I’ve spent a few many hours at breweries and boozy parties taking pictures and chatting with some of my favorite people—drunk people. Why do I dig drunken humans? A drunken human can turn any memory into an epic narrative, where heroes arise out of any ordinary circumstance, and every moment of their favorite memory deserves a big budget movie. On the occasion of taking pictures of drinkers, with their memories behind their gooey, wet eyes, I find people who have lived and finished life long before most of us learn the ease of self-hate and the impossibility of redemption.
This past weekend, at a festival celebrating bacon and beer, three drunks asked about my camera, and I told them that it’s a Canon that takes pictures when I press its buttons, and all I use it for is to turn drunks into angels. From there, they wanted to know where I was from, and it’s here where I type a truism: Austin is huge, Texas is massive, but the world is too small for everybody else’s elbows by my own.
I wasn’t from Texas, they said. No way, they said. So they wanted to know where. They could have asked anything. Where I went to college, the color or absence of my underwear, what my career was in, what car I drove, the direction I wipe my ass. Nope, they asked about high school.
So, I told them born in Austin, grew up in Florence—Florence, Texas. Another Florence is famous for poetry, but the one in Texas is stuck with me. I didn’t say “Texas,” though. I didn’t need to; their laughter confirmed they knew where it was.
“We’re from Blanco,” one of them said, and the last time we played you, we beat you by seventy points. We murdered you.”
“Well, not me,” I tried to protest. But it wasn’t true; I was murdered, too. At half-time during the Blanco and Florence showdown, the score was already 50-0. In the locker room, full of Gatorade and hope in God, our quarterback screamed through a veined throat, “They scored fifty in one half, so can we!” We couldn’t. We were playing a team that was everything Florence wanted to be: future state champions, forever winners no matter what the future brought.
“You guys thought you were hot shit, and we had to stop that,” said a boy from Blanco whose girth was once certainly muscle and whose bones miss the action of another boy’s body.
It’s amazing, years later, hearing about a god’s past judgment—the same-age gods my friends worshipped and possibly prayed to for those fifty points that never ignited the score board. I was in the presence of high school gods, displaced by college degrees and many generations of high school graduates and that moment. Thinking that schools will remember you forever is vanity in the highest. All you become is a state championship flag that only you can pledge allegiance to on the occasional Friday night for three months a year.
“Have a drink with us, Buffalo.”
In seconds I had gone back to the time I hated the most and then back to the best moment of my life: the present. I’d rather be lost and alone than pushed in one direction and believe that I was getting somewhere.
Presently, I doubt those three Panthers are bad guys; they were just drunk. (Gods are always drunk and unaccountable for their actions.) They worked for a goal so long and so hard that they lived life in a season. Maybe that’s the point of all that, too, just to have something. But the conversation was all so high school, even the condescending tones. Boys love to talk about their bones, and adults think it’s cute, but when children grow into old dogs who want nothing more than to chew on those bones—that one same old bone, aged to decay—it’s long gone, and no one cares enough to give them anything new.
So, I gave them their seventy point victory but took some impossibly valuable away: a new conversation. I stood nose-to-nose with gods and I didn’t even take a picture. Besides, the world is small, and we see gods all the time.