Inside the Assisted Drinking Facility

No Nevada buddies, no Las Vegas place to call a hangout should such even exist. Life’s dispersal has reduced the number of friends and associates remaining in Tucson, a k a the Desert Margaritaville. This same mortality has also shuttered many of the premises where we caroused while attending Arizona and afterwards.

One of those few elbow-benders which matured with us shares a Las Vegas connection.

During the days and nights of Sin City’s glorious mob rule, the proprietor of a vital, well-known Tucson establishment often gambled away fiendishly in Las Vegas. Away from the tables he proved himself a successful businessman. He headed franchises his family owned throughout the Southwest.

Who remembers what game of chance had buried him? The boys would’ve taken his marker. Doubtlessly both parties would’ve worked out a repayment plan to the outfit’s onerous advantage. However, the businessman defied the inexorability of his losing streak. Convinced the next hand, the next roll held the start of regained fortune he finally put up his enterprise as collateral and continued playing … only to lose everything.

By the end of his last hand or last roll he had new unexpected partners. Every time I pass by a store façade bearing the family name – while the earlier proprietors now long dead their name still conveys dependability – I wonder how the penitent explained those new associates to his family.

Corporate America is a far worse and more rapacious entity than the mob ever was in Las Vegas. Don’t believe me? Just check out the extortion Strip properties charge for cigarettes, drinks, formerly free parking, and sundry resort fees.

Strange. Midwest dese and dose guys knew money needed to be spent to make money, and that continuous profits were mined from volume business. Nowadays, soft-palmed MBA ponces demand staff stint on guest amenities and gouge as much as possible from visitors.

In this the mob and Don Draper would’ve agreed: word of mouth is the best advertising. Bad word of mouth is the worst to overcome.

Last October after the gang had skipped Tucson I wandered through the alleys and more obscure streets of its revitalized downtown. For the longest these municipal blocks had been abandoned for fresher distant concrete. Similar to other forsaken urban centers, residents departing Tucson’s own reflected their belief the core was rotten.

Other than commerce, and this conducted during brightest day, what else did these blocks offer? Didn’t night and muted streetlamps invite the sort of menace which stoked fearful imagery? From some dim corner didn’t one’s worst urban threat wait to pounce upon an unsuspecting pedestrian who’d somehow strayed beyond his or her safe environment?

Of course the above is an exaggeration. Before urbanites turned backs on downtowns their vibrancy assured these were among the safest blocks within city limits. Perhaps the fear bubbled from being among diverse peoples. Or being told we should worry about our place among strangers. Much of our present society’s exclusionary policies come from agents preying on the fears of dissimilarity. Rather than promote harmony, they preach better well-being among those sharing sameness.

Preferably in tracts whose properties they seek to sell or rent.

As in every city which previously forsook its downtown, Tucson has rediscovered its own center. The scruffy charm of the outlying streets away from the sparkling new edifices isn’t for everyone. It shouldn’t be. And while it’s simple to attribute boldness to these new “homesteaders” just their possessing imagination should suffice.

During an amble, I passed a pop-up scene that roused my envy. In the process of transforming a derelict property into their pleasure dome, the 20-something sweat-equity owners and pardners who’d been convinced (or dragooned) into contributing elbow grease decided that Sunday afternoon demanded an impromptu party.

Although the finished project would be modest one saw through the dust and bones and the first layers of skin how pleasant the eventual domicile ought to become upon completion. To this outsider the festivity’s premise seemed to have been celebrating passing the point where the task had stopped being questionable and become reachable.

Hey. Any reason for levity and laughter, loud music and free pours will do.

Their attitudes reminded me of myself and my cohort at that age. Different eras. Just as aspirational though engaged in different pursuits. But I recognized the spirit. It was all in front of them yet. What couldn’t have been attained? Or better, who thought about what might be denied?

Similar to my New York home of Quarropas, though nowhere near the same extent, a lot of “my Tucson” has been demolished and renovated. People have become phantoms. Nevertheless more of “my Tucson” remains extant than “my Quarropas.” Transparencies over the present-day Southwest are a less extensive undertaking than across the Northeast.

Although the most popular watering holes from my past are long gone – somehow leaving untouched the saloons which repulsed us all surviving in the same vein as sharks and roaches being the sole creatures shrugging off global nuclear holocaust – the also-ran establishments that climbed as we stayed/returned, aged, gained in favorability.

That’s endurance, right?

Our default den should’ve greeted successive waves of students/recent grads before they advanced elsewhere into lives and careers. Let’s call it what the Stooge, one of the Treacherous Three has named this bar, The Assisted Drinking Facility.

Ideally this address should’ve been a repository of occasionally visited memories rather than a continual refuge where hair grayed and/or receded; and where 12-6 postures lost an hour by bending into 1-6 timeframes.

