Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Family Matters

I may be a victim of my own success.

Last year—somewhat miraculously—I managed to scribe the highlights of the 7th annual 837 Bar Crawl. In the weeks leading up to this year’s event, however, I gave little thought to repeating that output. First, there’s the simple difficulty involved in accurately reporting something so gleefully awash in beer and shots. On the Rocks’ rich archives notwithstanding (I mean, seriously, look at that list in the side bar on the right; nearly five years of drunken mayhem!), having enough material memorized and available for reporting in the days immediately after a night of high-tempo heavy drinking is asking a lot of your cerebral cortex. It’s almost a contradiction; you’re either taking notes, or you’re drinking like someone gunning for that year’s MVP award.

[Note: Yes, this is a real thing. Participants can make nominations in the days following the crawl, with the award winner named by J-Sun and T.C. shortly thereafter. No, I have not won yet. Yes, this bothers me. Much like it bothers Derrick Rose that he hasn’t won an NBA championship.]

Second, as fans who have been around since the early days of those aforementioned archives can surely attest, my writings for On the Rocks have been much more infrequent this year. My free time has been at a premium as of late; and, even when I find a chance to journalize any recent shenanigans, laziness often steals my attention away. I have about four or five unfinished writings that I am continually juggling on my home and work computers. If I ever hit the Power Ball jackpot, there’s a better-than-even-money chance you’ll see at least three stories a week written and posted, right up until my eventual death in a swimming pool filled with bourbon.

(To the police detectives that will eventually work the case: It wasn’t the Thai hookers. Those gals are saints.)

I had resigned myself, then, to allowing this year’s bar crawl to fly under the radar. But five minutes after I walked into T.C.’s house that Saturday night, I started to realize that wouldn’t be an option. As he, his sister’s husband (“Bear Cub”), his cousin-in-law (Po-Po), and I stood in the kitchen drinking warm-up cans of Miller Lite, T.C. began effusing about last year’s blog post. “I read it again the other night, dying. I sent it to everyone. ‘You HAVE to read this!’

T.C. is nothing if not excitable, though—as evidenced by the six-message-long series of mass texts he sent out that morning in anticipation of the night’s festivities. [Note: There’s nothing quite like being 20 seconds removed from a vigorous sex session with a girl you’re dating, both of you panting and shaking, when your phone starts going nuts on her dresser. The look of “I’d be angrier right now if I hadn’t just had all of the strength fucked out of me” in her eyes is something to behold.] Or by Exhibit B: He did a dry run—actually, as he himself corrected, “A not-so-dry run”—of the crawl course on the Wednesday night prior. Maybe, I thought, I should take his enthusiasm over last year’s blog post with a grain of salt. Maybe his excitement was just that: his excitement. I couldn't even be sure that anyone had read it after he sent it to them. I mean, it’s not like everyone’s eagerly awaiting this year’s edition, right?

But, shortly after arriving at the night’s first bar, Pit Stop, J-Sun and I got to talking.

J-Sun: “Tommy sent me the blog from last year—it’s hilarious! I’d forgotten half that stuff! It’s great to be able to go back and relive it all again...”


The night started steadily but earnestly. Bear Cub and I teamed up, buying each other rounds of Miller Lite draughts at Pit Stop, and Miller Lite bottles at our second stop, the Floreffe Hotel. Our 50+ person, black-t-shirted army swarmed the surprisingly roomy bar in the basement of the building, quickly tying up the three female bartenders with drink orders that came at them from all 360 degrees. Earlier at Pit Stop, I had mentioned that my favorite part of the crawl was seeing regulars walk into their small, just-down-the-road dive bars and freeze in their tracks when suddenly confronted with our huge, loud flock. Then, as T.C., Po-Po, Bear Cub, and I stood talking in the Floreffe, that very scenario took place: Two local women, one wearing a bright yellow sweatshirt, walked through the door and instantly halted in shock. They then cautiously waded their way through our crowd, after Yellow Hoodie did a quick double take and mouthed “What the…”

A younger, rather attractive woman at the bar drew Bear Cub’s notice, though only because of her demeanor. “She looks really pissed off that we’re all here right now.” Indeed, she sat alone with a beer, occasionally sneering at all of us in disgust. But I had a different theory about what we were witnessing. I watched her briefly interact with a bartender, who then came from behind the bar to sit and talk with Angry Girl for a while, before getting up again to shoot pool with some regulars; I spotted the symptoms of a jealous lover. “Actually,” I offered, “I think that she and that bartender in the black are lesbians, and she’s upset that the bartender isn’t paying more attention to her. We forced her to go behind the bar to help handle the rush, and now she’s over there playing pool with those guys.” Bear Cub was initially skeptical of my analysis, but a few minutes later he tapped my arm. “Holy shit, I think you’re right!” Angry Girl had now relocated to near the pool table, and vigorously competed against the guys for her “friend’s” favor.

