I am not an alcoholic, but that is thanks in part to the cost of a drink in a bar in LA. I could’ve always had one more if my pocketbook were deeper. There was a period of time between college and when my kids were in secondary school that I don’t recall entering a bar. A dozen years or so went by that induced anxiety over how to enter, what to wear, what to order if I didn’t just want a beer. I am not an alcoholic but that is because I prefer to consume in the company of strangers, putting on airs and being someone I’m not. Quite.
My college experiences were unremarkable and likely indistinguishable from most. But when I started reentering bars, I was trying to stay married. Trying not to strangle my then-husband. I credit the bars in a few white-bread suburban enclaves of LA that allowed me to do just that until my kids were on their way to not being kids anymore. The experience was more effective than couples therapy. Rediscovering myself while I numbed my brain to the toxicity of a marriage that had occurred when I was far too young to understand the concept of forever.
I remember the first time I went to a karaoke bar and the KJ handed us a beer-sticky songbook and we laughed. No way in hell. But it was precisely a way through hell that this Virgil was offering. I made my way back to the kindest, most open-hearted KJ in a down-and-out sports bar in a mountain suburb reminiscent of South Park. Without someone who encouraged you to come back up and sing a second time, who would bare her soul in front of a well-lit bar of strangers? That KJ created a warm Cheers vibe that added to our incredible debt load but kept us lubricated enough to keep from hurting anyone. While Jon Stewart and Adult Swim babysat my young men and my dog, I sang for the drunks like the greedy little songbird I’d always been.
Music wasn’t my art form, but it helped me arrive at what was. Drinking enough to sing in front of people led to admitting that I wanted desperately to write. Drinking helped me write. I am not an alcoholic, but without alcohol I never would’ve shed the inhibition that allowed me to explore writing.
Who could say this kind of stuff without being dissociated from oneself a bit? This isn’t Mom. It ain’t Daughter and it sure as hell ain’t Wife. Even though I thought I was cleverly encasing my thoughts in fiction, everyone has always recognized the truth. My cleverness was always outdone.
I met a drummer who took me to the cool bars. People welcomed us at the Airliner’s midnight show as well as the hipster and tiki bars where Cuban cigars were sniffed out by those who knew the best. The drummer gave my second son his first job and never tried to hold me back from who I might become.
I went to graduate school and studied in bars at Venice beach. Yes, studied writing and dialogue and once watched a mixed-race homeless couple so closely (for purposes of my novel) the woman gave me a threat stare until I raised my glass to them and smiled.
I’m not an alcoholic, but I’m still only middle-aged. Life is hard, y’all. If you really live it.