Chapter 3 — God’s Basement — (Paper Squares and Purple Stars: My Life as a Rave Outlaw)
This is the full third chapter of my book Paper Squares and Purple Stars: My Life as a Rave Outlaw. I have decided to share a few chapters for free here, to give you an idea of what to expect from the book. The book is already available for purchase at www.raveoutlaw.com, and the mobile game is coming soon, www.immortalgames.co.uk.
Chapter 3 — God’s Basement — (September 2007 — Philadelphia, PA)
The next week felt like it would take forever to pass. At the time I was working a shitty day job that barely even paid the bills, and my roommates were in the same position, so we had a variety of side hustles that helped us live somewhat normal lives. Everything was arranged through Clyde, who had a connect deeper in the city that sold us weed and pills at wholesale prices, even if we weren’t buying in bulk. So once or twice a week I would drive deep into the city with Clyde and Jerry to meet up with our supplier and bring back cheap packages to sell throughout the week.
Clyde and I also both picked up second jobs at a local nightclub called Galaxy to help pay the rent. The fifty bucks we got paid every night to check IDs and wristbands at the door was secondary to the cash we made selling our bargain bin drugs to the customers. Galaxy was one of the few places in the city that catered almost strictly to the rock n roll audience. Most of the other clubs were drifting more towards dance music and hip-hop to keep up with the changing trends. Galaxy would have an occasional hip-hop event when the bills needed to be paid, but the place was a biker bar for decades before it changed hands, so the new owner was afraid of scaring off his regular customers by changing up the music too much.
Staying behind the times was fitting for this part of town anyway, it was a strange part of Baltimore that seemed to be trapped in a warp that froze time 20 or 30 years ago. It is hard to describe, but many of the businesses in the area hadn’t upgraded their signs or buildings in decades, while the same exact companies in other areas of the city were remodeled several times over. The area is known as Dundalk, and it is commonly used as a punchline in cheap jokes by people all across Maryland. Most of those jokes are related to the issues I described and the fact that the neighborhood sits in the shadow of the city’s sewage treatment plant, which floods the streets with a pungent odor on a fairly regular basis. Ages ago the local economy was thriving, and many of the residents worked at the nearby steel mill. Then one day the plant shut down, and the town never recovered, so maybe that explains why the place was frozen in time. Galaxy was tucked down a side street in this forgotten corner of the city and the place looked more like a condemned warehouse than a bar or a club.
It was a huge black building that looked like it was falling apart, but even though it wasn’t the most glamorous place, we could get away with doing pretty much anything there. The week after the island party, it seemed like we spent more time than usual at Galaxy. There wasn’t much to do in Baltimore in those days, but at least there we didn’t have to pay a cover, and we could drink for half price. Galaxy was like our “home base” that acted as our default meeting place if nothing else was going on, and in Baltimore, there was never much of anything going on.
“It’s slow again tonight,” Clyde said as he yawned and slapped a stack of wristbands in between his hands.
“At least we have rent covered after last weekend,” I responded optimistically.
“Yeah, you’re right. So, yeah about that, we’re doing God’s Basement this weekend, right?” Clyde asked.
“Of course, we gotta check that place out,” I said.
“That guy said we could get in for free right? What was his name again?” Clyde asked bluntly.
“Well, not really, I don’t know. He didn’t say all of us were going to get in for free. I never even got the guy’s name anyway, I don’t even know if he’s really in charge of the place. You know how people talk all big when they are out partying. We should all bring our own cash just to be safe,” I responded.
“Yeah, I guess,” Clyde said, half-listening while staring across the bar.
“Look,” Clyde continued, “I told Charles that we weren’t going to be around this weekend, so if we work the rest of the week, we are clear for God’s Basement.”
Charles was the owner of the club, he was standoffish with me at the time, and most of my shifts were scheduled through Clyde.
“Cool, did you tell him WHERE we were going this weekend?” I asked mischievously.
Clyde laughed, still staring off into the distance as if he was keeping watch of something.
“Nah, he’s cool, but I’m not quite sure he’s that cool. He might be, but I don’t want to take that chance yet,” Clyde explained.
The extra shifts didn’t help the week pass by any faster. I kept on thinking about what went down on the island and didn’t know how to feel. I narrowly escaped arrest, and there was a tragic death.
