In A-side/B-side, two Milwaukee Record writers tackle various city issues in an informal, crosstalk style. Insults are hurled, feelings are hurt, and everyone learns something in the end. Maybe.

Lauren Keene: Well, it’s that time of the year again: the beginning. It feels like we can’t log onto Facebook or check Instagram without a faux-inspiring “New year, new me!” post about someone from high school’s New Year’s resolution they probably won’t stick to. Losing weight, reading more, saving money…these are a few admirable goals people set for themselves simply because of a calendar date change.

One popular resolution is giving up drinking—if not permanently, at least temporarily. Sobriety definitely isn’t easy in Milwaukee, “America’s drunkest city,” or whatever label Buzzfeed has given us most recently. Maggie, according to this handy list of alcohol-free activities in Milwaukee, you stopped drinking in August 2016. Even though I turned 21 this past June, I never really started drinking, save for my 21st birthday and an open-bar company booze cruise. Yep, you read that right: aside from a beer once in a rare while, I’ve only been drunk two measly times.

We know how it feels to pass on free touchdown shots, turn down drinks from strangers, and the weird looks that come with saying “No, thanks” when offered complimentary booze. I admit, it can be pretty uncomfortable sometimes (okay, most times) having to explain why I’m not participating in the next round. How do you handle going out in a city where it feels like everyone is drinking literally all the time?

Maggie Iken: The easy answer to how I handle going out in a city where everyone is drinking all the time is I don’t. I don’t go out, and I don’t handle it very well, and that’s okay.

While social media gets on my nerves more often than not, it was an excellent tool of communication in the beginning. Instead of replying individually to texts and PMs, I was able to broadcast to everyone that I wasn’t drinking anymore. This eliminated a lot of bar-hopping invitations. At first, I actively told people to still invite me to things but not expect me to show up. I still wanted to feel like I was part of it. Since then, I’ve realized that my drinking was largely to cope with my social anxiety. I’ve never been one to be the center of attention, but after some drinks, I was enjoyed bouncing from conversation to conversation. Now I talk to a therapist about how the mere thought of small talk is enough to make me physically ill.

I removed myself from the hip parts of town in 2017, and relocated to the depths of the dirty Stallis (the worst city in the universe). It’s a convenient excuse not to drive to Riverwest or KK to hang out, i.e. practice breathing techniques with a seltzer in my hand. No joke—writing this is making me jittery. (For the record: I love living in West Allis.)

On very rare occasion, I will go to a show. When I say “very rare occasion,” I truly mean it. This isn’t reserved for album release shows, a touring band I really like, etc. This is reserved for maybe two or three shows a year that I’m not playing, and I will likely be on edge the entire time. It is a struggle and a process, but from my understanding, this is a little different from your experience. I choose to not drink because I cannot do it responsibly, and the urge to drink is definitely still there. What is it like to come from a relatively alcohol-free background?

LK: Ironically, I actually drank more when I was underage—not very often, but more frequently than I do now. Shortly after I turned 20, I was prescribed an SSRI that doesn’t mix well with alcohol. After I began taking that medication, I started drinking less and less, and today I just don’t drink at all. I really don’t want to risk any possible interactions. Frankly, I’ve struggled with my mental health too much to let drinking negate the effects of my antidepressants.

I still go out when it’s convenient for me, but not drinking sometimes makes me feel insecure about how fun I am to be around.  Socializing with other people my age (aka people who just turned 21) can be very uncomfortable, especially when someone makes a backhanded comment about how I’m having “another sober night” or asks when I’m “finally going to start” drinking. Naturally, remarks of that nature only make me feel worse about my choice to not drink. I often ask myself, “Why would anyone even want to hang out with me if I don’t drink?” It’s hard not to feel like a wet blanket.

I’m very fortunate my two best friends are light drinkers, and they’re considerate enough to not drink around me very often. When I do go out, I almost exclusively go to the same four or five bars and clubs. They’re all places I know I’ll be entertained by live music, dancing or karaoke without the urge to drink. I admit: sitting in a booth, watching other people get hammered makes me really uncomfortable (and bored). That being said, how do you think Milwaukee drinking culture—both bars and crowds—can be more accommodating to those of us who don’t drink?

