*This was actually a creative writing essay I did for my English Classical Backgrounds class. It’s to mirror in a way Plato’s “Symposium,” which deals with a group of friends talking about love. The assignment called for actually having a conversation with others, but due to my “smart” phone deciding to reset itself, I lost all my audio recordings. After a few hours of pity and YouTube binge watching, I decided to recreate the whole evening in my own fashion. I rather like what I came up with.*
At 8:45 PM it was still too early for the Saturday night crowd, but there still was a handful of people in bar. Not enough though to begin karaoke. The woman operating the songs computer sat readying the request slips and pens. Victoria, Scott, and myself already had our selections filled out in our hands. A generic top 100 song played in the background over the sound system.
“So what are we doing again?” asked Victoria as she double checked her song entry, making sure it was the one she wanted to lead with. She idly tucked some of her long black hair behind her left ear, as she often did.
“I need to ask you guys some questions about love for school,” I answered. “Ever read Plato’s ‘Symposium?’ It’s something like that. But except being in someone’s home, we’re in a bar. What better place for love?”
Victoria giggled at this. “Right?” she said with a merry tone. Satisfied with her song selection, she placed the small slip of paper back down on the bar’s counter.
“How should we start?” asked Scott, Victoria’s fiancé. Both of them made a fine couple. Both wore glasses, and both on this evening wore red shirts. The level of cuteness almost made me gag.
I raised my Tennessee honey whiskey and Coke and said, “I think in honor of the Greek’s of old, we should first offer libations to the gods.”
“Which one?” said Scott.
“Why, Dionysus of course. The god of merriment and drunken debauchery.”
“Here, here,” said Victoria.
Glasses raised, we clinked our glasses together. I always order a whiskey and Coke, loving the sweetness as it hits my tongue and then pours down my throat. I rarely deviate from it.
“Alright,” I said once we all took swigs from our drinks. “First question: How and where do you see the concept of love being represented in our culture?”
Scott began first at this. “We really only see ‘love’ in the media. You know, like movies, television, news, tabloids. They really don’t have much to say in the way of positive love, but really who’s shaking up with who, who just recently split up, and then right away they are with some other woman.”
“So it’s very hypocritical is what you’re saying.”
“Exactly. All we are shown is that relationships are dime-a-dozen; that they are more like passing flings than staying for the long haul.”
“Yeah, I totally agree,” said Victoria as she twirled her straw around in her vodka-cranberry. “I really don’t see any sort of values except that love isn’t long lasting. It’s something short term.”
“But where do you see such things?” I said.
“Just like Scott said. We really only see examples of love in the media on tv, internet, the news when they are covering the latest senator or president that is cheating on their spouse for some office ‘bimbo’ that doesn’t even look like she knows how to work a computer.” Victoria took a long sip of her drink. “They probably got hired because of their looks I bet.”
“And what types of love do you see represented in our culture?” I then asked.
“Well, liked I said, it’s all about how love is something that becomes replaceable.” Her hair over her left ear becoming loose, Victoria brushed it back into place.
“I can see that,” I said. “Our whole culture is pretty much the same when it comes to everything else. That washing machine is broken? Not really worth fixing it, so might as well get a new one. It would cost about the same anyway. The television busted? Use that extended warranty to get yourself a replacement. If you get it fixed it only means it would break down again.”
“No one is really interested in the long haul anymore,” said Scott leaning in closer. “Love takes hard work, but everyone just expects it to be rainbows and butterflies from the start. Guess what, it’s not. So people tend to go leave once the going gets tough. Life’s tough, man! Love is a part of life!”
The woman sitting at the karaoke’s song que stood up, making sure her blue dress didn’t show more that her supple knees. Expertly she balanced herself on her black, extremely high-heeled shoes as she grabbed one of the cordless microphones. She always sang the first song of the night, a sort of signal that she was ready to take our requests. I grabbed our slips and left them on her small table as she began to croon along to the words of Adele’s “Skyfall.” As I sat back down to my seat at the bar, I took up the conversation again.
“So you’re saying that people don’t have the attention span to stay with someone long term nowadays?”
Scott shook his head. “I was in a relationship with my high school sweetheart for three years, and then she decided that she just didn’t want to be with me anymore. Still, that was three years, and through high school.”
“Ah, gotcha,” I said. “I guess that really is a part of how you don’t know someone until you’ve spent enough time with them; Their personality, their ticks; and it also gives both people enough time to see if there’s any staying power, or whether one or both people will realize that they’ve slowly changed, and just aren’t compatible anymore.”
Scott looked at me unsure. “Well, yeah. I guess that could be so.”
