Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Cruising on Exhaustion and Martinis

A couple of my friends affectionately refer to this as The Groupie Story, but I have to say, I’m not a big fan of the term “groupie” – primarily because I’m not a slut. Then again, as my friend David points out, “It all depends on your definition of 'groupie'. For instance, I consider myself a huge Tina Turner groupie, but I wouldn’t *do* her.” (The fact that David is gay is immaterial, it really is.)

Several weeks ago, G-man, two dear friends and I saw Manu Chao and Radio Bemba Sound System at the Sasquatch Festival in central Washington. The band had played here in Vancouver the previous night, but we (much to my dismay) hadn’t been able to get tickets, so off to the south we drove. The band’s set at the festival began around sunset, and in some barely explicable way, the experience changed my life.

I knew that Manu – compassionate, warm, energetic and FUN – was my muse and I had to see him again.

To that end, I managed to contact some people – people I can’t name out of respect for their privacy. Long story short, I got put on the guest list for the band’s upcoming show at Koolhaus in Toronto. (BTW, the short part refers exlusively to this paragraph. The full story is a bit of a commitment, so go pour yourself a stiff one, smoke if you got 'em, and settle in comfortably.)

Once assured I was on the Toronto guestlist, I went on to do the most impulsive (some would say stupidest) thing I’ve ever done in my life:


Most of the names in my story have been changed to protect the innocent. And the guilty.

I was to fly out at the ungodly hour of 7 a.m. on Thursday, June 21, 2007, the day of the gig. Found out, however, after having made my travel arrangements, that my good friends Blair and David were flying out at 11 p.m. on the previous evening. They were heading to TO to celebrate Gay Pride with some friends out there.

When fortune smiles upon me, it smiles big. I manage to switch flights (with a penalty fee, but who cares) and travel with the boys.

We arrive in TO around about, oh, the crack of dawn, but the boys’ friend Robert comes to pick us up, the dear man. Blair, David and I had all taken a chill pill at the start of the flight, and although they’d slept, the best I’d managed was a state of semi-consciousness.

Robert drops us off at his boyfriend Kevin’s apartment, right smack in the middle of the vibrant and colourful Gay Village. I fall in buddy-love with Kevin instantly, and how could I not? He hugs me hello and welcome, and has a fresh pot of coffee waiting. Robert goes off to work at a Gay Archives facility he oversees, while the four of us hang around Kevin’s apartment, drink coffee and visit. The check-in time for my nearby hotel is at 4 pm. 4 p.m., for God’s sake! I have all day to kill, and I’m comatose.

Eventually we make our way out for breakfast, and I treat, by way of saying thank you. Anyway, it’s cheap – Blair and I both have a bit of nervous tummy and all I can manage is toast. Dry toast.

After breakfast, we walk around the village for a while, check out some funky little shops, admire the architecture, and that kind of thing. Just before lunchtime, we visit Robert at the Gay Archives and are graciously offered a tour. Truly fascinating stuff, everything from artwork to personal correspondence to journalism.

Robert goes back to work, so we leave him to it and make our way to – where else? – a pub. We sit out on the deck, chat, smoke and drink several girlie martinis. My 18th wind kicks in, fatigue no longer an issue. Kevin and I hit it off like the proverbial house on fire. He says the best thing a gay man (or maybe anyone) has ever said to me:

I love a woman with a potty mouth and a great rack.
(Thanks, Kev-man! I like that type of woman too.)

(Papillon & Kevin. The slogan on Kevin's T-shirt didn't even make a blip on my radar that day. It certainly does now.)

Eventually, my exhaustion returns, and David is by now feeling it too, so Kevin gives us his apartment keys. We walk back there and both lay down for a nap. I set my travel alarm to wake me in time to go check in, but I manage to fuck up the am/pm thing, so it doesn’t go off and I sleep till 4:30. Bleary-eyed, I chug down a Red Bull and pull myself together. David gets up about the same time and walks me over to the hotel.

Once there, I enjoy a very long and much-needed shower, and then proceed to get myself ready. And I mean, I go to town! The hair, the makeup – I even cut the power-chain off my wretched braces. If there’s the remotest possibility I’ll meet my muse tonight, I’m pretty fucking determined to look as fetching as I possibly can. Little do I know how much this effort will pay off later tonight – I’ve never flirted with so many security guys!

Although the doors at Koolhaus aren’t to open until 8 pm, I taxi my way there by 7:30, having anticipated (correctly) that there’d be a line-up of keeners well in advance of the actual event. I wasn’t about to take any chances!

