Sunday, March 26, 2017

you'll never walk alone

It almost happened, but luckily, it didn't.

Last week, I had long-standing plans to go to a concert with my son — something I do quite often. This time, we were seeing Puddles Pity Party, the acclaimed "sad clown with the golden voice" who has been gaining attention and popularity (of the cult variety) thanks to his many YouTube videos, particularly his collaboration with Post Modern Jukebox and an unusual take on Lorde's anthemic "Royals." Puddles, a six-foot-eight clown, is, admittedly, not for everyone — especially those with a deep (or even mild) fear of clowns. While Puddles does have a beautifully rich, almost operatic voice, his performances are "in-your-face" and heavy on audience participation.

The day before the Puddles show, the Philadelphia area was hit by a blast of winter weather that could only be described as "inconvenient." Instead of the twelve to eighteen inches of snow that was forebodingly predicted, the city was merely covered with a cold wintry mix that blanketed lawns, streets and sidewalks with around four inches of hard, crunchy snow, making travel — either by car or on foot — difficult. The morning of the show, my son set out for work, a trek that ends on the other side of the "center city" area from his South Philadelphia home. In the course of his walk, he slipped on some unshoveled ice and fell. When he hit the ground, his legs involuntarily twisted in a position to cause him the most amount of pain. After downing Advil all day, he decided that staying off his feet for the remainder of the day would be his best course of action. So, we passed on the show, hoping to see Puddles on his next trip through our fair city.

To make up for it, my son got me on the guest list for a local bunch of raucous garage rockers that go by the moniker "Scantron." They are a five-piece band comprised of three-fifths of the band Low Cut Connie. My boy, a DJ and producer at a Philadelphia radio station, would be unable to join me, as he was busy engineering a broadcast, followed by a recording session with another band. I was on my own to find someone to accompany me. Of course, Mrs. Pincus would be the obvious choice, but, alas, my spouse and I do not always see eye-to-eye with our musical tastes. Having been to the particular venue before, I didn't think she would enjoy... well, any of it. The close quarters, the seedy atmosphere, the turned-up-way-too-loud sound system, the near-primitive bathroom facilities and the nothing-more-than-cheap-beer menu. Within a few minutes, Mrs. P would have headed for the door. So, I spared her the trip, although I did offer an obligatory, yet half-hearted, invitation (which she obligingly declined). Via Twitter, I contacted my pal Cookie. I know he goes to a lot of shows, based on the photos he posts on his various social media outlets. Cookie hemmed and hawed a bit and offered a non-committal reply with a solid "maybe." I told him that I'd be going, no matter what his final decision would be.

I have been going to concerts for forty-one years. Since the first time I anxiously entered the (now long gone) Philadelphia Spectrum to see Alice Cooper spill his "Welcome to My Nightmare" tour across the stage, I have seen hundreds of shows at dozens of venues. However, I went to every single one of those shows with someone — never alone. Never.

I came home from work, ate a quick dinner with my wife, then headed down to the show. As I wound my way through the congested streets of North Philadelphia, I thought about parking, about how late I was gonna stay — everything except the fact that I was going to be at this show without anyone I knew. I'd be that guy standing in the corner — or worse — up in front of the stage, all by himself. I'm sure you've seen that guy. I didn't want to be that guy at this show.

I parked and walked up the venue. I began to explain to the dude at the door that I was on Scantron's guest list. Suddenly, George, Scantron's second guitarist, ran from the restaurant across the street to confirm my inclusion on said list. He recognized me from previous introductions. It was pretty cool. I've been the "plus one" on my son's guest list inclusion, but never on my own. I entered, as George smacked my back and told me he was going back to join his band mates for dinner. I took a spot inside and watched two guys stumble their way through a game of pool. I quietly fiddled with my phone and was resigned to that fact that I was gonna be at this show by myself.  Until I got a text from Cookie saying that he was on his way.

Twenty or so minutes later, Cookie and his fiance Consuelo wandered in. We exchanged greetings and, after a bit of chit-chat, I confessed that this was almost my first "alone" show. Ever. Cookie furrowed his brow and gave me a look of scrutiny. "I've been to plenty of shows by myself," he explained, "no big deal. You've never gone to a concert alone?"

"Nope." I said flatly. "Never."

"But I've seen you at...," he started.

I interrupted.  "You were there, so I wasn't alone." Then, I continued, "And now that you two are here, my streak still stands."

Scantron was getting ready to perform and we made our way back to the small stage area. I took a place up close to the left side, within arms reach of the stage. Cookie and Consuelo hung back on the far right. A dozen or so people filed in between us, eventually blocking them from my clear line of vision.

But, I as far as I was concerned, I was not there alone.

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