Worse than erasure, there was no renewal. The best example of that I can offer is McSorley’s in Manhattan. The Gotham pub has been at its location since unfettered immigration invented the New York City we today lionize. Yet constant tides of youthful seekers refresh the ancient premises.

An exact opposite has occurred inside the Tucson lair. Gentrification, prices attuned with our times, our financial resources, has continued to lure my generation as patrons while dissuading Millennials, the next money.

Will history record Boomers as the last generation which never depended on personal devices as crutches? We can still converse. A good many of us remain clever. Speaking English does not confound us. Most importantly, a lifetime of living without access to answers at our fingertips has made us inquisitive and smart.

Moreover, we can hold our own without lifelines to any rescue buddies.

Furthermore, the nonsense which now stymies and roils the insecure sexes never would’ve interfered with our lives.

The Assisted Drinking Facility also has its contemplative, spared by fate aspect. It steadily gazes upon a site of hubris from vanished times. Anyone in the know can’t enter the tavern without being aware how a feckless gambler lost his family business to fatal wagers in Las Vegas.

One of the branches operating right across the street serves as constant reminder.

No. The best Assisted Drinking Facility bar story bubbles from an over-emotive woman when our lives could be playful and effervescent. Two conditions which certainly don’t exist as easily between today’s younger men and women.

What demonstrated the era’s differences first occurred during a late 70s Saturday Night Live skit featuring Dan Aykroyd and Jane Curtain. An incident inside the Assisted Drinking Facility referenced this gag in the 90s. Were it to be repeated during this time men would unnecessarily apologize and women would overreact.

Those of us in the know might see that as an example of human regression.

Sometime in the 1990s Arizona football has won a game. The Wildcats must’ve won or else what would become the Assisted Drinking Facility wouldn’t have been as chockablock with anticipatory revelers as Boston’s Cask and Flagon is with demoralized Red Sox fans after the Yankees beat the Olde Towne Team at Fenway. No doubt the Arizona victory capped off one of those delightfully mild Southwest autumn afternoons into evenings residents of the chilly Northeast, Midwest, Plains, and Pacific Northwest can only dream about. Good.

A boyfriend-girlfriend thing erupted.

Was her bitching noticeable from the outset? Who can recall? But its insistence chopped through the night’s merriment. So much so it crushed the room.

What incited her vocal sawblade? Who knew? Who cared? Before the term’s popularization, she practiced buzzkill.

Unimpeded, the woman might’ve had a room full of formerly raucous men – and the women who contended with them – staring into their beer glasses. Anyone walking off the street would’ve recognized this scene as a pall.

Fortunately a hero rescued this dire circumstance. He’d been a contemporary who’d watched the aforementioned episode featuring the Aykroyd-Curtain skit.

Miss Fingernails Dragging Across a Blackboard had stopped torturing our ears. She asked a rhetorical question every listener knew whose answer wasn’t coming. Here’s where an anonymous figure among the crowd, our wiseass savior, piped up. Deliberately intoning these four words, he turned dirge into a deluge of unhinged laughter:

“Jane, you ignorant slut.”

I don’t know whether the boyfriend’s tormenting date had felt great superiority before, but she was absolutely crestfallen after the stranger’s denouement. Give her credit, though – despite being completely face-disgraced girlfriend still retained enough moxie to defend herself.

Bad move.

After our mirth ebbed, she whimpered, “It wasn’t that funny.”

Benefitting from a long count and having gotten off the canvas, her boy countered, “Yes it was.”

His reply set off another avalanche of balls-out hilarity.

Revisiting that interlude today is to understand it could never be repeated now. Who in attendance then didn’t escape scot-free? Even the women present found their sister’s distress amusing. Good sports as they must’ve been then, they probably even forgave her for having made a nuisance and spectacle of herself. Our society had yet to develop people so sensitive they’d become humorless and intentionally numb to male-female contretemps.

The same incident occur these days and some harridan ready to inflict her awareness upon the innocent would do her utmost to launch a diatribe that’d shame – or coerce – all who’d laughed into believing the ridicule any woman’s brainless conduct earned undeserved and wrong.

No doubt such cases erupt nightly throughout our softer America. But it’s unlikely to occur in the Assisted Drinking Facility.

A younger clientele has yet to replenish and revive the tavern. Amazingly, those who do patronize the place aren’t transfixed by their handheld devices. Rather than have eyeballs glazed in blue light off small screens, they socialize, converse, and yes, even flirt.

Imagine that! Flirting without worrying about tripping any triggers! Of course those exhibiting these quite human qualities are experienced adults, none of whom has yet collected a participation trophy.

Perhaps what had been seen and used as a social way station became a hangout. When hasn’t Tucson been attractive? How many graduates from the university decided to remain and found careers there than take their sheepskins into the outside world?

Those bending elbows and gabbing inside the Assisted Drinking Facility have learned to laugh at themselves as well as others. It is a lesson our technologically preoccupied successors just may never learn or seek to avoid altogether.