The queue itself is quite enjoyable. The promoter (I assume) has set up a sound system outside, and everyone’s groovin’ to recorded Manu. Because this is an all-ages gig, a security guard bearing white wrist bands announces to people that we’ll need to wear these in order to drink inside. He asks me for ID. I thank him.

About 15 minutes into the wait, I notice an attractive blond man walking around the periphery, talking to security guards and other gig-related folks. He’s wearing an appealingly rumpled linen pants n’ shirt outfit, and appears to be someone very much involved with the show. Click! I’m convinced that this is my contact, Joe Blow – I’d google-imaged him, and the look was right. I manage to flag the guy down and motion him over to where I’m waiting in line. “Hey,” I venture, my face no doubt all abeam, “Are you Joe?” The attractive man smiles warmly “Yes, I am,” he says.

I shake his hand and introduce myself “I’m Papillon,” I practically sing, “and I’m so happy to meet you. If you do have a few seconds later, I would love to buy you a drink.” “Ohh, absolutely,” Joe replies, clearly delighted. This is going so well! “Later then, Joe – you rock!” I wave as he heads back to his crew.

Right about here, however, things start to run a little less smoothly. It’s nearly 8 pm, and all of us waiting outside are becoming oh-so-eager to get into the venue. The line-up (as they often do) wends along an infrastructure of walls and fences.

Security guards mill about, and eventually, of course, the brusque directing begins. “Ticket holders – everyone with a ticket in hand, line up along the railing and head to the doors. The rest of you – will-calls, box office ticket buyers, and guest list people, line up against the wall and wait.” And wait. And wait. And wait.

It’s nothing short of painful to watch as every single last one of the people with tickets in hand waltz their way into the club before I can get in there and stake out my coveted spot – center, front, mosh pit.

Eventually it’s my turn at the box office window. I hand the lady my passport and announce, with utmost aplomb, “Here you go. I’m on the guest list.” Flippita, flippita, flippita, goes the lady through her stack of papers. She’s wearing that squinty expression – the one that never means good news – and she says the dreaded words “I’m sorry, m’am. I can’t find you on any of the lists here.” (Lists, like plural?) “Whose list are you on?,” she asks. “Joe Blow’s.” I say, a little bit of confidence regained.

“Who’s Joe Blow?”

“You know, Joe Blow of Joe Blow & Associates. Listen, he’s just there in the parking lot. If I bring him back to vouch for me, would that be okay?”

“Sure, that would be fine.”

I approach the fence separating me from the parking lot and Joe. So many walls and fences to negotiate that night! I attempt, in vain, to wave Joe over; he’s occupied and doesn’t see me. There’s a security guard standing near me though, and he kindly agrees to go get Joe for me and bring him over.

Joe comes to the fence where I’m standing, and he’s charming as charming can be. Gentle smile. “Joe,” I say, “I don’t want to be a pain in the butt, but there seems to have been a bit of a mix-up. The lady at the box office says I’m not on the guest list.”

Joe puzzles for a second. “Hmm… who put you on the guest list?”

“Well, you did, Joe. We emailed back and forth several times, and you confirmed that I’d be on.”

Now Joe really puzzles. “No…” he shakes his head slowly, “That wasn’t me.”

My first thought, as I stand there chain-smoking and fighting back tears, is “Why are you fucking with me, Joe? You seemed like such a nice guy when we were emailing.”

And then… click. “You are, “ I posit, “Joe Blow of Joe Blow & Associates?”

And I see “Joe” experience a click of his own. “No, no I’m not. My first name is Joe, but I’m not the guy you’re looking for.”

What he must have been thinking 20 minutes prior! Woman in a low-cut dress approaches him, introduces herself, gushes, and offers to buy him a drink later. “Absolutely,” indeed! So, Joe-not-Joe and I take our leave, and back I go to the lady at the box office window – oh no, of course I mean to the back of the line again to wait for another chance to plead my case.

And it’s finally my turn again. “Hey,” I say to Box Office Lady, “can you please try to contact Joe Blow backstage so he can vouch for me?”

(*Lady looking a tad annoyed*) “I thought you said you’d bring him back here.”

“Yeah, sorry about that – turned out to be the wrong Joe. So can you please contact backstage? Take my passport with you if you want.”

“I’m sorry, I can’t leave here.”

“Can you please send someone else back then? Please. I’ve flown all the way out here from Vancouver. Can you please do that for me?”

