We’re not supposed to go to bars any more. I have learned this from substance-abuse do-gooders. They’re curious folk. Most of them seem to gobble Prozac and lithium and Xanax and Zoloft like starving anteaters in a termite nest, but they never abuse substances. They spend half their time in therapy. They can’t fry eggs without a mentor and a support group. But they worry about bars, which they suspect of selling beer. (Stray thought: When did beer get to be a substance?)
Maybe there’s such as thing as doing too much good.
Funny: As I look back with satisfaction over a misspent life, I notice that a lot of my best memories happened in bars. Sometimes it was a country-and-western honkytonk up a holler in Tennessee, with a big neon Budweiser sign glowing red in the window and a friendly bar maid with a sunny smile and a couple of pinball machines. Sometimes is was Linda’s Surprise Club in Bangkok, heisting Singhas with old friends from other lives (which do-gooders don’t seem to have) and stranger times, flirting with the mama-san and telling war stories. Or maybe it was the press bar in Nairobi, with some guy from Reuters telling about walking into what he thought was a traditional dance but turned out it was machete fight, see, and?.
I figure people who hang out in low dives and back-alley beerhalls are just flat more interesting than people who don’t. “So there we were in Snake Alley in Taipei, and O’Toole, he’s this big doofus Irishman with a parrot on his shoulder that he bought somewhere, well, O’Toole picks up this hooker with three thumbs–yeah, it was a mutation or something, and?.” The stories are mostly true, which is the damndest thing.
But it’s always a bar, or other venue equipped with brew. Somehow I don’t think it’s a coincidence. Pubs and dram houses are where folks laugh and remember the wild places and crazy times and generally celebrate the occasional splendor of this otherwise sorry existence. Bars have humanity to them. Nobody ever said that about offices.
You get couples two-stepping and guys in cowboy hats swapping lies with their foot on the brass rail and usually there’s smoke in the air. Air doesn’t smell right without smoke. The women look like women and the men look like men in bars. I mean real bars, not yuppy fernatariums where the little sogs talk about their feelings. In a real bar, usually you got a couple of guys shooting pool with their girlfriends over by the juke box with cigarettes hanging from the corner of their mouth. That’s how it ought to be.
In good bars, there’s usually music. Maybe a purple jukebox wailing about fast cars and faster women. Or a blues outfit telling of hard times and knife fights in a thousand gin mills in Depression-era Chicago. Or a bluegrass outfit picking and planking songs about bad divorces and sorry paychecks and yore cheatin’ heart and how Mama got run over by a big old train. Bar music is funky down-home stuff: blues, C&W, rock, raw emotional music that’s been there and knows how it is. I claim it represents a good slice of what’s worth keeping in American culture. It’s the stuff of real life. That’s why people listen to it.
I listened to classical when I was a kid. It was what the hippopotamus danced to on that Disney show. And I admit it: Beethoven was pretty good for a deaf guy. But that’s like saying ol’ Charlie was a pretty good running back, except he was blind and didn’t have any legs. I figure the Europeans listened to Beethoven because Little Richard hadn’t been invented.
Now, some people in bars do abuse beer. They overdo it, turn into drunks and messes and run over people in their cars. They shouldn’t. No doubt about it. But if you’re stupid enough, you can overdo anything. You can eat till you look like an unused breast implant with legs and have a heart attack every ten minutes, or max out six credit cards at eighteen percent, or put too much torque on a head bolt. That doesn’t mean you should stop eating, or not use bolts and keep your cylinder head balanced on the engine block and drive real slow over bumps so it doesn’t fall off. How much sense does that make?
Sez me, beer has its virtue. Always has, always will. Fact is, this world doesn’t amount to much unless you give it a little amplification sometimes. You have to encourage it. The dross is there, but you can find bits of gold. For starters, take good companions, a pitcher of malt lubricant, add a good blues harmonica that sounds like broken hearts or a cat fight, depending. Or a country band singing philosophy like, “Life’s an Infomercial (Actual Results May Vary.)” Toss in a slab of ribs and some really raunchy barbecued beans and a plate of fritters.
Now, that’s meaning. We don’t get a whole lot of it.
Tell you what. If you want to sit around your living room and drink designer water with grimly nice people who avoid second-hand smoke and dress carefully and have the personality of potted plants, it’s your business. You’ll probably live longer, though I’m not sure why you’d want to.
But I hear The Towering Bouffants, one of my favorite bar bands, are playing old rock at Whitey’s tonight, and I’m gonna go listen. And heist a brew or two and eat a great big greasy bacon cheeseburger with ketchup running out of it. And when my time comes to leave this curious world, and PCS out of wherever we are, I hope I go to the great C&W dive in the sky, where they have barbecued ribs with really good sauce and maybe a little garlic, and an unending tap of Bud and people laughing, and a good-pickin’ band and the gals twirling and two-stepping around the floor till a dawn that never comes. That’s heaven.