My drink of choice was “Under 21” and they stamped it right onto my hand like some kind of anti-alcohol force field. I’ve never quite understood why people who can’t drink are even allowed in some bars. To see the shows, maybe? But don’t bars do that to increase drink sales? Maybe so they can associate music and good times with their bar so they’ll come back at 21? If these guys had taken that many psychology courses, they wouldn’t be tending bar.
Being a winner, I never really spent time in bars, but my buddy was in a band, and like all budding bands, they decided that the best way to build momentum was to play in an establishment where everyone’s so drunk they’ll buy your album for no good reason. So, I headed to a little place called Hangar 9 on a school night in Carbondale, Illinois. Hanger 9 is a stupid name for anything outside an airport, but the made it news shortly after this night by burning to the ground.
My two primary recollections of the bar are “dark” and “hot.” I guess places like this keep lights low so people don’t recognize their mistakes. You’d think the alcohol would do that. Hangar 9 let college bands play, so that tells you how classy the joint was. Instead of the amber and mahogany hues of sultry jazz hangouts, everything was a dim black and blue, like you’d just walked into a giant bruise.
I didn’t want to buy a non-alcoholic drink at a bar because seriously, who does that? The bartender gives you a look like “Why are you here? Go back to Chuck E. Cheese.” Jerk. It’s not my fault his bar is always sticky and looks like oil paints dipped in regret.
So, I wandered the room as the crowd filed towards the stage. I didn’t know anybody but the drummer, who was on the stage, and the girl who’d sang as an opener, and she’d made it quite clear that our attraction was not mutual. There was another guy nearby, a little taller and sort of thick, also looking around, and we met eyes. You know how it is, you accidentally lock eyes with a stranger, so you give each other a friendly hello. “How’s it going?” he asked.
“Pretty good,” I replied. “You?”
“Pretty good. Wanna do some acid?”
I gave myself the customary three seconds to process that reply, then said, “No, thanks,” because the Bible says drugs are bad. Somewhere. He shrugged and walked away. The highlight of the night appeared to have passed.
The band finally started playing to a pretty good crowd and I discovered that no, I do not like this band, actually. Some sort of jazzy rock or rocky jazz, something where the lead singer is allowed to wear a cabby hat and name the band after himself. Not my bag, but the drummer is my friend and and the hot opening singer was still there, so I stuck around.
Swimming through the amorphous blob of body heat that couldn’t bother with deodorant before going out, I eventually bumped into the acid peddler again. We recognized each other from what was for me an unforgettable exchange and for him a Tuesday greeting. “How’s it going?” I asked again.
“Not bad. Wanna do some acid?” I expected him to laugh, like it was a joke, but he didn’t.
“No thanks,” I said again. Buy me dinner first, dude.
I believe I mentioned it was hot, so after sticking around to hear the one song that I knew I liked (having also heard it at a bar, a Mexican one that did not look like a bruise and where the opening singer had first indicated no interest in me), I walked outside to the deck. The cool autumn wind blew on my face, as did everyone’s cigarette smoke. Like a mountain-fresh ash tray. Did I mention I don’t smoke, either?
I took a seat near the rail where there was less cancer vapor and just as I got comfortable, someone moved away and I saw Mr. Acid Man smoking a cigarette in the corner. He looked over, recognized me, and smiled.
“He-Hey! Wanna do some acid?”
Apparently, getting drugs is much easier in real life than on TV. No shady alleys, no hush-hush behind a school, just go to a bar. Or this guy had already sampled his product. Or I just looked like someone who did drugs. I did need a haircut…
“No thanks,” I said again.
He said, “Just checkin’,” and returned to his cigarette.
This is the point where you being to question yourself. If you have a no-booze-for-you stamp, cigarette smoke makes you break out in cancer, you can’t trust the drug dealer, the music sucks, and that girl still doesn’t want to go out with you, why are you even here anymore? It’s time you went back to Final Fantasy where you belong.