Box Office Lady softens. “Okay. Just go wait over by the fence and we’ll do what we can for you.”

I thank her, breathe deeply, and go stand by the fence.

At this point, I meet a girl in a blue Manu Chao T-shirt. She too appears to be on her own and ticketless. We strike up a conversation, and I tell her all about the screwy guest list situation. She asks (poor dear thing) if they’d set me up so I could bring in a guest. Just me, I reply apologetically. And even that isn’t looking too promising at the moment.

A few minutes later, I hear someone call my name from the box office window. I leap back over there, and sure enough, Box Office Lady hands me my passport with a ticket tucked inside. Yes! I thank her again and head to the doors.

No trouble getting in. Now, the only slightly worrisome issue peeing on my proverbial Cornflakes is this: Upon examining the ticket I’d been given, I see no mention of words like “guest” or “backstage” or “after-event.” Rather, I see the painfully banal and non-inspiring words “General Admission.”

I firmly insist, however, that I will not screw myself out of enjoying the gig. I hit the bar immediately and inhale a double gin & soda. Thus fortified, I make my way – against all odds – to the very front of the mosh pit, just slightly right of center stage, eye-contact distance from band members. There are only a few tiny Latinas around me and in front of me, and I’m poised to have a really, really, really good time.

And I do!! Manu and Radio Bemba Sound System open with El Hoyo, as they’d done at Sasquatch, as they’d done, I imagine, for all the preceding shows. They put on a high-energy, dance-your-ass-off, grin-till-your-face-hurts set that must have been close to three hours long.

Gotta tell you, as someone who’s always envied cute little women, tonight I’m glad to be tall and in reasonably good physical shape. For most of the show, the crowd is pretty gentle, but inevitably, a couple of big wasted guys begin to slam their way to the front, and then the Domino effect takes hold. Girls are glaring at each other and at me, wearing “WTF?” expressions, and those of us at the receiving end are shrugging and gesturing towards the assholes, as if to say “Sorry, dude – I didn’t start the shoving. It was them.”

Then, to add insult to injury, some little chick behind me taps me on the shoulder, and when I turn around, she’s all pissy because my hair is flicking beads of sweat on her. Fine, I admit that’s kind of disgusting, but look, princess, it’s a hot, sweaty mosh pit. What do you want me to do? I guess you want me to stand dead fucking still.

At this point, my mind goes to dark places and I nearly cry. The vibe has turned ugly for me once again. “Look how close you’ve come to getting fucked over tonight!” I despair. “And you imagine there’s a snowball’s chance in hell you’ll get to meet him?!”

Eventually the crowd around me thins out a bit (after the second encore?), so I’m able to breathe and move again. I feel better and re-focus my energy on the rest of the show. Manu talks about the futility of fighting violence with violence and does the whole pounding-on-his-heart thing that made me fall in a platonic sort of love with him at Sasquatch. Actually, I’m relieved to see that it is, after all, a bit of a routine. A beautiful routine, but a routine nonetheless. And that’s okay, because no one can be original all the time, and I need to learn that the guy is no more, and no less, than human.

The boys finally play their last song, and I have to admit, that’s kind of a relief. I’m so spent at this point, I’m about ready to puke up the tuna sandwich I’d barely managed to force down myself a few hours earlier.

The lights go on. People start milling towards the exit, security guards at the ready to herd them (us) like cattle. I’m milling slower than anyone. Doggedly holding on to hope, I approach a slit in the curtains, off to the left side of the stage, en route to the exit. Mais naturellement, there’s a security guard standing there, shaking his head “no” at me. “Look,” I say, holding out my passport, “can I just give this to one of the guys backstage to see if he can contact Joe Blow for me? I just want to thank him for putting me on the guest list.” Amazingly, the guy allows it, and I manage to plead my case and hand my passport to one of the roadies. This guy is nice enough to go look for Joe, who is, d’accord, nowhere to be found.

At this point, I notice a small group of people hanging around off to one side. There’s a security guard standing next to them. I approach him and ask “If I understand correctly, there IS an after-event that people on the guest list can attend?” He replies (and I love this), “If you understand correctly, you should stay right here.” Best words I’ve heard all evening. I don’t leave the man’s side for a second.

Meanwhile, there’s a female security guard doing the whole “ROUST!” bit, trying to get everyone to fuck off and go outside. She’s all in “How many times do I have to tell you people?!” mode, and although she’s mostly addressing the main crowd, she eventually starts in on our little side group. Some brave white guy with dreadlocks (Jeff, I later learned) pipes up with “But this security guard told us to wait here.”

