I left St Louis, Missouri permanently one week ago. I lived there for two years, in many ways suffered the city’s significant problems and deficiencies, and still reel from the experiences I had there. For the purposes of this talk, however, I have chosen to speak about One Nite Stand, a karaoke bar at which I became a regular during my brief time in America’s heartland. Please do not take what I say as an attempt to redeem my experience there, as I do not wish to frame One Nite Stand as a truly positive place. It is a bar that any alderman would regret giving a liquor license to and the shear amount of drunk drivers that walk out of its doors every weekend are enough that that same alderman should consider a neighbourhood curfew to avoid immanent catastrophe. Throughout my time in St Louis and now, One Nite Stand is equally a symbol of post-industrial blight, segregation, and desperation; as it is a symbol of reconciliation, understanding, sympathy and democracy.
My first trip to One Nite Stand was significant, because it immediately solidified the bar as my favourite in St Louis. To introduce One Nite Stand, I will describe one portion of that experience here. Midway through most nights at a bar, there is a moment, at the top of the drunkenness bell-curve, when sloppiness in physical, emotional, and perceptual clarity and bearing are immanent, though at this point, their symptoms represent an ego indulged as confidence and thoroughly dissolved inhibitions. I was sitting alone at a table enjoying someone’s performance. A 60-year-old woman stumbled off the dance floor and planted herself on my lap. She said, “Honey, how are you?” And, after I tried to politely show my discomfort in the situation, she looked directly into my eyes and said, “Honey, what are you so afraid of?” The broader picture of the situation looked like this: she was sitting on my phone and I could feel it flex and bend; the general discomfort of having a strange, older woman sitting on my lap was exaggerated as I, let’s say, did not have an opportunity to fully adjust my posture to support her size; her arms were loosely hanging around my neck; and, her boyfriend or husband standing 3 feet from us, glared at me over her shoulder. I cannot tell if it was despite or because of the circumstances, but her question triggered a crisis of self, a metaphysical and spiritual self-evaluation that led me to choke out an answer: “I don’t know.” And she replied, “Honey, I know you might not want to have anything to do with an old nigger like me, but I saw you and knew you were special. That I wanted you to feel special. I mean, what I want to do is just get lunch with you. To get to know you. You’ve got something in you. You might not want to listen to a nigger lady like me, but you’re special and I just want you to know that. We just need to get lunch and talk and I will show you.” And then she hugged me deeply. It’s very possible that there was innuendo I was too self-aware to recognize. We were both very drunk, but had converged along very different psychic lines, and possibly had very different agendas in our conversation. But that is politics, the decisions we make that drive us toward and away from other people, and which cause the greater friction in our lives. We never exchanged contact information and the last I saw of her that night was in argument with her boyfriend/husband on their way out the door.