I miss Oktoberfest in La Crosse. I miss the rabid alcoholism, the stumbling through blocked-off streets, the police horses shitting in the middle of the street, the dudes puking in the alleys, the girls crying the mascara off their faces on the edges of the sidewalks. I miss watching the madness unfold below me as I perch on the old Second Supper fire escape. I miss writing crass, forbidden satire about it. I miss the chaos, and the ridiculousness, and the block party sense of community. And lederhosen.
The first time I looked past the curtain of plastic horns, parades, and shitty carnie games of daytime Oktoberfest, I was a year too young to enter the bars. Nevertheless, I felt compelled to wander around downtown, mostly because the skies had decided to dump snow on the festivities for that night. It was kind of wonderful walking sober among the inebriated, watching drunks fight and celebrate, stepping over puddles of freezing puke. I couldn’t wait to be legal for this.
It would be years before I’d enter an Oktoberfest bar. When I was underage, all my friends were over 21. When I became legal, all my friends became underage, so I’d buy myself booze and slip out of my brain at home. I didn’t really go to bars until I came back to La Crosse from my time poorly spent in California (and out there, cost, not age, was the issue). I returned to Wisconsin like a thirsty tornado, ready to commit some serious drunken psychotherapy with my friends, all of whom were now street legal. The plan went magnificently.
These more or less high spirits led me into my first full-fledged Oktoberfest, which ended up being pretty life-changing. The first day began with my usual work at the time, helping to set up the new Barnes and Noble in the mall. I had found out during my shift that a fellow employee was an old high school acquaintance who had accidentally broken my glasses once and whom I had been kind of a dimwitted dick towards from time to time. I invited him to meet up with me at the fest, but nothing came of that.
Instead, I met up with more established friends at the Southside Beer Tent, a meeting place which would have been less pointless to me had it been a Screwdriver Tent. I sat around on benches with my thumb in my ass, blankly looking at such clever Oktoberfest banners as “2001: A Fest Odyssey!” as my friends drank beers that were to me indigestible. At some point I also met old high school friends whom I quickly blew off.
I escaped the festgrounds with a pair of cute girls I vaguely knew and was vaguely interested in, true Oktoberfest warriors who had been drinking since that morning. We lurked in Yesterdays in the vague hours before the crowds began pouring in, pounding down our respective drinks with good cheer. One of the girls vanished at some point, leaving the other one to wander the streets with me as I looked for my reassembling group of friends.
We reconvened in the infant Shooter’s, where my faint hopes of hanging out with my companion were crapped on by another girl who got a she-boner over the way my spiked hair and black clothes made me look vaguely like Robert Smith (I guess). This new factor followed me around the bar and monopolized my time, trying to excite me by employing girl-girl antics with a neighbor of mine and trying to pull me into the fray.
Looking for any way out of this mess, I grasped onto the Bruce Springsteen song that was currently playing. I think it was “Born in the U.S.A.”. Pushing my neck away from Boner Girl’s clutching mouth, I shouted “You show some goddamn respect for the Boss!” and stormed off. My absurd sense of decorum came too late, though; the girl I had come into the bar with had gone.
We ditched the Boner and wandered back to Yesterdays, but at that point I wasn’t feeling it anymore. I was crouched on the sidewalk in front of the bar, bored with the overabundance of life unfolding around me, when an exasperated-looking girl with red hair and black boots swept past me and into the bar. And I was back. I followed her in.
The timeline for that weekend becomes a bit fuzzy after that, but I think it goes like this: I had a large man nearly twist off my nipples in the middle of Pearl Street at bar time, my friend and I raged about some offense in our dark living room, another roommate staggered in and begged him for pot, Red Girl had a breakdown, I told her things would be fine, and she replied that things would never be fine. Later, she and I became friends, then we ended up in a relationship for two years, and then we became friends again. So I was right.
May Gambrinus’ grace watch over you all, you glorious drunks.