Eventually the staff works out its miscommunications, and we (I’m feeling all warm and part of the little group now) are left in peace. And suddenly there’s this unassuming looking guy walking around, and people are hugging him! And then it’s MY TURN. “Manu,” I say, “I just want to thank you for being my muse.” Because I just want to thank him for being my muse.

Manu looks a tiny bit puzzled, but smiles warmly and hugs me. As I back away (and didn’t that take some effort) within a respectful few seconds, I say, “By the way, I’m Papillon. Did you get my letter?” Now his face lights up with smiling recognition and he says “Yeah!” I’m completely blissed out, but it’s time to let others connect, so that’s that. For now.

I overhear people wishing him a happy birthday – I hadn’t known about that.

There’s still the question of, the logistics of, the after-party. I notice, with growing unease, that the Little Group with whom I’d come to identify are all wearing Day-glo green wrist bands. Fuck.This can’t be good.

But I’ve come so far and I have nothing to lose but a little more pride and some sleep. I stick with my buddy the security guard and The Little Group until another security guard hits the scene and explains that we’re all to follow him outside, around the building, and to another entrance leading to the separate venue where the after-party would be held.

Exuding a self-assurance I definitely didn’t feel, I walk along with the Little Group, discreetly draping a silk shawl over my green-free wrist.

We reach this other entrance, and there’s the usual line-up rope and, you guessed it… a great big bouncer at the door.

Let me tell you, I’ve not been at an airport where I’ve whipped out my passport more than I did on this night. When it’s my turn at the door, I sigh, but by now my spiel is so well-rehearsed, it takes no time at all to work it for my newest pal, ImAn:

“So, do you think you could please go back there and find Joe Blow for me?”

“Well, first of all, I can’t leave here. And second of all, I don’t know who he is or what he looks like.”

(*Paplllon experiencing moment of brilliance*) “Wait, you could ask Manu. He knows my name as well.”

“Look, the band isn’t even in there yet. You’ll just have to wait and we’ll see what we can do for you.”

I thank ImAn for his patience and flirt with him shamelessly. I offer him a cigarette. He says, thanks, he doesn’t smoke. I say “Good for you, ImAn.” And I chain-smoke.

Meanwhile, there’s a small group of young girls, wearing green wristbands, but one of them is SOL, poor thing, cuz it’s a 19+ event and she’s only 18. I lean over to ImAn and whisper, jokingly yet not, “Can I have her wrist band?” Sweet ImAn, I can see him trying not to laugh and he gives me this stern-but-friendly “Smarten up, you!” kind of look.

Finally, finally, finally… word comes that Manu insists “Let them all in. Doesn’t matter about the green wristbands.”

I beam irrepressibly at my big pal ImAn. “I guess that would mean me too?”

ImAn smiles and nods. I limbo under the velvet rope, and I’m standing in front of him. “May I hug you?” I ask. ImAn obliges. I offer to buy him a drink, and he says he’ll take me up on that later, when he’s off shift.

So I’m in! I’m in! I’m in! I’m in!

And the first person I see is the blue Manu T-shirt girl I’d met outside earlier. Turns out she’d JUST managed to buy a ticket from someone after the box office had sold out. “Hey,” I say, giving her the thumbs-up, “you got in too!”

We’re glowing with happiness, the two of us, so I introduce myself and buy her a beer. She’s also on her own, and we pretty much hang out for the evening.

Tanya, it turns out, is a lovely girl from Mexico City, currently living in Toronto to study English. So the two of us are sitting on a comfy couch, drinking beer, marveling at our good fortune, and keeping our eyes on the door for obvious reasons.

A sudden chorus of Happy Birthday, however, alerts us to the fact that Manu is, in fact, in the room. Tanya and I beeline our way over to where a small crowd is gathered. And there’s the man, smiling, warm and modest as you could possibly imagine. He’s happily accepting birthday wishes and hugs from anyone dispensing them, so I, being the huggy person I am anyway, and being in the presence of my muse, gingerly approach.

“Happy birthday, Manu.” (Hug.)

“Thank you, Papillon.”

“Aww, you remembered my name!”

“Of course.”

“You’re so sweet.”

He really is. And so is his birthday cake. A rich, dark chocolate mousse kind of thing. (*Drooling*)

That day a few weeks back, when I first saw Manu on stage at the Sasquatch festival, his energy, humour, compassion and total lack of artifice affected me in a way I still can’t explain rationally. Manu’s spirit got into my heart and released something long-neglected that it had found there.

