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St. Pete Bar Hopping Chronicle. NYE 2013

The evening kicked off with me politely declining all of the normal and traditional invitations from my friends—food, frolic and frivolity, doused with plenty of libations to keep the night fully-lubricated and in motion. I had a plan—something that’s been tugging at me to do, and last night was the right time to do it. I robed myself in festive attire and committed to bar hopping down Central Ave, just what was in an easy walking distance from my downtown apartment, stopping short of slithering around on the high ticket Beach Drive locale.

Early in the evening, I stopped for a small bite at Ricky P’s before I embarked on my adventure, where the bartender is always friendly, cheeky and warm. But, the crowd around the bar was not the usual set of eclectic masses whom I have come to expect, haphazardly sitting in the round, trading stories of bad plays and worse lovers. Instead, a group of young men crowded there, flexing their wisdom of “life experiences,” because they, of course, know it all at the ripe age of 26. Funny how we knew so much more then than we will ever know again. The good news is that if you ever need the answer to a daunting life question—you can always resort to hypnosis, because certainly, your 26-year-old self knows the score!

Photo: Nye emerald barSo, I ate, and then I prepared to take on the night. I knew that I would be writing, and I contemplated which tools I was going to bring along: my trusty notebook and pen? My small tablet computer? No—just my phone. I decided to chronicle the occasion via Facebook status updates, just taking note of observations and winding thoughts and how those all tangled up in my brain. Then, off I went to the first stop on my list—The Emerald Bar.

At the Emerald, I knew I’d be visiting the seedier side of St. Pete drinkeries, and I was looking forward to it. This is where professional drunks, the restaurant crowd and all those who just like a good sip of alcohol without frills and pretense settle in. Here people watching was elevated to an art last night, and the tunes melded with the scene in a disturbing but alluring amnesiac scattered recollection. Salt n’ Peppa was resurrected through the Juke Box in its nostalgic glory: “Don’t know how you do the voo doo that you do… Shoop.”

Between what was securely planted in place, followed by what poured in the door was a garden of regulars, drunkards and escapees from the Beach Drive scene—a mixture of weeds in a lot. A single stand of multicolored holiday lights and a fat guy in a cardboard Happy New Year hat sparkled in the dark landscape… “Oh baby you got what I need…” blared in the background.

A brief stumble next door, and I felt like Alice going through the looking glass. Things could not have been more different if these bars were on other ends of the globe. I found myself in a techy, not-quite trendy, trying to be a concept but not committed to it, Photo: Nye saki bombbecause that would be lame, so we’re just here… vibe. I’m at the Sake Bomb. There’s no liquor here to adorn their shelves, so they’ve displayed beer bottles in an underwhelming fashion.

A smaller, younger set of loiterers have congregated here, jamming to 80s new wave, which is oh so Not New. Collectively, they are decidedly much more sober than the hanger-outers next door. And far less entertaining. I intended to blow the joint as soon as possible, and possible occurred right after I finished my beverage. The youngish, horny mid-rent crowd didn’t intrigue me at all, possibly because that sort-of described me. So, I chugged my tasty Stella Cidre and bounced. But, wait! Just before I roam along to the next watering hole down the street, it happened! Seated at a table outside the Sake Bomb is an older man preaching the 12 steps of sobriety to four younger people, fully engaged in the topic over a bucket of beer! Noteworthy people-watching—score!

Oh, Cycle Brewing… you are everything I’ve come to expect from St. Pete’s string of craft beer joints. While I am partial to The Ale and the Witch, I stopped there last night, so tonight, you’re on the map. At Cycle Brewing there was a livelier, more animated, younish crowd. A very cool thing about the atmosphere created by the people here is that each grouping of beer drinkers is fully engaged in energetic conversation. Eves dropping tells tales of traveling plans and experiences, strange loves, troubled relationships and goals for the New Year, whilst somewhat cranky about the one soon to pass.

Photo: Nye cycle brewThe groupings were a cultural construct of couples, friends and small crowds. Like tended to be with like, representing minimal age diversity—lots of 30-somethings with a few older and younger mixed in. One would do well to go quantity surveying here—it wouldn’t be challenging, and it might be a bit dull, but so is the concept of quantity surveying. It was heartwarming to see  familiar face, though–here’s to a brilliant New Year, Frank Wells!

While strolling down Central Ave to my next watering hole I made a startling auditory observation—really bad live music! May I insert a plea to local eateries to please use a little discretion when choosing live entertainment: scaring your customers with off key tunes, featuring weird playlists is not good for anyone. Please stop it and hire wisely. We have very talented musicians in town. Book the best talent early, and don’t hand the mic and the amp over to your special niece.

“Take me away from here. Tell me about someplace else,” she said.

