May 17, 2021

BERNSTEIN | It’s Closing Time

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“Closing time, open all the doors and let you out into the world.”

When the song “Closing Time” plays, a gear starts turning in the college student’s mind and a flashing alarm light goes off in the brain, fit with siren and all, to give one message: leave.

A grand exodus occurs, often with little to no communication. A few goodbyes can be heard, a couple people will say “well, I guess it’s time!” but by and large — even when some will, of course, choose to linger — the patron or partier will make for the exit without question. The casual laughs and conversations will continue as they migrate, but people don’t have to talk about leaving. They just go. 

This psychological conditioning happens late at night every weekend on campuses across the country, and it also happens every May. 

“Closing time, turn all of the lights on over every boy and every girl.”

The switch is flipped automatically in the beginning of every summer: the lights come on and we immediately head for the exit doors. We say our goodbyes, but we know it’s time to get out. When “Closing Time” plays, you know what it means.

There’s a sense of togetherness, both in the song and in the act of leaving. When the semester ends, we all head out all at once, and when the bar opens back up next fall, we all come back together. And while most of us, I’m sure, will see our college friends over the summer, and some of us may even stay in Ithaca, the departure from normal class time is significant and it tightens that shared connection we all have of having been here together, now.

It has probably been a while since we’ve really listened to “Closing Time” — large parties and bar crawls have been pretty limited over the past year. But it’s playing loud and clear in this moment of springtime, telling us to leave campus until the fall, when everyone can hopefully come back in groves once again.

The next time you hear “Closing Time” and you, your friends and strangers all start to leave, you’ll experience a somewhat forgotten feeling of togetherness with those around you — even with those we don’t know. The fact that we can all hear this song and know what it means, even while half hammered in a gross basement or a dive bar represents a very real connection that’s been absent for a long time.

“Closing time, this room won’t be open till your brothers or your sisters come.”

In fact, when we all return next year, we’ll probably hear “Closing Time” a lot more. The times are changing. There’s a light at the end of the tunnel and somehow, that gorgeous, precious light that we’ve all been waiting for for over a year will manifest itself in the form of O-week parties and drunk walks through Collegetown next August. 

This isn’t a return to normal, of course. We all know that the normal of a couple years ago is gone forever. But nonetheless, next fall, life will be different from the world full of adjustments we’ve been living in for so long. 

Like we do at the start of every new academic year, we feel different: older, perhaps smarter and maybe with new interests and personality traits. Those changes will occur as per usual. But fall 2021 will bring something we’ve been especially missing: social interaction

Social interaction, however, is deeper than bars and parties. It’s having acquaintances again. It’s running into people on the way to class. It’s seeing the people that you regret how little you’ve prioritized when the whole world stopped. The parties will be fun — and so will staying out until closing time — but the changes next semester are far greater.

The ability to see more people, also, isn’t the only reason that this transition to a new semester will be different: we’re not just saying goodbye to social distancing, we’re saying goodbye to whole life experience: to all of the online meetings, but also to the waking up and rolling right into class from our bedrooms — for better or for worse. We say farewell to the constant fear of quarantine or contraction and also to the homes transformed into COVID testing centers, which might be how we always remember them. We say goodbye to those we’ve lost and we say goodbye to a time of so much loss.

More than stepping into something new, we step away from something old. In essence, the goodbye is what “Closing Time” is really all about. We’re saying goodbye to our friends and to our campus, and we’re also saying goodbye to all the little things about the year that made it special, horrible, and yes, even at times wonderful.

“Closing time, every new beginning comes from some other beginning’s end.”

It’s easy to think of goodbyes and change as a lens through which to view the end of an academic year. It’s harder, though, to realize just how valuable each end of the goodbye can be, both what we leave and what we greet. There is so much to put behind us, and so much to miss. Just as there’s so much uncertainty ahead, and so much to look forward to. It’s exactly like when the bar shuts down, right? 

Daniel Bernstein is a sophomore in the College of Arts and Sciences. He can be reached at dgb222@cornell.edu. Feel the Bern runs every other Monday this semester.