting? Taking in account the people present, if I played something stupid, that could jeopardize my already depleted approval rating. Also, since I am a cheapskate, I do not like to play songs that span less than 4 minutes when I have to pay a dollar to hear it.

I took my time making the selection, for I wasn't doing anything besides sitting at the bar awkwardly looking full-retard. The purpose of the song was to make my appearance go from full-retard to at least half-retard or better. It was one of those jukeboxes where the user has to type in the name and the selection may or may not be available. Not much was available, and I was not impressed with the limited selection. I didn't wish to play something that had possibly been heard thousands of times... something new, but by a classic well-respected artist that met the time limit requirements. Furthermore, it had to be considered cool, with the appropriate blend of lively and chill at the same time. All things considered, I went with “Hey Jane” by Spiritualized.

Each of the patrons watched closely as I returned to my seat. I believe the song was met with substantial approval and I was at least regarded as moderately cool, even though nobody remembered my name or me theirs. 

Another person entered and a mysterious something asked me, “I wonder if anybody ever says I look like that guy.”

He said, “Hey Tony, haven’t seen you in awhile.”

Finally, somebody remembered my name but I forgot his. He came up and shook my hand and immediately said his name though, Dylan. Now I remember… somebody once said we looked alike and she often got us confused. I told him about this and we were both like, “Eww, gross.” Aside from that though, I was never close personal friends with him either. We were acquaintances with lots of similar friends, but we never hung out to where it was just the two us; he had never been over to my house nor me his. He dated this chick named Casey, who I was better friends with, but they broke up a long time ago. Last I had heard, he moved to New York.

We talked about that for awhile. I told him that I was living in Milwaukee and just in town visiting. He apparently had been bouncing around the Northeast, and when I told him I was moving to Portland, he assumed I meant Maine. He had just returned from Maine and loved it there. Apparently he is doing OK now in Asheville, marketing some various pills and powders guaranteed to alter reality.

When I lived here, they had a T-shirt that read “Ash Vegas” for tourists to purchase (a resident would never dare wear this shirt.) Upon listening to their conversation, it sounded like the city was attempting to drop that slogan and adopt “Ashterdam” instead. There was an event scheduled tomorrow, some sort of festival type party that had become an annual event, and people were discussing what drugs to bring as if they were side dishes at a banquet.

Part 2, Hannah Flannigan’s

After my beer, I deemed Broadway’s dead and went for another stroll. Reaching one side of downtown required walking up a massively steep incline, and I did not feel like doing that. I had read online that another friend was now working at this joint called Hannah Flannigan’s so I went there to see if she was working.

En route, there was some place on a corner that had a happening dance party taking place. A girl was standing out front smoking a cigarette and wearing the type of skimpy revealing clothes that could cause immediate sexual gratification with just a slight glance. I wanted to go inside, but it was some sort of engagement for a style of dancing I had never heard of; she encouraged me to go inside anyway. But, I had no business being in there and had no clue what the fuck this sort of dancing even entailed. Rather than stand there staring at her nipples that were protruding through her skimpy cut-off shirt that barely covered her breasts, I opted to not be creepy and simply embedded that image of her in my head for when I got back to the hotel—by myself, because that’s how I roll. (I consider the midriff top one of the top few greatest inventions in history; just one of thousands of reasons to confirm that I am a douche.)

Hannah Flannigan’s was even more dead than Broadway’s… there were three other people in there besides the bartender. Again, I had known two of these people from somewhere, but wasn’t sure where. I sat fairly close to them, but sat by myself with moderate distance.

Something reminded me that I was now in Asheville and not in Milwaukee—remember, this is Beer City USA. That’s right! I can order Asheville beer. I looked at the taps to observe their selection and what sounded good at the time. I had forgotten most of them and finally went with the one that I thought had the best name for I did not wish to keep the bartender waiting. Also, I didn’t want to look like a tourist and ask questions about every beer because I hate it when people do that to me.

I chatted with the bartender for awhile. She was hot, to say the least—that Asheville style badass hot that is non-existent in Milwaukee, Cincinnati, and definitely not New Castle. However, she said she was tired because (mind you I had never met this person) her friends took a whole bunch of mushrooms last night and most of them didn’t even know where they were.

When I am at a bar, I often take notice to how great it would be to work at that establishment. All of us at The Cheese Bar agree that we have the worst bar and the worst clientele in the world; coupled with the worst management. We have gone through great lengths to make that place even tolerable as we strive for something considered genuinely cool—keep in mind the difficulties of achieving this when we are surrounded by booty bars and feature, of all things to compete with  sexual lust, God damn mother fucking cheese. Ever heard the term sex sells? How about cheese sells? Ever see a car magazine that features a slice of 5 year cheddar lying erotically on the hood?