I should have never wanted to go back to a place like that ever again, and yet I was hooked. The night was amazing before it took a turn for the worse, and it was the first time that a major hustle actually worked out in my favor. The main thing that was really drawing me back though was that time around the campfire with the other freaks and weirdos. It was like I found the tribe of misfits that I was searching for my whole life, people who actually saw the world the way I did. If I was hooked on the rave lifestyle after the island party, then I was to become a full-blown addict after God’s Basement. That Friday, the same crew from the week before traveled to Philly for some important guy’s birthday at God’s Basement, but this time Amy was at the wheel.
“Are you sure you know where we’re going?” Clyde asked as he stared intently out the window.
Amy laughed, “No, someone else was always driving, I never had to pay attention before,” she said.
“Great,” Clyde replied sarcastically.
“It says that we’re on this road for a few more miles, then we’re looking for Warren street,” I said, thumbing through multiple pages of MapQuest directions.
Tonight, we weren’t traveling with a felony-level stash, but the tension in the car always seemed to be high on the way to any rave, especially an underground one like this. This was also the days before GPS, or at least before they were cheap enough for people like us, so getting lost and stressed out before we got to the event was something that happened a lot.
“Yo, look, it’s a creepy ass church, is that us?” Jerry asked, pointing at a huge stone building that stood on the corner.
“Yeah, that’s it, now we just gotta find someplace to park,” I said.
There were cars lined up on each side of the narrow one-way street where the church was located, so we drove a few blocks further until we could find a spot to park. We walked the few blocks to the venue in silence. The streets were empty and the only sound to be heard was our shoes clacking against the wet pavement.
As we turned the corner of the church, I noticed a short line leading down into the building and could hear the faint sound of bass thumping through the cement walls.
I was hoping that my new friend would remember to put me on the list, but I was still expecting to pay because he never got my full name, and people tend to make promises they can’t keep in this scene. Besides, I didn’t even know his first name, and I had no intention of being “that guy” and starting an argument at the door.
While we were standing in line, I saw my mysterious new friend standing by the door with a group of people. As soon as we made eye contact, he called out to me, “Yoooooo, it’s my buddy from the island party! You made it!” he said.
He turned to the group of ravers working the door and said, “Yo, don’t charge this kid, or whoever he’s with, his whole car is comped.”
The doorman looked up from the small stack of money he was counting and laughed, “What’s gotten into you, Mickey? The guest list is a mile long tonight!” he said.
“Wellllll, it is my birthday, and these are the motherfuckers who were lookin out on that island last week while your sorry asses were nowhere to be found,” he joked.
The doorman laughed again, “I stayed home cuz I knew that shit was gonna get busted,” he said.
“Nah man, that thing was going on for years, nobody coulda predicted what happened,” Mickey replied, his smile fading as he remembered the full ramifications of what took place the weekend before.
Someone came from inside and whispered in Mickey’s ear, and he gave them a nod before they disappeared again into the darkness. “Hey, I gotta go handle some shit, but we’ll catch up later. Welcome to God’s Basement,” he told me before slipping away into the crowd.
At the time I was happy just for the chance to get some social acceptance for a change, I never imagined that this would lead to some type of business arrangement, or that I would have a chance to be in his position one day. For now, I was just trying to have a good time, make some friends, and maybe hustle a little bit on the side if the opportunity presented itself.
At first glance, God’s Basement would appear to be an innocent high school dance, since the main room was in the church’s school auditorium. The place was usually decorated with the same paper streamers and cheap decorations that you would expect at a child’s birthday.
Despite these humble appearances, one of the wildest parties that you could ever imagine was hiding in the shadows of that basement. As I began to pass through the crowd, I realized that this was nothing like other clubs that I had been to. In this place, the atmosphere was created by the people, not the lighting or the decorations or even the music. This was an actual community where everyone knew one another, and everyone seemed to share some type of disdain for the outside world.
