The first time we went into the Anvil Pub, in Deep Ellum,  the server’s short, purple-tinted mohawk was on display. The second time, she was wearing a pirate hat. Neither time did we order the Russian Roulette pizza, with “bullet” slices spiked with cayenne pepper, but both times we laughed about it.

My husband and I found the year-old bar by accident, in a drive-by search for a pub on a Saturday night. I wanted someplace we could sit and talk and maybe snack. The Anvil just looked right. The chalkboard street sign, the guys smoking and taking IDs at the door, an open parking space down the street. The pub is airy and has a bike on the ceiling and a helluva beer selection (Pabst Blue Ribbon to Three Philosophers). Plus, the kitchen is environmentally friendly (no frying), and there are multiple vegan options. It’s local, mindful, bicycle friendly, and offers some good specials. On Wednesdays, all Texas pints (Franconia, Shiner, Fireman’s #4, and Rahr) are $2, and Texas vodkas are $4. The Anvil looks like what it is, a good pub, with a punk rock pizza I haven’t dared to order.

Punk rock still lives a little in Deep Ellum, and I’ve always had a soft spot for punk. I like its directness, the straightforwardness of its nose-thumbing at traditional conventions about dress, appearance, and a host of other things. I know my mind is sharper when I challenge my long-held assumptions, when I listen to people who believe differently, when I am open to being swayed. Punk rockers visually remind me of that. Pirate hats, too.

And I need reminding. It takes a lot of work to challenge assumptions or habits, particularly in small, ordinary ways. Not long ago, my 18-month-old son and I were at swim lessons. He was tired and didn’t want to do whatever it was we were supposed to be doing. I started trying to get him to do the thing we were supposed to—and then realized I didn’t have to. He wasn’t ready, and there was no reason to make him. But after so many years of school, my first instinct was to comply with the teacher’s request for everyone to do whatever it was.

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Thumbing your nose for the sake of thumbing your nose can get you only so far. Absent-minded defiance is only that. But real thinking—evaluating claims, context, situations, and dress codes—and then making decisions is often a path to ingenuity and creativity. Which, in my book, puts it up there with truth, justice, and the American way. Just because everyone else fries food doesn’t mean your kitchen has to. Pizza can be funny. You and your brother and your dad can open a pub together in Deep Ellum and build it with supplies you bought at Home Depot, hire another brother to run the bar, and then start expanding the existing space and beer list less than a year after opening. Why not?

The mohawked server in the pirate hat walked by our table. It looked so good on her head, cocked at an angle, worn with panache. Other staff members have tattoos; other patrons, too. A number of them conformed to the musician/rocker/artist look, the one for which a wallet on a chain or a pair of Doc Martens is standard operating procedure. It’s easy to give any particular group a hard time for looking like the rest of their group—or a pass if you happen to like that style. But everyone does this to some degree, aligns himself with others by dress and hairstyle. A number of the Anvil patrons looked like us, too—ordinary, unremarkable. Perhaps other parents on a night out.

Sitting in the Anvil, eating a nonfried version of French fries that I was sad to admit didn’t tickle my fancy, my husband and I drank beer and talked with our other ordinary parent friends. The woman, bright, athletic, and warm, told me that for one semester in her high-achieving high school she’d taken study courses to improve her B average. For one semester, she knocked herself out the way we all were told to. She got her A. And she decided, very quietly, that an A wasn’t worth it. I have long liked this friend, but I never admired her more than when learning that at 16, she investigated, experimented, and decided not to play by established rules.

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