Hipster Hoedown

“Did you think that Andy was a complete jackass last night?” my hipster host friend asked me one day.  She asked this in a manner that suggested that I was there.  I wasn’t.  As with most leading questions, my hipster host friend continued without leaving me the space to answer.  “I wouldn’t call it funny, jackass behavior either.”  This was said, presumably, to cut me off at the pass, as I was usually the one left to inform serious critics of jackass behavior of the idea that the subject of their criticism was trying to be funny.  “I would call it the kind of behavior that no one recovers from, and no one wants to be around again.”  She went into detail to describe some of Andy’s actions, but again, she did so in a manner that suggested that I had intimate familiarity.

Nerds vs. Hipsters
Nerds vs. Hipsters

I didn’t put this altogether at first.  At first, her tone of familiarity had me so wrapped me up in a like-minded cocoon that I was laughing in a manner that suggested that I thought she was hilarious, that she should continue down this road, and that I agreed with everything she said, until it dawned on me that I couldn’t agree with her, because I didn’t know what she was talking about.

“Wait a second … party?” I said.  “What party?”

This was my inadvertent notification that I was no longer a member of the hipster circuit.  Was I upset?  An adamant “No!” would be a lie.  Indignant would be closer to the truth.  Indignation wrapped up in a big, old ball of confusion.  The confusion was based on the idea that I was never sure what landed me in their hipster world in the first place.  I was not their type, and every conversation I had at these hipster hoedowns, only reinforced this idea.

I have been informed, throughout my life, that I have a tendency to over think, and that if I ever want to have any fun in life I would need to learn how to relax.  If I would’ve over thought my inclusion in this group, I might’ve guessed that I was the court jester brought in by the Athenians to provide the party goers some entertainment, I might’ve also believed that there had been a calculated decision made in the high court of hipster hosts that I now belonged among their ilk, but I chose not to over think this matter.  I chose to relax, as prescribed, and enjoy the few parties that I had been invited to attend.  As a result, I never basked in the inclusion, and I wasn’t crushed by the exclusion.  I was left with the conclusion that the whole matter was simply a big old ball of fogginess that I would never be able to understand, because there really wasn’t anything to understand, because the whole selection process was so much more arbitrary than I had ever imagined. I realized that I had fallen prey to that very human belief that beautiful people have a more organized purpose.

This hipster host’s reaction to my “Party?  What party?” query told me all I needed to know, before she said a single word.  Had I walked up and slapped her as hard as I could, I don’t think her reaction would’ve been as revealing.  She was a calm, composed, and confident woman that could approach most otherwise revealing matters without even blinking, but this incident left her naked and exposed to the fact that I had either been “the Andy” of a previous report, or that my name had arbitrarily been taken off the list.  Whatever the case was, the hipster host forgot, for a moment, that I was no longer hipster du jour.

She looked to a friend, a fellow hipster host, searching for rescue.  Her expression suggested that she was pleading with that fellow host for some support, or some out, while affixing a pleasant, composed smile on her face for me.  When no assistance was offered, my hipster host, friend looked back at me with a smile that pleaded with me to just let it go.  I did, because by that point we were both fish flopping on the shore, and I knew that the definition of victory in such a contest is relative.  Before this incident could come to a close, however, I noticed an eavesdropper —an individual that had never been invited to one of these hipster parties— shoot me a “Welcome back to the other side pal” look.

Years later, this hipster host –long past her hipster status— invited me to a party.  We were, by this point, friends on Facebook, or friends that were declared friends for the purpose of showing the world we had friends.  We rarely if ever spoke, and when we spoke it involved recalling days gone by that were probably never as great as the dressed up memories recalled.  I immediately thought this invitation was conciliatory.  “An apology for all those ostracizing years,” is something that should’ve been printed along the masthead of her email invitation.

Calling any party, at this point in our lives, a party is kind a joke, at least when compared to the parties we all knew in our prime drinking years where all of the beautiful people involved did everything they could to control their sexual urges, lest they be the talk of the town the next day at work.  These forty-something parties often involve no one saying anything inappropriate, for at this point in our lives we’ve all learned the lessons from the indiscretion of youth and alcohol that have guilted us into never saying anything inappropriate again.  And these nights turn out to be as memorable as family get-togethers that involve extended family that you’ve never met, with which you have a loose connection that you’re trying to establish for the purpose of having a conversation you really want no part of.  The natural selection process this hipster host once used to determine who would populate her party is gone, and in its place is a desperate procedure devoted more to the quantity that could constitute a proper party than it was the quality of her hipster heyday.

