Thursday, December 13, 2012

Jack Barakat Says I Smell Nice

Remember how I talked about going to a concert when we were in Vegas, and I that we were going to talk about it in detail?
Are you ready for this kind of thing today? 'Cause it's happening.
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Reginald Kitty is not amused.

Back in August, when I found out that All Time Low were going to be in Vegas while we were, I signed up with their fan club to get pre-sale access (seven bucks for membership was worth it for me to not have to wait four extra days for public sale); in the post where we talked about ordering tickets, I mentioned that this membership came with the opportunity to win Meet and Greet, which is totally separate from the album signing that came with some of the tickets (mine included). So, a few weeks before the show, I filled out my entry form for the contest, and thought little about it -- after all, what possible odds would I have of actually winning in the first place? Yeah, tell that to the girl who decided to check her email five minutes before she went to LOVE, and ended up jumping up and down in her dress tights when she found out she won.
I would be lying if I told you my mother wasn't relieved at this turn of events: "you go on, have a good time. Now that you've won this thing that I can't go to, I guess I'll just go with your dad, instead of to the show with you." Really? 'Cause when I got the tickets two months ago, you told me you didn't want to leave me alone in Vegas, regardless that I'm 100% legal. And to think, the day of the show, as they dropped me off at the House of Blues inside Mandalay Bay, all I got was this warning before they left: "You know not to sleep with any of them, right?"

With her quizzical look burning into the back of my skull, I skipped off in the direction of the line that was already stretching into the casino. For the next twenty minutes, I used my supersleuthing skills to ascertain that I was fortunately positioned: not only was I incredibly near the front of the line itself, but I was sandwiched between people who had also won Meet and Greet. Knowing that I would need someone to take photographs if I chose to go that route (because I battled with that concept for a couple of days), I made friendly with the girls in front of, and behind me. They looked, sounded, and behaved just as you would expect young fangirls to -- I didn't understand half of what they were talking about, including eyebrow disco-techs (my summation, not theirs), their Tumblr followers, and how they seemed to be surgically attached to their phones. The first time I used a polysyllabic word, I was met with blank stares; knowing I needed to blend in with the natives, I decided just to smile and nod for the next few hours. From two o'clock to around 4:30, I was surrounded by a generational gap. Now, don't get me wrong, I have been where those girls are. I have been fifteen years old, standing in line to meet people around whom you have built your identity, your emotion, your brain-power, your leisure time. Similarly, I have also been to enough Paul concerts to know that if something is your "thing", you're essentially two people -- the carefully crafted you has disconnected from the real you that is kept well hidden so you aren't locked away in an asylum, and anything is bound to happen when real you won't shut her gob.

The best part about joining the line early was watching the band arrive. It became a game with "the group" to point out who was walking around. I think they eventually lost interest, since I saw people they didn't, and kept my mouth shut about it.

When the last of the band and crew were inside the venue itself, I knew it would only be about another hour to soundcheck, and get set up for the album signing itself. My guesstimations were right, and, before I knew it, we were all rearranged into different lines. Everyone in "the group" was lined up for the album signing, ticket in one hand, copy of "Don't Panic" in the other. They had been fangirling so hard, I eventually gave in and joined them. By this time, I was getting excited for the Meet and Greet, and, more pressingly, trying to make sure I didn't make a fool of myself as I talked to the band at the signing -- after all, I was going to be seeing them again shortly enough for them to remember if I did something idiotic. I tried to maintain a sense of dignity, coolly handing Flyzik my ID as he looked for my name on his list; he checked me in, and the girls I had been talking to waited for me in the dark, sunken hallway to the venue.
"I really feel, like, we've all bonded, or whatever," said one of them, pulling our her cell phone. "Can we take a, like, a group picture?" The other two followed suit, flicking through menu options on their phones for their camera setting. I felt like a grandma, with my real camera slung around my shoulders (which, miraculously, was not taken away from me). They giggled and made faces, and I wondered if this was partially why youth suicide rates have gone up: they're too damn trusting, and they're emotionally fragile. As they put their tech gadgets away, conversation continued. Somehow, the topic turned to how old we all were in 2004.
"I was eight," said one.
"Seven," said her friend.
"I was only four," said the third, to "awwww's" from the others.
I felt six eyes bore holes into my face as I said, "I don't wanna say how old I was."
Silence, their stares starting to singe the first few layers of my metaphorical skin.
"I was thirteen," I eventually said, lifting my head in what may have been mistakenly understood as a gesture of superiority.
"HOW OLD ARE YOU?" asked the youngest, in a tone suggesting that she was now concerned that I would try to somehow soil her precious purity and innocence.
As I told the little nippers I was twenty-one, one of them said "wow, you look really good. Time is on your side."
No one spoke for the rest of the time we were waiting, and I was afraid I may have made a fatal mistake in my picture-person excursion. As I was planning how to fix the giant hole I had just blown into my own plan, the doors to the venue were opened, and a line of overly-excited girls was lead through the bar, past the proscenium arch, and near the exit to a table that had four slightly-uncomfortable-but-hiding-it-really-well guys, all holding Sharpies.

