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A night at the Gilman opens up new world

Apparently, bullet belts are the new black. Actually, black is the new black -- bullet belts are merely an accessory, serving to further highlight the deep and utter blackness of the black. When Vogue told me that safari prints and bright colors are in this season, they were referring to a realm other than the punk world, which is where I found myself when I walked through the entrance at 924 Gilman St., the club where Green Day (ask your kids) got its start.

I was there because I stole a smoothie. I didn't really steal it -- I received a phone call as I was waiting in the extremely crowded student store on campus and stepped outside to better hear my friend. I had the money in my hand, I hadn't made the smallest attempt to hide the strawberry-banana-filled cup. Yeah, yeah, you say, tell it to the police.

Well, I did -- and was sentenced to community service. Ten hours and a promise never to steal a smoothie again.

An extremely lazy friend had done community service for a DUI over the summer, and I, also being extremely lazy, thought she'd be a good person to ask about potential opportunities.

"Go to the Gilman," she said.

"What's that?"

"A music club. It's all run by the people, so it counts as volunteer work. It's cool -- you just take tickets, stamp people's hands and stuff."

I Googled "community service Berkeley" and found a site dedicated to the removal of garbage from our city's streets, complete with an animated banana peel jumping in and out of a trash bag. Stamping hands and dancing sounded slightly better than stomping around picking up discarded waste (and if you know anything about Berkeley's population, you know that we have a lot of scary litter here -- think dirty condoms and used needles), so on Friday night, I found myself standing outside the brick entrance of the Gilman.

There were three other people outside the club when I got there, all wearing various layers of black, various shades of pink and orange hair, and various lengths of chains swinging from their spike-studded belts. I looked nervously from them to the closed door.

"Hey!" I looked over when the girl shouted at me, my hand automatically grabbing my purse tighter. "Hey, are you here to volunteer?" The girl offered me a wide smile, her eyes lighting up beneath their thick black outline.

I nodded.

"I'm Snowflake, and this is Tim and Tristan." The boys both gave friendly grins. The three are high school students who say they spend every weekend at the Gilman, working half the show for free entrance to the other half.

They are people I never would have talked to in high school or even now, people I would consider "outsiders," people I would even say are choosing to be outsiders by so distinctively physically distinguishing themselves from the norm. But at the Gilman, I was the outsider -- the only one with a pastel pink scarf, awkward and unsure of how to act in the unfamiliar, graffiti-covered territory. But never, not once, did anyone make me feel like this. My three high school compatriots guided me through the volunteer process, introducing me to the supervisor and making sure I got the easiest job. People came up to me and introduced themselves as I sat behind the desk, taking tickets. They were not simply amiable and gracious -- they were beyond friendly, among the most welcoming people I ever have come into contact with.

"If only I were like you in high school," I said to Snowflake as we were cleaning up at the end of the night.

"Like what?" she asked.

"So accepting of different people. So friendly. So disregarding of the whole 'clique' thing."

"Yeah." She shrugged. "I think that stuff's all in people's heads. If you want everyone to be separate, everyone will be separate. That's why the Gilman's great -- everyone can just come together and not worry about anything."

Maybe that's all cliques and outfits and labels are -- something in our heads, something on the surface, something that's just preventing us from coming together. At the Gilman that night, for me, something came together. And it felt good.

Liz Moody, a Johansen High School graduate, is a student at the University of California at Berkeley. She can be reached at lizmoody@berkeley.edu.

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