Returning to My Favorite Bar, Sober

 

Have I twerked my last twerk?

The question haunted me as I entered my favorite happy hour spot, the rush I used to feel when the bouncer checked my ID immediately exterminated by my new reality.  I’m sober now.  Granted, I had only been a part-time drunk, an “event drinker” as I liked to call it.  Mostly done with the sweaty dungeon bars and shitty faux clubs of my squandered youth, I saved my drinking for tailgates, game watching parties, the rare house party, podcasting, and of course, Thursday night happy hour.  $1.50 beers until 9:00.  $1.50 decisions until the cover band or DJ packed up their shit.

I went to a party school, albeit a party school with solid academics, where binge drinking was the norm.  Naturally, I continued this process after graduating, the rush always sheathing the comedown.  Mini-depression wrapping itself in the cozy blanket of a hangover.  By the time I finally moved to Los Angeles, I was a seasoned party vet, ready to swing and slide and rage and fuck in the devil’s playground.  Too many episodes of Entourage must have seeped into my brain and numbed me to my true self: an aspirer with grandiose thinking, zero discipline, and crippling anxiety.  The anxiety would almost always vanish with a drink in my hand and a few in my belly.  Every party, every alumni gathering was another opportunity to let my beast out.  One particular evening at my friend’s apartment in Filipinotown, I discovered the raw, joyous power of dancing alone.  Just a drink in my hand, dry humping the void in front of me.  I became my own spirit animal.

When I ejected myself from Los Angeles and returned to my hometown, I neglected to leave the beast behind.  How could I?  I regarded it as one of the best parts of me, perhaps my greatest asset.  Who would I be without it?

A few months after moving home, I got a temp job, which then became a “permanent” gig.  More importantly, I reunited with my old drinking buddy slash enabler, an alpha male type who loved to buy me drinks and “take a lap” around the bar, any bar, to browse the women, most of them semi-recent college grads.  Us, not so much.

Thursday nights were our Mecca.  I would emerge from a semi-secret, free underground parking garage and merrily skip up the ramp, feeling like a superhero.  Tonight, anything could happen.  Tonight, I’ll have my magical meet-cute and sparks will fly, and I’ll live happily ever after.  No.

I have five distinct Thursday night happy hour memories, all with the same point of origin:  our bar.

#1:  Taking a much-drunker-than-initially surmised woman to a diner with us at 2AM, convincing her that my friend/enabler and another friend had initially met each other at a Teen Speed Dating event in Cleveland in 1996, and were now working as various types of male models, then watching in bemused horror as she emerged from the diner bathroom with piss-stained jeans.

#2:  Winning a few hundred dollars on the NBA Finals, getting hammered, and passing out in the back seats of our respective cars, in our underground parking garage Batcave.

#3:  Drinking way too much, again, and passing out together in one car in the Batcave.

#4:  Creating fake personas at a happy hour for a conservative political youth organization.  After rejecting my suggested alias of Terrance Rimmer, my friend selected the preppier Blake Ashby.  We gave up our e-mail addresses for a single drink ticket, even though a beer was already a mere $1.50.  I still get e-mails from them, and I suck at gmail.  I am an unintentional hoarder of newsletters.  A serial semi-joiner.  Make it stop!

#5:  Fence Twerking.  There is a short, black metal fence near the stage.  A cover band jammed, the booze kicked in, and the Beast came out.  I hopped onto the fence like Vega in Streetfighter 2, and twerked, and twerked, and twerked, to a decidedly mixed response.   I channeled my inner cage dancer, and damn it, I liked it.

 

I no longer drink.  Not exactly by choice, which would require a concerted amount of maturity, but because of medication.  Thus, my response to “you want a beer/sea breeze/shot of Absinthe” is a resounding “YES.”  But then I must explain to the generous soul offering me a tempting elixir that I can no longer run with my wants.  That I have to find other ways to let the Beast out of his cage.  That I have strangely become the melancholy man who reluctantly returned to my old happy hour haunt, with a couple of much younger friends, and ordered a St. Pauli Girl.

Non-alcoholic beer tastes like piss.  Non-alcoholic beer is the halfway house of unpleasant beverages.  Just hops, barley, the tears of the Fallen, and probably urine.  But I was determined to push through my new barrier, to cage the Beast but leave the door unlocked, because maybe, just maybe, the psychosomatic effect will kick in and I will be way too much fun again.

Oh Brave New World, what have you done to me?  My first sober foray into my ex happy place swiftly resulted in a few smirks at the sight of me nursing my St. Pauli Girl.  Part of me wanted to slip on Frodo’s ring and become invisible, or sink down, down into my chair.  Then came the real blow.  A bus boy approached me and asked “do you know that’s actually a non-alcoholic beer?  Because people come in here and order that and they don’t realize it doesn’t have alcohol in it.”

I stared at this schlub for a beat, with three possible responses dancing through my brain:

  1. “What if I’m a raging alcoholic, on the precipice of relapse, just trying to get through the day?  Don’t you know how to talk to alcoholics?  You work in a fucking bar.”
  2. “Yeah, I don’t drink anymore” – simple, close-ended, get back to work, buddy.
  3. “I really want to kiss you. You have a kissable mouth.  You know that?”

Although I really wanted to open door number three and make this guy extremely uncomfortable (or perhaps really turned on), I resigned to option number 2, pounded St. Pauli Girl straight to the bottom, and declared “let’s get the fuck out of here.”

I’m not sure if The Ride is over for me yet, but I do know this.  You take the alcohol away and a bar is just a place with walls, people you have zero incentive to converse with, and exhilarating memories now made bittersweet.

But hey, maybe I’ll stick around for the band next time.  They still have the fence, and spirit animals never forget how to bark.  They just evolve.