The following feature appears in the Fall 2016 issue of Medley Magazine.
From a coveted wooden bench, I counted seven pixie cuts and four pairs of Doc Martens. No more than 15 people stood in the room, but they all managed to mingle, forming small groups around common threads of conversation. In an effort to entertain myself, I knocked my heels together, bumping a pair of acid wash jeans. My gaze followed them to the front entrance and stopped when a bare ass hit my peripherals.
“Is that a butt?” I asked my friend.
Two cheeks peeked out between a leather panel and the top of a barstool. Bright, white skin blared from between the patent of the fabric and the dark cherry wash of the wood. Dressed in a Fifty Shades-esque skirt/leather strap hybrid, this person’s body was covered only in strips of fabric from the waist down.
Earlier that night, this same guy greeted me, but our interaction left more to the imagination. I ambled in, my gaze cast down as he smeared a green “X” across the back of my shaking hand. My eyes followed the mesh-covered arm encircling mine to greet a platinum blonde in a skintight velvet crop top that failed to conceal a navel. Catching sight of some unseemly hairs, I looked up. At first, I was shocked to see a masculine jaw line and stared at his smudged black eyeliner, a stark contrast to the to the white hairs of his pompadour cut. He half smiled at me. Then, his eyes wandered to the two smiley faces strategically placed on my white t-shirt. Any other day, I would have worn high-waisted trousers and a cozy Madewell sweater, but for the sake of Ladyfest, I dressed the part.
First encounters over, I shuffled my black ankle boots into a sea of vans and scribbled-on red, green, and purple colored converse. My eyes flickered, jumping around the room from booth to booth. A deep breath later, I began talking to one of the tabling artists. Welp, this is uncomfortable, I thought. Not sure how to handle myself, I checked my phone for the fourth time that night. Minutes aren’t 30 seconds apart, but I kept looking.
Restless, I swiveled towards a booth with a banner reading “Feminist Kill Joy.” Floral patterns collided on petite pillows and multi-patterned zip wallets. It looked kitschy, but cute, and the complete antithesis of my minimalist, monochrome life.
I sidled up. A “Hey, boi” postcard and a quilt of embroidered commands greeted me. “Stop slut shaming,” one square read. “Sex is healthy,” said another. The last one told me to “shut up.” I listened and looked down where even cheekier stitches greeted me. I blushed at the R-rated graphic images, which included embroidered boobs, hand-stitched IUD’s, and soiled tampons.
The vendor and I commiserated on the bullshit that is cat-calling for a couple of minutes, but I quickly ran out of words. I awkwardly stepped back and looked for other booths to occupy my time. Not wanting to converse with anyone else, I hesitated to move and teetered on the edge of my heels. That’s when I spotted the free food, a commodity at an event that offered “pay what you can,” but charged a dollar for bottled water. A small plate of what looked like cubes of cheese stared me into submission. I approached slowly, knowing it was a vegan booth, but praying the “pepper jack” would taste relatively decent. The second I put it in my mouth, it slid and crumbled in ways cheese never could. The feeling of regret overwhelmed me and I resisted the urge to scrunch my nose or spit it out. I succeeded, but the taste lingered as I made my way downstairs to the open mic space.
A long, mostly empty rectangular room opened before me. A “Ladyfest” banner and a single strand of pink lights added festivity to the all-white space. Light poured in between taped together trashbags from a large window on the left-hand wall. Although the open mic was scheduled to start at 6, none of the performers had shown up yet.
Again, I dug my hands into my pockets. I tiptoed between patches of people. Tattoos crawled up arms and rested on clavicles. Septum piercings begged me to be bolder. Pops of color crept into my peripherals, and I started to wonder how much damage my hair could handle in the quest to dye it pink.
“Excuse me.” A voice interrupted my mental bleaching. I snapped into focus as a girl in a leather jacket and yet another enviable nose piercing approached the mic and apologized for the delay. The crowd didn’t seem to care. Instead, their eyes followed an orange balloon as it bounced from palm to palm.
