Mabel Rosenheck | Longreads | July 2017 | 20 minutes (4,918 words)
On April 27, 2003, I sat with two friends in arena seats in Convention Hall in Asbury Park, New Jersey. Inside, the building looks like a generic mid-size concert venue, but its lobby is a fantastic, mammoth arcade and exhibition space with polished floors, square arches trimmed by Corinthian columns, and wrought-iron windows that sunlight pours through in spades. It is industrial, yet elegant. It is American, yet with unmistakable allusions to European modernity, to beaux arts style. Overwhelming the boardwalk and the beach, it is urban architecture that rises dramatically from the ocean, jutting out into the breakers, bearing the brunt of Atlantic hurricanes. It is a hard place to describe, but it is also a hard place to forget and an easy place to romanticize.
I’d met my friends the year before on an internet message board for a shitty pop punk band from Chicago named Mest. The internet was still figuring out what it was; we were still figuring out who we were. We were lonely and isolated in the suburbs of Connecticut, Long Island, and New Jersey. We found something we needed in this music. We found something we needed in each other.
It was a Sunday, and some of our friends had to leave to catch buses and trains to finish term papers and make classes on Monday morning. I was there with Dena and Deirdre, but we felt deeply the absence of Jillian, the last of our essential quartet. Jillian’s leaving that morning made the moment more melancholy than a Sunday hangover or an emo song alone, because something was missing.
Inside, we were about halfway up the stands on the left side of the stage, or at least that’s how I remember it. The seats were blue. The room was kind of a hazy gray with sunshine struggling to find its way through windows nestled into the top row, or maybe that was just the hangover, or maybe that is just the nostalgia.
I’d met my friends the year before on an internet message board for a pop punk band. The internet was still figuring out what it was; we were still figuring out who we were.
The band on stage was Brand New. Before they were playing Madison Square Garden and headlining Coachella, before Deja Entendu came out, when it was only Your Favorite Weapon’s particular brand of angsty emo with songs about breaking up with girlfriends and best friends, Brand New was on stage on day three of Skate and Surf 2003, a music festival in Asbury Park. They promised us there that tonight would go on forever while we walked around this town like we owned the streets.
We’d been down the shore since Friday afternoon. Jillian came down from Boston and met me in New Haven, and though she wasn’t there for that Sunday moment, Asbury Park was nothing without her, and the trip down was nothing without her. I had left college in Massachusetts and moved back in with my parents in Connecticut a month before. Jillian was in college in Boston, but not happy. Dena was in Philadelphia, finding her way well enough, but not quite enough. Deirdre was always the most well-adjusted of all of us, but I guess even she was looking for something. We bonded over 18-year-old existential loneliness on an internet message board, and that weekend we, along with a few thousand other existential teenagers like us, drove down I-95 and the Garden State Parkway to the parking lot of the Berkeley Carteret Hotel.
With Jillian and Dena and Deirdre and everyone else, I had sugary teenage drinks with the back of my car open before the hotel room was ready. I had more drinks in our hotel room that day and that night and the next day. We watched a parade of punk rock lineage including post-hardcore bands like Thrice, screamo bands like The Used, and indie performers like Onelinedrawing. We shared a bottle of tequila with a guy with a straight edge tattoo. Then I made out with him. It was a frenetic good time, but as much as I remember the red angel wings I paired with a wifebeater and black vinyl pants, as much as I remember the Home Grown drum head that I used as a cocktail tray, as much as I remember the Kiwis that crashed on our floor, I remember Sunday afternoon sitting about halfway up on the left side of those blue seats in that hazy gray room that the sunshine didn’t quite reach. Listening to that song, at that time, and in that place, I felt closer to the people who were there and the one who wasn’t than I maybe ever have to anyone. We were a few girls in a sea of teenagers, in a beachside town where we didn’t live, but as much as it was a moment shared with the thousands of people who were there, I remember this as a small moment between us; I remember this as a place that belonged to us.