MI: That’s a pretty big question, and I don’t have a good answer. Milwaukee is a city founded on brewing, and I wouldn’t want it to distance itself from those roots. I’m jealous of everyone who can try all of the locally-made IPAs, as that is something I truly miss.

It would be nice to see more performance spaces that are alcohol-free, which would likely make them all-age venues as well. The common rebuttal to this is that alcohol sales pay the rent, but there are other food and beverages you can mark up and sell to your patrons. This doesn’t necessarily mean artisanal baked goods and organic, locally sourced kombucha (though those things are great). Throw a pot of coffee on in your DIY space in addition to your keg and I’m good.

I don’t believe the onus of accommodation in these situations is on the bars and the crowds. The basic rule of “don’t be a dick” should suffice. It isn’t anyone else’s fault that I cannot responsibly drink, so respect my decision and don’t tell me “just one shot won’t hurt.” Honestly, I haven’t had to deal with anyone being pushy and all of my friends have been super great about it.

Not to sound like a fun-sucking teetotaler, but I think there could stand to be less emphasis on binge-drinking. How many pub crawls have to end in a dead body in the river before we stop pushing them to young college students? That shouldn’t be a common occurrence, and these events are just one of the things that normalizes harmful drinking culture. I am in no way saying everyone who drinks is sending this city to hell in a hand basket, but I wish more people would critically think about the outcome of certain events.

On a lighter note, I think it’s helpful for people to find role models who don’t drink. As a pop-punk kid who grew up thinking Fat Mike was punk Jesus, it would have been advantageous to have people to look up to who didn’t drink but were still “cool.” I’m not a saintly lady who’s in bed by nine. I swear way too much, have a collection of Dennis Rodman memorabilia, and write about horror movies in my free time.

When I stopped drinking initially, I spent a lot of my time thrifting (there are A LOT of copies of Bad As I Want To Be out there). They don’t serve alcohol at Goodwill and I could get out of the house without necessarily being social. This is one of the things that didn’t make the cut on my list of sober MKE activities. In a city where nine out of 10 things to do involve alcohol, what do you enjoy doing in Milwaukee sans booze?

LK: We must be kindred spirits! Thrifting is also my preferred hobby/obsession/addiction/money-waster/time-killer. Maybe we should start a thrifting league. (First team to find five different Barbara Streisand LPs wins a $25 Value Village gift certificate!)

If I’m being honest, I actually hate being at home. After one whole day of sitting around the house, I get very antsy and begin to sympathize with Jack Torrance. I like to be occupied all day, and sometimes that requires a little creativity and effort. As of late, I’ve been pretty into museums. The Milwaukee Public Museum and the Milwaukee Art Museum can admittedly be costly, but they’re both free on the first Thursday of each month. For those of us who are eternally ballin’ on a budget, there are some cheaper options like the Jewish Museum and Villa Terrace Decorative Arts Museum. I recently learned there’s a free museum at Marquette University that has art by Andy Warhol, Keith Haring and Salvador Dali! Culture is priceless…but so is free stuff. Basically, even when I’m not digging through old things, I still enjoy looking at old things.

That being said, antique malls are like cramped, dusty museums where everything is for sale! Antiques on Pierce, Riverview Antique Mall, and Antiques On Second are some of the biggest and baddest antique malls in the metropolitan Milwaukee area. If you take your time, you can spend hours in one of these places. (My secret money saving trick? Don’t bring any money to spend!)

This probably seems obvious, but movies are another (mostly) alcohol-free way to get out of the house. Some Milwaukee theaters (Oriental, Avalon) have bars, but a lot of them don’t. They’re also affordable if you have self-control and don’t go all the time…unlike me, who saw Call Me By Your Name twice last week. Oops! The Avalon and Times Cinema do $5 movies once in a while, and all movies are $5 every Tuesday at Marcus Theaters.

I don’t like to treat shopping like a leisure activity…but it’s winter, so who cares? I try to avoid record stores nowadays because I have no willpower when it comes to spending money (see above), but digging through the $0.99 bargain bins is always a good time. Plus, most record stores have dogs! Is there anything better than petting dogs? I think not!