The smell of sweat, smoke and lust is still fresh in the club. Nick Sanchez, the custodian, is ready to bring out his gear and clean up after the hundreds of people who have danced into the wee hours of the night. Instead of Ne-Yo, he turns on Jar of Hearts by Christina Perri. He needs something mellow. The song actually seems appropriate enough to him, but the messed up lover is the club, and the victims are the clubbers.
This is not to say that Nick is judging everyone who comes in as empty-hearted, but rather that the culture between these walls, to him, seems to rob people of their heart, their vision, and their ambitions. The emptiness with all the rubbish was symbolic of the culture itself. What was filled only a half hour ago with young people laughing, dancing, grinding, flirting, smoking joints and drinking, was now covered with garbage, streamers, and miscellaneous rubbish. There is a difference between the culture and the people in it, but the people do define the culture. Nick likes to think.
He had heard a lot of stories from the people who frequented the place. Many times he would find a man or a woman after hours, in the corner, sobbing or laughing in drunkenness who felt compelled to speak. Other times has he had to wait with people for their rides to show up. He would listen to the story of each person. It is their stories that Nick will tell us all about.
Ah that drug, alcohol! Nick thought to himself. If ever a person was looking for a truth serum, they need only administer large doses of this drug. For some, it brings them to tears, for others, it makes them more alive than ever. For the former, it was revealing their true state, for the latter, the state in which they wish to live. For both: escapism.
This, of course, is not to say that there is something inherently wrong or escapist about a bunch of friends getting together, having a good time, and even sharing a drink. It’s something else, that he himself had experienced, and that he knew these people were not keen to discuss. It’s precisely because of his past that Nick could hear the stories of these people, or sometimes read the story in the faces, without judging. No, it’s not an innocent drink that makes the place a stealer of hearts, it’s what the place represents, and what people give away to it in ignorance.
Nick will be the narrator of the tales that come from this club, but today he needs a narrator to talk about him. At 62, Nick is no stranger to hardship. He is divorced, a father of two, and battled his share of depression. Lately, though, he’s been in a good place. He’s managing his finances just fine, even if there’s not any excess. Breaking even is better than a deficit, he reminds himself.
Nick has an affinity for the people who frequent this place because he knows what it is that people are trying to escape: life. No, he’s not suggesting that everyone is suicidal – though, some are – but rather that something had changed over the years.
As a kid, Nick was like everyone else. And everyone else, was in a different world than this modern one. People didn’t have cell phones. They didn’t have internet, actually. When people wanted to have fun, they went outside and did it. He remembers how he made his first friends on his street by showing up at their house when they were running through their sprinklers. They didn’t have a swimming pool, so they made due with what they had. It looked like fun and Nick asked to join, and he did.
People had fun in small things. Other than running through sprinklers, kids his age rode bikes together, explored their neighborhoods, and scraped their knees playing in the park. As they got older, they got more daring. Climbing trees and building treehouses were great fun, as were canoeing, kayaking and wilderness hikes. Twice, Nick had gotten lost in a forest and got a real licking from his parents when he got home only an hour later than he had told them he would return! Of course, since they had no phones, there was no way of letting his parents know what was going on. There was a high level of trust.
People would go bowling together, or meet somewhere to do something. They did not have to use a Wii or a PS4 to accomplish that, they would physically up and do it. This was common and frequent.
If Nick were to reflect, he would tell you that the people had fun in different ways than this generation that he was serving. These people only come together to party, he would say, because they don’t come together meaningfully in other ways. We had fun as kids together in groups, in real life interactions, he would say, not by messaging people from distant places. Human contact was real.
It was not only the fun that was different. People back then had to accomplish things. No, no, he’s not saying that people today are not accomplished. He saying they had to do things differently, for better or worse. For example, academic success was expected. People were not given almost anything compared to what this generation was given. They were expected to want to succeed, and if they did not, this was viewed as their own loss. Things were not easy. If you wanted to go somewhere, you needed to learn to read a map, or to navigate in other ways, there was no GPS built into things. If you had a school project to prepare, you had to actually go to a library, take books off the shelves, write notes from in it, reference it, and then write your assignment. This, Nick would chuckle if he were speaking, is totally different from this generation that has “personalised learning”, the internet (specifically Wikipedia), a smart phone, and a laptop.
Reflecting, it’s not surprising that people are looking to the club to meet their social needs. They don’t have the same meaningful interactions that we used to have. That’s the real issue, Nick thinks.
