Leaving the House, and Why I Don’t Want To

I look forward to one day being a cranky old curmudgeon who doesn’t leave his house except to get the newspaper and chase hooligans off his lawn. In fact, the only thing stopping me from living this way now is that I’m only in my 30s, and society frowns upon curmudgeonism before the age of 55.

No, but I’m exaggerating. I actually do like going places and being among people, especially at this time of year, when the weather is suitable for outdoor dining and pleasant evening strolls, and especially in Portland, a friendly city whose many, many thousands of panhandlers are generally not belligerent or dangerous. But to hear certain of my friends tell it, you’d think I never went out. This is because around here, “going out” usually means going to a bar or dance club, and this rarely appeals to me. Those places tend to be dimly lit and exceptionally loud, which is an odd way to spend time with people you like. Hey, let’s go someplace dark and scream at each other! Maybe after that we could put in some earplugs and sit in a cave! And could we come out of it smelling like cigarettes? Perfect!

Nonetheless, I am occasionally drawn out into the world of hip young people for a good cause. A few weeks ago, a local film festival called PDX Fest had an event where about 20 Portland-area filmmakers had made music videos to accompany karaoke tracks, which audience members would then sign up to perform. Basically, it was regular karaoke, but with specially made music videos being projected on the wall behind the singers, perhaps to distract the audience from the otherwise inescapable truth that they were wasting an evening watching karaoke.

Like all sensible people, I hate karaoke. It is primarily an avenue for people who cannot sing to demonstrate that fact, assaulting innocent bystanders while they try to enjoy a relaxing meal or adult beverage. Karaoke singers are the musical equivalent of flashers, exposing themselves to strangers only because they can’t find anyone willing to look at them voluntarily. The people with good singing voices usually find other ways to show it; karaoke is a last resort. Sure, you get the occasional good performance. And sometimes there’s corn in my poop, too. So what?

Anyway, I went to this karaoke event because a friend of mine had made one of the videos and, while I don’t condone his lifestyle (i.e., making karaoke videos), I wanted to give the illusion of being supportive. The event was held at a trendy bar/dance club/music venue called Holocene, which I naturally assumed, from its name, would have a Holocaust theme to it, but I found nothing in the decor or architecture that even hinted at Hitler’s Final Solution. Instead, it’s your basic trendy bar/dance club/music venue, where the smells of a thousand colognes and perfumes intermingle as too many people squeeze past one another to gain access to the bar so they can spend too much on drinks that are too small, whereupon they squeeze past one another again to move to another part of the venue so they can sip and spill those drinks while standing next to friends, looking around coolly at the room but unable to converse because of the thumping, bass-heavy din coming from the absurdly over-amplified sound system. Tonight, the only difference was that karaoke had been added. Oh, the things I do to pretend to support my friends!

Even in the days of my youth, I was never much for “going out” as it’s defined here. I seldom even went to rock concerts. With few exceptions, watching people perform music just doesn’t interest me. To me, it’s like listening to someone dance. And even when the musician puts on a show that is visually appealing, there’s also the fact that you usually have to stand up the whole time, which is very tiring and often unnecessary. Frequently, you pay good money for an actual chair to sit in, and then everybody stands anyway, and you have to stand, too, or you won’t be able to see. And if you can’t see, you might as well be at home listening to the performer’s CDs. For free. Without having to leave the house. You see my dilemma. Now get off my lawn!

I made an exception to my usual policy last Friday night and went to Portland’s Roseland Theater to see a performance by Ben Folds, one of my musical idols and a consummate tickler of ivories. (He plays the piano, too.) (BA-ZOING!) My friend Mark went with me, prepared to stand with the other general-admission ticket-holders on the main floor, but we discovered that upstairs in the balcony are three rows of general admission seats. We would not be as close to Ben Folds and his sweaty pianistic exertions, but we wouldn’t have to stand up and crane our necks for three hours, either, and Mark and I are both not as young as we once were. (Especially Mark. I’m just sayin’.)

The show was fantastic, full of energy and passion that was briefly supplemented when a fight almost broke out in the balcony, right in front of Mark and me. You wouldn’t think a Ben Folds crowd would be prone to fisticuffs — “I say he’s playing an F-sharp diminished 7th!” “You’re wrong! It’s an F-sharp minor 7th flat 5th!” — but there you go.

Midway through the show, I was reminded that one of the problems with going out in public is that out in public is where the other people are, and sometimes the other people are idiots. Specifically, there were two young women who had evidently come to the Ben Folds concert just so they could drink beer out of plastic cups and chat with each other. First they sat in a couple of reserved seats, hoping the ticket-holders would never show up, which of course they did, and the freeloaders were evicted back to the general-admission section, where they belonged. Then I guess they decided that if they couldn’t have the seats they weren’t entitled to, there was no point in paying attention to the concert at all, and they might as well stand in the back and talk. This they did, yakking without cessation and at high volume — they had to yell to hear each other over the music, of course — for a solid 90 minutes while Ben Folds put on his show. Every now and then, they would stop talking long enough for one of the girls to yell, “Woooooooo!,” as if to assure Ben Folds that while their actions might suggest otherwise, they were indeed deeply interested in his performance.

All things considered, though, I enjoyed going out. I really should go out more. My pledge is that from now on, when friends invite me to do things, I will follow Jim Carrey’s example in the movie “Yes Man”: I’ll tell them yes, and then make them wonder why I’m not as funny as I used to be. OH SNAP!

If you're wondering, an F-sharp diminished 7th chord is F#, A, C, and D#. An F-sharp minor 7th flat 5th is F#, A, C, and E. That half-step between D# and E makes all the difference, though I don't know if anyone would really get into a fight about it.

As of Jan. 1, you can't smoke indoors in Oregon anymore, which has made going out quite a bit more pleasant. I might feel differently if I were a smoker, but I'm not, and I am only interested in how things affect me personally.

I think a couple jokes in this column are kind of offensive. If I were me, I would cut them out before I published it.