Saturday, August 21, 2010

Childhood Realizations: The Toilet and The Mail

WARNING!: The following post has nothing to do with beer. These stories were already posted on the Childhood Realizations page of this website but in an effort to provide my readers with a continuous blog-like experience I've re-posted them here. Enjoy.

The day I realized how the toilet works:

Bobo and Nanny lived in Alpha, NJ, and they were my grandparents.  Inside their home was a pool table and many family get togethers orbited around that pool table.  On this particular day, I will estimate I was between the ages of 4 and 6, there was a sizable gathering of family members at Nanny and Bobo’s house and I was having a great time rolling balls on the pool table.  So great is my joy that I am holding in a monster poop as long as possible so that I may continue to roll those balls.  It took quite the emergency to pull me away from a solo game of hand billiards and my trip to the bathroom would have to wait.

So I wrap up my game with a sweet come-from-behind victory, reclaiming the world championship from myself, and after many handshakes and congratulatory hugs I head upstairs to drop bombs. 

Nan’s bathroom had this countertop with all these different colored boomerang shapes that hypnotized me every time I went in there.  I would get lost in all those boomerangs.  Just staring deeper and deeper into those magical shapes, wishing that I had hundreds of boomerangs so that I could make the sky look like this countertop, wishing that a boomerang storm would come and rain boomerangs, wishing that I lived in Australia where boomerangs were more common.  You know, your typical maddening obsession set off by bathroom décor.  I’m not even going to tell you about all the strange faces I saw in my parents down stairs shower curtain.

A knock-knock-knock on the door pulls me out of Boomerangtown and back to reality.  It’s my Mom checking on me.  Yes, Mom, I’m fine and no I don‘t need any help.  Stop staring at the counter top, she says, and come down stairs.  I’m working on it, I say. 

And work it was.  I hop down from the toilet, grab a suitable amount of TP and get to wiping.  Satisfied with a reasonably clean backside, I put my shirt back on and bend down to pull up my under-roos and pants.  It is at this moment that I realize that we have a problem.  Brown town, Hershey highway, call it what you will - bacon strips doesn’t really fit this scenario due to its magnitude.  What I have in my underpants is a brown map of the brown capital of a brown state; A topographical map of the Crap Mountains on Planet Poop; Brown rings from the brown trunk of a Brown Oak that is 160 years old.  Apparently, somewhere between the second and third overtime period of the hand billiard match, my turtle popped out more than its head, or it has a really long neck.

As difficult as it may be to believe, this was actually a re-occurring problem for me.  I knew that if my Mom found another pair of underwear in this kind of condition that I may be back in diapers.  These underwear needed to disappear and fast.  I took them off and pulled my pants up - my first real experience with the commando style, by the way - while I searched for an answer.  The hamper?  Under the sink?  Under the towel on the towel rack?  All of these options seemed only temporary and I needed these undies to be gone for good.  And then it hit me - there is only one device that I am aware of that makes things disappear permanently:  the Toilet.  For all I know, the word ‘toilet’ is French for disappearing machine.  So in they went.  I pulled the magic lever and watched them swirl around and disappear.  Problem solved.  Back to the party.

What happened next is a little unclear to me.  I’m not sure how much time passed - was it 15 minutes or an hour?  But at some point, water began to drip on the pool table and it appeared that some sort of leak had developed upstairs.  I did not find this alarming in the least - in fact, I did not even suspect that it could be related to my ordeal.  My plan was so fool-proof, I had practically forgotten about it.  Then I heard my name.  Then I heard my name again.  Then my Aunt comes down stairs with a pair of children’s underwear in her hand.  How the hell did she get my underwear, I’m thinking.  This can’t be good.

Are these your underwear?



Yes, really, those are He-Man and I don’t even like He-Man
(a total lie, and I apologized to He-Man a million times in my mind as soon as those words left my mouth).

Well, then whose underwear could it be?

I don’t know.

I was the only child at the party, hence the solo hand billiards, and this fact was quite the smoking gun.  Had I known that the toilet was not going to disappear my underwear I would have had time to come up with some sort of logical diversion.  I put all my eggs in one basket and the basket was exploding in my face.

