Friday, April 16, 2010

Last Call before Closing Time?

There was a bar, Olde Queens Tavern, steps from the Rutgers College campus in New Brunswick, New Jersey, that had been a hangout for decades when we wide-eyed wonders arrived in the fall of 1970 (when the drinking age in NJ was 21 and we were not) and we adopted it as our own. Maybe it's the fog of war or the haze of alcohol but I don't remember ever seeing people in there who didn't look like me when I went in there.

I think we drove the previous crowd out and, in turn, were succeeded by I don't know how many succeeding student-scholars (if wet tee-shirt contests and dropping shots of whiskey into beer glasses is on the syllabus). The folks who ran Olde Queens, and probably still do, were always very patient with us, and much more kind than they needed to be (in light of our age and the terrible fake IDs we all had) in moving us out when it was to close up. Some of us, I think, probably didn't go home, or have homes to go to, but leave we did.

Long before Joseph Heller, Closing Time was a state of mind and an attitude check. I'm grateful I don't remember more of some of those nights and the state I was in and I am grateful beyond words for somehow not succumbing as a result of behavior that went well beyond 'youthful indiscretion' without harming myself or anyone else. The old man I've been sentenced to become never existed in the fevered fantasies of the young me and I am still amazed how I well I survived that person's excess as if that were, itself, a success. What I do recall makes me shudder and I strive to recall as little as possible for as long as possible.

I was thinking about that yesterday afternoon coming home from work driving through what passes for downtown Norwich as what was left of one of the four rallies the TEA (taxed enough already) parties staged in all of Connecticut was starting to wind down. There were still a fairly large number of people in the area where it had been held and a lot of them looked like one another and looked like me at the same time. I suspect we have more in common than what separates us, but judging by the signs and the horn honking and exchange of looks with people who also looked like me and the TEA party people but who most certainly aren't, we're not going to make any serious effort to bridge whatever the gap may be anytime soon.

We used to joke as little kids that 'sticks and stones may break my bones but words will never hurt me' but that is, as we all know, an absurdity and a lie. Words can and do hurt, wounding in a way unlike any other weapon ever can, without leaving a visible scar. And after the echo of the last of the words has died, all we have to do is go on living with ourselves and the consequences of what we have done to one another. "When the old men do the fighting and the young men all look on. And the young girls eat their mothers meat from tubes of plasticon. Beware of these, my gentle friends, and all the skins you breed. They have a tasty habit - they eat the hands that bleed."
-bill kenny

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