The following is Chapter 7 of my memoir, "Paper Squares and Purple Stars: My Life as a Rave Outlaw." I'll be sharing the book on t2 for free, chapter by chapter, but you can buy a copy and check out the reviews here. If you're just getting started now, check my t2 page and start at the bottom to read the previous chapters and the preface to catch up!

Chapter 7 - New Beginnings (New Year’s Eve 2008)

For the next week, many of us were tied up with responsibilities for the holidays, where we had to visit our families and spend a few hours pretending that we weren’t hustlers, alcoholics and drug fiends. Soon enough though, it was New Year's Eve, and Galaxy was the only place in town where people like us could last through the night without getting kicked out. Duke arranged for us all to meet at his house and ride down to the club together since he was hosting an afterparty. I was hoping that Caylee would show up that night too. Even though we had only spoken once I was drawn to her for some strange reason. When I entered Duke’s smoky and crowded apartment, I scanned the room and saw her a few feet away talking to Heather, another mutual friend from high school who found their way into the rave scene.

Luckily, when I nervously walked over to say hello, she greeted me before I had to stumble on my words.

“Hey, I guess we do have all the same friends,” she said smiling.

“Yeah, crazy…right?” I said.

As soon as we began talking, Heather slipped away to another part of the room as if she knew something was up and left us alone until it was time to leave for the party. We rode down to the club in a line of several cars, and I was shocked that it was a little bit difficult to find a spot in the parking lot when we got there. There weren't as many people as there was the week before, but this looked like it was one of the better turnouts that we had since we started. When we got inside, Clyde shot us a cold look from across the room, but he seemed preoccupied with trying to look important, so we were able to avoid dealing with him. Charles seemed happier than ever, he was wearing a festive top hat, one of those t-shirts with the fake tuxedos on them, and plastic glasses that showed the year 2008. I had never really seen him that happy, and even though he would never admit when he was fucked up, I could tell in his eyes that he ate a pill that night, at least one.

After I mingled around for a few minutes, I went to the bar for a drink to wash my first pill down, and I saw Caylee walking up the steps out of the corner of my eye. All of the drama and hype going on behind the scenes at the club was out of my mind tonight. Besides, this wasn’t even a show I was responsible for, and I thought that this might be my only chance to make an impression on the girl that I couldn’t stop thinking about.

As I nervously followed Caylee up the stairs, I was unsure of what I should say to her, and began rehearsing the conversation in my head. Things were always a bit awkward for me on the dating scene, and I was just finally recovering from a nasty break up that left me terrified of relationships. One of the best things about raves though, is that they come with a built-in icebreaker: the kandi bracelet.

When I reached the second floor, the music was playing from the new DJ booth, and Caylee was sitting on a chair in the corner of the room, sorting through a small backpack that was covered in stars. I sat down next to her and said, “Hey, I never got to give you a bracelet before. I always like to do that when I meet new people, which one do you like?”

I extended my arm out in front of her, displaying dozens of plastic beaded bracelets that covered half my arm.

“I’ll take that one,” she said, pointing at a piece with a turtle bead and letter dice in the middle that spelled out “one love.”

She grabbed my hand and wrapped my fingers around hers in the traditional way that ravers often ritualistically trade kandi and said, “It wouldn’t be right if we didn’t trade though, take one of mine in return.”

I chose a piece with green beads that said, “live for this,” and we exchanged the bracelets with our fingers locked.

For those of you who don’t know, trading kandi bead bracelets with new friends that you meet at parties is an old raver tradition that is sadly not as popular as it used to be. It is something that is supposed to form a bond or connection between friends, both new and old. A kandi bracelet can also be a memento to remind us of an encounter that we had with someone special.

“I need to dance, I haven’t danced in forever... since that night at God’s. Do you want to dance?” Caylee asked as we both awkwardly unlocked our sweaty fingers.

“Sure, don’t judge me though, I’m not that good,” I said, laughing nervously. I really did suck at dancing, or at least I thought I did.

“No way, this is all about being able to dance without judgment, you just need to find your bounce,” she said.

“My bounce? What do you mean by that?” I asked, trying to make sense of what she was saying.

“Yeah, everyone has their own bounce ya know? It's a flow that just feels right, and it is unique to you, but if you want to tap into that, you can’t be all focused on the people around you and their impressions, you just need to get lost in the moment, like a meditation,” she said thoughtfully.

“I like the way you think, yeah, let’s go,” I said.

As we walked down the steps, I took another pill out of my pocket and washed it down with my beer. It was a good thing that I was already feeling that first roll since everyone is a better dancer when they have that extra kick in their step. I needed all the help I could get, I was a bit intimidated because her ex-boyfriend was in a dance crew and she hung out with a bunch of breakdancers.