Well, then let me see your underwear.

Well, that is a fucked up question to ask a little kid, I thought.
Well, I’m not wearing any today, I said matter of factly.

This response elicited a mixture of shock and laughter from the crowd of adults that had gathered to watch my demise.  It was at this point that Mom chimed in, her mental state was a perfect mixture of confusion, rage, and humor (this would become her signature mental state over the next few years).  She said:

What do you mean your not wearing any underwear?  Who doesn’t wear underwear?

At this point I believe exactly three uncles and one aunt raised their hands.  And somehow, I was off the hook.  That was the end of it.  Apparently any damage done was nothing worth murdering an underpantless child over.  

Over the next few years I slowly compiled a list of things that the toilet made disappear and a list of things that the toilet did not make disappear.  This was also the first incident of many that has led me to discover a toilet’s true intentions.  Modern convenience or not, toilets have an agenda and that agenda is to embarrass me every chance they get.  I guess it is only fair, considering all the horrible things I’ve done to them over the years

The day I realized how the mail works:

So I’m in kindergarten and it is the last day of school prior to the Christmas break. Kids have been bringing Christmas cards for our teacher all week and I am so excited because today is the day that the teacher is going to open all the cards and read them to the class. I am also feeling mighty proud of myself because I actually remembered to put a card in my book bag before I left the house that morning.  This may have been the first day ever I actually remembered something. I was a very forgetful child: Once I got lost in the mall and when a women asked me my first name I told her it was Webster because I forgot what my real first name was (and because Webster had the coolest house ever with all those secret passages).

So I put my card in the basket on the teacher’s desk, returned to my seat, and tried as hard as I could to keep my shit together. I colored something. Somebody threw up. And finally it was time - everybody over to the reading rug. The teacher is reading cards and I know my card has got to be coming up soon and the excitement is just building up like crazy. I didn’t know if I was gonna sneeze, pee my pants, or smack myself in the head. And then finally, there it was - I could recognize that envelope from a mile away. I lean over to my buddy, maybe he was imaginary, maybe he wasn’t, and I whisper as fast as I could, “thatsmycard!” The teacher looks at the front of the envelope and for a moment, just a moment, she looks confused. In my mind time has stopped and I am screaming to myself, “whydidshemakethatface? whatthefuckiswrongwithmycard?” But then she smiles and says, “It looks like this card is from Justin.” I immediately feel reassured and so proud of myself that I swear for a moment I turned into pure sunshine shining right there on that reading rug.

She opens the envelope, reads the front - “Merry Christmas” (or some holiday nonsense), and shows everyone the picture. She opens the card and continues to read the inside, “and a Happy New Year. (pause) Love Aunt Pat and Uncle Tom.”

The record playing in my head (Kool and the Gang - Celebration”) came to a screeching halt. “Wait, what did she just say? That’s MY card,” I thought to myself. Even my buddy leaned over and asked, “I thought you said that was your card?” And just like a Martin Scorsese film, the events started to play back in slow motion in my mind as Derek and The Dominoes’ “Layla” started to play. I back-tracked through memories I didn’t even know I had until it was all too clear to me - I had brought my teacher a Christmas card that I had received in the mail from my Aunt Pat and Uncle Tom. Kids were bringing cards in all week and I happened to have some cards on my dresser and that morning I said, “why not me,” and I grabbed that card and put it back in it’s envelope and went to school to join in the holiday cheer.

The teacher moved on to next card like nothing had even happened. As the dust settled from the demolition of my self-esteem, I thought to myself, “So that’s how the mail works.” Incidentally, this was also the day I realized that I needed to learn how to read.