Before either one of us could continue on the topic, the karaoke maiden called out, “Nick, you’re up hon.” She motioned me over with the microphone that she just had been using.
I took to the mic, and soon was belting out my rendition of Selena Gomez’s “Like a Love Song.” I sucked. But I had fun sucking. My friends, along with a few kind bar folk, gave me a polite round of golf clap applause.
“Good job,” said Victoria cheerily.
I shrugged. Victoria’s name was soon announced, and she took to the mic herself. “King of Anything” by Sara Bareilles issued over the loud speakers, in Victoria’s voice. Of course she definitely sang better than me.
“So Scott,” I said while still showing attention to Victoria’s performance. “What ideas or notions do you think are typically associate with love in our culture?”
He looked away from Victoria and considered the question. “I have to definitely say the whole ‘white picket fence, little house, and small family’ image comes to mind.”
“That’s a throwback to the 50’s and 60’s, wouldn’t you say?”
“Yeah, but it doesn’t mean that people still don’t spout that when they tell their kids about it how things use to be and still should be. It really goes with how America tries to doubletalk its way around being loose with its morals. We tend to say one thing, and yet do another.”
“Like, “Do as I say, not as I do.’”
I nodded at those. “My stepdad said that on a few occasions.”
Victoria came traipsing back to the counter. “I think it’s your turn, babe.”
“Scott, come on up honey,” called the karaoke woman.
Scott took to the mic. Keeping with our theme, he went into his rendition of Toby Keith’s “Whiskey Girl.” Scott always killed his songs.
“How about you girl?” I asked Victoria. “What ideas or notions do you think are typically associated with love?”
She frowned at this in contemplation. “I think everyone hopes for their ‘happily ever after,” she said while showing the Disney themed tattoos that were visible on her arms. “It never happens like that, but I like the idea. To find that someone you’ll be so happy with that you’ll never want another.”
“That ties in with the notion of ‘finding your soulmate,’” I offered. “It’s a very nice thought, but in a world of 7 billion some people, is it really that feasible to happen? To find that missing piece in the crowds and the confusion of everything?”
Victoria shrugged. “I dunno. Doesn’t make it any less of a nice thought.”
I mulled this over, listening to the rest of Scott’s voice blaring over the loudspeakers. By now, the bar’s regular Saturday night crowd had mostly filtered in through the double doors. Regulars came up, filling out their request slips, and then flittered about the bar either playing pool or nursing their drinks until their song came up. After Scott had finished, excepting more applause than both Victoria and I had collectively gotten, he sat back down as the next person took up the microphone. Out drinks were soon replenished by our Elvira wannabe bartender.
Whether or not the crowd had observed the theme we had created with our song choices, or because the universe wanted it to continue, the karaoke woman took to the microphone again after the random bar person. This time, she sang a sultry version of “Same Old Love.”
Further encouraged, I asked my two friends, “How does your experience of love align or contrast with the way it is represented in our culture?”
Scott, also equally covered in Disney tattoos, with the rose from “Beauty and the Beast” on his left thigh, grabbed his fiancé from behind and held her tight to his chest. They each went back and forth, saying that they had both found each other in a time in their lives where they weren’t looking for love. Each one of them were in a relationship prior that they should have left sooner, finding that their partner was either verbally or emotionally abusive. Once they realized that it was beyond saving, it just happened to fall into place for them; both of them having been friends for years after all. They made sure to acknowledge that they still had their share of arguments and disagreements, but they were both in it for the long run, so it was okay. It was part of what love was, though not part of what was discussed of love publically.
“And do you two think our culture demonstrates a negative or a positive take on the concept of love?” I asked.
“Um, I’m not sure what that ultimately means,” said Scott.
I took the lead then, saying “I really don’t think our culture says anything in the way, negatively or positively. It’s like everyone is an unbiased newscaster when it comes to it. ‘Just the facts’ and the like. I guess it just ties back into how we are so wishy-washy in whole. We tend to say one thing, and then do another. Never making up our minds. Eggs are good; eggs are bad; egg whites are good, but the yolk is bad. Just so… wishy-washy, you know?”
“Ah,” exclaimed Scott.
A couple in their early to mid-thirties was next up to the karaoke microphones. The guy, sporting his Padres ball cap with pride, bounced back and forth from foot to foot, as he readied himself for his song. When the Backstreet Boys’ “Larger than Life” started, the pair went full out.
“Love is so impersonal if you really think about it,” said Scott. “In the media that is. There’s so much crap on television about dating shows, and reality dating, people displaying their dysfunctional relationships for everyone. Love really gets shown as being a dime a dozen.”
