"What's the world for you if you can't make it up the way you want."

-Jazz, Toni Morrison


The Line, The Terror

The Line, The Terror

    Though I’m not an L.A. native, and I was never cool enough in my previous life to frequent establishments that required a line for entry, this past weekend, I found myself with two friends outside a popular West Hollywood bar in the dreaded line.

    Previously, and from afar, I’d always viewed the lines as a mysterious, impenetrable part of the exclusive world of the ultra-hip. Of course, I have stood in lines before, but from the beginning it’s necessary to make an important distinction between the everyday line and the “event line,” or “club line.”

    Normal lines are a logical process developed to help the orderly management of people trying to make purchases, or gain entry to a certain establishment. “Event lines” or “red-velvet lines,” when referring to a mob of people outside a club or a bar, have all the opposite characteristics of normal lines. These lines operate with total absence of logic, order, humanity, and most importantly without the guarantee of admittance—thus chaos, thus horror.

    The only quality that makes a line endurable is the knowledge that waiting will result in some reward. But from its exclusivity, the red-velvet line subverts the one guiding principle of all lines: All who wait will enter.   In this upside down line universe, there are no rules, no order—just the bizarre dehumanizing experience of waiting without promise.

    All this speculation is admittedly underwhelming. After all, my dear readers will say, serves you right. Serves you right to try to limp-in with seasoned twenty-somethings who have devoted their every weekend, if not their lives, to the art of line-standing and clubbing. No, no, no. The line is not for the meek!

    Yes, I can concede my own line-standing, club-going inadequacies. I come now only to humbly report a few observations that may help some other poor, wayward nobody who finds themselves some Saturday night unwittingly stumbled into the depths of a red-velvety abyss. I write only to save some lost soul the same agony that I endured, that they may read about the horror of the line without having to endure it.

    If, however, you are like me and you insist on venturing into the line, if you dare to stand among the chic, black-clad, cell-phone gods, I offer the following advice: The first and most important thing to know about the line is that as a rule you can’t actually communicate with others in line save those in your immediate group. Nobody really talks except to ask questions about the line itself. Only meta-line talk is permitted in the line and even that should be kept to a minimum.

    The idea of the line is to endure silently, not to draw attention to how pathetic the standing is and maintain an air of superiority, something like, “Okay, I’ll stand here, but I’m not going to like it.”

    Here are a few of the other official but unwritten rules of red-velvet line etiquette:

    Rule number one: No unsolicited or spontaneous social behavior including, smiling, eye-contact, or speaking.

    Rule number two: If you break rule number one you will be confronted by a high-pitched Gary Oldman voice from True Romance, saying, “Who the fuck is this? Motherfucking Charlie Bronson.”

    Rule number three: You may speak, only to commiserate at the absurdity of the line. This speaking should be directed impersonally to an imaginary audience or to your own “group” but loud enough so other groups within your vicinity can hear. This is not communication, but more like grunting. You grunt. I grunt. Jane hungry. Tarzan horny.

    Rule number four: Never try to pick someone up in the line. Never. The mating ritual of the club doesn’t begin until you are inside the club. You may look, but don’t speak.

    As for myself, I followed these rules as obediently as possible.  All in all, I stood silently for nearly an hour, making my inch by inch progression to the holy threshold. Next to me, a jittery Arab with cigarette breath pushed forward and made outrageous claims about paying three thousand dollars for a table. Ahead, the panicked bouncer searched himself to the desperate resolve to perform his stoic duty. Then suddenly, a pair of fleshy brunettes maneuvered ahead of us. I searched the pair of buxom perpetrators for some sign of humanity, for some evidence of remorse, but they stared absently, exaggerating their innocence with stupid, empty looks.

    Because I was in the line in a mostly observational role, an admitted amateur, I maintained my silence in order to see how the mob might react to this injustice. I waited and waited and waited, but hardly anyone said anything besides a few passive grumblings.

    This is the essential absurdity of people who cut in line. The injustice of their line cutting simply lingers. It’s not like a hit and run or shoplifting where the perpetrator disappears.  In “the line” when someone cuts, or a pair of busty girls push past you, they stand right there, performing some awful act of feigned ambivalence, where you know that they know that you know.

    So there we stood in our silent purgatory, enduring the awful inhumanity of the line with the promise of the salvation inside. Finally in an act of divine justice, the sheepish bouncer finally comes over to extract the girls out of the line, and peace and order are restored, and all is right in the universe, and those who wait, and labor, and persist with faith, reap the reward and find salvation.

    At long last, the doors of the club thrust open and rays of green and red lights fill the sky like a half-angel, half-robot laser show.  At that very moment, the full allegorical power of the line bursts like a heavenly illumination in the form of doped-out, assembly-line hip-hop music, a dance floor you can hardly move on, at least five to ten overly aggressive men and women who intentionally bump into you, and a random guy perched on his table trying to dance above the crowd like he’s in a music video, misinterpreting the bouncers flashlights as an endorsement of his behavior, as if the whole world can finally see him, as if the whole club truly sees how awesome he is. Then, in a moment of sublime justice, he realizes that the bouncers are flashing their lights at him to signal him to get the fuck down.

    Once inside, I nudge around the dance floor awkwardly bumping into other surly club goers, stand at the bar for half an hour to pay for an overpriced drink, wonder why all mumble rap sounds the same, second guess my humanity, second guess the meaning of life, spiral into acute existential despair, wonder if hell, too, requires a red-velvet line for entry and if in the line to hell you stand with the same awful people who you stood with on earth and if Satan is the bouncer in hell or if he has fiery minions as bouncers and if by some terrible misfortune my special version of hell is to be cut in line for all of eternity.

    After less than an hour, my friend leans in and shouts over the music, “This place sucks. Let’s get the fuck out of here.” On my way out, I make eye contact with someone standing in the front of the line waiting to get in.  A brief hesitation passes between us like we’re on the edge of some truth but I’m suddenly ashamed like Adam after the apple, naked. A little pathetic ripple of expectation gleams across their face, a spark of wonder dances in their eyes, but I shudder and look away.  Leave them their wonder I think, at least leave them that.


Jon Litten was born in Atlanta, GA and received his B.S. in English Education from Kennesaw State University. His work has appeared in The Aurorean, The Artifact Magazine, Foliate Oak Literary Magazine, North Wind: A Journal of George MacDonald Studies, Door is Ajar, LLC, Thrice, Gravel Magazine, and many others.

Cover photo by Benjamin Lambert on Unsplash

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