“Wanna smoke?” The Kid in the Black Beanie asks, and offers me the end of his half smoked Marlboro.
In an instant, two years of D.A.R.E., countless PSA’s, and my dad’s voice run through my head like a train wreck.
“Naw man, I’m good,” I say. The Kid shrugs, takes one last puff of the cigarette, and flicks it into the rest of the crowd.
“That’s cool that you did that,” Miriam says after he turns away. “You’re over 200 miles from home attending a rock concert. You’re going to spend the night in a different city than your parents … a different city than your cop dad, your one chance to get away with anything, and you just refused a cigarette.”
“Well, I figured some kid, somewhere, needed a role model. They just don’t know I exist.”
It’s Friday night and Miriam and I are sitting on the floor of Sokol Auditorium, waiting for the first band to start.
Sokol’s in Omaha, about 200 hundred miles from where I live, and my parents finally gave me enough lenience to go see a concert there. From the outside it looks like a warehouse, but inside its stage is fronted with a red velvet curtain and a chandelier hangs above the wooden floor.
A balcony protrudes from three walls, where old bleachers have been screwed to the floor and the floor-length mirrors that cover the walls are tarnished and dirty. It’s not the place you go to see music that’s on the radio; but the music that you love and make your own.
I see a few other kids from Aurora there, and when they notice me, we give each other the obligatory head-nod, but don’t say anything.
For me, this is Miriam and I thing. She’s a preachers daughter, and I a cop’s son (yup, that’s right), so naturally we became friends. She’s my only truly mature friend. By mature I mean has a job, can hold a job, and drives a car she pays for with that job.
“This is pretty damn cool,” I say to her as the lights in the auditorium dim and we stand up with the rest of the audience.
“Effin’ right,” she says and smiles. Her front two teeth are bigger than the rest, a flaw that she obsesses over. She also hates her red hair and her freckles, her height and her weight, her voice and her nose. I think they’re all perfectly fine.
The band strikes the first chord and the crowd rushes the stage, including me. Bodies press against me and I press against others. Note to Self: Never wear sandals at a concert again.
By the time the second band finishes their set, I’m covered in Corona Light and a cigarette burn makes a dark circle on my right shoulder. Miriam fares little better; a dark purple circle’s already forming around her eye.
What isn’t covered in alcohol is drenched in sweat, but it’s okay because most of the people around me are shirtless anyways. The air is thick and hot, but if you stand on your tiptoes, you can almost feel a cold current of air touch you before you fade away; and there is an ever-present hint of pot in the air.
I wonder if I’ll ever try some.
The sound in the auditorium isn’t great, and I can only make out some of the words on some of the songs I know by heart.
“Does it bother you that you can’t hear what they’re saying?” I yell into Miriam’s ear.
She looks at me for a second, and then motions for me to lean in.
“I don’t think it’s always about the words,” she says, “sometimes it’s just about the feeling.”
I look at the people around me.
I look at myself.
I get it.