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Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Beer on my Poncho: Yuengling Lager and the Musikfest

For those of you not in the know, Musikfest is a ten day long event in the city of Bethlehem, PA, where streets are closed and people are allowed to walk around with alcoholic beverages. There are vendors with great food, vendors with not so great food, bands like Styx that you pay a pretty penny to see, and lots of bands that play for free. Generally, your beer options are pretty limited in the beer tents - where you’ll pay the equivalent of 6 dollars in tickets for a mug filled with beer (I’m not even going to get into the whole tickets-as-currency thing). You do have some other options, like the Bethlehem Brew Works - who will fill your mug with their brews for cash, or at least they used to and I‘m assuming they still do. Personally, my favorite spot to fill the mug is Hotel Bethlehem, where they will fill my mug with Yuengling Lager for a mere 4 dollars cash!

Again, for those of you not in the know, Yuengling is America’s oldest brewery. They have been a family owned brewing operation since 1829. Located in Pottsville, PA, and now also in Tampa, FL, Yuengling makes several different varieties - Premium, Lager, Lord Chesterfield Ale, Porter, Black and Tan, Light, Light Lager, and a new winter seasonal Bock.

Unlike most of the beers discussed on this blog, Yuengling is not considered a craft beer by the Brewer’s Association because they do not have an all malt product. This means that they put adjuncts - Yuengling uses corn - in their beer to lighten flavor (not to enhance the flavor) and cut costs. Similarly, Budweiser and most other big name light American lagers use rice as an adjunct. Regardless, they are an independent brewer, i.e. not owned by some foreign conglomerate like 90% of the beers out there. And Pabst and Boston Brewing (Sam Adams) are the only independent breweries in America that sell more beer than Yuengling.

The Yuengling Lager is my favorite of their brews and it still blows my mind when I drink it out of an ice cold can. However, I do avoid drinking it in bottles because I don’t think it is the same Yuengling Lager I went to college with. My theory is that the lager in those bottles is no longer brewed at the Pottsville location. In fact, the lager brewed at the Pottsville location, according to my theory, is only put into kegs and cans. My theory goes even further to say that the can is really the only trusted source of good Yuengling Lager because who knows what location the keg came from - Tampa? St. Clair? Is their even a St. Clair location? According to my theory there is. According to my theory, the can is a guarantee that the lager inside came from Pottsville. What I’m saying is that if you used like the Lager and now you could take it or leave it - try it in an ice cold can. It will be like your first time all over again. You’ll probably want to drink at least eleven more.

Unfortunately, the Lager at the Hotel Bethlehem for Musikfest is not in a can. However, the keg of Lager I encountered this past Sunday at the fest must have come from Pottsville because it was delicious. Wife, myself, and Neighbor Steve arrived around 1:30 and we decided to immediately head to the Hotel to fill our mugs. Mother Nature decided to immediately start dumping buckets of water on Bethlehem. So there we were, the three of us, with mugs full of Lager, under an umbrella at a table outside of the Hotel Bethlehem. Oh, and it’s raining so hard that people are screaming their faces off.

So I throw the obvious question out to the group - “What do you want to do?” - as if there was some other option besides huddling under the umbrella of a café table.

“I brought an umbrella.” Wife says proudly. She proceeds to pull out a pastel lavender umbrella that when open has the same diameter as the head of a 4 year old. And not a freakishly large-headed 4 year old, either. Wife has had drinks with bigger umbrellas.

It is around this time that Neighbor Steve notices that the underside of the table umbrella is printed with the image of a lovely blue sky with a few nice fluffy clouds. “Well, it’s nice under here,” he says, “I guess we just stay here until it passes.”

So we did. Neighbor Steve ran the first mug filling mission after about ten minutes. I ran the next one about 15 minutes later, around the same time that we noticed that the shop across the street was selling plastic rain ponchos. Wife made that trip, and 18 dollars later we had three ponchos.

Now we are three people wearing white ponchos, standing under the umbrella of a café table, drinking Lager out of oversized plastic mugs, in the middle of Hurricane Musikfest. We looked like a trio of drunk ghosts on vacation. I felt like Alec Baldwin in Beetle Juice. I asked Wife if she felt like Geena Davis. She responded by drinking from her mug. I took that as a yes.

Why did we remain under the umbrella even now that we had ponchos, you ask? Because it was raining - cats, dogs, bison, giraffes - the only thing that would have kept us dry was an ark. That's why.

