Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Not the size but how you use it…

Days Remaining to Next Beer: 347

A popular misconception about beer is that more must mean better. 

Sure, from a youthful kegger standpoint, wherein all easily accessible beers were largely created equal, a quantity trumps concerns about quality perspective makes some sense. When you are in the late high school / early college age, particularly in the States with the 21 year old age limit instead of Canada’s go ahead and get it out of your system already at 19, access to beer is a challenge worthy of exploration as a video game. You begin to track facts, leads, names and numbers. You know who knows where the parties are, if you don’t already yourself, or aren’t actually the person arranging them. You know what kids have fake IDs or early beards that work like magic for avoidance for getting carded. You know which convenience stores always card, or bust kids with fake IDs, and which never do. 

You know who has helpful older siblings, free and for a price, just like the stoners know who has parents still overly in touch with their own ‘60s days.  You know who has siblings that’ll narc or can be bought off, and how. You collect and horde your information, your contacts, leads, angles, and a fair amount of rumor and hearsay, such that if you can’t make use if it yourself you can at least barter the information for other information from others should need arise. I never wanted a fake ID, but I knew the Patrick Buttram kid’s buddy to go to for them. I didn’t particularly care for the popular kid parties, but I knew Jennifer Sherwood could get me into them, just as I knew I could score mint Kenner Star Wars figures from her brother Stuart or Advertising how to skinny from Mrs. Sherwood, their MILF meets Madmen Mom. 

During the first month of my freshman year of college, my friends and I, through wrangled invitations or by simply sneaking in, stayed somewhat tipsy off the Frat boy pledge week parties. Nip a red or blue plastic cup full here, steal a bottle or two there, run before one of those boys that used to sack quarterbacks from whatever mongoloid corn fed high school boosters had falsified grades and graduation papers to recruit them in from stopped knuckle-dragging long enough to notice the trio of Anthony Michael Hall Big Bang Theory Revenge of the Nerds pimple-faced geek boys over in the corner were getting up to with the keg, wet bar, or both.  

I make fun of the frat boys and jocks, but to be fair, many of them were quite generous and paid me very well during freshman year to write their ENG 101 papers, pricing based on a grade / time line scale. Fast turnaround and high grade meant expensive. Slow turnaround and mediocre passing grade meant low prices. Since I’d taken AP English in high school I began college with sophomore 200 level classes and higher, except for one transitional class taught by one of the most influential teachers I’ve ever had, Mr. Guy Davenport.

Guy Davenport opened the first class telling the twenty odd students there he typically taught grad students, however he’d lost a bet about baseball. Ann odd thing that, since he didn’t follow baseball, he felt cricket was far more a man’s game if you wanted to make a boring. relaxing time of it. The author of Geography of the Imagination, Guy was also an acquaintance of my father’s from his time at the University of Kentucky. I learned very quickly attending classes at UK that I would run into people, mostly grad students, that knew my parents. 

As my parents moved during the final months of my senior year of high school to Springfield Missouri to begin teaching at the university there, I felt like I’d arrived in their wake, and feared, largely justly, that I really wouldn’t live up to any expectations anyone might’ve had knowing them. Particularly for my mother’s field, math, where I failed Calculus twice before finally passing with a high B in summer session. True, my grades were massively indicative of my extracurricular pursuits during freshman year, and after only one semester I had managed, despite all the grade A papers I’d written for frat boys and athletes, to end up on academic probation. Two of my chums had failed out, which sent me a clear message.  

Many years later I’d graduate summa cum laude from University of Oregon. As I didn't want my girlfriend at the time's parents or siblings, all her family that didn't know I existed, to run into me during the proceedings or afterward, I voluntarily missed my own graduation. 

