We’re not in Kansas anymore…but where the fuck are we?Posted: August 16, 2010
Much to my disappointment, it turned out not to be a laser light show extravaganza as I had been promised.
But it had pretty much the same effect – a dizzying psychedelic swirl of colors and CGI animation drawn from one phrase lyrics strung together to create something that still didn’t quite have a story line. 50 minutes of the room pretending to spin around me, like the flashing bright shapes spinning down into oblivion in Twilight Zone-esque dream sequences.
Better than the experience itself was the ability to say that yes, I have been to the Dark Side of the Moon show at the Baton Rouge Planetarium. The same could apply to the awkward double date that took me there: between my mother, myself, and two young Louisiana drillers.
I was what one might call “mildly hesitant” when my mom asked me if I wanted to go out with a kid in Baton Rouge, whose mother she worked with. I’m not exactly looking for blind dates these days. But, she said, he sounded excited to meet me. A really sweet kid, she said. This could be not a date, I thought, I guess. Like a day out with a foreign exchange student. Interesting, fun, a way to get a local flair in my bayou vacation, but without the need to get groped somewhere along the way.
So she suggested I invited him along on the most un-date like outing possible – a trip to the planetarium with us. It took me 10 minutes to bang out the invitation via my mother’s Blackberry. I felt like an old woman, poking at the tiny keyboard slowly and with only minor successes. But his response time proved him eager – so eager. Yes. What time? He told me his car was broken. We’d have to pick him up. Oh jesus, like a middle school date. I gave him my phone number so my mother could stop handing me hers. What was I doing tonight? Oh. Well. Going to the observatory and then going to bed, I hoped. I threw in work and the excuse of being tired from flying. His text message style reminded me sharply of a certain ex-boyfriend of mine. I had to ask my mother for a second opinion on what wyd might mean. I was beginning to regret this.
At 10, I got a new one. Are you still up? I was mildly creeped out.
The next day, we were out and about until around 4, at which point we returned to the glories of an air conditioned apartment and I promptly passed out drooling onto my hand on the off-kilter couch. I woke up to find a text message from the hour before. What are you doing? We were supposed to pick him up at 7, but it was only 5:45. I promptly got another: Shaunacy?? Disturbed and loathe to actually make contact, I did what I usually do in such situations. Avoidance is key, but shreds of truth help. Sorry, I fell asleep. I think we’re picking you up at 7?
i looked at ur facebook and u seem like a really cool girl theirs some were I have to take u I think u would love it and its not to far from where were going
My first thought involved the fact that I could probably never truly bond with a boy that used the wrong “there” so unabashedly. My second thought was “holy fuck, this sounds like he’s going to take me to a dark corner and I might not come back.”
“He just sounds like he wants to take you somewhere and show you something!” My mother said.
Yeah, show me something, all right. My plan had been to tell him, if things got hairy, that I was married, pregnant, and also a man. It seemed like a solid enough plan.
I left the apartment to take advantage of the wifi at the coffee shop across the street, sticking my cell phone in my backpack. Fucking women’s clothing with its fucking lack of pockets. I had tried to make a quick phone call to my friend Zach, as my foremost authority on all things boy and most things southern, to get a second opinion on exactly how creepy it sounded. When I took my phone out of my backpack again, I had missed a call, and had a flashing message from Google Voice. Dustin. Shit. The voicemail was just a few seconds of empty air, and I didn’t know why the fuck he would have called me. I can barely muster up a willingness to call my best friends on the phone, much less pseudo strangers I’m almost afraid of.
Then the text. Hey call me when u get a chance. Reminiscent of my mother, really. He’d friended me on Facebook sometime within the last few hours. His profile was sparse, but the picture said clearly “I am bro, hear me roar.”
I sucked it up and hit call.
Do I introduce myself? I wondered. He’s never met me. But he talked like we were old friends. I settled on a hey, what’s up? Like I knew what I was doing. Calm, collected, cool as the Kia after 10 minutes of full strength air conditioning.
His voice was significantly less creepy than his text messages. He asked if I was a photographer. Kind of not really? He told me there’s this old pier he really likes, his favorite place in Baton Rouge. He thought I would like it. The third word out of his mouth was ya’ll. He asked about bringing his roommate. Significantly less creepy. But still. 7. I am picking you up at 7. We are picking you up at 7. This was going to be like a middle school dance date, if I have anything to say about it.
It took 3 phone calls and a text to find his apartment. Three phone calls which consisted mostly of him giving directions while I repeated what I thought he said back to him. Of course it’s on “Old Jef.” Could we get more southern? Tiger Bin? Tiger Bend. A gas station in a church? The Chevron with the Church’s. What about a middle school? Why does the road change names arbitrarily? What’s your street number? No, like the number of the address?
In the end, I spot him coming out his front door. Dyed black hair, young. “That’s him.” Cute. His purple button down shirt matches the laces on his shoes. Slight stubble. This could be okay, even if he is wearing a necklace. I don’t know what to do, though. Do I get out of the car? Do I roll down the window? Shit, it’s air conditioned in here. I get out. I attempt to shake his hand, which he turns into something which could, under different circumstances, become him kissing my hand. He can’t pronounce my name. He asks me if it’s this hot in New York. Why do people always assume I’m the New York one? His “boy” Charlie, just went to put gas in his motorcycle, and will be back soon. We sit awkwardly in the car while he and my mom talk about Fugro.