It was only when I got close enough to the table to start hearing the blend of the band's voices in conversation with the slightly hysterical girls in front of them that I realized I was going to have to use my people skills, and try not to sound like my usual ridiculous self. Or, worse yet, what if I just completely went silent?
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My social anxieties were not calmed by the fact that Jack Barakat was first; I was totally alone, with absolutely no crutch to lean on, about to awkwardly say hello to the guy I have personally referred to as "a sweet little puppy". It also didn't help that he is, indeed, a sweet little puppy. As the few people in front of me went down the line, I tried to see what everybody was doing in an effort to prepare to not make an ass of myself. Jack would high-five everybody, sign their album/talk with them when spoken to, pass it to Rian, who would follow suit, passing to Alex, who would sign/chat for a moment with the folks, then pass to Zack, and then you were directed to the exit. By the time I had it figured out, it was my turn.

"Hey!" Jack said as he high-fived me.
"Hi, how are you doin'?" I asked in my god-awful Texas hick accent.
"Doin' good," he said, signing my album, still holding my hand from the high-five.
"Thanks for comin' out," I said to him as he passed the album to Rian.
"Thank YOU for comin' out!" he said, holding on to my hand as I was shoved further into the line. He made a little face at me, let go of my hand, and moved on to the next over-excited female. I barely had time to thank Rian before he passed the album to Alex, who quickly scribbled his flowery signature.
"Thanks for comin' out," I said to him.
"Thank you, thanks for having us," he said with a little smile and nod.
Zack had already signed my album, and I thanked him as I was shown to the exit, and directed to the Meet and Greet line. I made sure I would have a free moment, and further widened the generation gap I had felt all damned afternoon by sending my very-first-in-the-history-of-ever text message. My mother had wanted me to keep her informed on my whereabouts, and neither of us are tech savvy enough for that sort of thing. It took about five minutes to type out, and read (and, yes, I know I meant to say the album signing, but I wasn't really thinking about my vocabulary choices at that moment):

Hour 2. Made it out of meet and greet without being abducted, drugged, or sold into black market slavery.

Hey, if I was paying to send it, it was going to be worth that twenty-five cents.

I wasn't at all nervous for Meet and Greet until I got in line for it. I turned to one of the girls I had waited with and asked "do you know what you're gunna say?"
"No," she said, her monotone suggesting that she was totally uninterested in the entire process.
Internally, I was freaking out. I had spent the last week trying to figure out something small to say to each of them, and I had it pretty well planned. I rehearsed that plan in my head as we were run through security. The lady waved the metal detecting wand over me, and the dreaded question came:"Your camera. Does the lens detach?"
"What?" I asked. I was totally detached at that point.
"Does this thing come off?" she asked, pointing at my brand new camera.
"I don't know, I only got it a few days ago," I told her.
"Well, when you come back out, check it in," she said, without further instruction.
"Holy hell," I thought, "they actually let me keep my camera!"

We waited a little longer, and then it was time for Flyzik to check us into the Meet and Greet. When my turn came, I was so nervous that I just handed him my entire wallet -- money, credit cards, ID, room key and all. When I realized I had just handed a total stranger a great deal of my personal information, I said, "I can take it out of that sleeve if you need me to."
He took one look at my pitiful self, and said, "it's OK, I can see it", as he handed it back to me, and told me to go wait in the sunken hallway again.

This wait was much shorter, as there were only about twenty people to check in, rather than the somewhat sizable crowd for the album signing.
We were lead inside, where we were given a speech similar to this...


Flyzik then made small-talk with the crowd, asking who was of age to gamble, and explaining that they had been playing Christmas music during the Meet and Greets that week. As Kenny G was piped through the speaker system, the band came out, starting a free-for-all as the twenty of us scattered our separate ways, and to separate people.