When some confusion came into play regarding the specifics of the party, she asked me asked for a full-fledged commitment regarding whether or not I was actually going to be attending.  Hipster hosts never ask for a full-fledged conviction.  They simply feel sorry for those that decide not to attend.  Her request for commitment sounded a little desperate.  Did she want me at her party, because she loved me so much that she didn’t think it would be a proper party if I didn’t attend, or was she receiving so many vague commitments that she needed one solid one?  I still don’t know the answer to that question, but her desperation made it obvious that her once, much ballyhooed hipster status punch card had been punched.

“My husband and I just thought it might be fun to start a little tradition,” was the almost-apologetic follow up email the hipster host sent to the confirmed attendees.  It asked you not to expect a hip party even though its host was the one that conducted the parties of her era.  This was simply a gathering of people she knew, that almost-apologetic follow up stated, nothing more and nothing less.

When we undesirables got one look at one another, we realized how necessary that follow up call for a full-fledged commitment must have felt to her.  One attendee, a fifty-something, single guy decorated the various corners of my hipster host’s home.  How did this guy get an invitation, I wondered while watching him carry on about an amazing amount of anything he could think of saying, just to say it.  My hipster host friend would’ve been more apt to send this guy a “Don’t come within fifty yards of our party” restraining order for even thinking of nearing one of my hipster host friend’s party a decade ago.  Why was he invited?  Is seven attendees always better than six?  What if someone doesn’t show up?  We may want to invite the overweight, single neighbor we barely know, even if we run the risk of him showing up with dried cheese in his mustache, because seven is better than six.  This man was emblematic of not just a fall from hipster status, but a screaming, mile-long fall at the Grand Canyon.

He was the type that you invite if you feel that you may have too much food.  He dropped the “I came for the free food,” joke on everyone that everyone politely laughs at.  He was the type you invite if you hope to have one of your party goers make a joke about some girl’s tits; he was the type you invite if you fear that you may have bought too much beer; or if you want at least one of your guests fall at one point in the party.  (He did drop the line about food, he did drink at least four beers, he didn’t make the joke about some girl’s tits, but he did fall at one point.)  He was the type you invite if you fear long stretches of silence, because his presence will prompt your guests to keep talking in fear of this man coming up with another Cliff Claven conversation that prompts obnoxious guests that are always looking to say what others are only thinking when they tell him to “Shut UP!”

The other attendees were an invisible couple that had little-to-no apparent ability to start a conversation.  They smiled politely at the conversations of others, and they occasionally giggled.  They had the kind of innocuous, vacant characteristics drug smugglers salivate over in their search for individuals with indefinable characteristics.

I notice these quirky things, and I mentally list the deliciously uncomfortable things that I will say when everyone loosens up, but in the back of my mind I know no one will, and I’ll have to save all of this obnoxiousness for my after-party summation.  Our uncomfortable, prime drinking years that will lead to something obnoxious, are over, and my conversation topics have switched from mentioning the fifty-something, single guy’s abundant nipples, and those innuendo laden comments that gained me some fame in my prime drinking years to conversations that concern how my dog that has trouble eating regularly, and a quirky thing that my child does to provide the room some comfortable titters.

In the midst of my search for some fun topics to discuss, I recall a day when I brought a fifteen-foot inflatable Shrek on stage at a friend’s rock concert and danced with it. ‘This is one of the most obnoxious –and perhaps most hilarious– things I’ve ever done,’ I thought with this inflatable blocking my view of the audience.  You know when you are engaged in epic hilarity.  You feel that chill of impulsive artistic ingenuity.  You know that someone, somewhere will remember this for a generation.  You wonder how you are going to characterize this, and you are already pondering how you’re going to answer all those questions –in between the laughter– regarding why you did something so out of character.  You know that your friends will be on the edge of their seat waiting for the conclusion of your recap, until you look out into the audience and realize these people are not paying any attention to you.  They’re dancing, sure, but they’re dancing with the same amount of apathy they danced with throughout the show.  In desperation, you look back to those that know you, and you see that they’ve returned to their conversations, and you’re just a little bit older than you were before your last vestiges of youth drove you into doing something this hilarious.

