Some of the things Allen has said aren't necessarily funny, though; they're just plain true. Case in point: "Seventy percent of success in life is showing up." It sounds like something Will Rogers would say, but it's pretty accurate. I know I spend most of my time forcing myself to do things, which usually involves compelling myself via Red Bull and Diet Coke. (The other 30 percent of my time is, of course, spent applying the topical pain reliever HeadOn directly to my forehead.)
Here's what I really think, though. Seventy percent of life isn't showing up, it's letting go. This can be as simple as allowing someone into traffic or as painful as dealing with death.
I contemplated this concept as I had a smoke outside the Bitter End on Clement. Boy, what a great name for a bar.
A middle-aged couple was walking briskly toward me as I stood there. The man's arms were around the woman's shoulders, but she had her arms crossed. He was tiredly teasing her about something and she was not amused. The barrette in her hair was no longer affixed tightly and had slipped halfway down her 'do. Her gathered bangs hung over her left eye like a curtain. "Ah!" said the man with mock joy as they approached. "The Bitter End! Look, honey! We can go there to celebrate our impending divorce!" At this, she pulled herself angrily away from his embrace.
Time to let go, guys.
I was out with my friend Monique, who lives in the neighborhood but hasn't seemed to venture anywhere outside her apartment. (She apparently didn't receive the "showing up" memo.) She'd never been to Burma Superstar or Green Apple Books, and she definitely had never been to the Bitter End.
There are a lot of bars in the city that look cool on the outside but are lame on the inside. I'm happy to say that the Bitter End is not one of those places. It is great on the outside and awesome on the inside, with lots of wood and mood lighting. It also has an old fireplace and offers minimal sports intrusion. There are tons of pictures on the walls, most notably a cool sepia-tone print of the Rolling Stones from the early '70s. The bartenders are experienced and attentive. It's also the only place in the city that I have ever heard play vintage Bruce Springsteen.
Monique and I were talking about her recent bout with letting go. It was a purely American story. Very Bruce Springsteen, actually. She had grown up with a certain boy, Stephen, who is to this day her best friend (they are both 22 now). They developed a friendship at age 7. In high school, he was in love with her but she rebuffed him repeatedly. He was too nice, too available. (At that stage, most females aren't attracted to such plebeian things as "kindness" and "accessibility." And some of us, unfortunately, never grow out of that phase.) They remained best friends, though. After high school they got romantic once in a while and slept together, but he always seemed to be dating someone else. She then went off to Europe, and met all manner of lovers with weird Euro names. But Monique and Stephen always returned to each other, and they always remained "best friends" who were really in love.
For all of his life, Stephen had been eagerly anticipating joining the Army. His grandfather was a Green Beret who died in Vietnam. Every Halloween he would dress up like a soldier. So when the whole Iraq thing went down, Monique got nervous. He was at the right age at the wrong time, in her estimation. Stephen, however, saw it differently. He viewed Iraq as a big, important struggle between good and evil. They didn't agree on the war, but Monique still has an American flag sticker on her car with the words "Bring the Troops Home Safely."
I have often wondered what it feels like to say goodbye to someone who is leaving for war. Man, talk about having to let go. "It's awful, Katy," Monique said to me. She was starting to cry. "You can't let yourself think that you may never see them again. It's just too much." She remembered helping Stephen pack and wondering if his things would be returned in a box if he died. Then she realized that he would be returned in a box if he died. She decided to tell Stephen that she was in love with him the night before he left, that she was ready to get married. He was noncommittal.
Stephen is now just starting his third tour, and they e-mail every day. He flirts with her, tells her how important she is to him, and says how much he loves her, but he won't commit to her. He is souring on the war, not so much on the greater cause, but on his own role in it. He is tired, overtaxed. Many of his friends have died. He says when he gets back she can come live with him in Texas, but that he won't promise a commitment.
So Monique is going crazy waiting for him to either live or die, and she is going crazy waiting for him to decide to choose her if he survives. She is tired and overtaxed, too. "I have to let him go," she says. "I'm trying really, really hard to do that."
I wasn't sure what to say. It's just one of those things a person has to go through. But I do know this if you can master letting go, you can master just about anything.
On the jukebox, Bruce was letting go of some fantasy pinup girl and settling into something real himself: "You ain't a beauty but, hey, you're all right ... " That's what is so great about Bruce Springsteen, other than the fact that he made saxophone solos bearable. All of his songs are about compromises.
After all, life is a series of compromises, a series of little let-gos. Well, at least 70 percent of the time.
THE BITTER END. 441 Clement. 221-9538.