OPPONENT: Being awake when you should no longer be awake.
AGE: Late teens to mid twenties.
VENUE: Bars. Or the areas around bars. Or the walk home from them.
MEASUREMENTS: There is something to be said for Last Call. Some sort of wisdom that’s passed genome to genome, rooted well below the logic at hand. An acknowledgement from the quiet universe, that there are always multiple ways things can go. Always options and outs, that present themselves in any event, that you can take or not.
There is no need to assign any moral function to these moments, although it’s much more fun if you do. As in if I hadn’t changed my major to Norse Mythology maybe I wouldn’t be making coffee from hose water right now. Morals make it a game you can win or lose, be in the gods’ favor or no.
The alternative perspective:
That you just pass from one random locus of time and space to another.
That when you try to put your thumb on anything, that anything just spills out the sides like evacuating ants. The harder you press the smaller, and greater number of pieces, of that something which once you saw as whole.
That any spot you land on is perhaps the exact same spot folded. Occurring on many plains, all at once, with some small difference from one to the next. Making even a dull moment an infinite study on the effect of microscopic variations in the equation of a single thing.
(And if you’re not the type to learn a lesson easily the ﬁrst time in this dimension, imagine how many times it will take the multiple you in multiple ones 😦 )
And let’s not forget to mention the “quantum logic” that nothing in our house of laws applies to the ground we built it on. Down there, up is not up. A tiny tiny tiny tiny apple will not fall on Newton’s head.
That the bedrock of everything we know is the failure of how everything we know works.
(In fact, next time you see a quantum theorist just gut sock him immediately, and with particular venom whisper into the back of his down turned face to quit his thoughts now and forever. To spend the rest of his days making you a helmet or a pill where even if you are a debt ridden consumer cog, you can be Thor at the same time.)
Last Call is a structural out. A social agreement that’s built into the moment, so you can say without shame- time for bed. And if you decide otherwise, well, that’s pushing yourself away from the boat. Things will swim around you, and under you, and bump, and nibble, and sometimes take a chunk. You won’t always know they’re there. And you won’t always come back.
I grew up in a town with as many bars as churches. There were two colleges- a state frat party school, and an inordinately expensive private school chock full of Long Island kids with shit GPA’s, whose parents could afford a few houses worth of education, but didn’t have the family brand to itch where the ivy league needed to be itched. Also for your consideration: two division one sports programs, a minor league baseball team, bitter townies and out of work bikers.
The churches in town were spread out, the bars were not. Most were collected amongst a short stretch of downtown storefronts, which by day were quaint and ﬁt the type. There was a local owned-by-the-richest-family-in-town department store, a real bagel bagel shop (sorry Kansas, that’s bread), a video store where your friends worked and snuck you soft core movies (pre-internet gold), two real pizza pizzerias (all due respect but no, Chicago, that’s also bread), a comic/porn magazine cigar store (where you could read about the uber tight ass mores of heroes in spandex, or catch a cover of Butts and Nuts and really expand your world view), and an actual store where there were actual in life video game machines that were bigger than you and your actual in life friends (a drug front of course).
But in the evenings those stores shut off their lights and let the street lamps rule. And downtown shifted one half street over, to a back alley sandwiched behind the bars and a never ever full two story parking structure. All night that alley was the social equivalent of some post high school hallway.
But after last call, man, walking down that alley was like swimming in the Galapagos. The entire melting pot of fratboys, baseball jocks, sororities, townies, city kids and every level of the spectrum would condense and pool into that ﬁve hundred foot stretch. It was chock full of tiny whirlpools and currents of unfocused love, unfettered drunken rage, and unexplored
subconscious whim. It was a bouquet of blood brawls, sweating bile, ubiquitous piss.
When I delivered papers as a kid, in the pre dawn I would toe through that alley in the aftermath of happenings I couldn’t imagine. As a mentally ill teen I would cut a straight path through the after hour madness, as though it were some Iroquois ritual to become a man. As a townie in- between numerous college stints, that alley became one of the only places I felt in place.
It was a parenthesis of now. When you threw yourself over to the chasm of the random smallness of things. And felt as big as anyone. When you would spill over your personal conﬁnes, stretch, blot and expand into space. And when it was low enough, try your damnedest to wipe the grin off that fucking moon.
When I ﬁnally lost home, that alley came with me. I would ﬁnd it in brief moments or shifting scenes. It would appear like a house of fable, and I would catch some stench or howl, and know that for realsies. Shit was about to go down.
My father could ﬁght, or so the stories go. He liked a good throw down with sailors. In conversation, he liked to slip in a weighted cunt or fuck in very inappropriate settings, if he measured someone’s sum as close to one of those things.
As for me, not so much. I can’t land a punch in my dreams. My arms are stone replicas with feather duster tips. My subconscious symbolic manifestations of envy, fear, and shame (usually a shark or former professor or former lover or an amalgam there of) literally laugh at my pathetic right hook.
Also, early on, I had a body built by biking, so you know, massive upper body strength. Later, I had a body built by not biking and beer.
Me (16) v. BBB (Black Belt Bouncer- 20ish).
Did I try to get into bars even though if you slapped a weave on me I could easily use the girl’s restroom at a junior high? Yes. When I didn’t get into those bars did I verbally berate the person only doing their job with language gleaned from years of an adolescent addiction to Vietnam War literature? Of course. Did I agree to take this outside? Certainly. Did I get taken to a small alley separated from friends, where I explained to the man before me that he was in fact right I was not twenty three with an eating disorder but merely sixteen? Absolutely. Did BBB then say you should have thought of that before, and shift my teeth a sixteenth of an inch to the right via a well placed impossibly quick ﬁst? Positively. And then did I fall like someone dropped me, and have my esophagus slowly crunched under boot until I offered a sincere, and I mean you better fucking mean it, apology? Naturally. Did I learn anything from this master class of how not to conduct yourself on this earth? Maybe a decade later.
