Discover more from ( the comedown )
the politics of hello (...or not)
it’s such a simple thing. how could it be so complicated?
As soon as I turn the block and see the door to the party, it begins. This bouncer knows me but he doesn’t like to hug when it’s been a rough night, so I let him make the first move. I’ve known the girl checking tickets for years, but she looks frazzled right now, so I’ll keep this short and simple. The promoter sees me but she’s handling some situation, so I won’t bug her, either. We’ll catch up later, maybe.
Once I’m inside, then comes the onslaught. Some people are like a homing missile when they spot me, darting from across the room for a hug followed up with a “how-are-you-did-you-just-get-here?”. I try to keep it short while I weave my way to the coat rack, but I get intercepted two more times. Yes, I just got here. No, I didn’t go out last night.
Waiting in line for my yerba, a stream of greetings. A short hug. A smile and a wave. A peck on the cheek. Nice to see you. Lovely to see you, darling. Always a pleasure to see you. Each encounter comes with its own unique assortment of squeezes, kisses, handshakes, pats, nods, and smiles. Everyone wants it a little bit differently. Learning their preferences is a tiny way of showing love, to greet someone as they wish to be greeted. I haven’t been out in a few days, so all these morsels of warmth are energizing and comforting. My community is here and I am welcome.
On to the dance floor, I scope out the situation. Strolling through the crowd, familiar silhouettes abound. I see a group of friends, but things have been feeling off with them lately, so I’ll leave that for a simpler moment. I almost approach a buddy before realizing they’re deep in the sauce - best leave them be. Another friend is lost in a different sauce, dancing his ass off - let ‘em cook, in the parlance of our times. Then I spot an old comrade. I plant a hand on their shoulder, they turn, their eyes light up, and we squeal in unison. It’s been months, so our embrace is long and tight. It puts all those other hugs to shame, the sort that only comes with genuine appreciation fermented by time.
A loose acquaintance materializes out of the fog and we happen to make eye contact. The split-second calculus begins. They’re a friend of a friend. We met a few times last year, but there wasn’t much of a conversation. They seem interesting and they’re a great dancer, so I decide to smile and wave. They don’t reciprocate. It stings a little, but I won’t take it personally. We don’t have a connection yet, so I don’t exist to them.
An unfamiliar face approaches. She seems to know me, so a new calculation starts. She was dancing with that one guy — do I know him? Curse this fog, I can’t tell. She’s coming in for a hug, so I play along. So good to see you, haha! I’m not lying, she seems friendly enough. As she talks at me I’m searching her silhouette for a landmark, something in the eyes, a moment I could fish out of my memory. I’m drawing blanks, but I keep the chitchat going and focus the conversation on the party. I’ve learned not to guess names. All risk, no reward. Veteran ravers understand and don’t care. I’m so bad with names, we all say, as if any of us were particularly good with them.
It was so different when I was new. I remembered most everyone I met because I didn’t know anyone. Then I started to lose track and I hated to forget. My party spreadsheet had a column for names I collected at each event. It didn’t help. One night, I added thirty names — every Unter was like that. How does anyone manage this? Eventually, it’s futile. We’re supposed to forget, anyway. The names we need to know, the people that genuinely matter to us, those will stick.
With some time to myself, I can step back and observe the encounters around me. I watch a clueless man introducing himself to a queen. He thrusts out his hand for a plain shake and I cringe, feeling the embarrassment he doesn’t know he should feel. I see two friends who I didn’t think knew each other clasp in a particularly long embrace — new romance budding, perhaps? Another pair, former lovers, give each other half-hearted kisses on each cheek, forced into interaction as their respective crews collide. Our body language tells the truth about how we really feel.
As the night unfolds, greetings turn into re-greetings. Taking a smoke break, I find someone I saw briefly when I walked in, but now we have a chance for a proper catch-up. An hour later, on my second cigarette, I encounter them again. We like each other well enough but both of us know we only have so much in common and can’t sustain another conversation. Our glances avert from one other, searching for more fertile lands. Walking to the bathroom, I pass by that same friend once more but now we’re now committed to mutual ignorance. We keep our focus beyond each other, ships passing in the night.
It sounds cold, but it’s for the best. Acknowledgment is taxing, even eye contact can be too much to ask; it’s a tiny spark of intimacy that wears out its welcome with repetition. We have to preserve our energy for the long-haul, to make it to the end of this rave with our sanity intact. Mutual ignorance is, in a way, a form of respect and trust. We don’t need to constantly re-affirm each other, we can dispense with routine courtesy and understand that there is no ill will. It took me years to understand this; I constantly wondered if I’d done something to offend or had fallen out of grace. In the end, it was nightlife workers that taught me the value of this skill. Staff are inundated with interaction, and the best way for me to respect their work is getting out of their way - physically and emotionally.
Yet, it’s a fine line between necessity and clout. Some artists and promoters, high on their own farts, refuse to acknowledge anyone they don’t see as relevant. I’ve watched the switch flip in real-time - a promoter that would never give me the time of day, now seeing that I’m friends with an artist he perceives as important, suddenly wants to know my name. Not everyone is so tactless and transparent. It’s more often told by the hungry glimmer in their eyes, when they incorrectly imagine I have some kind of power or prestige that could help them book their next big gig.
Then, there’s old-fashioned hostile avoidance. Some people weaponize their attention to make others feel unwelcome. I see someone I might have once called a friend. I didn’t burn the bridge, but I’m done trying to repair it. They’ll be here all night and they’ll bend over backwards before ever acknowledging my presence. Their avoidance throughout the night will be, at times, comically extreme. They’ll keep their back to me at all times like a misanthropic compass. They’ll weave circuitous paths around the venue. If our eyes should ever meet, theirs will dart instantly to the floor, or they might just stare straight through me as though I were made of glass.
It turns out this is a common way for folks in nightlife to respond to unresolved conflict or disagreement. Personally, I believe in the importance of hello. It’s a fundamental form of respect and existential affirmation. It can be as simple as a slight nod - no small talk, no strings attached. No one is owed anything more than that. This boundary is important, because my secret truth about parties is that they’re loaded with people I don’t particularly like or want to know. For better or worse, they aren’t going anywhere. We’re in this community together, and part of my role at the party is to exercise tolerance for the sake of harmony. We’re all here to have a good time, and this antisocial bullshit ain’t it.
But I can’t let it bother me. I’ll save my spoons for folks that value me. I’m going to need those spoons when I’m ten hours deep on this party and fresh faces arrive, ready to be greeted with energy that will help them get on this party’s wavelength. What’s most important is that my friends know they are seen, they are welcome, and that they are in the right place.
I’ll be looking at promoter culture. What’s that, you ask? I’ll let Alec Baldwin give you a hint.
This will take a little while to finish, as I’ve been out of commission for a week. I’d like to have it out in two weeks, but we’ll see.
Thanks for reading!
— cranberry thunderfunk
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