The guy in the barely-there leather bottoms readjusted the mic for the first performer. She twitched awkwardly. I saluted her, knowing I could never be so brave. From a distant corner, I saw the glitter smeared across her cheeks. It caught the light as she pulled out her phone, the vehicle for her reading of “Wild Geese.” Mary Oliver’s words rang into the room. I attempted to listen, but small talk distracted me. After the reading, flecks of glitter trailed behind her and found a home on the hardwood floor.
The bathroom across from the stage flooded the back of the room with light. It bounced off the speckled boards. Peeking in, desperate for entertainment, I began to read the sharpie-tagged memories across the walls.
“I’m just trying to hug a wall, here,” I overheard.
Me, too, I thought. Alone and miles from my comfort zone/bed, I stood against an air conditioner, stuck to its stability. This space, so inviting to every gender, sex and age, still couldn’t make me outgoing. Instead I clung to the perimeter, hiding from the growing crowd and its influx of small talk. I was a sober stranger in a sea of acquaintances and of-age artists.
At 7:53 p.m., I had seven minutes to distract myself before the first band. My phone was nearly dead, thanks to my incessant time checks. I twiddled my thumbs, bit my nails and fidgeted, trying not to drown the battery. Two other introverts stood next to me. Instead of talking, we stood restlessly alone together and I reveled in knowing I wasn’t the only loner there.
Soon, I looked up from my concentrated fiddling to find I was the youngest in the room, save for an eight-year-old whose familiar balloon had served as my sole entertainment for a sad amount of time now. I watched her cowboy boots float her from person to person. Her smile stood constant under blunt bangs of cherry Kool-Aid hair. I pictured myself at eight years old and cringed. This little girl’s grey and black striped tunic and leggings were more sophisticated than anything the early 2000’s had to offer and her eye makeup wasn’t bright blue shadow and misplaced body glitter, but perfectly swept lids of gold and subtle swipes of mascara. She had the excitement of a child in a room of new friends and approached almost everyone there. Somehow at 20 I was unable to leave a wall; she was eight and finding common ground with people more than twice her age. She’s so confident, I thought, and totally won’t have an awkward phase.
“A quiet, half naked bystander until now, he manned the soundboards and the entrance, but never uttered a word. Rather, he let his music and his outfit speak volumes.”
The crowd shuffled to make room for a drum set. We part and glom back together as mic static signals our attention. Her leather jacket discarded, the earlier emcee tuned her keyboard. High notes bombarded the airwaves. A familiar crimson velvet and patent leather peek out from behind the drum set. Now a regular character in my night, the same pantsless guy who greeted me slicked back his hair and started to tap his foot to the coming beat. I had no idea what to expect, but what happened next was absolutely not it.
Power chords pierced the room, cutting it with a volume so violent you could feel it. The room pulsed with inaudible sound. A drum solo shook the ground. Waving hands and wriggling bodies cut through clouds of smoke as a mosh pit took hold of the crowd. A mosher shoved her way into the perimeter and tossed fistfuls of glitter into the air. I watch, unscathed but afraid to move; MTV’s Awkward once called glitter “the herpes of arts and crafts.” Truer words have not been spoken.
Meanwhile, the drummer scowled in fury, shoulders hunched as he fueled the shaking crowd. The singer, whose screams were merely ornamental and utterly drowned by the beat, ran off the stage and circled the space. She bumped me and I recoiled.
“The room pulses with inaudible sound and a drum solo shakes the ground we stand on.”
I stayed for their full set, and even halfway through the next band, but the image of the drummer stayed with me. A quiet, half naked bystander until now, he manned the soundboards and the entrance, but never uttered a word. Rather, he let his music and his outfit speak volumes.
At 9:45 p.m., I walked out to a cover of “Cherry Bomb.” I lingered at the entrance, overhearing film analyses of “The Lobster.” After passing smokers taking drags, I realized I couldn’t keep pretending. I felt like an intruder. I was an outsider looking in, even though I paid the optional entry fee. My car, which I spent the latter part of the night praying for not to be booted, welcomed me warmly with familiarity and a phone charger. I scrolled through Spotify, searching for something to sing to. “Shorty Don’t Wait” flooded the speakers as I pulled up Google maps to guide me the four minutes home. I lacked direction everywhere, not just Ladyfest.
written by Danielle LaRose