A week or so ago I encountered a woman here in my little town (in the parking lot of the Wal-Mart, to be exact) who informed me that she was a life-long teetotaler, and gosh-darn proud of it. Nothing good, she claimed—absolutely nothing—had ever or would ever come of booze. She was an elderly woman, sporting the pinched-up expression of the professional Baptist.
Responding to her dopey assertion would have taken more energy than I had, and besides that, the odds that she would have listened to one word of what I had to say were about the same as James Dobson grand marshalling a LAMBDA parade, so I simply walked away. But for the rest of the afternoon Miss Pinchy’s words clung to my mind—just like the foam rings in a glass of properly poured Guinness—until they eventually called up a memory…
Middle of last summer was a bleak time in the life of your friendly neighborhood Wine God. I’m not going to get specific. Suffice it to say that the sky above my head was darkened by the Great Cloaca, and She was a-gushin’.
I used to collect beer cans (that’s not a non sequitur; just roll with me). Started when I was 9 and living in Milwaukee. When I ceased serious acquisition maybe fifteen years ago, I had near to 1,800 different cans from all over the world. Some of them were worth over a hundred bucks a piece. I didn’t want to, but seeing as I was forcibly rooted in the flood plain of the Great Cloaca, it had become clear that I had no other recourse but to sell my collection.
Now, in the can-collecting world (a small and pot-bellied, yet genial, subset of society) a beer can is worth more coin if it is full. However, since I was going to entertain bids from far and wide, I felt I needed to empty my full cans, if only to facilitate less costly shipping. However, a third of my collection—something like 700 cans—were still sloshing with twenty- to thirty-five-year-old beer, and decanting the stuff was a task I looked forward to with approximately the same level of enthusiasm as tongue bathing Margaret Thatcher.
But I felt I had to be done. And so, at about four o’clock one sunny afternoon last June, I dragged the old door I use as a work table into the back yard, laid it across a couple of saw horses, and commenced hauling boxes of beer cans from the storage shed, arranging the full ones on the door. When it was covered with standing cans I went back to the garage and retrieved a smallish phillips-head screwdriver and a two-pound sledge hammer. (Another thing about maintaining the highest value of a collectable can is this: if you must empty it don’t pop its top. Instead, punch a pair of small holes in its bottom and drain the contents that way. Now you know. Try to contain yourself.) I flipped a can upside down, positioned the screwdriver near the edge of its concave base and raised the sledge.
I paused before striking, however, wondering what would happen when twelve to fourteen ounces of stale thirty-year-old beer was suddenly reintroduced to the world. The cans hadn’t been shaken, I knew, which was a plus, and they had been designed to be airtight, but still. A whole wallop of additional fermentation must’ve taken place over the years, which would have caused a heightening in internal pressure. Upon puncturing the can’s metal hide, would I be rewarded with a sloppy spray or but a lackluster foosh? Well, the only way of discovering the answer was to do the deed. And so I did.
And got my answer. It came in the form of a dark brown, yeast-scented geyser; a geriatric suds slurry; an Old Milwaukee Faithful of beer from yesteryear.
The stuff went up my nose. It went in my eyes. It squirted all over my shirt, and clots of foamy gunk clung to my hair like a spider’s egg sacks. And since you need two holes for the fluid to drain effectively, I whacked a second one in the can. This time the beer came out, not in a splash, but in a thick, arterial gush. It didn’t violate my face, either. Instead it ran off the table and soaked my sneakers, right on through to my socks.
Well, I thought, squelching in my shoes and spluttering stale beer off my tongue. This is gonna suck more ass than a porn star.
As it turned out, though, it didn’t.
It didn’t at all.
For three hours I kept knocking holes in cans, and the beer rain kept falling. Before long I was standing almost ankle deep in a frothy puddle. My hair was pasted to my head, and I was soaked through to the skin. As the sun dropped lower, its light angling across my yard, each new fountain of beer created a little rainbow in the air around me. My dogs, Sadie and Sam, who had been completely perplexed by my actions (all that noisy whacking), slowly warmed to the situation, until they were dancing and yipping around beneath the now flooded and dripping table trying to score a few rounds for themselves. All three of us were laughing—Canis lupis familiaris and Homo sapiens sapiens sharing an intoxicated and totally sober giggle. And the wetter I got, and the more I laughed, the more my mood lightened. All the hateful, tedious shit that had been assaulting my person and my world was washed away; my soul scrubbed free of fear and worry in a baptism of beer.
As it finally grew too dark to continue working, I wiped my face, smoothed back my hair, and looked upon what I had wrought.
A good hundred beer cans lay atop the door-table, their contents dribbling onto the sodden grass, and at least two hundred more stood like cylindrical metal soldiers all about the yard. Sam and Sadie were positively marinated in beer, but seemed no more or less tipsy than they ordinarily do, seeing as they are of the border collie and terrier persuasions, respectively. I was thoroughly saturated, quite tired, and I smelled like bread, but…
But I felt better than I had in months. Glorious, in fact. The Great Cloaca was still loitering about up there, of course, but I felt ready to take Her best shitty shot.
Beer had once again worked its singular magic and I hadn’t taken even a single sip.
So…that’s the story I wish I would’ve told Miss Pinchy. Would she have listened? Would she have seen that booze is good, even when taken externally? Would my tale have cracked through her rigid Baptist shell? I seriously doubt it, but here’s the thing:
Her life is hers, and mine is mine. And mine is better.