Stranger in a Strange Land: December 2006

Friday, December 22, 2006

The Perfect Bar

There comes a point in every man’s life when he sets out on a quest to find the legendary “Perfect Bar”. During his noble journey he will become lost in smoke-filled rooms, engage in enlightening drunken conversations with strangers, and have intimate moments spent hugging cold, white porcelain. His ultimate destination is the discovery of a magical place that, until found, exists only in the fantasylands of television, movies and imaginations. When he stumbles upon the Perfect Bar, he will recognize it by its familial feel. Although he has never been there before, everybody will somehow know his name and, more importantly, know his drink of choice. Everything about the “Perfect Bar” will be right. The jukebox will crackle all the right tunes, the patrons will entertain with interesting conversation and the bartender will know what to do when told “PBRMEASAP”.

I have been wandering the streets in search of the fabled “Perfect Bar” for over a year. During my quest I have had the pleasure of enjoying the 1940’s atmosphere of a Sinatra-filled jukebox on faded red velour carpet at the Lounge. I have cried at the in-your-face reality of another pathetic Hawkeye loss cast down from the wall-sized televisions of Courtside. I swam under the summer stars with the Jimmy Buffett inspired land sharks and successfully avoided tripping into the blazing bonfire lit on the nautical deck of the Yard Arm. With amused curiosity I watched ghost-like shadows slither across a white bedroom sheet tacked to the tiled ceiling, transparently concealing the true happenings of Isabella’s stage. I have danced at the Busted Lift’s floor and have watched others try to reenact Coyote Ugly on top of Gin Ricky’s bar. I’ve enjoyed bottles of wine at both Jamie’s and The Grape Harbor and have drained pints at both Lot One and Bartini’s. I have crawled up and down Central circa 1972, yet still I continue to wander, wondering, “Where is the Perfect Bar?”

Although all of these bars are superb in their own unique way, none have met my rigorous standards for being declared the “Perfect Bar”. At some point they are too crowded, too expensive, charging cover, not stocked with the right beer, or playing the wrong music. Some have committed the mortal sin of offering its patrons, regardless of musical taste, the ability to be D.J. for a night by downloading music onto an Internet jukebox and killing the atmosphere in cold blood with the first note of any non-David Lee Roth Van Halen disappointment. At other times these places feel too old, too young or too much like a private party I am clearly not invited to. Perhaps I’m a perfectionist? My expectations are too high? Maybe this idea of a Perfect Bar is only that, an idea. A figment of my imagination.

Ah, but not so for I have found the Perfect Bar. I present to you the Walnut Tap. Granted, I have never actually been to the Walnut, but in my mind I know it is a tavern of perfection. In my mind I see it as a nitty-gritty pub whose air is filled with a low hanging London fog of stale smoke due to non-existent ventilation. I know its wood floors are finished with a sticky coat of fallen ash mixed with wasted beer. In the corner sits a dust covered neon jukebox spinning nostalgia from its collection of 45s. In the background the comforting clink of a breaking cue ball ricochets off the peeling wallpapered walls held up by now-antique beer signs. At the bar I see Sam and Scott, two college buddies, swivel on torn leather barstools while engaged in an intellectual critique of Tom Waits’ latest work of art. I know when I go to order a PBR the bartender will instinctively announce my wise decision with a ring of the obligatory P.B.R. bell hanging on the glass filled wall behind him.

In my mind I know the Walnut is the “Perfect Bar”. My quest is complete. I shuffle up to the tavern’s simple entrance and reach out for its metal handle, ice cold from the freezing temperature outside. Before opening the door, I pause. Through the condensation-concealed glass, I take a long look inside. I see the swirls of smoke, hear the hushed murmur of drunken conversation and smell the bitter aroma of a wooden floor saturated with hops. “Perfect,” I say out loud. Watching my word delineate in the crisp winter air, I let go and quietly walk away.

