|Porky's, circa ? - see if you can find me, Where's Waldo style!|
NOTE: Call it lazy, but I plan on rerunning my holiday "Greatest Hits"pieces year after year. This would be one of them!
Tomorrow night, aka Thanksgiving Eve, has quietly grown to become one of the busiest bar nights of the year. Whether it's college kids home on break or prodigal sons returning home a bit too early, everyone seems to feel the need to head to their neighborhood bar before spending the big day with their families.
Here in Shelton, we call it "Valley New Year" and for some reason, many of the bars we flock to are the same places we desperately avoided growing up. They were dives, places to be steered clear of since that's where our friend’s fathers (and father’s friends) hung out. But somehow, without changing (or cleaning) a single thing, they get transformed, for one night at least, into friendly, lively, homey places where everyone knows your name…or at least your face.
Which is how most of the night is spent: naming names and figuring out faces of all the “friends” and acquaintances bellying up to the bar. They'll look vaguely familiar, but receding hairlines, expanding waist lines, and fake tan lines will make it hard to be sure. The sad part is that it wasn’t that long ago that you were good buddies, signing yearbooks and claiming to “Never forget the good times...” and now you don’t even remember their names.
On the other hand, people you once passed by in the halls without so much as a nod will be recognizing and hugging you like long lost friends. And who knows, maybe they are! So just to be safe, give them a hearty “Hey, how’s it going? Good? Good!” greeting and maybe raise a glass in a toasting motion. And then hope to God they continue on their way, for you will have absolutely nothing else to talk about.
But they won't go away, and will usually linger for a couple rounds of “Name That Dude,” where the two of you, lacking any real connection, will start naming all of the people you once commonly knew. So, you still hang out with Greg? Seen Jerry around? How about Gina? Once you run out of names, a few moments of uncomfortable silence will follow as the two of you nod and smile insincerely at each other with an, “Isn’t this great, the whole gang’s together!” attitude, until one of you sees someone (anyone) else to go talk to.
And if you're lucky, that someone else might actually be a person you not only recognize, but are truly happy to see. Unfortunately it will be too loud and crowded to carry on any type of real conversation, so you’ll settle for the quick catch-up, covering the past five years in all of five seconds before reverting back to the old nod and smile. It'll go something like this:
You: “Hey, how have you been? It’s been years since I saw you last! What’s new?”
Them: “Not much. How about you?”
You: “Ah, you know, the usual…”
Them: “Yeah, me too.”
Commence nodding and smiling. Never mind that during the last five years, one or both of you could have been married, divorced, hired, fired, jailed, bailed, promoted, demoted, and so forth - all of your highs, lows, and in-betweens will be summed up with a simple “not much” and “the usual.”
And maybe that is what’s so appealing about Thanksgiving Eve: that no matter what has passed over the past year (or years), all your hardships and dramas and tragedies suddenly become “not much” and “the usual.” And that truly is something to be thankful for.
So whatever your Thanksgiving plans are, try to spend a few hours the night before down at your local bar. Time with the family is great, but it’s also nice to hang out with a roomful of “friends” who don’t really care who you’ve become or what you’ve been doing. Most are just happy to know your name - and maybe buy a round of drinks that you can raise together in recognition of just how truly great it is that the whole gang is together.