Tuesday, April 26, 2011

So Close I Can Taste It

The Moose is a local bar we used to go to as university students instead of studying or when we got bored of playing Starcraft until 3 in the morning.  We'd head downtown on the bus and head to the bar on foot as a pack looking to satiate our beerlust and our raging hormones, which at the time usually meant a half a dozen Smirnoff Ice and then jerking off later before going to sleep to the images in our head of sloppy drunks shaking their half-clothed asses on the tiny, crowded dance floor.  It wasn't exactly the paradise we'd envisioned, but our intentions for drunken debauchery were pure and we were fuelled by the inherent belief that given half the chance we could lower the bar -and hopefully somebody's pants- before the night was through. 

A typical mission took place on Wednesday night because that when The Moose had their Wednesday Night Wing Special which meant that with the cost of the cover charge got you a ticket which you could exchange at a makeshift table by the kitchen for a pound of wings if you managed to get there before midnight when the kitchen closed.  This was not as easy as it sounded because on Wednesdays we were not the only students lured in by the promise of meat and booze so the line for the wings would typically take about an hour out of your night which might have been better spent trying to get more than your fair share out of a pitcher of Alexander Keith's or flirting in vain trying to get some pussy that was way out of your league.

There was, of course, a student bar on campus -The Wall (a name I can only assume was chosen by a Pink Floyd fan who managed to get some school committee high enough to actually accept this name)- that had more of a nightclub feel.  It was dark, with plenty of black lights to illuminate any white articles of clothing, or any lint on your shirt, and was centered around a small dance floor that was usually littered with drunk, horny teenagers and broken glass.  The music was played loudly enough to drown out most conversations, which was fine because most of the people there had nothing interesting to say.  The Moose is more of a sit-down pub-style place.  The decor is almost stereotypical of the bar you'd expect to find in an (almost) northern Canadian town, population under 60 thousand: roughly-hewn wooden floors, walls lined with halved logs to give the illusion that you were in a log cabin, and heads of various deceased animals on the wall.  Even the tables are made of seemingly rough cuts of wood, with just enough varnish to make it easy to wipe up the spilled booze, chicken wing sauce or blood that might wind up there.  I suppose the look they were going for was "modern rustic" although the relative success of the decorative style depends upon A) whatever the hell "modern rustic" actually means, if anything, B) whether or not you enjoyed spending upwards of four hours in a crowded log cabin that smelled of beer and sweat or C) whether any of the decor actually matters when you're so fucked up that puking all over the inside of the cab on the way back to the residence would later be considered a "high point" of the evening.

Th Moose was also a strange type of beast because it was actually two bars.  But not really.  Alcohol dispensing Siamese twins.  On one side you had The Moose (although the actual name was Moose's Loose Change Lodge, a name, I suppose, that was meant to appeal to the frugality of its potential patrons) and on the other side you had Scotty's Log Cabin.  The strange thing was both of these establishments were right beside each other, both had the same decor, and were both connected by a double wide doorway.  It was the kind of double wide doors you'd find in a hospital or a school or a mental hospital.  I don't know the local history well enough to understand how or why this happened, but I do know that Scotty's got the short end of the stick.  Nobody referred to this strange bastard child as Scotty's and the Moose.  It was always just The Moose.  Eventually -I'm not sure when exactly- Scotty's was eventually absorbed by The Moose, some kind of reverse binary fission where the weaker twin was absorbed back into the stronger.  It was a bizarre kind of natural selection, that rare occurrence where de-evolution and evolution happened to coincide.

Now The Moose is officially just The Moose.  Scotty's no longer exists in any sense of the word.  Complete obliteration.  The old Scotty's side has not only been reabsorbed ideologically, it has been completely renovated.  Gone is the tiny dance floor where we'd move spastically to the music, with a beer in one hand, helping to reinforce the stereotype of the white guy without rhythm.  It has now been replaced with a second bar that has less of a rustic feel and more of a industrial chic vibe.  The tables too are dark, polished wood, not the faux rustic shellacked two by fours.  Gone are the pool tables, replaced instead with several leather couches arranged around a giant flat screen TV in a makeshift lounge area where smooth pimp daddies can mack on nearby hardbodies during the interviews and ads between whatever sporting event is playing that night and then routinely ignoring them for 90% of the night and end up getting more pussy than me or my friends ever did when we were willing to devote more than our fair share of attention. 

