November 17, 2022

Sam’s and Sames

So, as I mentioned at the tail end of yesterday’s post, I went to Sam’s yesterday for lunch and engaged in a little bit of high-caffeine observation.

Sam’s is a pretty plain sports bar/restaurant of a type found all over the country in the borderlands between middle and lower middle class economic zones. Once you cross that boundary fully you get into the land where dirt bars flourish instead.

Cross that economic border in the other direction, on your way up and you end up with zoning regulations that yield things like Cheddar’s, J.B. Danigans, Bennigans, Olive Gardens, Outback Steakhouses, Texas Roadhouses and other instantiations of the same cultural template, varying slightly from region to region.

But Sam’s is a happy medium. Televisions all over the walls with every sporting event available blasted into every eyeball that is even remotely in view of the things. In fact, there is no seat in the house that affords you any safety or solace of any kind from the blipverts of modern culture. For reasons I’ll never quite understand I find it a fine place to eat but an awful place to drink.

I sat at a high top off to the side of the bar, where I could see the room and the front door. There were a couple tables behind me, which I really don’t like. But I wasn’t going to go full Aragorn and sit in the corner with a hood up like some fucking basement dwelling edgelord, no matter how much I love the aesthetic, if I’m being honest.

Waiting on my burger and fries I watched. It was the same group of guys who are always there. Always.

I watched the guys and the couple couples, most of whom had a decade or two…or three on me.

They’re the same people, sitting in the same seats at the same times every day, ordering the same beers and the same food. Their faces drawn and hollow, damn near to the point of being extras in a zombie movie.

I recognized a couple as regulars over at Johnathan’s, literally across the street (Sam’s if they had a budget, better lighting and kept the place clean.)

Some of these guys go to Sam’s for lunch and a beer then head over to Johnathan’s for a couple more beers, then come back to Sam’s for dinner, then head back to Johnathan’s to close out the night….several days a week.

The struggle toward sameness struck me. The hunger for pattern and predictability. Get up at the same time. Do the same things. Wear the same clothes. Ogle the same bartenders. Watch the same sports teams and refer to them as “we” (which might be the single most unsettling phenomenon of modern western culture.)

It’s one of those things I didn’t really see until my brain clicked in to that place. But once I saw it I couldn’t help but see it.

These guys pursue nothing so much as sameness. There was a time I’d have called that fear, but I’m not sure it even gets that far. To call it fear would be to presume there was an aspiration that was being subverted by trepidation of some kind. I don’t really think it goes that far.

Occasionally they’ll throw the dice to evolve the pattern: A new job, a new wife, kids, a new home. Then they’ll ride that series of habits and patterns, resting in it like their seemingly inevitable la-z-boy recliners into which they’ll finally (and sometimes Finally) be promoted.

Sure, we all have fantasies of one kind or another. But those are rarely imbued with sufficient gravitas for us to take seriously, much less to actually pursue.

No, this is something else. Seeking comfort, contentment, perhaps even animal and creature comfort.

I imagine they don’t fear illness and death as an end, but as a disruption of their pattern, their peace, as a change in and of itself and would be perhaps equally fearful of winning the lottery; though that’s far easier to conceive of, if astronomically less likely.

As I sat there, waiting on my burger and ginger beer, thinking this all through I realized how much of human behavior was becoming really quite clear, how many things it explained.

And as you’d imagine I was feeling, well, not exactly “smug” as I wasn’t thinking much of myself in relation to this weird dominant cultural phenomenon. It just seemed sad to me that so many would so obviously seek nothing so much as stability, safety.

I think a lot about finding one’s purpose. From dozens of years and millions of words of my own cogitations to seeking out other people who might have a clue about it through things like Ivan’s “Feast of War” I went to in 2018 in Denver (finding a good time but zero answers.)

Then a few years ago I “nominally retired.” In fact now that I think of it it’s pretty close to exactly the day three years past that I finally left the firm.

A couple things started really clearing up about purpose, and not to the good. It became pretty obvious that most people throw their need for a reason into, as I said above, their jobs, their day-to-dayness. When I stopped working I was suddenly struck even more forcefully (which is rather fucking saying something if I do say so myself) by how utterly rudderless I was and had been.

The closest thing I’d had to purpose really was the day to day normalcy of my job. Suddenly it was gone and I was cast utterly adrift, having severed what I hadn’t realized was the last line mooring me to reality.

It’s been as I’ve said, three years and while my life is indeed quite remarkably different and better than it was that first Monday I woke up at eleven in the morning, wearing bunny slippers and a bathrobe.

I spent months and now years trying to intentionally trick myself into doing things that “mattered.” Even this kind of exercise (put up one 1000 word post a day for a month) is that kind of struggling for something to live up to.

But I realized something at some point along the way that I hadn’t realized I’d realized until I was rolling over the above insights on my way back here to Smokey afterwards.

I haven’t been struggling for purpose, though that’s the name I’ve been giving it.

I’ve been struggling to find a pattern in whose stasis I can find comfort.