For the last few months I’ve worked as a weekend DJ at a Chicago bowling alley. Last night I was relieved of this duty.
Pretty early on I was told that I should avoid playing songs later in the night that might attract the wrong “element.” I didn’t necessarily agree with this, but I don’t own the place, so I went along with it. It’s not like I’d have started playing hardcore rap all night every night, but it would’ve been nice to have the freedom to mix up the late-night playlist to include more R&B, club/dance, and some hip hop. But I was told what to avoid, so I did.
On one or two of those weekends where the owner was away, however, I might’ve pushed the envelope a bit. I’d put on Skee-Lo. Tone Loc. Candyman. Musto and Bones. These artists are more likely to attract drunken, white, 20-something douchebags than they are the “wrong element” that this owner seemed to fear. But on that first occasion when I worked up the courage to sneak a Tribe Called Quest song into the mix, you can imagine my surprise when the place wasn’t burned to the ground. I think I’d been conditioned to believe that if it was after midnight and I played “The Humpty Dance,” a gangland massacre would’ve been the result.
So last night while DJing at this same Chicago bowling alley, I was berated by one of the owners for breaking this unwritten rule. I was told that I “still don’t get it.” I was told that there are undesirables in the place who the owner would like to see leave and the song I was playing was encouraging them to stay. The fact is that I can take criticism with the best of ’em. In fact, I often seek it out. It’s how we get better at stuff in life. However, I simply have no tolerance for being treated like an asshole. And while it may be difficult for many to believe, I AM actually an adult. If I got drunk and ran over your dog with my car, yell at me all you want. If I irresponsibly forgot to pick you up at the airport because I was playing video games, yell at me all you want. If I sold all of your heart medication for beer money and as a result you had a massive heart attack and died before being brought back to life only to die again, come back and haunt me and yell at me all you want. I deserve it. But when you yell at me for playing a song you don’t like, it’s a good bet I’ll let you know I don’t appreciate it.
Nonetheless, after the brief dressing down I received last night, I bit my tongue, loaded up a classic rock playlist into the computer, and walked over the bar in an effort to cool down. I was pissed, but I was gonna choose my battles. Walking away was my way of letting it go.
I sat at the bar next to a friend. I had a beer as the playlist played and then fell into conversation. Not really thinking it was a big deal, I remained away from the front counter and the DJ computer for awhile. Apparently I stayed away too long. The owner came over and asked if there was a reason why I disappeared. I responded that I loaded up a long list of songs and came to sit down. I was then told, “You don’t work here any more.”
Fired. Fired for playing a song.
The song I played? “Wishing Well” by Terence Trent D’Arby.
Apparently pot-smoking, meth-snorting, gun-toting gangbangers in Cadillac Escalades are driving around the city looking for bowling alleys that play a lot of songs by mildly androgynous singer-songwriters from the late 80’s.