SIDENOTE: When it is pouring rain the sound is deafening. So even though we were standing within inches of one another, unless you were using what I like to call your “Katrina Voice”, no one was going to be able to hear a thing. Just a lot of shouting, a lot of “WHAT?”, and 600 million gallons of water crashing down all around us. So the scene to an outside observer was as follows:

Three people wearing white ponchos, standing under the umbrella of a café table, drinking Lager out of oversized plastic mugs, in the middle of Hurricane Musikfest, and one of them is shouting, “DO YOU FEEL LIKE GEENA DAVIS?”

By the time the downpour stopped, I had no idea what was going on. The Lager got me. It got me good. We filled the mugs again and went up the street to meet some friends and watch a band. It was around this time that the phrase “I need to eat something” kept popping into conversations.

“Hey, how you been?”

“I need to eat something.”

“Oh yeah, right, haven’t seen you in years…”

“I need to eat.”

“Did you here about so and so blah blah blah?”

“I need to eat something.”

“….well, they, they died…”

“I'm going to die too if I don't eat something.”

It was also right around this time that I started to document memorable moments from the day using my iPhone’s Notes App. I quickly realized that this was utterly inefficient after typing my first note, which read:

“Steve likes the one with beard. The beard and the camera.”

This is referring to the band we watched. The Parkington Sisters are a band of five sisters - none of which have beards. So when Neighbor Steve leaned over and said, “I like the one with the beard,” I was perplexed. However, when I realized that Neighbor Steve was referring to the guy standing on the corner of the stage taking pictures of the band, I found this to be the funniest thing I have ever heard. Hence the documentation.

From there I moved on the Voice Memo App of my iPhone. For some reason (I call this reason “Lager”) it never occurred to me to document any of the day using the Camera or Video Camera feature of my phone. I found exactly 2 voice memos waiting for me the next day:

4:10 PM:

“We should go sell ponchos.”
“But I don’t want to walk in the rain.”

The above was recorded after thinking about the pro’s and con’s of starting a poncho selling business (that second line was said in slightly different voice, kinda feminine, still my voice, but ridiculous).

5:43 PM:

“What if gangbangers volunteered to do face-painting at festivals?”

I have absolutely no idea. Remember, I got there at 1:30 and was drinking Yuengling Lager out of a 24 ounce mug.

Brother T-bone doing his very best Mary Poppins impersonation. 
The one photo from the day, taken by Wife.

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Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Don't Forget Your Roots (part 2): How to win an argument and the Weyerbacher Brewery

My first college roommate, Ghostface Miller, was an interesting fellow. Technically, Charles the Chronic Masturbator was my first roommate but we didn’t make it through a semester together for obvious reasons. Ghostface was the kind of guy that was really into punk rock, had a bad-ass leather jacket, played drums, and was generally a lot of fun. Ghostface was also the kind of guy that regularly wore an olive green army surplus zip-up flight suit coverall (dare I call it a jumpsuit?). In fact, on his birthday one year I woke up to him wearing said flight suit and saluting himself in the mirror. Classic.

One morning Ghostface, the Bza, and myself are waking up after what was probably a long night of drinking. For some reason, on this particular morning, as we each lay in our respective bunks, Ghostface starts to talk to the Bza and I about weightlifting. Ghostface likes the weight machines while the Bza and I feel that free weights are better. Why this is our topic of conversation as we wake up - I have no idea. None of us were avid weightlifters. The closest I came to lifting weights in college was hooking up with a girl that was a bit on the heavy side. But for whatever reason, this rise-and-shine discussion turns into a heated argument. Well, as heated as an argument can get when everyone is laying down either looking at the ceiling or the bunk above them, which is in fact pretty darn heated.

Suddenly, Ghostface jumps out of the top bunk, wearing the flight suit, and points at the Bza and yells “Don’t forget you roots!” and storms out of the room. Silence. Argument over.

After a few minutes pass and we’re sure he’s not coming back to murder us, the Bza said, “Don’t forget your roots? Who says that?”

“When did he put that flight suit on?” I whispered in reply. “I don’t think he was wearing that last night.”