Me:I am the lesbian whisperer.

The next stop on our tour was Scotty’s Bar & Lounge. Last year’s visit was made slightly awkward by a bartender who was as bitchy as they come, despite the windfall in tip money that our drunk-and-happy group represented. Thankfully, this year she was nowhere to be found, and instead we had a bartender who was her polar opposite, and who cheerfully served us drinks. Bear Cub and I took turns ordering rounds of Stoney’s draughts, by now tipsy enough to not think too much about the fact that we were drinking Stoney’s draughts. But the awful beer is part of a terrific tradition, as were the shots of whiskey toasted en masse to the memory of J-Sun’s grandfather. And so is the group photo we took in the rarely-used dining room, on the dusty stage for live music that I doubt is ever played there. In essence, the stop at Scotty’s is the family reunion of the bar crawl. It’s where everyone takes a small moment to acknowledge…well, the moment. Ticking clocks and drink counts become inconsequential; camaraderie and family are the only concern.

From there we moved to Beer Belly’s. Bear Cub, T.C., and I talked by the bar, putting away Yuengling draughts as we did. “Wait…,” Bear Cub said incredulously as he watched a bartender pour a beer from a tap. “That’s the woman—the woman in the yellow hoodie!” Indeed, the older of the two bartenders on staff was Yellow Hoodie, who we had seen at the Floreffe Hotel—less than an hour before that—posing as a common 837 native at odds with our locust-like takeover.

Me: “The fuck?”
Bear Cub: “Did she…pregame her bartending shift?”

Next up: Tim’s Corner Bar…and the realization that I was hitting some rough waters. I had made sure to eat on the way to T.C.’s house earlier in the night, so that I wouldn’t be playing on an empty stomach. But I was putting away beers at an aggressive pace (When in Rome…on a bar crawl…), and my central nervous system was begging for a chance to come up for air. I conscientiously slowed myself down, drinking only two bottles of Miller Lite. I’m nothing if not responsible.

I like Tim’s, but there’s one undeniably fantastic fact about leaving there: You know you’re heading to the Elrama Tavern, the bar crawl’s final location. It’s the stretch run, since the stay at Elrama is the longest of all the bars and their kitchen is open late. If you’ve made it this far without succumbing to attrition, you’re going to finish the race.

Once inside Elrama, I quickly got myself to the bar counter and asked for a menu. After ordering chicken tenders and fries, I returned to drinking my beer and taking in the surrounding crush of exquisite drunkenness. Sitting at the bar next to me was an older couple, probably in their late-40s/early-50s, who were not part of the bar crawl. The gentleman had a wiry-Sam-Elliott look, with straight, steel gray hair that hung just above his shoulders; his wife was short and chubby with a cropped haircut, and carried the overall appearance of a 3rd grade teacher. We exchanged a few pleasant words of small talk. Then, strangely, the wife suddenly rushed to correct a confusion that had never existed. “We didn’t mean…I’m not trying to pick you up.”

I assured her that I hadn’t thought that. I forced myself to blink when they looked away, and wondered if I was so drunk that I’d missed something. Up until that point, I had only considered our dialogue to be polite conversation between drunken strangers sitting at a local bar. And since I have a Ph.D. in that particular field, I felt comfortable in my analysis. …So what the fuck was she talking about? When my food came, though, my attention shifted. I focused on fortifying myself, while the odd couple moved off to another part of the bar.

Bear Cub, unfortunately, was in that part of the bar. And when he later appeared in front of T.C. and I, with a sheepish look that spoke to his violated sensibilities, things became all-too-clear.

Bear Cub: “I just had someone say something racist to me.”
Me: “What was it?”

As you might expect, I was one the few people of color in the bar, and probably in all of this small, somewhat rural community. My guard was up as a matter of protocol, despite being amongst “family”.

Bear Cub: “I… I just got propositioned by two swingers!”
T.C.: “What?!”
Me: “Were they hot?”
Bear Cub: “NO! They’re old! And…”
T.C.: *laughing* “What?!?”
Bear Cub: “They asked if I wanted to come home with them…” *to me* “…And they asked about you.”
Me: “Me? Why?”
Bear Cub: “They said, ‘Your tall friend…is it true what they say? Once you go Black, you never go back?’”

Yup—a victim of my own success.

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