But there’s another issue. The other issue is that people lack meaning to some extent. Not everyone. But too many. Why? Nick asks himself, it’s because there’s no sense of, well, anything but the self. That’s not entirely true, it’s about the self and emotions, and not knowing how to find meaning in those things. Yes, that sounds vague, he admits. But think about it, this generation does not believe in rules. Tell them they should do something, and they will never react well. Why? Is always their first response. You can’t talk to them about something being good for them, because they refuse to look more than a day or two ahead at best, and only the present moment for most. They care about how they feel, right now in this instant. All that, plus the sense of entitlement. How often had he heard “it’s my right to be happy”, “you have no right to make me feel this way” etc… Well, sorry, but how do you defend rights that pertain to feelings, when their feelings are as unstable as the wind?
But we digress with his thoughts. Nick was not always a deep thinker, but life had brought him to this. As we said, he grew up a normal kid. He played sports, he went to school. He fell in love. He fell in love a little bit early, if you’re allowed to give times for love. What he means by that, is that probably he shouldn’t have acted on his impulses, probably he should have waited a little longer. He married his high school sweetheart at 21, people believed in marriage back in those days. She was two months pregnant during the ceremony.
Nick wasn’t an academic, so university wasn’t for him. It was okay not to go off to university in those days. People were not as quick to look down on the community college folk. In this he would sympathise with these ‘modern folk’, that there was far more pressure on them to get not just a university degree, but more than one of them!
Halfway through his program, his parents started to struggle financially, and in those days, nobody liked to live off of credit. If you had kids, you supported them, when you needed support, the kids support you. And that’s what Nick did. He left school and started working full time, bringing the bulk of his income home to his parents. He kept a bit for his own fun and social life. He got closer to his girlfriend, now that his life and schedule had changed so much, and well, one thing led to another and they rushed a marriage in their local parish. That was the other thing, people still believed in God when he was young. It didn’t mean they were religious, but they took the religion thing as an important one.
He barely had time to adjust to newly married life before he had to welcome his first kid. He didn’t know how to handle the stress of not having enough money for his family and his parents, and his relationship with his wife took a toll for that. He asked her to go to work, but he resented her for needing to work at the same time. Men don’t always make sense. Their time spent apart didn’t help their relationship, even though it helped their finances. One of his parents passed away, and somehow that lifted a financial burden off of him, but added an emotional one. Desperate to try and save the marriage, Nick and his wife decided to have another child. They thought it would help, but it didn’t. They kept it together for as long as they could for the sake of the children, and they managed to do it for a long time. The kids were 16 and 12 at the time, and divorces were not as common as today. It was a difficult and embarrassing ordeal, but he and his ex managed to keep it civil. She got custody of the kids.
During that period, Nick took to the bottle but was never actually an outright alcoholic in his own eyes. He just always drank more than he should, got drunk more often than he would like, and stayed up at the bar on more weekends than was normal. This is where he was building his community. He felt like a sinner in church, a failure at home, and mediocre at work. At the bar, he was an equal, and because he was equal, he was also safe. This is why people used to go to the bar. You drank away your sorrows and had a listening ear. It’s like that Billy Joel song, “Piano Man”. Nick always loved that song in later years. The more he heard it the more he realised that good ol’ Billy really “got it”.
It didn’t take long for Nick to realise that something had to give. When all of his money was going to the kids and to liquor, he realised that he had nothing meaningful going on, and no sense of accomplishment. People used to care about accomplishment. He also felt like the lifestyle he was living put barriers between his children and himself, and that was not something he could swallow. He had already lost jobs because of his poor performance. His poor performance due to his lack of sleep, and on and on the spiral went. Those years of hardships were numbing, not just physically and emotionally, but psychologically. Nick is a thinker, and nothing passes by him without reflection and thought.
After wrestling with himself, he sobered up, keeping drinks to occasions and outings. He ended up doing mostly custodial jobs, but he was okay with that. It was quiet, gave him time to think, and it paid the bills. It freed up most of his days so he could do things in the community, visit his children, and later, play with his grandchildren. Nick had went from a normal kid, to a messed up adult, to a full-grown philosopher with a heart of gold. He could understand people well, diagnose issues, and see through facades very acutely. Seeing a problem to him was not the same as judging people. Young kids can’t make that distinction, but he can. And to him, all the people in the club, are just that: big kids who think they have life figured out.
But, the truth is, nobody has life figured out, we all just have insights, experiences, and accumulated knowledge. We live in a world and we make choices, and live with the consequences. Some of us believe in bigger things, some people don’t, but like it or not, we’re all in the same world, and dealing with the same problems. That is more or less where Nick is coming from. There are details that will come out as he tells his tales and hears the tales of others, but that’s our narrator who will take us through the rest of our stories. It’s that experience of living, dying, struggling and rejoicing that makes Nick…Nick.
Welcome to the Afterparty.