Our crew went out together regularly and took notice how the other side lived. We sought what other people did for success and applied alternate renditions at our bar… which had been primarily populated with douches, old people, and tourists. Ownership worked against us, ruled that we had to play the Harry Belafonte station on Pandora on a Saturday night, and there were numerous times the bar would be completely empty on a weekend night. Or, the customers were intolerable and frequently asked stupid questions such as, “How does this work?” Nobody ever asked this at any other establishment, nor did they have to put up with the extreme bullshit that we were subjected to.  Until one day, we congregated, plotted, revolted, and we the workers finally took over. The fucking owner should appreciate the great lengths we took upon ourselves to improve business, but the fucker was always trying to find reasons to work against us.

I looked at all the aspects that made Hannah Flannigan’s a significantly better establishment than the bar I used to work. To begin, we were never allowed to discuss how we all did mushrooms with the other patrons, so immediately I found this place cooler than ours. The Cheese Bar boasts 36 taps, among the most in all of downtown Milwaukee. This was a relatively new appeal as we tried to drop the cheese moniker entirely. Best of all, most of the beers that we featured were local microbrews.

Hannah Flannigan’s had well over 40 taps, most of them local, most of them microbrews. They had a way better selection of liquors than us. In fact; they had more flavors of Malibu Rum than we had flavors of everything combined. Admittedly, I was a bit intimidated—if I were to look for a job here, my Milwaukee resume suddenly pales in comparison to Asheville. Oh well, I thought, they don’t have to know everything, and I can learn on the fly pretty quickly.

Plus, they had way better music as the music came from the bartender’s I-pod; we have to play shitty ass Pandora. Even when I was allowed to create the playlists, I still had limitations as to what I could play. The owner eventually ruled that all music had to come from Pandora. (Late at night, when the owner was gone for good, we never played shitty ass Pandora—that’s because we’re cool; ideally, my friends Mitch & Kim would move with me and we could open our own bar. On the nights when I selected the music at our place, the music was better than here.)

Maybe I just needed an Asheville beer in my system, because halfway through, it all started to come back to me. I heard her name and I thought about it. “That’s where I know you from.” The other girl that I didn’t know first said, “Me?” but the one I knew stood up and said, “No, it’s me. I know you too.”

“You had the world’s largest German Shepherd.”

“That’s Charles, I still have Charles, and he’s doing fine.” She gave me a hug and all was well.

For whatever reason, possibly several of them, I feel that people genuinely do not like me or find me to be sketchy, creepy, or a loser. Even though the bartender and I seemed to be getting along great, I naturally assumed that it was merely because she had to be friendly in order to earn her tip of $1 per beer. That’s how I go into most situations and if anything happens outside of that, then that meant that I had passed the test of not being creepy. Therefore, rather than ask for Kelly’s number, I gave the bartender my phone number and requested she give it to Kelly next time she saw her.

I left, and Kelly called within minutes of me leaving… apparently I wasn't quite as creepy as I thought I was. She said I could stay with her and we made plans to hang out the next day. That was assuring and I walked back to the hotel feeling pretty good about myself. Yes, it was a dead night, it was cold, rainy, and I was getting sick… but it was still Asheville. Simply seeing those few people I encountered, even though I barely knew them, was uplifting. Tomorrow would certainly be better.

Index: Chapter List

Chapter 27 Soundtrack Listing:

1. Colin Newman
"I've Waited Ages" 5:05


2. Sebadoh
"Cry Sis" 2:52

Smash Your Head On The Punk Rock

3. The Velvet Underground
"Venus in Furs" 5:13

The Velvet Underground & Nico

4. Gil Scott-Heron
"I'm New Here" 3:33

I'm New Here

5. 10cc
"Une Nuit a Paris" 8:41

The Original Soundtrack

6. Spiritualized
"Hey Jane" 8:52

Sweet Heart, Sweet Light

7. T. Rex
"Monolith" 3:49

Electric Warrior

8. Andrew Bird
"Simple X" 3:37

Armchair Apocrypha

9. Badly Drawn Boy
"Magic in the Air" 3:43

The Hour of Bewilderbeast

10. Normil Hawaiians
"British Warm" 9:09

More Wealth Than Money

All Sections Written, Designed, and Music Compiled by Tony J. Neal

Midriff top image from: Flickr
Tunnel Road image from: Flickriver

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