In my world, the second weekend of December is always a special place. It’s the usual date when my friends throw their annual holiday party, and it’s one of two major gatherings I look forward to every year. It is possible that it single-handedly keeps the holidays from becoming the dark, over-stressful period that so many are unable to avoid getting caught up in at the end of the year. I try to keep the holidays simple anyway. Gifts tend to be for the immediate family only, saving time and money (and guaranteeing I will give gifts of meaning, not obligation). I don’t love the cold, but I find snow beautiful until such time as I have to shovel it. Most importantly, while the conflicts of capitalist greed and the tiffs between the religious and secular visions of the holiday rage, and while I certainly take sides on both, the meaning of Christmas and the time surrounding it is ALWAYS family and friends. It’s always about being with people I love, having the time to enjoy their company, sharing moments and sometimes gifts that could be remembered for years, and reveling in the comfort of tradition. This year, a lot of this will be shaken up from all sorts of angles: my family may be holding its first Italian feast of the seven fishes, instead of traveling to my relatives’ place, for starters. Still, there is a comfort, if you allow there to be, and bringing friends into the fold can soothe it even further if the family holidays of your youth were less than happy affairs. Indeed, gathering with friends has added to the already lengthy list of holiday perks such otherwise unlikely aspects as upside-down decor, things which should never be put in the freezer, and that classic coping mechanism, prodigious drinking.
Now, I’d never be one to advocate for the life of a lush, but there is a certain community to kicking back with a beer and your friends. I would lie to you if I didn’t say Delerium Noël was as much a part of my personal Christmas as my loved ones. You don’t particularly even need a beer for this if you can drink a coke or some water without being self-conscious about the fact that others are drinking more heavily, but something about a good bar (active, but not overly loud, good music, good selection of drinks, minimal pretensions, etc.) and a drink (metaphor for relaxation, natural diminisher of inhibition, source of warmth and cooling at different times) channels a comfortable, cared-for vibe. It’s as true around the backyard/pool/fire, or cozy in familiar living rooms and kitchens, as it is in a dim rathskeller. It’s a bizarre enhancement, since it’s totally unnecessary, but it works, and for better or worse, humanity has known this and fostered this for generations.
The narrator in “Mekong” is not with his friends, of course, but it is that sense of community, and not the loneliness of being miles from home and those you love and what matters most to you, which radiates from the song. New friends, or friends of convenience, or “single serving” friends if you wanna get all Tyler Durden about it… there’s still a sense of brotherhood here, “as cliche as it might sound.” It’s all in the social aspects of the drink that these disparate, not truly connected people can become best bros. And in that moment, there is a generosity, a shared moment (and shared beverage), a brotherhood and camaraderie; in this moment, lonely and rainy as the world is, we have that human warmth.
Is it realistic? I was at a local bar last month when I noticed a drink named the “Ashes of San Miguel,” a pretty blatant homage to Roger Clyne, lead singer of the Refreshments. I just had to confirm, since it was so unexpected to find a fan of the obscure current band of an obscure one-hit-wonder, and sure enough, the bartender was a fan. Indeed, both of my bartenders that night were, as the first had gotten the second into Clyne’s music. We talked about the man and his music, and about drinks, and about things in general to some degree. The bartenders were both attending a show of his later in the week, and had I made it up to Boston, it is likely there would have been drinks shared and jokes made, despite being strangers. At that moment, around the seduction of alcohol and the connections of music, we were temporarily friends, even if I wouldn’t remember them by face without a direct touchstone. It’s a common Clyne-ian theme: brotherhood among strangers and rascals alike, especially based on sharing a little (or a lot) of booze. I’ve even had the man himself hand me a shot of tequila, one of the many people sent him throughout a show, both in a communal drink and in the impossibility of consuming them all himself. The whole of the man’s onstage persona revolves around the socialness of drink. It only makes sense that his fans would embrace the same spirit (no pun intended).
Sometimes we do get lonely, is the point, and the holidays can be that time for many people. I’m not suggesting to down a bottle and give whiskey-drenched hugs to every other sad sack down at Patrick O’Drunkley’s Pub, but I do suggest that a beer with an old friend, or finding a comfortable spot to be alone, might be the family you need to make it through. The holidays can be tough. That alone might be all the connection you need.
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