Friday, February 10, 2012

25 cent beer

When I was 18 I moved from southern New Jersey to New York, to attend art school at Parsons School of Design. Although I had traveled to the city with my family many times in my youth — mostly to see Yankee games or on the way to visit relatives on Long island — living in Manhattan was still quite a culture shock. Getting around the city on my own. Managing money. Using an ATM. Sounds like a breeze now, but these were big, independent strides for a girl who still wore her rubber flip flops everywhere (and had to wash the black dust of the city off her feet every night.)

A lot of that first year is a blur, but I do remember certain events and people from those days. At the time Parsons and the New School for Social Research were partnered, but still separate. You were a design or art major at Parsons who took required liberal arts classes at the New School for your degree. Nowadays they are one big school, Parsons The New School for Design. I didn't know anyone else when I moved to New York. Everything and everyone was new to me. A lot of of the friends that I made were not just in my art classes, but in my liberal arts classes. In fact, most of the datable guys came not from my art classes but from my history or literature or film classes that I took at the New School.

One guy that I met and befriended was named John. He was Greek and interesting looking. He wore his hair gelled and high on his head, almost a pompadour, as we were wont to do in the '80s. He also always wore a long wool overcoat — also very popular garb for the time. We were in a class on Shakespeare plays together. I think he was my first date in my new New York life. I say I think because I went out frequently with classmates and friends, sometimes with just one or two at a time — the legal drinking age in New York at the time was 18, so we hit the town quite often — but I'm pretty sure that he was the first guy of my new friends who asked me to do something with him, just him, actually suggesting a day and time. We made a date.

John lived in an apartment not far from Parsons. I can't remember where we went to eat, but I know he had on his ubiquitous overcoat. After dinner he wanted to show me this "great bar" on 14th street. The selling point was that it served 25 cent beer. Although my classes and my life at the time centered around 14th Street, I still found the area a little sleazy, so I was put off at first by the location, but also fascinated with John, so off we went.

The bar, of course, was a dive. A line of old men were hunched over their drinks at the bar. They didn't look up or do much of anything except tip a glass. We sat on two stools at the end of the bar, soaking up what little atmosphere the place had to offer and drinking many little glasses of cheap beer. We may have even played pool. I'm pretty sure I was the only female in the joint that evening. No surprise, as it didn't have the sort of ambience that would attract many girls. In my mind, and John may have even dubbed it that, it was the "old man's bar."

I don't think there was a name on the outside of the building, just a neon sign in the window that said "Beer." It was like some place out of the old Twilight Zone television series, as if we had stumbled into some sort of time warp. I'm not sure we would have been able to find it again. The glasses the beer was served in were very small, more like juice glasses. I've never seen beer served in glasses like them before or since. Sitting and drinking in that bar was like stepping back in time, into a short story by Henry Miller, or Charles Bukowski, or even William Burroughs. I'm sure that's why the literary-minded John liked it. And also because it was cheap and he was pretty broke, as we all were in those days.

We hung out together quite a few times after that. I think I even asked him out the next time, to go dancing somewhere, probably the Pyramid Club in the East Village. I recall that he kept his overcoat on the whole time, even on the hot, crowded dance floor. Or maybe it was Danceteria. One day John told me that he was dropping out of his classes, but I can't remember what he said he was going to study instead, or where. We exchanged numbers, but we quickly lost touch with one another. That's just how things seemed to go. It was easier to spend time with people that were doing the same thing as you. But I've never forgotten the night we went out and had 25 cent beer.
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