Friday, October 31, 2014

Nurse the Hate: The Halloween Evel Knievel Fiasco

The Halloween parade was to take place later in the afternoon.  There isn’t a much bigger event in the life of a second grader than being part of a parade in which you are dressed in a costume.  I was feeling confident that day as my Evel Knievel costume was sure to impress my fellow classmates.  I was also under the impression that I would probably absorb some of Mr. Knievel’s daredevil attributes just by wearing the outfit.  The idea of being able to step out of my seven year old life of already formed quiet desperation and instead saunter around as an American Folk Hero was very exciting.  The air was practically crackling with energy as we trudged through lessons in the morning.  The clock refused to move.  Afternoon would never come.  The Halloween parade and costume contest would stay in the future forever like some sort of unattainable dream.

As a seven year old, I had limited experience with Halloween.  There were already fading color photos of me as an infant dressed in cutesy outfits like a bear or Winnie the Poo.  I had no memory of these events.  Staring at the pictures of the new parents, me looking confused in a costume and their glowing excitement of “we have a baby!” brought nothing back.  I do have one memory of being three, dressed in a Philadelphia Eagles uniform.  I was in the apartment building we lived I at the time.  I have a feeling of great apprehension as my father is urging me to knock on a neighbor’s door.  When the door opens an enormously tall woman makes a great fuss speaking to me in an unnatural high voice.  Baby talk.  She leans down to place candy in my plastic pumpkin, and then has a conversation with my father in her normal voice as they both stare down at me in an appraising fashion.  I feel uncomfortable, the attention placed on me making me want to run back to the safety of my room.

At seven I am an unsure little kid.  I want to fit in.  I want to be like the other kids.  Some of them are effortlessly popular.  They have a confidence, however misplaced, that everything is going to work out for them.  I’m just a little dork in a store bought Evel Knievel costume.  As I see the other kids begin to change into their costumes for the parade, I note the sheer complexity and creativity in their outfits.  This was the first time I really noticed that I did not have one of those Homeroom Super Moms.  A mom that looked at cupcakes as a blood sport.  While almost every other kid had a mother that had looked upon this costume contest as not only a competition with the other mothers in costume creation, but it was also probably a validation of their value as women.  Meanwhile my mother was probably reading Sartre in the original French and buzzed down to K-Mart for my costume between chapters.  She had no more ability to construct a costume to compete with these as she would have constructing a rocket ship out of plywood. 

This was the first time I realized that costumes did not necessarily come pre-packaged from a retail store.  I thought the limits of a potential costume were those in the "specialty aisle" of the discount store.  What did I know?  I was seven.  I was wearing one of those costumes that came in a box.  It consisted of a plastic mask with rubber band and the strange plastic material jumpsuit with tie in the back.  It was necessary to really embrace the “willing suspension of disbelief” with these outfits.  Why they wouldn’t have made the jumpsuit like Evel’s with the trademark stars and stripes but instead have crudely drawn caricatures of him in action on the front, I have no idea.  As it was probably made by a political prisoner in China that had no idea who Evel Kneivel was in the first place, it is probably hard to be critical. 

The parade line began to be formed by the over excited mothers.  Some tried to edge their kids into more favorable positions in line, to better their chances at the coveted costume contest prize.  I was in way over my head.  I looked stupid.  I was ashamed behind my cheap plastic mask.  They led us down the hall and outside on the sidewalk where we joined the other classes.  We marched in the struggling Fall sun.  Everyone was smiling, filled with nervous energy and the overstimulation at the enormity of the event.  I trudged along wanting it to end more than anything.  We finally returned to our classroom.  Mothers and teachers presented us with cupcakes and cider at our desks.  Kids ran back and forth to their mothers, eagerly showing off.  I got out of my costume.  I sat at my desk alone and ate my cupcake.  I locked eyes with a girl named Phoebe that must have noticed my downturn expression.  She gave me a hopeful little smile.  Knowing that she noticed me made me even more ashamed. 

I sipped my cider and looked down at my sneakers.  

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Nurse the Hate: The Complete Pumpkin Beer Tasting Notes

In the last couple of years I have tasted 45 different pumpkin beers.  That is way too many.  I don't even like pumpkin pie all that much, but since anyone that has even considered brewing beer has released one, I thought it important to provide a rational consumer guide.  These were all tasted next to each other, so it is blatantly unfair to certain beers depending on when/where they fell in the tasting(s).  These are my tasting impressions.  Yours could be completely different.  But, if they are, they are probably wrong.  Totally wrong.

