"where are you from?"
first of all, the scene:
palmer's is situated in what appears to be the evolution of an old-money or at least old-style home in downtown andover, whose primary visual characteristic is the side-door overhang which would enable carriage and now car-riding guests to disembark out of the rain. it's a nice patrician touch through which it is necessary to drive in order to reach the parking lot in back, and it recalls to me such architectural details as you might find aside of country club clubhouses and main line estates, though palmer's is quite a bit less overstated than that. just a nice little place right off the center of town where you can park right out back and enjoy a little night out.
and a nice little place it is. the bar is well-appointed and comfortable and i would say "andover" in appearance, which is to say with a bit more clean white paint and polished brass and other very nice metalwork (the overhanging wine bottle storage was very attractive) than you might see in a "not quite andover" place, and i'm making the unfair and prejudicial cultural distinction for a reason which we will get to in a moment. the bar staff could have been more responsive (they spent a fair amount of time moving glassware and not making eye contact, time which could have been better spent keeping things moving more effectively, but i did get my $4.25 harpoon IPA--i was driving so on my best beer behavior--and it was very tasty, thank you very much, so no serious complaints) but the overriding impression was of an extremely lively friday night crowd and a nice place to see a band.
i chose a spot towards the back at the bar, and moved to settle in to a spot recently vacated by a couple who were on their way out, and had a moment of friendly flirtation with a pair of very attractive women, quite obviously dressed to be out on a friday night, over which of the three remaining empty seats each of us would take. (the bar was crowded, so seats were at a premium). one seemed a year or two younger than the other, though not so far away from me in age to be unreasonable, and they both seemed pleased enough with my appearance and my manners (i took a shower, put on clean clothes, and said "after you", what can i say) and the three of us carried on that sort of friendly bar banter between conversational breaks with the others we were with that you have with friendly people near you in a busy tavern. (you know, stuff like "can you watch our stuff while we go have a cigarette?" and such). which is to say, once you've graduated to "can you watch our stuff while we go have a cigarette?", it's safe to say that the impression is more than just "howdy, neighbor", and on to an implied invitation for the obligatory "come here often?".
so you know already by the "go have a cigarette" line that i wasn't going to be interested. but it was, of course, more than that. (i have carried on through the presentation of the occasional cigarette in my day, yes i have, so don't let me sound so high-horse about that). the make-up was well and tastefully done, the hair, to quote warren, was perfect in that naturally perfect way, (not in that werewolves of london way at all), and the clothes were extremely flattering to their very attractive figures. but, most of all, attention could not help but be drawn to the jewelry which seemed to have been chosen in such a way to portray both means as well as the prominent absence of a matrimonial band. here were the women of my youth. (i've admitted it before, i was raised in wellesley, i can't help that). if i were a salmon swimming upstream, i would be splashing right into their laps, but, quite clearly to my mind in that moment, i am not, and was not.
there's some little bit of irony that the harpoon IPA was cheaper there than at several of the places i frequent in DTL, (though no irony at all that it wasn't cheaper than at major's pub), but the overriding impression was of "andover" and not "lowell" if you catch my meaning. the women were better dressed, and more expensively so, and the men, oh, the men were a comedic collection of a little too much white hair when they had it (yes, i know, i know--pot, kettle) and balding when they didn't and dress slacks, and the parking lot was filled with rovers and audis and acura suv's (i garr-aun-tee my vee dub, nice and clean as i keep it, was the oldest in the lot) and one of the funnier moments was being outside talking with one of my friends during one of the breaks to see the little balding guy with the bad moustache and the really too much gold and platinum glasses trying to open the hundred-thousand-dollar-car door for his tipsy trophy wife on their way out. (reminding me very clearly that, no, i shouldn't go home again, even if such were possible).
