Friday, August 31, 2012

Nurse the Hate: The Beer Incident

I was a thief when I was 16.  There were extenuating circumstances, but when aren’t there?  Has a starving man sinned that has stolen bread for his family?  Hey man, I don’t know.  Let the theologians and philosophers work that one out.  My particular area of expertise was stealing cases of beer from garages of people in our community.  Was it because my friends and I had no money?  No, it was because Pennsylvania’s drinking age was 21 and we all looked about 11.  None of us had an older brother that would reliably play ball, so we all kept an eye out for middle aged men that stored their beer in garages, ideally in garage refrigerators. 

There is some obvious upside to swiping cases of beer.  It’s free.  That’s pretty important to an unemployed 16 year old looking for action.  The other upside was the adventure of walking into a stranger’s garage and clipping them for a case of whatever Dad was drinking.  Looking back, there were plenty of bad things that could happen, but besides of a few half hearted chases, we always got away clean.  Looking back on it, what chance did a 40 year old overweight guy have catching a spry 16 year old overdosed on adrenalin?  We should have been even more confident.

The downside was, of course, you had no control over what you would get.  A case of Schmidt’s Bock isn’t a real good match for four young fellas looking for a smooth drinking beer for a beach bonfire.  But what could you do?  It was better than nothing.  It was during this time period I discovered my body’s aversion to the delights of Stroh’s, “America’s Only Fire Brewed Beer”.  There must have been a lot of adult men drinking Stroh’s at that time.  We wound up with that all the time.  The options were limited on our end.  It wasn’t like I could knock on the door and say, “Mr. Jones?  Could you get Bud next time?  This Stroh’s I’m stealing from you is really giving me the shits.”  You got what you got. 

We quickly discovered a few houses that were reliable sources for us.  One house we hit almost every weekend.  We became so brazen we would drive up to the end of the driveway at dusk; one guy would hop out of the car, jog into the garage and grab the beer out of their refrigerator.  Seriously, every single weekend we would drive over and take their beer.  Yet the next weekend, the beer was always re-stocked and chilled awaiting our arrival.   Utica Club 16 oz bottles.  I maintain to this day, if you got that beer good and cold, it was really tasty.  I have no idea why we never got caught.  Those people had to be thinking, “What happened to the beer?  I swear I bought some…  Well, back to the distributor!” 

Pennsylvania, even now, has this outdated beer sales system.  You can only buy cases of beer from “beer distributors”.  No six packs.  Everything is sold by the case.  These are warehouses with stacks of cases in a totally no frills atmosphere.  It’s not very consumer friendly.  For example, how interested are you in trying a “Dry Hopped Coffee Rye Ale” when you know you are on the hook for 24 of them?  You can get rid of a six of anything.  Wait until it gets late, and pass your bad beer out to the Leo in your life.  They will gladly drink it.  It’s free and wet.  But 23 of them?  That’s a tall order.  These were generally run by grizzled no-nonsense men that had State regulators up their ass every 15 minutes.  The chance of them selling you beer was ZERO. 

The only other option was to find a bar that would ignore you clearly being underage and sell you a six to go.  They would charge you the same as the bar retail price, so a six of Bud would be $12-$15.  That’s big money for sixteen year olds looking for a buzz.  The one beacon was a place called “Haggerty’s: Home of the 12 Pack”.  Haggerty’s would buy cases of domestic beer in cans, straight razor them in half, and sell them to anyone that looked close to 21 or had the balls to show any type of fake ID.  My friend Eric, who looked like a boyish emaciated puppet, bought beer at Haggerty’s with a clearly altered motorcycle learner’s permit.  They cut a pretty wide path at Haggerty’s.  Haggerty’s was about volume, and kept the markup reasonable.  If you sat in the parking lot on a Friday during High School Football season, you could see most of the area degenerate teenagers wheel though between the hours of 6p-8p. 

One day I was approached by one of the jocks in the school, a smug giant named Chet that was a heavyweight wrestling champ and would later go to Princeton where I assume he would continue to be smug.  Chet had heard of our reputation for swiping beer from garages, and was convinced we had stolen his Dad’s beer the previous weekend.  I can tell you with complete sincerity we did not.  We only clipped beer from people that were strangers, and had no interest in creating any kind of incident with a heavyweight state wrestling champ.  Chet did not believe my claims to have had no part in the theft of his father’s beer, and demanded I get him a case of beer by the end of the week. 

This was quite a dilemma.  I was innocent of the charges leveled against me, and had no interest in becoming a punk for the wrestling team.  I told him I didn’t take the beer, and even if I did, I didn’t owe him, I would owe his father.  That’s when he said he would do some unpleasant things to me unless I produced the beer by the weekend.  I said it wasn’t going to happen. 

This led to three tense days at school where there was much speculation about what was going to happen to me.  My options were limited.  I was loosely part of the clique that Chet hung out with, but had the feeling that The Masses would enjoy seeing this giant man hurt me for their enjoyment.  If push came to shove, my only option would be to go limp and hope it ended quickly.  I would have had greater success fighting a bear.  The bear, besides being more likeable, probably had worse balance than this guy. 

I decided to play it cool like it wasn’t even an issue.  This required some acting, but I figured it was my only play.  I stood around the lunch room next to Wrestler Guy like I could care less.  I figured when push came to shove, he was probably more worried about “His Permanent Record” and getting into the right house at Princeton than he was about swatting me around.  This proved to be the right call, with the exception of a road rage incident slightly afterwards when he popped me in the head when he was drunk with some other guys on the wrestling team.  I am still somewhat certain he believes I stole his father’s beer and got away with it.  I am also somewhat certain he identified me as a guy that took shortcuts, got away with things, and would do so for the rest of his life.

That is partially accurate.  I will go on the record and say that I did not steal that beer in question.  However, I will offer to make amends for the dozens of cases of Utica Club we stole from those strangers and buy a case of domestic beer for Chet’s father (if he is still alive).   He can share it with Chet if he’d like.  I still will not buy it directly for Chet.  I will also go on record as saying that after that ugly incident; I retired from this life of crime, moved ahead into identification fraud, and bought my beer at Haggerty’s with an ID claiming I was "Lt. Col. Steven Wilkins".



At September 1, 2012 at 3:01:00 AM EDT , Blogger Hilbert Hooper Aspaspia said...

Bet ya the Boat Club would let you in if you told them that you were Lt. Col. Steve Wilkins (ret)...

At September 1, 2012 at 3:02:00 AM EDT , Blogger Hilbert Hooper Aspaspia said...



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