As soon as we got to the dance floor, Caylee began jumping around in a wild rhythm that looked like something out of a movie or music video. I could tell I was dealing with a professional, but as scary as it was, the roll gave me the courage to jump out there and do my best to imitate what she was doing. I don’t know how much time passed while we were dancing, but it was like we were in our own little bubble jumping and spinning around, as I carefully watched her and repeated her moves. In that blurry span of time, I actually learned the only three dance moves I would ever pick up, and I gotta say, they aren’t that bad. Eventually, my scrawny body began to wear down, and I had to tap out.

“Do you want to take a break?” I asked. My heart was starting to race, and the room was spinning a bit now, I forgot how much dancing kicked up your roll.

“Sure, I’m getting tired too,” she replied.

We walked upstairs to the very back room that was carpeted and now lined wall to wall with couches, Charles was beginning to build the lounge that Mickey asked for. Tonight, the hosting DJ had the lounge set up as a VIP room. I was typically against the idea of self-important DJs and promoters hiding away in a private room, but tonight I was happy to get away from the crowds and loud music so I could calm down and smoke some weed. When we walked into the back room, most of the couches were taken, so we found an empty spot on the floor to sit down. I took out my bag of weed and rolling papers and tried to roll a joint. My shaking, sweaty hands were betraying me, and the rolling paper crumbled between my fingers, I was way too fucked up for this.

“I need a bowl. If someone brings me a bowl, I will pack it,” I said in a very calm, loud tone.

“I got you,” a familiar looking stranger from across the room called out.

He walked over and sat down next to us, then pulled a glass pipe out of his backpack and handed it to me.

As I packed the first bowl up, I asked, “You look familiar dude, what is your name?”

“You don’t remember? I’m Riddler from the island party!” he replied.

“Oh yeah, now I remember,” I lied, trying to piece together the parts of that night that were lost in my brain. With a weird name like that I really should have remembered him, but for some reason I didn’t.

“Did you make it out of there?” I asked.

“Not really, they arrested me for trespassing, but I had a bunch of pills in a hidden stash in this bag here, and they never found it, so I guess I can’t complain,” he said, showing me a well-concealed pocket in his backpack.

“Nice, yeah we managed to get out of there just in time… So why do they call you Riddler?” I asked.

“I ask people questions,” he said, taking a huge spiral bound notebook out of his bag, this thing had to have 500 pages or something.

“In this book, I have been collecting the thoughts of ravers for a few years now,” he said, flipping through pages filled with ramblings and doodles of different colors and handwriting.

“What question do you ask them?” I said, now intrigued.

“Well it depends on the person and the situation, I usually feel it out and go with whatever comes to mind. Since tonight is New Years, I’m going to ask you guys what your wishes for the next year are, it works kinda like that,” he said.

“I’ll go first!” Caylee yelled excitedly, “But you can’t read it because it’s a wish,” she added.

She took the book and pen from his hands and found a blank page to begin writing in, but she covered the paper like she was protecting a test from prying eyes in a classroom. I wondered if maybe she was writing something about me. Is that why she didn’t want me to see? I really hoped so, because I knew I was going to write something about her.

After a moment, she flipped open to a different blank page and said, “Here’s your page, and no peeking.”

“Well you aren’t seeing mine either then,” I said playfully, taking the book from her hands.

I thought for a short moment and then wrote, “I hope to throw big raves and have an amazing year with Caylee in 2008.”

That was the best I could do in this state of mind. I then closed the book and handed it back to our new friend.

“Ya know what? I’m feeling this, I’m gonna put my wish in here too, but y'all can’t see it either,” he said.

He sat and smoked with us for a few bowl packs until Robbie ran into the room and shouted “Five minutes til midnight! Everyone downstairs!”

Caylee turned to me and said, “That was fast! Do you want to go down for a few minutes for the countdown and then come back up and chill? I’m having fun just hanging out, and I’m not the biggest fan of the kind of house music that is downstairs anyway. It's ambient house or something, it’s a bit too slow and trippy for dancing.”

“Yeah sure, I’m in chill mode for the night. I’m pretty faced,” I replied.

I remember thinking to myself, “what the fuck is house music?” and “What does ambient mean? Is that like Ambien?” I still didn’t know very much about the music yet, but I knew that was something I needed to learn.

Downstairs the dance floor seemed packed, and everything was extremely bright and moving in slow motion. Everyone was smiling, and it looked like they were moving in the same rhythm like some sort of breathing organism. Charles got up onstage and plugged a microphone into the mixer and the DJ slowly turned down the music.

“I don’t usually do much talking, but I just wanted to thank everyone for coming out to help us build our dream here at Galaxy. We hope to see you much more in the next year… Now here we go… 10…9…8,” Charles started the countdown, and the crowd quickly followed.

