I remember seeing this sign in a bar I used to frequent back in The Bronx of my youth. If I found myself there nearing the midnight hour I’d foolishly wait for the hour to chime in the new day so I could benefit from the generosity of the bartender who would then be handing out free drinks. It didn’t take long (even with a few drinks in me) to figure out that tomorrow never comes.
I think my eighteen year old self (yes, eighteen was the drinking age in New York in that era!) learned a good lesson in that bar dishearteningly ordering another pint of Guinness I’d have to pay for. That lesson being don’t expect something, someone, or a situation to arise to change my life or chase my dreams. If I want change, I shouldn’t wait for tomorrow to ask the pretty girl in class for a date, a job offer to fall into my lap or a bartender to deliver that magic free drink, it doesn’t really work like that. I have to make it happen, get out there, be proactive in the direction I want to head and keep on following my own lead. I also learned that with a little help, the universe does kick in and presents situations helping us along the way. That joking sign lured me in once, or possibly even a few times, thinking, ‘Cool, I’ll come back tomorrow’, but it was actually a sign from the universe saying, “No no no, I ain’t giving it to you that easily!!”
My university years were a great awakening to myself. My dad died eight months before I started college in the last year of the decade of the 70’s. My mom was pretty laid back with house rules for me, having a lot else on her own plate to take care of; widowed at forty-nine years old with me still at home, two older children out on their own, one grandchild already born and another soon arriving, plus her own life to piece together after the untimely death of her life-long partner. Her tomorrows crept in slowly one day at a time with many unknown twists and turns as she began her journey down the path to her new self. My tomorrow, after that life-changing event on that cold January day, abruptly thrust me into the next phase of my adulthood; get a grip, go to college, find a job, move out, stay at home, but whatever I did, I had to realise there were no free drinks coming the next day.
I don’t want to paint a grim picture of my life back then. I had it pretty darn good. I was living in a loving extended household. My older brother who had moved out to California the previous year decided to move back to New York after our dad’s death. My sister lived in a leafy suburb in upper Westchester County with her family, my loving aunt and uncle lived downstairs in our small three family house. My area of The Bronx was not the toughest section of that famed boro for its drugs and violence, and I had many friends. Sure you had to keep your wits about you, but that made life so much more exciting and palpable. I now had the family car at my disposal as my mom didn’t drive, so in many ways I was spoiled for choice; a house to live in, meals at home if I wanted, transportation and an older brother going to the same university as me so I could hang out in his circles and find my feet more easily. On the other hand, no one but me was choosing the classes I opted to take. There were also no more Catholic school nuns, priests or brothers telling me what to do, how to dress for school or punishing me if I stepped out of line. That was all gone in one fell swoop by the end of June, 1979. The slate was blank, the City University of New York system was offering me a different kind of education, but it was me with my hands on the steering wheel, something I never felt in my previous twelve years in the Catholic institutionalized system of education. It was all quite liberating.
My mom started working once again. She didn’t sit waiting at the bar till midnight for the illusive free drink, she slowly pieced her life back together, and that of course made my life that much easier. We were two adults living together figuring it out, making mistakes, arguing sometimes then moving on, but growing and respecting each other’s path into the unknown futures we were both facing. Of course, what I didn’t realize at the time, is that the other four and a half billion or so people I shared the planet with were facing those same unknown futures as well. It just always seemed that the world, countries, governments and citizens of the planet were on this preordained path to a known outcome somehow, but not me, I was the only uncertain one, I was the only one trying to figure things out. Wrong! We were, and still are, all in this confusion called life together.
Jump ahead to 2020, ironically the year that number indicates is that we have perfect vision. Nothing could be further from the reality. We are scrambling around blindly in the unknown. We are running into each other (figuratively in this time of social distancing), flailing our arms in the darkness of Covid-19 not certain where we will be in two days, two weeks, two months or two years. For the first time in my living memory the whole planet has been given this great big clean blank slate. Many people lucky enough to be living in the more affluent parts of the world are finding new talents, enjoying time with their children, some not missing the career paths they were following blindly just three short months ago, others missing it badly. The free drinks are at the bar of tomorrow, they are poured into the cold moist glass just waiting to be picked up and imbibed slowly, letting the cool liquid soothe our dry throats as we slowly come out for breath in the waking world of new possibilities. The refreshing drinks quenching our thirst with the added effect of the alcohol making us tingle ever so slightly, feeling good and that anything is possible. What drink will you have?
Those free drinks, as we all know, never really come, it’s just an illusion that keeps us coming back to the same bar. Simply visualizing them makes my mouth water. I can hear the laughter, feel the body heat of others crowding the bar, sense the coolness on my hand holding the glass tightly while music plays in the background as I tilt the glass up to my lips and enjoy the refreshment it gives me. The sense of being totally alive, unconsciously swaying to the music, focusing on the moment I’m in, while luxuriating in the excitement of what lies ahead. The nice thing is, although the illusion of the free drink may be just that, the reality of the drink is still there. It just awaits my entering the bar, putting my money on the counter and ordering. It’s all possible, we have that ability within us at every moment of our lives. If I don’t want a Daquiri or a Mimosa I can opt for a cold beer, a glass of champagne or even a cold sparkling water. My biggest worry in my recurring vision of having so much choice in that bar of tomorrow is that I’ll walk in – even after having sampled all the possibilities of the different cocktails in my current dream like existence – reach into my pocket, pull out a few coins and in a robot-like manner utter the unadventurous words, “I’ll just have the usual.”