funnier still was listening to one gaggle of just-a-bit-too-noisy-for-decorum girls at the end of the bar trying to remember who did that song the band was playing, which was, at the time, "run around" by blues traveler. now i hate blues traveler. both the vocals and the harp playing are annoying and insipid and annoying to me that i'd be happy not to ever hear 'em ever again. and i know you and many may conclude i suck because of this opinion, and that's fair too, but the point is not liking or not liking--it's cultural awareness and the ability to either realize what one is listening to, or know that you don't know and be a bit humble about that, too. fairly put, despite my despising, it's a big song. it put that band on the map. hell, it won a grammy. yes, it's polluted more cover band bar room scenes than the universe has stars to count, and i KNOW my friends were playing it exactly because of that and to make guilty collective fun of the whole room listening, but here comes the punch line. the trivia question would be to name a band more hackneyed and overplayed by girls of a certain age, and the answer would be, exactly as the girl at the end of the bar swore and all her friends nodded along in agreement that they knew it too that the original must have been done by, sister hazel.
i started laughing out loud at that point, and the blonde to my left (ash blonde--it's what blonde suburban women who don't want to be gray all color their hair) leaned my way in order to get let in on the joke, and i found that i simply couldn't trust her with the explanation. you could more cynically say it was because i'm usually a brunette guy, and i was just sour-graping that the two of them had not quite subtly enough decided out on that cigarette break which one of theirs i would be were things to prove fortuitous, and the brunette was way hotter and who likes to be reminded of which is decided by someone else to be out of your league, despite what you yourself might prefer to think. you could be kinder to me and say it was because i was trying to adhere to my "say something nice" ethos. but i'll tell you i'm pretty sure that it was because i have grown so weary of "andover" and "wellesley" that haven't the energy left in my life to continue to swim up that particular salmon stream, and it's not for a lack of fitness for the job. they weren't talking to me because i looked like i was "lowell". they were talking to me because i looked enough to them like i was "andover". so she finally gets tired of waiting for me, and she says it herself:
"where are you from?"
ah, the luxury. would i have said "wellesley", i would have been in it. the clean haircut, the standard-issue levis, the ralph lauren barn jacket, ($20 at kohl's--don't hate me because i'm cheap), altogether with the lack of wedding band had already brought me to this place, and they all would have, with the "right" location answer, i'm quite sure, led to "what do you do?", and if i were to continue to be honest, which i generally am in all conversations, the nice plum software gig would have quite possibly set the conversational train on a one way track towards a sealed a deal. i would have been "material". (of what sort you can fill in the blank, but having lived in dangerous proximity to the species, i can tell you none of the sorts are good). i would have been exactly what was being looked for. there are so few answers that i can give to women like that which aren't incriminating. except for the first one, and the most important one:
"where are you from?"
"i'm from lowell".
i'm from lowell.
i felt that feeling driving back via andover street (poetic, yes) that i was coming home in a very similar way that i felt it years ago while escaping from a day fabric shopping with my mom. there are some who may find such to be carpetbagging of the lowest sort, but i bought my home here, and i pay my taxes here, and i follow local politics like the blood sport it is here, and i am not going anywhere else ever again. (you read it here first many years ago, and the answer isn't changing).
my ex can't get at me here. my mom can't get at me here. my friends from college and high school and grade school can all meet me here, and the best all have, and they all find it remarkable how comfortable i seem here. and i find that the people i meet here are all more real, and more likely to take me for who i am, and not for who they prefer to imagine me to be. how long, after all, do you think i would last with a woman like that from palmer's last night, once she finds out that, no, i don't like the way she dresses, and, no, i'm not going to take her out and buy her nice dinners all the time. i don't like nice dinners. i like real dinners. i like my menu to read "fried squid", and not "calimari". i like my chinese restaurant to sell pork belly by the pound, and my laotian restaurant to feature beef tongue at the top of the menu, and i know that larb is made from exactly what it's made from. i grew up eating the entire animal and have never feared it. (i may have thought that calf's brain smelled pretty foul when it was boiled, but i didn't fear it).
it's nice to be with my people.
i'm from lowell. nice to meet you.