Wednesday, October 27, 2010

The True Halloween Experience: The Continental

photo courtesy of The Continental Facebook page-the existence of which tells all!

For the following, my suggested musical pairing would be "Every day is Halloween" by Ministry, "Dig It" by Skinny Puppy and "Lucretia, My Reflection" by Sisters of Mercy. Just scroll down to my play list at the bottom of my blog, and then scroll down to the last songs.

The Continental nightclub in downtown Buffalo, New York was a place where you could live Halloween, any weekend night of the year. The nightclub had a first floor, where the indie bands of the time played, a second floor, where the cool people danced, and an outdoor courtyard in back, where there was a lot of marijuana aromatherapy, bat watching, and, if you were lucky, good old fashioned making out. You were never really quite sure what was going on out back.

For those of you from good ol' Buffalo, and old enough to remember, the Continental was quite the unique place. As we used to say, one is either a tourist merely there to watch the unique goings-on of the crowd, or a regular part of the crowd, which was the cool, and only, way to be. Needless to say, the regulars despised the tourists. Nowadays, we would call it a goth bar, but back in the 80's, I'm not even sure if that phrase was coined yet. It was a ritual getting ready to go out on those Friday and Saturday nights. I think we must have owned stock in black eyeliner and white make-up. And, lest we forget, we never wore anything but black.

The Continental night club is now defunct. It closed a few years ago after changing a few hands and the popularity died out, or as I like to say, the patrons grew up and moved on. But, in it's heyday, it was THE place to be, if you were interested in breaking into the alternative music scene, or, in the early days, punk scene. I remember we were friendly with a couple of guys who seemed to play every weekend in their band. They were known to us as Johnny and Robby (my friend Kim had an ongoing flirtation with Johnny). Nowadays, everyone knows them as Johnny Rzeznik and Robby Takac and their world famous band, The Goo Goo Dolls. We just knew them as that blond good looking guy, and his short friend.

I pretty much did my "growing up" at The Continental. I starting going there around 1986 or so, around the time I entered college and got my first car, a 1976 Oldsmobile Delta 88 Royale, medium blue with a white vinyl top. And, boy, was I proud of that car! My best friend at the time, Kim, and I would arrive early, just after dark. We would park in the parking ramp across the street, so we could spy the door to check when our favorite bouncer would arrive (I don't remember his name, but he was quite large, African American, and completely bald). When he did, we made our move. Copies of our birth certificates in hand, the date changed to protect the innocent, we made a run for it before he left the door and someone else took his place. Although I really don't think we were ever thrown out, and I look back now and laugh at how we would get so nervous about it. I mean, come on, we were 18 years old and quite pretty, and the Continental was a DIVE. Why wouldn't they let us in?!

We never really got into too much trouble back then. I only remember a handful of nights when we drank too much, usually Kim more than me because I was driving. I do recall a night in the bathroom, Kim just a pile of skirts and combat boots lying on the grime-encrusted bathroom floor. I believe that was also the night I dropped her off on the front lawn of her house, literally on the front lawn passed out. It was a "Sixteen Candles" moment. Kim was the one with the midnight curfew, too! I don't think things even got started at the Continental until midnight. That's when all the freaks come out, after all.

I wrote a little story, a sort of memoir, a few years back, in September 2007. It is about a night that will remain ingrained in my memory, and it is perfect for this Halloween time of year. And, here it is:

The Continental

I moved up to the bar, self-aware and hesitant, to order our usual first drinks of the night. This decision was usually made after 15-20 minutes of commiseration about who was at the bar, which bartender was there, and how much tip did we really need to leave. I remember those drinks, Blue Hawaiians, and how they actually glowed in the dim, reddish light of the Continental. I also remember the smell of the place before the evening got under way, the smell of sticky drinks, old cigarettes, Kim's perfume (Lauren by Ralph Lauren) and lots of leather in various states of decay.

The Continental was our haven, our shelter. Our elders expected something totally different of what a teenager should do and be. Kim's parents believed that at 19, she was still a child and should be locked away like Fiona in her dragon-guarded castle. My parents expected perfection, but never gave me any rules or guidelines in which to plan my life, leaving me floating around aimlessly, which I did for years. But, I was always the responsible one. Go figure.

So, every Friday and Saturday, like clockwork, we would enter our dreamlike state through a combination of alcohol (buy one get one), dim lighting, and very shady characters at our place of choice. Little did we know, it would form our future, our personalities, and our social life for years to come. (Well, at least mine. I lost touch with Kim after college. Last I heard, she had married quite young and has twin boys.). For me, the Continental formed my imagination, heightened my creativity, even to this day.

One night in particular, I swear to God, I'm sure, I met the devil. He was one of those few standing at the bar, earlier in the night, as the first band was playing. It was one of those nights that we did our commiserating at "the mushroom" (a spool-shaped bar table), but that particular night, it was so smoky, I almost couldn't breathe. When I decided to finally walk up to the bar, I walked up beside him. He turned to me and shook my hand. Somehow, with this handshake, he left red marks on my palm from his long, black fingernails. And, his hair, how can I possibly describe it? It was a wild mass of dreadlocks, but different. They were more like long strips of black tattered rags. It was almost as if he shaved his scalp between the rags. He seemed to appear like a demon from an angst-ridden teenager's wild imaginary drawings. His voice was a scathing whisper that still resonates with me still to this day, more than 20 years later.

I saw him in my bedroom later on. I'm not sure if it was days or months later. I just know that I saw him, and he seemed real, yet wasn't. I saw him twice in one of the hallucinatory nighttime visions I have been having all my life. He sat in the corner of my bedroom at my parent's house, quietly, but unmistakeably him. Clear as a bell, him.

I sometimes look back at this time in my life in disbelief. The girl from a mostly Polish-Catholic Cheektowaga, New York who thought she wanted to be a forensic scientist, but somehow, through life experience, realized it wasn't science that grabbed her soul. It was the unknown, that which we will never know, the spirits that still lurk within the walls of that place on Franklin Street, the spirits that lurk within our minds just dying to come out into the great world. The Continental was the essence of emotional inspiration, proof of the slippery slope of humanity.

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