Just who the heck is Alice, anywayz?
This post is primarily based on the chorus from the ubiquitous song, but Alices abound in literature for those of all ages. (Go Ask Alice, Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore, Alice in Wonderland… Alice from Mel’s Diner, you get the idea. Feel free to respond with more sightings in the comments below.)
“You can get anything you want at Alice’s restaurant, ‘ceptin’ Alice,” Alice’s Restaurant Masacree, penned by Arlo Guthrie, sung by millions every Thanksgiving since the tail end of the tumultuous 60s ’till now-ish. He finally stopped performing it live; he’s in his mid 70s and 18+ minutes is just too darn long in concert. Heck! It’s a wonder it got any airtime at all, and is the reason he’s considered a one-hit wonder. (“City of New Orleans” is eh. Don’t @ me.)
This classic song that’s really, supposedly, about the draft. More or less based on a true story*, this song to me is about coming home to yourself, looking within for the answers, and hopefully, maybe, juuust maybe, touching on inner peace: Brahman. Minus of course a questionable, somewhat offensive lyric buried towards the end, this song speaks to me. (The singer has updated and revisited this one line a LOT, although most radio stations play the original in its entirety, without repercussions.)
Alice’s restaurant seems to be a neighborhood place: “walk right in, it’s around the back/just a half a mile from the railroad track.” It has a homey, small-town feel. Also known as dives, or greasy spoons, diners are comforting, and welcoming, whether you’re meeting the fam, nursing a cuppa because you’re broke, or it’s after Prom, after hours, and nothing else is open.
Diners are a staple in the NY Metro area. You can literally get almost anything: fillets, lobstah, fries, awful coffee, rice pudding, breadsticks and butter on paper, even adult beverages! Alice’s restaurant, to me, has it all.
The song goes through many stages. First, the “no good deed goes unpunished” of the throwing away of the garbage. It’s all well and good to want to help someone out, metaphorically by listening, or literally by loading up that VW Microbus with years’ worth of actual trash, shovels and rakes, and implements of destruction, but even though misery looooves company, it’s not the way to work through your schtuff.
What is it you want? Is it fame, fortune, your kid to stop being colicky, your partner to stop doing X, or start doing Y? We must look within to find it, whatever our “it” is: there is no Alice. “You can get anything you want at Alice’s restaurant…’ceptin’ Alice.” There is no Alice. We are our own gurus. The guru lives in each of us. Not to say there aren’t people whom to admire, and learn from, but ultimately we must quiet the citta vriti, the mind chatter in Sanskrit, and realize that it was in us all along. Isn’t that one of many lessons from “The Wizard of Oz”? Cue the music…
Officer Obie, ahem, finds the narrator’s name at the bottom of the pile of garbage (because one big pile is better than two small piles, and it was more work to bring the one up, than add to it by throwing theirs down,) and punishes him in quite a Machiavellian way. (Ahem – maaaaad props to yours truly for spelling that correctly on the first try.) Digressing is part of the package…
The trial has recounting of the epic helicopter flight, the 8×10 color glossy photos, and a blind judge. with. a. dog. Justice is blind, indeed. This was the biggest thing to hit the town, like, ever, so they pulled out all the stops.
Do we want to commiserate, or actually feel better? Do we want to take out the trash, and shed layers to get to who we really are? Growing is hard, but there’s that whole caterpillar uncomfortability whereby it’s just easier to shuck the silk and spread them wings.
The trial is exacerbated by the beligerence of the defendant. Do we make things worse when someone tries to help us? Hm. Look at all the ads playing now on repeat – how to drop those lubs, how to get a partner, how to make a mint by giving up your latte or avo toast. January is typically a time of resolutions: lose 15lbs in 10 minutes, organize one’s life/closet/files ONCE AND FOR ALL, take up knitting, hit the gym daily, quit x-vice. Can we resolve not to make resolutions? Perhaps intentions.
We must help ourselves. Read, draw, paint, color, knit, dance, scream, DO. Read the books then go write your own chapters.
The second part of the song is a yuge digression about the real reason he’s come to talk to the listener. That will keep for someone else’s post.
Throw out whatever needs tossing, and let’s get on with it!
*Story has it that the song is based on the singer actually trying to help friends who bought out & were living in a deconsecrated church. There’s even a movie for the ambitious among us who wish to watch.
If this resonated with you, please feel free to comment below or drop me an email. Until our mats unfurl again, be well.