On Not Having to Repeat the Past

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Last week I wrote about a negative story about revisiting the past. It was about looking back on something that I wasn’t fond of, but ultimately though might’ve made me a better person.

Today I’m also going to write about revisiting the past again, but about revisiting a happy time. I’m going to be writing about revisiting a place that’s the personification of a warm blanket on a cold night, someplace I love and cherish, and miss with frequency.  This place didn’t make me a better person though. In fact, there were nights it made me downright subhuman. I’m talking about the beautifully bittersweet experience that is going back to your favorite college bar.

For me, it’s Oscars, a nondescript blue(ish) stone building sitting on the corner of Taylor Avenue and Linden Street, in Scranton’s hill section. I spent a lot of time in Oscars. It was easy, as for two years I lived just a few houses up Taylor from its door. I’d go on Thursday nights for penny drafts, where $5.00 gave you all you could drink for 2 hours. You could stretch it to 3, or even 4 hours, if you didn’t mind stockpiling cups of beer at your table, and didn’t mind them turning warm, and let’s face it, at 21, I was more than ok with that.  I’d end my Friday nights there, heading down around 12-12:30, which these days, is well past my Friday night bedtime.  My favorite time to spend in Oscars was Saturday afternoon for kegs and eggs, albeit there were never any eggs involved. There was a group of us who would head down every Saturday.  We had a rule about being there by 2:30, and we’d sit at the same table, in the same corner, and put the same songs on the jukebox (George Harrison’s “I Got My Mind Set On You” will never not bring my back to that table in that corner), and try our best to have the tower of our empty plastic cups hit the ceiling. I think we thought we came close a few times, but we never really did. We always had a blast though, and would spill back out of Oscars when it closed at 6, always shocked by how light it still was (for all the brightness Oscars has lent to my life, it is a dark, dark bar), and ideally go to someone’s house to grill burgers or order pizza. More often than not, we were back for a second round later in the night. If our bodies held out, we’d be able to lock arms with our friends, and drunkenly slur along to “As Long as We’ve Got Each Other,” The Growing Pains theme-song, which always played at last-call.

The view from my favorite table, in my favorite corner.

This isn’t going to be a story about making my grand return after a long 10-year absence.  My friends and I have returned quite often throughout the years. We’d revisit Oscar’s on Parade Day, at our 5 year class reunion, and once in a while we’d just pop in for the hell of it if we were hitting the town for the night (living 25 minutes from Scranton helps). My friend Laura and I were in Cockeyes, Oscar’s nemesis, and counterpart, directly across the street, just a year ago one Saturday in August when we had nothing better to do. This is, however, the story of my first return to kegs and eggs in over 7 years. We’d stopped briefly a couple of years back between a wedding and its reception, but it was only for about 20 minutes, and at that point, we really weren’t that removed from graduation.

My friend Maura and I went this past Saturday for an hour and a half prior to getting dinner downtown. She was at a conference at the University that ended around 3, and our dinner plans with my brother were for 5:30. It gave us some free wiggle room, wiggle room we both agreed would be best served sitting at our favorite table. We didn’t sit there though. It would’ve been awkward. As one Nick Carraway astutely told his more nostalgic neighbor, “You can’t repeat the past.”

It’s true. 10 years ago if we’d have walked in at 4, we would’ve been late. The place would’ve been crowded, and the best songs might even have already played. But in 2017, we were the first customers of the day. The bar was freezing, without any body heat to combat the dropping temperature, and the silence was deafening. The smell was familiar though: that stale bar smell you might undoubtedly know yourself.  And the Christmas lights adorning the room were as cheerful as ever. The owner was serving for the moment, and it seemed more adult to sit at the bar and chat with her.  We had dollar Bud Light drafts in flimsy plastic cups that tasted like maybe the tap lines weren’t cleaned as well as they should’ve been. I wasn’t complaining though. It tasted just like I remembered. I just didn’t realize why it tasted that way at the time.

Views from my perch at the bar this past Saturday. The drink specials haven’t changed in 10 years.