He said, “We’re always someplace else. Wherever you want to be.”

That gorgeous conversation I passed by was soon interrupted by St. Pete’s finest waking up a homeless man on a bench. The guy was a little combative, and his smart-assed mouth nearly got him arrested. I was hoping he wouldn’t end up bringing in the New Year at the 49th Street Hilton. Quickly the guy got ahold of himself and moved along as instructed without incident. Be cool, St. Pete!

Photo: Big crowd, cover charge, low key performance. First show I saw here was Betty Fox and she killed the venue, people dancing, blues rocking, and I became a groupie of sorts. Ethers Betty rocking tonight, I wonder.I wandered off of Central Ave. just for a minute to check out a spot that has great personal meaning to me: Ruby’s Elixir. When I quit my job and went freelance full time, it took me a while to realize how free I really was from the tyranny of nonprofit grant writing. Unless you’ve been there, don’t mock me. It can be life-consuming, and yes, my particular brand of pathology made it much worse than it needed to be. Anyway, that’s not the point… when I finally claimed my freedom and took ownership of it, I was here, drinking gin at Ruby’s. Here I was again at Ruby’s Elixir on NYE to find a big crowd, cover charge and a low key performance. The first show I saw at Ruby’s was Betty Fox and the Dirty Bastards (AKA The Betty Fox Band), and she stormed the tiny venue! I was lured there by the powerful sound of her meticulously tuned voice, rocking blues like nothing I’d ever heard! People dancing spellbound by the music and her presence, and I became a groupie of sorts. Where’s Betty rocking tonight, I wondered? Anyway, I strolled back onto Central.

Crowley’s Downtown seems to have been brought to you by a GAP commercial. Clean-cut, or rather an antiseptic version of a downtown dive (read: The Emerald). The patrons donned a higher-rent, near hipsters appearance tossing in a casual older affluent congestion of bodies, squeezing by one another in the doorway. Outside its doors, the street shots down Central are far more colorful than what’s on the inside of the joints. Early intoxication has made several pedestrians directionally challenged while Suite Six neighbors quickly shuffle their trendy clientele past the roped entry. There’s usually more affect than fun found behind those doors, I’ve learned through experience, so I didn’t bother to enter.

The sidewalk was so thick with people at one point, I decided that I’d either have to wait patiently for a clearing to be on my way our just charge through NYC style. Since I’m not usually fond of touching strangers, I waited for a clearing. I passed by the Oyster Bar, which does indeed have fabulous oysters and featured a cool guy with a guitar playing familiar tunes, and I decided then that I wanted to end my night there. I passed it up and would circle back as I had more bar hopping to do!

Photo: The breakfast bar! Bar hopping #5The breakfast bar! Mastry’s… A walk by Mastery’s in the a.m. will delight you with scenes of early morning drunkenness. If you care to imbibe yourself, you’ll find a quiet, mumbling welcome. By night, breakfast drinkers are forced to mingle with loud younger people who claim the space as their watering hole. Imposters! It belongs to the breakfast drinkers. You are merely visitors who lay out heavy change. As for NYE, I sat at the very crowded bar where a frantic bartender poured then spilled my Diet Coke all over the counter—the good news is that I got a free Diet Coke (which would have cost me the same as a beer), but the bad news is I had to drink it crammed next to a good looking fellow who reeked of rotten salami and stale wine. I drank my soda quickly!

Once I emerge from Mastry’s our hero appears from the streets. Thank goodness!! I have been instructed by a man in an SUV and a bull horn to: “Repent sinners! This is your wake up call! Time to get right with God.” Gladly, sir. Let me just finish my bar hopping first mmmmkay?

Next stop: The Pelican Pub—a momentous occasion for me. “This is not the Pelican Pub I knew from my childhood!” I exclaimed with sadness in my head. Yes, my childhood. Okay, let me explain…

My dad, he drank. A lot. He also was a prolific visual artist—a painter. Murals and commissioned works from designers, mostly. Some of his work can still be seen around town such as the lobby in the Bayfront Tower, but this story isn’t about art. It’s about the Pelican Pub. Back in the day (early 80s), The Pelican Pub defined dive bar, but with a twist. Occasionally, you’d find the Yacht Club set slumming at there, and my dad was no exception. In fact, I think he actually started the trend, bringing his fellow Club members over for a drink or many. Anyway, where dad went, I went. As a child, I vividly recall the smells of stale beer and piss from the back of the pub, wafting in from the alley. It had this wood bar with photos of regulars polyurethaned into the surface. There even was a photo of me sitting on Santa’s lap there… maybe at age eight. Thankfully for my dad, my mom’s sense of humor was twisted enough to find it amusing… Following about 6 months from her initial rage-filled eruption, touting one of many soliloquies she presented to my father on his irresponsibility, their standing in the community, what it means to raise a child, and whatnot. I think she had the script carefully blocked and memorized, fully prepared for an impromptu performance anywhere any time. No matter, I always had fun there, knew the bartenders and owners through Dad, along with several of the regulars such as “Tom the sail maker.”

