I graduated from college twenty years ago this month. I’d like to say that, back then, I was fresh-faced and optimistic, ready to take on the world, but that’s not true. I was twenty-two, heavy-bearded, skinny, generally pale, and still lived with my mother. I had a dead-end job at a veterinarian’s office and drove a 1983 Toyota Celica hatchback, which my insurance company regarded as a “sports car,” even though it had slung a rod during the only road trip I ever tried to take it on. (The seal on the large back window had also rotted, and the rain that collected in the spare-tire well sloshed around every time I turned.) Let’s just say that the world was not my oyster— and I knew it.
After walking across the stage in AUM’s gymnasium in December 1996, my three realities didn’t really mesh well together: a degree in English, which many people in the Deep South regard as a prime example of useless erudition; five or six years of work experience doing menial labor in a variety of settings; and an unrepentantly surly attitude about how my life had gone so far. So I took those skills into the one field where they would be appreciated: the bar business.
My first job after college was working the door at an all-night jazz-and-blues bar called 1048. A friend worked there as a bartender, and she called the week I graduated to ask if I wanted a job. Somebody had just quit, and December was always busy with college students coming home for the break. They needed somebody right now. So, in addition to my vet’s office job, I started spending every Friday and Saturday night from 9 PM until 2 AM standing in the cold, taking up five-dollar bills, and arguing with people whose friends had gotten in before the bar reached capacity. For my trouble, I earned $35 and two free drinks. It felt like Heaven.