If you don’t know what this series is about, refer back to Remote Senselessness of this month.
Yesterday I went to Centro, a Latin restaurant/bar here in Boulder, to get some eggplant tacos and a few beers. I should probably add that I have a small thing for the bartender too. I feel bad for people in the service industry, even the awkward ones. They’re in such a captive environment and it is their job to be nice to everyone (especially if they want a decent tip), and many of us (myself included) often mistake their niceness for some sort of connection. I think that we’re either A) starving for connections, or B) think we’ll be the one person that can pick up a bartender/waitress/taxi cab driver/pool boy. I myself have created lofty expectations for folks in the service industry many times. Rarely has it ever worked out, but as they say, hope springs eternal. Maybe this one will stick.
Anyhow, I rarely go to bars solo anymore, but when I do, I typically go sans anything to consume my attention. No book, no phone (yes, you read that right), no Sudoku. Typically if I’m at a bar by myself I’m expecting to meet someone, or I’m simply there to get food and move on. I eat really fast (and choke on my food all the time because of it) so I’m rarely ever there for too long. But while I’m waiting for dinner, I stare. My drink is the only company I need at that time. Anymore these days’ people are lost without their cell phones; it’s sad. But the same goes for a drunk at a bar; we’re lost without our drinks. But once that first beer gets slid across the bar, all is right with the world. Each sip is like a conversation with yourself. The very presence of an alcoholic beverage in your hand shows that it’s okay that you’re there by yourself. But if you stop drinking while sitting at the bar, something is wrong with you. You have one job to do, so bottoms up.
I’ve had some of my best and worst ideas at bars with a drink (all apologies to Homer Simpson who said, “Alcohol is the cause of and solution to all life’s problems.”). I’ve made numerous questionable decisions with that first drink, and countless more with everyone that followed. Yet I still go back to the well. If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again. You may be wondering; have I ever made a good decision after imbibing? I don’t recall. It all gets so fuzzy after a few beers. Let’s just say ‘yes’ and move on. The decisions you make when you drink are like that old children’s book series, Choose Your Own Adventure. Though my adventure typically results in another beer. Yee-haw!
Robert Hunter, the famed Grateful Dead lyricist wrote a song called, “Boys in the Barroom.” It’s short and sweet, and one stanza I like reads:
Jack string fiddle to my sawtooth bow
Who loves loneliness, loves it alone
I love the dim lights like some love the dew
The only thing I wonder sometimes
Does God look down on the boys in the barroom?
So why do we find comfort in barrooms? We all know why alcohol is so darn awesome, but what necessitates us to crawl to the corner pub and post up when we’re flying solo? For the chance that something might happen? That we might make a friend, a lover? Or do we want to see if there are any other sad saps out there without any company?
Yesterday at Centro, when I was imagining that the bartender might actually be in to me, I noticed a handful of other solo flyers. Most were checking their phones as if they had something important going on, or were perhaps trying to add some company to their loneliness, but they all looked like reflections of me (less attractive though, obviously). People that wanted to be in the presence of others, but either didn’t have any others to really interact with or simply just needed some time with their faithful companion, booze. Most of the time (maybe) we don’t engage with others significantly when we hold court at the bar on our own. But sometimes we do. And maybe those times when we’re interacting with strangers, we feel free to be ourselves – or whoever we want to be. These random suckers have no clue. Sometimes I’ll just lie about stuff. Sometimes I’ll be overly generous. Most of the time I revert back to a kid, being playful in my interactions. The drink isn’t just comfortable; it’s like a playground for your mind. You can make believe, goof off, take on new roles or whatever you want under the whiskey blanket (or beer goggles; that’s a whole other tangent…).
I always find comfort in that first drink; usually not so much in the last one. By the time you reach the last one (whether it is #3 or #13), you’ve pretty much come back down from the cloud of potential that you quilted in your mind, or you’ve fallen down a flight of stairs, pooped yourself and embarrassed your wife. Potato, potatoe. I digress. Do we have aspirations for our first drink the way we do for ourselves, our kids, our team, or our morning business? When I think of that first drink, I think it will relax me and invigorate me at the same time. I think that it will let down my guard so I can say all the inappropriate stuff I really want to say. I think it will make you look better. But most of all I think of it as a Secret Santa gift to myself, only one I want and know exactly what will be. I guess that first drink is a gift to yourself. The last drink is usually an insult hurled at yourself. Like: “C’mon! Let’s see if you can be more of an awkward jerk!”
James McMurtry famously sang the line, “I don’t want another drink, I only want that last one again.” I think I only ever want that first drink again. There seems to be so much positive potential in it. But by the time you finish it and get to #2, you’ve realized that all your hopes and dreams from the first beer aren’t going to come true. That’s why you need another. And another. And another….
But that doesn’t stop you from having that first drink all over again the next time you go out. Abraham Lincoln failed twenty times before he became President, so maybe we’ll get it right on our next first drink. Alcohol is the nametag that you want to wear. It’s the sales pitch you want to hear. It’s the mother-in-law you want to drive across the country with. Booze can be everything you want and nothing you need all at the same time. In short, beer (liquor, wine…) is there for you when you need someone to drink with.