All in all The Moose was an establishment that embodied hazy, half-realized expectations and complete disillusion of grandeur as much as it did fucking great wings.  So it was rather appropriate -I felt anyway- that on the 19th of March in this Year of our Lord 2011 that I found myself at The Moose with my friend Ryebone to celebrate his 30th birthday.  Not only was it a place where we'd spent countless hours of our youth consuming copious amounts of alcohol and wings, but it was also a place where we'd come with visions of glorious conquest and gone home empty handed.  It was a place where youthful anticipation had been dampened by cold reality.  It was a place where Ryebone and I would reminisce about "way back when" and nostalgically relate tales of those who went before us -like a couple of old army buddies remembering fallen comrades- and try to reconcile two opposing forces: the desire to remember things better than they were and the satisfaction becoming intoxicated on your own misery.  For me The Moose was the perfect place to celebrate Rybone's 30th.  It represented everything we had hoped to accomplish and threw into sharp relief how little we actually had.  It was at once momentous and disappointing, just like turning 30.

It started earlier in the week.  I received a cryptic call from Ryebone on Tuesday or Wednesday.  I assumed it was to set up our usual weekend plans which usually involved hanging out and watching a movie or two.


"What are you up to on Saturday?"

"Nothing," I replied.

"Feel like going to The Moose?"

Right away my blood pressure goes up.  I know that any time I leave the house for these kinds of missions I'm going to have to bargain with my wife.  For the record, I love my wife, but just like any relationship it's a matter of give and take.  It's a matter of raising Social Capital and then using that capital to barter for my own interests.  It's like a social bank account, and usually with my wife I'm running quite a deficit.  I know that for a mission of this magnitude, if I'm to even consider it, I'm going to have to barter potentially months worth of future capital.  I'm torn between the responsibilities of being a family man and the urge to go out and do stupid things with my friends.

"I don't know..." I start to reply.

"It's my birthday.  I figure we'd catch a movie and then grab some wings after"

Jackpot.  Fucking A.  Immediately my blood pressure goes down and I start to get pumped.  Right away I realize that not only is Ryebone's birthday A) a Social Trump Card that will allow me to go out without having to use up any of my own capital but also that B) I'm going out to have some fucking wings and beer on Saturday.  I just got a free pass for Saturday night. 

"Done.  See you on Satuday."

We set up the time later and we head out early in the evening to Rybone's birthday movie of choice which turned out to be BATTLE: LOS ANGELES.  This turned out to be an incredibly inspired choice for a 30th birthday movie because it was an overblown spectacle that was disappointing on several fronts.  BATTLE: LOS ANGELES was essentially a cross between INDEPENDENCE DAY and BLACKHAWK DOWN, and was about on par with the former and much, much better than the latter.  Much to the chagrin of Ryebone I have never liked BLACKHAWK DOWN and have consistently mocked and berated him for liking it during the entire tenure of our friendship.  I sneered at it the first time he made me watch that piece of shit.  I mocked him in university when he picked up the hardcore three disk edition.  I threatened to kill him once in a drunken fury if he didn't immediately denounce BLACKHAWK DOWN as the over-hyped, self-important tripe that it was and begin a lifetime of atonement by travelling the world and giving hand jobs to orphans at half price.  

But back to BATTLE: LOS ANGELES.  It's an odd beast insofar as it is actually a pro-US military propaganda film disguised as a Spring blockbuster about aliens invading the west coast of the continental USA.  The plot follows a group (brigade? platoon? unit?) of marines led by Aaron Eckhart (the guy who played Two Face in THE DARK KNIGHT) who have to rescue a bunch of civilians who may or may not be caught behind enemy lines when the United States (as well as other countries around the world) are attacked by an extraterrestrial invasion force that is apparently here to steal our water (really?).  The specifics aren't really important, let's just say all the important movie military archetypes are present led by the seasoned commander who just filed his retirement papers after a disastrous mission, presumably in Afghanistan or Iraq.  Maybe they actually mentioned it, I don't know.  Like I said, it doesn't really matter.

So these soldiers get into the combat zone, encounter some aliens, get cluster-fucked by their superior technology (and become overconfident because they seem to lack air support.  Eventually alien air support shows up, and all these characters are actually surprised that a species who has mastered INTERGALACTIC TRANSPORTATION would be able to have vehicles that -oh I don't know- fly!) find some civilians including the obligatory children and then proceed not only to rescue some of the civilians but then find the mother ship which turns out to be the central hub controlling all of the alien vehicles and then destroy it before being rescued themselves by other soldiers and heroically heading back out into the fray without so much as a bathroom break.  The reason this movie struck me as particularly strange was the fact that aliens were there at all.  The way the movie was written and filmed they could have just as easily set this movie in Iraq and have the soldiers fighting Taliban insurgents and you would have essentially had the same movie.  For some reason the filmmakers seemed intent on making their own premise contextually irrelevant.  The aliens were completely superfluous to the plot and this genre crossing seemed to be an afterthought that was designed specifically to attack the consumer on all fronts, so to speak.  Just imagine the conversation with the studio execs.