Me (17) and J (18) v. Cops (varying ages).
The ﬂip ﬂops on my feet were orange and four sizes too big. That’s my excuse, to this day. To explain the night when a quarter of a mile down the road from where J and I had left the bar, a squadron of ﬂashing lights and temple vein volumed voices exploded from the darkness and had us surrounded. And I pulled the walk home beers from my pockets and laid them on the ground apologetically like stolen eggs in front of an unexpectedly large mother. And waited for the shouting voices to manifest into badges and cuffs, and duck my head into the back of a police vehicle.
J was wearing proper running shoes. And he lit out into the night with the all out balls of a man on crack on parole on reality television. The trees that were witness, I’m certain, still whisper the fable of the lanky gangly kid that juked four state troopers, making them slip and whiff on mud patched ﬁelds. To be ﬁnally caught up to in the dead parking lot of a closed grocery chain. Which provided a properly dense surface, for a punk kid’s head to be smacked into by a few out of breath cops with their blood up.
Now, you may not know this, but sometimes strange things come out of your mouth when your skull is repeatedly knocked against a thing not of your choosing. And it was these noises, ringing across the hills from the open mouth of my friend J, that compelled me, hands cuffed behind back, to open the back door of the police vehicle. And shufﬂe hunch backed in too large ﬂip ﬂops, towards the general direction of the fray.
Only to be immediately spotlit, not ten feet from my passionate escape, for a brief demonstration on how to properly bring down a single perp of questionable intelligence, with a small selection of potent blows, delivered by multiple ofﬁcers of the peace.
The lawyer later told us that earlier in the night, the cops had gotten a call. Something about two men robbing something or other somewhere in the area. We were not those men. But we were two men, so you know, close enough.
Also, one of us ran so he must be guilty of something.
Me (21) and University Hockey Team (21-23) v. A Bar Full of Townies from Another Town (varying ages)
Three quick things:
1. Do not drink or live with hockey players. The cold has made their DNA a frozen preserve for the lust of pillaging and plunder. You will not be able to keep up.
2. To start a bar brawl, it is not important what you say, but how you say it. In fact, the words that you use to push someone over the chasm of drunken annoyance to violent response, a surprisingly large abyss, will always seem ridiculous later. Really, you probably won’t remember what the hell those words were at all. You’ll just have to make new ones up after each telling.
So whatever words you go with in the moment (not important), just deliver them in a dime’s length whisper to the face of the largest man in the room with prison tattoos. And then give him a look that recalls every insult in creation, and the assfaces of every soul that ever delivered them. Now, also make sure you’re wearing a beaded necklace, ﬂip ﬂops, and a leather jacket (or something in that vein, feel free to put your own spin on it). Step back, and watch how quickly a well placed catalyst homogenizes a blurry scene.
3. Don’t ever bank on it, but cops will sometimes burst through the door to save your ass when you’ve been lifted, carried, and pinned against the back wall of a bar with your feet left wondering where the ﬂoor went. Even when your ass does not deserve to be saved (seriously, do not befriend hockey players).
Me (23) and R (24) v. Older Townies of the Same Town (Early 30’s)
Accentuate the positives:
- My one successful punch! Rejoice! To the side of the face of someone totally punch worthy. Who called himself “Uncle Tony”. Who would pit stop at every table in the pub with a female member, and use his two oversized biceps as puppets for lame ass come on lines. And it would sometimes work.
- Also, I got a day off work.
Eliminate the negatives:
- Don’t let your friend beat a man repeatedly in a beer chugging contest when the man is buying rounds for the bar because he “recently came into some money by selling a brilliant invention”.
- Don’t let your friend beat a man repeatedly in a beer chugging contest when the man buying approaches every woman in the bar, single or otherwise, and tells them that his wife and child are leaving him, so you know, he and his new found riches are “good to go”.
- Don’t let your friend beat a man repeatedly in a beer chugging contest when the man buying hates losing, is unsuccessful in charming any females with his riches, and has a small cadre of best friends (one named “Uncle Tony”) who number more than you.
- Next time leave the bar before closing time, especially when you have a six am shift at the local fast food donut shop drive thru.
- Next time do not dally, when the scent of mob is behind you. Don’t get separated from your friend, when the man whose-family-is-leaving-him-so-he-hits-on-everything-in-the-bar-and-buys-rounds-all-night is running on the fumes of the lizard portion of his brain. And needs to beat everything that beat him.
- Next time don’t pause and marvel at the fact that you landed a solid punch, don’t savor the sensation of your ﬁst being enveloped by the soft flesh of another man’s asshole face, and for god’s sake don’t expect that to be the end of it.
- Next time don’t forget that a mob is composed of multiple members.
- Next time cover your head when you’re under the winter boots of others. In a beat down circle composed of music professors, mechanics, sales associates. Decent enough people. Sucked into a moment of shared rage, from the dark reality that things never end up how any of us hope.
- And next time quit your shitty fast food job. Instead of showcasing a black eye framed by the drive thru window. All the bosses clucking. All the other employees saying What happened to you? Oh man, I would have kicked that guy’s ass.
One of my pupils will always be larger than the other. I always wear “sprintable” shoes. I never use slang from any war. I stay away from music teachers and inventors in winter. I go out of my way to compliment large men on their prison tattoos. Fresh donuts smell like corporations. In dreams, I ﬁrst try to exhaust all diplomatic options. And as a hard cast rule for a quiet life, I try to drink only with toddlers, small dogs in vests, or completely utterly alone.