I thought to myself, “Okay, Mr. Chao. You’re either The Real Thing, or you’re the most gifted bullshitter I’ve ever seen.” Well, Manu really didn’t strike me as a bullshitter, and I spent several weeks after Sasquatch jonesing to see him again.

Fast-forwward to Toronto.

I’m lucky enough to speak with Manu a few more times the night of his birthday. He writes something incredibly sweet on my Esperanza CD liner and kindly allows Tanya to take some pictures of us together – I may post them if I can PhotoShop the me out of me.

So that’s the story, boys and girls. I’ve written, at least in journal form, every day since then, sustained by the knowledge that my muse is very much FOR REAL.

Coming soon: I want to be a muse in my own right. Is that too much to hope for?

Pics of The Muse & Me


nogutsnoglory said...

Wow. What a GREAT story!! You know what I really love? First of all, actually Going! and then - just staying with it!

Papillon said...

Hey, nogutsnoglory – thanks so much!

And BTW, I love your handle. ;-)

lihl-bee said...

nogutsnoglory took the words right out of my mouth: "wow!" and "GREAT." That was such an exciting read. Your lavishly detailed narrative made me feel like I was there with you. It was wonderful to see you get a good taste of happiness.

Your heroic journey mirrors everyone's journey; it's a microcosm, a life-in-miniature, or "the world in a grain of sand," if you will.

Also, as it relates to your history of depression, the story debunks the fallacious depressive assumption that the future is bound to be an unending gloom.

inspired said...

The fact that you stuck it out and MADE it happen is an inspirational testiment to going after what one really wants in life.

Its up to you to make it happen and it will with enough persistence and patience.

Papillon said...

lihl-bee - Thanks for your support! BTW, I get "good tastes of happiness'' frequently. Just because i'm vulnerable to depression doesn't mean I'm constantly down. On the contrary, since the depression is controlled, I'm a pretty happy camper most of the time. ;-)

And the future? She is all about hope. "Esperanza!" she insists.

Papillon said...

Hey inspired - Thanks! It felt like skiing through revolving doors at times, but yeah, I did make it happen, didn't I?

Happy that I inspired you and wishing you the best in your own efforts towards making things happen.


pG said...

great read indeed; i can't believe i hadn't even heard of the adventure! but, uh, posting that [I]fabulous[/I] picture of yourself (w/ Kevin) isn't going to help maintain your anonymity!

Papillon said...

Hey pG,

Thanks for dropping by! Re: the annonymity issue, G-man managed to convince me I was being way too paranoid. First of all, it's pretty hard to Google a photo. Second of all, in the very unlikely event that clients were to stumble upon this site, well, most of them don't even know what I look like – and chances are good I've smoked weed with the ones that do!

Ultimately, if someone decides they don't want to work with me because I deal with depression, enjoy "herbal supplements" and talk like a longshoreman, well, maybe I don't need to work with them either. In my "real" life, I've never missed a deadline and the quality of my work speaks for itself. Nuff said!

pG said...

you married a smart man, and your rationale is spot-on as well. -pG

Balthasar said...

You really are a groupie,
but a great story and well told!!
Turns out was visiting my bro
in TO the same time as you were there. He's not as well connected as your "Joe" so no guest list for me.
What he did manage to hook me up with was a six rows back, standing room only spot for the second half of the Pride parade. The 42 pound
old five year old on my shoulders
made it OK that we'd missed the
first half. When all I could see
was the head of some guy with a
beard and a leather cap going by,
the cheerfully chirped exclamation
from behind my head, "look daddy!
that guy's only got one arm and
he's showing his pee", made it OK
to have a 42 pound five year old on
my back. When that wore off I made my bro take a turn.
Congrats and Cheers!

Papillon said...

pg - Yeah, G-man is pretty smart. Talented, too. He plays drums like a madman, art directs stellar graphic design and he can roll a joint while sitting neck-deep in hotspring water. I did well!

balhasar - So you think I'm a groupie, do you? Well, maybe a bit. But that doesn't make me a slut. Not that I have anything against sluts. Some of my best friends are sluts. My dog is a slut.

BTW, the very thought of 42 pounds sitting on my neck makes me achy. But like you, I guess I can live without ever seeing a one-armed leather guy displaying his, umm... pee.

Thanks for dropping by!

Papillon said...

balthasar - sorry for spelling your handle wrong in my last comment, and I want to say, I'm loving your photo blog. Will check it out more thorougly asap.