We sure were going to show those adults. Yes, that’s right. How dare they keep us under the thumb? We wanted in - to the world of grown-ups. It was 1976 and we were sixteen, headed down to the Trent Inn to officially drink under-age. I was with my friend Garth who had arranged for the fake ID’s. I just had to show up. The Trent Inn screamed dive-bar. It was sufficiently low light and low-life that nobody would care about serving two kids. If all else failed, we had the fake ID’s and Garth, who was a big talker.
Garth had moved out of his house the year before because he couldn’t get along with his mother. He worked at the Odeon theatre as an usher, pulling in the royal sum of two dollars an hour. He had his own twenty-dollars-a-week room, where we used to make Kraft dinner and tuna banquets on his burner plate to celebrate emancipation from youth. Emancipation was one thing but we wanted full admission, or at least my friend Garth did. I was not so sure.
Garth had more reason to be confident than I did. He was the life of the party, the guy who was fun to be around, and the guy who was not scared of the opposite sex at all. He would see the unapproachable hot girl, wink at you, then go straight up to her and turn on the charm. He had confidence enough to flirt with disaster and was working by the fake-it-until-you-make-it formula.
Garth was doing me a favour because he had been already exercising his new-found liberty at drinking establishments and he was just pulling me in by default. He had to push me to push the limits of life. I was perhaps already at my limits and didn’t want life to go any faster. I had an older brother whose open rebellion and conflict with my parents was already making home life hell. I could not afford to rebel at home. I would have been the extra apple that upset the apple cart. I spent my teen years trying to be as invisible as possible and to never, never piss anybody off. Pushing the limits was NOT what I did at all.
There was still a big divide between adults and kids in 1976. Teachers could still legally hit you at school if you got out of line (until 1978) and we had to call older and married people “Mister” and “Sir”. We were paid crappy wages in part time jobs by adults who yelled at us while they sat at their liesure on the sidelines calling out directions. We didn’t want directions. We wanted full admission.
We were sixteen, trying to pass for eighteen. I was not so sure. I looked like a scarecrow in a golf shirt. Muscles had not found their way to my body yet. Garth was sure. He handed me my fake ID, slapped me on the back and pushed me in to the Trent Inn ahead of him.The room was dark with mystery and the smell of cheap beer and cigarettes filled the air. My mother was going to ask about my clothes. I was also sure everybody was looking at us like deer in the headlights.
Garth on the other hand, was unabashed. Instead of hiding, he called out to a few people on the sidelines like he knew them, grabbed a table and flagged down the waiter. He ordered a jug of beer. A glass would have been sufficient for me. Garth was determined to have a good time and to mine this opportunity to its full. The waiter gave us a passing look and brought us our beer without any questions. Garth looked at me with an air of celebration and hoisted his glass. We were in. Nothing more to worry about. No one had flagged us as underage. We could just sit and drink with the adults. I sipped my beer and slumped down in the chair trying to be invisible. Garth, not to be held back, saw a man sitting drinking in a dark corner. He called him over. “Hey buddy, come on over and drink some beer with us”. The guy stared at us. Eventually he got up and lumbered over to the other end of our big round table. He sat down with his beer and looked us up and down. There were stakes in this equation. He did not look like our buddy at all. He looked like a construction worker who was out getting drunk, alone.
Garth turned on the charm. He poured the guy a refill from our beer and made some small talk. The guy lifted the glass to his lips and didn’t say anything. The more he sat in silence staring at us, the more Garth talked. The party had started. Garth laughed and told some jokes which seemed to land like lead ballons. Garth did not seem to notice. He kept right on going. Me, I was getting a bad vibe. The guy put down his beer. Then he started to mumble darkly.
“It’s that fucking guy next door,” he said. “I am going to fucking kill him.” He picked up the large glass mug and took a drink. Garth laughed and leaned in to listen. “That fucking guy”. Garth laughed again. “Whoah buddy. Drink some beer. Take a chill pill.” The guy shot us a wild look. He slammed his beer mug on the table. Foam and beer skittered across the banged up wooden surface. Garth leaned in to fill his glass and laughed, trying to bring up the mood. The guy was having none of it. “I’m not your fucking buddy.” he said. “You know who your buddy is? He’s that fucking guy next door. My neighbour, the one who’s been screwing my wife.” There was silence. The party was not going as we had planned. The moment hung in the air uneasily, suspended in time. Garth did not take the cue. He laughed and made to change the subject. The guy glowered at us. Then he turned and looked directly at me, sitting trying to be invisible and slinking down in my chair. “You, I’m going to knock your teeth down your fucking gate”, he suddenly announced, as he lunged across the table and grabbed me by the neck like a chicken. The beer jug upended on the floor. Glass skittered around in the dark. A few people turned their heads then went back to drinking. Only the awkward length of the table saved me. Garth pulled me out of the guy’s grasp and we made for the exits. The glowering drunk staggered to another table and sat down while we beat it out of the bar, counting our losses.
When you are a teenager everything is a joke. You do destructive things to your own body, abuse it with substances and lack of sleep, daring your body to quit because you feel like teflon at that age and very little really sticks. We wanted a fast in to the world of adults and we got it in stark black and white. We got a man in a lonely dive bar drinking away the complexities of adult life. If you are unlucky you will meet people who drink because their life is not so fun. If you are really unlucky, you will meet people who drink because they are very, very angry. They are angry because the world of adulthood is complicated, and filled with issues of agency and consequences. In the real world of adults, there are no easy answers. We were sixteen and had no clue what real adulthood meant. Going out into the night, we were suddenly older than we wanted to be, and very, very quiet.