Sunday, November 18, 2012

Where Everybody Knows Your Name

The watering hole closed last night. For good. There have been rumors about the watering hole closing since I moved home to Farmsville all those years ago. Ownership changed, the place got a face lift, and still the rumors persisted. But Stupid rumors pop up in Farmsville about everything and everyone. I learned to never believe it until I saw it with my own eyes. Last night, I saw it, and it was really sad.

I must admit that I'm surprised my bar lasted this long in this economy. People no longer have extra money for cocktails -- or really any little perks. In the last five years, I've watched far too many of my old colleagues be laid off from their positions, many of them in their late 40s or 50s, making it even harder for them to find new jobs. I've watched businesses go bankrupt, friends lose their homes, and marriages fall apart under the strain. It's been rough. The watering hole is simply another victim of tough times. But they sure did give it a good run. My two friends who own it now did their best. They're younger than me and took on the bar in their 20s. I never could have done that.

It started on Friday with a text message from the bar owner. She wrote:

"I hope you aren't out of town this weekend..."

And then came the news I've been dreading. It's not that I need to drink all the time. It's about far more than alcoholic beverages (although yes, I do like them, I mean come ON). I'm good friends with all of the bartenders and the owners. I have my little posse of friends that I love to hang out with, and I also love the scattered bar flies that I only see once in a while but know and adore despite all their weirdness.

Bar families are unique. We understand each other in a way no one else can. On a Tuesday night when you've had a horrible day and hate the world, you can stop in the bar and someone will see you and SMILE and be happy you are there and will cheer you up. Someone will play your favorite song on the jukebox, challenge you to a game of pool, or force you to watch some ridiculous show on the television. Suddenly, you're out of your own brain and the never-ending hamster wheel of anxiety. All of your problems are gone, and you're just in the present. Someone is happy to see you. It will all be OK.

I've always loved dive bars. Over the years, I've always been attracted to watering holes where the floor slants and moves with you as you head to the bathroom. The fixtures are from ancient times. The place is most certainly haunted. It's possible that at any moment, the whole place will collapse. In Iowa City, I hung out at the Deadwood. In Portland, it was the Laurelthirst. In Chicago, it was the Red Lion (which also closed because it was just too damn old). At each of these bars, I had a family. I would do homework, write stories, or read books, but there was always someone to talk to. There was always FUN. And yes, quite a bit of drama. Bars would make for great reality shows. Just sayin'.

At the watering hole in Farmsville, I watched people meet, fall in love, and get married. I saw women get preggo and have babies. I participated in birthday parties, funeral get-togethers, Homecomings, every kind of wedding shower imaginable, theme parties, Halloween festivities, graduations. I saw people beat the sh*t out of each other. I saw people get arrested and drinks get thrown. I fell in love myself at that very bar, even though it didn't work out in the end. I made friends and lost friends. But no matter what happened there, good or bad, I always went back. As someone who lives alone and works from home in a small town, the only place to go after 9pm is the bar. I needed that bar just as much as it needed me.

Last night, I didn't want to go out, but I had to. I mean, come on, my bar was closing. I've been having some heartburn problems lately, so I loaded up on antacids and went in. On Friday when I'd been in there, I'd already drank the very last Guinness. I'd been sitting next to the bar owner when she announced on Facebook that it was official. She teared up. So did I. So when I went in last night, the band-aid had already been ripped off. I knew it was over.

It was PACKED. Where did all of these people come from? I couldn't help but angrily think about how if they'd all just shown up like this before, the bar could have made more money and perhaps stayed open. There were people there I'd never seen before. I could barely make it over to the people I did know because it was so crowded. I ordered a vodka drink and felt the burn in my stomach. My body was matching my brain. Ouch. This hurts.

So I did my very best to sit there as long as I could with a brave face. But the vodka was killing me. Star gave me a handful of Tums, but I could feel my belly distending. Why oh why did I think it was a good idea to eat cheese ravioli with marinara sauce for dinner? Who does that when they're having tummy problems? Stupid People.

But this pain wasn't truly heartburn, it was gastritis. I know the feeling when it comes. I've actually been hospitalized twice for extreme inflamed gastritis. The lining of your stomach FREAKS OUT. I have my father's stomach. Thanks, Pa. This kind of pain is unique. It actually hurt to talk to my friends. My diaphragm would push on my stomach when I tried to talk and the pain would shoot out all around my middle. I knew the jig was up. I couldn't stay. I had to yell to talk to anyone, and it hurt too much.

All around me, people were buying ridiculous amounts of alcohol. Everything was on sale for $2, including the top shelf liquor. When they were out of something, they were out. Rabid, drunk strangers were buying Jager bombs by the fistful. I ordered water. I felt the cold hit my belly. Ooof.

The bar owner gave me one of the last T-shirts. I petted it. The other bar owner gave me a bear hug. I thought about all of the good times I've had in that bar. Not when it was like this. Not filled with crazies taking advantage of the fire sale and picking at the carcass. I envisioned the quieter moments when I had life-changing conversations, the silly Farkel tournaments, the times when the power went out and we all sat there in the dark with candles. I wanted to remember my bar that way -- in the good way. So even though I wanted so very badly to stay to the very last minute, I got up and left.

I've always been that girl who disappears from the party. I like to sneak out when no one is looking. That way I don't have to explain myself or give hugs or get sad. So I casually wandered out the door, walked to my car, and drove away. I went straight to the gas station, bought a loaf of bread, two bags of pretzels, antacid pills, and a huge bottle of water. I went home and nurtured my belly. I crawled into bed with my book and the kittehs. It was 11pm. In a way, I was grateful. If I'd been feeling better, I would have stayed to the bitter end, drank a huge mishmash of whatever alcohol was left, and probably started bawling. I don't know how the story ended. I hope it went out with a bang.

Surely, I will see my people again. We'll find another watering hole to congregate at. But it will never be the same. I've moved enough times and been attached to enough buildings that I know once they're gone, they're gone. The history of a place can't be replicated elsewhere. It will be OK. We'll all survive. Time will roll on. But damn, it was good while it lasted. I loved my little bar. I will miss it.


stef said...

oh, my heart.
"my bar" closed down while i was 8 months pregnant with my daughter. i never even got a chance to go for one last drink and say goodbye. i got a phone call from a friend and was totally devastated.
i have yet to find another place like it- i do all my drinking at home now, ha.

i've been reading your blog for months and love it. funny this is the post that has made me delurk. but i totally get it and have felt, and still feel, that loss. over a bar, i know. but still. there is nothing like feeling like you belong somewhere. having a place to go to like that. bar family indeed.

Blondie said...

Thank you, Stef! I am SO glad to know someone understands. :)