I recently found myself at the Scoreboard Tavern. I had left my house in an attempt to evade the pressures of the evening, in a long standing tradition probably going back to the time of Oog. I was walking along the dark wet streets and eventually found the resting place of ages; the dive bar.
Its exterior was uninviting, with slate gray vertical panels that say ‘hasty shack’ in over fifty states. The neon orange leaderboard sign that flashed the drink specials, upcoming games to watch, and breakfast served all day information was not why I went in. I quite simply needed a place to go after walking for half an hour, and I had never been inside this bar.
The lighting was a combination of lamps that light up pool tables, neon signs, pinball games and televisions broadcasting ESPN, and while the smoking ban may have been in effect since January I’m pretty sure the smoke that was in that place just found a corner to hang out in and never left. On the plus side there was a nice greasy smell in the air, a signal that if I wanted something to eat, it would probably be hot and at least somewhat tasty.
I cooled my heels at the bar, looking over my choices. Liquor-which I did not want-and beer, which in defiance of all that is Portland, was mostly the product of macrobreweries. But I didn’t want to stand out. I didn’t want to be someone who wasn’t easily part of this landscape. I wanted to fit in, to enjoy the anonymity of being an anyone, everyone.
So I ordered a PBR. The Portland hipster of beers, choice of lowball alcoholics and bike couriers or anyone, really, who can scrounge up a buck-fifty and just wants the simple pleasure of having a beer. Any beer. I had no pen, no distractions, all there was for me to do was sit there and just be. The skunky nose on this beer providing the only sense of flavor, the rest of this liquid going down like some cheap cliche.
I wasn’t ready for the sheer level of carbonation this beer had. The fizziness ran through my entire mouth like I’d been drinking a 9-volt battery, getting in the small spaces of my mouth causing my tongue to sweep through the gaps between my gums and lips, trying to get the sensation out. I am not drinking this beer for flavor so much as the sensation of putting something in my mouth. I wonder if the brewers of Pabst knew how flavorless their beer was, so tried to make up for it in tactile sensation.
It was mine though, and nobody was going to hassle me.
Eventually, another man came in. He looked around, sat down the required seat away from me and ordered a drink himself. Rum and coke. We sipped our drinks and eventually sized each other up. He was close to my age, head shaved, thin enough that there were no folds in the dark skin along his skull, with a pencil thin goatee containing tiny flicks of gray running around his mouth, loose gray jacket rumpled around his shoulders. The guy head nod was given; You’re here and I’m here and it’s all cool.
We sipped our drinks, me a little faster than him as the experience of drinking PBR is not enhanced by drinking it slowly.
“One of those nights?” he asked me.
“Yeah. Just gotta get out.”
He nodded, “I was returning movies, ’cause it was just like; the wife and the kids were starting to make me rargh! and it was just better to step outside for a bit.” He speaks it with a smile; he’s not really angry or upset, he loves those people but as with so many we love, they were driving him slightly mad.
“I get it,” I say, though I have no kids, my wife is actually my girlfriend, and I had left the house for entirely different reasons. The principle holds. We were two guys doing what people have been doing since forever; sitting at a bar, saying, “You know, life isn’t so bad, but damnit I just had to get out of there for a bit.”
Oog and Florn did this in caveman days, but they sat over mastodon carcass and drank fermented milk. I’m pretty sure I’ve got the better deal.
“Anyway,” he continues, “I was on my way home and I just saw this place and thought ‘I’ve never been in there. Should check it out.'”
“Really? It’s my first time in here too. Lived here for ten years and just never came in.”
So we start to talk. About the bar. About politics. Someone else at the end of the bar where it curves joins in briefly. I’m drinking a beer that’s been around since 1882-ish and no I don’t like the way it tastes it but I am just like everyone else, if temporarily. I can enjoy this beer, because I can enjoy this moment.
Then my beer is gone. Do I want another? No; the a.m. hours have come upon me, and it’s time to walk home. I introduce myself to the guy next to me. His name is Carter. I hope I see him around again, if just for the head nod.