Monday, March 07, 2005

A place where no one knows my name.

... a place where no one knows your name.

I go to a place like that.

Every once in a while I just feel like going to a bar. A bar where I can sit atop a stole, drink a beer, eat some wings, and watch the news with subtitles. A place where I can just BE.

Most often, when I go to the bar myself, I go to The Hard Times Café on Route US1. An island in the middle of a parking lot sea, surrounded by strip mall and backed by a bank, the bar isn’t my typical type of haunt. It’s not charming, it’s not classy, it's not shiny, it’s not dark or old or even real. Hard Times is a tiny chain restaurant in an ageing part of Laurel and it isn’t a place I can get a martini. Hard Times has a western theme complete with bullhorns under the TV’s. It’s smoky, kind of dirty, and one of my favorite places.

I can walk into the Hard Times and order myself some wings, a Hop Devil and be happy sitting there alone. More often than not though, alone isn’t a permanent thing. Somehow, someone will say something, and that will usually starts a conversation.

Pubs and bars were created for people to get together and talk. The word Pub itself is short for “Public House.” This is where the Hard Times really shines for me. The patrons are all good, blue-collar working class people. Haven’t met a self important person there, yet they all have a story to tell. They all just want someone to listen.

I like sitting at that bar because I CAN just listen. No one to impress there and almost never am I asked, “what I do,” as if my job defines who I am. No one really cares whom they are talking to; we are all just people looking for a beer. If they want the attention, I’m willing to give it to them. A question here or a comment there is all it takes to encourage a tale or debate.

Edward P. Dowd, from the play Harvey says, people in bars "tell about the big terrible things they have done. The big wonderful things they will do. Their hopes, their regrets, their loves, their hates. All very large because nobody ever brings anything small into a bar.” I like to hear the large things. I like to discuss large ideas.

One of the attributes I love most about alcohol is the instant bond it creates, the brotherhood of booze. Drinkers have drinking in common, and real drinkers embrace that bond. Everyone I meet at the bar is an old friend, and we just need to get caught up. When the walls of sobriety come down, something a little more real happens.

So far, just at Hard Times I’ve met quite a few “old friends.” One man was an Indian born in Africa. His crappy city, which I have forgotten, second largest in his crappy country, which I have forgotten, only had three auto mechanics shops. This man had worked at one of those shops for three years. Required to put in 6 days a week, 10 hours a day for the very occasional tip and for the mere possibility of a future job. Through some miracle his uncle was able to bring him over to this country, and there he was sitting at Hard Times.

We started talking when he noticed me scowl at Michael Moore on the television. He didn’t like him either. What he told me that afternoon, I’ll never forget. He told me that he had just gotten a job at Mr. Good Wrench. After one week of work, they paid him. He said he loved America. They paid him for the work he had done, that was all. He was happy about that. I saw him once again, studying for some kind of mechanics certification. I hope he passed it.

I’ve met a man who is a partner in a demolition company, and heard him tell his tales knocking down buildings. It was amazing to see the pride in his face as he spoke of bull dozers and physics. I spoke with an ex-college professor who now coaches girls volleyball at UM. We agreed on the value of self responsability. I know the man who drives to the local hospitals and picks up all their linen, and his brushes with the law. I know a man who is a teacher’s assistant for problem children, who hasn't given up yet. I spoke with a stereo installer from Best Buy who wants to go back to school. I spoke with... others...

All these people have stories, opinions, and dreams. All of them just want someone to listen to them, take them seriously. I like being that someone.

I like going to a place, where no one knows my name.


Blogger The Management said...

Cheers to you then. Nice post.

2:45 PM  
Blogger bob_vinyl said...

Do you and the volleyball coach agree that the teacher should just give up on those troubled kids and let them be responsible for themselves? I mean, how are they gonna learn to be islands unto themselves if he continues to pick up the pieces for them. Just because we're a society doesn't mean that we can and should rely on each other, does it? It doesn't mean we have any obligations to anything other than ourselves, does it? After all, any responsibility we take on for others only diminishes their self-responsibility, right? We're not really in this together, are we?

12:32 AM  
Blogger The Management said...

Despite the sarcasm and the easy shots at me, actually Bob, the teacher and I agreed on a lot. One of the main items is that, you control your own fate. Kids who screw up at his school have no one to blame but themselves. Being responsible for ones self is not the same thing as being thrown to the wolves, and you know that.

The differences we have always had, is in the levels. Being there to pick up the pieces every time someone falls only encourages more people to be more careless and make poor decisions. By creating systems that allow every fuck up in the country be helped time and time again, only diminishes the resources and level of compassion available to those who truly deserve and need it.


9:27 AM  
Blogger bob_vinyl said...

Seriously, I'm not adverse to the idea of personal responsibility and the value of making good decisions, but I do recognize that we aren't all equally prepared to make good decisions. Those kids who screw up at school probably have plenty to blame other than themselves. The key isn't that they have no one to blame, but that they have to recognize that some of the blame falls on them. How much blame? Well that depends upon their individual circumstances. Now I'm gonna say something nice about America. In America, we recognize that responsibility is based on the varying culpability of varying circumstances. Like anything else, this can go extremes, but it is much better than the black and white judgement that a person is right or wrong in his entirety based on his actions divorced from his circumstances.

