1989, the year of emptiness.
When I say it like that, I come to the realization that there was perhaps no more a nihilistic year in history. What on Earth was 1989? I remember it, I was there, an active and unwitting participant in history. Hard to remember anything from it, though. To be frank, it’s as if a year was wiped from my head. I remember it was the year that some good movies came out. Nothing special. Some good movies, some seriously awful movies, but God- do I remember the VHS store.
I hear people whine about Blockbuster these days, but Blockbuster was window dressing compared to this place- shelves of cassettes, a treasure trove, all right there for the renting. At this time, Craig had been away for a few years. I missed him, and sure, we kept in touch, monthly, but the guy seemed- I really don’t know, distant. Far away, in another state, for no reason. Maybe he had his reasons, I was only beginning to discover my interests myself. Craig was more malleable than I was, like putty, and he may have had some mental condition that had yet to garner a name. Not anything severe, but something light, something which would bring him to move away from his friends and family and go off and make a name for himself a thousand miles out.
On the night of this little anecdote- which, I should remind you, is one of the only things I remember from 1989- I was a bit buzzed, having downed two cans of Coors about half an hour earlier. I hadn’t driven to the store, of course, but even walking it was hard to see, to think, to hear, and those low ceilings with the tacky tiles didn’t do anything to aid my confusion. Let me tell you, those tiles were tacky, they screamed gaudiness at everyone who entered, but I suppose that was the point. That’s something a Blockbuster never had, pink on the top and a light blue on the bottom, with all the zig zags and triangles and shit. Typical 80s stuff for you. This was, however, as I said, 1989, when these patterns were going the way of the dinosaur, but this shop retained them nonetheless in the name of kitsch.
I had just picked up on a hot little number standing near the rom-coms. Harry Met Sally had come out recently, and she was picking up one of the three copies the store had in stock and eyeing it fondly. She didn’t look like the sort you’d think as enjoying a chick flick, she was neon all over and as gaudy as the floor on which she stood, but there was no accounting for taste. I had heard about it from friends and by all accounts it was decent, though not the sort of film I’d rent.
She was wistful, though, a dreamer if you would, a hopeless romantic maybe. One thing which was definite was that she was immersed in the world. I, at this point, was relatively detached from the world. She clung onto it, she knew it, I felt like a man out of place, always hoping that this year would end, always looking forward to the future and what it would bring. She was stuck in the present as one might be entrenched in mud, caked in the era and glued to the scene. This made us different, but it could be picked up on by her simple body language- the way she walked, the way her earrings dangled, she wasn’t a drunk slob like I was was. She was here, she was now.
“Hi,” I said, taking the opportunity. “Meg Ryan’s pretty funny, isn’t she?” I hoped my drunken slur wouldn’t come through. Maybe she liked drunk guys, who knew? I rifled through the other tapes on the shelf and found one from the 50s- kinda b-grade Billy Wilder, if you catch the drift. While Meg Ryan didn’t appeal to me, this one might have. I was an idiot though, my judgment was impaired, and so I stuck it back on the shelf and haven’t seen or heard of it since.
That’s one thing about the past few mention- that there are artifacts which pop in and out of existence at random, things which can only be viewed in the span of one year and then are gone forever. Though the mighty Internet may claim otherwise, it’s impossible to catalog and index all the media humanity has ever churned out. Things slip through the cracks, things go missing, half the tapes in that shop on that one night are now erased, dead and gone. Is this an inherently negative aspect of history? No. It’s much like a safety mechanism. If people were to be made aware of the full scope and magnitude of their output, they’d probably have aneurysms.
She said nothing, only looked at me with those deep, mysterious young eyes, eyes which penetrated my soul. An insurable romantic, I suppose, the quiet type. She looked like a Californian, bouncy and energetic, but here she was moody and quiet. I suppose that’s what people get here- even the most frenzied partygoers slump down when they enter this region. She had a hot pink purse slung over her shoulder, and a few tattoos on her arms- not enough to be considered freakish in that day and age, but enough to indicate that she knew how to have fun. Standing before me there, though, eyes locked, she looked anything but fun. Her gaze returned to the tape. She was clearly scanning the synopsis.
