One evening a week or two ago, my wife turned to me and asked, very seriously and solicitously, what I thought we should do this coming Saturday. It took me a moment to realize that this was a piece of gameswomanship (and a darn good one, too) in an ongoing bit of amusement between us, wherein we take turns occasionally saying outrageous things as straightfacedly as possible, the goal being to get each other riled up beyond all reason when we think our lifemate is being serious and has also gone insane. There is a close-enough-to-zero chance that my wife and I would ever make plans to go out and celebrate Saint Patrick’s Day, even if it falls on the weekend, even if we had babysitting coupons burning holes in our pockets. Amateurish overindulgence and deliberate obnoxiousness is not our scene, neither one we care to partake in nor one we care to observe up close. Not even ironically!
It wasn’t always that way, of course. We’ve reached a point in our lives now where St. Paddy’s as an inebriated social occasion holds no appeal, but the key there is the “point in our lives now” part. I’m neither patting myself on the back for my maturity nor lamenting the loss of unrecapturable glory days, I’m just stating some facts. People, myself included, grow up and their priorities change (hopefully). I used to spend lots of times in brewpubs and bars, with an epic night of poor judgment every now and again, but I have better ways to spend my nights (not to mention days lost in recovery) at the moment.
Still, the Friday before Saint Patrick’s Day surely calls for a green-tinged alcohol-soaked anecdote, right? My favorite one involves the 17th of March about eight or nine years ago, which was also the last time I made any effort to hit the bar scene for the holiday. It fell during the period between the end of my manifestly misjudged first marriage and the beginning of my romantic relationship with the true love of my life, a period which paradoxically yields up a lot of reasonably good memories while also completely fairly qualifying as personal rock bottom in a lot of ways. And the St. Patty’s in question perhaps exemplifies both sides of that particular leprechaun’s gold coin.
Back then I hung out from time to time with a girl who was just barely out of college, let’s call her Megan for the sake of this story. She invited me along for her Saint Patrick’s Night Out along with a few of her friends, including a couple of guys who we will call, I don’t know, Sean and Colin. Sean was a little more intense and alpha-doggish, while Colin was more laid back. So the basic dynamics of the evening would go like this: Megan would pick a bar to visit, Sean would insinuate himself up to the bar to get a round of drinks, and Colin and I would hang back and try to out-mellow each other (not that we were trying all that hard, we were just both on the same “just happy to be here” vibe). Then when Megan decided the bar was too crowded or too boring or whatever we’d move on to the next place, and so on. That was also the first and last time I drank an Irish Car Bomb, which fell into the “dangerous because I like it” category as I, in point of fact, lost count of how many I had. I think there was also a round or two of Flaming Dr. Peppers because, as I recall the drunken logic, we were having fun with the ritual of dropping a shot glass in another glass and whatnot (see also my love of all the elements of tequila consumption) but we didn’t want to have too many Car Bombs and it seemed wiser to spread the intake across multiple styles of liquor. Something like that? It made sense at the time.
Part of me would like to say that this is a story about how I realized that I was closer to turning 30 than I was to reaching the legal drinking age and I just couldn’t keep up with the young’uns as they drank me under the table, but it’s really not. The night didn’t yield any particular epiphanies, it was just kind of weird in that I had given myself over to a group of people, only one of whom I knew remotely well, and I just followed their whims for an entire evening because I had nothing better to do. Nobody got hurt or anything, and the whole affair ended with our group stranded inside a Metro station, where the turnstiles had admitted us right before closing time because normal people moving at normal speed would have been able to catch the last train of the night, but we were stumbling lushes who missed the final train and then had to be escorted out by security and had to call a cab to get out of D.C. and back to Arlington, which was annoying but not the stuff which revelatory self-examinations are inspired by.
If anyone got obliterated that night (and someone did), it was Megan. The endpoint of our shenanigans isn’t what I remember most from that night, it’s the middle point at which Sean decided he needed to take charge and get us someplace where we could have some food and coffee so that Megan could sober up a little. So we ended up waiting in line outside a late-night diner in Adams Morgan which was of course doing a booming bit of microseasonal business that evening (or, more accurately, wee-hours morning), we finally got seated, and Sean became increasingly more insistent that he was going to get Megan to rally, as well as increasingly more agitated at how slow the service was (in a maximum occupancy-straining diner in a bar district at 2 in the morning after Saint Patrick’s Day) while Colin and I looked askance at each other but never for too long, for fear that we would both start laughing at how absurdly intense Sean was getting and that laughing at him would just send Sean plunging off into the deep end. Even with me and Colin maintaining our respective mellow composures, Sean eventually lost his mind anyway, pushing himself dramatically to his feet and announcing with aggrieved indignation “This is BULLSHIT. We’re out of here!” when our orders did not arrive according to his personal standard of timeliness. I don’t know how many of you have ever walked out of a restaurant in an outrage, or been out with someone who attempted that maneuver, but it’s somewhat shocking no matter what the context and, in my usual circles at least, it just isn’t done. I think at that point Colin and I were too stunned to laugh, and we ended up just kind of following Sean as he half-carried poor semi-coherent Megan toward the door, out onto the sidewalk, and down the block to a small pizza joint that sold individual slices where we finally all got some food in our sloshy bellies. And then, as I already mentioned, we had a bit of a tricky time getting to our respective homes but we all lived to tell the tale.
So yeah, all in all, it was a pretty gloriously stupid night, and very fortunately free of adverse consequences (so long as you don’t count the slight guilt I will carry to my grave that we at least got our drink orders at the diner and I drank a Coke and then we all left without paying the check). I imagine this is pretty apparent, but I’m pretty pro-youthful-stupidity in most appropriate circumstances. At this point I can say with a certain amount of authority from personal experience that it’s easy and painless to acknowledge that you’ve gotten too old for certain things if you made sure to go ahead and do those things when you were young enough for it to be all right.