At that moment, I remembered thinking that I could make a move on Caylee and do that whole lame New Year’s kiss thing, but I always thought that tradition was a bit creepy in situations like this where no consent has been established. I didn’t want to make some bad impression or come on too strong. Besides, she just got out of a nasty break up with some scumbag, it probably wasn’t the best time for something like that anyway. So, when everyone shouted, “Happy New Year” and the music kicked back up, I grabbed Caylee by the hand and pulled her to a clear space on the dance floor, and began to bounce around as she taught me just a few hours before. Her face lit up, and she took my lead, bouncing around with excitement. I knew then that I made the right move, and that I might actually have a chance with this girl. We danced for a few minutes like the rest of the room didn’t exist, gazing directly into each other’s eyes most of the time. I’m actually surprised we didn’t fall or knock someone over since we were thrashing about and not looking where we were going. After a few minutes, my legs began to feel like rubber, and I quickly stepped back to catch my breath.

“You look tired, let’s go back upstairs,” Caylee said.

It seemed like we were just down there a few minutes, but by the time we got back up to the lounge, the scene had become even crazier. Jerry was laying in the corner of the room staring up at the ceiling with his shirt half off and his mouth wide open, rubbing his chest in a circular motion.

I walked over beside him and asked, “What the fuck are you doing man?’

“DUDE… John, this feels so good, dude I’m telling you, you gotta do it. This is the BEST,” Jerry said, obviously in a state of euphoria.

I laughed, “Maybe I’ll be fucked up enough to rub myself like a freak later, but I’m good for now,” I replied.

“Trust me, dude…Trust me, feeling yourself is amazing!” he shouted.

Meanwhile, Duke was a few feet over, moaning while sliding his open palms and face back and forth across a polished wooden coffee table, shouting about how “good the table feels.”

“I apologize for my friends, I would say that this type of thing isn’t normal, but it is,” I said turning to Caylee and laughing.

“It's fine, they are hilarious. As long as everyone is OK,” she replied.

“They are good, let’s find our spot on the floor,” I said.

We sat there glued to the floor for hours, exchanging life stories and future dreams, we even talked about philosophy and how the world could be so much better than it was. There had to have been at least 50 people packed into that small room, but we didn’t seem to notice or care that anyone else was there, it was like everything, and everyone, was just distant background music to our conversations. As we sat on the floor in a trance, we were interrupted by Duke and Jerry.

“Yo John! Charles says he wants us to bomb the stairwell with whatever kind of art we want. He went to go look for paint,” Duke said.

“Are you fucking serious dude? That’s awesome, he’s gotta be rollin man, let me double check with him though,” I said, trying to lift myself off the carpet.

I turned to Caylee, “I’ll be right back,” I said.

I walked downstairs to find Charles rummaging through cleaning supplies in a back storage room.

“Here they are,” he said grabbing a half dozen cans of spray paint and holding them towards his chest with both arms.

“You are gonna let them tag up the stairwell?” I asked.

“Hell yeah, this place is gonna be the future John, I can feel it. This is the kind of shit that’s gonna put us on the map,” he said.

“You’re probably right about all that, not many club owners would be cool with something like this,” I said.

Charles laughed, “Grab that door for me,” he said.

I held the door for him, and he made his way for the stairwell. Charles walked up to Duke and Jerry who were waiting at the bottom of the stairs and dropped the paint cans at their feet. “Go to town boys,” he said.

After a few minutes, I noticed that these paint cans were letting off fumes, and very soon the dance floor cleared, and everyone poured upstairs. I guess we should have realized that using spray paint in an enclosed area with tons of people would create fumes, but none of us were really thinking clearly, even Charles. As everyone rushed up the stairs, Clyde ran down to see what the commotion was and saw us all standing there at the scene of the crime. “What the fuck are you guys doing?! They could shut us down over this shit! You motherfuckers are gonna be the end of us, I’m going to tell Charles and get you banned,” he threatened, not realizing that Charles was standing right behind him.

Then, for some reason, I snapped, and all the anger about Clyde that I had suppressed for all these months came flowing out of me.

“Fuck you Clyde! It was his idea! I am so sick of your shit! You don’t know a damn thing about this business! While we have been busting our asses building this club you have been drugging girls and playing mind games! You’re a fucking predator, and you shouldn’t be able to step foot in places like this!” I shouted at the top of my lungs.

There were a few dozen people within earshot, and everyone in the room stepped back in disbelief, not many people had ever seen me get like that, even I was surprised by the words and the force that came out of me.

Clyde stood there just a few feet away from me, clenching his fists and biting down on his lip. I could tell he was caught off guard.

After a moment of silence that felt like forever, Clyde shouted, “You are fucking done here John, I promise,” and stormed out of the room.

The whole room was in shock and remained silent until Charles spoke up.

“Whoa, that was...well… guys, maybe it is best you call it a night. Let things cool down between you guys a bit,” Charles said.

