Back in high school, an of age friend used to pick a few of us up on Friday nights in the car he bought with money earned by dropping out of college and going to work for $6 an hour. With a precision usually exhibited only by the type of foreign watches that cost more than the car, we'd hit 65 South at Hamburg, crack open beers, and guzzle like goats, racing to see who could down the most units before we hit the Kennedy Bridge.
The only thing worse than tunneling into the gymnast-sized back seat of that Camaro, gasping down four half-warm cans of swill to the point of watery eyes, and coming in last was knowing it would happen before my ride ever even showed up. That there’d be eight more cans left in my half of a shared case was both comforting and horrifying.
Other than that previously mentioned, two things at all certain were that I’d end up watching for cops while peeing in a parking lot and we’d eventually end up at the Maze.
The Maze was an all ages club in St. Matthews, built from the remnants of a failed laser tag business. The sticky carpet ran up the walls, the secret passages and strategic hiding places were still there, and the exhaled smoke was enough to fairly accurately reproduce the fog from the special effects machines that used to be there. If I hadn’t previously started having seizures while watching films in junior high, I’d probably think it was the throbbing lights of the place that did me in for the next few years.
Robert Fulghum may have done his learning in kindergarten and Roger may have educated himself on the other side of the bar, but I know what I know from late in the night, trying not to puke while some cute girl, searching for a place to hide herself amongst the Maze’s architectural recesses but finding me instead, would begin to wishfully reinterpret my fear as sensitivity and my verbal economy as thoughtfulness rather than nervous struggle.
When you’re young and drunk enough to relive your life in less than an hour, a second date is of no concern and kisses are for goodbyes. It's when you find out what clichés really are, usually as you're trying to retract them.
Luckily, the beer’s much better now and comes in smaller doses. The cute girl, too, has changed into a beautiful woman who makes it a point to look for me. But sometimes I still miss those moments, when two strangers tell each other the truth because it’s the only thing that matters.
It’s only recently that I’ve begun to consider the parallel between then and now. Maybe it’s why I appreciate poetry. Maybe it’s why I still believe in redemption.
Or just maybe it’s what attracted me to New Albany and this overly personalized, unnecessarily politicized revitalization business in the first place, where corruptive disingenuousness, bad actors, and avoidance are too often the norm and poetry and redemption will only come when strangers can find some honest corners.