The Club

I have recently been reminiscing about Little League. We played at a local set of fields at a community owned park called Hilltop A.A. Aside from having the most dangerous left hand turn in all of Pennsylvania, Hilltop is the home for a number of memories for me – hitting a solid liner to the outfield, sliding into third in deep thick red-brown dirt. Playing shortstop, enjoying my first grounder to the scrotum, then my second, then third, then my deep wonderment about why I would play a game so damaging to my chances of procreation. There was a concession stand that I can smell to this day – the warm scent of crinkle fries and hotdogs and microwaved hamburgers with scalding hot cheese. The red ketchup squeeze bottles. It was great.

Despite my utter joy at these memories there is one that even does more to tweak my hippocampus. When the games were over, the kids would go home with the moms and the dads would go into the bar and have a few beers. Occasionally we kids were sent to deliver messages that would remain obscure until we were old enough to crack them “Tell your father, the couch,” or “Tell Dad, 9 at the latest and tell him that 9 doesn’t mean 10,” or “No shots.” We would go and deliver our messages, recounting them on fingers so as not to forget. It didn’t matter, though, as we would have delivered radium if it brought into the bar where the dad’s were. Sancto sanctorum – the club.

The club smelled of sweet staleness and cigarette smoke; there was enough flannel in the room to put on a travelling revival tour of Braveheart. But there was something elite about it. We drew out our messages as our eyes scanned the room and took in as much as possible. This Buds for You. Captain Morgan. Grab a Heinie. Tequila Night. Eventually our time ran out with our drawn-out syllables, and we were shuffled out the door with a “thanks buddy” and a few snickers and jokes we couldn’t understand.

Of course the draw was the club. The drinking club. The place where us kids weren’t allowed. Like sneaking to the top of the steps to lie in our pajamas and listen to our parents’ parties. There was such a thrill to be let in on the secret world of adults, and in some way we didn’t understand, this was especially true when they were drinking.

It’s in these last days that I have been thinking about this. For the substack I write – Hammered History – I try to link alcohol to a historical event. On November 10 1775 the United States Marine Corps was founded in Philadelphia’s Tun Tavern by Samuel Nicholas. I expected to be writing a post on the Marines and the importance of pubs throughout history. In my research, however, I found that more was coming out about societies of drinkers, secret, hedonistic, and ancient.

The Dionysus Club in ancient Greece and the Bacchanalia in Ancient Rome were ways for (often, but not always) thirsty members of society to try to reach the gods by getting shitcanned on wine. They also believed in the level of intoxication they reached they were able to speak to the dead, communicate with animals, and tear humans to pieces, and I for one only have to say: been there, done that. Little did I know, that in college I was in a Dionysus Club of my own, membership – me. Further on the British Gentlemen’s clubs allowed men not only a chance to be in a place where their kids and wife weren’t, but also to let down their (very short) hair. In these places it was common to play games, tell stories, and to gossip – an activity looked down upon nowadays, but which then showed you to be a man in standing. The more information one had, the more of a mover and shaker he was. These clubs were a place men could free themselves from the strict rules of being a “gentleman.” Though they didn’t seem to have trouble doing that in boarding schools.

Through the years there are so many more clubs. And in many veins. Nineteenth century book clubs were mostly an excuse for people to get drunk, taking part in a book discussion was secondary – they didn’t have enough copies for everyone anyway(it was the 1800s). The Ancient and Honorable Order of the E Clampus Vitus in order to make fun of stuffy British men’s clubs. Mark Twain was a chartered member, their motto: Credo Quia Absurdum. The Hollywood Vampires Club made no qualms and made no move to hide their intent, as they were a celebrity drinking club in the 1970s. Alice Cooper, Keith Moon, Ringo Starr, Micky Dolenz and Harry Nilsson rank among the club’s primary members. John Lennon, John Belushi, and a slew of other musically inclined booze hounds listed as members too. Before admission to the club, a potential member had to outdrink all of the members. Let’s hope it was on a night when Keith Moon was sick.

I suppose that every bar is something of a secret club. There is a portion of society that can’t, won’t, or simply don’t go inside. That leaves those within to the same revelry as those in the past clubs – tell stories and tall tales, enjoy comraderie via booze, and create unwritten rules, bonds and friendships. Hopefully nobody is speaking to the dead or tearing humans limb from limb. Well, not until tequila night, anyway.   

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