Saturday, November 1, 2008

Clown & Bard

You couldn't avoid looking at the train tracks from This Ain't the Only Cafe, the establishment beside the Townehouse Tavern, where, with their fancy imported beers and homemade salsa, it was much easier than it was at the Townehouse for me to pretend like I didn't have a problem. I never took the train home for holidays, I never even considered the option, despite watching the trains come and go. When I went home to Toronto I would take the bus that departed from a terminal outside of down-town, an area of town I only ever went to because I was getting on or off of a bus.

I don't remember the first time I thought it, but I remember the first time I wondered aloud about having a drinking problem. I was twenty years old. I said it to Sandra as we left the Townehouse Tavern in the direction of her home, beneath the railway tracks. I can't remember her exact words, but they carried the weight of both an acknowledgment and a dismissal at once. In the spirit of Well, what can you do.

During my second year at Laurentian University in Sudbury, Ontario, I spent a lot of time at the Townehouse. It was my first experience of a bar that felt like home; a place as comfortable as a living room, with faces that I knew and could rely on to be there; a place I could go by myself. In the midst of a city I felt no connection to - a city I even kind of hated - and attending university for no reason other than that being my idea of the thing to do once high school was completed, I was initially drawn to the Townehouse because of its atmosphere, the bands that played there, and the interesting people who congregated there. I kept going back because I liked the people and I liked the beer. Or, rather, I liked that the beer was very cheap. It is hard to give Northern a sincere recommendation. I always drank to excess whenever I had occasion to drink during high school, and first year while living in residence was both excessive and frequent, but in an everyone's-doing-it / it's-my-first-year-away-from-home kind of way. It was at the Townehouse that beer really became a part of my life, and it was not only the drink itself. It would take me years and years and years to recognize this experience as being very much a part of the way I look at the world; the things I romanticize; the aesthetics I'm drawn to; the people I like "intuitively."

My favourite people look awesome sitting on a bar stool. They usually smoke cigarettes, wear sloppy clothes, don't draw attention to themselves, are quietly cynical, quietly judgmental, good talkers, good listeners, not very concerned with status in a conventional way, creatures of habit, empathetic, sincere, and drunk.

My favourite barrooms are dark places that are rarely too crowded, equipped with tables in hiding places for secret sharing. Both amiable and grouchy bartenders are acceptable, but personality is a must.

The Granite Brewery in Halifax has these things in spades. Amazing people, atmosphere, and way better draft than Northern. The Granite Brewery is my really favourite bar ever, and it became so much a part of my life in Halifax that it almost was my experience of Halifax. It was the first thing I wanted to show any visitors from out of town.

Geoff Berner's "Clown & Bard" is the best song I have ever heard about having a really fun, really horrible substance abuse problem and an awesome place in which to indulge. I wanted so badly to visit the actual Clown & Bard in Prague. Prague's awfully beautiful, I hear and see in photographs. I bet it's the kind of city that feels the way to many people that Halifax feels to me. I am stunned sometimes, just stopped in my tracks by these beautiful buildings that surround me. I am hopelessly in love with my city, but I have taken it for granted, spending my nights - my time, energy, money - in this building on Barrington street that somehow became the centre of my universe.

It's hard to separate the good stuff like friendships and honest conversations and listening to good music from the alcohol that's been its constant companion. They've been so entwined for as long as I've been a serious drinker.

This isn't about how I quit drinking three months ago and how weird that is and how my life and perspectives are changing and being challenged while I still feel in this state of limbo, like I'm between a place of comfortable reassurance and some unknown future because I think hope would be a good thing to let into my life. This isn't about how I feel even more lonely than I did a few months ago even though I'm supposedly making all these positive changes. This isn't about how I know, know, know with everything in my being that I cannot drink in moderation and that that's something that makes me kind of bitter. But I guess, of course, it is.

I miss my friends, tonight. Not that I don't believe in the lot of them, because in many, I do. But I miss being up until last call, playing trivial pursuit, sharing gossip, giving and receiving kind words and support, laughing, telling stupid jokes.

I don't miss hangovers, saying too much, spilling secrets, being mean, getting hurt, fooling around with someone too soon or too wrong, feeling really shitty about my choices. Some of these nights get me down, but these mornings never do.

That nice clean train with comfortable seats is right there, across the street. I don't always have to take the bus, even though it is really fun to talk to other travelers, and it stops for frequent smoke breaks.

I don't know why I find the leaving so hard.

**I hope I don't need to state this so explicitly, but just in case: This entry, and this comparison to "Clown & Bard" is in no way about either The Townehouse Tavern or The Granite Brewery. They're wonderful establishments. This is just about me.

Clown & Bard - Geoff Berner

Her grandfather opened the trust fund in her Baltimore account,
But she was six months in the Paris of the Eastern Bloc by the time it ran out.
Oh, well I met her in that filthy basement where a fat man ran the bar.
She said, "If you're gonna drink that green stuff you've got to light it on fire."

I guess she knew me pretty well, despite the questions that I ducked.
She said, "You'll like it here, Prague's like a Disneyland for the terminally fucked."
But it don't fool me 'cause I can see all this beauty's just a trap set to kill.
And she grabbed my hand tight, said "Let me show you the lights from the top of the castle hill."

I don't know why I find the leaving so hard.
'Cause I'm so down, hangin' around at the Clown & Bard.

Well the water in that river's as dirty as the cops, but it shines so pretty at night.
But when I held her head as she puked absinthe off the Charles bridge it was a tender and a glamorous sight.
We kept up the charade just as long as we could until I had to get back in the van.
She said "I'd like to come with you but I'm saving up for Baltimore as soon as I can."

I don't know why I find the leaving so hard.
'Cause I'm so down, hangin' around at the Clown & Bard.

When I got back into town she wasn't hard to track down though they'd moved her down a couple of floors.
Cold and half dead on the unmade bed trying to squeeze the speed out through her pores.
I offered to buy her a one-way back stateside but I cried, they pleaded in vain.
She said "I don't think that I have got an urge to die, I really just can't explain."
I don't know why I find the leaving so hard.
Well I'm so down, hangin' around at the Clown & Bard.
I'm so down, hangin' around at the Clown & Bard.

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