Knowing I might need her help, I tagged along with one of the girls I had waited in line with. She made a beeline for Jack, so I did, too. She asked for a photo, and for them to sign her t-shirt, and then, it was my turn. Before I knew what I was doing, I had turned into such a little southern belle, Scarlett O'Hara would have been impressed. I held out my camera and said, "would you mind too terribly much if we took a picture?" I acknowledged that the two people within me had separated when I both reluctantly and forcefully handed the fourteen year old my brand new camera, which I had just spent the week falling in love with. With equal sensory input from the split person I was in that moment, I became annoyed as the girl said "hey, it puts little boxes on their faces to find them!" (something I didn't know, because I exclusively use the viewfinder), and got that Chris Matthews thrill-up-my-leg as I felt his face brush the top of my head. She took the photo...
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...I said, "thank you, Jack," and he took his leave quickly. At about five feet away from us, he looked over his shoulder, made eye contact with me, and said, "you smell nice".
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"Thank you," I said, wringing my hands. I felt the girl glare at me in a fit of fangirl rage, and followed her to Rian. She went through her spiel, and my split personality fused back together for a few minutes. "Do you mind if we take a picture?"
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She quickly moved to Zack, and we repeated the process.
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We found our way to Alex, where the girl went through her spiel yet again. Before I had the chance to ask for a photograph, though, he turned around, and walked away. I don't even know where he went, the only thing that registered with me was that he had just been standing there two seconds ago, and now he wasn't. Taking her chance for vengeance from the Jack incident, the girl shouted "DENIED!" right in my face. I was diligent, waiting for him to finish with another frantic fangirl before taking my opportunity.
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I don't even know what I did to get his attention, but he halted mid-stride, his momentum making him rock sideways. He smiled awkwardly at me, and gave a small wave; I blame that wave for the splitting of my two people, because I turned into Scarlett O'Hara, again.
"Would it be possible to get a picture, maybe?"
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He obliged, and struck up a conversation with me.
"Your hair is so long, I like it."
My brain started screaming, "of all the people on God's green earth, Alex Gaskarth wants to talk about my stupid hair?" I went into my usual it-just-grows-really-fast spiel, which he called a "crazy hair gene".
I don't remember exactly what he said, but it equated to "you have very nice hair". I may not remember exactly what he said, but exactly what I said has been burned forever into my brain. Before I knew what I was saying, I heard that second person say "well, the same could be said for you, sir".
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Oh, dear God in heaven, I facepalmed myself just typing that sentence. I still can't believe I did it. The worst part is that I had absolutely no control over it. The way I see it, though, is that he hates to talk about his hair, and I hate to talk about mine, so we're even.
To his credit, he was very nice about it. "It's not mine", he said quickly. "Wait, no, yes, it is."
I just stood there, the stupidity of what I had just said fully hitting me -- particularly the "sir" bit.
The girl I was with took her opportunity to ask him why he wasn't wearing proper pants, and we all had a conversation about Korean fashion, and how he doesn't like to wear pants when he's at home. The event was so traumatic, I don't even remember what happened after that. The next thing I can remember is that the floor space was empty as people gravitated toward a good place to stand at the barricade, and Jack was the only person left in the room. As he left, he walked right up to me, and held his hand upright, flat and low. I thought he was just randomly high-fiving people again, but he stood there with our hands touching for a couple of seconds, staring at me, then high-fived the girl I was with. She asked me to take a picture of her hugging him, for which he made a face; unfortunately, her camera didn't go off the first time, and the resulting second attempt came out fuzzy. As I handed her phone back, I told her I did my best. She glared at me with a small fire burning in her brain (I know, I could feel it), and I never saw her again.

Realizing that time was of the essence if I wanted a spot at the barricade, my two people morphed back into one, and I got the perfect spot. I used my supersleuthing skills to plan where I knew they always put the mosh pit, and where they took crowd surfers through after their questionable journey.
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I avoided that area entirely, and ended up on the left side of Jack's mic (bonus points for it being far enough to his side to not obscure his face), and where I could watch Alex's and Zack's guitars while they played. I had a fabulous location, and could lean up against the barricade for the entire show. I was situated quite pleasantly. Especially when Jack came out to play with the drum kit for a few minutes. When he left, I sent my folks the following text:

Managed not to get raped. At barricade, stage right. Jack Barakat says I smell nice. More later.

