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Two Polish Guys Walk Into an Indie Rock Show...

07.09.2001 | CULTURE

They clearly didn't belong here but they thought they did. That's why I noticed them. I consider such people to be kindred spirits.

The scene was the Polish National Home. An ethnic catering hall that had been turned into an indie rock venue for the evening. A locale used to hosting first Communion parties and polka concerts was instead full of Spock Rockers and hilariously ironic t-shirts. It sits near the indeterminate border between Williamsburg and Greenpoint in Brooklyn. One neighborhood completely transformed in the last 10 years from tight-knit enclave to Hipster Central. The other making rapid progress towards the same end.

I huddled near the door awaiting the arrival of someone I had invited to join me that evening. A girl in a polyester blouse and sporting a perfect Michelle Mae do paced nervously to my right. Apparently she was in the same throes of ugly anticipation as me. She marched back and forth, absently swinging an empty beer bottle and looking left and right with quick snaps of her neck. Her helmet of hair stayed in place.

And then they stomped in. Both of them in one gust past the hand-stamping table. Their collective gait was hard and determined as if each step was to remind the ground of their presence. Smiles slowly crawled along their faces with a pace that suggested alcohol was helping. Heads swept from one end of the hall to the other to admire the throng of several hundred young gathered here. I labeled them by the color of their shirts: Grey and Yellow.

Yellow was at least in his mid-40s. Grey looked Grampa-aged. Easily the oldest people in attendance. But this was not what made them stand out sore thumb-like. Nor was it their outfits--though it was true that the bulk of the crowd was dressed in an oppressively chic manner and what this trio was wearing was pure Caldors. And it wasn't the fact that English was not their first language. My ear picked up on the guttural Slavic tones common in the neighborhood.

None of these elements mattered so much as this one fact: They clearly had no idea what they had stumbled upon. It was a Friday. Maybe they just got paid. Presumably they had come here for good times before and were hoping for more of the same. They did not count on partying with a crew of Flash animators and content specialists.

Yellow and Grey launched themselves straight into the chilly fray. The bands had yet to play but a DJ was spinning some Sleater-Kinney and selections from the Nuggets boxed set. Yellow and Grey busted some foreign moves replete with odd hand gestures. They looked like Hindu gods trying to vogue. Not since Adam West danced the Batusi did people appear so confident doing something that looked so awkward.

While performing this imitation of dancing Yellow and Grey took to sidling up to any young ladies nearby. The nervous waiting girl was their first victim. They jerked and frugged in her presence and indicated hand-wise that she should join them. She politely declined with an uncomfortable smirk and head shake.

Not to be discouraged Yellow and Grey turned their attentions to other females in the room. They did not alter their technique though it proved perennially unsuccessful. It seemed that the women in attendance--almost all of whom were chained at the hip to spit-through-thin mods with bowl cuts--regarded them with the same amount of respect and attention accorded to a lowly freshman asking out a senior cheerleader. Some of them openly laughed at their failure. Others suppressed giggles as best they could. Others put on the urban blinders one usually reserves for blocking out panhandlers or other ranks of the desperate.

As the evening wore on Yellow and Gray's mannerisms grew more frustrated. When scorned by a hipster chick they would mutter foreign obscenities to each other and move on to the next candidate. With no takers in evidence they simply resorted to dancing with each other. Or near each other. They came from a culture that did not necessarily frown on such things.

And as Yellow and Grey began their sad dance together they looked as if they finally realized what I knew from the second they stepped in the joint. This neighborhood wasn't all theirs anymore. They had helped keep it alive for years. They had probably lived in it longer than all the other attendees combined. But parts of it were foreign territory now. Full of people half their age who did incomprehensible things with computers and were willing to pay way too much for their fun. And their rent.

I wanted to give them a sympathetic look. Something to indicate my solidarity with their sorry state. But I knew I was just as much to blame for their culture shock as anyone else in the room. I had moved to the neighborhood with the intention of carving out a little slice of it for myself. My mere presence was an intrusion to the old guard. If I was really concerned with their well-being I would pack up my things and move tomorrow.

To salve my conscience I thought to myself: I didn't start this wave. I'm just riding the crest of it. What's responsible for waves? Unnamable forces from space pulling on this earth.

Technically the place was still called the Polish National Home but on this night it was only a house to that duo. They slinked out quickly and unnoticed by anyone but me sometime after the first band's set ground to a close.

The waiting girl finally spotted the object of her anticipation. Dyed black hair and Buddy Holly glasses. 100 pounds soaking wet. They embraced and joined their neighbors near the stage.

I stared out the back window still waiting for my invitee. Yellow and Grey disappeared somewhere along Driggs Avenue looking for a friendlier place. I hoped that they would find one but I know they're getting fewer and farther between these days.

About the Author
Matthew Callan blogs daily at MSN Sports Filter. He has contributed to the NY Press, NPR, and "Excelsior You Fathead", a biography of Jean Shepherd. His Freezerbox piece "The Lemon Pledge" was given honorable mention in the 2003 edition of "Best American Non-Required Reading," and his fiction has been shortlisted for contests in Zoetrope: All-Story, Bomb magazine, and other publications.
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