It’s 12 am on Grenfell Street outside the Crown and Anchor and a man with beard is trying to convince me that, while he has a beard, he is definitely not a hipster.
He says he is not a hipster but then he starts talking about Jean-Paul Sartre and stroking his beard and I know immediately that he is lying.
He wants to talk about freedom. Between the table of students, the girl with pink hair wearing the Cheap as Chips t-shirt on her way home from a shift and the boy with a tiny blue Lego piece tattooed behind his left ear, he wants to talk about being human.
He is enjoying the conversation; I am trying to work out how old he is. I guess somewhere in his 30s. I wonder whether his enthusiasm is because he is passionate about existentialism or because someone is finally listening to him. I am having trouble keeping up. I did an Arts degree once but I am not really interested in existential theory. I can vaguely remember a point in time when I dismissed philosophy subjects as self-indulgent — probably while waving my hand over a beer (I was young).
I want to go home. I’ve got a meeting at nine tomorrow morning. I’m trying to dodge his words and duck out but he says my desire to leave is a symptom that I have surrendered my liberty; that this is evidence of my constraints. He says I can choose to stay.
I ask him what he needs to do in the morning and he says he has to work. He’s waiting for me to ask him what he does and when I don’t he mutters someting about the man. He leans back and folds his arms and tells me he doesn’t work for him, that he works for the people and is fulfilled. He is free. He says that I should be able to recognise this in the fact that he is here now, stroking his beard to an interpretation of Sartre with no intention of going home any time soon.
I ask which government department he works for and he waves his hand, like I did in dismissing philosophy all those years ago, and declares himself an immigration officer. He moves on to talk about the Five Factor Personality Trait model. He’s running through them one by one. But because agreeableness has never been one of mine I am still stuck on the question of freedom.
The freedom I am stuck on is the space to ponder freedom at 12 am on a street in the middle of the city while drinking beer. I am thinking about the freedom of being able to choose to identify as either hipster or not, or to grow a beard or pay for another Coopers Pale. I’m also thinking about the life squashed into form fields that he will read tomorrow morning, the one that accepts constraint in return for permission to stay. I am stuck on wondering whether he will allow them to chose to sit outside a pub at midnight, pop-philosophising and trying to decide whether or not to have another beer.