“It’s a surefire hit,” I said. “Good movie.” She adjusted her purse a little and pulled out some cash, then went up to the counter and checked it out. I guess my suggestion had worked as I expected. But all this was done without her saying anything, and I doubted I would get anywhere with her. Maybe I was less sober than I knew. Whatever the case, those fun shoes walked right out the door and the door swung shut on silent hinges, and she was no longer within my grasp. Not too bad, I thought. Still a lot of movies here, no need to watch any with someone, screw romance, I just want a movie.
Scanned the shelf, the clerk was tired and I was a little less tired and the shop would close in about an hour. Enough time to choose something, go home, maybe stop by a gas station on the way and buy some snacks, blow my wallet, get some tactile and audiovisual sensations. Not a difficult task, but given the immense selection of this store, not exactly easy.
I drifted over to the sci-fi section. New releases scattered all over here. Less new releases to my right. Bill and Ted. Hell yes, I wanted Bill and Ted. The glaring cover art made me excited, just looking at it I knew it would be a fun night. I grabbed it, clutched it, scanned the shelf a little more and found nothing worth noting. In retrospect, there were probably plenty of things worth noting- tapes which, if I had bought them instead of rented them, probably would have net me hundreds. Rare collector’s items now, cheap trinkets then. That’s the drawback of living in the present- no hindsight. You take for granted what’s in front of your nose. I was basic. I had very little taste, and Bill and Ted would appease my juvenile desires until the sun came up, and that was all I needed.
I dug around in my pocket for some scant earnings, little scraps of money, I had enough, I knew I did, it was simply a matter of scrounging through all the other knickknacks I held on my person for no apparent reason- one of those whacky little monster finger puppets, two legos, a bottle opener, some business cards I had picked up over the years from people I’d never do business with, foil, string, you get the gist. I had enough, change, I smacked it down in front of the clerk and he bagged the tape up and told me I’d need to bring it back in a week. No problemo.
Stepped out into the night. Less smog back then, but less environmental regulations too, if that makes any sense. Less heat. Stars back then, faint but discernable. I could see a jet making its way across the sky, maybe from Palo Alto judging by the direction, the body wasn’t visible but the lights were. I wondered who those people were up there, sitting in seats, where they were going. Vancouver, maybe. It was late Summer, humid, on the verge of being fall, but Vancouver was as popular a beach destination as any- probably the northernmost beach destination in North America.
The VHS shop was located in a little strip mall which has since been demolished, between a taco place that was rumored to be infested with vermin and a tattoo parlor. Across the parking lot sat a fancy lobster restaurant. The sign maintained itself for a bit, flickered, then went out, and the last few lobster patrons hopped into their expensive cars and left. I felt, if this makes any sense, isolated on that night, but it was a weird sort of isolation, knowing that you are among your fellow men. I was scant feet away from a bustling street where lights revved and hummed, green to red and back again, but I felt empty and depleted, as if it was all for naught. Fresh air coursed through my alveoli.
This was where I had grown up. I had witnessed twenty years of this place. I knew when this video store did not exist, faint memories of a barbershop here in its place, though I was young, I knew that VHS had not always existed. I knew, too, that VHS would not be permanent. None of this would be permanent. Nothing is permanent. That lobster restaurant would be gone, so would the tattoo parlor. Time heeds nothing. Time has no sentimental feelings. Time moves, a river to which we are bound. Standing there, I felt like I should smoke a cigarette. I had none on me, of course, I hadn’t lit up since I was 18 and diagnosed with pneumonia. Still, I had seen movies where on a solitary night a lone stranger walks up to the camera and takes a puff- what a cliché.
Off on the far end of the parking lot, there was a minor skirmish of some sort, two black guys yelling at each other. They may have just been friends fooling around- it was hard to see much of anything, but they were audible. One by one the strip mall went dark and silent. Cars left with incredible rapidity, in five minutes there were only three or so left, probably all belonging to employees or shop owners.
