The transvestite did not want to be friends with anyone in the room that night.
We had tried several times to bring her into our fold, offering her drinks, grabbing her hand and pulling her to the floor, singing songs and catching her eye to establish contact. Almost every attempt was met with a pensive glance away, a glaring retreat that led her gaze to the vomitous blue walls that surrounded us in this plaid sea of horrors and miscalculations. We were seeking the beauties found in the sights and sounds of Derby 2012; instead we became wrecked and stranded by a tidal wave thunderstorm. Nay (or maybe neigh), there weren't no thunderstorm to it, but rather a peopled avalanche running from the unleashing of a wet hell from the heavens in split seconds.
Suddenly, two-thousand cheats, rogues, scoundrels, plaid-shorted frat-boys, spray-tanned blondes, gutterpunks, day drunks and villainous untrustables clung to each other and fell through the rains of Kentucky into the tiny barroom, crowded around a karaoke mic, half-butts haunched onto the few tables, stepping on toes and knees in a balmy version of "fun." O, this was Derby 2012, and we had found it, breathing molded sticky vodka breath straight in our faces to a point that the air was sucked from the room from the amount of carbon dioxide. "We're running low on oxygen, Captain!" I yelled. No one moved, but just kept sucking more and more.
The crush of the sway caused by inebriated stumbles and lost footing pushed us like a suffocating Who concert, except we weren't; we were in Louisville in a room, and the smell of liquor hung in our faces, forcing us to sit. It's here where we met the black transvestite. I was too busy fending off strays and bums who had mounted an attack at the doorstep of our table to talk; it was my partner-in-crime/ladyfriend Cori who tried to break the ice. Whenever I turned back to check her progress, the blood sloshing into my eyes blinded me from knowing how well things were going. The Paranoia, Agoraphobia and lack of whiskey in my hand made me just not really care at that moment, either.
We had left the bungalow that night with the intent to experience the sweet sounds of buskers and other street-time entertainments. To be clear, it was not Derby day official, yet. It was Derby-Eve, also known in Louisville as Oaks Day. And to be honest, its the night that people let loose much more than on Derby itself. That anticipation of a day soaked in bourbon and sugar-water, when risks can be counted on both monetarily, legally, publicly and healthily, often leads the goers to preemptively attack, maybe with hopes of washing the dangers away of the morrow with a nighttime party beforehand. Oaks Day in the Highlands can just seem wilder than Derby night, and often, people never even make it to the Derby because of Oaks Night. Those that are untrained, that is.
We started late, as Louisvillians do. Cori was fresh from a seven hour nap and when I greeted her at her apartment, she added, "it's gonna be a late night anyways." Concurring, we swashed beer immediately to awaken ourselves to this ill-begotten holiday to head into the thankless Kentucky night air. My idea was to mingle with the array of street musicians and then to a block party I had been alerted of that was supposed to contain polyparous beer kegs that were said to multiply with each hour. We turned right, then right, then right, and were on Bardstown Rd Central, awash in the Oaks/Derby crowd. A black Ferrari pulled in front of Wick's Pizza. Plaid-shorted polo-shirted monsters mingled with odorous thrills in the night as we mangled our way toward the hot dog stand to greet a saxophonist friend of mine who had recently returned from living on the beaches of San Francisco. "This place is a dry small place sometimes," He murmured when we interrupted his music. "But I'm glad to be back. Except I left my beautiful Hispanic girlfriend there. I'm a fuckin' masochist, or somethin'." A wave of assholes drowned us as we said our good byes and wandered South, in search of food and keg.
This year seemed less inhabited by buskers and more by cocksuckers than the previous, as men strode with women in struts that were irrelevant and showy; a bigger beef round-up than Nero might muster, maybe. Cori complained of hunger pangs and we stopped for American-Mexican, dining amongst a crowd of cops and teens, gorging on pork tacos and three-cheese queso. Bass pumped from the tinted windows of Model A's as we found ourselves walking down the dark spits of Sherwood, searching for that keg thing. People walked past, empty and dry. This ain't it and not for us, we concluded.
We turned out attention back Northward, scuttling between the high heels and call-outs. I had added a clause to our evening that we stop and see my brother Derrick at his normal karaoke service at the Taproom, blocks down. There were eery lightning flashes that lead us hither, and before we knew it, we stood before the establishment, questioning our own motives. The security hench approached us asking for IDs, but next to him stood the owner, who motioned us past, wading off the bouncer with "I know 'em; they're cool." We were still dry as we walked in, and I snaked my in-between slobbering menchildren to procure a whiskey-soda and Falls City.
