When I was in college, there was this bar. It was called "Maxie's" and it was a dive. Perpetually trapped in the 70's, it featured a mirrored ceiling, a pool table "pit" and an old jukebox. On any given night of the week, Maxie's was empty, with a sprinkling of mostly townies and the occassional college student seeking escape from the crowded college-oriented bars in town. But Thursday night... that was different.
On Thursdays, Maxie's featured Miller High Life, the champagne of beers, on special at $2.50 a pitcher. The key was to arrive early, before 9 PM, to procure a table and at least two pitchers for you and your friends with a stack of tiny plastic cups. The crowd would continue to grow past 10 PM and before you knew it, the small dive was packed with college students spending their meager savings on cheap beer.
It was the ultimate escape... not just from college life, but from life in general. The atmosphere was so pre-modern that you almost felt as if you stepped into a time machine. Classic rock blared from the jukebox, since that was it's only real offering. The pool-pit was filled with the aromas of chalk, cigarette smoke and spilled beer; the tables occupied by students from all walks of college life.
What made Maxie's so special though was its theme song. Every night, around 11 PM, one of the bar's patrons would pump their quarters into the jukebox and select D-11... Neil Diamond's "Sweet Caroline."
For those of you unfamiliar with the song, it is cheesy and ridiculous. The lyrics are bad, the music is outdated and the singer is less than a college student's role model... with his exposed chest hair poking out from under his leisure suit. But it wasn't the image that we were looking forward to... it was the kitsch. That song filled the small spaces of the bar that was hardly the "uptown girl" of our small college town... filled with our friends in low places. Some of Maxie's non-regulars would turn their nose up at the song, silently declaring its blatant homsexuality and their unwillingness to simply "get the point." The song united us.
I would turn my attention to the bartender, affectionately dubbed "Mr. Maxie" by the students. He was old, and was never not behind the bar pouring pitchers (the bar was, in fact, beer only). Sometimes I would catch him moving his lips to the song, defeated by its absurdity... "Hands... touching hands..."
And then would come the chorus, followed by the resounding "Bah, bah, bah" of the bar patrons pounding their fists and empty pitchers on the tables.
I recently discovered that this isn't a tradition unique to my favorite college watering hole... Fenway Park plays "Sweet Caroline" every game between the top and bottom of the 8th inning. 40,000 drunk Bostonians chanting "bah, bah, bah" in an open-air Maxies, overlooked by a Green Monster.
Why is this song so fun? It's hard to say. It was at that moment, on Thursday nights, we were united. And in the face of Friday morning hangovers and exams, Diamond was the most unlikely of all performers to unite us. It captured a timelessness of the bar and of us, regardless of its absurdity.
Looking back, it's hard to say what my college experience would be like without Maxie's and it's Thursday nights. For us, it was living the "high life," forgetting about our differences and social insecurities that plague college students. At the moment, and in our intoxication, we swallowed our pride and yelled each lyric at the top of our lungs, swaying to the impobable melody.
It was at that moment, every Thursday, that "good times never seemed so good."
If you're a battery, you're either working or you're dead....