Car pulled in from the boulevard, car with direction, car with sensibilities. Its headlights were bright, it was polished, it rose over speed pumps and weaved between the rows like nothing. Windows were dark, It was curvy for back then. Y’know in movies, how the cars were all square until 2000 or so. This car wasn’t a box, it was refined and looked more like something from 2009 than 1989. An anomaly. I suppose it could have been European. I never found out, because this car didn’t answer questions, only put them forward in a blunt yet satisfactory way. Car pulled up to where I was standing, I was shrouded behind a concrete pillar, one which held up the marquee. The car slowed to a halt and the window was rolled down. There were no fumes from this pristine vehicle. It purred like a jet-black jaguar, the motor was smooth and the window rolled down even smoother. My eyes were drawn to the thing like a magnet. I anticipated something to reach out from the interior.
Craig. It was Craig. I should have known. Out and about, he’d look me up, and he’d know where I was, because I went here weekly. Adventurer, Craig. The type who just isn’t content with life and so goes off down moonlit paths and freeways to seek the truth to the universe. Not as stable as I was, reckless yet charming. He had grown a beard, and dressed more conservatively, but his eyes still held the same mischievous twinkle, a twinkle that implied action and spirit. He was a sly dog, he really was.
“Come on,” he said with that infectious grin. “Apollo Club, my treat.” He motioned towards me, beckoned me into the back seat. I didn’t know where this Apollo Club was, I wasn’t familiar with any local dance floors, but I assumed that if Craig knew the best ones, I should take his word for it.
We pulled out of the parking lot. There was nobody in the front, yet Craig had motioned me into the back. This was because there a distance between us, the kind of schism that occurs after a couple years. You reunite, you see each other again, but you know deep down that the days you knew are over, kaput, it’ll never be as good as it was. Craig tried making small talk for the first few miles, but I was quiet. My mind was slowly losing the buzz and it was busy with thoughts. After this he sat back, sighed, looked in the rearview mirror from time to time, but said nothing. This was to be expected, we were both complacent statues in a roaring kitten that cruised along the lanes and roads.
Looking in the rearview mirror, I saw how much Craig had changed since I last saw him. Conservatively dressed was maybe an understatement. He had lost his spark. What had made him Craig was now absent. He looked like a Mormon. I wondered what he had been up to, what radical transformation he had undergone. So long as it made him happy, I suppose. His father had died when he was 6, I was 5 but remember the funeral vividly. Craig, it would seem, had found his path out in the world while I stuck around and wasted time. Looking at him again, his slick beard and his silver watch, I must say, I was a bit miffed. Not only miffed, but confused. Mormons can’t have facial hair, can they?
It was late and I was tired, but wherever this club was, I wanted a piece of the action, because I was drowsy, sure, but I was also bored. Bill and Ted lay on the seat next to me, forgotten, some other time, I have a week, tonight my friend is here, so let’s make like old times and head to wherever this place is. My arm was stretched out over the empty seat next to me, my other arm stretched out the window. I could feel the wind as the car hurtles on, whipping around corners and through intersections. When Craig had left he wasn’t such a good driver, but wherever he had been, his accuracy had improved. Someone could hire him for a chauffeur and he would get them to their destination fast. We must have been going 60 in a municipal area. I wasn’t scared, though- he felt confident, the whole car reeked of confidence like a well-known perfume.
Lights everywhere, above and behind, and to either side, the lights of the city flashed on and off again in a never-ending chirp. Apollo Club, no, I had never heard of it, had in fact never even seen it, of this I was sure. I was vaguely familiar with several establishments of wild repute, but didn’t know about this one. Could be exclusive. Craig had this souped-up machine out of nowhere, could be in with the wrong people- no, Craig would never be in with the wrong people. Silly thought.
So much color back then, Neon, no Bauhaus or any of that. Every sign aglow and the sky was a deep indigo blue, and we cruised along those nice flat streets and I felt alive, more alive then perhaps I’d ever felt before, watching the world drift around me. Interesting thought experiment- what if, when you drive, rather than the world remaining stationary and your car moving, what if your car is stationary and the world is moving under it? I don’t know where crazy thoughts like that come from, but they rise from deep out of me, even today, and there’s no stopping them.
