A Thirty-Something’s Guide to the Bar Scene, AKA, Stop Going There

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At 18, we become entrepreneurs—our status as legal adults gives rise to lucrative incomes selling Newports and renting out our porno site passwords to teenagers. But at 21, we become socialites; like the Kardashians, except hardly so dignified. Boozing is no longer a matter of screwdrivers in sippy cups downed in the high school parking lot; instead, we sin like Hell’s most legendary hedonists freely in public establishments (the bar, of course, and then Denny’s after). We’re enamored with the bar scene, the lubricated socializing, the occasional sniff of romance, karaoke, barfing, punching people. It reliably becomes the stuff of goofball anecdotes that are sure to impress when recounted later that night, at the bar, again. Just like the ensuing recurrences of herpes simplex that come with them, memories made at the bar will stay with us forever. Sadly, there comes a day when the bar scene ought to be just that—memories, and nothing more. Look aghast, younger readers, upon the face of the buzzkill that shall be your thirties.

This is not to say the old watering hole will someday vanish. It will likely still stand, but it won’t remain the pristine and cherished thing it once was. Just as you dove headlong into a grand new novel experience back when, others—incoming freshmen, if you will—will have come along since to do the same. You’ll at first be taken aback by the vacant, cow-eyed stares of idiot kids who don’t know what “Rage Against the Machine” is, and baffled by their talk of “whippings” and “nae-naes.” Don’t be astonished if you hear the word “creeper” whispered, or more likely screamed, or Tweeted; consider this a useful indication to go home and read a book, or dig up your old VHS dub of a Roseanne marathon, or just cry.  Above all, make an effort not to let it bruise your ego. Instead, think of it this way: you might have similarly treasured your time in the Cub Scouts, but turning up in uniform at tonight’s local Den Meeting would probably be in very poor taste. The Scouts can’t be faulted for their keen sense of Stranger Danger—and this advice rings doubly true for males in their late thirties, the whole of which can’t help but look like sex offenders. Time does that to a man’s hairline. And your ironic Hello Kitty t-shirt isn’t so much hip as it is a red flag. In 20 minutes time, your face will have become a meme, the caption saying something like Michael Jackson Lives.

There’s another reason to shy away from such invitations to idiocy, particularly in the case of townies. The townie, of course, is the sort who’s still kicking around on the same grounds he had haunted decades prior, often in the very same flannels he’d worn in the 10th grade. The North American Townie (Americanus Domesticus Unambitium) has an uncanny knack for falling in again with his own, quite involuntarily. In layman’s terms: you’ll be up to your neck in exes, each one feeling as awkward and resentful as you. What’s more is that, depending on factors such as the reliability of available condoms in the 1990s, there’s a great chance that as you’re eyeing up the pretty little merchandise awaiting her drink, this thought will strike you dead in the chest: Holy crap, could that chick be my daughter? She has my wide hipbones and everything! In terror, your eyes will dart away, only to lock with those of her mother, your ex, who’ll then throw you a stern, knowing glare. Or maybe that pinned-pupil look just means she never kicked her pill habit. Lord knows with that one. She was always nuts. Better stalk her on Facebook to make sure she’s okay. Wait, forget that—buy her a drink. Going home from the bar with a mom and a daughter—can you imagine? So long as the kid isn’t yours, that’s hot stuff!

But perhaps the best scared-straight-home-and-into-bed life lesson you can find here lies not in your juniors, but in your seniors. Most every bar has them: those committed lifelong boozehounds who have never given up on the dream. Should you miss their sagging, weathered skin, you’ll know them still by their flip phones and faded Guns ‘n’ Roses t-shirts. They’ll shake their drunken rumps clumsily, shouting, “Life begins at forty!” But to see it, you’ll suspect the opposite must be true. This is no exaggeration—those who’ve seen a scrawny fifty-something in a miniskirt on the dance floor have sworn, Those were the loose butt cheeks of the Reaper herself. And Death smells worse than I ever imagined.

Young couple watching TV at home at nightWhat are these diehards doing wrong? It speaks to the same thing you, dear thirty-something, have the chance now to do right. Your twenties were a good time, but leave that kind of good time there; grander vistas are in view. You can’t in good conscience go out on a weeknight because all of that youthful job drudgery has finally blossomed into gainful, meaningful employment. You can’t go behaving like some greenhorn kid when you might now have a kid or two, and this time, you’ve had them deliberately. And your kicks aren’t something you’ve got to go out prowling for—they’re at home, in the arms of your significant other—beneath a blanket on the couch, watching Homeland or Bones or what have you. You can drink there too, you know. It’s at once much cheaper and far more rewarding. As a matter of fact, you can relive the good times—sort of—with a fun little drinking game. One shot of Jägermeister for every gray hair found (or two shots for every one lost in the shower drain). And every time you or your spouse unflinchingly mention constipation issues—well, that deserves a Pabst; that stuff will clean you right out. All in all, it’s a great way to prove that your party days aren’t yet behind you. Plus, these middle-aged good times really keep your mind from the fact that, once you both saunter off to bed at 10 p.m., you’re once again too damned tired to have sex.

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