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Good vibrations

It is 1984 and I am thirteen years old. For my golden birthday, my mother informs me that her present to me is that she is taking me to my very first concert. Awesome, I think! My brain immediately swirls to concert footage on MTV, the kind showing Bruce Springsteen pulling Courteney Cox up to dance with him on stage. Or maybe it will be Cyndi Lauper? Or the Police? Or Lionel Richie? The bubble bursts: it’s the Beach Boys, with opening act America, who hadn’t had a hit since 1975. Awesome. It is still a concert. A concert! I am stoked.

My aunt and her friends are going too, which gives me hope, as they are ten years younger than my mom and ten years older than me. Still young enough to have some sense of coolness. I plot all week for what I’m going to wear. I pick out many potential outfits but finally end with a pair of brand new, blinding white Tretorns that I got for my birthday, a pair of white jeans and a red and white striped shirt. My mom’s boyfriend wouldn’t let me wear his straw panama (from actual Panama) hat, but otherwise, it is absolutely perfect.

The concert is held outside, at a fairgrounds, all day on a Saturday. The grounds are still soggy from a few soaking thunderstorms earlier in the week, but they’ve spread out straw on most places. Even still, there’s nowhere to sit without getting muddy, and no one has thought to bring a blanket. With my white pants, it’s not like you can just plop down on the ground, so I stand all day. Everything is ridiculously expensive and I am shocked by the simple fact of venue markups. A can of soda for $2.00 when they cost less than a quarter at the gas station? Insanity! I had felt like a mogul when I walked in with $8.00, but in the heat, it’s gone before the first act is off the stage. Luckily, my chaperones have realized that beer costs the same as soda, so they start just handing me dollars in return for my role as beer runner. Rural fairgrounds didn’t think twice about selling a kid beer for their parents, as long as they didn’t look like they were going to drink it themselves. It was a different time.

During one of my errands, I notice two guys looking at me. They both have facial hair and wear the ridiculous short cutoffs that you would imagine at a tractor pull. One isn’t wearing a shirt.

I smile, because it doesn’t occur to me to not, and collect my three Budweisers and a Mountain Dew, clutching them against my stomach for the walk back. One walks over to me.

Hey! What’s your name?


Hey there Weetabix. I’m Carl and this here’s Beef. He’s made a bet with me and I’m hoping that you can help me out?

Everyone reading this right now is seeing red flags, but I am thirteen years and four days old and have always been the fat kid. I am accustomed to slipping in and out of crowds being totally invisible. I don’t have flags yet, not of any color. I don’t know what to do. I look through the throng of humanity gathered near the stage. My group is camped out near the front, primed for an excellent view when the headliners come out.

Sure! What can I do?

Well, Beef bet me $10 that I wouldn’t be able to lay you. So I thought thought I’d ask and maybe you’d be up for it? Maybe you and I could go back there, here he nods his head behind a row of blue plastic porta-potties and we can fuck and then I’ll split the money with you. How’bout that? Otherwise, I gotta pay that asshole $10. Wanna get laid?

The skin on my neck goes clammy in the hot sun. I utter no thanks and walk away, listening to the sound of Beef’s howling laughter. I don’t know what happened, but I sense that it was a mean joke. I am fat, so having sex with me is somehow easier, somehow a diversion for when you are bored, waiting for the headliners to show up. I climb back to the crowd over muddy berms, terrified that I will slip against the ground, fall into the dirt and they would see me down, like a Sunday night Mutual of Omaha pack of lions. They would see their opportunity and attack.

It occurs to me now that Carl probably had no idea that he was talking to a 13-year-old. After all, even at 13, I was already 5’7″ and was a 36C. Regardless, when I returned with the beers and my soda, I stood there mortified, completely and utterly embarrassed and told no one. My aunts and her friends were too cool and my mother, just clueless, utterly and completely clueless. I sat there in silence, listening to their inane drunken chatter. It was horrifying. I wanted to cry. Those men picked me because I was fat. I wondered if the women around me could sense, if the other men in the crowd were likewise looking for opportunities to have a riotous joke to tell their friends later.

