Off the beaten path in the French Quarter, in a haze of cigarette smoke and the bouquet of PBR on tap, is a dive, its brick walls bursting with the beat of late-night dancing. This is the Gold Mine Saloon, and I confess that after twenty years of Flaming Dr. Peppers and Journey remixes, I’m still a willing patron. Not a regular, more of a once every wild hair.
Two years back, my friend and I hit the Gold Mine and were self-proclaimed rock stars. As such, we posted a picture of us in front of the old arcade machines in the midst of all its shameless glory. Friends’ comments were heavy on “there’s a blast from the past.” Many had tucked the Gold Mine into that place in memory where youthful wildness goes to die. Admittedly, I’m not in the target Gold Mine audience anymore. But for that one night, I also wasn’t saddled with maturity either. I was young again.
Presently, we’re in that sweet stretch in New Orleans when we are called to be young. Flashy things distract us as they roll down the street. Our diet consists of chicken tenders and donuts. We’re eight years old again. We coordinate costumes and outfits with our friends. We’re fifteen again. We drink beer before noon. We’re twenty again. Nothings seems too young because we forget we’re old. Some of us repent the forty days that follow because we were maybe a little too young again. But must we guilt ourselves over a few wild oats? Are we ever too old to be young?
There’s a silliness that ensues the moment we’re young again. No longer sidetracked by responsibility, we actually see the little moments of hilarity. We get gutsy and toss aside our matured reservations. We take chances we normally wouldn’t. We invite mischief back into our lives and remember what it was like to be fun. There are some who frown and tease us for trying to reclaim something. If we’re honest with ourselves, we’ll admit that we are. We’re reclaiming a freedom that we lost.
Remember when spontaneity was always on the table?
“Wanna go dancing tonight?”
“Wanna spend the day laying out at the Fly?”
“Wanna go to the coast this weekend?”
But eventually, we got jobs, alarms, or small humans who required supervision. The spontaneity fizzled and with it, our ability to be uninhibited.
“I’m too old to start the night that late.”
“I can’t lay around all day! Did you forget that I’m in a relationship with the LSAT?”
“I need at least six months to prepare my family before I can go anywhere.”
Suddenly, fun became a scheduled activity.
The things preventing us from spontaneity—course loads, jobs, children—are the same things that lead us to our life goals—a degree, shattering the ceiling, a family. But everything we wanted when we were legitimately young made us old.
My sister is in her fifties. On summer days when all of the grandkids gather for a swim, she stands at the edge of the deep end with them as they chant her nickname, “Lizzard! Lizzard!” She suddenly counts to three and they cannon ball into the pool and surface in an eruption of giggles. Meanwhile, I’m poking my toe in the shallow end. Years ago the temperature became too cold for me to jump in—probably when I was getting old. But in that brief moment laughing at the surface, my sister is young. She’s free. Just like me at the Gold Mine.
I know enough to know that fun is relative and should never be taken for granted. It’s just as precious as glass ceilings and raising a child. Only, if I’m really honest, sometimes fun seems more precious. That which we always wanted is also what holds us back. Freedom is fleeting as is every phase of life—college, the childhood of our children, the prime of our careers. And although they are our greatest achievements, we can resent them if we let them zap us of the unhinged exuberance of our youth. We stop being young the minute we believe we’re too old. Until then, it’s ours to return to as needed.
This weekend I was at a bachelorette party in New York where we were the “she” to one another’s “nanigans” as the saying goes—all the necessary elements to the stories that unfold from a raucous good time. Were we reclaiming something? Damn right! And today the responsibilities that drove us to schedule the fun of the weekend are at once precious again. Our jobs are just a little more tolerable; our children cuter than ever.
We gave ourselves the chance to miss them while we were off having fun—while we were young.
Originally published in New Orleans Magazine online.