The other day, I was driving down Prince Avenue while listening to John Prine’s “Lonesome Friends of Science.” The song implies that a world shaped purely from a measurable, scientific perspective would lack a spiritual dimension, and that such a world would be a lonely place. Naturally, this brought to mind the sign over the fish restaurant that opened in Normaltown last year. This sign looks as if the guys who painted it first spent a couple hours in one of the adjacent bars, doodling on napkins and drinking. I don’t know how long these places—those bars and the fish restaurant—will be able to survive. The zombie-like redevelopment of Athens suggests that it’s gonna go some day, this strip on Prince, and be replaced by a chain restaurant and boutiques that sell designer handbags and stuffed bulldogs with semi-precious stones for eyes. The Chamber of Commerce types will say they’re building a better tomorrow or other such rhetorical bamboozlement. I say they will be neutering the neighborhood. By the time they have finished monetizing Normaltown’s character, they will have succeeded in making Normaltown normal, with the bland architecture essential for rendering any location undetectable from countless others. It goes without saying that the signs will be perfect, every one of them, shining emblems of all that Athens is to become.
Debate Event at the Normal Bar
Last summer, I attended a Democratic debate party at Normal Bar. I have noticed that many people who frequent or live in Normaltown are NOT NORMAL, so the name is definitely ironic. There was a turnout of around 50 people for the debate. It was mostly a bifocal, closed-captioned, Subaru crowd, people who’ve had insomnia since 2016, not heroic drinkers, but often enamored of policy minutiae, likely to be familiar with and approving of the Birkenstock ethos. I thought Elizabeth Warren came off well in the opening rounds. But I could tell which way the wind was blowing, and not wishing to be overwhelmed by an oratorical roller derby, I left. On Normal Bar’s outdoor patio were 100 or so mostly young folk, getting absolutely hammered. I envied them.
Guy’s sitting next to me at a bar here in Athens. Three in the afternoon, he’s headed for oblivion via the Irish whiskey method. We get to talking about Triumph motorcycles, since we both rode them in the 1970s. One of the signal characteristics of drunks is that they can convince themselves of anything and believe it heart and soul, until they about forget it. This guy is dead sure he’s gonna buy a new motorcycle, soon, and ride it to Valhalla, because “everything is meaningless.” The nihilism I can understand, albeit with reservations, but the motorcycle purchase is difficult to square with his admission of catastrophic financial affairs. This isn’t the first free-association motorpsycho rant I’ve listened to, and I suspect the emotional weather is about to undergo a serious pressure drop. Which it does. In the midst of an incoherent paean to the mystical qualities of Slavic women (don’t ask), he stops, glares at me and says: “BUT LET ME FINISH MY STORY!” I have not uttered a syllable for several minutes, but I tell him to get on with it while signaling for my tab. I leave, and as the sunlight on Clayton Street washes over me, I am thinking that it is too early for serious drinking, and too late for me to ride Triumph motorcycles anymore.
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