Sometimes the planets align. We were running late for dinner with expatriate friends who were in town for a few days. After 20 minutes of no luck finding street parking or a car park that didn’t close early, we ended up in a car park in Wyatt Street. This was no ordinary car park. Each level is named after a planet. Level 9 is still Pluto because, well, when you need parking (and there’s money to be made on office workers and people like us), the Kuiper belt and its dwarf planet is as good as anywhere. Each floor has a mural near the elevator proclaiming what planet/level it is. Or at least I presume this to be so. The lower levels are inhospitable to all but permit parkers. We were on Level 6: Saturn (My Very Energetic Mother Jumps Skateboards Under Nana’s Patio). Each elevator stop is accompanied by a voice proclaiming, “You are on [planet]”. Forget Majel Barrett, Star Trek, fans. This voice is decidedly more booming.
We finally made it to dinner. There were the magical 7±2 (on account of some joining us slightly later) people at the table. We’ve all known each other since we were teenagers and it’s easy to fall back into the old groove even when friends have been away for a while. After dinner we all headed to one of the laneway bars that have taken over Adelaide in the last few months. One gin and tonic (in a wine glass, no less) was enough for me and Bob, and we left shortly after.
Walking back to the car, we inadvertently took a slightly different route to the one walked earlier in the night. As we chatted away, I didn’t realize what street we were on until I turned my head and was facing a familiar façade. When it was a nightclub, it was called Aquarium. Now, I don’t really recall ever going there when I was 18. It had a bit of a reputation for being a place where the bad kids congregated. There wasn’t Yelp or Trip Advisor in those days for me to verify this, you see. But the site of this old club made me realize what was coming next. Down the road, not too far, was The Planet. The nightclub that my friends and I spent at least one, maybe two, nights a week at when we were in first year university.
I tried to peer in through the frosted windows. The building has been vacant for as long as I can remember with promises of reopening as a club or converted office/apartment space. Who said you couldn’t go home again? I should have remembered that you could never see ‘in’. Instead, you had to line up, sometimes half-way down the street on promotions nights, and get to the door to see how busy it was.
Memories came back in waves: awful champagne (we still referred to it as such) from the long bar on the bottom level that led to the dance floor; the upstairs where we spent most of our time, chairs and barrel tables scattered around pool tables; and the third level, which housed the RnB music and felt like it was tacked on to the building and could fall off at any moment. The bathrooms had attendants with perfume/colognes and hand towels! The downstairs actually functioned as a restaurant before the tables were removed from the dance floor and, if you went in and waited, the bouncers wouldn’t ID (this was long before the very stringent checks that go on now). A blessing when you were 17.
The Planet has held somewhat of an increasing mythical status amongst my friends and I. We recall it fondly to those who never went there. I started to wonder, why? Of all the places that we went, why did this nightclub hold such a memory for me?
I suppose it represents, in a much heightened way, what it was to be young and at that time in my life. There were new experiences, new drinks (or just new drinking…not that any son or daughter from an Italian family didn’t have their first sip of vino at seven) and new friends. University only involved about 12 hours of on-campus contact a week and gave me plenty of time to read Gordon Allport’s Pattern and Growth in Personality between parties. There was, of course, the notion of no – or at least limited – responsibility at that age. But, what I think it represents the most is a time when anything seemed possible. You never knew where a night would end, just as I never knew what psychological theory would change the way I thought about everything.
The tendency to see the past with rose-coloured glasses is neither unique nor particularly surprising, at least psychologically speaking. Maybe I tend to do it more than others. Recently I returned to my high school and walked past my old first-year home room. I sighed and waited for the happy memories. Then I realized, wait a minute, for the most part I rather hated first year high school! Nostalgia has always had a seductive hold on me, even if it wasn’t my own. I was most fascinated by the section in the video store that was labeled “Nostalgia”. Not just because they were classics (John Garfield in They Made Me a Criminal and Chaplin’s The Gold Rush for two), but because their covers harkened back to something that couldn’t quite be reached but would be oh so sweet if you could get there.
I guess it’s the same with what the Planet represented. In those times it was a feat of strength to wake up after a late night and feel no hangover. More accurately, the hangover was there, but you could still get through Sunday family lunch and go out later that day/night. Plus, you’d go past the baguette bar down the road from the club before hopping in a taxi. But hangovers still didn’t feel good. What about the night where I ended up wearing cowboy shooters all over my new very expensive (even now I consider that jacket to have been way too expensive) jacket? The sickeningly sweet pre-mix drinks, as well as the bravado and arrogance of people jostling each other at the bar to get those drinks. And the things those bathroom attendants must have seen?! I remember Bette Midler shuddering on stage when she recalled the ‘70s. “Running makeup, running stockings,” and watching a group snort a shag rug after she accidentally overturned a tray of cocaine. The last may not be true, but it makes the point. There’s something exciting and liberating about not knowing your limits; but what about the self-doubt, the loneliness of adolescence and young adulthood? Again, completely not unique, but oh so acutely felt.
The street had a lot of memories. There were other clubs there we went to that have made way for all sorts of things. Yes, there will be time for more reminiscing. However, at that moment, walking past that nightclub on the way back to Saturn, there wasn’t time. There was a nightcap of Tia Maria to drink at home and a BBQ to go to the next day.