Left the city, continued down a highway for a long time, neon behind us looked like a distant rainbow way over the hills, became visible every now and then and wow, they were a sight. The car was smooth, climbed every angle with proficiency, every hill without a scratch, and Craig was sitting up in the front, mumbling words I couldn’t hear because my window was open and I was sticking my head out. Every now and then we’d pass through a small town of I would notice a mountain cottage way up, and I would ask him if this was where it was, but he said no, it was further on. I looked at my watch, plain leather unlike his opulent timepiece, and it said it was only 10:00. Sometimes the car would swing onto one of those magnificent vistas you see on postcards and stuff, and gosh the grid looked different from up there. Cities in a field of darkness, each one a small cluster, a small galaxy of civilization, looking down on the places below like some kind of God, and way off in the distance the sea was visible, crisp and fresh and all-powerful, civilization consuming. The lights below were powerful, but the sea was more so. And every time I considered this, the car went down into another secluded glade and the view was lost. Rinse and repeat.
We came out of the hills suddenly, if I hadn’t been looking I would’ve missed the transition. Off now into the desert, smooth and flat, with lights here and there but few and far between. We cruised and drove and drove some more in the indigo night, and out here every star was visible. It was a stretch beyond comprehension, a road so long it could not exist, and yet it was novel- each mile was different from the last. I could see silhouetted animals, cacti waving around, mesas off in the back. This desert was a lively place, full of flora and fauna and life. Craig told me something about a certain star, pointing to it through the windshield. I didn’t understand anything he said, the views were too spectacular.
After more driving the moon came out, lit up the world, like a flashlight. The animals scampered off into secluded darkness, the cacti were now white and pale, and sands swirled and the tumbleweeds rolled, and it was cold- of course it was, this was a desert, after all, and with no foliage comes no insulation. The moon was big and bright, then a cloud came along and covered it up again, and desert returned to darkness, and the only thing visible was the road ahead, lit by the car’s fancy headlights. The sky lost its indigo quality and became jet black, inky and infinite, and the stars, while still in view, were less bright. Nothing could be seen on either side apart from a distant desolate rim, the sort of rim which surrounds every desert and keeps the sand enclosed.
I don’t know how long it was that the car rode on, a few hours might be my estimate, and why Craig chose such a secluded spot was beyond me, but when we pulled into the driveway of the Apollo Club, I could see why he wanted to come here. It was more than a place in the city could offer- a paradise of flashing lights and opulent displays, and even from the parking lot, which was fully packed despite it being late, one could hear loud music being pumped gleefully from within. Craig knew what he was talking about.
For all I knew, we could have been in Nevada, which would have made sense, Nevada knows how to party, they would throw a shindig like this, with legalized booze and legalized prostitutes and legalized gambling and every sin and vice imaginable out in the open. People walked in and out of the entrance, which was festooned and swung open on gossamer hinges. Outside, a fountain gurgled, statuary stood lonely above it as water poured from their orifices. Craig got out, lifted me out, pat me on the shoulder- I was sober at this point, and we walked in together. Craig pointed at some attractive girls standing near the fountain and making small talk, but I didn’t have women on my mind. I wanted to explore this place, I didn’t want to pick anyone up.
The colors exploded as we entered, a fusion of disco and art deco, spinning balls on the ceiling, and cages and rooms that seemed to extend onward into infinity like a hall of mirrors. Everywhere there could be seen a person dancing, a person getting down. The music- well, it’s hard to describe. It was energetic, frenzied, the sort of thing a person could really get down to. I suppose the best comparison could be to Morris Day and The Time on steroids, but as the night wore on the music switched up quite a bit, from genre to period. It was designed to keep the people going, keep the people dancing, keep them moving and shaking and shimmying, and every room was like this. There were a few people talking, but most people were dancing, jumping from one platform to another, performing what might be called proto-parkour on the rails and steps, people of every ethnicity and social strata.
Everything was a firecracker. Craig motioned me down towards a mosh pit of sorts, which was milder than the average mosh pit today but still impressive. He was with a blonde, her hair was curly and her dress was incredibly tacky and colorful, Craig was dressed like a stockbroker. There was a contrast here, and I wondered what Craig would get from a place like this. Back in the day he might’ve, but he wasn’t that Craig anymore, he was a new person entirely.
I danced alongside them for a bit, then decided to see just how many rooms the place had. From the outside, it was about two stories high with a patio, and about a hundred meters long and wide. It was made from adobe clay, or some artificial material that could simulate clay, and there were palm trees on the sign. I remember that. This was a west coast club, in stark contrast to the Copacabanas of the East. It was not designed to be in a smoky basement, it was designed to be a beacon of energy in a lifeless and gray plateau. As such, it was sensory overkill. I got up from the pit and climbed a few sets of steps, went in here and ducked there, and everywhere the labyrinthine corridors lead onward to another room where people were dancing and drinking and having a great time. The music wasn’t performed live, it was pumped through the speakers, they had surround sound. Incredible audio mixing.
