This year, a bar opened in my home town for the first time in its three-century history. This might not sound like a big deal, but when your town’s most exciting social venue is a tie between an antique shop and the Wawa parking lot, a new bar is like what Studio 54 must have been for coke-craving disco sluts.
I planned my first visit for Thanksgiving Eve, statistically the busiest drinking night of the year. “Be ready,” I said to Melinda. “It’s gonna be a shit show.”
In my head, I pictured a line out the door, throngs of returning Mullica Hill residents just as excited about the novelty as me. We’d rub elbows and trade rounds, exclaiming to each other How crazy is it that we’re sitting at a bar in Mullica Hill?!
Melinda and I got there early — around 8 — to make sure we got a good spot. I ordered a beer and we waited for the madness to begin.
At 9:30, I perked up when I saw a waitress carry a tray of Fireball shots to the table behind me, but sank back into my seat when the group downed them and then argued over who would order the Uber to the next bar.
Two hours and three beers later, when it was clear my nostalgic fantasy was not going to play out, I asked for the check.
“Can I ask you something?” I said when the bartender came back with my receipt. I explained to her my expectations for the night. “Where is everyone?”
The bartender said the pizzeria consciously neglected to run drink specials or advertise for Thanksgiving weekend.
“It’s more trouble than it’s worth,” she said. “We don’t want to deal with the fights and the puking. This crowd is much better.” She gestured to the quartet of middle-aged ladies next to us yawning into their glasses of chardonnay.
By 11:30 I was in bed, half drunk and disappointed. What happened? I mean, I wasn’t young anymore, but is everyone my age satisfied with drinking a box of white zinfandel and watching Netflix in their childhood living room? Have we all lost the fire?
The problem with people my age is that we’re stuck in the middle. We’re too old to visit the types of places that require a doorman checking IDs. We haven’t had to boot and rally since Mitt Romney was on the campaign trail, and even then, we blamed it on the swine flu.
Yet we’re still too young to turn into pumpkins at 9 p.m, still virile enough to occasionally cast caution to the wind and order a round of tequila.
I didn’t leave my parents’ house the rest of the weekend, bummed at my failed night out. Instead, Melinda and I sat on the couch watching the Netflix show Black Mirror, which, if you haven’t seen it, is a mindfuck-y dystopian show whose themes center around the dangers of technology.
In one of the episodes, science has created this simulated reality called San Junipero, where old people can mentally inhabit eras of the past. It’s called “immersive nostalgic therapy,” and it’s supposed to soothe geriatrics in their final days.
The emotional theme of the episode really hit home for me. I “felt seen,” as the kids say. I realized the reason I wanted my failed night out at the pizzeria to be so exciting was because I craved the comfort of nostalgia. For one night, I wanted to forget my career and my mortgage and the unwashed dishes in my sink and live in the past.
I know San Junipero is fiction, but wouldn’t it be cool if there was some way to capture that magic of youth? If there was a place where like-minded nostalgia-seekers could gather and re-live their glory days?
Turns out, we kind of can, thanks to events that peddle exclusively in nostalgia.
A week after my pizzeria letdown, my co-worker Rachel invited me to something called ‘90s night. ‘90s night, it seemed, was an event where similarly-aged adults arranged for babysitters and left the safety of their living rooms in order to drink cocktails and steep themselves in the vestiges of a decade punctuated by presidential blow jobs, Zubaz pants, and the bildungsroman of Corey Matthews.
Could this be the real-life San Junipero I so desperately sought? There was only one way to find out.
I navigated to the venue’s website to order tickets, where I was met with the following blurb:
2019 is sooo overrated, but you know what’s ALL THAT? The SAVED BY THE 90’s PARTY! BOO YA! Hailing from NYC and now active all over the U.S., this party has tons of live 90’s music from a totally fresh band (they’re da bomb). Get ready for everything from Third Eye Blind to the Spice Girls, from The Backstreet Boys to The Beastie Boys. And after that, we’re not leaving you hangin’! As if! Get Jiggy with the DJ spinning dope tunes all night! It’s gonna be the raddest thing since your mom!
What struck me most about this event description aside from the improperly placed apostrophes in “90’s” (does the decade own something? I asked myself), I found myself sighing at the ‘90s cliches that riddled this paragraph like bullets in a getaway car.
I mean, yeah, on some level I sought a respite from the over-serious, over-woke present I found myself inhabiting, but this event blurb felt a little desperate. Boo Ya? As if? Gag me with a spoon.
My mind flashed to the worst-case scenario. What happened if I paid for my $30 ticket and found myself surrounded by a bunch of Spice Girl wannabes, unwilling to let Father Time pry their platform Sketchers and jelly bracelets from their Urban Decay-painted fingers? Would I be forced to spend the night pressed up against social maladjusts who only leave the house when they can scream YOU’S A FINE MOTHERFUCKA WON’T YOU BACK THAT ASS UP? and not get slapped with a harassment suit?
My first few minutes at the theatre does not do much to assuage my concerns. The first partygoer I encounter is in the upstairs lounge by the bathrooms. She’s in her mid-30s, wearing a black skirt and black stockings and a Boyz II Men t-shirt tied on the side with a Scrunchie. She sits sideways on a wingback chair so her legs dangle over the armrest.
“Catherine!” she yells into her phone. “I don’t remember anything! I don’t remember showering, I don’t remember getting here. Now I’m upstairs all by myself and I don’t know what to do!”
It is 8:15 p.m.