I silently recall that night, and a handful of other nights, when my impulses drove me to do something epic and obnoxious and hilarious, and how it probably wasn’t any of the three.  I recall how I cashed in on almost all of them, and I do not do so in the manner a Spartan may his conquests on the battlefield.  I see nothing but regret laced with shame, and remorse for those times when I should have remained in the customary role of anonymity for which I’m better-suited.  This is age creeping up you, a like-minded listener may comment when I’ve concluded my story, and how I came to be a man that looks to his past more than his present or future.

Age has you regretting your past, coupled with the desire to relive it without that sense of regret.  Age has you examining your present state with a desire to live it with twenty years removed from your odometer.  But does it necessarily mean attending parties with no sexual tension, no beautiful people, and a sense of boredom among your new crowd of ostracized people that only feels bona fide through quantity over the quality.

A half-hour in the hipster host’s home recalls those extended family reunions where everyone involved struggles to find conversation topics among those they barely know, but should know by blood.  When they speak about their dog’s stubborn inability to eat on a regular schedule, you look over to the fifty-something, single guy in the corner hoping that he’ll say something about food or someone’s tits to make everyone uncomfortable.  When the invisible couple says something about their quirky baby, you realize that this is not going to happen.  You know that even the obnoxious guy has enough decorum to avoid interrupting that moment when they take out the phone and reveal the pictures of their newborn.  You notice how many times the otherwise invisible wife, and mother of the baby, has sipped on her hot tea while she speaks.  You hear the cartoons in the background that the hipster host was congenial enough to dial up for your child.  You see people tell innocuous stories with the kind of excitement, and edge-of-your-seat laughter that used to accompany dangerous, innuendo-laden stories that would embarrass the storyteller when they woke up the next morning, and your reactive laughter is so polite, it feels regurgitated.

The hipster host and I could’ve been an item, and I recall that window in time when she speaks.  Regret is inevitable when one calculates her ‘beautiful people’ score, but the polar opposite of everything she is –coupled with an equal measure of physical beauty– makes me happier than I’ve ever been.  The hipster host is the typical, beautiful person that defines herself by those things beautiful.  Ask her who her favorite actor is, way back in her hipster host days, and she’ll ruminate over the exploits of Mel Gibson, Tom Cruise, the elf from Lord of the Rings, and on and on.  In the course of redirect, when you inform her that their acting ability is either suspect, or inconsequential, in their otherwise, innocuous movies, she would’ve spat, “Who gives a bit, he’s hot,” and you would’ve felt stupid for not recognizing that while immersed in her beautiful world.

Lying on the opposite, “You can’t be serious” pole of that discussion are Tim Conway and Don Knotts.  Two largely forgettable actors in a serious conversation about movies, that had the simple goal of making people laugh.  There was nothing glitzy, or glamorous about anything those two comedic actors did, and the mere mention of their name in such a discussion, would probably land one the same expression the paparazzi would give Tim Conway and Don Knotts if they ever deigned to step foot on a red carpet.

What does it mean that one person loves Don Knotts and Tim Conway, thirty to forty years past their prime, while another stays hip with those that exude sexuality?  No one knows.  No one knows why one thinks it’s a little endearing that a person wants to watch movies with “Who gives a bit, they’re hot” actors in it, and to be bluntly honest few care about the differences.  Those that do, know that it matters, but they don’t know why either.

It was her party, and for everything her forty-something party lacked, it still had an amiable host that was willing to do whatever it took to remind you why she was considered the host of her era.  Her sense of humor was still cutting edge, in a forty-something vein, her conversation topics were wide-ranging and provocative, and when she was afforded center stage there was never a lull.  It made this attendee remember a life that was, versus a life that is, and in every other sense, is as it should be.

I’m a Little Bit Polka, and a Little Bit Rock and Roll

I used to think I was a rock and roll dude, and I mean totally … when I was around a bunch of polka people. I might never have been as avant garde as I thought, but I’ve been informed, of late, that I’ve become anything and everything but rock and roll. I’ve become polka. I found this out at dinner one night, when a real rock and roller rebelled against a polka comment I made. It didn’t completely surprise me that she considered me the vanguard of traditional thought –that needed to be squashed for the purpose of her attaining a rebellious, rock star personae– it did surprise me, however, to find out that I was only polka, but I liked it.

I, too, used to regard societal norms as something in need of a good squashing. I used to think those who ascribed to traditional thoughts did so in a 1950’s, Leave it to Beaver, and uninformed manner, until I realized I was doing what I was told. The avant garde informed me that if I wanted to be considered dangerous, risqué, and avant garde, there was a distinct set of beliefs to which I must adhere.