And now… I found that it wasn’t the same place at all. The Pelican Pub has not even a fraction of the character that it had. It’s been cleaned, and it appears so have its guests. It’s good for a walk-through, a drink and to jolt some old memories, like the time I was hungry, so dad took me across the street for a Slim Jim at a convenience store, because it was protein and perhaps healthier than bar pretzels. Oh don’t worry… he wasn’t malnourishing me. Later that night we had dinner at the Yacht Club. We had to eat there often because he never had any money. True story. Oh, the irony of my childhood…

Then it was time to start heading back to the Oyster Bar for me to bring in the New Year. I wanted a plate of oysters and hoped to meet a few cool folks and engage in a bit of lively conversation, which I almost always do sitting at the bar there. I guess if there was a bar that attracts people I most gravitate towards—it’s the Oyster Bar. Casual but headed towards the upper-scale without the pretense and social-climbing urchins too often clamoring around the Beach Drive spots. At the Oyster Bar, I usually find intelligent, engaging, delightful company there along with tasty food and good drinks.

What I experienced there was more perfect than I had hoped for. I planted myself on the only stool left vacant at the bar, and I was seated between two friendly chaps. On the left side was John, and on the right, well, we’ll just call him smiley, because he had this cool beaming smile. Smiley had a date with him, who also was a friendly lass, but they had other plans to bring in the New Year, so they were just finishing up their drink and soon left for their final event. John and I talked a while. He told me about his kids, his condo, where he’s lived, how he should be dead after being run over by a tractor… look you can’t make this stuff up. We talked about art, the changing St. Pete, culture and dreams. Eventually we were invited to dance with a small group—played with balloons and such, then started chatting with a whole other small crowd nearby that were Coast Guard families and a really fun couple on the other side of me. Eventually I ended up bathed in spilled Champaign… twice! While talking about art, goals and dreams. We toasted to the New Year, made lots of noise and smiled, kissed and laughed together as we welcomed in 2014.

That’s my city, and I love her. Thank you, St. Petersburg. Here’s to a magical, dream-making 2014!

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Alien trying on a human suit — a personal essay on attachment

There are markers in life, much like creases in a paper back novel where the binding has been scarred, pointing out the more profound moments where we pause, linger and think.

Perhaps these markers serve a purpose—branding some teachable moments that grip us and hold us down until we succumb to the lessons we ought to learn. I think these markers exist, too, so that we may return to these moments in time and quarry lessons that we may not have been ready to learn when they first occurred. Time, it seems, wields magical powers that discards debris, leaving only that which is purposeful behind for easy discovery when we most need it, though seldom want it.

It is the reoccurring marker that I find most disturbing. It is timeless, unchanging and it smells of burnt embers and damp dirt, haunting me in various incarnations throughout my life, and it marks the same story each time: attachment.

Very recently during a certain tragedy, this marker slipped into place once more, and I knew it too well. Interestingly, this wasn’t my tragedy to claim as my own—they never are. I’m just a bystander. Or worse. I’m trapped in a limbo, a perpetual waiting room with no doors or windows. And it’s quiet. I’m only aware that the tragedy exists—I can’t see it, hear it or know of its details. In fact, it is this absence that weighs on me, and emotions start coursing through me like electricity. This is the source of my suffering: I worry.

Okay, truthfully it’s not as bad as all that. In fact it wasn’t — it hasn’t been and it isn’t. But it’s an accurate description while melodramatic. The point is, I worried.

Worry? That doesn’t sound so bad. People worry all the time about their bills, relationships, family, friends, jobs, reputations, wardrobe, what brand of moisturizer to use and exterior wall paint color. Yes, people do. I don’t. The gods felt it wise to have the “worry gene” lay dormant in my DNA. And that’s not all…

Compassion, empathy, sympathy and worry, these simply are not strong traits in my character. I have enough to be classified human and sane, but not enough trace evidence of it that you’ll hear anyone join these words up with my name outside of sarcasm. You won’t find me teary-eyed over a friend’s grief: love, life, loss… After all, that’s his grief. There’s no sense in both of us getting all torn up about the thing, right?

Right.