Anderson Valley Fall Hornin-  This was a real sleeper.  Rich integrated spice gives in to a rich mouthfeel.  It has a dark brown color, so the expectation is that it will taste like the kind of brown ale annoying British guys name Percy sip away at while calling you “Yank”.  God help you if you call his beloved football “soccer”… Next thing you know he’s getting all worked up and all you wanted to do was have a beer and figure out how to get back to your hotel.  The good news is that this beer isn’t like that.  It’s the complete opposite.  It’s like if you went to a party at a supermodel’s house like Brooklyn Decker and assumed she would serve something awful like quinoa salad but instead whips out a killer Beef Wellington and a six of this.

Arcadia “Jaw Jacker”-  This is pretty damn good.  I’m not a huge fan of Arcadia generally, but this may be related to the time I was there when some guy that claimed to be a partner at Arcadia tried to sell me on some awful blues song he had written.  It’s not easy to enjoy a beer when the most Caucasian guy you have ever seen is trying to sing clunky blues lyrics acapella pretending he is Blind Willie Chitlin from Mississippi.  Putting that terrible experience aside, this is well balanced with a nutmeg open and almost a whiskey finish. 

Blue Moon Harvest Pumpkin-  As you probably know, Blue Moon is owned by Coors.  Coors is America’s worst macro brewery that tries to sell that Coors Light shit as the “coldest” beer, as if every moron can’t see through the fact that you can make any beer any temperature you want.  “No!  Bartender!  Better put down that Bud Light and give me the Coors Light instead.  That Coors Light is probably much colder and therefore delicious.”  This is like a thin piece of pumpkin pie and not awful.  It’s just not interesting.  If this was a band, it would be Foreigner. 

Brooklyn Brewing “Post Road Pumpkin”-  This just flat out smelled good.  It has really good balance and isn’t heavy.  I got to the end of the glass and I wanted more, and I can’t say that about most of these.  This beer was like being at a Cramps show, they end their set, and you look around thinking, “Damn!  That’s it?  There’s no more?”.   

Buckeye Brewing Pumpkin Dead-  For lack of better terminology, this had a lot of bass notes.  This beer was like going over to a Stoner rock band’s house for Thanksgiving.  They may have some pumpkin pie for you, but it’s served to you with a cigarette butt in it by a guy with missing teeth.  It’s like he’s saying, “Enjoy the beer Fuckface.”. 

Buffalo Bill’s Original Pumpkin Ale-  This claims to be the first pumpkin ale, but that is probably the same thing as the 500 bars that claim to have served the first chicken wing.  Let’s just assume they have been doing it for awhile.  This one is very light and playful, if that makes sense.  One of the few Pumpkin Ales I could imagine having more than one of, it’s got an orange zest flavor that makes it pop.  I could see drinking this and watching those guys in the Flaming Lips do their thing. 

Cambridge Brewing Company The Great Pumpkin Ale-  This is a more restrained style with only 5.4% alcohol.  It's well brewed but I wish there was more carbonation.  I bet those smug fuckers from Cambridge knock these back and think it's The Shit like David Ortiz, Gronk, steamers, and meandering indie rock.  I can see a guy in thick eyeglass frames now.  Why am I so bitter?  I don't know if I have ever been so mad at a pumpkin beer. 

Cisco Brewers Pumple Drumkin-  This doesn’t seem like a pumpkin beer.  It’s almost like they re-labeled something else.  “Hey, we gotta move this pale ale out of the warehouse.  Dump a little nutmeg in there and get your girlfriend to design a cute label.  Let’s ship it out as a pumpkin ale!”  This beer was fine.  It just doesn’t really provide that special holiday beer experience that frankly is the entire point.

Coronado Brewing Punk’in Drublic-  The label is annoyingly hard to read, so maybe the name isn’t right on this.  It doesn’t really matter though because I don’t ever imagine I will buy this again.  It’s like chewing on a candle you found in the attic.  There’s a kind of musty quality to it.  (If you are the brewmaster reading this, I’m really sorry.  Check it out though.  It does taste like an old scented candle.)

Crooked River Erie Nights-  There might be pumpkin in here.  I can’t confirm or deny it.  That is mostly because of the overwhelming cinnamon.  This should be labeled “Cinnamon Juice”, but I do not think that is allowed by law, as I am not aware of anyone that juices a cinnamon fruit or milks the cinnamon out of an animal.  While this beer wasn’t very good, I do think it provides a really good song title for the Red Hot Chili Peppers next single, “Milk My Cinnamon”.

