The Branch Cafe Club is one of the most interesting experiences you
can have if you're interested in night clubs, abstract art technique,
poisons and nerve gasses or a number of other learning and
entertainment "blocks" or "chunks" from participating in
their quasi-non-optional 14 modules. I say "quasi-non-optional"
because they can't actually stop you from leaving the building before
graduating from all modules but you're really encouraged not to, particularly
because you can only enter the Branch Cafe Club one time (unless you fake
ID cards). All the modules are highly recommended for various
reasons, anyway, and I can't think of how anyone could get through the full
Branch experience without permanent memories that could not be had anywhere
else in such a compact period of time and space.
Once you enter the Branch's legendary grey, unfinished building,
you're conduced to the Instruction Module, one of the three class A modules you
must "chunk out of" before you can experience the class B modules.
Other than that, there's no particular order you must or should visit the
modules, all of which correspond to very large sound- and bullet-proof rooms
that can be accessed from The Corridor, where almost deafening pink
noise is played from hundreds of small speakers everywhere so to discourage
people from hanging out there.
At the Instruction Module, you check out your mundane
clothes (inside small dressers specifically designed for that) and change into the new off-white t-shirt
and pants you must wear throughout your Branch Experience. You can get your
clothes back at the Checkout Room, provided that you display the 14 stamps in
your right arm proving that you've chunked out of all modules or really scream
at the attendant until he gives you the disclaimer document to sign.
(You do keep your Branch uniform as well if you've completed the requirements,
and many people have been prominently wearing Branch uniforms to fashion
shows and similar high-profile social events). You're also informed of what
"chunking out" means – the actual requirements varying
wildly from module to module and most being largely discretionary. Some modules
are actually so entertaining that you must watch for your time if you're going to
make through the entire experience from 6PM to 3AM and make the most it.
The Instruction Module Room also contains a few furniture-less,
dressing booth-like Hook Pods designed for those wishing to have sex in between
Module experiences. Some couples visit the Branch Experience Club together,
though they're encouraged to experience the class B modules separately and
reunite only for sex at a pre-arranged time. The reason they're called Hook
Pods is that they're really intended for strangers spontaneously
hooking up during the module experiences. They've actually been installed since
people started to have sex on the pink noise corridor floor, and still make for
a very jarring experience -- you can't see anything, but you
can hear the noises and see the waiting lines as soon as you enter the
Instruction Module for the first time.
The second class A module is Gymnastics, an unstructured yet strict
activity mostly intended to weed out people who might otherwise injure
themselves at some point of the experience. Gymnastics used to be class B, but
the Branch Cafe Club has been sued by elderly people who've overextended at
activities as innocent as paint tossing. To chunk out of gymnastics, you must
accumulate three points in seventeen "challenges" (easy and therefore
worth one point), which range from running the marked track around the room in
less than the alotted time to veritable feats of physical prowess such as
Double Weightlifting (worth the entire three points and recommended only for
the very physically fit). This is referred as "earning your sweat";
you can use a very high-pressure shower with your uniform on, but must be dry
before chunking out, so most people avoid it.
The Class A section is completed by the aforementioned Paint Tossing room, where you must throw oil paint with your naked hands from a
considerable distance at an initially blank canvas you've previously signed. It
is in this room that the Branch uniforms acquire their characteristic random
ink stains, known in the lingo as "stochastics", and the entire
reason why people haven't been able to produce fakes is that every single
uniform is different in its stochastics. You can and are encouraged to stand
between another person and his canvas to acquire heavier stochastics, but chunking
out is achieved by having your canvas (effectively, your work of art)
approved by a classically trained judge. After you've earned your sweat
and your stochastics, you're led to the Corridor, where you can enter any of
the eleven Class B Module Rooms marked only for a roman numeral in their door.
It is generally considered faux pas to discuss the chunking out
regulations of class B modules, as it's tantamount to bragging about being a Brancher. There's a
Dance Room, as brightly illuminated as any of the other rooms, with a DJ and
alcoholic beverages. Most people leave the dancefloor for the end of the day,
but separate subcultures arise from early dancers (as well from the more
neurotic "driers" who've showered at Gymnastics). Dance is entertaining
enough to fill an entire soirée, but chunking out is intricate, with a
long list of rules posted at a wall. (Many people bail out at Dance and receive
their black X stamp instead of the succesful red stamp with the room number,
and must leave the Branch Cafe experience). There are also the gender-specific
Sexual Progress rooms, where women are taught Kegel exercises and men are
lectured on the various forms of obtaining pleasure with their prostate.
These are actually easy modules, as the only requirement for chunking out is
standing in the back for 15 minutes while listening to instructors in a droning
voice without dozing off.
Some modules are more experiential than others. While on one hand
there's paint tossing and Kegel exercises, there is also Linear Models
(basically linear regression and principal component analysis), a brainier
module with academic testing as a chunking out requirement. There is Haiku,
where you receive the first word at the door, chosen at random from the
dictionary. At Eat, your legs are strapped to a chair by a
large table where foods slowly circulate through a conveyor belt; you're given chopsticks but no plate, and must
wipe your hands on your clothes. (Hand cleanness is the chunking out
requirement of Eat, as examined by a blacklight). There is a module on how
to repair mechanical clocks, which is far less memorable than Spin, where you
must crank a handle to spin a large, heavy wheel until the LED display goes
hard to do justice to all modules. They vary wildly on nature and difficulty,
and overemphasizing the specifics is misleading, since It Is All About The Conversation. It's all about meeting people,
striking friendships and hooking up for casual sex, collaboration (one of
the chunking out requirements of Dance is performing a forty-second solo
routine inside a spontaneously formed circle of people) and having a day
crammed with unusual experiences many people would otherwise take years to accumulate.
more, the Conversation carries onto an ad hoc secret society of sorts,
because you can always see in the glint of an eye that someone has
succesfully made through the Branch Cafe Club. There are stories of people
who have made through corporate ladders exceedingly fast after having worn
their Branch uniforms to a meeting. While the Branch Cafe Club does not intend
or endorse such behavior, it’s really out of their control, although they’ve
copyrighted enough variations of their name to prevent the appearance of
societies styled as “Friends of the Branch Experience” or similar.
will never need such organized efforts, though, and it’s hard for me to explain why
to someone who hasn’t gone through the nine hours of paradoxically free
structure provided every Thursday night by the Branch Cafe Club. If you ever earn
your stochastics, you’ll understand.