It had a jukebox so old it was filled with polkas, waltzes and “Happy Birthday,” a lit-up pentagram from an Order of the Eastern Star lodge, at least six wood-carved Argentinian foosball tables and a music festival I didn’t give two craps about.
I like people, I do. I was excited when Twitter told me I had indeed won two free tickets to The Metropia Experience, a festival of something or other about something or other that apparently involved achingly beautiful hipster girls in those currently popular ’80s pants that make their asses look huge. It would be music and art and performance pieces. Their only mistake was choosing a venue more interesting than the show. Architectural Artifacts, three and a half stories of reclaimed treasures, was such a place.
I mean, the girl at the door had a loveliness so intense I sort of hated her, but how should she compare with three rooms of nothing but fireplace mantles and two of doors? How could the clown band compare to half a Day of the Dead skeleton lain in a bassinet? (Or the ceremonial coffin from an Odd Fellows lodge or the “Electric Lighting Fixture for Hazardous Locations,” four glass tubes spattered with what looked like molten lead.)
There were explosion-proof cabinets, barber and/or/either dental chairs, a table of photographs of trucks, merry-go-round horses, cabinets for displaying first editions, cabinets for displaying archeological specimens, a 10-foot zodiac clock face from a building in Milwaukee, church kneelers, two racks for lighting Catholic votive candles. There were things that looked like the Doctor Who villains who want to “Exterminate,” the ones who want “cyber-conversion,” the ones you shouldn’t blink around.
As a diligent journalist who basically writes about the stuff he does in a day, I decided I should tear myself away from the floors of friezes, bars, a Shuffle Alley bowling game I hadn’t seen the likes of since the old Wisconsin lodge my family stopped going to when I was 6, a South American pop machine with a gaucho telling people to “Tome Coca-Cola”… sorry. I decided I should tear myself away from the stories of wonder and check out the show.
When I walked onto the main show floor, two comely booze company reps whose bodies had been sculpted and re-shaped by as expert technicians as the ones who did the cast-iron grates upstairs gave me a free sample of sangria. I went out back for an artsy band/clown show where, flanked by tents for Verizon, a Starfruit truck and PopChips reps walking around like 1940s cigarette girls, the clowns failed to be acrobatically interesting or to make me laugh. They should have stuck with the music — the clowning was mediocre, the juggling just OK, but the cello-backed Waitsian circus-punk exceptional.
I wandered the crowd a bit, saw the intensely lovely woman from the door again. She gave me the same weird look she did at the door when I told her to give my plus one to the next person in line. The stained glass from Victorian British bookshops and 1940s schematics of light trucks seemed more and more appealing.
In all fairness to Metropia, I was early. I had plans for that night so was cashing in my free Twitter tickets from the Onion AV Club a bit ahead of schedule. The bands were getting better as the afternoon wore. The crowd was getting larger and the booze more flowing.
But call it age or the fact I was born with an old man’s soul (multiple sources, including my dad, confirm), but the phone booths with old phones upstairs seemed more interesting than the young and stylish there to be seen downstairs. The coiled industrial springs five feet tall and the lunch counter sign with the missing U were more appealing to me than the booth of not-iPad tablets or the reps there to sell me sangria by virtue of admittedly impressive cleavage.
I mean, how could the people downstairs not find the store mannequins from several decades or the bowl of loom shuttles interesting? How could they find a band and some booze more fascinating than the neolithic Chinese jar on top of an 18th century Japanese cabinet? There were barber poles, an early or mid 1900s kids pedal car built to look like an Argentine airplane, a motorized industrial cart, apothecary cabinets and church pews, fonts, windows, banners, angels, Jesi and even the finial from the top of the steeple. There were calipers. Just calipers for some reason.
There were educational sample tubes of various chemical fertilizers, spotlights, a game of skill called “Sapo” that had something to do with rows of holes and an iron frog, a Spanish-language sign Google Translate tells me means “Satisfied wishlists,” metal fish, metal palm trees, a md-20th century electric scoreboard, safe deposit boxes, apiary beehives, pool cues, streetlights, a tabletop bastard of a printing press and an accordion labeled “American Misc. Camera Parts” but couldn’t be, just couldn’t. There were slot machines, plaster deer, an early CTA transfer machine, tiles…