Op-ed on Cheers that I was unable to sell.
The first episode of Cheers, and why we have more time than we think.
Here in the Age of Bemoaning, one of the most popular topics is how little time people think they have. They seem to be so busy—or will remark as much—as to slide on past their own lives. This begs the question: Has it always been this way? Which begs another question: Is it really that way now? And a third: What might we do?
Forty years ago, on September 30, 1982, a sitcom about oddball—but lovably human—locals in a Boston bar premiered. The show was Cheers, which never left that bar for the whole of its first season, and was watched by few people at the time. This would change, and Cheers became massive. But right from that first episode, Cheers instructs us in the value of immersion, and how giving one’s self over to a place, a person, a community, has a knack for creating all the time anyone might need.
Challenged that he wasn’t much for travel, Thoreau responded by saying that he traveled deeply within the worlds he chose to inhabit. Place is powerful, and there’s a lot more to it than geography. Experience is a form of place, and experience—as it’s internalized—can’t be measured in hours and minutes.
The first Cheers episode nails the theme. We watch as Sam “Mayday” Malone emerges from the pool room, ready to open shop and start his day. You can tell from the way he moves that anything might happen that afternoon, because he’s open to it.
This is the episode where Diane is dumped by her haughty BU professor fiancé, and takes a job as a barmaid. Cliff bores us with trivia—but not really, because it’s a riff on boredom played for laughs; Norm passes out; Carla cracks wise; Coach struggles to keep up, but laps everyone else in his weird way. The characters feel fully-formed from the first, as though they were people we could meet later on tonight. They’re timeless as well, but are they not real?
I’ve never watched Cheers and thought these people were losers who didn’t get out enough. True, you don’t want to be in the pub 24/7, but you need to approach life as though you’re not too busy to ever experience that which is worth experiencing. The more legit, honest, and open the experiencing that you do is, the more time, paradoxically, you find you have for it.
It’s the other stuff that creates the sensation of the clock racing too fast. The great thing about time is it’s always been the same. But we change, and our expectations for ourselves change. We’re prone to making more excuses, which itself is a time drain.
A core lesson of Cheers—and it’s such a theatrical first season, worthy of Beckett—is that we all have the time if something—anything—is important enough to us. That’s a liberating lesson, because it has the added benefit of opening our eyes. Time slows down when we’re doing something worthwhile. We even have extra time.
Being a Boston kid, I got hooked on Cheers early, but it has imparted its wisdom to me deep into adulthood. This was a place that ought to have been boring and predictable, but wasn’t because of how these characters took the time to experience it. That changed how they experienced themselves. Each other. The world. Love. Loss. Hope. Fear. Time itself. And if you don’t take the time to drink to that, what can you drink to?