Monday, March 10, 2014

A Brief Interlude on a March Night

It was done on a cold March night in another place and in another life. It was a cold March night, chilling, wet, slightly suspect. Tonight? Another March night, three years later. It seems like an entire life time ago, March 2011. In the of my young son, the difference between then and now is exactly twice his lifetime ago. It's a testament to how swiftly time moves and the vast amount of life than can happen in such a short span. I have no perspective on March 2014, I'm still living it. I do, however, have some perspective on March 2011.

Before I bore you to death, I will tell you that this is not a piece of memoir. This is not a piece of sentimental drivel. This is not really even about me. This is about a few things I know about. First, I could say it is about the bar. Truth be known, I lived the bar life a few times: The Green Goose in the summer of 1991. I lived The Thin Man from 2001 to 2004. I sat with my elbows at bars in the interceding years, Cafe Netherworld in 1998, The Gypsy in 1999 and 2000. Che's in 2005. The PS Lounge from 2007 to 2010. The Commodore from 2011 to 2013. And for a few brief meetings, The Lovecraft Bar in 2013. As it stands, The Lovecraft is the last love affair I had with a bar, and I would still be seeing it if I weren't here and it weren't there. The punchline here: I've spent a great deal of my time in bars, both as a worker and as a patron.

Consequently, I have spent many hours writing characters who have done their dues either working or drinking in bars. My novels, Dysphoric Notions, Undertakers of Rain, namely but a recent short story, “Ocean into Cotton Candy” and a chapbook, “Cocktails and Consequences” are all barroom driven. These are just the pieces that are published. I have dozens more. I don't exactly know how the bar became such a important part of my life. And anymore, I drink so seldom that I cannot recall the last time I've walked into a bar.

I think writing about the barroom, and the bar conversation is utterly cliché at best, and lazy and despicable at its worst. I don't know if it's because I've been in too many bars for too many hours, or if it really is the basest of places to write about. All of you Bukowskis out there, all of you Lowerys out there, all of you Hemingways—be wary of the bar, the drink and the bar stool conversations. They're not that interesting, they're cumbersome when drunk and when sober, well, fuck off.

Where does this leave me? Have I just denounced all my work, all my hours, all my bars? No. No, again, no.

What's the motivation to write about a bar or a barroom scene? Well, who knows? I know this, every barroom falls into one of two categories for me: I either worked there, or a I drank there. In the case of the former, these places can make familiar settings for stories because I have spent so much time there. At the end of my Thin Man days, I knew every crack in plaster, every stain on the bar, and every mixed and matched tile in the men's room. But in the case of barrooms I drank in, they only have two things in common: there was booze in each and I felt comfortable there. None of my bars were especially “nice” nor where they especially unique. And a funny aside here, I have not recorded a single one of my bars in either words or images.

So, please ask, why even bring it up?

I don't know why the barroom is as important as it is. And oddly enough, I don't know why barrooms get so fucking perverted these days. How often have you walked into a bar and the place is overrun by TVs, sports, loud music or naked people? Have these things taken something away from us? In Denver, where I live, all bars seem to be sports bars. Sports bars have their place. The conversations there are limited to whatever is on one of three hundred TVs. The loud dark bars are fun too, but there is no conversation there. No conversation, there is no character.

Before we walk away, or stumble away as it may be, from the bar, I have one thought.

How many outlandish stories have we heard in bars? There is always someone spinning a yarn, telling a tall tale, or outright fibbing in bars. I dare you to write someone else's yarn. I bet it comes out of the bar and to life. For instance, I once talked with a coworker named Jordan about boats. He was a great joke teller, storyteller, yarn spinner. His story went from boats to a friend of his who went on the bender of all benders while on his boat. I guess the friend left Seattle and didn't stop the bender for a couple of weeks and landed up in Ft Bragg. That's what I mean. I heard the story in the bar and the story itself was about a third party, and out of the bar entirely.

This interlude is insidious, really. When I read submissions at Umbrella Factory Magazine I'm astounded at how many writers choose creative writing class, and an actual barroom conversation as a story. Boring. Yawn. Drink as much as you want. Be in bars as long as you can. If this is all you know, and they tell you to write what you know, well perhaps it's time to know something else.

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