“Oh I know,” chimed in Victoria. In the background, the karaoke couple were exclaiming, “Your love’s affecting our reaaaaaaality.” “There’s so much crap out there in the public eye about relationship scandals that it makes it sound like it’s a normal occurrence. That it’s to be expected. I don’t like that!” She sipped at her vodka-cranberry. “You know me, I’m part Aztec, and crazy. If a man were to do that to me, I’d cut his balls off.” She demonstrated with her fingers making a snipping motion. “Like that.”
“For me,” I said, “I also notice all of the legal issues that gay couples still are fighting for marriage equality. Yeah, we have the right to marry now, which is a great leap forward. But to see all of these angry people taking to Twitter, Facebook, the news, about how marriage is something reserved between a man and a woman, and they wouldn’t acknowledge these types of marriages. And if they are in a position to assist in marriages, they won’t lift a finger for it. How hurtful is it being told by another human being that your rights and beliefs don’t Stevener, so much so that they shun you like in an Amish culture? Where is the love in that?”
Victoria and Scott looked at me and nodded. “It sucks man,” said Scott.
We nursed our drinks as the couple enthusiastically finished their boy band song. They did a good job I thought. Next up was one of the bar’s regulars. He grabbed the microphone, him in his simple jeans and button up bowling shirt. As he threw his head back, quite bald in his later age, he began to sing, “Can anybody… fiiiiiind meeeee… somebodyyyyyy… toooooooo loooooooove…” I never heard Queen so butchered before in my life.
“Anyway,” I said turning away from the frightfulness of the performance. “Next question: How do you think our culture defines love?”
“What is this?” asked Beatrice, our Elvira look-alike bartender. She picked up the printed paper I had set out on the bar outlining the essay requirements and questions. She quickly looked it over, then placed it down saying, “I’m being really nosey aren’t I?”
“It’s homework,” I said. “I have to ask people questions about love, and what better place than in a bar?” I chuckled.
“She should answer!” said Victoria gleefully. She patted her hands together, pleased with her idea. “Ask her Nick. She’ll have a great answer I’m sure!”
I picked up the paper and repeated the question for the bartender. She seemed surprised for a second, but then shrugged it off like any well trained woman who deals with drunken horn-balls on a nightly basis could.
“I for one thing think love is something that eventually runs out. Like yeah, we fall in love, but do I think that we stay in love? No way. It all eventually fades. So you might as well have fun with it does, right?”
“Do you think our culture defines love like that?” I inquired further.
“Oh yeah, of course. Does it look like any of these people we see are staying together forever? Heck no!” She gave me a playful nudge with the back of her hand. “They’re hooking up with the next person given the first chance.”
Beatrice gave me a cheeky grin, then continued on down the bar to fulfill another waiting patron’s drink order.
“What about you Victoria?” I asked.
“For me, I see culture saying that love is something that we all eventually get into. That someday you’re going to get married, have kids, get that little white picket fence. It’s just expected.” Victoria rolled her eyes. “Now, give me my dog and my books, and I’m good!” She looked over at Scott and winked at him.
Her fiancé shook his head and smiled. “I think I’d love a cigarette. I’ll be right back.” He kissed her on the forehead and went out back.
“I definitely can see that,” I continued with Victoria. “Love is a concept that has become an expected eventuality. Holy even. Religion regard marriage with reverence, with a sense of the solemnity. The Catholic religion holds marriage as a sacrament. I can also understand that some people would get upset if others are trying to get married outside of their religious beliefs, but the whole trying to press it down on other people, it’s very inconsiderate. To force your beliefs on someone just because you don’t personally hold them. That’s another Stevener however.”
As I tried to get back to topic, my name was called again for my next selection. “Sweet Transvestite” from the Rocky Horror Picture Show was my best song, so I made sure it was always a karaoke selection. True, not really in the theme of “love,” but I loved to sing it. After I did a rendition worthy of Tim Curry, I walked back to the bar. Sitting in my seat and greeting me with a round of applause and a killer smile was Steven. His smile could kill baby seals with its cuteness.
“Great job mister,” he said still smiling.
“Steven!” I said surprised. I threw my arms around him and hugged him tight. “I was getting worried that you weren’t coming!”
“Ha-ha. Yeah sorry about that. Took me a little longer to get ready.” He winked.
After Scott came back from his smoke break, the four of us proceeded to take the time to listen to the increasingly ever drunk bar goers who took to the microphone. I’d never seen a more hilarious version of Prince’s “Purple Rain” until that night. A drink and a half later, I explained to Steven my school assignment.
