This must be the place: I got love that ain’t gonna change, I got love that won’t fade away
It was right around the third drink of the evening when I had the sneaking suspicion an existential crisis was going to rear its head before the night was through.
Monday night at the “Open Jam” at One World Brewing in West Asheville. I was flying solo, as I do most of the time. Sitting at the bar counter alone, I sipped the locally made raspberry seltzer and tried to assimilate myself into normalcy, or into whatever that even means anymore in this time and space, in these unknown waters of people and protocol we navigate with an air of cautious optimism.
Sipping the bright red liquid, I stood out like a sore thumb amid the IPA and porter throngs of Asheville cool kids out on the town, always chasing that “moment,” for FOMO (fear of missing out) is a real and tangible feeling that lurks in the underbelly of this thriving mountain metropolis.
I sat there and wondered how different my life would be if I didn’t ignore that girl that really liked me several years ago or maybe tried a little harder to rope in the one that got away. Was she really that into me? Was I even aware of what was actually going on? How come it never seems to come together like two puzzle pieces in a lost sea of confusion and by chance romance?
Maybe I wouldn’t be alone on Monday, Feb. 7, 2022, two days after my 37th birthday, which is already in the rearview mirror of my thoughts and actions, all while I subconsciously prepare for the 38th go-round that fiery ball of energy and light hovering high and mysteriously above us each time we, well, wake up and do it all over again.
Shit, Valentine’s day is exactly a week from today. The music ends so the band can take a quick smoke break. The inundation and undulation of sound and spectacle has ceased, at least for the time being, as now you’re just left with nothing to see and hear, which parlays itself into the usual company on a lonely Monday night: your own thoughts.
Taking a big pull of the red beverage, I think of the film I just exited at the Fine Arts Theatre in downtown Asheville — “Licorice Pizza,” the latest from famed director Paul Thomas Anderson.
Bolt down Interstate 40 from Waynesville to make the 4 p.m. screening on-time. Pull into the Biltmore Avenue parking garage and walk briskly uphill to the theatre, but not before dropping my last dollar bill in the hands of a homeless man.
“One ticket to ‘Licorice Pizza,’ please,” you tell the face behind the mask behind the glass of the box office. Slid the credit card through the small hole, get the ticket in return. Find a seat in the darkness of the upstairs screening room. Besides myself, three other scattered couples and some random dude way in the back row.
Set in California’s San Fernando Valley in 1973, the film is, in essence, a love letter by PTA to “The Valley” of his youth, a physical and emotional landscape rapidly changing in the 21st Century world of shifting culture and high-end real estate.
The main plot is about an ambitious teenage boy chasing relentlessly after an older woman. He’s trying to run away from being a kid, always aiming to prove to others his worth through haphazard business ventures and the like. She’s trying to run away from a boring life in suburbia that seems to be creeping around the corner. Cue a series of trials and tribulations, whether on their own or together.
Soaking in the cinematic beauty of the film, memories begin to flood my field-of-vision. Thoughts of my own early ambitions and aspirations, and how one didn’t care to be purposely naïve, especially in matters of the heart. You want that girl? Well, figure out a way to get her attention. You want to succeed? Prove it.
Now, at 37, the outer shell (of the heart, of the soul) is hard, and it sometimes weighs heavy, whether it be around the holidays or my birthday last week, or Valentine’s Day next week. Experiences of love lost and love found are like layers of sticky lacquer coating your shell with each passerby lover, each passing season.
I leave the theatre with a little bit of a kick in my step. I feel the urge to call a close friend and tell her about the film, to compare our differing, respective interpretations of the mesmerizing work. The conversation shifts to swapping stories about our own high school experiences and exploits, and how dusty those memories seem nowadays, like yearbooks full of signatures and photographs forgotten in the closet of our mind. I feel the urge to text an old friend, and do so.
There’s a lightness of being when in the presence of timeless cinema, more so when you exit the theatre to a blood-orange sunset overtaking Western North Carolina. I stood on the corner of Biltmore Avenue and Aston Street, just to take in the fading beauty of light for a moment or two. Button up my coat and slowly walk back to the truck.
It’s was right around the third drink of the evening when I had the sneaking suspicion an existential crisis was going to rear its head before the night was through. I sipped the locally made raspberry seltzer and tried to assimilate myself into normalcy, or into whatever that even means anymore in this time and space.
Shit, Valentine’s day is exactly a week from today. And that’s OK. All of it. Existential crisis, be damned. It’s all good, for right when that sneaking suspicion of personal evaluation amid the greater universe rears its head, you then start to see the clarity and splendor of your own path — the flaws, the faults, the passion, the purpose.
Life is beautiful, grasp for it, y’all.