It was Friday in the desert. I waited as people woke up. As I get older and work more, I get used to being an early morning person. The coffee and food trucks were lined up beyond the campgrounds, in a different section even further beyond the toilets and showers. I heard you had to hit the showers early if you didn’t want to wait in line for hours.
I watched the risers to gather a picture of where I was and prepare for the experience. Frat boys. Topless. Long shorts. No body hair. Identical. Sorority girls. Daisy dukes and bikini tops. Lots of daisy dukes and bikini tops. They were all loud.
“COACHELLA!” someone would scream.
The heat weighed in heavy almost immediately.
Trent got up to a beer and a few lines of cocaine.
A couple stumbled in front of us. The girl taking the boy’s hand and pressing it against her groin while seemingly entranced in a kiss.
“And I thought true love didn’t exist,” Trent said.
“There are so many daisy dukes and bikini tops that it has become a permanent fixture in the background. Our canvas IS daisy dukes and bikini tops.”
We ventured into the festival. Though I was wide awake at 7am, I was exhausted by noon and we stumbled by something called the Do LaB to fall asleep in the grass. The music was hypnotic. It didn’t really have an identity to itself, but a comforting, predictable beat. Similar to a mother’s heart beat from inside the womb. There were layers to it that, in my opinion, achieved an echelon above the usual pop hit I spin through on the radio.
I sat up to watch the beautiful people dance. The beautiful, bronzed, thin, muscular, self-aware puppets danced. Everything was so hyper-aware. The flower in the hair. The face paint. The shoes and painted toe nails. I heard the phrase “hippie chic” on the television one day. It seemed counter intuitive. Hippie chic.
Hip·pie /ˈhipē/ noun: a person of unconventional appearance, typically having long hair and wearing beads, associated with a subculture involving a rejection of conventional values and the taking of hallucinogenic drugs.
Chic /SHēk/ adjective: elegantly and stylishly fashionable.
So unconventional becomes conventional. Rejection becomes acceptance. Were these girls really interested in what was happening in Afghanastan or Egypt? Had they formed opinions about Obamacare and the Affordable Healthcare Act? Were they working to reclaim their country and assume a new identity of freedom, revolution and peace?
Maybe. I couldn’t talk to them. They didn’t see me. They didn’t look for a connection. On the contrary, I stared at them. Their flat abdomens swaying in unison to a beat. The bored little hippie dolls, unmoved, uninspired, with pouty lips. They only knew how to be adored. How to be fucked like a rag doll. They didn’t hear the music. They didn’t see me or Trent, sweating alone in second hand clothes under the bright, orange awning. They didn’t see each other. All they saw was themselves. They were the center of their own universe. Walking back and forth to the outdoor toilets like it was a grassy runway. Always on their phones. Always videotaping. Always assuming they were the one person who was supposed to be noticed.
These girls become a blur and, for once, I was thankful for the bit of chub I acquired during my first 6 months of winter. Michael was feeding me well, too well. He would still drop everything to get whatever I suddenly found a hankering for. Vegan sundaes. Candy sprinkles. Vegan nachos. Daiya cheese. Wine. Beer. Vegan pizza. Vegan pizza. Oh yes, vegan pizza. I have learned to watch what I say aloud, because he will bring me whatever I suggest. The princess treatment was appearing and reappearing in my midsection and arms. I like being skinny, but this particular weekend I liked being chubbier … if just by 5 pounds … just so I could be different.
It was there, sweating, awake, mildly disgusted by the orchestration of trend and vanity, that a beautiful boy stopped to stare at me. Fat, little me. With my Princess Leia buns and vintage sun dress. He smiled at me. My cheeks burned and I looked down.
Michael knows about my weakness for male attention and sex. If you hadn’t met me but read only my blogs, you might think I prance around in diaphanous clothing, slipping behind the nearest curtain with the first available man. I am rather shy, in a way; otherwise I wouldn’t work so hard to entertain.
It was my first adventure alone, without Michael, in a privileged playground. I didn’t know if I trusted myself yet. So when the beautiful, Greek warrior stared at me with the smile, the smile that can blind one from moral obligation, I turned away. Sure, they were all snot nosed kids who spent more time on their figure and wardrobe than intellect and community. I could still smell their sweat.
The center stage was overcome by a skillfully choreographed show of alien-clad dancers. Females with popping limbs and bopping heads. Water guns were turned on the crowd. With the spray power of a garden hose, one body after another collided with a foaming charge of cold water. It looked delicious. A male dancer came towards us, front and center in the performance. His legs were covered in black latex and stretched over his shoulders in thin straps, leaving his chest and back completely exposed. The muscle in his stomach and arms worked under the perfect flesh of a tight machine. Each working part triggered another, muscles taut and pulling to another lever, another tool, a further apparatus on a flawless stringed, meat symphony.
A ring descended from the top of the stage and stopped at the man’s face. He was crawling on the floor to the ring and broke character for one, holy moment. He grabbed the ring in one hand, and I saw him mouth the words “You can do it” before he clasped on with both hands and was raised in the air like a phoenix sprung from her body. My mouth dropped open. It was sky ballet. I wasn’t even on drugs yet.
I turned back for Trent, who was awake. I walked through the crowd. Flower halos. Converse shoes. UCLA flags and baseball hats.
“Do you want to go back?” he asked. We needed to get drugs.
