I still have not gotten my head around the fact that Rosie Schaap, as she proclaims in the very first sentence of Drinking with Men, has spent more than 13,000 hours of her life inside bars. Think about that number for a minute. That is the equivalent of more eight-hour workdays than most people work in seven years. It equals almost one and a half years of calendar-days doing nothing else. That means that Schaap, who was born in 1971, has spent almost four percent of her entire life inside a bar. Granted, she was a working bartender during some of those hours, but she was a paying customer way more of the time.
Now, it can be argued (and Schaap does an admirable job of building such a case), that all those hours were not entirely wasted, that the benefits gained were worthy of all the time she spent hanging out with likeminded people. Schaap argues that, because she did not have a home environment conducive to creating a feeling of community and family, she had to create her own substitute family. And for the last twenty-five years, she has done exactly that by bonding with the regulars in the several bars and pubs (mostly, but not exclusively, in New York City) that she came to consider her second-homes. (Consider, too, that Schaap now writes the New York Times “Drink” column – an additional benefit she gained.)
Schaap was only fifteen when she first drifted into the bar car of a NYC commuter train, but she immediately sensed that she was among her kind of people. These commuters were living the boisterous chain-smoking, booze consuming, dirty-joke-telling lifestyle she instinctively wanted to be a part of. They obviously enjoyed each other’s company and, as she was surprised to learn, they took her more seriously than any adult in her life ever had before. Trading tarot card readings for free, under-the-table beers, Schaap was soon a regular in her very first barroom. She finally felt that she belonged.
Rosie Schaap is a talented writer whose enjoyable prose style makes Drinking with Men an interesting memoir even for readers who might have some difficulty identifying with the lifestyle. I am one of those people, so I appreciate a glimpse into a world I would otherwise have never experienced. I do not doubt that Schaap is a better woman for having experienced the lifestyle firsthand. Having survived her months of following the Grateful Dead from city to city, all the while living on the fly, she finally found the family she needed - and that helped her, finally, to make something of her life before it was too late.
This one will, I think, surprise you.