A Writer Walks into a Bar: Read the Winning Entry of Foundation's Essay Competition | Food

A Writer Walks into a Bar: Read the Winning Entry of Foundation's Essay Competition


  • image courtesy of FOUNDATION
Literary heroes throughout history have famously put pen to paper while nursing a tumbler of liquor. The bartenders and owners of Foundation, Raleigh’s longtime cavernous refuge for whiskey lovers and cocktail connoisseurs, know that introspection and creativity can be nourished by a good drink. Since it opened eight years ago, the bar has promoted local art and poetry by featuring both on printed seasonal cocktail menus.

This summer, owners Vince Whitehurst and Will Alphin and bartender and writer Kari Smith launched an essay competition, prompting patrons to write about something weird or life-changing that happened at the bar.

The winner of the first round is Matt Wimberley, whose essay is printed on Foundation’s current menu and included below. Like many powerful bar memories—which are really not about the drinks at all, just fueled by what they provide—the text is dismal and disjointed. Foundation plans to keep the contest going. You can find more information on the bar's Facebook page.

Memory Ending With Neil Young’s Guitar
by Matt Wimberley

Who we were then, and who we’ve become, seems so shaped by nights with our backs against stone, in the dim half-light, music fading in the background the way ice melts in a glass, until it is not really recognizable.

It meant a good story, to let the music change into only background, or it meant laughter, or the despair that comes after a separation and after love, when all you can do is buy your friend a drink and say “I’m sorry.” There are nights, also, of pure celebration, when you feel untouchable and time passes slow and you don’t grow tired, or if it’s quiet you could almost believe you’d stepped out of your life and into another—the subterranean you.

This is all, of course, a poor imitation, and even the condensation darkening the menus here is only memory, and the scuff of a shoe on the gray floor is also memory, and the woman brushing back her hair beside the bathroom door is also memory.

And there is another memory, which now feels like it should have meant more, because of what it means now when glimpsed with the gift of experience. I’m ahead of myself. Miłosz writes “Here in America, with who do I share my knowledge of the end?” and now I think “All of us.” Though the idea of an end is curious because it is also a counterfeit—the end of a glass, the end of the night, the end of the shift when the hands are raw and the last person leaves, almost carried by a shadow back to the surface. Then the day resets itself—the empty glasses filled, the empty seats and barstools filled, the hands soothed before the shift—the music beginning to melt.

And so—an end?

In 2017 I can still hear the hush from years before when we heard Bin Laden had been killed. Some must have felt hopeful then, others were sullen and unsure of what it meant. I sat at the far table with friends, and we began to speak as if for a moment there could be an end to terror, to suffering, as if we would go on guiltless into the rest of our days.

But now, it seems like there was no end, and that what victory meant was a different terror, and even, in some way, complacency to it. Bombs still fell, and innocence was scarce. I was twenty-two. There were four of us then. We would collect the check, open the leather booklet and sign our names as if proof of our place inside the events that we would later learn about in detail.

We would leave that night feeling giddy. We would say, “same time next week?” And we would go different ways.

What does it mean to remember so clear that moment the word got to us? The polished glass of it? I think I was terrified then, for the world to come—I think I can see every face from that night if I squint through my thoughts, and I can wonder what has become of them. I can almost hear the music—a memory ending with Neil Young’s guitar.

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