I turned another corner and came to a room which was narrow and windowless, and in this room there were patterns all over the walls, triangles, cubes, tesseracts in every conceivable pattern and arrangement. Slick plastic furniture. A guy was leaning on a plastic couch, coming onto a lady wearing a plastic dress, nylon and chiffon and polyester all mingled together, a whirl of vibrant clothing and style. They danced and laughed and a few of them even sang.
A few rooms further down is the bar. Watering hole. People cluster around it, reach across it, the shelves are stocked and the bartender, a guy with long hair, possibly a yuppie, has a lot to do. He reaches back, grabs glasses, polishes them every so often, pours like an expert and even has a hand mixer. The bar is in high demand. Like everything else, it’s overexposed and fluorescent, and the counter looks like vaporwave before Vaporwave was a thing. Violet, scarlet, deep purple- they all blend together, and the bottles are lit up like lava lamps.
People sit around tables, this is the only place I see anyone fully relaxed. I can’t imagine what any of these people are talking about. They belong to social circles that are wholly different, their experiences differ too, their worlds aren’t mine. They know nothing about me and I know nothing about them, so I drift like a phantom from table to table, picking up snippets of conversation along the way. I don’t understand much. Finally I find an empty table near the back, pull off my jacket and drape it over the seat. I don’t know if any of these people know the meaning of such an act, but I figure they would. I dunno if they’ll respect it. I head for the bar, which seen up close rather than from a balcony is even more stunning and seizure-inducing.
The shelves are on fire, the bartender knows where everything is. His hands are nimble and quick, and he satisfies everyone. I close my eyes, cover my face, and point to a bottle at random, then call the guy over and ask for a small glass of it. He tells me I made a good choice. I ask him how much it is, he doesn’t seem to care. From below the counter he pulls out two small shot glasses, fills each of them slides both towards me, then goes and attends to the crowd. I figure there’s no point in giving him any money since he never named a price. Maybe I’ll pay him later. I carry the drinks back to the table.
Once I get there Craig shows up, this time with another woman under his arm. She smiles at me, I try and look away. I give Craig one shot, ask the lady if she wants a shot, but she politely declines, tells me that she’s already hammered to oblivion. Craig grins, scoops up the shot with one hand, we clink them together. To family and friends, he says. I nod. We both tip the glasses back at once, a coordinated action as much as the most nimble ballet move, and he moans. I do the same. The stuff was roaring down my tract, an acidic mixture that made one question just what the Hell it was they were drinking. Compared to the Coors I had earlier, this put those to shame.
The lady got up and left, from the corner of my eye I noticed she was dancing with another guy. Craig put his hands behind his head and looked up at the ceiling, which was covered in dark glitter. Gave the impression of being enclosed in a warm and thriving cocoon. He was distant, vacant, it was noisy and alive in there but he seemed tired. He had been through something, I could see that by his mannerisms, the way every so often he would fold the middle of his forehead and sigh, the way he tugged at his tie, then slumped forward on the table, waiting for me to say something. Every so often he checked his watch. I was bust scanning the crowd, looking at just how open a space like this could be, at how much there was to observe. Hundreds if not thousands of people bustling in and out, at all times busy, a hundred dramas and storylines going on at once. The guy at one table telling his friends a funny joke. Bunch of gals at another, all looking at the guys. At one table a couple kissed, at another table there were some lesbians, all butch. All dressed to the nines. They had come here on roads similar to the one we came on, all driving here for one specific purpose. This was a hub, a social Mecca for whatever region we were in. I tried to observe their clothes and figure where we were, but couldn’t. For every cowboy hat there was a surfer shirt, for every leather jacket there was a pierced nose.
Craig wasn’t looking at the people, he was just looking at the celling. I asked him if he went there often, he said he knew about it. Had heard about it from a friend, a friend who referred to it as one of the best clubs in America, and this was Craig’s third time here. First time he had gone with said friend and second time he had been alone, and now he had decided to extend the honor to me.