Moral of the story #1: To effectively end an argument you need 3 things: some sort of higher ground from which to jump down from, an army surplus flight suit, and a catchy phrase that doesn’t apply to the current argument but causes immediate introspection by all within earshot.

Moral of the story #2: Don’t forget your roots. This sticks with me to this day.

It is “Moral of the story #2” that led me to purchase a case Weyerbacher’s Big Beers a few months ago. I grew up in Easton; Weyerbacher is located in Easton; and so it seemed like the logical next step in my journey through the world of craft beer. The Big Beers sampler contains 4 beers that all come in at 8% ABV or higher. Initially, I was a bit intimidated and figured that I would be getting rather drunk. I also thought that perhaps I would lose some weight by drinking the higher ABV beers because, unlike Rolling Rock, I wouldn’t need to drink 12 of them to catch a buzz. Less beers equals less calories equals less poundage next time I step on the scale (please don’t ask how this weight loss plan is working out for me so far). Anyway, the Big Beers sampler, which I highly recommend, comes with the following:

Blithering Idiot 11.1% ABV: This a Barley Wine-Style ale, which made me not too excited about this one because I’m not a wine drinker. When I finally did build up the courage to try it I was pleasantly surprised. Nothing like a wine at all. Just beer here. Good beer. If your wife or girlfriend has to throw those silly wine and cheese parties, this will still fit right in - great with fine cheeses (and dancing, as brother Joe would say). It has a muted sweetness that develops. Overall, very smooth with a warm little bite, but barely any bitterness. It seems to have considerably less carbonation than other beers. Weyerbacher recommends to drink it from a snifter or wine glass but it is just fine out of the bottle. Usually, I pour it into a pilsner glass (there are probably some wine glasses in the house but I have no idea where Wife keeps them - perhaps I should check under the bed) and that does change the character a bit for the better I think.

Merry Monks 9.3%: Weyerbacher calls this a Belgian style Abby Tripel. Tripels are a style that followed from the Trappist breweries (of which there are only seven, more on that topic at a later date) and the Abbey style ales. Fruity, complex, and very yellow in color for all the flavor it packs, the Merry Monks is something special. This beer has some of the flavors you’d expect from a Belgian like cookies and bananas but with a bit of citrus and even creaminess. This beer has a lot going on. A definite must try. Although in terms of drinkability it may be difficult to get past two in a row. At least at first….

Old Heathen 8% ABV: This is Weyerbacher’s Imperial Stout. Roasty, silky, a little chocolately, with a slight booze bite. This is a good stout that I love having in my fridge.

Double Simcoe IPA 9.0% ABV: Obviously a Double IPA, so if your not into IPAs this probably isn’t for you. But if you are so inclined then this may just be the best IPA you’ve had in a long time. Hands down, this is the best double IPA I’ve had. And overall just an amazing beer. Like the Merry Monks, this has a lot happening - a clean sweetness up front, a nice malty ale in the middle, and then that kick at the end that cleans up. What I like about this beer is that the kick doesn’t build - in other words, it doesn’t leave an aftertaste that builds up - it comes, it goes, and then you take another taste to repeat the process. If my craft beer adventure ended today, as an IPA lover, this is the beer I would put at the top. Also, this won PA beer of the year (2006) from PA beer author Lew Bryson - he’s Philly local so he gets the nod here, check out his blog.

Some things I’ve learned from the Big Beers Sampler:

#1: DON’T drink the Merry Monks after you’ve been drinking the Double Simcoe, and probably vice versa. They are just too different and complex to be enjoyed one after the other. Technically, I had two Simcoe’s and then went for the Monk’s and just thought is was too sweet. I’ve had the Monks since then and now find it quite enjoyable

#2: DO mix the Simcoe and the Old Heathen for an amazing black and tan. I read this in some comment on the Weyerbacher site and it is my new favorite thing to do. Highly recommend this whether you like IPAs or not.

