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Mountebanks at night. watercolor by Paul Sandby, 1758 Royal Collection Trust/© Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II 2014

Mountebanks and miscreants: how we love them. I have found myself in a situation of late that feels altogether too much like high school, and as a means of understanding it, I have a story to tell. It will, sadly, confirm what my parents thought was happening, but hoped was not.

Let’s step back to the time when I was known as the Rat, when I spoke truth to adolescents and paid the price of ostracism and harassment. I was already largely outside whatever cliques there were in high school, for I’m not certain you can call an assemblage of despised literary hopefuls in a hallway window seat a clique, so the harassment hurt more than the exclusion. Harassment these days comes not in the form of people chanting at you in person, but rather in online trolling, which can be deleted, unless people take the energy to rise to doxing or swatting, and few in the living history world seem to– and that’s not a challenge, kids.

So, operating within a loose-knit band of misfits more Donnie Darko than Ferris Bueller, I began breaking the rules, taking films back to the public library for my teachers and spending the rest of the day at the art museum or bookstore, or combing thrift shops for my nearly-all-vintage wardrobe. I could not find a place to be, so I stepped out.

Naked Raygun at the Metro (not the club in question)

Along the way, I met some very interesting people: punk musicians, artists, dancers, and students who introduced me to a very different world than the one my classmates lived in. It was a kind of mid-western Desperately Seeking Susan, or perhaps Something Wild, only I suppose I was Susan seeking myself. I saw great bands and terrible bands, and continued my forays even after I’d left the city for college, which leads me to a moment that resonates fiercely with me in light of the past few days of highly localized re-enactor drama.

portrait of a wanna-be-artist

I had a sometime-boyfriend who was ahead of me in college, at a different university, who worked as a DJ in northside night clubs. On one summer trip to the city, I found myself walking out of a nightclub where I’d been dancing, eager for some fresh air. At the door were two of my former classmates– too much acquaintances to be called frenemies– trying, and failing, to get in. I caught their eyes, agog, as I walked out.

“You come here?” one asked. “How’d you get in?“
“I know a guy,” I said. “I’ve been coming here all summer,” and walked up the street to catch the bus to the next party.