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Drinking alone

Club 41 on King Street West

In 2007, soon after I had discovered or, rather, been directed to, Club 41 by a kind and thoughtful waitress at Antonio's, I was still far from the point where I find myself now and even further from the point where I want to be on my own personal journey. At that time, it was a much darker, stifled, moody and brooding individual who stared out through my eyes but, with greater self-awareness, some – though not all - of those qualities have, at least, diminished and a more positive individual has emerged.

Nevertheless, on the night in question – in 2007 and not in 2011 – when this story may or may not have happened, the changes of which I spoke had not yet found their place to develop and, black suited, silent and uncommunicative, I had taken supper alone on the patio of Antonio's – carpaccio for an appetiser; pasta alle vongole for a main and several glasses of white wine – pouring over a newspaper to provide my pretext to ignore the goings on around me. My self-imposed silence and misery were, I was to learn at some future point, of no great concern to anyone else in the world who, regardless of me, was getting on with their own existence.

So it was that, supper concluded and already feeling heady from the meal and wine, I made the short jaunt down University Avenue and, while the busy city life exploded around me in the form of throngs of people, streaming traffic and laughter seeping from patio bars, I turned into the welcomed shade of King Street, targeting the familiar address of number 41.

Of course, in 2007, Club 41 was newly opened and presented much less of the slick, professional face that it does today. In fact, over the years, the owner – a sandy haired and goatee'd, young fellow in his 30's who was an endless font of energy – had changed up the format of the club any number of times. While those changes had been the target of much discussion among patrons – some who stayed and some who strayed to other environments – really, who could blame him? It was his place and not run by proxy.

After walking the few city blocks down King Street, I slipped, preferring to remain unnoticed even by friends and acquaintances, into the enveloping, dark anonymity of the spacious club and found myself a place in isolation at the bar. Jack - the bartender – who I did not know well at the time, took my order. I asked him to 'keep 'em coming'. I was evidently in a foul mood but, probably, did not even recognise the extent of it in myself.

They used to have band nights at Club 41. I miss those. It was an absolute treat to be able to see acts, new and old, on various legs of their tours – either warming up or chilling down – in the relative tranquility of the club. As a member, of course, I was able to just walk in through the side door and pay the extra, nominal fee for the show while, out front, there would be an anxious line-up of ticket holders and those desirous of obtaining same. I couldn't do else but enjoy the luxury.

On that particular night, there was a soul/jazz combo playing on the small stage which used to occupy part of what is now just a large dance floor with a DJ booth in the corner.

Fronting the small ensemble, the singer - a girl - was an act all to herself. She was a campy waif – a suite of anachronisms from beehive hairdo and heavy eye makeup to tattooed breast and a cocktail dress that seemed either too small or just didn't fit on what was left of her frame. But honestly, damn, could she breathe life into a song.

Despite my sombre, inward and increasingly alcohol-hazed disposition, I began to listen more attentively – drawn by the voice - and, what I heard, was a voice not unlike my own. The songs – hers, I learned, later – were not happy in the least. They spoke of depression and disenchantment, disappointment in love. They were frank and, with few frills, suggested that everything goes back to black. Those songs spoke to me – I've been in a place to understand that.

Jack returned along the bar to refresh my drink while I sat, entranced by those painful and  base-line driven renditions.

Years later, I learned that she had died – ascribed to the usual combination of demons but, what shook me the most, was that those - hers - were no different from my own.

The fact is that I have survived and, in the passage of the years – have I moderated? Yes. Have I resolved the issues and stopped the destructive behaviours in which I have indulged for years? No.

Simply said, it depends on the pace, doesn't it? You can snuff yourself out quick – go in heavy and come out short – or just drag it out with the booze and the cigarettes. It's all the same process, really. There is only so much abuse that your body will withstand before it begins to crumble – becoming, first, reticent, then refusing and, following, shutting down. That story is already written.

That, in 2007, I heard that girl sing makes me grateful; I had an opportunity to experience a talent – however short lived. That, years on, I am still around to write this also makes me grateful. Certain things in life have the ability to infuse meaning, sense and knowledge. This was not one of them. I already know that I'm on the wrong road. I just didn't take the short-cut like she did.

I flag Jack and, paying up, duck out and the breeze along King Street is warm in my face.

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