Nightlife - Field Notes From Luke

by Luke Baumgarten & r & & r & & lt;span class= "dropcap " & "E & lt;/span & ight-year-olds, dude," I whisper to Joel, surveying our new enemies I'm not exactly sure how we landed here. Maybe because I have a decades-old score to settle with these kids. Maybe because the thought of looking for love in a chain buffet makes me nauseous. Maybe I have aggression issues. These are questions for my therapist, but I need to explain a little: The original plan was to do some Christian speed dating early in the evening at Old Country Buffet. For reasons that involve potato flakes by the tons and 40-year-old men by the dozens, though, we decided against it. So, in lieu of chatting up eligible (though elderly, possibly all male) Christian singles, and after Mr. Smith hit the state-run spirits shop to fill his hip flask, we decided on LaserQuest. I'd had some really bad memories about getting the living crap shot out of me there as a youngster -- being a lanky, clumsy kid in a short, agile kid's game -- so this was to be sweet redemption. Years of PC gaming, JV basketball and skeet shooting have honed my hand-eye coordination to the point that my weapon feels not like a tool that I wield, but an extension of my very arm. Like Mega Man. Heidegger would be pleased. As considerable as my nerd skills are, I am but one man, so I brought along Adrienne Isgrigg, because she claimed to have the layout of the battle field burned into her brain, and the Inlander's Joel Smith, because I knew he'd make really good cannon fodder.

The idea is that the three of us will team up such that, while all these roly-poly 8-year-olds are running around, feverishly shooting friend and foe alike, we'll get each other's backs, marching in formation. We'll counter their superior numbers with superior strategy, like so many Roman legions pressing north to disperse and subjugate an unruly Gaul.

Once inside, our marshal, a young lady code-named Giggles, instructs on how to use these things called "activators" to get our laser packs working, then tells us to drop them in the vortex when we're done. "Put your activators in my vortex," she repeats three times, yelling. Each time she puts emphasis on a different word (first activators, then my, then vortex). Disturbing.

Immediately out of the gate, our tactics seem ill-conceived. Joel [code name: Phazer] and I are trying to follow Adrienne [code name: Maybelle] to what she assures us is a dope little hard point with good lines of sight and highly defensible approaches. The damn kids, though, they're swarming, everyone against everyone. Our brilliant plan -- when surrounded by 30 little midget-height lasers, firing haphazardly -- isn't very effective.

Once we get to our overlook, though, the tide of the battle changes. We shield ourselves behind walls. Phazer kneels down to fire through a hole at a busy ramp, in clear breach of the rules he'd just agreed to minutes before. I scream that he's breaking the rules. He replies, "In war, there are no rules!" Recalling that he keeps a picture of William Tecumseh Sherman in his wallet, I'm suddenly glad he's on our side.

We focus on covering each other first, killing for glory second. After those tough early skirmishes, we begin to fight like limbs of the same body controlled by a single brain (mine, I think).

And if Adrienne occasionally takes a laser in the back, well, that's what you call friendly fire, and there ain't an army on this earth that can avoid it. She can take comfort, I tell her, because 1) her death is felt by those that survive her, 2) it was for a cause she loved and, most important, 3) that she has not died in vain. Nay, not in vain. Those shots to the back were instrumental in securing me [code name: Chauncey] a very respectable second place, just behind a middle-school-aged kid named 1-800SUSHI.

& lt;span class= "dropcap " & "K & lt;/span & lacka-Klacka-Klack," I say, doing my best machine-gun impression, catastrophically sober and reliving my laser wizardry by firing into a crowd of teen smokers as we round the corner toward Fat Tuesday's. The beauteous thing about most all-ages venues in town is that they're full-serve. You a little guy? You get soda. You a big boy? They got liqs and beer. Most have, anyhow, most of the time. Unfortunately, most of the time isn't all the time, and when it's a RAWK show, I quickly learn, it's actually none of the time. The bar -- so as not to obstruct the hundreds of excitable high schoolers -- is totally shut down, chairs and stools packed away, looking like the saddest thing I've ever seen.

I got over it pretty quickly -- I don't have a problem or anything, I swear -- by focusing on the action around me. The Electrostatics, a ska punk band, are playing their little hearts out and skanking up a storm, jog-dancing all over the place, looking much like the rhythmless teenage males they are. It's awesome to simultaneously see 1) the pogo, 2) a mosh pit and 3) crowd-surfing. It's as if, by putting my activator in Marshal Giggles' vortex, I'd been transported back to high school myself. Adding to the strange time-travel vertigo was that, although there were hundreds of parents around, none of them seem to have ever seen a mosh pit before. They were all standing around the periphery, fingering their faux-pearl necklaces, tugging nervously at their Ann Taylor blouses, confiding in each other. "I don't like this one bit," they said with their disapproving glances, in unison. I imagine them bringing it up at a school board meeting, 10 years too late, and the subsequent Spokesman headline: "DENIED RIGHT TO MOSH DANCE, KIDS CHECK OUT KNIFE STABBING." The more things change, the more they something, something ...

The 'Statics are tight, as most ska bands are, having practiced those trombones and whatnot for years. Their high school, high-jinxy, shucks-ain't-it-great/crappy-to-be-a-kid lyrics are fun, but make me think longingly back to the days when Operation Ivy, the prototypical high school ska punk band, wrote songs about racial equality, civil disobedience and nonconformity. The only youth movement the Electrostatics seem to endorse are jump kicks and punky stage antics.

