This story originally appeared in The Other Stories podcast. The original post appeared here. Open the original podcast in Spotify here.
When she pulled out her iPhone to film me on our second date, I should’ve known that it would never work with Katie Wilson. Yet as I peered across the table at her leather, her dark lipstick, I wanted to believe that it would work.
“It’s for a documentary,” said Katie, with her camera on my face.
I shielded, not one for attention.
Katie persisted. “What’s your deepest hidden dream?”
I placed my hand upon the camera’s eye. “A documentary?”
“It’s about how people connect.”
I lifted my hand from the camera.
“I have a surprise,” Katie giggled. She slapped two tickets to the table.
Feigning excitement, my voice flew uncomfortably high. “Pongo? At the Civic Opera Center?” Though I often tried to fool myself to think that I was cultured, I didn’t know if Pongo was an opera or a man.
“It’s the only time he’s playing in America this summer.” Katie steadied her shot on the iPhone. “I need a better reaction than that.”
I pushed her phone aside and kissed her cheek. Katie grabbed my face and kissed me on the lips in the café.
The plan was to pick Katie up at her place. From there, we would train to the opera. I had never had a date beyond dinner and drinks— for advice on how to dress, I searched the internet for opera videos. Ill-equipped and nervous, I rented a tux.
I knocked on Katie’s door, bowtie aslant even after watching online videos on how to tie it. She answered the door in a crop-top and torn fishnet stockings. Glow-sticks coiled her forearms. Her face wore the expression of an ice-cold splash.
“You’re in a fucking tux.” She fanned herself. “Oh my god.” Laughing now, she grabbed her phone.
I scrambled. “Let’s pretend that I was trying to be ironic.”
Katie gave a deep laugh, then sighed. “I guess every fan needs a first show.” She put the camera down and hooked her arm in mine. Again, she laughed, alone. “Tonight you’ll learn a lot about yourself.”
The mob rumbled into the box office. A skinny blonde, a painted butterfly below her navel, shouldered past me, nearly tearing the sleeve from my tux. The mob pushed, getting nowhere, feeling vindicated— young, likeminded and like-dressed in neon.
Katie smiled— she said she liked that I was different. She held her phone above the crowd, aiming the eye of the camera down toward us to capture the mob.
“Nice tux, bro.” A high-school kid, half his head shaved, rubbed my shoulder.
The mob pummeled the box office reps. Past the gate, in the theatre, mayhem reigned. The usher nearest us, middle aged and nearly heaving, was relegated to the corner, sweating in his three-piece suit.
I checked our tickets. “Section C. Row NN.”
“We’re not that kind of mob,” Katie said.
The opera house surrendered to abandonment. Several people pushed through aisles, smoking cigarettes, offering drugs and commenting upon my tux. Katie filmed me. I pretended not to notice. No one in the roaring mob had ever been inside an opera house. They mostly spent their weekend nights in underground clubs, popping chemicals that caused their eyes to dance for thirty hours.
“I don’t think the opera house is quite the place for Pongo crowds,” I yelled in Katie’s ear to drown the mob.
“It’s so Pongo to play here,” she said.
The lights died. A deep bass rumbled. The crowd nearly brought down the gallery, stamping their feet like mad bulls. Neon lights flashed on the neon-clad crowd. My generation danced through a neon world— only now had I become a part of it.
Katie kissed me and straightened my bowtie.
Sirens sang. Horns blared, shaking the floor. The crowd connected, jumping in rhythm, screaming out the word that bound them all— Pongo, Pongo, Pongo. I took it in— Katie filmed my reaction.
Spotlights shined the stage. An orangutan appeared in a loose-fitted tux. The mob’s eruption caused my ears to ring. Situated at a turntable onstage, the orangutan loosened his bowtie. Katie put her camera down. She untied my bow, allowing the two ends to fall. Heads drifted my direction. Stoned faces nodded. A topless girl with stickers on her nipples tapped her friend— “That dude has a tux, just like Pongo.”
The orangutan in formal wear wrapped a pair of headphones round his tree-trunk neck. He unsheathed a vinyl record from the sleeve, placed the record on the turntable and commandeered the needle. Katie held her phone extended, filming with the flash on. The air was thick with powder and the lights began to dance across the stage. The amplified needle in the vinyl groove blasted the paint off the walls.
Deep bass pulsed over tribal percussion. Pongo made a low rolling call into the microphone. The mob danced across the opera house like ocean waves in a historical storm. Katie leaned her back against my front and started grinding.
“Isn’t this great?” Katie yelled over the primate’s beat.
I tried to hide my lack of confidence. “Does he write the music himself?”
“Does— he— write— the music— himself?” I screamed each syllable as loud as I could muster, feeling more ridiculous with each passing breath.
“Who? Pongo?” She laughed, as if to say, He’s an orangutan.
The beat dropped, elevated, then dropped. The mob elevated with the primate’s hairy hands, screaming louder with each beat as DJ Pongo waved his fur-matted arms. His hands, long ways from swinging trees, became all-powerful— voodoo medicine for thirteen thousand screaming youths, Pongo’s hands of sound maintained the rhythm that their hearts conformed to.
DJ Pongo flung the vinyl like a frisbee to the crowd. A flash of neon silence— then a mad stampede.
Katie kissed me once again. The mob began to form around us.
Onstage, the orangutan removed his loosened bowtie. He dropped the tie into the crowd. A girl with a glowing hula hoop over her shoulder grabbed my loosened tie and tossed it to the neon elements.
Pongo removed his tuxedo jacket.
The crowd turned, as though it were my turn. They rooted.
I put my hands up. “It’s a rental.”
As Pongo placed his hairy hands between the buttons on his shirt to tear the fabric from his chest, the mob ambushed me. They tore my tux, stitch-by-stitch, button-by-button, beat-by-beat, from my body. DJ Pongo made a kissing sound into the microphone. Katie filmed it for her documentary.
Pongo let the record drop.
The mob dispersed the pieces of my clothes in all directions. They lifted me over their heads. Passed from hand to hand over the crowd, in only underwear, I soared on hands of sound over a roaring mob of Pongo fans, weightless, bathing in neon.
After ten yards, the people dropped me to the floor. Reduced to underwear, the tatters of my rented tux now strewn about the opera house, balanced on the mighty hands of sound among the neon mob that was my generation, only now can I admit— it had been the greatest moment of my life. In the corner of my eye, a camera flashed.
It was the last time I saw Katie Wilson.