There was a music venue (bar) on Dauphin Street in Mobile that was once called Southside, it has changed names numerous times; I don't know if it is even functioning now. When my son, Eric played his very first real gig, it was at this location.
Years after his first gig, when he was still in college he played regular gigs at this venue on Thursday nights as a solo artist, doing cover songs. I went with him to enjoy his music but also in my mind at the time I was going to protect him if he needed it.
When we arrived at the place that night I noticed someone new behind the bar. The lady was up in age. To me she looked to be my mother’s age. Her skin was very wrinkled and leathery looking and her eyes looked like they had recessed a little, yet they were absolutely beautiful light blue. As I watched she lit one cigarette after another and when she spoke her voice was very deep and gravely.
The bar owners had decided since Thursday nights “Drinking with Lincoln” program with Eric had been so successful, they wanted to try it also on Sunday to pick up their business. She was pulling the shift on Sunday at Southside for a little extra income and she was off from her regular job on Sundays. I never knew they had a coffee pot at this place until that night. She cranked up a pot of coffee and our conversation began.
She told me that she had been in bars all of her adult life, it was where she felt at home. Even though her voice and appearance were gruff, I felt a kindness and even sweetness about this woman. Through the years I have met so many people around music. This lady had been through a lot in her life, but she still genuinely cared about people. I listened closely as she spoke of the things she had seen while working in a bar her entire life. I am sure there could have been a great book made from the pieces she poured out for me that night. As I sipped that first cup of coffee, this lady, named Suzy, talked. It was as if we were lifetime friends; we felt comfortable right there in that loud and rowdy college bar.
That night Suzy wanted to talk about the youth of today. I was very new to the bar scene and eager to hear her words. I found it difficult to concentrate as her cigarette had burned right down to the end and I feared she would soon scorch her fingers. She put the little nub in a nearby ashtray and immediately lit another as she began her story. Sue said “Kids are different today than when I was young.” She added, "The problem is not just them, it is the parents of today that seem to have lost their way or gotten distracted somehow."
I drifted off in my mind as I realized how true those words were to me. She continued on with her story of some of the more ruckus kids that she had met over the years. "Most of the kids I see out have never had anyone try to teach them what to do or what not to do." She said “I never had nobody to tell me right from wrong, I had to learn it the hard way.” I watched her as she teared up for a moment. She regained her composure and continued.
“So many of these kids are messed up because nobody ever told them NO or taught them manners” she said as she poured us both another cup of coffee. She told of the neighborhood bar where she had worked for 30 years. It was clean (unlike Southside) and the patrons were more upscale. “These college kids come in there with their parents’ credit cards and drink way too much.” In some cases she told me the parents actually dropped them off and sometimes picked them up at the end of the evening.
This particular night she wanted to speak of one young man she met at her bar.
He was from an affluent family. His father was a physician and his grandfather was a physician, both were involved in the community. From her perspective the father and grandfather had little time to spend with this young man. I will call him Joseph for the story. Joseph would come in almost every evening. He would have daddy’s credit card in hand as he walked through the doors. Every single time he came into this bar where Sue worked, she knew he would be drunk within a few hours. Joseph talked to her about his life of opulence and privilege. He told her of all the wonderful things they owned and the homes they had here, in Key West, Florida and even one in Europe. He spoke of the magnificent vacations they had taken as he grew up. Yet, poor Joseph was an empty soul. His parents were so busy with their careers and their social involvement that he was always a secondary thought for them. "I know you may think, Boo-Hoo, poor little rich kid” she said; "but that is exactly what I am saying; not in a mean way, but a sincere one", she said.
Oftentimes when a child takes the wrong path, their wealthy parents may say, “We gave him everything, so why is he this way?” Suzy added, "In many of these cases, I say no, you gave him material things, he needed your time, your attention and your love."
I came to know Joseph over the years as he began to come to many of my son’s shows. He was small in stature and had poor posture, hardly ever looking you in the eye. Joseph seemed to love the music and he would spin around in circles to the beat of the music for hours. He reminded me of the 60s when the flower children or hippies danced in circles as though they were oblivious to things going on around them. Many times when I saw him he was not only drunk but also high. Eventually others in the crowd who knew him better than I did, would use the term “burned out” when talking about Joseph.
More than once I was told that he went to rehab to try and “get rid of” his addiction. But the way I see it, if the circumstances in his life remain the same there is little chance of rehab being successful. The last I heard, Joseph was in rehab for the eighth time.
Only once did I have a chance to talk to Joseph. It was early in the night and he was still lucid. I asked him how he was doing and he seemed surprised by the question. He said "Things are going well, I guess." I asked him about school and his future plans. As he appeared to be uncomfortable, he said "The future is not something that interests me."
I said, "Joseph what do you really really want in life?" "What makes you happy?"
He answered, “you know Ms. Juanita, I want nothing, and I have nothing.”
I told him he could be anything he wants to be, it is up to him now and no one else. I sensed that it was too late at this point to pull him from the clutches of his drug and alcohol life. The addiction had a grip on his head and heart that was very powerful.
I understand how this happened. And I will always remember the words of that wise old bartender named Suzy. She said “Those rich folks use their credit cards as a babysitter for their children then they are my problem to try and teach them something, which is near impossible.”
Joseph never pulled himself out of the hole he had dug. He had the potential and the means to become anything he wanted, yet he chose to become another statistic.
Sometimes the world is not as it appears. People party and dance and laugh in the bar. They seem like the happiest people on earth and many cases that could be true. Then there are those amongst the happy people who are pretenders and who seek happiness in a bottle but it cannot be found there.
NOTE: Many kids go wrong that have wonderful, involved parents, there is no real formula for keeping them headed in the right direction. Being a parent is not easy. To me the best advice is if you are a parent, be a steady constant, dependable source for them.
Suzy appeared rough, but she was soft and kind in her heart...she was a beautiful person. She is correct when she says credit cards are not babysitters for your "adult" babies.
"The most terrible poverty is loneliness, and the feeling of being unloved." Mother Teresa
As a music mom, I have seen and heard many things. Each time I go to a show there is something new to learn and the lessons are priceless.