Thursday, December 21, 2006

Product of the Week: DNA Testing

As an attorney I am always shopping for a no-questions-asked-100%-fail-proof form of evidence to prove paternity in child support cases. How many times have I heard “But I’m not the Dad”? Now, thanks to an inspiring episode of the Jerry Springer Show, I have my proof that will make all objections futile. The answer: DNA Testing. Today DNA Testing is so cheap, easy and convenient, anybody can use it. My Product of the Week: DNA Testing- answering the question of “Whose Your Daddy?” since 1982.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

The Beer Belly Consequence

Ever since returning to Dubuque there is something I have been avoiding like a trip to the doctor’s for a latex wrapped physical. No, I am not talking about learning to play euchre, eating a Mulgrew’s chilidog or taking on the Central Challenge. I’m talking about getting in shape.

In Iowa City I was a fitness addict. I was the captain of the University of Iowa triathlon team and champion of the Iowa City Run for Schools road race. My workout regiment was brutal: biking in the morning, weight training over lunch, and running at night. I may have been insane, but at least I was in shape.

Today, however, things have changed. As I stand before the mirror of truth, I see that my old self is rapidly being consumed. Around my waste are the first signs of carbohydrates’ well-planned revenge. I have tried to regain my physique, or at least maintain the status quo, but thus far all such attempts have been embarrassingly futile. For example, I was a member of the YMCA…for about a week. I was always too tired after work to go and, despite my good intentions to return in the evening, either the night got too late or the Y was just too far away to justify driving there. I even became the Vice President of the Mississippi Valley Running Association. Unfortunately, as I nearly pass out from an exhausting jog around the block, I discover that mere titles of running importance do absolutely nothing for getting your ass back in shape. Clawing my way up the incline of the driveway, saliva dangling from my mouth and shadows of vultures circling somewhere above, I realize I have hit bottom.

Lying face first on the pavement, I hear the mailman step over me as he tosses the mail next to my sprawled out body. In the midst of bills, coupons and the latest mysterious edition of Parenting Times (which I believe is sent to me as part of a well established conspiracy between my mother and mother-in-law in hopes of inspiring me to make them grandmas) is a shiny flier announcing the grand opening of a new fitness center. I slowly sit up and in the not-so-very-far distance I can actually see the new facility. No longer having an excuse, I go and sign myself up.

Immediately I am put through a full-fledged fitness assessment. The uber-fit staff, who epitomize all-around health and even seem to perspire organic sweat, measure my body fat, take my blood pressure and cast judgment on my scrawny arms that haven’t seen a dumbbell in over a year. As I flail away on a treadmill, hooked up to various gadgets that gage my heart rate and tolerance to inhumane pain, I am lectured on what it takes to live a healthy life.

“Every morning you should start the day by drinking several large glasses of water,” I am told.

“I do,” I think. “Mine just happen to be laced with caffeine,” which I later find out is a cause of dehydration and, of course, not healthy.

“Limit the amount of sweets you eat. Instead of junk food, snack on crisp green vegetables.”

“Does celery come cream filled these days?” I wonder.

“And most importantly,” my trainer continues, “limit your consumption of beer as it is nothing but bad carbohydrates.”

“Nothing but bad carbs!” I stop in my tracks and begin to explain that a fresh pint of Guinness is actually a well-rounded liquid meal. But before I can fully explain my logic, I am abruptly hurled backwards by the treadmill’s still running conveyor belt.

I hit the ground with a thud. Somewhere between consciousness and oblivion, my life flashes before my eyes. I see myself sharing a round of Guinness with friends in Ireland, dancing until the sun rises in Spain, waking up with the potent assistance of café con leche in Costa Rica, and curing the munchies in Holland with a snack of buttery french-fries topped with mayonnaise. Returning to consciousness, I slowly sit up. I have seen the light: In order to live a truly healthy life, I must give up everything that makes life worth living. I look down at my infant beer belly and give it a loving little pinch. If this is the cost of living, well, that’s a sacrifice I’m willing to make.