One thing that was unique about my last meditation retreat: I carpooled with three other guys, also fellow meditators. It was unique because we had a chance to chat about the retreat on the way there, and then on the ride back, we debriefed. Even so, conversations don’t always dwell solely on the topic of meditation.
I said something about my summer job in McCarthy, and I mentioned my favorite bar in the whole wide world, The Golden Saloon. Suresh, a Bay Area consultant, was sitting beside me. Normally the most reserved in our bunch and the last one to speak, he cut me off and enthusiastically began to extole the virtures of a bar. By his second sentence, he was getting philosophical. Hospitality, he said, is the supreme act of creativity.
Suresh talked about the unique social place of a bar. A bar is a place to mix and meet people, he said, to mingle, but it’s more than that. It’s a place to exchange ideas and to get real with other people. Suresh said that one of his personal dreams was to open a bar.
Suresh’s eloquent exposition sort of caught us off-guard, but this was a car with some thoughtful folks. Allen, sitting upfront on the passenger-side laughed, then gave Suresh a bit of pushback.
Isn’t a bar actually kind of superficial? he asked. Drunk guy sitting next to you, rambling on and on — god when will he stop? — we’ve certainly all been there.
Not so fast, Suresh says. You offload the superficial first.
The core idea, he says, is that everyone is equal. Within Western civilization, there’s the bar and the church, the two great institutions of the West. As the American frontier was established, they first built a church, then a bar — or visa versa, as the case may be — but the two were generally the first social contexts to be established in a new town.
At this point, Suresh was on a roll, using his hands for emphasis, dazzling us with his insights. He squirmed too, as though the seat could not contain him.
There are no bars in the east, Suresh continued, at least not in the same way as in the States. Here in the States a bar is a cultural event, a social phenomenon.
A bar, he continued, is liminal.
What was that? I ask, interrupting. By this point I’m taking notes.
Liminal, he repeats. A bar is liminal, it’s neither here nor there.
Like an airport, I think to myself. I’ve always been intrigued by places like that. I’ve always thought of them as “no places,” but now I’ve got an impressive new vocabulary word that I can use to describe these no places.
Because a bar is liminal, says Suresh, it’s makes it a therapeutic context. It’s something my bartender friends talk about quite often. After a few drinks, folk will open up to you like you’re their therapist.
Suresh kind of owned the moment, and what can you say after such a philosophical exposition?