By Jay Fox
Brooklyn, NY, USA

When I was a child, I spoke as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child: but when I became a man, I put away childish things.Saul Paul

Feeling yourself suddenly too old to be doing something is kind of like an out of body experience. You observe yourself in a new light or, at the very least, in a less biased way. You find yourself suddenly capable of removing all of those yeah’s that you typically tell yourself or others; you stop calculating all the conditions that you add to the equation to make what you're doing acceptable; you look at exactly what is going on and you say to yourself, “What the fuck am I doing right now?”
Jay Fox

It's strange. It's strange because humans are excellent liars, especially when we lie to ourselves. In fact, we are so good that at times we don't even recognize that the narratives we've woven for ourselves are only partially true. This makes it difficult to stop. If we can’t even identify a problem, how can we resolve it?

Now, what I’m referring to is not a full-blown existential crisis, what Albert Camus characterized as the sudden realization of the absurdity of life. When that happens, it's as if the fourth wall suddenly crumbles and we find ourselves awkwardly staring out from a stage at an audience that breathes a collective sigh of relief because they realize that everyone is finally on the same page.

No, it's not that. What I'm referring to is just a dipping of the figurative toe into the deep end of the pool. You don't question everything or feel alone, without excuses. You just realize that you've never taken an earnest look in the mirror while behaving in a specific way. Unimpeded by reflection or serious consideration, this behavior just feels natural.

Until, of course, it doesn’t.

Once that happens, once that Pandora’s Box opens, it can’t be undone. You will forever question yourself for behaving in such a way whenever the opportunity presents itself. You will never be able to really shirk that inner voice that tells you that what you're doing is ridiculous and you will never be able to fully take yourself seriously when you are doing whatever it is you are doing, provided you can bring yourself to do it in the first place.

I've been having these mini-existential epiphanies since I was a kid. I'm serious. I remember playing with action figures and having the revelation in elementary school. I looked down and realized that I wasn’t holding Dice and Storm Shadow, but rather two pieces of human-shaped plastic that had “Made in Japan” stamped on their asses. I remember being in a club in Detroit in my mid-twenties and realizing, at a very sober and very aggravated five in the morning, that I was the only person who was both over 25 and not on Molly. I remember staring into the bathroom mirror of a Brooklyn dive on a Thursday night/Friday morning knowing that the bloodshot-eyed, nearly incoherent 30-year-old in front of me would somehow have to drag his hungover ass to work in just a few hours, but at least knew that my situation was gravy compared to my even drunker friend who was gearing up to go home to his wife and kid.

There is a certain line that you suddenly realize you've crossed that doesn't amount to an ethical or moral violation—you just understand that what you're doing is something that you shouldn't be doing anymore. It’s the super-ego or self-for-others or internalized mores of your culture or whatever telling you to act your age.

Most recently, this kind of realization took place out front of a row house in West Philadelphia as my thirty-five-year-old self-realized that my band was about to play to a bunch of college kids in a basement venue that probably wasn't more than ten feet wide. Once I got into that basement, I realized I was wrong. The basement was only about eight feet wide. Worse, there were only a handful of kids there, waiting for us to play. Even worse, one of them was high school drunk in a way that was not just a level of intoxication.

I'm not saying that there's a categorical line in the sand that prohibits someone who has reached the age of 35 from playing at a party for people in their twenties, or that people shouldn't be amped to take the stage whenever the opportunity presents itself. However, there is a moment in time when you realize that maybe you shouldn't be driving over one hundred miles to play in the dank basement of a punk house to perhaps half a dozen people who could not care less about your music because they are really just there to get shitfaced before heading out to one of the college bars up the block, and their primarily concerns are limited to getting laid and hoping that their fake IDs don't get confiscated by any over-scrupulous doormen.

What I am saying is that these kinds of shows can get weird. Unfortunately, when they're weird, they're very weird.

And this show was very weird.

It wasn't weird because of anything that was specifically said or done. It was weird because it was transgressive while being held in an ostensibly inclusive space. Put in a less academic way, this basement was open to everyone, but more open to those who belonged. And we did not belong—largely because three of the four of us were more than a decade older than everyone else there.

Now, one may feel that I'm putting too great an emphasis on age. Perhaps these people who welcomed me into the house were more than happy to accommodate us and the age gap didn't even register for them. Perhaps the awkwardness was entirely in my head or perhaps the awkwardness had only come about because the other bands and people at the party knew each other and we were outsiders. After all, every person I spoke to was pleasant and welcoming once any initial coldness subsided.

