If John Waters can be John Waters, I feel honor-bound to be myself. I’ve just been enjoying his book Role Models, although I’ve never had any interest in his films. He has a chapter on fashion that drove me to wear lemon and khaki. I just felt like it. Later in the book, he has a chapter on challenging bars that was equally inspirational.
I went to a bar that I hadn’t been to in a long time. My last visit ended with an intoxicated friend losing her car keys. I mean really losing them, so that I’m not sure they were ever found. Maybe that was why I hadn’t been back.
Saturday, though, I returned, to those swirly epileptic lights encouraging dancing, and horrible charcoal indoor-outdoor carpet, and a sweet bartender who was trying to make my companion’s drink palatable by adding orange juice.
The rules of bars were difficult for me to learn. Where can you get wine (my favorite)? Where can you get a martini? Peer around the bottles, and look for an appropriate glass. Waters is in a different class from me– I don’t attempt biker bars or strip clubs– but I do love the democracy of drinking, among drinkers, and the democracy of whiskey. There’s nowhere (I’ve been) that you can’t get a whiskey neat, and it’s never going to taste weird.
In 1947, Simone de Beauvoir traveled across America drinking whiskey and looking really good doing it, I’m sure. When my doctor was suggesting red wine might be out (migraine trigger!), I pondered taking up whiskey full time. At least it would be very de Beauvoir. But whiskey is sometimes too much. It’s like wearing a red dress. It’s harsh, gets you a lot of attention, and you need to wear makeup so it won’t bring out any blotchiness in your face, and dull shoes to keep from looking like a hooker. Sometimes whiskey and red are just too much.
I like to sit in a bar and wonder how many people are miserable. Who is secretly seething at his friends? Who is about ready to dump her date? You’re supposed to have fun on Saturday night, and many people must fake it. It’s so tragic to see people trying to have fun, trying to relax, or trying to be cool. One plus of being at work is that you can be miserable, and it’s universally considered okay.
My favorite is to watch people in a mirror. A mirror over a bar is great. While you appear to stare with sophistication into nothing, you actually study everyone’s posture and gestures and clothes. Try to figure out how people know each other. You can do this in a restaurant, too– it just seems weirder, and it’s harder to concentrate while you’re eating. You have to look at your food.
People are badly behaved in bars, true. They step on your feet, spill beer on you, entrap you in obnoxious conversations, make strange demands. The bad behavior and potential boredom in a bar is the cost of a more open social situation, where someone you don’t know can easily begin conversation, or suddenly and without introduction try to dance close to you, maybe succeed, and it doesn’t matter where they live, or what they do, or the fact that you have nothing at all in common.