“Minnesota’s winning!” he said, wrapping small hands around an egg and bacon sandwich. “Is that good?”
I glanced at the TV screen.
“They’re playing Nebraska, so it’s good,” I said.
Say what you want, but the Billy Goat is one hell of a bar if you’ve got a reason to be there.
“I’m a Sox fan, but I’ll vote for the Cubs depending on who they’re battling,” he said.
The reason can’t be that you wanted to hear “Cheezeborger, cheezeborger” like on the Saturday Night Live sketch. And it can’t be that you want to gaze moony-eyed at where Royko and the other journalism legends used to get drunk.
“The only time I had fun at soccer was when I hit the goalie in the face. He went WHAM! and fell backwards,” my seatmate said, reenacting it with his head and a wadded straw wrapper as the soccer ball.
The reason to be at the Goat has to be that you work nearby. And you don’t give a shit about cheezeborger, cheezeborger. It has to be that you’re tired and grimy, 23 and looking for a place to get shitfaced with tired, grimy co-workers.
You have to go to the Goat because you really like Marco, Bouch and Payne and you don’t just treat them like SNL re-enactors on command.
“I’m 26,” my seatmate said, referencing a joke we had a few months back. “But I’m a midget. With a really high voice. And I act like an 8 year old.”
“Yeah, the guys at the office and I have been meaning to talk to you about that,” I said.
I did used to work near the Goat. And I was tired, grimy and 23 once. Marco and Bouch are great guys who welcomed me back and asked me where I had been after a five-year, self-imposed exile from the place.
But my reason now wasn’t getting shitfaced with the boys. It was getting lunch with one of my best friends and his two boys: Milo, 5, and my chatty seatmate Roland, 8.
“Tell Uncle Paul what you told me about Johnny Cash,” my friend Rob said.
“I don’t like Johnny Cash,” Roland said between bites of egg sandwich.
“You’re killing me, Roland,” I said.
“I like Marshall,” Roland said.
“Who’s Marshall?” I asked.
“My son is on first name basis with Eminem,” Rob said.
“You’re killing me, Roland.”
When I was 23, new to Chicago and spent my days working on the tour boats, the Goat was the place to be. We drank and ate and joked and slapped backs. The young men and women (boys and girls) of the Wendella crew romanced each other, got plowed on a regular basis, built dramas out of nothing and loved every damn minute of it. The Goat was magic. It was the place where Chicago happened.
Took me years to realize it’s a nice bar with some good burgers and no windows.
The reason the Goat can be great is the tourist subsidize it. They come in and buy their borgers, drink their beers, talk about “The Curse” and leave without their money. It’s a steady flow of traffic that allows the place to keep prices low, or at least low by downtown standards.
Milo wandered off while Rob was getting our burgers. I found him by the ladies bathroom where I once made out with that super-hot girl who thought I was kind.
Rob texted back and forth with his wife about picking her up lunch. I glanced over at the spot the group was sitting the night that ended with me naked and arguing with Jimmy the Prick on a charter boat in the playpen.
Roland tried to shoot me with his dad’s straw wrapper. We were sitting beneath the window I once broke my hand trying to smash.
Yeah, that last one was a messed up story. I did stop coming to the Goat eventually. The same place, the same booze, the same stories, a person I missed and a person I realized I could never trust made the place dangerous for me.
That sounds like “a story,” but really it’s the same stupid crap most people realize between 24 and 26, that getting rowdy every night isn’t the best for a soul. I moved on. Damn glad I did.
I’m also glad there’s still a place for me at the Goat, still a reason to come by. I’m glad the reason is to see one of my best friends and two little boys who call me Uncle Paul and compete over who gets to tell me bad jokes. I’m glad the shitface bar of my early 20s is the place I see old friends in my 30s.
I’m glad there will always be a drink waiting for me at the Goat, even if at this age it’s a Pepsi.
Sorry, that’s not right.
No Pepsi. Coke.