Bert’s, and the need for burnout dens

If you’ve ever skipped school, you always knew you couldn’t go home. Hell, even if you did, all that was on was “Saved by the Bell,” which is like skipping school to watch school. Bad form. You had to meander through the city, searching for malls, movie theaters, bookstores, and abandoned buildings – assuming you were in a coming-of-age film. For me and my non straight-edged Bellarmine Prep cohort, it was Bertolino’s Cafe. Just far enough of a walk from Bellarmine’s Jesuit Eye of Sauron and close enough to a pizza joint, Target, and a movie theater.

This was a burnouts den, where kids flirted with cancer sticks, energy drinks and hatched plans for the night. This was also where we acquired our tastes in music and referred to Kurt Cobain by his first name as if he was one of us.

When we got old (and by old I mean of age to drink), we still frequented this high school burnout den to sober up after a night of debauchery. It was this 24-hour caffeine fueling station where you could reconnect with old friends to find out how bad life had kicked their ass, and also find out who finally caught a break. Regardless, we all humbled ourselves back to this place, and had our drink and cigarette to sit outside and waste time. In Italy, it’s called ‘la dolce vita,’ but here it’s just called wasting time, and there’s a need for it.

After obtaining a few passport stamps, an engagement, some debt, and some grey hairs in my stubble, I returned to Bertolino’s to find students trying to study both their schoolwork and the Bible. I’ve no great hatred in my heart for schoolwork and religion, as I went to Catholic school my whole life, naturally making me a Swedish-ly neutral spectator of the war between fundamentalists, atheists, the sarcastic, and the illuminati. So I had myself a nostalgic drink and a smoke outside, yet was surprised to hear the words, “God’s love” in Russian more times than I ever did throughout my  career as an altar boy long ago.

This wasn’t the only time though, as even when a few friends and I would return there at 4 a.m. after a night of drinking, we would be greeted with Christian hymns sung by literally the entire coffee shop, as if the world needed more Christian flash mobs. Whether this is a good or a bad thing is really quite steeped in subjectivity, yet Morgan Freeman’s quote about ‘times be a changin’ has never rung so true.

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