My friends and classmates, also graduating, said my name was called out as an achiever, there was an expectant pause, then the presenter, my chief adviser Leon Johnson, moved on, a slight facial tick the only giveaway he'd felt annoyed by my absence. When Danny told me about that odd pause during the graduation ceremony for the Visual Design & Art school, I'd felt somewhat shamed. My supposedly selfless act turned instantly selfish because I'd spared a girlfriend potential awkwardness should her parents meet me, detect our forbidden love, and declare her dead to them. Same time I'd gone and snubbed one of the guys that had endorsed, supported, and demonstrably believed in me. Leon, Ken O'Connell (who I owe the start of my career too), Ying Tan, Skip the toy customization guru, and Mike though I never took his Adv Vis Design class, instead catching coffee with him on occasion, all these faculty of U of O challenged and inspired me, so cheers to them as well.

In case I forget to make this connection later, it’s an interesting coincidence that when I entered college and measured beer quality through quantity and availability, the actual beer was largely cheap crap, and the rest of my life was a whirlwind of incomprehensible, reactionary, pulp punctuated by moments of clarity like the sunshine on a stumbling hangover. 

Moments like my numerous visits with Guy Davenport during his office hours, those chats were among some of the most illuminating discourses I’ve ever had. Intimidating, challenging, seemingly absurdist conversations that elements of the TV show The Fringe occasionally reminds me of, in particular Guy Davenport’s resemblance to Walter Bishop, and his manner of not directly speaking about anything while actually skewering everything through like butterflies to an entomologist’s foam is quite similar to the recovery advisor that runs a bowling alley.

Pause to give a cheers to other proud educators that made lasting imparts on my academic career and personal development, not dissimilar to locating an integral, constituent person in an RPG or open world game that wouldn’t even avail themselves too you until you were ready, and likely didn’t yourself know you were ready, yet here they are with a puzzling smile and a whole new set of missions to challenge you with and directions to send you off in. 

For instance, discussions with Ken Prince at the U of Oregon who is personal friends with Bill Watterson. I met Ken through a class the U of O required me to take since I was a transfer student and they weren’t about to acknowledge that UK had let me skip Freshman English way back when, who was I to transfer in with more than forty credit hours of 300 and 400 level class work and not take their Freshman year long Gateway seminar course, or their 200 level basic mechanics course? I met Ken in the 200 level course, and while the course work was more tedious than challenging, our office chats as I tried to sort out as a returning student fully aware of the financial aid debt I’d begun racking up what I really, truly wanted to do with my life. Where ever you are now, Ken, cheers to you, you’re good people.
A particular hallway chat with the college grad student turned English teacher at Washington College Academy with the balls to turn Thurber’s Carnival into a play, to hang up an American Werewolf in London poster in his upstairs classroom, and who let me play a myriad of roles in his adaptation of Thurber’s work, subsequently redirecting my negatives energies into something positive and constructive for possibly first time in an academic setting since Ms. S in third grade at the landed flying saucer of an elementary school in Jonesboro, yes the Ms. S with the huge Farrah Fawcett hair distracted me from tantrums and general Gremlin mayhem by presenting me with massively complex patterns to color and try to make sense of. To both him, I think his name was Ted, and to Ms. S, cheers. You’re also good people to take that extra bit of time, make that extra bit of effort to reach a kid so self-obsessed and befuddled with life most folks simple kept well out of harm’s way.

After a couple months of being floundering freshman, when we’d finally managed to make a few female friends, and subsequently through knowing women did we manage to get invited to a proper house party with a massive Rubbermaid trash can lined with multiple triple ply black garbage bags standing defiantly in the middle of the living room, crowd noise and booming system causing ripples across the surface of the liquid that filled the can, some sort of neon purple hooch version of rum punch that reeked of bathroom freshener and paint thinner.

Couple hours later I’m in the back of a police car destined to share a drunk tank with an old man claiming with much spittle spray to be Elvis while I cowered beneath the urinal and tried not to retch up on myself while holding my jean shorts together since the police woman had taken all my cool punker safety pins away. Doubts about the merits of quantity began that early AM, bubbling up in conversation as I stood shivering in the damp pre-dawn chill on the back porch of the police station with my friends what sprung me, well, my two still very drunk friends and the one sober high school friend they’d woken up to act as their intermediate with the man. I vaguely recall one of them actually threw gravel at her window and cracked a pane, woke up the whole household. John Hughes movies weren’t always the best guides to follow.

