Monthly Archives: October 2011

Bar Codes: Pt 1 – Breaking the Code

Are there dos and donts associated with sitting at a bar?

I live in a very small town of about 1500 in a county as big as the state of Rhode Island with a population of around 3500.   It has one nice restaurant bar that also functions as the only big city type cafe.  The other bars have food, but are mostly bars with lots of big screen TVs.  I work at home all day all alone.  I’m an extrovert and that makes the aloneness tiring for me by the end of the day.  So each evening I go to the nice bar with the good wines and beers and stay for about an hour.  I like to engage in some conversations with friends and recharge my battery.  I used to bring my laptop, but now I bring the less clunky I Pad.  (THANK YOU, STEVE!).  That’s so I can have something to read if there is no one I want to talk to or to check my e-mail for last minute work. Actually the well lit I Pad is better than trying to read a newspaper when they begin dimming the lights.

So last night, I walked into the bar and saw two couples on opposite ends.  One couple I knew.  They were dressed up so they were probably on a date night and the husband has a tendency to engage me which often is more like picking a fight,  so I sat a few seats away from them and also from the couple I didn’t know.   I pulled out my I Pad and placed it in vertical position on the bar and hooked up my earphones so I could listen to Matt Taibbi who was going to be on a radio show on Sirius XM.  Until he came on I decided to read the new Adbusters Magazine I had just bought in Bozeman.

Then the guy I know to the right of me, rather loudly, insisted to the bartender that people who sat at bars or even in booths and used electronic devices like I Pads, mobile phones, and computers were engaging in self-absorbed and anti-social behavior.

“Has the crowd changed here” he said to the bartender. “I see them as more self-absorbed.  They are looking at their electronic devices and not communicating.”

“Hush, ” said his wife and rolled her eyes.

So he repeated the question three more times each time with his wife whispering, “Stop it.”  or “Don’t go there.”

“Hmmm,” I said to myself, “Duh ya think he means me?”  (Since he had accosted me a couple weeks ago while eating with my husband and told me, pretending to be joking, to put my I Pad back in my purse, I was pretty sure he meant me.) However, when I looked at the couple down the bar from me to the left, the man was looking at the baseball game on the TV and the woman, yes, was reading her I Pad.  Then I glanced behind me and there was a couple in the booth.  The man was reading a paper and the woman was, yes, on an I Pad.

No wonder my neighbor felt that he could proclaim loudly that there was a dangerous trend afoot. He was surrounded by women synced up to their I Pads.  And in bars, no less.  Decent people were becoming absorbed into their electronic devices and not engaging in conversation.   And not just that high brow Hollywood hussy from New York City. But sprouting up all over the place.   Perhaps he was thinking that my evil anti-social behavior had encouraged other women to engage in these horrific acts.

Here I was just reading a magazine and I’m getting grief.   The woman down the way seemed to be on Face Book, so maybe she was engaging in a little conversation with some of her friends while her husband stared at the TV.  I used to see women dutifully sit staring at their food as their husbands watched a game.  Now the I Pad and smart phones at least gave them something to do.  And maybe you can call that self-absorbed behavior or maybe it is pure survival when accompanying a sports obsessed or silent mate.

Just as he was really getting worked up, my friend Mary came in and I squealed with delight.  We started talking away about belly button piercings gone wrong and then segued into a discussion of the difference between joy and happiness.  There I was engaged in animated conversation instead of my self-absorbed staring at my I Pad.  I even skipped listening to Matt Taibbi on the radio in order to talk to my friend.  A great sacrifice on my part in order to participate in the more important act of communication and art of conversation.

Now he was just annoyed.  His whole theory had been blown up.  The I Pad hussy was engaging in conversation.  Urg.  I wonder if he will put two and two together and figured out that the real words here are “communication” and  “conversation”.  I know when it is far more peaceful and communicative to blog on my I Pad than talk to someone who wants to just pick a fight.