The juke was packed to the gills with slobberers, and we decided to take a breath outside. It was then that the rains came, punching and scraping our sides with like an icy rapture. Like a wave, the dormant hooples outside fanged their way back into the establishment, breaking codes of population immediately. This was no ordinary rain, but a full-out Jonah storm, teeming in its entrenchment and bleak in its let-up. My ladyfriend excused herself inside to wrestle her way to the restroom. I held onto our drinks in the flood, anchored by an iron table hooded by an umbrella, under which five of us huddled. We were strangers, but brothers and sisters in escape from the lightning. Finally, the downpour broke through our spirits, and after Cori returned, we both dashed inside to Hell.
The Taproom was a swamp of drunk breaths and attempted dance. Cori and I tried to smile, but the crush was too much and the oxygen ran low. One thing was for sure: we knew we were going to die in that place. So we turned to survival tactics. "Get me a shot of whatever tequila they can pour the fastest," She said. I obliged. Upfront, past the profaned and blurred eyes of patrons, a black transvestite was overturning Ike and Tina's version of "Proud Mary." We bought more alcohol. At the bar, I was tossed aside by a 600 pound woman who seemed to not understand physics and their relations to physical space. I declared I would find that particular science, myself.
The beer turned to tequila turned to bourbon and back to beer, and as soon as our tolerance was destroyed and simultaneously upped, we began to join our fellow swamp people in soul tunes and rock numbers on karaoke mic. I communicated with my brother through text, unable to reach him through the masses physically. "I'm singing Hedwig's 'Sugar Daddy.' I don't think the frat boys here will get it." He responded: "You will get stabbed." I stood on a chair, feeling warm and drunk, trying to find that Oaks/Derby family feel that can pop into your blood in Louisville on these nights. It was barely there, but I faked it. I yelled the lyrics. No knives were ever unsheathed.
Soon the bar had temporarily emptied and we were saved from the squash, except for our own bad decisions. We continued our quickened pace of pouring libations into our groins as the rains turned on and off from the heavens, holding us captive in the place. There was the table with the transvestite. I had lost track of the conversations as another wave of soaked bastards bombarded and took over again. It was four AM. Only two more hours of bar-time left. Cori led the bar in a sing-along of "Creep." Memory began to fall from the holes in my pockets like pebbles. I remember returning from the bathrooms, walking toward her rejoined table, only to vomit pork tacos, as solid as they had gone down, into my mouth, swallow it, and turn and walk back to the bathrooms. In my feeble attempts, I tried to capture the night through photos, and mostly failed, being jobbed with puking and whirling about on the dance floor. My last legal memory was standing next to the transvestite as she and Cori belted out "Hakuna Matata." Blood ran down my forehead and into my eyes.
We rode home on the backs of wart hogs, drenched, at six AM. It was in the morning when I realized I had spent nine hundred and seventy-two dollars on drinks, and had only a hangover and sliced hand to show for it.
Most of Derby Day itself sat as a recovery period. I somehow remained inebriated for most of it; an alcohol-poisoned cowhand feeling somewhere between hay and grass. There were eggs and bacon I cooked to the soothing tunes of Public Enemy, followed by a sickly viewing of "Singin' in the Rain," which only seemed to make my head spin as Donald O'Connor and Gene Kelly mapped out the linguistic exercise contained within "Moses Supposes."
I barely listened to coverage of the race on a boombox, tuning in the same AM radio coverage my family had listened to as a tradition most of my life growing up. Terry Meiners and the crew at WHAS talked about the same bullshit: hats, pop-handicapping of the races, the weather. In some ways that bible of familiarity is comforting, reminding me of the first Saturday of every May of childhood huddled around my Father's stereo console in the living room in Fern Creek, the family sticking close to home and making bets amongst ourselves. In other ways, it is maddening in its stupidity. After having lived in Lexington for over a decade, the "Horse Capital of the World," and having spent a few years both working on and around horse farms, as well as a three year stint as the audio producer at Keeneland, I've learned to despise the sport of kings as the cruel, fucked-up event it is. There is a culture of Derby that is ingrained in me, and I can dig the celebratory worldliness Louisville morphs into every April and May. But I can never really support the race and the reason it happens anymore.
Cori had to work a few hours at her vet office that evening, and then we decided to set out for the debut show of Louisville's grand new venue/art collective/studio, The Mammoth. A project long in the making and one that has required and seen an extensive amount of successful hard work, The Mammoth is a large old brick warehouse built in 1865 as a storage facility for Civil War military medical supplies on 13th and Maple, West of downtown Louisville. It has since been used by a long list of Louisville businesses, including, at one point, Louisville Paper, which still remains painted grandly on The Mammoth's side.
The building was bought recently by artists/activists Aron Conaway and Hallie Jones, former organizers/owners of a similar co-op, The Lava House. The Mammoth reaches new heights in their quest to create and run something inspirational for the community here, .promoting both art, music, freedom of expression on every level. Care has gone into its restoration to make it a completely environmentally friendly and sustainable project.
