31 January 2018

Frankie & Cat Stevens - When I was a Drunk in a Bar

Order another round Young Polk.
I used to frequent a local hole in the wall bar near my house when I was in my early 20's called Shuffles. The food was outstanding, homemade perogies and cabbage rolls with so many more amazing dishes I get hungry remembering them; it was a fine but simple place with the usual macro beers on tap and some decent but not pricey liquor. The proprietors were friendly people who remembered your name and were a part of why you stopped in as the cold beer you craved. Much like Cheers, it was indeed a place that felt like home and I would drop in almost every day after work to read the paper, have a little conversation and a $5 mini pitcher or 3 of whatever was on tap, more often than not Canadian or Coors light. It was when you could smoke in bars and the blue haze along with a juke box filled with classic rock, country and the odd 90's hit made it feel like a basement hangout, just with a motley crew of East End Hamilton's finest degenerates.

  Becoming a regular in a bar after my divorce caused me to move back home again at 23 wasn't what I had envisioned my life being but I quickly grew to love that feeling when I walked through the doors every day. A couple of my Uncles had long been patrons and many a night I spent at their sides, drinking a few pints and shots, listening to old tales and feeling like I had found my place. I was hurting bad inside from the break up but hadn't really been into drinking for so many years that I didn't see the slide begin. And when I did, not only was it too late, I didn't care any more.
  Many times we made last call and after the door was locked, dimmed the lights, pulled the shades and kept right on drinking. Like I said, we were degenerates but we gave a shit about each other and didn't want the party to end.
  One guy in particular still stands out in my memory and I am certain I am being nostalgic and seeing it with beer covered glasses but he was one of those people you don't forget. His name was Frankie and he was the most regular of the regulars, there when they opened, home for a meal and back again. Slumped against the bar in a legendary pose, smoke in one hand, beer or shot in the other, he would opine about any subject and I often spent my time listening to his glorious drunk talk about loves won and lost and life lived on the outside of normal. We would head deep into that zone only real drunks know where you think you're figuring it all out and wake the next day with the feeling that everything you said was bullshit but that didn't matter because we were getting close. Searching for answers at the bottom of the bottle and not finding them didn't mean we would give up, it meant we would get another bottle and look again. But what I remember most is the music he would pick as his time at the bar wound down, almost every day. 'Father and Son' and 'Wild World' from Cat Stevens are burned into my memory for life as both sides of the same coin. Struggling with the end of what was supposed to be the grand love story of my life, not knowing where to turn next and having little in the way of direction, I felt the loneliness and longing in each note he played. Drunk is no way to try to process life's big questions, but what did I know then. Looking back now with a lifetime of beautiful and sad memories I can feel a tear and a smile at the same time because I know it turned out okay even if I had no way of knowing it would.  
Still on rotation in my house.
All the feels.
These two songs always get me no matter what I am doing or feeling, they make me want to remember the times I forgot because I was so deep in the well of depression and self loathing but medicated by booze and beer to the point of pure inebriation. There exist no pictures from these "legendary" times as it was the mid nineties, long before digital cameras and smart phones had us documenting our entire existences. Part of me is grateful for that but there is a longing for a snapshot or two of those times just so I can prove they really happened.
  Frankie was probably a lonely man with lots of friends and I'd be lying if part of me doesn't wonder if I will ultimately end up on that same path. Searching for answers that I don't even know the questions to while drinking myself into oblivion has some pull, even now after the last 3 years of trying to calm that beast inside me. I've worked hard to leave that guy behind me but when the stress of everything life throws at you points you to the bottle and you know it will make you feel good, even temporarily, that's hard to say no to. Even knowing the problems don't go away and in fact could be made worse by drowning them in drink doesn't faze the dark Polk that I know lurks down inside me.
  Choosing life and knowing I don't want to go back to being that guy again has to be a conscious decision. I ponder every beer I drink and try to enjoy what it brings to the glass without pounding it in search of the darkness again. I miss my bar fly days but only in that way we all look back on the simpler times when a beer was a beer and we drank because that was what you did, feelings were for wimps and smokes were cheap. It wasn't better, but it just was who we were and what we knew. Things are different now but part of me does long for a time when I didn't care because it was so much easier to just let go and get bombed.
  I'm not looking to recreate my youth, just ruminating about the times I was so close to just letting my life slide into the haze because it is floating in the ether of my mind and won't let go until it is written. I don't hide behind the booze or drugs, I bring that beast into the open and expose it to the light to kill it and take back my power over what leaves me powerless. It's a good day when I stay in control and the more of them I have, the more I want. Moderation is my watchword now and with a little luck and some attention to the triggers that drive me to over consume I may not end up that old guy at the end of the bar playing songs to bring back the memories only to drown them in my glass.



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