Martian Chronicles
The Liquid Lounge

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By howardroark
May 7, 2003

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It came, no doubt, as a nice surprise to the regulars. For years, as if anyone was counting, they'd dutifully crawled from their cubicles or counters or classrooms at the mythical sound of the Friday quitting bell and headed up - or down for the sprawl victims - well trafficked West Dodge Road. They didn't need the Omaha Herald's annual HotSpot pull-out to tell them they weren't heading to Nebraska's version of Studio 54, nor to the kind of history soaked den of local flavor that might find them rubbing elbows with Tom Osborne's brother-in-law's very good friend. No, the turn south on 114th Street from Omaha's busiest intersection toward strip-center lined Davenport Street told an unremarkable story.

A real estate office. Tanner's tanning salon, apparently a front for Omaha's heroin trade, judging by the complexion of the typical local. A faded sign blurting Pioneer Paint weighed down with Benjamin Moore envy. A law firm. And for a Christopher and Bank's assistant manager slipping off just before the Friday night crush at the nearby Westroads mall, two offers. Head toward the light, the lime, scripted neon light screaming Green Onion and promising well garnished martinis. Or take the road equally traveled, into any of a healthy selection of dedicated parking spots, past the bouncer with Huey Lewis' tailor on retainer, and straight toward any one of a dozen or so wooden tables, assuming all 40 feet of the bar were fully occupied.

It could have been any Friday in the last hundred. Or thousand. For that matter, it could have been any Friday in the last thousand in Cheyenne, Wyoming or Scranton, Pennsylvania, or Knoxville, Tennessee. As ordained, the speakers crooned an endless medley of American Sorority Girls' Greatest Hits, circa 1998. In a fit of rebellion, Margaritaville was snubbed. The waitresses were better looking than the female patrons, who in turn were better looking than their male counterparts, the latter disparity providing the greater margin of safety. You might have thought they were going out of their way to be unremarkable, but for the Fat Tire on tap. Even so, it was just another Friday night, or not even another Friday night.

Until, that is, the folks with the yellow passes wandered in. The oddity would normally have begun undiscovered, hidden in the pockets of a ragtag group of five newcomers, but for one Usually Reasonable fellow who, drunk on years of recs and crowns, temporarily mistook his paper necklace for a badge of honor outside of the Omaha Civic Center. They sat, unobtrusively, in a dark corner near the bar, but their presence loomed. And it was a godsend.

If there was a better recipe for slamming short the endless Fridays of mundane sameness than the five motley figures that walked in that night, no one on Davensport Street could think of it. With a mere opening of the door, they suddenly found their pleated Dockers, J. Crew v-necks and Rockport boat shoes were no longer marks of suffocating conformity. Their heated conversations about the 1993 NCAA tournament, the closing of the local RentWay, or the Midas shop owners' alleged infidelity, were uplifted far above mere banal tripe. Suddenly, they stood against the backdrop of largely mismatched Cost Plus overruns, light socks with dark belts, and no shortage of prescription eyeglasses. And against, as the Fat Tires began flowing freely, a crescendo of fiery barbs over such issues as whether the agency costs inherent in American corporate governance permanently corrupts the capitalist price setting mechanism of executive compensation. If they were lucky, and listened closely, they could even occasionally catch some of the quintent call each other by mind numbingly trite code names, such as "FatOtt" or "AtlantaDon," or worse, after hackneyed literary heroes.

In an instant, they learned that contrast, not improvement, is the enemy of medicority. Suddenly, if only for a moment, they weren't just one group of thousands trying to use four hours of small talk to squeeze out the previous fifty of monotony. Instead, they were cool, and had something to smirk at. If only the elementary school teacher turned weekend waitress weren't getting married July, maybe one of them would try to impress her with his mastery of beta and make the show complete.

But even better than that, the group returned 24 hours later, as if to intentionally bless them one last time. And this time, they brought friends. One of the new entrants, as if as a gift to the eavesdroppers, regularly referred to himself as a physics formula, and responded to a "can I get you a beer" with a detailed opus on the nuances between dollar and time weighted fund returns. Meanwhile, the second-timer who they called howarddork locked with FatOtt in a lengthy discussion over how the multiple hypothesis problem infected trading-based academic studies. Amazingly, the group had attracted a seemingly normal couple, replete with standard names and interests, to join them. The crowd watched in awe as the unsuspecting wife attempted to covertly take her own life via Fat Tire overdose while Usually Reasonable provided a detailed analysis of Charlie Munger's investment philosophy, starting in 1959. Just when the quality of life in Western Omaha seemed unalterably raised, FatOtt stepped above the cacophony, loudly declaring his love for Rick Springfield. The room glowed.

By the time the lights came on in the morning hours, and waitresses reluctantly plucks the last of the pint glasses from what remained of the newcomers, the bar had largely emptied, leaving the patrons gliding home on a wave of relative self esteem. Little did they know, that only a thousand yard tos the north and a few hours earlier, diners at the Macaroni Grill had been treated to the same gift, having witnessed a lively round between "Greenmartian" and "Eighttrack" about the exciting expansion opportunities of stores which sell crappy magic markers for a dollar a pack. But they weren't jealous, because it wasn't just another weekend at The Liquid Lounge.

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