all of digital life is a foreign country

R.E.M. ticket stub Monster tour.jpg

I haven’t had much time to devote to this blog since being back in New York, but I recently found a nearly complete post that I wrote two or three years ago in my drafts folder. I dusted it off, and here it is for your reading pleasure until I have time to write something new:

The online sale for an in-demand concert was about to begin, and I knew it would be tough to snag tickets. As I waited anxiously, itchy trigger finger hovering over the Return key until the appointed moment to click furiously and hope for a miracle, a memory came rushing back.

In tenth grade, R.E.M. came to town. Two of my best friends and I hatched a plan to camp overnight on the sidewalk outside of Tower Records, where the Ticketmaster queue always formed. If we were near the front of the line when tickets went on sale the next morning at 10am, we could nab seats before they inevitably sold out minutes later.

I ended up being relegated to the sidelines of the plan, a mere cheerleader, because the sale date was during the Jewish new year, Rosh Hashanah, and I wasn’t allowed out. It was heartbreaking to think I wouldn’t participate in a rite of passage that I had seen so often on sitcoms and the news. Meanwhile, both of my (non-Jewish) friends told their parents that they were sleeping over at the other’s house. Instead they met in the parking lot of the shopping center adjacent to the Cherry Hill Mall, killed a few hours at a nearby diner, walked to an isolated ATM to withdraw a hundred dollars in cash (at like 1 in the morning, just to keep things interesting) , and returned to the Tower Records to wait amongst what they thought would be a line of friendly people in sleeping bags and camping chairs.

But strangely, it was just them: two teenage girls, pre-cell phone era, perched like sitting ducks in the middle of a sea of asphalt surrounded by roads to Philadelphia that went quiet at night. That is, they were alone until 9:30 the next morning, when people started showing up with the lottery ticket line holders that had been handed out the day before, at a giveaway we hadn’t known about, which was intended to prevent dummies like us from camping out all night. My friends went to the very front of the back of the lottery line, and when the concert tickets sold out literally two minutes after the sale began, they left empty handed…

…just as one of their irate fathers arrived. He had rung my house that morning demanding to know where his daughter was, after calling the other friend’s house to arrange a pick-up and figuring out that neither set of parents had either of the kids.

I can still hear the seething voice of my friend’s already-very-scary dad as he shot word-bullets at me across the line. He asked me how it felt to leave my friend to be murdered in a parking lot while I slept soundly in my snug bed.

My friends were both grounded for a month. I felt guilty the whole time, but apart from that I got off easy. 

And this story has a lovely post-script. Well, for two of the three of us anyway. R.E.M. added another Philadelphia show to their tour a month later, and this time we knew the drill. While the friend with the scary dad did not even bother asking for permission to go to the concert, the other friend’s parents were like, “You served your time, you are free to go.” So the two of us went to Tower Records the day before the ticket sale, picked up two lottery tickets, and returned at 9:30 the next morning. When the lottery numbers were called, I was the lucky one holding the first one, and we went to the front of the line. We were already standing at the ticket counter as the sale started, and the salesperson checked his computer and asked us, “Second row, that alright?” It most certainly was.

At the concert – which was in a massive stadium – we were so close that we could see the sweat on the band’s faces. In fact, at one point Michael Stipe stared into my eyes for ten seconds as he was singing. When he finally broke his gaze, I turned breathlessly to my friend just as she turned breathlessly to me, and we both screamed, “He looked at me!” I imagined that my friend’s bravery and suffering had earned this for us.

Yes, I view life through a skewed lens of hyper-nostalgia, but it seems to me that I used to have to work harder for my pleasures, and that made them sweeter. The trials and tribulations of living life non-digitally made up a good part of the stuff that memories were made of. 

I know we live in a digital divide and I feel guilty to not be more grateful for my connectivity. I know that it’s silly to see romance in what was actually a rather asinine thing for teenage girls to do. But I do believe that something is lost when you can click your way to what you used to have to walk or talk your way to.

[Note from the present: After having acquired Youssou N’Dour tickets in Dakar in the most intricately low-tech way possible maybe a year after this post was originally written, I now hold this conviction even more strongly than I did then.]

[Note two from the present: I didn’t include it in the draft, but I now feel it’s important to add that one night a few years ago, I ended up out with a group that included Michael Stipe – who is a friend of a friend of a friend of mine. I really, really wanted to talk to him but could think of nothing to say apart from recounting this story, which would have been embarrassing for me and quite possibly annoying for him. We were in a group as hypothetical equals – why would I reduce myself to an adoring fangirl? So I never said a word and I regret it to this day. How many times in your life do you have the chance to talk to an idol?]

[Note three from the present: I had to confer with my friend about whose autographs are on the ticket, and now I vaguely recall that we called out to members of the opening band, Grant Lee Buffalo, while they were packing up after their set and asked them to sign our tickets – even though I had never heard Grant Lee Buffalo before that night and I wasn’t that impressed with their music. Says a lot about my teenage self, and if I’m being honest, my current self, too.]

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