What got this guy so riled up besides the fact that he just likes to get riled up? Is it what I was doing or was it that I was there at all? Are women sitting at bars reading stuff the latest in the attack on the male and his kingdoms?  Where and when I grew up, women did not go into bars and sit by themselves unless they were there to be picked up, or so I was told.   And when I moved to this little town, the women sat with other women if that sat at a bar at all.  Rarely did I see a career woman come in and sit alone at the bar.  I tried sitting in a booth, but I felt that I was hogging a space made for more. So, after about 8 years or so, I couldn’t stand it any longer and didn’t want to go to the trouble of meeting my husband in town or finding a friend to meet.   Besides, my psychological type doesn’t like to plan ahead. And I also wanted to talk to other people and I wanted to write.  Didn’t writers often write in cafes?  Hemingway and Tennessee Williams did.  Couldn’t a woman do that too?

So I did and the first time I marched in and sat in the bar stool,  I felt very Meryl-Streep-entering-the- all male-club in “Out  of Africa” for the first few months, but then I just ignored the stares and whispers until it just became a normal thing.  Only occasionally like this night am I reminded that some people still think I shouldn’t be there and doing what I’m doing.

So maybe that’s it.  You go to a bar looking for a fight, chewing the fat, or to pick up women.  If you sit at a bar you must be available for anybody and everybody to talk to.  You do not go to a bar to read anarchist magazines and write on blogs.

Yes, I had broken some sort of hidden code of conduct.  But then that’s what I was put on earth to do.

P.S. David Graeber in “Revolutions in Reverse” says “Women are always imagining what things look like from a male
point of view. Men almost never do the same for women.”  Perhaps I should try and get into a guy’s shoes and do this story from his point of view.  Or not.

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What Do They Want?

Is it about wants? Or something else.  I read a statement years ago that the 20th Century was the century of Freud. And with any luck, the 21st Century would be the century of Jung. Not sure who said it but it really resonated with me. My take on Jung was that he emphasized the idea that we are all a part of a whole, with each of us having individual gifts contributing to that whole. When we look at another, we see ourselves. In the BBC documentary “The Century of the Self”, Adam Curtis explores the use of Freud’s theories to direct people away from a communal way of thinking and into rampant mirror-gazing.

The premise of the film is that the birth of propaganda/public relations/marketing began with Freud’s nephew Edward Bernays when he was hired by the Wilson administration to sell the idea of “making the world safe for democracy”. Unfortunately, that meant becoming involved in the hideous carnage called World War I and forcing your neighbors to buy War Bonds or be put in jail. After the war, he was asked by the tobacco industry to use his PR skills to figure out how to sell cigarettes to women. He branded cigarettes “torches of freedom” that would challenge male power simply by lighting up. From then on, advertising would no longer speak to people’s needs, but to their inner desires and yearnings. And freedom would now be defined as freedom of choice.

And so the transformation of the American citizen into the American consumer began in earnest. Americans were sold that they needed clothes that showed their individuality and made them sexy. Men were sold that the kind of car they drove showed who they were; powerful and, yes, sexy. The kind of soap you bought made you happier and more admired.

What we are witnessing in Zuccotti/Liberty Park with the #Occupy Wall Street could be the great turning away from the century of “me” to the century of “we”.
At least it has opened up the discussion of what we really need rather than what we want. The greatest need right now seems to have our voices heard and a need to take back the meaning of words like “public” and “cooperative” and “social”. It is a pushback against all the punditry that insist on a label, logo, banner, slogan, brand, buzzword, sound bite, pitch or demand.

No, we will no longer be defined as consumers. We will no longer be cogs in your machine. We are free men and women. We do not define freedom as the right to choose between 100 brands of cereal. Our definition of freedom is freedom from domination by corporations and their agendas. Our definition of freedom is not to be subservient to the 1%. We are taking back our humanity. We are taking back our public spaces and our commons. We are a community; a community of concerns. We care about each other and the planet we inhabit. There is no expiration date on what is happening around the world and at last in the United States.

So it’s not what we want, it’s what we really need.