Beer and Self-Loathing on Grant Ave.
The night before Thanksgiving is a sacred event in my town — the final eclipse of high school. Summer and December schedules are always unpredictable and shifting so the odds of bumping into people who knew you when you had braces are low. But the night before Thanksgiving is a guaranteed drunken stumble down memory lane for young adults raised in suburban American towns.
I’m sure the three bars in downtown Novato, California make a year’s salary in just that night alone, but the bartender who is currently mixing my rum & coke is surprisingly slow and apathetic.
“That’s that nerd!” exclaimed the jock to his crony with a pointed finger. Following his steroidal index across the crowded bar leads to Ben, the class underdog caught between a conversation with his high school sweetheart and his high school best friend.
Behind them is a gaggle of girls I knew before I even knew myself. There’s my friend Nick’s ex girlfriend who may never know the number of times she was cheated on (19) and next to her is a girl who would snag a stranger's attention on the Facebook for her instantly attractive physique but then quickly murder all ambitions with a simple conversation. (Or lack there of — she’s boring as shit!)
Standing in pod nearby is my oldest friend Trent who I met during our first week of kindergarten after he gave me an Oreo from his lunchbox.
Walking back to my little basecamp beyond the bar was a game of catching eyes and avoiding mines. Some people are worth the three-minute catch-up conversation or maybe a 25-minute beer chat, but others aren’t worth transitioning my peripherals. If that’s mean to admit then I'll accept the jerk clarification but at least I'm no liar.
I landed near a huddle of past peers and what was once Axe Body Spray has been replaced with whiffs of maturity and young adulthood emitting throughout the air — but soon I find myself roughhousing and playfully wrestling an old friend to the ground outside Brown’s Billiards just as a Novato PD officer slithers by.
I’m the youngest of five and my two oldest siblings are ten years my senior; therefore, I’ve been waiting for Nov. 27, 2013 for a decade.
When I was old enough to drive, I was the designated driver of a jam-packed car with my sisters and brother swapping cheap-drink tales of old flames, heroes and zeros. Once, my sister asked me upon our arrival to the parent’s house if I had any pot — now she works in an elementary school! The night before Thanksgiving brings out the demon in all of us.
But this demon isn’t evil — it’s just emotional. It’s had layers of years, memories and therapy piled on top of the carpet where people tend to brush such teenage feelings under. I’ve heard that high school was the hardest of times for people and it stirs feelings of insecurity and doubt whenever it pops up in the rearview mirror.
However, I enjoyed those four years and I like to think it’s because of my family. I received more than just hand-me-down shirts of sharks, musical instruments and wedgies from my siblings. My brother Taylor taught me to never play guitar during a party or use the word “hella.” Upon returning home from a sour date, my sister Keeley drilled into my head the importance of taking care and respecting a woman. And my sister Dylan once charged my friends and me $15 for a ride to the county fair back in middle school, thus teaching me the value of integrity.
Their growing-up experiences shaped and prepared me. I had no idea what exactly was around the corner but I did know what to expect up around the bend. With this preconceived knowledge, I made the most of my time in high school understanding that it's only temporary. But as I sat through my arduous graduation (isn’t every graduation ceremony tiresome?) the lyrics to Bruce Springsteen’s “Thunder Road” rang true— “It’s a town full of losers, I’m pulling out of here to win!” — before “Pomp and Circumstance” was cued.
“Hey! How’ve you been?”
Damn those four and half words. You mouth them but all I hear is I’ve got nothing to say but I decided to say it anyway. I heard that phrase and variations of it all throughout the night and I shouldn’t be so hard on people for their lack for original greetings but the redneck dude who I stood next to in line at Finnegan's Bar was confused after I kicked off our conversation with, “Hey! How’ve you be–, screw it. What was the best song you’ve heard in the last 6 months?” (It was Lynyrd Skynyrd’s “Freebird” and yes, he did in fact turn up the volume during the guitar solo.)
I know I’m the odd one out in this field of weird salutations but I use it as a tool to distinguish between the people I’d connect with versus the ones I’d spend the first few moments of our conversation plotting a strategic bathroom break.
It’s been three years and people have begun to grow into themselves. I would often gander at family photos stationed on the mantel during high school parties (once I stole one of a cheery grandmother… sorry Matt!) and try and predict what the host would look like one day. That day has morphed into now. Some of us grew beards and some of us tried to grow beards then failed but decided that all what counts is the effort and kept their patches like an untended FarmVille acre. There were those that grew with weight and those who must have discovered the power of cocaine. Etnes shoes have been replaced with Sperrys and now everyone seems to smoke cigarettes. Of all the people I caught up with, only one was currently achieving her dreams and goals while having some sort of grasp to their identity. Most others seemed just as lost as before.
Walking through the bar was similar to a lucid dream sequence. You know those dreams when that random person from your past somehow pops into your conscience cobwebs and all? This is that but within context of reality.
I wrote a song a few years ago about one of my Great White Buffalos — a person of romantic interest who got away — and the last verse sang:
“But I’ll bump into her at a bar in Novato on some future night before Thanksgiving/When all your high school dreams can come true.”
I didn’t get the chance to see that particular girl whom I was crooning about there but I did see other women of my past who will continue to inspire me to pop up and straighten my shirt whenever I see them until the end of time. One was my prom date, a woman who would rival the subject in the Velvet Underground’s “Femme Fatale.” And after three years, I can confidently say that things haven’t changed. (The photo above shows us engaged in our typical diatribe.)
But there was romance – though it was short and would never last. Kind of like that fantasy where you’re working late in the library and you meet some attractive stranger and make out but never exchange names.
I did know this girl’s name and I can remember in the 8th grade when I decided that she was the prettiest girl in our Spanish class. She also reminded me physically of Shannon Rutherford from the TV show Lost. My senior quote at San Marin High School was: “I wish I had the courage to ask out on a date Haley Roberts, Anina Walas, Grace Waters and her,” so by now she must have known. After making out, it came up in conversation that she too fancied my company back in 2006, the days of Motorola RAZRs, and I should have mustered the courage and said anything… dang it.
A relationship between us could have never happened in the past because otherwise it would have materialized and a relationship in the future wouldn’t work due to the nature of life. But, for one evening prior to Thanksgiving, it briefly did.
That Wednesday morning I had a dentist appointment at 11:30. As I was preparing to leave the office, the receptionist began the process of scheduling my next visit and posed a simple question: "Where are you going to be in six months?”
I had to stop and laugh a little to myself for I have no idea where I’ll be in six months. I’ll be graduating college and entering the work force and starting my life and discovering success and failure and buying things on credit and cracking the meaning behind whatever the hell a 401(k) is or isn't. I’m at the vanguard of an exciting and intimidating transition and during these bustling times of change, I like to reflect back to previous revolutions in my growth to help provide context.
This is it I thought to myself while waiting for my next drink back at the bar. This is a moment I’ve been waiting to embrace ever since I picked up my sister on this very night four years earlier when she was late because of a late night/past life make out session with some old flame. This bustling moment that’s swirling by in a golden haze is something I’ve been waiting to earn since graduating high school.
I knew a moment of reverie was in order but was this climatic scene supposed to be now, in my town’s swankiest bar during a dull moment of lonesomeness?
I don’t have time to leap frog to the next thought because Matt just showed up and I feel like asking him how his grandma is doing.