It's been a long time since I watched "Peter Pan," but I seem to remember that, in the end, Wendy goes home, grows up, and has children of her own, while Peter remains eternally carefree and youthful. I've been thinking about this story today, as it occurred to me last night that I've been paying some visits to Never Never Land as of late.
I recently became acquainted with some guys who basically opened a bar because they wanted somewhere they and their friends could hang out and drink whenever they wanted. This is the dream of any number of men that I know (hell, it's not like I haven't considered it myself), but it's one of those things that you pretty much know is not really going to work. But that's because most guys with this kind of dream don't actually know how to run a bar. These guys do, at least for a certain segment of the population. The important games are always on, but the sound isn't. The music is always good, and there is no juke box, so you never have to hear annoying pop or hip hop. If you request a song in one of these genres, they'll happily tell you that one of the other hundred bars in town might be a more fitting place for you to hang out. If you request a song at all, the answer is no. The decor is dark and simple. The food is fantastic. The beer selection is not fancy but it covers a wide enough range to keep people happy. They even have good wine, which is pretty rare for a "guy bar." If you're a regular, there are all kinds of benefits, but we'll get back to that.
Anyway, their plan worked. Maybe too well, since now the place is usually crowded and the guys actually have to work. I get the idea that they don't mind too much, though, since they're all making money, and they all seem to show up even when they're not working. It's impossible most of the time to tell who is working, since the workers are drinking and the drinkers are working. Which brings us to Never Never Land. Half the time the ones who aren't working have told their wives/girlfriends that they are, so I guess it's more legit if they carry some dishes to the kitchen from time to time, but mostly they're just meandering around, entertaining themselves and everyone else. They shoot hoops on the patio and smoke like chimneys and go through untold bottles of Irish whiskey. They have entirely too much fun, and so do people like me, who have been adopted into the crazy little clan that eerily resembles the Lost Boys.
Regular visitors to Never Never Land - the ones they like, anyway - are treated basically like employees without duties (although I've been known to clear dirty dishes to the kitchen, bring back order slips, and answer the phone). If they have a closing time, it doesn't apply. As it has gotten warmer, we've been slipping through the kitchen to congregate on the patio that isn't yet open to the public. My tab seldom reflects anything resembling what I've consumed. Last night, long after the kitchen was closed, I was lounging on the patio in the breeze, away from the sweaty crowd inside, eating some kind of amazing chicken and prosciutto sandwich that had appeared unexpectedly, although there's nothing with prosciutto on their menu. You get the idea.
I love my Never Never Land, and my Lost Boys. They look out for me, which is an important quality. I found them at a time when I needed a new space and a new group, and oddly enough, when I needed to regain hope that men could be decent human beings. I say oddly because these are in some ways the least responsible (and occasionally least decent) people in my regular acquaintance. They treat each other and me and other various people in the circle really well; they also routinely lie to and often cheat on their girlfriends and wives. If I ever dated or married one of them, I think I'd have to kill him. In hindsight, I often wonder if I should have been appalled by something they've done or said. But as friends, they are just so very fun.
I feel a little Wendy-ish when I'm with them. I'm the one with the other job, the other life, the responsibilities. I have to go away and grow up at the end of every evening I spend there. But for a little while, it's nice to be in denial. I suspect that at some point, I may have to grow up so much that, like Wendy, I can't get back to Never Never Land. I don't think most of them ever will. There is something mildly disturbing in that that I think is tied to gender expectations; it's okay for men to keep being boys and having fun, but girls need to grow and be settled down women. I don't really want to settle down right now, and I don't really want to settle down that much, ever, but I'm not going to move into Never Never Land, either. I kind of like visiting both worlds. And if the time ever comes when I can't go back, I hope some of my Peter Pans will remember to come visit me.