At most mainstream clubs, people would dress up in formal clothes like they were on their way to church, but here in the basement of an actual church, it looked like a costume party for society’s rejects. Everyone seemed to have their own unique look, but bright colors, “kandi” bead bracelets and stuffed animal backpacks were a common sight. The dancing here was different too, it was much more complex. Every few minutes a circle in the crowd would form around a highly skilled dancer, or a group of them, to watch their moves and maybe take a turn themselves. There were also people swinging glowsticks on strings with a level of talent that I had never seen up close and in person. There were plenty of hustlers, but there were some jokesters too, one guy was walking around selling single slices of cheese all night saying, “I got yo cheese all day, 2 for 5.” A bunch of people kept on coming up to him thinking that “cheese” was a new slang for some drug, but nah, just warm slices of American cheese.
Everyone in the building seemed to be happy and having a good time, probably because we were all getting a small taste of the type of freedom and liberation that wasn’t possible in our everyday lives. This wasn’t just a party, this was a sanctuary where we could escape the social norms that hold us in invisible mental prisons and the powerful people that put us in real ones. Drugs were definitely everywhere, but it was hard to tell who was on them and who wasn’t, although at the time I thought that everyone there was on drugs. I couldn’t conceive of someone being there to dance or because they liked the music, but apparently there are quite a few of those people out there, as I would later learn.
The only time I really noticed any kind of “security” that night, aside from at the front door, was when a couple standing next to me were caught taking a key bump of some powder in the middle of the dance floor. Instead of kicking them out or taking their stuff, the staff member simply told them to “keep that shit in the shadows.”
Next to the bar, there was a separate line leading to the nitrous tanks, where a girl doled out hippie crack in balloons for five bucks a piece. The beer was free tonight for Mickey’s birthday, or maybe that’s how they got around not having a liquor license. Whatever the reason, I was happy for the free drinks because I was trying to stay away from the rolls this weekend, since my mind was still hazy from the bender the week before. Jerry and I looked for some acid when we first walked around the dance floor, but we didn’t have much luck.
(God’s Basement main room — 2007)
We were still getting familiar with our surroundings and we felt out of place, so we didn’t have the courage to approach anyone. I remember being somewhat relieved that we didn’t find anything at first, considering that I still had to work at my day job early in the morning and it was starting to get late. In those days, just getting drunk was “taking it easy” for me, as I was a daily drinker since my teenage years anyway, so going into work with a hangover was the rule, not the exception. However, the evening had different plans for me, and so did Jerry. At one point late in the night, after 2am, Jerry approached me with a huge smile on his face and told me to open my mouth. Not thinking about how weird his request was, I unconsciously opened my mouth and bam, he placed a small paper square directly on my tongue.
“I found some!” Jerry cheered, sticking out his tongue to show that he had taken some too.
“You son of a bitch! I gotta go to work in a few hours!” I shouted.
“Good thing you hate that fuckin place,” Jerry replied.
“I guess you’re right, I probably would have taken it anyway, besides, I can handle my shit,” I said.
“That’s why I gave it to you, strap in motherfucker!” Jerry said.
After I received my surprised dose, I remember telling myself to just make the most of it and not overthink it. Work was definitely going to suck the next day, but it was nothing that I couldn’t handle, I had become an expert at pretending to be sober while on psychedelics over the years, and it wouldn’t be the first time I punched the clock without any sleep the night before.
My thoughts of the next day were interrupted when the music stopped, and Mickey walked to the front of the stage with a microphone in one hand and a bottle of champagne in the other.
He shouted into the mic, “Welcome home God’s Basement! Thank you, everyone, for making this birthday one of the best ever for me! It’s good to have my family here with me to celebrate. I just wanted to take a minute to remind everyone to look out for one another. We are a family of outlaws, and that is something that we must never forget, because for us to keep this community alive we need to behave like family, and we need to behave like outlaws. What I mean is… We all break the rules, but we need to respect the rules we break or at least pretend to respect them so we can stay under the radar and out of trouble…That is how we are going to keep this family together!”
Everyone in the crowd was silent and listening intently. Mickey had a hold on the room when he spoke, and he was saying some real shit. Before stepping down from the stage, he said, “One more announcement, I want you guys to party with us until the sun comes up, but if you must leave, wait about a half hour, we got a situation outside, and I want everyone to stay in here until that’s taken care of. Alright, I’ll quit talking now, and we’ll get this music started back up in a few minutes. Remember, respect the rules you break!”
Maybe it was the stress of the week before, or maybe it was just because I was trippin, but for some reason the warning about not going outside made me think that the party was about to get busted. Although thinking back on the situation, he probably wouldn’t have been walking around all happy with a bottle of champagne and making grandiose speeches if a SWAT team was ready to burst through the door.