We didn’t know anyone holding extra to sell. We had to approach strangers. So we would simply ask people if they knew Molly. Most people kept their head down and their mouths shut. Though Coachella was supposed to be a collapsible community, no one wanted to venture out of their inner circles. They were uncomfortable if they were spoken to, and didn’t want to share. Of course, we were offering to pay them.
“We came prepared. Learn your lesson,” one 18-year-old blurted out to us.
“We have an unreliable drug dealer,” I said, casually.
Trent has a switch. And before they had smarted off to us, Trent was flipped. We were tired of being ignored and avoided. We were tired of people treating us like we were hobos, panhandlers or freaks. We were all there for the same reason. The walls in Indio were taller than ever.
“You are just a couple of kids, you don’t know anything,” Trent said, throwing his hand in the air and storming off.
“Why don’t you chill out!?” one said. Trent turned towards them, the whites of his eyes screaming at them for more. Feed me more.
“It’s ok. It’s not worth it. Just let it go,” I said to both of them. More to the two young men than Trent.
There was bickering and I gently pulled Trent towards our tent as the confrontation spilled and fizzled into nothing at all. It was hard. We both had been bashing most of the yuppie, white teen trash washing into the festival all day. At one point, I was picking up receipts off the ground by the ATM machine and reading off account totals. “Balance $2,004.00, $6,458.00, $11,899. FUCK YOU!” Needless to say, my balance was in the negative. Trent had struggled the first half of the day trying to remember his pin for his ATM card. He called his bank and his mother trying to figure it out before it just came to him, in the middle of a hot afternoon, while overpriced beers were spilling over rich kids’ fingers. We had plenty of food in the car from the Target run the night before. It was the feeling that we were excluded from some gradiose American experience. To run off to musical festivals with no job to get back to, no rent to pay, no car breaking down every couple weeks. To have unlimited resources to do anything you want. To just fuck off without consequence. Of course each person has their own conditions to grieve. Their own price to pay. That didn’t ease the bitterness as they paraded in front of us, noses high, money and luxury cars everywhere, and worst of all, ignoring us just like they would anywhere else. If we served them in a restaurant- which we probably did. If we mopped their floors, paid their share of taxes, bought from their family brand, we were expendable. We were invisible. And here in a paradise constructed of synthetic, pharmaceutical and musical fantasy, our fantasy was interrupted.
I would like to think I can be a better person. That I could let go of class and kids, the miles between the cost of my time and the cost of theirs, the year it took for Trent and I to save up for this weekend so we could feel a part of something magical and current, something that could give us the vision of a life we wanted and the commercial it has turned into. Tickets are over $300 each and continue to rise every year, making it only possible for a certain type of person to go; the type that makes sacrifices throughout their year for a ticket, or the type with a large, disposable income. To throw those two in the desert together was mephitic to the point where it was almost paralyzing.
Trent and I fed off of one another. Sneering. Glaring. Quipping. It did us no good.
Back at the campground, we met a kid who would trade us Molly for $30 and some blow. I guess cocaine was a little more exotic to that breed. Good thing our unreliable drug dealer was never short of one thing: blow.
As night fell, my sinuses tightened and I felt the onset of a migraine. I didn’t drink enough water. I used to have them all the time, but now it is rare. I have credited the dog walking for improving my circulation. When a migraine takes hold of me, it is by the throat. If I move, the pain can become so overwhelming, I am forced to vomit. My neck and head lock and I freeze. The Molly still flooded me with serotonin. My heart sped up. My eyes peeled back to reveal the world underneath the obnoxious screaming and drunk lechery.
Beach House played. Trent was ecstatic. It was the first time he was really happy. Poor, unfortunate souls like ours feed off music. More than food and money. The music reclaims us.
There was a string of huge balloons tied in a long rope across the sky. They were so big; you could see them from the sky, miles away. They bobbed gently in the desert wind. And over the string and gently moving balloons was a full moon. The music came to me through those large round spheres, full of human breath, moving with the Earth’s voice and I saw it. I saw the music.
The whole note.
The half note.
Each note danced overhead to the soft, hypnotic music.
I had to lie down to keep my head still, as to reduce my physical suffering. My face buried in the cool, cool grass. The heat from the Molly extinguished on midnight dew. I remembered my Third grade teacher scolding us for pulling out the grass in the playground. “That is God’s carpet,” she said.
God’s carpet. It held me still so the music could play through me.
Music was coming from two other stages. It felt like all the instruments were colliding over my head and spilling in lost notes through my hair. The volume so loud the ground shook. My head shook as if the fingers of the musicians were pressing down on me with each cue.
I stayed there in child’s pose. Occasionally, someone would ask if I was ok. I said I was great. Better than great.
That is when we found blow on the ground. These kids were so fucked up, they were dropping their drugs on the ground without notice. We collected the baggies.
Next on stage was the Yeah Yeah’s. Trent led me to the next stage, and I fell to the ground again. My feet behind my ass, my face planted in God’s carpet. And the music came again.
“Do you need water …?” Trent asked. “A cigarette?”
“No, I just need to be still.”
Once in a while, a drunk would step on me, trip over my back, press their foot onto my hand. They couldn’t see me. I was beneath the light. Beneath their line of vision. Swimming in the world of dreams.
“No one can see you down there,” a stranger said, trying to divert foot traffic.
“I know,” I said.