The owner lamented to us about how the school had changed. It’s true. It’s a lot more expensive now. It’s got a lot more of the bells and whistles you’d expect a school its price would have.  I don’t know if my friends and I would be able to afford to go there today. She said they don’t get the crowds they used to. Kids have small house parties. They head downtown more (Scranton’s downtown is a lot of fun now, but was virtually nonexistent during our tenure). They like craft beer and good whiskey. Oscars only stays open till 9 on a Saturday. That stinks we said. You guys knew how to party better she said.  Despite ourselves, it went right to our heads. You guys knew how to spend money better too, she added, always the consummate business woman. That let the air out a bit. We both still know how to spend money a little too frivolously.

Around 5, a crowd started filtering in.  First, they came from a wedding party, like us, older alumni who were looking to recapture the magic. The bar started to seem like someplace people actually hung out, as tables were claimed, and cigarettes lit.  Then, they started coming in and yelling hello to the bartenders, in the familiar way kids who spent all their free time at a bar greet the staff.  Then the DJ came, taking his spot in the corner, the same spot that the DJ my age used  to sit to play a cadre of music that became all my favorite songs, and the same spot one of my good friends, who inherited the DJ position 2 years later, used to sit while we’d bug him about what to put on next.  The first song this DJ played with Springsteen’s “Growing Up.” It wasn’t an “Oscars song” per say, but man was it apt.  There’s still days where I feel, “she couldn’t sail but she sure could sing” was written for me.  One more draft and I’d be liable to tear up. People cheered, and sang along when the music started. I looked around. The drink specials hadn’t changed.  The posters on the wall were exactly where they’d been back in 2004. I didn’t ask, but I bet I could still score a bottle of Andre for $3.00, or maybe it was $12.00. I was never exactly sober when someone sprang for one of those.  Oscar’s was back to its glory days.

It was time for us to go soon after that; we only heard three songs in total. I didn’t put up a fight though. I didn’t try the “one more drink” appeal. I didn’t order a large pitcher I knew would make us stay an extra 20 minutes. I was ok to go, because the best parts of Oscars, the things about it that made it so special, and made me stay there for hours on end have changed.

They’re in Conshohocken now with a brand new house, getting ready to get married. They’re in Jersey City with with a new puppy. They’re Snapchatting their global adventures, making me add Denmark and Barcelona to my travel wish-list. They’re running a half marathon in Philly, at a brewery out on Long Island’s North Fork, or teaching science to kids in Queens. They’re patrolling Times Square as a member of the NYPD, texting me videos of themselves dressed as a school mascot, taking train rides with their wife down in West Chester, having a glass of wine somewhere in Arlington, and  playing pool in North Jersey. They’re living life in Brooklyn, Long Island, South Jersey,  Philly, NEPA, and spread across the Lehigh Valley. They were on their way down to meet me for dinner at Bar Pazzo in five minutes, and yes, one was just a bar stool over, sitting next to me, drinking a Bud Light from a flimsy plastic cup, and laughing at me when I told them “Growing Up” might make me cry. They’re the people I spend  weekends visiting, the ones who idly Facebook chat with me at work, and the ones who tag me in memes they know I’ll immediately laugh at.  They’re ones I’m so excited to spend a weekend with during an annual Christmas Party this December, the ones whose food I’ll scarf down over dinner this Saturday, the ones I reach out to when I need a laugh, and the ones I shared three courses, and after dinner teas with (we’re elders now) at Bar Pazzo when I left Oscars last Saturday night.

You’ve seen evidence of them here, maybe not directly, but they’ve been the ones I rafted down the Delaware with , the ones I bang on the ceiling of the OD down in Sea Isle every summer, the ones who’ve been with me walking around downtown Lake Placid during a snowstorm blackout, the ones brewery hopping with up in Portland, hot wing tasting with here in NEPA, and attending zombie mud runs with in the middle of no where Maryland.

Oscars is special because of the friendships I’ve built there.They’re the reason I wouldn’t ague with Mr. Carraway.   It’s not that I can’t necessarily repeat the past, it’s more that I simply don’t need to, not when so many good parts of it are still in my life.

But thank you Oscars, as always, for the reminder, because as you’d always croon at 2, right before our “one more song” chants were shut down, “baby rain or shine, all the time, we’ve got each other, sharing the laughter and love.”

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