“So does that mean you’re going to ask me now?” he said.
“Of course.” I smiled cheekily. “So, starting with you, what does our culture get right or wrong about our concept of love?”
“Love can be definitely a beautiful thing,” said Steven while nodding. “Love motivates people to become better, to do things that normally we would be too hesitant to do, or too full of pride to do it.”
“So you’re saying love is very powerful?” I offered.
“Oh very much so. Beautiful and powerful. I’ve seen enough of movies that claim the whole ‘love conquers all.’ And I’ve have to agree. The same could go for the opposite side of things. Someone hurt by love can do very harmful things. Kill, steal, hurt, etc.”
“It’s nothing to be taken for granted,” interjected Victoria. “It’s capable of anything.”
“Look at Homer’s ‘Iliad,’” I said. “The story says that the war was started because of Helen of Troy. One nation wanted to keep her; One nation wanted to get her back. Even though the war took ten years, Paris (the prince who took Helen) wouldn’t give her up. Even with the enemy at their gates, and then eventually destroying their city. And the Greeks wouldn’t leave until they destroyed Troy and took Helen back, even after their heavy losses and being away from their home and family. That’s the power of love.”
“Even though we value relationships very little these days, that type of stuff can happen all in the name of love,” said Scott.
I added, “Though we don’t believe in it, it’s still there.” I took a drink and moved on with my questions. “Alright, what about this. I’ve been thinking about this one. Does love only mean romantic love? Can’t we love our job, or the things we do, and find value in them?”
“Of course,” said Steven. “I mean there’s other things more important out there than just love, like our family and finding purpose. But yeah, we can definitely find the worth in loving the things that we do as well. We don’t have to find fulfillment just from the love of another. It would seem just very limiting.”
“What I would have to say is that love is all encompassing,” offered Scott. “It’s a large spectrum that we can find almost anything in. I love Victoria, I love our dog, I love our family, I love my video games… they’re all things that make me happy, you know? So no, it doesn’t have to be just romantic love. Just as long as the things you love make you happy, I think they can be worthwhile.”
I smiled at this, though I probably was also encouraged by my libations. “I love that! Worthwhile! If we can find happiness in that love, it’s worthwhile. Man I wish everyone thought like that. Then we wouldn’t have the name of love associated with the crap that’s on tv.”
“Oh I agree,” said Steven. “But you know why no one will share that? Because it sounds pretty gay outloud.”
I gave Steven a playful jab in the shoulder, and then perhaps encouraged by my buzzed nature, embraced him from behind in a tight hug, which to my glee he returned with a backwards hug. I didn’t care if we were surrounded by drunk straight people in a bar on karaoke night; it was nice.
By the time we all finished our drinks, it was already 12:30 in the morning. I had work six and a half hours later, so we all agreed it was time to go. We settled our tabs, bid Beatrice farewell, and after a last minute restroom break, we all headed out to the parking lot.
“Oh right,” I said once the four of us had neared Scott’s car. “I have one more question I need to ask.” I turned to my friends, a little tipsy I’ll admit. “Do you think love is any easy, or hard thing?”
“Fuck, of course hard,” said Scott. “I live with her after all,” pointing his thumb at Victoria, who sharply punched him in the ass. “Ow! You see what I mean?”
“Again,” said Steven, “it would really depend. It’s both. At one point it’s easy to fall in love, but then it’s hard to keep that love. Or it’s hard to find that love, but once you do, you find that it’s easy to be with them and to love them.”
“I think that’s what the whole evening has really been about,” I said. “’It depends.’ Love is both great, yet unimportant. Weak, yet powerful. Important, yet furthest from our minds. And now easy, while at the same time hard. Sort of fits our hypocritical view as Americans.”
“You can’t categorize love into a neat little box.” Steven mimed the shape of a box, almost like in Madonna’s “Vogue” style. “It’s just too… unpredictable I guess, to just say it’s one thing and not another.”
“Like water. It’s one second a liquid that moves freely, a solid that is hard and unyielding, vapor that appears to be there yet not, and then soft and gentle snowflakes.” I smiled at myself. “I think we got to heart of love.”
Steven pouted at me. “What did I just say about the box?!”
The four of us laughed in the dark parking lot, only surrounded by cars and the night. Steven said his goodbyes to us, and gave me a kiss on the cheek before he went his way to his car. I got into the backseat of Scott’s car as he drove the three of us back to their place where my own car was waiting. As we passed by the lightly lit retreating buildings, I looked over my notes and my voice recordings, remembering the night where we discussed love in a bar with karaoke.