From here, the next logical step was to return to Easton for a trip to the Weyerbacher Brewery. This was suggested to me via the Beer on my Shirt… Facebook by my old friend Matt. Matt and I grew up together in the rural expanses outside of Easton, practically neighbors, brought together by a common love of baseball cards, comic books, flammable household chemicals, and Faith No More. As adults it turned out that we both loved Weyerbacher brews: Matt and the Merry Monks, me and the Double Simcoe IPA. So Wife and I met Matt there on a boiling summer Saturday for a tour of the brewery and many free tastes of their many beers.

Highlights from the brewery:

The tour was nice and short: basically walking past a couple tanks, a bottling line, and couple of more tanks. About 15 minutes total with all the pertinent info about their beer making process. Seeing the actual tanks that some of my favorite beers are made in was a nice experience and the vibe of the place was fun. Even though Weyerbacher is still a relatively small brewer in the craft beer world, it is hard to put into words the feeling associated with the idea that just 15 or so years ago this guy just made beer at his house and now look at all this. America.

Weyerbacher barrels about 6,800 barrels (31 gallons of beer per barrel) of beer each year, I think. I don’t remember the exact figures, but the guy taking us on the tour (I would say “tour guide” but it doesn’t quite fit the experience) mentioned that Troeg’s has a higher barrelage, and in comparison, Dogfish Head is over 100,000 barrels. I believe I also read that Sam Adams (Boston Brewing Co.) is over the 2 million barrels mark. Considering that Weyerbacher makes so many different beers, I found their barrel number surprisingly low.

And now the beers I sampled:

Verboten 5.9% ABV: This is another favorite of mine from Weyerbacher that I’ve had prior to my trip to the brewery. It’s a Belgian Pale Ale with a mild earthy hop bite and some fruity tastes as well. Very drinkable unless you hate anything with a taste of hops. I highly recommend it. I could drink this all day.

Hops Infusion 6.2% ABV: This is their year round IPA and it is delicious. Made with seven different types of hops, it has nice zesty crispness/bitterness as opposed to just a piney or earthy bitterness that some of the more popular IPA’s have. Very bright tasting and refreshing. I love this.

Juliet 8.5% ABV: From their Brewer Select Series, this is a once and done offering - once their out, it’s gone. The Juliet is considered an Altbier, which is basically an ale/lager hybrid that has characteristics of darker ale but with a lighter body. So it has copper color and some flavors associated with a heavier beer but is surprisingly light in feel. It has some hints, I stress hints, of earthy hop bitterness but with nice caramel tastes and some light fruit hints. Very easy to drink with the flavors associated with something more filling. It was great for the heat of summer and at 8.5% it packed a punch that most beers that go down this easy don’t have. It you see it grab as it probably won’t be around much longer.

Imperial Pumpkin Ale 8.0% ABV: This is a seasonal offering available around August every year. I do not like the taste of pumpkin. I don’t like the smell of pumpkin. I’ve never had pumpkin pie. I like to carve pumpkins and that’s about as far as I’ll go. Therefore, I did not like this.

QUAD 11.8%: Quad has won some major awards as it is the first Quadrupel style beer brewed commercially in the US. The Merry Monks is a Tripel and has a lot going on, so it follows that a quadrupel has even more complexity. Weyerbacher says that this is best enjoyed after it has aged for 12 months. I would be interested to try it after it has been aged. I don’t believe the tastes I had were aged and I know the bottles we brought home barely lasted 12 hours. True to the style this has a lot going on. It has a sweetness that combined with the carbonation reminds me of champagne. Wife loved it. It was a bit much for me wrap my head around but definitely something I would try again.

I may have also tasted the Autumnfest but can’t really remember for sure. Also, I had the Insanity (which I wrote about here) which is the Blithering Idiot aged in bourbon oak barrels. I lost my affinity for anything bourbon or whiskey many years ago so this was not for me. Overall, I would highly recommend that you try any Weyerbacher brew you get your hands on - I’ve only been drinking my way through the world of craft beers for a few months but I’m pretty sure Weyerbacher is something special.

A tape that changed my life.  I dubbed this from Matt when I was in 9th or 10th grade.  I copied over a Steve Vai tape.  This tape still blows my mind.

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