& lt;span class= "dropcap " & "I & lt;/span & long for warmth! And food!" Adrienne cried after leaving the show to forage. It was cold as all get-out, and the walk to the car left our extremities blackened. I replied, "We need a fireplace, STAT." We'd planned to catch the Chiefs game and by taking Joel's knowledge of pubs and cross-referencing that with Adrienne's database of warm places, we reckoned that the Viking was just about as close to the Arena as we'd be able to find both a fireplace and a selection of no less than 25 beers. (Joel needs this kind of selection or he gets cranky.) We all hoped aloud that the circular table around the gas hearth was open.

Of course, it was. It always is. Why more people don't sit there is beyond me. It's a table big enough to accommodate most of Arthur's knights, and it's got a fireplace in the middle. Awesome. Tragically, though, there was no fire and thus the room was of constant temperature. So once we had our burgers and downed our Kokanee (Joel expressed righteous indignation over ordering such a plebian beer), we felt we could stray to the outer edge of the building without taking a drop in temperature. Also, I think, we still had our competitive hats on after the success of the LaserQuest campaign. A couple unruly youths were milling around by the pinball machines and utilizing the pool tables, so we hit the shuffleboard ... court? Deck? Whatever. The shuffleboard ... board.

Adrienne and I elected to be on a team because Smith 1) hates sharing and 2) is verbally abusive. He roundly destroyed us, but only because we had fewer throws, and thus took longer to get the feel of ... whatever. We lost bad.

Just as we were about to leave, Joel found a friend in the bathroom and begged us to let him take her home.

"Brainchild was supposed to leave me his gear," says a mildly despondent Ben Cater, gnawing on a piece of what looks like pork. "I had a great set to play tonight, too." That was Mizuna. We were going to catch Cater spin under his Supervillain moniker, drink a little wine, and chat with the notoriously precocious bartenders. We did two of the three, if you substitute a lot of Mojito for a little wine. Allison makes a mean one. We still needed to find a DJ though ...

& lt;span class= "dropcap " & P & lt;/span & ixie wings trigger a near violent response in me, so despite Adrienne's insistence that the two girls on either side of DJ Decibel are really phenomenal dancers, I just can't get behind it. It's Club Fusion at the Big Easy, of course, and it's filled with Club Fusion kids doing Club Fusion things, dancing in brazen and unreserved defiance of the codes and standards set by Central Valley School District ("the dancing is called 'freaking'"). Workin' it. Or rather, the girls are.

Before we ventured in, we'd taken a detour to Rock Coffee to stash some contraband that would have lit up the Big Easy's metal detectors like Fallujah in April. Jackie Parrott is the town's most industrious and permissive late-night shot-slinger.

Inside is highly stratified, each ring around Decibel occupying its own ritualistic universe. The floor features nothing but girl-on-girl dancing, like some sort of ceremonial display. Reverse peacocks or something. Those who have paired off with a male (assuming they're into that sort of thing) continue to dance, though they generally move off the dance floor. Their partners don't seem at all into it, turning the women -- effectively -- into pole dancers and they themselves into fleshy, out-of-place looking poles.

This is where people go, in the words of a college friend, to "dance until they hook up." The truth of this was never more evident than when Decibel spun an edited version of Lil' John's "Get Low." To the window, to the wall, every single guy sprang from near-catatonia to holler along with the infamous chorus. "Skeet skeet skeet skeet skeet skeet skeet," they yelped. Skeet skeet indeed. Or so they hoped.

& lt;span class= "dropcap " & W & lt;/span & e've now seen Mark Fuhrman twice tonight, and just where you'd expect him. First, he was milling around in the Davenport and now he's here, at Bistango. The place is packed with wealthy people and other folks trying desperately to look that way. It's easy to tell them apart; the hoi polloi keep casting looks over their shoulders, like they don't know what to do with themselves. Something deep inside, call it aristocratic instinct, says, "Buy the $30 martini." I know what lies down that road, boy: Nothing but tears and debt consolidation services, let me tell you.

No, I'm content to sit here with my homies, in the corner table that miraculously opened up for us one minute after walking into standing-room-only hell, sipping a dirty Martini and people-watching. I don't belong here, I know that. I like the fact that I don't and that, in Spokane, even the high-class play has to cater to, or at least allow, us grubby types. You try to get into a joint like Bis- tango in Bell Town, you get stared down or beat up. You can't be that picky in Spokane, which is maybe why there are new high-concept (that is, expensive) bars springing up and disappearing all the time. Affected affluence is a novelty for most people in Spokane, not a way of life.

The people watching's hard, though, because Joel's lying on the ground right now, pointing his camera up at the ceiling, telling me to cock my head to the left. "That's it. Dashing." Click. Blinding flash. All of a sudden, the people watchers become the people watched.

& lt;span class= "dropcap " & "H & lt;/span & ey, it's the Inlander dude!" comes the voice of a girl in her teens. "What's up, Inlander dude?" She offers her fist to pound, which I reluctantly do. We're in the Satellite, the bars are closed, we're hungry. I've been trying to go to the bathroom, and then this. Who is this girl? "You talked to the Decemberists' drummer while we were talking to him," she says, helpfully. Oh, right. The Decemberists. She and her friends' enthusiasm for kick-ass music had filled me with joy. Made me wish Spokane was better at keeping kids like her in town. A trite sentiment, but you expect that from me by now.

The Satellite is where adults and kids both come this time of night because it's the only place downtown that fits two criteria: 1) it's open, and 2) it's not Perkins.

I shuffled back to my seat by and by, thinking that I'd seen her somewhere else. Then I remembered. Right there. I'd seen her right there some night last year, in that exact booth on that exact side, facing the front, sitting all the way to the wall, a Swisher Sweet dangling half-smoked from the corner of her mouth.

I spent the rest of my time -- like I always do when I come here -- gnawing listlessly on the beer-battered onion rings, meditating on what a tawdry, diverse and beautiful collection of people we have in this town, if you know the right place to look. At two o'clock in the morning on a Saturday, they're all right here.

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