My wife and I have a new son. Needless to say I am spending a lot less time in bars. Even before that, things dropped off as my drinking partner of nearly a decade and a half had to go on hiatus due to concerns over fetal development and such. It has been a bit of a bummer, and I have had a few irrational moments. During one of the early short stretches of sleep I had a dream where all of my friends were in a bar drinking and instead of a valid ID to get in I had a handful of Colorado driver’s licenses with comically obtuse dates on them and cartoon characters where my smiling mug should have been. I guess my fears of fatherhood might be a bit apparent.
Anyway, I have come down off the ledge but I am still thinking a lot about my life in bars. Being a new dad gets you thinking about your own past and what you liked about growing up. When I was a kid, I spent a lot of time in bars, cantinas, and pool halls. I know, I know, I can see your pinched up face. It was the late 70s and early 80s. My father was very young when I was born and I have a lot of uncles. They spent quite a few Saturday afternoons in various bars and would often take me along. I suspect that some of my uncles may have been using me as bait for some of the more sensitive female staff and patrons.
“A little often” seems to me to be better than “too much, rarely.”
Stories that begin with “I grew up in bars” usually have a pretty morose tone and end with meetings of some sort. I guess I am offering the opposite view point. In fact, there is no alcoholism in my family and my experiences are all pretty warm and fuzzy. Some of my earliest memories have to do with the loud crack of a rack of balls breaking and a treat from a vending machine, amazed how the coil of wire dropped out a bag of chips or a sleeve of Wacky Wafers. I can remember kneeling on a bar stool, the cold burning my fingers as I sipped Coke from a frosty schooner, the bartender smiling at me. Darts and other bar games came pretty natural after that.
While vivid and well remembered, these memories are few. My parents were not barflies with a baby. They were young and worked a lot. Maybe, once every few months, I would get to go. My uncle Charlie might stop by to grab me and my dad to head to a local joint where I could snack on a bowl of pretzels, listening to the adults laughing or bitching about work. I really love that I got to be there and see my dad as a “normal” guy.
Of course, as I got older, I found my own entertainment and it became a bit more conspicuous for me to be in a bar. My visits trailed off and my next bar experiences were not until I was legal. I went through a club phase as new bar goers sometimes do but the comfort of the plain old tavern found me. I turned 21 when I was living in Minneapolis and on those cold winter nights a (sort of) quiet beer with friends sent me right back to being a kid except that the jokes and gripes were now mine.
I guess that this whole approach doesn’t fly anymore. Sure, if you are reading this, I expect that you have a pretty friendly attitude toward (or a strong affinity for) drink and its trappings. I like that about you. The problem that I see is that in this world of college binge-drinking and the probably-urban-mythical butt-chugging, the sight of a kid in a bar is considered unsightly and it is probably illegal.
In general, I feel like drinking and alcohol are facing some of their toughest critics since prohibition. The pseudomorals of the easily offended soccer mom and the condescension of the righteous morning news show are building a wall against casual drinking. I am shocked at how often I meet folks who are quick to judge my regular drinking related to my involvement in the brewing and food industry, and they turn out to be terribly irresponsible drunks. I say to them: “A little often” seems to me to be better than “too much, rarely.” I am not saying that I never overindulge, but beer and liquor are not necessarily just tools to get fucked up in a horrible way. I was lucky enough to learn about moderation on those Saturday afternoons spent in a bar with family. I can enjoy one or two drinks, a conversation and the ability to leave the joint under my own control.
I don’t know. I suppose that I will not be able to show this new kid the magic of a friendly bar. He may not even care. It could be something you are born with. As I sit here now, thinking about the bars that I love, what I do know is that a bar and a good group of friends are good things to have and something to be cherished, regardless of what they might say on the news.
Also, if you happen to be waiting for a pool table and I am there teaching my kid how to shoot, give me a break will ya? I am trying to impart something important.