When I was 22, I’d dropped out of college, moved to my mother’s basement, and was underemployed as a part-time copywriter. What I’m trying to say to you is, things were not exactly going my way. I was not climbing any kind of ladder to anywhere.
The only thing I really had going for me was I was very thin, and I took that for granted. I really wish I could go back in time and say to myself, First of all, you really will eventually get everything together. And secondly, will you please appreciate your slender hips?
My point is, I remember picking up one of those free weekly magazines cities have that tell you what bands are playing where, and that feature some local celebrity who really needs to get over himself or herself, and I remember with absolute clarity looking up from said stupid weekly publication and saying, “Maybe I’ll become one of those people who goes to the bar all the time.”
It was one of the only times I’ve ever made a plan and stuck with it.
Pretty much that night, I went down to the cool part of my hometown. It’s called Old Town, and my hometown took a long time coming up with such a clever name, as it’s a couple-block strip of really very lovely buildings from the 1800s that are being preserved and honored by featuring Baby Bud Lites for 50 cents in them and having their bricks thrown up on.
And that was it. For the next year, you could find me following around the band My Dog Bob, or hurrying out for Baby Bud Night even though I never drank Bud (unless I was particularly poor). I never thought I was the bar type, but it turns out BARS ARE FUN! I even met my best friend there: One night, the lights went up, and we were both the types who’d never go home before the lights went up. We knew of each other and said hi. By the following weekend, we went away together for a romantic northern Michigan weekend. Bar relationships are deep, man.
And I wasn’t even that big of a drunk. People used to make fun of me for drinking three drinks and stopping. This could have had something to do with the part where I weighed 18 pounds, but also because I was there to dance, and to see the drama, and enjoy every nuance.
There was a whole cast of people who went out on a regular basis. There was one poor girl I judged because she’d been at the bar 68 nights in a row, and it wasn’t until the 68th night that it hit me that I must have been there 68 nights in order to count her nights. But at this point in my bar-going career, if I didn’t show up, they’d call me at home. “Where are you? You showing up? Cow Shirt Girl is here!”
We had nicknames for everyone. Pancake Butt. The Guy Who Flipped His Hair. The Rodeo Queen. Puke On Your Dick Dave. (Don’t ask.) And we knew who’d dated whom and who’d broken up with whom and it was always fun unless it was our own heartbreak in question. Once, after my best friend and I had our hearts broken and we’d both seen our men in question with other women, my best friend said, “After the lights go up, let’s drive to the hospital where we were born and wish it had never happened.”
She was always good for amping up the drama. This is what I loved about her. So, after last call and all the yelling to drink up and go home, the lights went up. And as we always did, my best friend and I helped put up chairs, and without even thinking about it, the bartender gave us a shift drink even though we didn’t work there. Then we got in the car and drove a few blocks to the hospital where we were both born, and tried to be sad and dramatic and Sylvia Plath-like as we parked under the main entryway.
But instead, the absurdity of it made us giggle and we talked about what time we were going to show up for peanut night the next night. On peanut night, my best friend would throw peanuts down my shirt and command me to make peanut butter. My ample bosoms always riveted her.
Eventually, I returned to school, and while I was gone, my friend met her husband. And for years, whenever I went home, we’d head back to our favorite bars. However, we haven’t been back there this century. It wouldn’t be the same, and I know after about 10 minutes I’d say, “Does it have to be so ding-dang loud in here? Isn’t there a coffee shop we can go to, to hear ourselves think?” Our favorite band has broken up and there’s no way I’m drinking a Baby Bud Light. The worst part is, one of our bars even burned down, leaving absolutely nothing behind.
On my wedding night, my best friend and I went out, really late, and danced under the moon of the empty field where that bar had once been. And no one told us we had to drink up and go home.