After being picked up off the floor from our recovery stance from the night before (that of smeared sick peanut butter stuck in the carpet), I re-inspired our journeys into the Derby Night with fried chicken and greens. "Man up and power through" was our motto as we left for the continuing festivities. Fueled, we drove down to13th and into the industrial district The Mammoth lived in, boggled and entranced by the oncoming dusk and surrounding old warehouses that act as neighbors to Aron and Hallie's new home.
For its inaugural show and its introduction to the public, The Mammoth had assembled a festival that had begun at four PM consisting a variety of interesting acts that would play until nearly two AM. The festival contained a combination of some of my favorite Louisville acts, including Madame Machine, softcheque, w.n.b.a, Ohlm, Opposable Thumbs, and Parlour, as well as Lexington's Ford Theatre Reunion and the return to Louisville of California's Faun Fables.
|Poster by Justin Kamerer of Angry Blue|
The sheer massive quality of The Mammoth, its insides and outs, its history, its appearance, everything about it, says nothing other than this place will become the pontiff of art spaces and venues in Louisville. I was thoroughly impressed. The space contained within and without is like a mini-city in and of itself. Entering from the 13th St side, we wandered through the imposing gutted innards, which was full of art pieces, old respected venue signs (Swan Dive!), televisions playing bizarro videos, snacks, broken pianos, an old car, and various other mysterious items. On the outside of the left side of the building snaked a collective of artists painting on the walls and canvases. That long line eventually ended with a truck selling beer. On the right side of the building, was the newly built stage, that opened out into a fenced-in field.
We had shown late, joining the outskirts of the large gathered crowd who were watching Ford Theater Reunion perform against the backdrop of the red brick brick building. Dusk fell, lights were projected behind the band, climbing the four (or five?) stories of wall, and images were projected from other points of the artspace onto the sides of the other warehouses. Added to this mystique was the ever presence of that night's weather news spectacle: The Super Moon. The year's largest moon rose and hung over the field the rest of our time there.
Ford Theatre Reunion completed their always interesting show, even playing through a brief power outage by singing the rest of the song a cappella, ending with a drum solo, and then kicking back in as the power was restored with perfect timing on the beat. As Faun Fables set up, we couldn't help but wander through the building. I can only see millions of possibilities for this place. We eventually managed to connect with Aron, who was running to and fro, still installing lights and fixing any problems as they arose. He gave a quick tour of one side of the building, and described the work that had been and needed to be done, which we appreciated.
Cori and I had taken to beer again. I was finally taught by a kind fellow that one cool punk-rock trick of opening a beer with a lighter (yeah...so what, ok?). We traversed the building, the fields, everywhere there was something to see. As motor bikes jetted up and down 13th, the only reminder to those of us there that other things were happening connected to the Derby in the city, Nils of Faun Fables tested a flute into a microphone. The shrill caw he made echoed throughout the mostly abandoned area. "That shit just bounced back from the moon," He said.
I say mostly abandoned, but in essence, this isn't true. With The Mammoth there, that block of Western Louisville is definitely living and breathing, and on Derby night it was filled with folks running from the touristic side of the Derby life and into something that immediately felt more community-inspired. I'm not knocking the scenes that exist Downtown, in NuLu, or along the streets of the Highlands. But on Derby night that field, all of us there, well, it illuminated (excuse me for waxing a bit romantic) something kind of magical.
It was a coral reef of music-lovers that surrounded the stage as Faun Fables began their tome-like poem-songs. The crowd stood roped into the acoustic and visual ambiance the building and field provided. The surrealistic thanksgiving was encouraged and melted together by the BOOM of the string of bikers, born on tearing through 13th on unknown cues, the incensed hang of the Super Moon, and the wanderings of friendly dogs.
Eventually the show was joined by a carousing police helicopter that perused the show several times with a spotlight. We scratched our heads and pointed skywards as the 'copter circled and illuminated the field, the band, and the patrons, its shuffle of its rotors adding to the noise of the evening. We wandered if the machine was checking up on our party, but it was revealed the next day that there was a man(or woman)hunt for a killer of a groom at Churchill Downs itself. Murder had been added to the activities of the Derby race, and had taken place right under the noses of the race-watchers. The body had been dumped a few stalls from the day's rose-crowned winner, I'll Have Another.
Our stamina running short, we left The Mammoth and made one last stop at the Taproom, the scene of the crimes from the previous night, to catch one set contained in the infamous annual Derby Party put on by my brother's band The Fuckmunkys. There was sweat and drool slung everywhere as we jogged in place to the beat of such songs as "Auto-erotic Asphyxiation" and "Put the Devil Back in Rock n Roll." Spent, bruised, exhausted and elated, we limped my big jaw home.
To be honest, I don't even remember how the night ended. I do know that Sunday after Derby doesn't count as a real day on the calendar, though.