How do you encapsulate three years of Dubra, Broadway Liquor, the back booth at Kav’s, and the rise and fall of the glowstick in one article? You can’t, of course. My class, 2002, has been single-minded in its pursuit of drinking glory. When we could have gone to class, we drank. When we could have caught Buffy instead of coming in under the wire for penny drafts, we downloaded pictures of Sarah Michelle Gellar. When we could have been “playing sports” or “showering” we went out for a half-yard at Richter’s. Don’t forget that this kind of dedication landed one Eli in the White House.
For me, though, it was always Naples. The testament to a watering hole in New Haven is whether you go there when you are legal, and our class, to the bitter end, has stuck close by its first Old Campus friend. We have Senior events now, at places like Neat, which is a painstaking, brick by brick rebuilding of the bar in “Cocktail” and BAR, which shunned our dollar until we crossed the magical, irrational line of our 21st birthdays. But when I go into Naples on a Tuesday night — thankfully — I can count on a few of my friends being around. And usually some of the ones that I like.
Drinking has gotten worse at Yale. I remember when there were three frat parties a weekend and Toad’s only stopped letting people in because it was too full. Memory naturally inclines to a golden hue, but take my word on this one: it used to be better. It used to have mystique, the party scene. Now it’s one senior (we all know who he is) booting every weekend in the bushes by 28 Lynwood. And Naples has gotten worse, too. But it still represents everything that was the best about being here, the parts that make us forget what classes we took Junior fall.
The undisputed pinnacle of Naples came about this time two years ago, when I was a sophomore. I was trying to read some Virgil in my room, don’t ask me why, and I kept getting stuck on the line that Dido says to Aeneas before she does away with herself, forsan et haec olim meminisse iuvabit. My Directed Studies teacher had talked for ten hours about it, and I was trying to figure it out a year later for a paper. Finally, though, I gave up and decided that I would just go over to Naples to watch the ball game.
The Yankee dynasty was entering its golden age, fighting for its third championship in four years, coming off of the greatest season in baseball history, 1998. And I will not argue about this with any of you Ichiro fans: 125 wins, no losses in the playoffs, without an all-star starter.
Anyway, in the back room there was a huge projection screen where we watched the playoffs. In a classic good versus evil saga, the matchup that decided the AL champion was Yankees vs. Red Sox. The back room was absolutely packed. Maybe 70 people were there, in a room the size of Andy Dufresne’s solitary cell, and on each pitch — not the big pitches, not towards the end of the game — everyone in the room was on their feet. Whenever David Cone threw a strike we roared with pleasure and talked some more smack to the Sox faithful. They gave back in kind.
It doesn’t sound like much, right? But it was one of those times that every single person there will always remember. It was what college is really about.
We could have watched the game at other bars, but at the time none of them could have competed with Naples. Then, somewhere around Junior fall, I started to have that sinking feeling that usually comes when Phoebe starts to act “flaky” on old episodes of Friends. They got rid of the big screen first. Then they painted the interior its current color, that Santa Fe-ish, pastel pink and green, tex-mex color over Christmas break. It was terrible. People would come in and stop dead in their tracks, astonished. The old wood paneling was gone. I don’t know who they thought it would appeal to, this new color scheme. Let it suffice to say that Jonathan Spence acknowledged Naples in The Search for Modern China, back in its previous incarnation; his most recent book, on the other hand, has no mention of the old haunt.
It doesn’t sound that traumatic, but attendance began to decline a little. Then it began to decline a lot. Harry was still around, the Budweiser train still hung above the Coke machine, the pizza was still the best that you could get on any street that wasn’t called Wooster. There had been experiments before — who doesn’t remember the fire-trap of a dance floor or the Clams Casino craze of ’98? — but the paint just seemed so … permanent.
I went back this week, Monday night. It was the Yanks that drew me again, but this time with just two die-hard fans, friends of mine who remembered screaming at Jimmy Williams and Mike Stanley during sophomore year. There was a lukewarm crowd in the background as the Bronx Bombers pulled off another miracle, coming back from two down to win a division series. When they won, my friends and I stood up and yelled and jumped, but when we looked around we realized we were the only ones on our feet.
I don’t mind change. I liked Val Kilmer in Batman Forever, I recently downloaded one of those newfangled MP3 players, I wouldn’t mind a new president. But certain things, like orange Tic Tacs and Naples, should never change. So excuse the seniors if they feel a little bit resentful toward all the freshmen, walking in like they own the place. We knew Naples when it was great. We remember the dance floor and the old paint and the big screen and those October nights, drinking Miller Lite, playing quarters, yelling at the clutch of Bostonians that they were un-American. I’ll still go back, the way I still use Blistex even though they changed the formula. I’m loyal at heart. But don’t ask me to pass the baton to another generation without feeling a little funny about it. I wish we had the real Naples to pass on, instead of this charlatan parading in its place.
I never did get back to the Virgil. That night we stayed all the way through the bottom of the ninth, then two hours more that night, drinking beers and wondering what we would be like when we were seniors, what majors we should choose, which girls were the best. When I wrote this article I pulled down Virgil to look at the quote after two years, and it is still at the same page, the quote staring out at me like a memento of that night: forsan et haec olim meminisse iuvabit. “Perhaps it will, some day, give you pleasure to remember these times,” she says.
And it does.