My mother works with Charlie’s brother, Storm, their other roommate. She loves Storm. She’s heard about Charlie. Glad I can let them bond about that. We get back on the interstate, headed toward the planetarium, and Charlie follows on his bike.
He’s got a job waiting at Exxon, and works at a grocery store till then. Good, employed. Likes BMX and dreams about motorcycles. He doesn’t say anything without passion. He loves things. He hates things. He loves sushi. It’s his favorite thing ever. He hates that guy that fired him. I don’t think I’ve ever expressed love of any sort to someone I met 3 minutes prior. It’s engrained in my middle school like sense of cool.
The conversation eventually turns to me, and when he asks me what journalism is, I know we’re in trouble. Ah well. I feel safe enough not to take the Swiss army knife in the front seat with me when we leave the car. He asks me if we mind that he smokes. I shrug my shoulders, knowing he’s not gaining any Mom-points there.
We’re parked outside the old State Capitol, this monstrous castle building surrounded by tall black fence in the middle of downtown. The sunset has left the clouds behind it streaked with yellow, and it looks like something out of a period film. I’m surprised my mother doesn’t make me stop and take a picture. But Pink Floyd lies ahead, in the rounded red dome of the planetarium.
As we pay for tickets, Dustin tells me he knows I’m a photographer because I have 600 pictures on my Facebook.
“Yeah, and he tried to make me look through all of them!” Charlie chimes in. Shitballs, what kind of embarrassment have you seen? Mostly I just have way too many pictures of trees and things I’ve baked. None of them paint me in a particularly flattering light of coolness. They enjoyed my Spam photo. I can imagine them around a kitchen table, leaning into a laptop and pointing at the weird faces that are prominent in all my profile pictures.
The expected bomb hits as we sat in the planetarium, watching the fisheye blur swipe over whatever weird advertorial powerpoint they have going on. To his credit, he doesn’t use the phrase “music is my life,” but the sentiment is the same. He doesn’t know who the Arcade Fire was, but I haven’t heard any of the other bands he listed, other than, of course, Lil Wayne, though he very well could be kidding about that.
The turning, flashing colors set to illustrate Pink Floyd makeme feel mildly nauseous, and when we left we wandered into downtown to get pizza.
Is college like you see it in the movies? the boys ask me. I don’t know how to explain it. The idea of not going to college and still having a job and being okay in life goes totally against everything they tried to teach me in school. Foreign exchange student moment. We leave when Dustin begins to get antsy, moving around in his seat like an 8 year old boy who’s been sitting too long. He needs a cigarette. For lack of anything better to do, I suggest, despite the darkness, we go check out the aforementioned pier, and my mother promises to come back in a few hours. Between the two of them, the boys seem more or less harmless.
We walk along the levy next to the river, the bugs picking at us in the darkness, and the cultural gap widens. To prove you had balls, he says, he and his friends climbed to the top of the supports under what they call the “New Bridge,” where cars zip by overhead across the river, using notches in the metal and service ladders and beams not wide enough to feel comfortable on. This is not my crowd. He says he had driven his truck along the bike path on top the levy, late at night.
The pier turns out to be a rusted, creepy little bridge out to a large cement block on the river. I step carefully, hoping my foot isn’t going to go through the metal at any point, like the already gaping holes we could see in the pitch black. This is not how I want to die. When we reach the end, we aren’t the only ones out there. We wandered around for a few minutes, looking at the one swinging support pillar no longer attached to its cement foundation, the giant rusted shack covered in graffiti, the messages written onto the ground. Then back onto a rickety bridge, and solid ground I’m rarely so happy to see.
At this point, though it’s 10:30 p.m., it’s still 90 degrees, the humidity wrapping snugly around us, and we’re all dripping sweat. Dustin reaches out to show me the layer of moisture that has gathered on his arm, and for some reason thinks it’s a good idea to wipe in on my neck. This is almost surreal in its weirdness, I think. Who are you?
We walk by the casino boat, where he wishes he could go. Even just for the food. They debate the merits of each of the high railings we pass as a BMX destination. For lack of something better to do, we walk down to the real pier, which stretches out brightly lit toward the river. Two homeless men are passed out on the path across the levy. A group of teenage girls are at the entrance to the pier dancing to music to an iPhone. Charlie tries to work his magic, and we leave him there. I text my mother the S.O.S. They’re bored, and looking for trouble. I’m looking to get back in my bed and read my book. I use a plethora of excuses. I would, but…I can’t drive the rental car. I’m too young and the company is paying for it. I would, but…my mom really wants to go to bed, and keeps bugging me. I would, but…I’m really not that fun.
As we wait, Dustin and I sit near the fountain, where he finds a sports watch lying on the ground. He grabs my wrist and puts it on me. It would have been sweet if he had been my 7th grade boyfriend, but as it was, I was mildly disturbed by a homeless watch being slapped on my wrist by a stranger. He leads me hopping along the cement squares sticking out from the fountain pool, again reminding me of my 13-year-old self. Are you sure you can’t do anything else tonight?
He’s hastily trying to find other plans as we leave. We bid Charlie good luck on his game. I’m relieved to get back in the car, air conditioned and safe as it is. We’re almost back to his apartment when Dustin asks “would you be willing to buy any alcohol?”
My mother knee-jerks out a startled “no?” before reminding him that she’s friends with his mother. I smile/grimace awkwardly out the window and try not to laugh. Before he gets out, he tells me it’s been nice to meet me, and ruffles my hair from the backseat, threatening to text me.
I don’t know which one of us is the foreign exchange student in this situation.