While all of this may all be true, it seems doubtful. It seems doubtful because you typically can discern not only the sense of being out of place, but the reason why you are out of place. While I was there, it was because I was old, and they were young.

On top of feeling myself an alien, a stranger, what was disorienting about this incident was that it was a bit of a step through the looking glass. When I normally feel out of place, it is not because I’m too old, but because I’m too young. This is largely because of where I now work: The Upper East Side.

This is not to say that everyone who lives in the Upper East Side is decrepit or senile or extremely rude or incapable of quickly paying for something at the drug store and not causing a scene because of some perceived slight from the cashier. It’s just that these are the types of people that you see during the day because everyone else is at work or school.

However, it’s not just age. When you're on the Upper East Side, you feel like an outsider because you’re almost always discernibly poorer than the person next to you. And they will let you know that they know that you’re poorer than them. It's one of their few positive qualities—honesty when dealing with the peasants. Some of the things they find a bit more difficult include: Treating workers in the service industry with respect, following basic parking signs, and picking up after their moribund toy dogs. The streets may be lined with BMWs and Mercedes, but the sidewalks are mined like Cambodia.

Finnegans Wake Pub

Suffice to say, I walked into Finnegans Wake Pub (1361 1st Avenue, Upper East Side) for lunch one day assuming that I would be able to feel every set of eyes up and down the bar on me. And I did. I did because I was one of two people in the bar (minus the staff) under the age of 70. I was, however, the only unaccompanied one, and I couldn’t shake the feeling as though I’d interrupted something.

Of course, after a while the people at the corner of the bar went back to their conversations and the solo Irish octogenarian next to me went back to reading the Post and nursing his Guinness, but it dawned on me that Finnegans Wake was not possessed of the typical snootiness of the neighborhood or the typical signs of desperation that one finds when going to old man bars. This was different.

It was different because it was a relic without being timeless, a replica or in shambles. And that’s an oddity in New York City. It wasn’t too sophisticated to change; it didn’t celebrate itself for remaining in business while so many other places like it had failed; it most certainly wasn’t retro; and it wasn’t in any way a dive. It had remained a local bar that catered to moderately affluent regulars in the neighborhood even as these regulars got older and the neighborhood and tastes radically changed. The bar, of course, did not.

From what I could tell, it had never tried to cater to Gen Xers or Millennials. Avocado is not on the menu and you’ll probably get slapped in the face if you ask the bartender for any cocktail that has been invented in the past fifty years. Unlike the Irish pubs in Midtown with names like Murphy’s or McGee’s or Mulligan’s, it still served chicken in a basket, didn’t seem too keen on craft beer and had the radio tuned to a station that only played the hits from the era in which the bar opened—the 1970s.

That Finnegans Wake is set in its ways is undeniable and, in many ways, unremarkable. Many other bars are set in their ways. However, I couldn’t help but feel as though the bar was unique. As I sat there eating my chicken in a basket, drinking my Guinness, enjoying the fact that only Rush could make a hit with a 7/8 time signature, and wondering how the hell most of the scotches behind the bar are pronounced, I came to realize that the thing that made the bar unique was that it was anachronistic, but did not elicit a sense of nostalgia.

This provided me with some insight on the meaning of nostalgia. It’s not just a fondness for the past or the act of reliving a memory. It’s a return to an activity or place following that mini-epiphany about being too old for something that I described above. Nostalgia is what happens when you return to something as a different person and interact with its simulacrum. Both subject and object are different.

This is not what’s happening at Finnegans Wake. Like the novel from which the bar gets its name, you get the impression that the day’s events at the pub are something of a continuous cycle that hasn’t changed much in some time, and that the regulars who participate in this cycle never end up feeling nostalgic because they’ve never consciously broken from this cycle for long enough to feel alienated from it.

In a city where virtually everything is perpetually in flux or changing or becoming the figurative shadow of its former self while I’m living through a period of life where friendships are in flux or changing or becoming the figurative shadow of their former selves, there’s a rare level of comfort in seeing a pub like that with regulars who seem so comfortable refusing to act their age.

Jay Fox   


Jay Fox is the author of The Walls and a regular contributor to Stay Thirsty Magazine.

All opinions expressed are solely those of its author and do not reflect the opinions of Stay Thirsty Media, Inc.