“Suzanne, what is wrong with these fucking people?”
It seemed more appropriate than usual that I should fling the f-word, seeing that I found myself in a Secaucus, New Jersey train station near midnight. “I mean, why the fuck are these people running up the escalator when there are two huge staircases on either side of us?”
We’d just come from a Prince concert at the Meadowlands in East Rutherford. I’m from outside of Boston and rarely use public transportation. I was perplexed as I watched people running upwards on a moving escalator. I was also geographically disoriented. I have no idea where I am when in New Jersey, no sense of what goes where. If I’m in Secaucus, where is New York City? Where is Jersey City? Where is the Hudson? Where am I? But one thing I do know, despite all this confusion: When you ride an escalator “up,” you don’t run up the moving stairs.
“They’re showing off,” Suzanne said. “Just stay to the right and let them pass.”
“But isn’t this the stupidest fucking thing you’ve ever seen? I mean, what is with these people? Assholes.”
Suzanne took my hand and laughed. She’s very cool that way. All my bad language just “sweetens the pot” for her, she says. Gotta love a girl like that, right?
The next day she reminded me of what seeing Prince at the Izod Center really meant in my life – it was an incredible success story for one such as I who has been fighting panic disorder and agoraphobia for most of her life. I told Suzanne about the first concert I ever attended in 1977: The Steve Miller Band played the old Boston Garden – home of the Bruins and Celtics. At that time, smoking was still allowed in public venues and smoking pot was expected and allowed at rock concerts, despite marijuana being an illegal drug. The Steve Miller Band was reaching the height of its popularity in the 1970s with songs such as Fly Like an Eagle, Jet Airliner, and Take the Money ‘N Run. Their first hit came when I was a little kid, four years earlier, with The Joker.
In 1977 I was fifteen and my best friend’s older sister agreed to take us to the concert at The Garden. I should have been excited to attend the event, but I was scared. I became obsessed with my fear of inhaling pot smoke, smoke which I knew would infiltrate the arena. That fear extended itself into a fear of crowds. This was the blossoming of my panic disorder and agoraphobia. I had no awareness of the extent of my anxiety at that time; it was an inarticulate tremor beneath my skin.
When we walked into the Boston Garden that night, and a reefer cloud of smoke reached all the way down to our ankles, I was petrified. I spent the entire concert in a state of panicked alert, waiting to trip out again as I had the year before when I’d smoked marijuana and hallucinated from it. To better understand my problems with narcotics, please see my blog entry “Drugged.”
That was more than thirty years past.
It’s 2010. Suzanne reminds me of how I’m challenging myself and pushing my limits, of how I’m growing.
I can board trains, buses, and escalators and walk into the Izod Center arena in the State of New Jersey – so far away from my home in Massachusetts – to see a legend like Prince. When we first walk in, I note the music is way too loud. I feel the drums vibrating in my chest and the guitars searing my eardrums. That kind of physical stimuli can still give me panic. I remember how strong I am, what good shape I’m in, at age 48. I have worked hard (for decades) to reclaim my ability to attend rock concerts, to attend life.
Of course, it helps to have a supportive lover/friend by your side. Thank you, Suzanne. And it helps that smoking of any kind is no longer allowed in public places. So there is no cloud of reefer smoke infiltrating my nostrils and making me hold my breath and squirm in terror. The worst we run into at the Prince concert is a young woman who tries to hustle us into buying her a beer at the concessions. “I’m thirty years old,” she lies. “And can you believe I left my ID at home?” When we tell her that we won’t buy her alcohol, she says, “You guys, suck.” I don’t hear this but Suzanne tells me later. Suzanne looks at me and says, “Thirty years old, my ass.”
It’s all so easy now.
Prince is gorgeous. One cannot help but stare at his phenomenal presence and physical beauty. He reminds me of my twenties, the age I was during his rise to fame during the 1980s. I feel a kinship with him because he can bring back my youth, just by standing up on that stage and singing the songs of 25 years past. He can bring that youth to me now, now that I am healthy enough to breathe it in deeply.
I am so calm as I watch Prince dance and listen to him sing those amazing songs: Let’s Go Crazy, Kiss, Purple Rain, 1999. The idea of panic fades away to the mustier regions of my brain. I eat a giant pretzel and drink red Gatorade and hold my girlfriend’s hand.
And later, I will curse the New Jersey-ians running up the escalator. Life is so much better now.