So fast forward a few decades and quality takes the front seat while quantity becomes something to really only worry about when you need to stock up for a party or company event. And even then, at this point, it’s not about getting pony kegs of crap, there is a far higher minimum bar for what is acceptable. And that’s utterly subjective, of course. For instance, when out “glamping” (drive-in camping) with my pals Alex & David, we want a light pilsner in a can that’s like the old Monty Python joke about sex in a canoe, it’s fucking close to water. And for me the minimum bar would be a two four of Canadian or Kokenee for the weekend, while for Alex it’s that Bud Lime stuff that simply doesn’t agree with my constitution what so ever. That said, if I’d rather spoil myself then I might bump up a few bucks and spring for the Mingler, a 12 pack assortment of Granville Island beers, or similar assortments from Phillips, Whistler, or Cutthroat. 

However, for a fine dining evening, whether BBQ on our patio, or Alex and David’s (both of these will get their own posts eventually, since they’re dear to me, eh?), then there must be a higher quality bar, something brilliant and picked with the intention of marrying well to the intended foodstuffs coming up that evening. Perhaps something from Driftwood of Vancouver Island, or Spinnaker’s also from Vancouver Island, or any of the many other wonderful beers, new or tried and true waiting to be sampled from Brewery Creek on Main. 

On trend that’s interesting about my more recent picks is a tendency towards the big bottle beers from predominately either North West or Quebec breweries. From the outside this might appear to be about quantity, since the bottles at 655ml aren’t that far off from the Olde English 40s my Navy buddies and I used to get from the convenience store as we head out to the beach after our classes wrapped at midnight, to watch the surf and shoot the silly and maybe chase a crab or two across the moonlit sand. OE 40 is about quantity, that malt liquor beer is seriously nasty, or I should say, an acquired taste. Not that Kokenee or Canadian are great, or Sleemans or Red Racer or Red Seal. I do think that a 40 of OE can strip all ecology out of a human digestive system better than a barrel of pure cranberry juice. That stuff is wicked, to be respected, and for tastes more hardcore than mine. I don’t care what Billy Dee Williams says about Colt 45, another malt liquor beer I’ve admittedly had no urge to try after chugging a 40 of OE once and nearly going blind, OE is to beer what Mad Dog and Thunderbird are to wine. Cheap, in bulk, and designed to leave you changed, probably not for the better, thought I did think I’d seen god, and he’d been surfing under the moonlight while that Coast Guard guy that always called me Crusty talked on and on about this Mexico City woman he was going to marry if she’d just learn goddamned English.

The big bottles at Brewery Creek are a bit different, and have more in common with the Quebec scene, the corked bottles trying to treat brews more like wines, and the large bottles typical for pilsners in Europe, like the Pilsner Urquell or the Zlatopramen.  I’ve read one opinion that through larger bottles the ales and beers stay more true to the brewery intended taste, flavor, and aroma. I’ll defer to the beerists and foodies for that sort of analysis. 

What I’ve found is that I’ve liked the beers for the beers and having to contend with less bottles has been a nice side benefit. If anything, having an awareness of one bigger bottle has lead to more consciences consumption, since smaller bottles or cans can go down quickly and before you know it you and your friends have finished a twelve pack or more.  Like wine, big bottle beer is intended to be higher grade beer, craftsman even, and is often more expensive, has a higher alcohol percentage, and is more difficult to track down.

And that’s the whole point of this project, to reach a zen like state where I never again take a pint for granted, and with every pint I make an earnest effort to have it be memorable, and the circumstances around it as well, the company, the friends, family, location, the city, state, province or nation. 

Quantity is about getting blasted, shattering innocence, or inhibitions, and possibly about ending up with stories to tell, though likely embarrassing, shameful, or tragic ones. 

Quality is about having stories to tell as well, though from a far more positive perspective. And at this stage in my life, that is where my head is definitely at.

Cheers to Lindz Williamson-Christy for allowing, nigh, recommending the kind use of her image at the start of today's post.

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