Wednesday, August 18, 2004

Caverns have Cavemen ‑ Do Taverns have Tavemen?

August 18, 2004

The hidden world of the bar culture is hardly simple to summarize. With varieties of themes, clientele and products, these little pockets of sidespun subculture pop out of the ground in myriad flavors. Most of us never taste 98% of these flavors, and in all likelihood, they'd taste like crap anyway. Opening a tavern for only fat gay guys named Earl? Good luck, Earl. In the 70s, they used to call that a den.

Obviously, as bars reflect our sociological tendencies, most drinking establishments are geared toward a specific clique, class, race, etc. That's fine and dandy - we like to congregate with people of our own ilk. What most fail to realize is that the people who congregate there too often are inherently not the normal ilk, but more of the normal alk, as in alk-ee's. No real point to that, other than wanting do somehow fart out a play on words. Plus it's extra typing. I'm like that "Loves To Type" lady from the Guinness Book of World Records. Hopefully I'll never end up as Robert Earl Hughes or one of those fat motorcycle twins. Digress alert.

It's easy to rationalize the tavern world as the jovial adult's playground, which is just a nice way of collectively labelling all patrons as those who never learned how to grow up. While it's certainly a wonderful venue for co-workers to meet after a long day, or a group of friends to rendezvous and share a few laughs. But what's the scoop on those people that just show up, on a regular basis, with no agenda, nobody to meet up with, but just sit there and stare at a television with the sound turned off? Isn't this the same as being a kid, being forced to go to grandma's house on Sunday nights for dinner, knowing there's absolutely nothing to do except wait until it's time to leave? Can't these people just buy twelve pack and get stewed at home, sparing us socially superior humans the stench of their unwashed sweatpants? While society has its upper crust, this is clearly just plain crust. And none of these globs are going to be appearing on the cover of GQ anytime soon - and I can assure you that they've all been through at least 52 car washes, and their faded tops can use more than a few treatments of Nu Vinyl.

The glossless taverns within Chicago's city limits are very much a distinct feature of this blue collar town. Little taverns, with their dusty, outdated "Old Style" sign out front, usually have origins from the 1950s and 1960s, in the day that many would regularly congregate, a la Archie Bunker's Place, to watch each and every baseball or basketball game on the nice fancy color television. Generally these patrons were married men of advanced age, who had lost any interest to sit at home and listen to the daily domestic grievances. For much of the city's working class, daily existence had been reduced to nothing more than a beer and a television set. It merely offered the simplicity and consistency that other aspects of domestic bliss couldn't offer.

Conversely, there are plenty of high dollar "hot spots" around the higher income districts. These appeal to the financially comfortable, younger crowd, who may drink as much or more than any lower income alcoholic, but do it in the company of friends, escorts, and workmates. It may be daily, it may only be a weekend affair. They look for lusty encounters with similarly liberated patrons, and perhaps can boast of the conquest at a later date. These well dressed social butterflies know they are hot stuff, prance around with a peacock's flair, and sadly their shallow routines usually pay off. Most of the time, these swinging studs and dolls have some murky ulterior motive, and when enough of these skewed motives congregate, the resulting stories are invariably bizarre and complicated. It's funny how the consequences of their metropolitan lifestyle bring on more complexities than their typically stressful, skyscraper workday. Too boot, these moderately wealthy "clubbers" seem to conclude that they are invulnerable and above the law. It doesn't take very long before they realize that their invulnerable bodies are frail or bloated from their nightly excesses, and they are permanently taking cabs around town because of their multiple drunken driving offenses.

It's always tricky to slice up the statistics of how often people go out, how much they spend, etc. Some go to bars, some go to work out, others may have clubs and nice shiny happy charity organizations. Doesn't it seem that only in the last several decades, a flood of social gathering places propagated themselves throughout all urban regiions? Why? Declining marriages and increasing divorces. Once the divorce rate climbed into the 50+% range, all of these separated couples had to look elsewhere for occupying their free time and hollowed part of their domestic existence. The young people who matured into the 1980s where very cynical of the institution of marriage, and didn't even want to take the risk. Marriage, in trendy urban regions, was an outright failure, and the new generations had no reason to submit themselves through this doomed ritual. If nothing else, they were content to stay single as long as possible, and either marry or die around 35. Go ahead, insert a joke there about the little "marry or die" phrase. Hey, that was a good one, bub. Keep up the good work and I'll get busy stitching up my side here. Anyway, with more single people around, there will always be a large component of them who refuse to stay home, and need their daily dosage of social interaction. Many turned to the internet chat room craze of the day, and some found it too inhuman to be sufficient. Too inhuman?! But AOL offers such adorable little emoticons like the smiley face and the sad face. Awwww. The internet's commercialization kept a lot of people home - but somehow the ongoing prevalence of social gathering places held its ground.

It's hardly fair that adults be expected to grow up, in the sense they must not have their toys and games as they did in their adolescence. The antiquated painting of mom and dad sitting in the living room, reading the paper until bedtime is painfully staid and Amish. Then for real excitement, mom and dad might have friends over, to sit in a circle and talk about what they had read in the paper. There's no shame in feeling like a kid at any age; but somehow earlier generations insisted that this were an irresponsible attitude. In these days, more and more of the adults are embracing their inner childishness. The preferred playground of a bar's fun, games, and ribaldry, always present themselves as the adult "candy store" for the kid with a pocket full of nickels. The difference is that kids who spend too much time in the candy store might fatten up, the older kids that spend too much time in the tavern simply wither away.

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