A lesbian came up and asked us if we had a cigarette. Craig pulled out a pack that was nearly full. I was shocked by this- as I mentioned, I had smoked for a while, had given it up, in part because Craig had encouraged me to, had cited all the scientific papers which proved it was harmful to one’s health. Now it would seem he had changed his tune. He had been carrying this pack around the whole time. I wondered what other secrets he had been keeping from me. He pulled out a matchbook, also presumably convenient, pit one, then did that thing where you light one with another own, handed one to the lesbian and puffed up on the other one. I coughed.
His beard accentuated this metamorphosis. I wasn’t sitting with the Craig who had left. This Craig smoked, this Craig didn’t play by the rules. He puffed straight up, towards that dark glitter ceiling. The cloud expanded and then disappeared among the ruckus.
“Come on,” he muttered. “Let’s get back out there.” I retrieved my jacket and left the glass on the table, figuring someone would come around to collect it. Craig moved on and pushed his way through the crowd, elbowing here, snapping his fingers there. He looked cooler, I had to admit, but when he had left he was also cool. This was a different sort of charisma. Two sultry vixens looked at him and they both came over and started rubbing up against him. He exuded sureness. He wriggled like a worm, and they did the same, arms waving, legs protruding out. Up above those spherical lights rotated and extended, being operating by someone in a control room somewhere.
Craig moved on and I followed him, and we came out in a room that was much like the mosh pit but even bigger, incomprehensibly huge, with a dazzling light show, confetti, bubbles. From the ceiling dangled a naked woman in a red cage, in one corner there was a line of slot machines which beeped and spun, I could hear the coins being dropped in. And on the rest of the floor were people, people of every shade and stripe, having a good time, having a swell time. Craig walked down the steps, one gal under each arm, both of them giggling, and rather than going down the steps I hopped off the wall. It was only five feet, but it was exciting. That drink was now taking effect. The world became insubstantial but visible, I could see everyone but could hear less, and I danced, but I probably wasn’t dancing very good all things considered. The shoes I had on weren’t dancing shoes, and one of them dug into my heel anytime I tried to twist. Way out across the room I could see Craig.
Why would he come to a place like this, and how was that this place had no real discernible point in existing? Those slot machines required a license, the naked woman in the birdcage would be subject to all manner of scrupulous paperwork, everything here formed a sort of intricate mosaic. But none of it meant anything. Mix all the colors together and you get black, mix all the bars in America together and you’d get the Apollo Club. Mix all the hedonistic pleasures of the Sunset Strip with all the raucous frenzy of the Minneapolis Sound. Stir in some New Wave for good measure. Heck, add in some punks, add in some counter-cultural icons, sprinkle in some rappers. There you are, swirl it all together, dilute it, serve it up fresh like a sno-cone on a hot summer’s day. Rinse and repeat.
These people didn’t match up. Some scenes intersected, I knew. Some movements crossed over, elapsed a little, but not like this. Never like this. This was a jungle, feverish and sweaty, and I was a part of it as much as any of them. An unrestrained never-ending gorge, a tribute to Bacchus. These people had no limits. They didn’t have any self-respect, either. Once more, my mind turned and I saw a map of roads, electric yellow vessels in an empty black pool, all converging on this one spot, all heading this way, everything here, everyone here.
I felt sick. I left the floor and tried to find the bar again. Craig said something to me, but I couldn’t hear him. Everything was loud, everything was gaudy, it was a circus of money and power. I had none, so what was I doing there? Feet everywhere, tramping around, wild and endless, a parade of costumes and faces peering at me from the flashing darkness. Infinite. Every hallway led to another windowless room, every room led to another hallway, every platform led to a set of stairs and every set of stairs led to another room which led to another platform. After fifteen minutes of shambling around, dazed and confused, looking for somewhere to sit, my gut was triggered.
Vomiting is one of those sensations that can be looked back upon in retrospect as a healthy activity, but during the activity one fells lousy. My lips opened and from them came a sickly sweet black stream of what I can only assume was the alcohol, a stream that soon became a grotesque waterfall, one which gurgled on for seconds that bled into minutes. When it was all over, I stood, put one hand on the wall to steady myself, and looked around.