11:43 AM  
Blogger The Management said...

I have no problem with varying culpability based on circumstances. I have no problem with allowing people a second and even third, fourth and fifth chances. The problem isn’t the crime and the punishment though. It’s not people being forgiven for their actions and getting assistance even when their situation is entirely their fought.

My problem is that we have very quickly become a culture that ONLY blames others. It’s not my fault I’m fat, it’s McDonalds. It’s not my fault I have lung cancer, It’s Phillip Morris. It’s not my fault I can’t read, it’s the man. It’s not my fault I have poor penmanship, my mommy didn’t love me enough.

There is a time and a place for outside circumstances, but you can’t base your whole existance around what others did to you. People make decisions that put them where they are. I agree, this country more than most allows children and even adults great leeway in their choices, but it has to come with limits. Limits that are being pushed every day. How many hundreds of thousands of choices did it take to get you where you are now. Everything from should I go to college to on 3/39/83 should I go out tonight instead of doing my homework.

Everything we do adds up. One or two, even major, bad decisions isn’t enough to sink your life. Sure people get different hands in the first deal, but it’s what you make of that hand that matters. In the end, no matter how much you cry that the world put you in where you are, YOU the individual made the choices that put you where you are.

I come to Bobapalloza (can never spell that). I get drunk (it’s been known to happen). I knock over something nice your parents have.

It’s not my fault, you provided the beer. It’s not my fault, you invited me. It’s not my fault, everyone there expected me to drink. It’s not my fault, it rained so we all came inside. It’s not my fault, my genes make me predisposed to drink.

Bullshit, it’s my fault. I picked up the beer. I got drunk. I fucked up.

It was a small decision, small problem, something I would do my best to fix. However if I did that every time you saw me, how many times would it take for you to blame me and stop hanging out with me (maybe once, twice).

Being free means having the freedom to screw up. Eventually though, society is going to have to protect itself from a citizenry that takes no responsibility for it’s actions. When that point comes, our freedoms will be limited because the people won’t be trusted to look out for themselves. Freedom requires accountability.


1:08 PM  
Blogger bob_vinyl said...

Remember that fault isn't all or nothing. Phillip Morris sells cancer. they are responsible for people getting cancer. Of course, so are the dummies who start smoking (especially our generation and after). The same goes for McDonalds. That food is probably worse for you than smoking. We're responsible to think about what we put in our bodies and anyone who's thinking about it doesn't start smoking and doesn't eat too many meals at McDonalds. So I agree that we're responsible. But Phillip Morris and McDonalds have used the (unfortunately) considerable powers of marketing to sell it us, to encourage us to consume their horrible products. So consumers aren't off the hook, but companies encouraging us to do what they know if gonna kill us shouldn't be off the hook either.

4:43 PM  
Blogger The Management said...

My problem with that, is once you assign blame to someone other that the individual, your choices and freedoms get restricted.

Say I agree with you. Fine, through advertising McDonalds has a certian power over you. It's not overt but there, I'll agree to that. If that's the case, to protect us helpless individuals, the government steps in and tells McDonalds that since Americans are too dumb to know they can't eat 5000 caleries a day (ala Supersize Me),McDonalds can't sell anymore double cheese burgers.

What if I want a Double Cheese Burger? Now I CAN'T HAVE ONE? I like double cheese burgers (actually just the pickels really), however now I can't have them because others don't want to limit their visits to the Golden Arches. Is that fair? Punish everyone because others can't control themselves (starting to sound like my 2nd Ammend. argument).

10 years ago that example would have been the silly extreme used in an argument about Government interference. Now it's likely to happen.

Tabacco, alcohol, fast cars, loud music, angry music... Where do you stop?

Phillip Morris sells cancer. I wanna buy cancer! Thank's for taking away any choice I have in the matter. I'm glad you know best.

If you can start taking away an individuals accountability, accountability will be placed elsewhere and rights and choices will be curtailed.

Not in my America. I still like being free.


9:12 PM  
Blogger bob_vinyl said...

Who said anything about taking away your right to a cheeseburger? I'm not saying that they can't sell you a cheeseburger, but I am saying that they share somewhat in the responsibility for you having a heart attack if you eat there three times a week. Not as much responsibility as you, but some. To ignore the responsibility of outside forces (whether it's McDonalds or another company or whatever) is just as bad as ignoring the responsibility of the individual.

The idea that someone who gets cancer from smoking is entitled to millions of dollars is ridiculous, because it fails to take into account that person's responsibility for smoking, but perhaps tobacco companies are responsible for some share of cancer treatments. Otherwise, my health insurance goes up, because some idiot wants the freedom to smoke and a company chooses to profit on that.

9:56 PM  
Blogger bob_vinyl said...

The trouble with your position is that you see the solution to the current swing away from personal responsibility to be isolating all responsibility on the individual when the individual is subject to countless influences that affect his decisions.

9:59 PM  

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