“I wanna come back and finish this wall tomorrow when nobody is here,” Duke said to Charles, trying to change the subject.

“Sure, that’s a good idea, thanks guys,” Charles said in a disappointed voice, before walking back to his office with his head hanging low.

Charles was probably right, we needed to get out of there before things escalated even more. I quickly moved up the stairs and found Caylee and the rest of my group waiting alone in front of the door to the lounge.

“What happened?” Caylee asked.

“Are you ready to head back to the afterparty at Duke’s? Some shit went down, but I’ll explain later,” I said.

“Yeah, can I ride back with you this time though?” she asked.

“Of course, I’ll explain everything in the car,” I said.

On the ride back, I caught her up to speed with the drama that was going on between those of us who worked at the club. I explained how Clyde took advantage of us and manipulated us the whole time he knew us, about how he took advantage of Amy, and about how he might end up forcing me out of the club that I helped build. Caylee didn’t seem surprised, she told me that these types of feuds was common in the scene. Since we left the club earlier than everyone else after the blow up with Clyde, we were the first to arrive at Duke's place. As people drifted into the apartment for the afterparty over the next few hours, Caylee and I were oblivious to the rest of the room, caught up in our own bubble of conversation on the floor, just like we were on the floor of the club hours before. Hours passed, and we stayed in our own world, continuing to exchange stories and forming a relationship that I hoped might last for a lifetime, even though this was basically our first date. As noon on New Year's Day arrived, we were still up from the night before, and I got a text from Clyde saying that he talked to Charles and got me banned from Galaxy. After the rollercoaster of a night that I just had, there was no way I was getting to sleep anytime soon. Besides, I still had to get to Galaxy and talk to Charles about my future there, and the guys also promised to return to the club to finish painting the wall. Later that day, when we got to the club, Charles wasn’t there yet, but one of the security guards, a guy known only as “Truck” was there to open the door for us. Truck was a perfect name for the guy because he looked like your stereotypical truck driver. Come to think of it, he kind of looked like a shorter version of the old wrestler Hulk Hogan. He had a blond beard and was always wearing a bandana. Truck was really the only security guard I got along with there because none of the others showed me any respect. They treated me like a customer instead of an employee, and would regularly try to tell me where I could and could not go in the club. Most of them were associated with the rock or hip-hop nights, and I sensed that they were threatened by the fact that the club was in the process of changing formats. Truck was different though, at that first Thursday night party we hosted, he got ahold of a pill and spent half the night on the dance floor getting down with all the rave kids.

“Charles said he’ll be here in about an hour, but you guys can get to work whenever you want,” Truck said as we walked through the door to the silent and empty building.

“Cool, that will be them though,” I said, pointing at Duke and Jerry.

“I’m no artist, I just need to talk to Charles,” I added.

We sat in the room with heavy-duty paint masks as Duke and Jerry finished their work, and it actually ended up looking very cool. There was a mural of an alien pointing up at the bottom of the stairs, then leading up the stairs was a trippy looking face shooting fire out of its mouth. I don’t know how long it took them to complete, but by the time Charles showed up they were nearly finished. Charles was looking rough, but I could imagine that I did too, we all had the same night. Before he got a chance to sit down, I cut right to the chase.

“Clyde says I’m banned. He texted me this morning and said I’m not allowed back here. He has been threatening me with that shit every time I do something he doesn't like. He has been trying to push me out for weeks now,” I said.

“You’re not banned John, but we do need to talk, have a seat,” he said as he took off his coat and set his laptop bag aside.

“Okay, look… It became obvious last night that you and Clyde can no longer work with one another any longer, and since Clyde is the mastermind behind Galaxy Productions, he has the right to hire and fire whoever he wants, that is out of my control. I like you though, and I don’t have any intention of banning you from this property so you can come to any show you want, you just can’t work them,” Charles said.

“What about Mickey’s show next month? You know I set all that shit up!” I protested.

“Oh, well, yeah, like I said you aren't banned, so if another promoter wants to have you on their crew, Clyde can't do anything about that. Unfortunately, though, he doesn't want you to be a part of Galaxy Productions anymore. My hands are tied with that, he is in charge of his crew and his team, that's not my call,” Charles said.

“Why am I the one to get pushed out when he is the creep? I’m the one who has actually put in significant work around here,” I said.

“Well, I mean, you can’t just go around throwing those kinds of accusations at people. Especially when they are dating the person you are calling a victim. I spoke with Amy after you left last night, and she told me that she was in love with Clyde and she was very upset about what you said. She admitted to eating a few pills on that night that she spent with him, but she did so by her own free will, he didn’t drug her,” Charles told me.

“He has you all brainwashed dude, but whatever, I can see I’m not going to get anywhere here. I’ll see you at Mickey’s party,” I said, before walking out of his office and slamming the door behind me.