I was up on the patio. Empty, quiet. From below came the sounds of the party, but up here there was air. I sniffed, gasping, wondering how my liver was, whether it could process so much bile. It was cold but with my jacket I could handle it. Down below was the parking lot, cars could be seen on the road nearby, pulling in, parking, and though the lot seemed full there was always one more spot to accommodate the weary traveler or the eccentric thrill-seeker. People walked in and out, people entered that gaudy entrance so they could have sex and make themselves sick. The music went on for a long time, it was ringing in my head. In fact, it may not have been playing, but it pounded in my skull and I went over to a table near the edge where there was a small candle. It burned quietly, softly.
Craig walked up. I didn’t hear him, he was inaudible as he made his way from that chaotic room to the patio, but I felt his presence before he sat across from me. Though I had only seen him tonight, this new Craig was familiar to me now. I could read him like a book, but he could read me like a book. I hadn’t changed, he had. He picked up the candle and contemplated it for a while. Someone yelled something up at him, he waved but said nothing. He looked back at me. His eyes were lonely.
“Go back down, Kyle,” he said.
The moon was waning, the night was wearing on, and it was windy, slight breezes caressed the candle but didn’t extinguish it. He set it back on the table. There was a mountain range on my left, alien crags that towered upwards in immense spires. Above these could be seen a pale red dot, a dot which shimmered faintly. Star of some kind. The rest of the sky was cloudy.
“I don’t to go back down there. Too busy.”
“It’s not going to get any less busy as the night wears on, you know.”
“What’s wrong with you?”
“I know places you don’t, Kyle. I’ve been places you haven’t. I do have things wrong with me, but you wouldn’t know what they were. You haven’t been there.”
I pulled out a fiver and handed it to him. It flapped, he was barely holding onto it. His fingers were loose, his arm was limp, his eyes were strong. They met me. We were alone up here. It was quiet. The music had stopped, the cars had stopped, nothing on the road in either direction. The candle went out.
“Give that to the bartender. I didn’t pay him for those shots.”
“Everything is free at the Apollo Club.”
Craig wasn’t there. Candle was out, sky remained cloudy. I bent over the edge. Cars were still there, none of them had their lights on and nobody was in them. Fountain still gurgled. Lights were off, but I could hear the water dripping down, gurgling. Spires were also gone, replaced by a mundane and ordinary ridge. One by one, the lights on the roof went out, the candles on all the other tables extinguished themselves, either that or the wind did it for them.
I was tired. Still feeling the effects of the drink, I walked over the wooden planks towards the stairway I had come up on. It was a long way down, a cavern that led into nothingness. Empty, dark. Wind howled up here, but down there every room was windowless, and thus no wind. A stale crypt. I made my way down. The place engulfed me, consumed me, as I saw what it had become.
The rooms were smaller, the walls were barren or faded, the lights were shattered. Every footstep was a chore. I bumped into walls, through doors, blind as a bat. No natural light, no moonlight, no air. The furniture was still there, but it had been overturned, scattered mindlessly, and the bar was empty, desolate, boarded up. No drinks there, no glasses, just the counter and the tables. The room which before had seemed massive was now cramped, and the birdcage swung over it. I couldn’t see the cage, but I knew it was there. Up in the abyss, swinging.
Hallways were equally ramshackle. Broken glass, costumes, accessories, scattered and forgotten, dusty and infinite, every pole and every rail coated in dust. Dark and mindless. Each turn leading to more turns, everything exactly how it had been.
I made my way out, almost wept when I saw the entrance, saw the exterior. Sign was turned off, fountain now trickled, then stopped entirely. I pulled a nickel from my pocket, flipped it in. It sank slowly down, and I watched it as it faded from view, consumed by the water, consumed by the darkness, consumed in the deep. I smiled, and my reflection smiled back up at me. In the water I could see the stars, which had reappeared from behind the clouds. The sign turned itself back on. I left.
1989, the year of emptiness. An empty aesthetic. Forgettable year. Emptiness, a void, a pit in my stomach. I was found the following morning on the hot sands, nearly dehydrated, hitched my way home. A desert is empty. So was that building. So is everything, when you get right down to it. Any year can be called empty, any incident from a particular year can be called empty. Every year that passes is full of ghosts, missed opportunities and faint recollections.