"So, yeah, we have this idea for a really dramatic war film where this troubled commander on the verge of retirement is sent on one last dangerous mission to rescue civilians trapped behind enemy lines.  Included in the platoon is the brother of one of the officers the commander got killed on his last mission, a young, headstrong officer who just became a father, and two best friends, one of whom is getting married soon.  They are put in a situation where they must work together and potentially sacrifice their own lives to protect people who may or may not be in serious trouble and kick some ass in the name of Democracy."

"Excellent, excellent.  I like what you've got so far.  But how about this: the bad guys are aliens."

"You mean, like, from Mexico?"

"No, extraterrestrials."


"Aliens.  They are so hot right now."

"Well, I don't how I'm going to put aliens into the movie..."

"Great then it's settled.  Bad guys are aliens."

"Are you high right now sir?"

"Just a little.  I'll be in my office if you need me.  I'll be working on the next SAW sequel.  Boo-yah!"

Needless to say I was slightly underwhelmed by the whole spectacle.  In that way BATTLE: LOS ANGELES was both an excellent and terrible allegory for turning 30.  When I was younger I didn't understand when people would stress out about turning a certain age.  From my point of view at the bottom of the social ladder in high school I couldn't wait to get older and get the fuck out of that place.  I didn't understand why people would get so concerned about such an arbitrary number.  Why was 30 so much worse than turning, say, 31, supposing of course that you hadn't been diagnosed with cancer just after your 30th birthday.  Why was 30 a sign of aging but 28 a sign that you still had "time left."  It wasn't until I turned 29 that I really began to panic.  This artificial construction suddenly began to seem quite real.  There was some vague sense that I was somehow supposed to have accomplished some great Thing by the time I was 30, but I had no idea what.  All I knew was that  hadn't accomplished it and I began to feel disappointed that I had not lived up to these arbitrarily constructed expectations of Great and Terrible deeds I was to have accomplished.  What monument had I left for posterity?  Fuck.  I'd be 30 soon and then whatever shot I had at Making it Big will have faded into oblivion. 

But I wasn't 30 yet.  Rybone was.  He was the one whose failed expectations we were celebrating on that fateful night, so I felt a little better.  I had a few more months before my potential was completely expended so I ordered the all you can eat wings and ate as much as I could to the point of physical discomfort.  Ryebone ordered ten wings and finished eight of them, and again I mocked and berated him as is my wont, because I'm kind of an asshole and I will try to make you feel bad for stupid shit sometimes just for my own, twisted amusement.  We split a pitcher of Alexander Keith's that we couldn't even finish between the two of us and watched the UFC match that was on that night that The Moose's staff had tried to charge us double the cover charge to watch.  As the waitress went through all the specials she informed us that if we stayed past ten o'clock we'd have to pay the $4 cover that we'd already been forced to pay upon entering the establishment.

"Wait, wait wait," I said.  "What will you be charging us for?"

"To watch the UFC matches tonight."

"But we already paid for that when we came in.  They made it seem like we had to."

"Alright, calm down.  You have to tell me these things."

Not only had the assholes at the front door not informed us that the cover had been optional if we were we planning to leave by 10 o'clock, but they'd also neglected to have us enter the draw they were having to win god know what.  Those greedy fucks were so concerned about fleecing us for the cover that I suppose they forgot about the draw.  After that we went to sit down on the old Scotty's side at an empty table and were promptly told by a waitress that there was a waiting list and we'd have to wait by the bar, although she neglected to take our names.  Our sad pilgrimage to the bar ended about fifteen minutes later when the bartender asked us if we were waiting for a table, and when we responded in the affirmative and told her about the wait list, she gave us a quizzical look and told us that there was no longer any wait list and we could grab a table, and we ended up at the very same table we had claimed less than twenty minutes before.

I contemplated all this as I gorged myself on wings and beer and watched Cro Cop get defeated in a stunning turn around.  Ryebone and I left The Moose at about 11 o'clock and I was already starting to nod off.  I wondered to myself how I had lasted all those nights in university until two or three in the morning or if it was of any consequence.  Most of all I wondered about turning 30 and wondered if the evening had any particular relation to that arbitrary benchmark.  We watched a mediocre movie then ate the same old wings and drank the same old beer in a bar we'd spent our youth in, a bar which had evolved from total assimilation of its twin, a place where despite our years of patronage we were still treated like second-class citizens as the staff tried to hustle us out of our money, and we talked about how old we were starting to feel.  Overall it was satisfyingly disappointing.  Now that I'm getting closer to 30 I realize that not it is not some tangible turning point in my life, that the heavens won't open up and proclaim my life a total failure for all the world to hear.  There was never any real pressure to accomplish anything beyond the meaningless deadlines we set in our own lives.  Things happen when they happen.  Turning 30 is simply another day where nothing extraordinary happens, much like most other days in our lives.  And really, looking back, what the fuck was so great about our 20's that we're going to miss so much?  Turning 30 is (un)predictably ordinary. 

And there's something oddly comforting about that.                      


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