“That’s the problem with drinking, I thought, as I poured myself a drink. If something bad happens you drink in an attempt to forget; if something good happens you drink in order to celebrate; and if nothing happens you drink to make something happen.”
—Charles Bukowski, Women
(This post was written in the wee hours of Tuesday, September 11th, 2018).
Say what you will about Bukowski, but the man was a expert on the subject of drinking. An earnest examination of the reasons we drink are central to the thoughts I’m trying to get out of my brain in this particular writing. We drink to be social (or antisocial), to help us relax or to be gregarious or to be any other thing we’re not when we’re sober. We drink to get a little buzzed or even a little drunk, or maybe just because we love how whatever we’re drinking tastes. It seems we drink to change our current plight from whatever it is to something… else. Same for you?
I write about beer on the internet (thanks for having me, dudes!). But this is a piece about not drinking beer and the funny hole it can leave in the life of someone who is accustomed to drinking beer. And then finding a suitable reason to drink a beer anyway. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ There is a beer review at the end of this, I promise. But it’s likely that review will have little to do with this post. Or maybe it will, who knows.
My girlfriend and I love our neighborhood brewery (and a few nowhere near our neighborhood). The modern craft beer culture has given birth to a new varietal of community hubs, these great taprooms we all love. Talented people making delicious beer that doesn’t taste like the beer in the next city over. It’s uniquely local in taste and culture and style. Neighbors, with their kids and dogs in tow, all congregating on patios in the sunshine, talking about things going on in our lives and our communities or on the block where we live. Over a beer. In some ways and for some people, the craft beer taprooms are the new piazzas, a 21st century place of congregation for neighbors.
I could count on one hand (or maybe two) the reasons I should probably drink a little less than I currently do. But this particular self-imposed beer hiatus is purely vanity and gut-related. Six weeks to lose a few pounds and the two biggest things I figured I could cut to help my progress were beer (duh) and olive oil (for real!).
As I am a human and therefore flawed by design, I’ve not chosen a route of sobriety for these 6 weeks, but opted to substitute wine (and the occasional whiskey) for beer in the evenings, or with a meal. Carbs, man.
The first day was a Saturday that went like any other Saturday. But when the bright orange New Mexico sun started to wane, the brain’s default entertainment choice was to head to Bosque or La Cumbre or another one of our local favorite breweries for a tall, cold beer to extinguish the dying embers of the warm, late summer day.
But hold up, I’m not drinking beer.
What the shit am I supposed to do to entertain myself? Watching the Mets will only make me want to drink more. I am allowing myself wine, but how many craft beer taprooms near you serve wine? I don’t know either because I always have the beer.
I think we binge watched the new season of Ozark and a week went by. And when that week was up, like Bukowski, I had a beer to celebrate! To celebrate a week of not drinking beer! I’m currently drunk on irony.
Today is a day that again challenges one’s notion of “the why”. For a lot of my friends that I’ve met through our shared love of the the New York Mets – east coasters and New Yorkers mostly – September the 11th is truly not like any other day. The sadness of losing a family member or spouse or loved one is a guttural, haunting pain, but still somehow different than the hurt of thousands of your neighbors (and maybe friends and loved ones, too) being killed in an attack on the place you live. That morning of September 11th, 2001, I was on a Mets message board receiving news from a lot of those east coasters and New Yorkers I still communicate with today over all the same things we did back then – Mets baseball, politics and music, and yes, beer.
I lived in Long Beach, California in 2001 and call Albuquerque home now, so while I can lend my heart to any of those friends if they needed it, they touched an experience that day that I could never understand in the same way. Still, the gravity of the day makes me want to drink something, not to forget, but just to not feel everything quite so much. Or maybe to feel it all a little more, I’m not sure.
Today is also my father’s birthday. But before “9/11”, September the 11th was already a somber day for my dad, as his brother had died on his birthday. Can you imagine losing your brother on your birthday? And then years later, on your birthday, which is also the anniversary of your own brother’s death, fucking September 11th happens? As you’ll understand, my dad didn’t celebrate anything on his birthday and when he remarried, his new wife’s birthday was September the 9th, so he quietly shifted his back towards hers, and they’d celebrate both their birthdays together, a couple days before they each had to navigate their own sadness, I’m sure.
My dad died on February 27, 2015. That’s a sad day on its face for the obvious reasons. When the anniversary of that day comes, I remember where I was when I got the call that he had a stroke, I remember when we all met in San Antonio at the hospital to be with him, and I remember how I cried as we waited for him to leave this earth after his breathing tube was removed. His birthday should be something happier but it’s just not. There’s too much sadness in the nearest concentric circles of people in my life, but the sadness gets louder and heavier as the circles expand outward to people I don’t know and will never meet because of the pain of what this day represents. Happiness or conviviality is a feeling that just doesn’t fit with today, even if I’d desperately like to feel something like it.
So I wanted to celebrate something this evening. Or forget something. Or both, in my own peculiar way. Bukowski, where you at?
I type this now while drinking a red wine and trying to stay true to my stupid diet in a way that makes little sense, but my girlfriend and I did share a beer tonight. Like our neighbors at our favorite breweries, we congregated, talked about things in our lives that remind us that we’re, in fact, still alive, and we shared a moment over a beer as strange and unique as today is.
Warning: Actual beer review ahead.
In February, she went to Europe and somehow managed to bring a few unbroken bottles of beer back to America. I think one or two still remain, but tonight we cracked the Põhjala Virmalised, one of the finest IPAs in all of Estonia. Brendan Fraser approved, no doubt.
Reviewers online have things to say about it, like this:
“Samea, kuparin oranssi väri. Ei juuri vaahtoa. Tuoksussa raikas sitrus. Maku melko kepeä, raikas, vähän katkera.”
I cannot, with any integrity, say that I disagree.
We did drink it after the “best before” date of July 22, 2018, but today, for me, is about appreciating things that have expired anyway.
It was strangely sedimenty, a little bitter, a little floral and a little hoppy all at the same time. A bunch of components that might not work on their own, but they conspired to make this thing – an Estonia-made American IPA – a pretty good thing. Seek it out next time you’re, well, in Estonia.
We had one 12-ounce bottle. We shared it and raised a glass to my old man. And this strange little beer somehow fit in nicely on a day when nothing else seemed to.
Happy September 11th, everyone. Whatever happiness you can find, hold onto it. Maybe drink it up.
Note – at the time of this writing, the author, clean of beer and olive oil, has lost 4 pounds, but is questioning his sanity and his current dietary roadmap.