When it is time for the next beer run, I don’t want to go, until my mother becomes annoyed and threatens to take me home. I already know that if I force her to leave the concert that I’ll be hearing about it for days, if not weeks.

Come with me! I beg anyone in our party, but they are enjoying the opening acts too much and don’t want to miss anything. I go back to the beer tent and Carl and Beef are still standing there, smoking and drinking. I try to slink past them, using the power of my mind to make myself invisible. It almost works. I have my quarry and am walking past them back to the group when Carl sees me and shouts Hey, did you change your mind? I say nothing and do not look at them. Come on, baby, how about $15? I can be real quick! He says and Beef laughs and mumbles something, jerking at his own crotch. Seeing no response, Carl shouts Fucking cunt! which every man in the vicinity hears and turns his head to watch, staring at me as I pass. Powers of invisibility failed.

I go back to my mom and ask to leave, just leave, please, come on, can’t we just go? But she doesn’t want to go anymore. She wants to stay, and cracks open another. Everyone around me is intoxicated. The air is thick with sweat and beer breath. Men are wrestling in the mud in the center of the crowd. I say that I’m going to the bathroom and then to look for a better place to stand. I weave my way up close to the front and stand against the barrier, right below the guitarist, staring at a roadie who stands there with his arms crossed. He’s the only one I can see who isn’t drunk and his presence makes me feel safe. I stay there for an hour, pressed by 10,000 people against a temporary fence, wanting more than anything to just go home and crawl into my bed.

In the middle of The Beach Boys, I return to my aunt and her friends, who tell me that my mother is calling the police because she thinks I’ve been kidnapped and that I’m probably going to be in major trouble. When she returns much later with a Rent-a-Cop, she grabs me by my arm and starts shouting at me for ditching them and being irresponsible.

It turns out that she’s not that mad, because when the security heard that she had lost her child, they assumed that my mother, who looked far younger than 35, had lost a little kid and immediately pulled her backstage, where some members of the Beach Boys came over to see what was happening, and were ready to stop the opening act and make an announcement that the crowd should be on the lookout for a little lost girl named Weetabix. She excitedly relays the story to my aunt and her friends while the Rent-A-Cop warns me that I shouldn’t go running off like that without telling her where I was going. Don’t I know what could happen? Maybe I wasn’t old enough to take to a concert anyway, she says, and that’s the end of it.

Later, on the ride home, the first time we’re alone, she asks why I’m being so quiet. She would have thought I would be more grateful. You know, she could have brought anyone to that concert, but she picked me.

I try to start telling her about the men, about what they said, but can’t say the words sex and don’t even know what the word cunt means, but I think it means something horrible, or maybe is a word for really fat. My throat is tight and I’m trying to choose my words carefully, knowing that the wrong step and I’ll lose control, burst into tears, show my weakness. By necessity, I am extremely vague. She finally repeats back to me, So, some guys said something to you that you didn’t like? Is that it? Weetabix, you’re used to this. People say bad things to me all the time. You don’t think I have to deal with assholes? You just have to not listen to them. You don’t run away half cocked and ruin everyone’s fun just because you let them ruin your day.

I want to tell her that this isn’t like the other bad things. This wasn’t like the schoolyard taunts. This wasn’t like being called fat. This wasn’t about Weetabix Germs or jokes about whales or Fat Albert. This was something entirely different. This was more like I was standing on a precipice, staring into something mesmerizing, the potential for something awful that was to come. One false step. I want to tell her about the mud, about the possibility of slipping, about being descended upon by lions. Instead, I focus on my feet, my brand new white Tretorns which are now caked with thick chocolatey mud, and say You just don’ understand.‚

She sighs and we drive home. I never talk about it again.

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