As I planted my feet firmly on the floor, so as not to be shoved out of this amazing spot, a young girl walked up next to me.
"Ohmagawd, I got to talk to Alex," she said, still half in shock.
"I know, I heard some of what you said, you did very well," I told her, because I have also been that kind of fangirl, and know that you need someone to tell you that it's all going to be OK when you come back around to your senses. She somehow started telling me her entire life story: all about how she had gone to a YouTuber's convention, where she met the Vlog Brothers, and Charlie McDonnell. At that moment, I knew I had been placed there by Providence because, once again, I have been fourteen, and gone to nerd conventions, and idolized people who upload stupid things onto the Internet.
"Was Alex Day there?" I asked.
You would have thought no one had ever asked her about her vlog-related interests before, so she showed me her photos and told me her stories. I internally shook my head in wonderment because that was me seven years ago, and I didn't have an impartial third party to let every single one of my fangirly feelings out to. Apparently, she didn't, either, so I was elected. All I could think of was a fifteen year old girl, sitting stranded on a bridge from Canada to Michigan, listening to the same Paul McCartney song on repeat, wondering what she was going to do with her life when her everything had been destroyed. I'm just glad the girl I talked to hasn't had to deal with the let down that can follow, and made every effort to let her know that she had handled her most recent fangirling endeavors splendidly.

More waiting, until one of the opening acts came out. I wasn't impressed with them, but that's a personal opinion, I suppose. Another wait, and our good ol' friends in The Downtown Fiction came out for a set. It was a rather fun show, actually, and they played my favorite song of theirs, which translated well live. Yet more waiting, and The Summer Set came out and did their thing. Yeah, I know, I wasn't too pleased with seeing two of the same openers as the Plain White T's had last year, but at least I knew what to expect. Either way, this was my general impression...
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Finally, it was time for the main act. I sent my folks one last message before the show:

Last opener has played. Main event should be starting soon. Talk to you afterward. Hope you had fun at the mob museum.

I was mesmerized by the incredible view of each guitar I had, so I kinda focused on hands. I do it at Paul, too, where I watch him play more than actually just watching him. The setlist was shorter than I had anticipated, judging from the stories I had heard prior to my own show. I was puzzled by it, until, at the end of the concert, Alex said that they had to end the set early, but they would be going to The Foundation Room, and to see them there; with that, security told us all to move as quickly as possible, because another event was starting in thirty minutes. So, essentially, the band and the audience were screwed over because of poor booking -- which, by the way would be the venue's fault. It's just further proof that both shows I went to at the House of Blues displayed poor management.

The poor management skills were further made public at the merch table. I had spied a couple of tour shirts that I thought would look nice in my closet, so I made my way past there on my way out. Apparently, there is a curfew in Vegas for kids under twenty-one, and their merch sales somehow fell under that restriction. By the time I got to the front, I had ninety seconds to get my stuff; their merch guy was in the middle of having an argument with venue staff as I got there.
"The curfew goes into effect in two minutes."
"Is this the kind of thing that you'll throw me out for if I keep going?" he asked.
"Exactly," replied the staff.
"Then I'm selling 'til you throw me out."
And, good on him, he did just that.

Pleased that I made it out alive, I headed to the Foundation Room. I had texted my folks, telling them I would be there, and they came to keep me company. After a few minutes, they started shuffling about, acting like they were more than mildly uncomfortable, so they decided to wander around until I called. A few minutes after they left, the band walked right by, were accosted by a few fangirls, and, just like that, the evening was over. By that time, I was glad to be able to sit down somewhere. People with bad backs should not stand up for nine hours straight.
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It was only the next day that I discovered my battle scars: I was bruised on the undersides of both arms from the elbows up; on both sides of my ribs; both knees -- the left worse than the right, because I was trying to protect my camera from getting broken as I was being relentlessly shoved into the barricade (remember, I was supposed to "check it in" when I went back out? Yeah, I didn't end up going back out until after the show); and the top of my foot. I think it was when this happened...

(I was standing right next to the girl filming this; to give you an idea of where I was at, I was looking over his left shoulder, watching his hand on the fret board while he played.)

Even through the severe bruising (I limped for a week), the severe embarrassment, and the angry letter I wrote to the House of Blues and never sent, the evening was awesome. If you ever get the chance, you really need to go see these guys, 'cause it's just plain fun.

At the end of the experience, though, I have one question: in His infinite wisdom, why did God make me look perpetually fourteen years old? It's starting to cramp my style.
I also think it's somewhat funny that I went to Vegas the week I turned twenty-one, and the only person that asked for my ID was Matthew Flyzik. My life is a sham.

Is It A Subscription Box, Or Something More Sinister? (It's A Subscription Box. Maybe.)