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Creative Sunday: Josh at 42 by Bruce Burwell

By Bruce Burwell on February 21, 2021

The Christmas COVID lockdown sounded like a great opportunity to Josh. Up ‘til now, there had always been an excuse to continue the drinking. Maybe multiple excuses. Yet for most of the last year he’d thought about just stopping altogether. But there were always Thursday nights. And whatever happened the rest of the week, Thursday nights would just keep happening.

The group had formed way back in Y2K—the summer of 2000. They were all 21 at the time and had all just started their first real jobs after graduating. They met playing softball on a team in the old Ottawa East Softball League. At first, the whole team came out after the game for a beer. Over time, the members of the post-game group had dwindled away and the softball had long since stopped. Others came and went from the group, but four of them stayed and called themselves the “Founders”: Dex, Rajiv, Mike, and Josh. Most Thursdays they met at The Prescott around 7 and rarely left before midnight.

Now it was 21 years later and they were all comfortably ensconced in middle age. Josh had known these guys longer than their wives had, and probably knew them better. The partners weren’t part of the Thursday night equation. Josh’s wife Lianne had met the guys a few times and heard the stories. Saw them at major life events.

With The Prescott closed for the lockdown, there were no Thursday nights. Dex organized the Zoom calls where they drank and talked about the usual stuff. Rajiv entertained them with wild and highly unlikely tales from his accounting firm. Dex suggested ways they could get together in someone’s backyard that involved propane heaters and tents. Mike was still the quiet listener who would throw in acerbic comments every so often. Josh would swirl his sparkling water and ice around and pretend to the camera that it was his old usual—a Smirnoff 21 and soda.

Josh would swirl his sparkling water and ice around and pretend to the camera that it was his old usual—a Smirnoff 21 and soda.

Apart from those Zoom calls, there wasn’t much socializing going on in Josh’s life. The incidental interactions that had been a feature of his office life before the pandemic had disappeared without a trace. No more office lunches. No more retirement celebrations. No more chatting by the espresso machine. If someone had told him a year ago that he could possibly miss retirement luncheons, he would have laughed out loud. But there it was.

He’d emailed some university friends to see what they were up to. He got back cheery notes about their lockdown achievements. Promotions, babies, scholarly articles published. It was okay, but it wasn’t anything like friendship. In his replies he couldn’t bring himself to talk about the drinking. He was afraid he’d turn into one of those pathetic people who tweeted out their number of days of sobriety every so often.

Three months after lockdown and Josh was still dry. Despite the absence of gym time, he’d lost weight. The relationship with Lianne was a lot better. He knew he would see the guys in person and tell them about it at some point. But hey—lots of people did a dry January. No big deal.

Lianne said that they would be accepting and supportive, and he knew she was right. But the problem wasn’t them, was it? He just couldn’t visualize sitting at one of those battered bars nursing a sparkling water for hours at a stretch. Maybe they could do something else together? Golf? Curling? Every idea he came up with seemed to end up in a bar somewhere. Maybe they could all become ultra-marathoners together. Those people didn’t drink, did they?

Eventually came the inevitable. The bars partially opened when Ottawa went into the orange zone. Then a wildly warm weather spell hit in early March and the Chances ‘R’ was opening its outdoor patio. Josh’s WhatsApp pinged on a Wednesday night with a call to action from Dex for the next evening. Superheroes assemble!

It had been 21 years that Josh had known these guys. Three weddings. A couple of divorces. Two kids. A career change or two. A cancer treatment. Their time together had always revolved around Thursdays. The Prescott, The Laff, Chances ‘R’, The Carleton Tavern. How could that change? What direction could it possibly go in?

Josh leaned against his granite counter as the winter sun settled on his Barrhaven cedars. He got the vodka out of the high cupboard and set the bottle on the counter. He threw a couple of cubes in a glass and swirled them around. Upstairs, he heard Lianne moving and then the sound of the TV coming on.


Bruce Burwell is a freelance curmudgeon by day and a regular Apt613 contributor.