Well, mostly. And then the marker slips into place. Every once in a long while, my immunity to attachment weakens, this DNA reanimates, and there you have it—I care. Not with everyone, just with a select person or two, I end up attached. Maybe if I were a little more practiced in this art I wouldn’t be so jarred by it, but as it stands, I’m not a fan, and I pretty-much suck at it. Please don’t misunderstand me, this isn’t some altruistic caring for others that overtakes me. No, it’s completely, obsessively selfish. I think…

Somewhere I have to believe that there’s a seed of goodness, of altruism, of genuine concern for the other at the heart of my dysfunction that is intended to somehow be beneficial to them. I often hear it’s a good thing to care about others and their well-being. I’m not so sure. I’ve yet to find an instance when worrying about anyone or any circumstance has actually done any good. From very limited experience, I do know that it can be quite painful for the worrier, so I’m torn on this matter of goodness.

Either way, over the years I’ve made attempts to not allow this alien state to infect all of my sensibilities, and I’ve worked to alter may behavior so that over the years I seem less and less creepy. It hasn’t been easy. Trying to channel the swell of emotions—love, fear, hope, sadness—into something positive, or at least less creepy, has taken decades of work.

Well, sort of. As I said, this a very rare occurrence for me, so each time it happens (maybe every ten years or so), I just try to do a better job with it. And I refer to markers past for reference—fine examples of exactly what not to do this time around. I do know that following instinct here will ensure failure, so reason must override my behavior if I have any chance of success.

For instance, while I may have an overwhelming urge to attach myself to a select suffering friend like a needy baby gorilla, I refrain, believing that behavior would be quite irritating after a short while… for them. Good insight, no?

This time, as the marker settled in and emotions began to build, I don’t think I was as miserable a failure as I have been in the past. I don’t think. The story hasn’t fully come to a close yet, either. What I do know is that this time I deliberately framed my communications before blurting them out in some desperate weirdness. Reason over instinct. Instead of saying: “Call me right away before I jump out of my skin and go kick a puppy!” I said something like, “Please give me a call sometime if you feel up to it.”

See what I did there? I transformed this psychotic-babbling demand to a passive and nearly aloof request. Better, no? Admittedly I did fail at communicating anything honest, but as you can see, full honesty in this case would put my behavior way up the creep scale—the most important thing I am attempting to avoid in this life-lesson. However, I also failed at getting the desired result, which caused me to have more of those damn feelings. Not entirely a success from my perspective.

Now, still left with this mess of tangled, alien feelings—the love, fear, hope, sadness—I found also that at times I actually became a little anxious. Me? Anxious? Another foreign land for me to navigate, but there it was so I had to deal with it.

So, what is anxiety? Anxiety is a mass of powerful energy; a surge of adrenaline that causes a variety of responsive symptoms, I realized as I was trying to remember to breathe (oh I wasn’t hyperventilating or anything nuts… just a little anxious, but still). So, what can be done with an energy surge?

Well, energy can only be one of two things—positive or negative. Rationally, I know that positive is better than negative, and what I was feeling, or perhaps more accurately is… how I was interpreting the feeling was entirely negative.

But it is me—my very body is the conduit that has all the power necessary to change the frequency of that energy from negative to positive. How? Perception.

I had this great idea! Once the anxiety built to a level that had me fully agitated, all of this highly irritating energy stored up, I went quiet, and I focused on love, and I prayed. Using the full force of all of the built up negativity, I redirected it in prayer and released it. Ha! That worked! Negative turned to positive, and anyway you look at it, I was free from it. (Greater success than the passive aloof phone message was—I still have work to do on that one.)

What does all of this mean? Markers serve a significant purpose in helping to guide us through our life journeys and discover instances of personal enlightenment. Though, I submit that the jury is still out on whether emotions serve any helpful purpose. I understand that a degree of emotiveness is important in humanity, to assimilate, fit in, play well with others and to demonstrate care for people important to us—even if in my case that only seems to come up every decade or so. But does feeling pain, empathy, sympathy and worry—does this do any good? I don’t know.

What I do know is that I’m absolutely not a fan of being human. And, half of me wants to take this whole horrific experience, and the other ones that came before it, pack them up in a duffle bag with a bathing suit, toothbrush and flip flops and hide out in a fishing village in Costa Rica drinking too much rum, eating tacos and writing weird fiction novels no one understands.

The saner half of me knows that I need to get my shit together, celebrate that this time having emotions wasn’t a complete failure for me—it didn’t cause any relationship damage or awkward embarrassing moments, potentially alienating me from the friend I care about and eventually humanity at large. And I can move on, work at trying to be better at this human thing next time it hits me.

And the markers with their earthy odor that continue to haunt me—I don’t think I’ll fear them anymore. I’m learning to appreciate the lessons, in part. Perhaps it’s time to call out the monsters from under the bed—the love, fear hope and sadness—and offer them milk and cookies. Make acquaintances with them even if I’m still suspicious of their friendship. They’re not really that scary after all.

Now, where did I put that duffle bag?

monster001

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