A rock and roll dude

Back when I had no idea who I was, or what I wanted to be, but I was willing to do just about anything, and say just about anything, and be just about whatever I had to be to have one person confuse me with a dangerous, Jimmy Hendrix lick, or a controversial and provocative John Lennon lyric. I wanted to be indefinable, complex and cool, because I didn’t know what I had to do to fill my basket yet, and it disgusted me when others, so sure of themselves, did. What my friend said to me the other weekend was that indefinable, rock and roll something that I would’ve said to my own polka people, twenty years prior, and my reaction to her comment was as silent as my recipients’ were.

Why was I silent? I didn’t know what she was trying to say, and I didn’t see the value in it. If I displayed confusion in the face of that comment and said, ‘What?’ she probably would’ve gotten off on that. I know I would’ve, in my rock and roll days.

‘Nothing,’ is what she might have responded had I made the fateful decision to say ‘What?’ and she probably would’ve done so in a deliciously dismissive manner. ‘You wouldn’t get it if I told you, and you probably never will,’ is something she might have added, and she probably would have considered that whole dinner discussion delicious.

It dawned on me that when I used to say such things to the polka people around me, it was as confusing to me then as it is now. I didn’t know what I was talking about back then, but I wanted to be the apathetic, complicated characters I saw captured so well in the movies of my youth. I thought those actors were so cool rebelling against complicated matters they knew nothing about, and I used the catch phrases and song lyrics they used to dismiss the polka generation to do so. I thought their lyrics were so delicious that they afforded the characters a persona that suggested they were the only ones who truly knew about the matters they were discussing. I wasn’t sure if I didn’t have enough confidence to pull it off, but for some reason no one was as affected by my presentation as those character actors were in the movies.

“What are you rebelling against?” was a screenwriter’s line a female actor used in the movie The Wild One. “Whaddya got?” The male actor responded with another of the screenwriter’s lines.

Translation: ‘I don’t know what I’m rebelling against. I’m too young, and too uninformed to rebel against anything of any substance, but isn’t my indefinable rebellion cool?’

‘Lines like these and other lyrics from the rock and rollers are great and all,’ I wanted to say to my fellow rock and roll rebels, ‘but I got all these other guys hammering me for more details, because I don’t know what I’m talking about. You have to give me something more here.’ 

Undefined rebellion in songs and movies are so cool, and the idea of rebelling against the norm, the status quo, or the “whaddya got?” is the epitome of greatness, until the various theys in our life kill the messengers for not knowing what we’re talking about. What are we rebelling against exactly? We don’t know, and the rock and roll rebels don’t know either. If they know, they’re not telling us, because they enjoy the cool deflector shield they wear that suggests we’re not supposed to ask. Those who do know, know that it’s something beautiful and indefinable. It’s something that the important, dangerous, and attractive know, and if you don’t, what are you doing here anyway?

I spent some time around rock and roll dudes, in my rock and roll days, and they were adamant that “I don’t get it, and I probably never will”.

“I don’t,” I said when I reached an age where I was confident enough to admit it, “explain it to me.” I was confident enough to admit that I wasn’t a rock and roll dude, but I wasn’t so confident that the latter line was a confrontational challenge to their beliefs. I was not a person who believed that there was some intrinsic value to being uncool. I wanted to know what they knew, and I would’ve loved if they tossed the keys to the “it” world to me, but it wasn’t such a driving force that I was willing to do whatever it took to get there.

I now know there is no secret formula. “It” is an idea steeped in superficialities. If you have an “it” look, you have “it” without being required to get “it” qualities. If you don’t, and you want in, you have to believe in those who do. You have to have faith in the otherwise quiet, cool kids who use a catch phrase or a song lyric to condemn those with a polka mindset. Unquestioned allegiance to the unquestioning allegiance of what the “it” crowd believes can lead a messenger to being an avant garde rock and roll rebel that some regard as an independent thinker.

With all of those contradictions in mind, when my dining companion confronted me with the idea that I’m no longer a little bit polka, and a little bit rock and roll, because I’m not the least bit rock and roll, I took it for what it was, because I knew she couldn’t define the alternative any better than anyone else could. No one can explain it, of course, and although I’ve never been the best student of what “it” is, because I’ve never had “it”, I now know what I have to buy to get “it”.