All work and no play makes Clarey totally suck

by Brian Clarey

On my recent trip to New Orleans I became confronted with the changes that have happened in my life in the nine years since I left. It was an odd sensation to stand on the same streetcorners I was introduced to as a teenager, except now I’m a nearly 40-year-old man. Strange, too, how I noticed things about the city I never paid attention to before: the presence of children, the prices of homes, the relative ease with which New Orleans can be navigated by car, streetcar or bus. Also, I went to sleep every single night before sunrise on my short vacation, something I certainly can’t say about the years I spent there before I turned 30. I did push it one night, sending my wife home at around 2 a.m. and putting Big Tiny to bed at around 4, when I headed over to Snake & Jake’s Christmas Club Lounge. My old friend Andre worked the bottles behind the bar, and I ran to the end to greet him. “Andre, man,” I said. “How ya been?” He glanced my way. The place was slammed. “Hey Brian,” he said. “Can you jump back here and give me a hand with a few drinks?” “Andre,” I said, “It’s me, Brian. I haven’t seen you in nine years.” “Oh, right,” he said. He came over and hugged me and said, “Now can you make like 20 shots for that guy over there?” Sure. So though I haven’t tended bar seriously in more than five years, I jumped behind the bar, filled a shaker with ice and started grabbing bottles. The room was dark — it always is — and I struggled to see just what I was pouring into the tin shaker. Then I realized my old friend Andre was watching me. And laughing. “Man,” he said, “when did you start to suck?” And while I don’t remember the exact day I started to suck, I can’t deny that I am not nearly as much fun as I used to be. This year’s Shakori Hills episode is a case in point. The Shakori Hills Grassroots Festival is really just an annual throwdown in the woods outside Chapel Hill, where booty-shaking music fans, live-off-theland hippies and front-porch groovesters converge for four days of good times and great vibes. The plan was to head out there at least twice, catch some music, buy some jewelry, let the kids pile rocks in the rock garden and maybe get one of those coffees with a shot of pure maple syrup in it. That was the plan, anyway. But I’d had a short week due to the vacation, a birthday and a Dead show; a big issue in the works; and a stable of writers exhausted from covering my ass the last week or so. I had laundry backed up, a lawn that looked like it could be in front of a crackhouse and an Easter ham in the refrigerator approaching its last days before something edible could be made from its bones. You want more? It had been at least 10 days since I had spent any quality time with my kids, two weeks since I had gone to the gym and only a couple more months before school lets out for the summer. The spring season is ticking past, though it seems nobody told the weather  about that. And it also seems like I could have used a couple hours out under the sunshine at Shakori Hills more than just about anybody, except maybe my wife. But on Friday afternoon, looking at my growing list of responsibilities and concerns, I knew there was no way I’d be making the drive out to Shakori this year. No way in hell. I made a promise this year to myself and to my family: Stop working so much. By and large I’ve kept to it by staying home on weekends instead of shooting out to the office for six or eight hours, remembering to hit the gym a couple nights a week before it closes, having coffee at home in the mornings with my wife instead of racing out before dawn, driving my daughter to preschool a couple times a week and occasionally picking her up at midday. I’ve been trying to work out of the office more, setting up shop at the Green Bean or Chelsee’s Coffee. And I’ve been eating lunch at my desk when I can to make the hours I spend at work more productive. That’s the thing: Although I resolved to spend less time at work, I still have the same amount of work to do each week, responsibilities I took on when I accepted this job that must be shouldered. Over the years I have mastered multitasking to the degree that I can turn one trip across town into three stories, read three newspapers while I edit copy and mix business and pleasure to such a degree that it consistently infuriates my wife, who would for once just like to go out to dinner without me taking pictures of the food. And yes, I understand that all of this lameness contributes heavily to my status as one who sucks. But there’s no getting out from under it. So I skip Shakori Hills this year. I go to work and catch up so Monday isn’t completely dismal. I get home in time to hang out with my kids, who tell me all about their trip out to Shakori Hills, and I get to bed before 9:30 p.m. Andre is right: I do suck. But I’ll take another crack at not sucking next weekend.