Whether the demise of my current favorite dancing place is permanent or temporary, it’s left me with a lack of places to go and bounce on a weekly. This leaves me with pent-up feelings,an accumulation of…something. Life, maybe. I’ve gotten used to venting it every week or so, for the past twenty-plus years, and there’s no other suitable outlet that I’ve found, yet. It’s hard to describe; it builds up like dust, a nebulous sense of being able to let the week and all the minor things that came with it go. It’s a shutdown,r eboot and backup of my brain that clears caches and prepares the system for another week. It clears the cobwebs. It feels good.
When it doesn’t happen, just like if I don’t write, things get cluttered in here. And the outlets feed each other. If I haven’t written, it’s hard to dance. If I haven’t danced, it gets hard to write.
Fortunately Detroit offers alternatives, a few of them depending on how late one wants to stay out. And last night, after helping one of my favorite people move, it occurred to me that I was right near Small’s in Hamtramck, and Industrial Is Not Dead had just started. IIND is an occasional stompy night with a good mix of stuff that moves me, and I have been going regularly when their schedule doesn’t conflict with other things. A quick stop by would make up for not having danced in a few weeks.
As the bar’s name suggests, Small’s isn’t that big, but this early, it wasn’t crowded either. I can easily use half the dance floor there, though I try not to if it means getting into other people’s space. I had a reasonably good bounce, even though I didn’t see anyone I knew well. I played to Cyberaktif and Stromkern, to God Module and FGFC820, to Aesthetic Perfection and Sleetgrout. We had quite the micro-carnival.
Alas, this weekend also came with a side of Work in the Morning, so I scooted out around eleven. The usual collection of goffkids was hanging around the entrance of Smalls smoking, and I ran that gauntlet, then decided that some juice for the drive home would be nice. And there’s a liquor store open late across the street, so I crossed Caniff to make that detour. On the way in, I passed another gauntlet, this one of young dudes hanging out in front of the liquor store, like you do. Less cigarette smoke, more conversation, it seemed to be.
“Store” isn’t quite the right word–it’s more of an “emporium.” What a fancy place! Wire-rack shelves stretching to twelve-plus foot ceilings inside, with party-store goods and groceries filling them the entire way! I wondered how they got the toilet paper down from the top, since the narrow aisles certainly wouldn’t admit a hi-lo. Perhaps everything above the ten-foot level is for show. I made my way around the cooler-lined walls, past all of the alcohol, to the juice, found something promising, and got in line (the place was busy for 11pm.
After I paid for my juice and an impulse-buy Twix PB (which I would later regret–I always think they’re gonna be a good idea, and they never are), the woman in line behind me said something. I couldn’t quite understand her, because she had a drunkish slur and her voice sounded like…well, if you can imagine covering a Chihuahua’s nose and mouth with yours and blowing into it so hard that it forced a fart out of the animal, then AutoTuned that noise into an approximation of words, that’s what she sounded like. I said, “Excuse me?” and she repeated it. This time I caught the words, “help me out” but I didn’t really care to ask her to repeat herself again, so I just said, “No, I’m sorry,” and turned to go. She made a lightly-offended noise that suggested she knew I was blowing her off. This was fair, since I was, and I didn’t care to give my change to her anyway.
Still, it was a neat store and I was happy to have juice. On the way across the parking lot, I heard a female voice behind me (part of the cluster of people around the door) say, “is that a woman or a man?” Considering my ankle-length skirt and slouch socks, I assumed that was directed at me. I didn’t turn around, since I was already past them. I didn’t hear the discussion that followed either, but as I reached the edge of the parking lot, one of them shouted, “Hey, man, gimme dat dress back!”
It’s hard to quantify, but there’s a distinct difference between an attempt at a witty comment, and an attempt to Start Shit. I couldn’t tell you what it is, but I know it when I hear it, it’s just a sizzle in the air. And it can be impossible to know whether it’s best defused by a show of force, an attempt to be reasonable and friendly, or straight-up disengagement. Once in Austin, a belligerent drunk stepped into my space in the middle of the street and demanded to know why I was wearing a goddamn skirt, and I shouted right back that my dick was too big to fit into pants, and he backed off. This time, that frisson of “threat” hit my nerves and I did some instinctive math: there were at least four men and a woman back there, maybe more. And I was alone. This was not a good time to engage. I pretended I hadn’t heard and kept walking.
Again: “Hey, man, gimme dat dress back!” Almost certainly directed at me, and almost certainly a threat. The shouter has a follow-up in mind, whether it’s to call me a faggot or to chase me down and curbstomp me or to throw something at my head, there’s no way of knowing. But there’s definitely a follow up. He just needs me to respond to the opening. So I continue ignoring him and walk, doing my best to pretend I haven’t heard, not quickening my pace. My juice is in a glass bottle, and I twist the bag so my hand is around its neck, gripped firmly. Just in case.
Fuck. The light’s red, and there are enough cars coming that I can’t get across. “Hey, man, gimme dat dress back!” Is he coming closer? They might be following me across the parking lot. I don’t turn to look; that would indicate that I’ve heard them, might constitute a response and open the door for whatever the next part of their scheduled performance is. The crowd of goffkids outside Smalls is on the other side of the street and I begin to wonder if I can reach them before someone grabs me from behind. Some of them know me, at least to see me around. I’ll be safe there. Goddammit, why won’t the light change?
“Hey, man, gimme dat dress back!” He yells it twice more before the light changes. I’m guessing he’s too drunk to realize that he sounds like a dumbass after repeating the phrase three or four times. He’s yelled it enough times that the syntax is pissing me off–if you’re trying to insult me, telling me to give it back implies that the “dress” in question actually belongs to you, bright boy.
After an eternity, the light finally changes. Nobody charges me from behind and I walk casually back through the goffkids to my car. I’m still alert for sounds of pursuit, since it’s a long, dark half-block before I reach Armadilly, but noting untoward happens other than some frazzled nerves.
It reminds me of the value of safe spaces. City Club has always been in a terrible part of town, arguably worse than Small’s, but it’s also been a safe space for fifteen, twenty years easily. I have never felt unsafe stumbling around the cracked streets over there at all hours of the night, alone or in groups. Small’s has a much smaller safe-zone; even right across the street, there was that real-world feeling that things could go horribly sideways. Which is kind of a drag. This is not a criticism of Small’s, by the way; it’s a wonderful little place. Just an observation of tiny shifts in atmosphere that necessarily happen in one place or another. I do hope I don’t lose a gathering-space that’s also a safe space, though. That’s a pretty magical thing.