I turned to Jerry and asked, “Dude, what is that about? We can’t leave?”
“Yeah, I don’t know, that sounds sketch,” Jerry replied.
Just then Amy approached us and said, “The cops are outside, but it’s not for us.”
“What do you mean? They aren’t coming in here? What are they doing outside?” I asked frantically.
“There was a shooting in the neighborhood or something, I don’t even think the cops know we’re in here, and if they do, they probably don’t care, they have more important things to worry about around here,” she said.
Now it made sense, the doors were locked, and the music was off to keep us out of harm’s way while the cops finished whatever they were doing outside. Even if the cops were preoccupied, it was better for them to not hear bass coming from the old church, and also better that they didn’t see groups of ravers walking down the streets on the way to their cars. This must have been what he meant by, “respect the rules you break.”
In the few moments of silence, I spoke to a few people about the situation outside, but no one seemed concerned. Everyone seemed to feel like God’s Basement was some type of safe haven. They all kept on telling me “Don’t worry, we are safe here,” with giant smiles on their faces. After a few minutes, the music was back on, and everyone had forgotten about whatever happened outside. The room turned back into a hive of dancing and glowing people and time disappeared again. Although we were there for a few hours, it felt like just a few minutes by the time we had to leave, but unfortunately, our excitement for the night was not over.
When we got back to Amy’s car, we found that one of her windows was smashed in and someone had rummaged through our stuff. There wasn’t much for them to take aside from a few CDs and a glass bowl that we left in there, but the car was a mess. When we began to check out the damage, I had a strange feeling that we were being watched. Amy began crying and kicking the tire, as the rest of us stood there frozen with no clue what to do. After a minute I leaned over and put my hand on her shoulder.
“Look, we need to get the fuck out of here, this could get a lot worse if someone is waiting for us to come back. We will help you figure this out when we get home,” I told her, trying to be as quiet as possible.
She nodded her head and said, “You’re right, let’s go,” then opened her door and got in the car.
“Well, we gotta clean this shit up first. I’m not sitting on broken glass,” Clyde complained.
“Just get in the front seat, I’ll sit on the fucking glass, now hurry up,” I said through gritted teeth.
I wasn’t acting entirely crazy, we heard plenty of rumors about cars getting broken into, and other stories about people getting mugged as well. We just experienced one of these problems, and I really wasn’t trying to run into the other one. The two-hour ride was uncomfortable, to say the least, but I managed to avoid getting cut by any of the broken glass that was spread across the seat since I was wearing thick denim KikWears. We didn’t want to pull over and clean the car out in the middle of the ride since a group of ravers sitting in a parking lot at 4am would quickly find themselves in the crosshairs of police. When we got back to the apartment, we cleared the glass out of the car, and we all promised that we would chip in to fix the window.
After a night like that, there was no way that any of us were going to be able to get to sleep, especially me, since I only had about two hours before work once we got home. Everyone was still tripping pretty hard too and even though our night ended the way it did, we still managed to be in good spirits. None of us seemed turned off by our experience, we were still going to go back there every chance we got.
When it was time to start getting ready for work, I began scrambling around the apartment trying to get my things together. My three partners in crime laid on the floor and stared at the ceiling in a daze as I put on a wrinkled shirt and tie and grabbed my keys.
“You are fucking crazy man, there is no way I’d be going into work like this, you should call out,” Clyde said laughing.
“I thought about it, but after that window shit last night I can’t afford to lose a day. Plus, we couldn’t re-up this week, so we got no product to work with either,” I replied.
“Wish me luck,” I added with a nervous laugh as I walked out the door.
When I got in my car, I threw a CD in the stereo that I picked up the night before and hit the road. The ride to work was more pleasant than ever. It was Saturday, so there was no traffic, and the beautiful clouds in the sky were swirling with geometric patterns as I coasted down the highway.
That day was one of the rare occasions that I actually made it to work on time since I didn’t have to worry about waking up with a hangover or waking up at all for that matter. If you were wondering, the day was a little bit weird, but I ended up making it through without getting fired. Just to give you an idea of how weird that day was, at the time I worked at a funeral home as an apprentice mortician, but that is another story for another time.