Dogfish Head Punkin- This beer isn’t fucking around.  The cinnamon hits you hard early and then it gives way to a heavy clove taste.  These guys at Dogfish make plenty of heavy flavor beers, so you can’t be surprised at how assertive this tastes.  That clove thing threw me. This is like a wiseass hipster with a beard that smokes clove cigarettes and hates every band except Captain Beefheart and Frank Zappa. He’s sure he’s the bastion of taste and everyone respects him, but at the end of the night goes home to jack off in a sock looking at underwear ads.  What does that makes the beer?  Interesting and a little perverted?  Is that a compliment? 

Erie Brewing Johnny Rails-  This is like Crooked River’s little brother, though it’s actually better than Crooked River as the cinnamon is restrained enough to not be completely overwhelming.  I remember when I was in grade school in Erie, there was this brief period of time when kids were making cinnamon toothpicks.  You were really cool if you were chewing on one of these in Social Studies.  I have to think that one of those kids had a hand in brewing this.  How else can you explain so much fucking cinnamon?

Epic Brewing Imperial Pumpkin Porter-  This is a porter that has a little pumpkin shoved in as an afterthought.  I always think of porters as being drunk by grouchy English sailors.  While I still think the English Old Salt would say something like, “Gimme that beer you fucking nancy cunt!” it would be in somewhat endearing fashion unlike if he figured out that a pumpkin got shoved in there.  I think he’d get pissed about that.  I think he'd yell at you in a lot of slang you wouldn't understand, and you would feel like less of a man because you tried to dainty up his porter with pumpkin.  This is a beer that fat guys with beards at microbrew events pretend to love because it is almost undrinkable.

Fat Head Spooky Tooth-  This is well balanced and flavorful like everything that Fat Heads does.  Please note that it has 9% alcohol so it will kick the fuck out of you.  This seems like something that would be stocked at a Halloween party, and you don’t even notice how smooth they are as you knock them back while wearing a Batman costume.  Then you wake up the next morning in a camper with your pubic area covered by glitter and there is a video camera set up on a tripod pointed at the bed.  As you wonder what happened and whom the couple in the genie costumes are passed out next to you, you notice all the empty bottles of the Fat Heads lying around everywhere.

Harpoon Imperial Pumpkin Ale-  My notes said “tastes like a pile of leaves”.  It has a crippling 10.5% alcohol, and I clearly didn’t like it.  I noted “I imagine having my teeth pulled out by a bonfire by a man with pliers and leather pants.  There are fat guys with beards laughing when I start crying.  It’s cold.  Very cold.  I can’t get away.  A Hawkwind album is playing off speed from a parked car in the distance.”.  Although it’s good to know a drinking experience like this is out there, I don’t know when the next time is that I will want to have it.

Heavy Seas “The Great Pumpkin”- This thing is heavy duty.  It’s almost liquor.  When I drink this, I think of showing up uninvited at a biker party where they smash a giant jack-o-lantern over my head. The last thing I hear before the concussion leaves me unconscious is distorted Black Oak Arkansas coming from an old boom box. 

Hoppin Frog Double Pumpkin- This is very polite.  There is an unripe pumpkin quality to it and the spices are restrained.  It’s OK but a little disappointing.  I really like Hoppin Frog’s beers, so I expected more. It’s like when you got a copy of Reverend Horton Heat’s “Liquor In The Front" and thought it was going to be like “Full On Gospel Sounds” but instead it was “Liquor In The Front”. 

Ithaca Country Pumpkin- Ithaca has lots and lots and lots of hippies. Hippies do a couple of things pretty well.  They are good at making pot pipes out of found objects and good at making beer.  I don’t know what the hell happened in this case.  The flavor profile is OK, but there’s too little carbonation.  “Dude!  I think the air is getting out of the bottle!”  This is Pumpkin Stroh’s.  Maybe the guys that make it aren’t hippies.  Maybe they used to sell office equipment.   

Kentucky Pumpkin Barrel Ale-  When I was 16 a few of my friends had the really good idea to steal liquor from their parents.  Nobody wanted to get caught, so the tactic was to take a little bit of everything and pour it into the same 16 oz 7-Up plastic bottle.  This horrific concoction was named “Lizard Spit” and was most noteworthy for the dominant scent of whatever cheap bourbon had been part of the brew.  That is what I thought about with the weird blend of pumpkin pie spice and bourbon mixed with the malt.  I think the word for that particular blend of beer and bourbon is “regret”.  This is the smiling guy with the gapped teeth who gets you to take a few tugs off a bottle of mystery bourbon and then convinces you that one little hit of LSD won’t be a big deal…

Long Trail Brewing Company Pumpkin Ale-  I picture a bunch of dudes in flannel shirts at this brewery saying, “I am so tired of making this dull lager.  Let’s make a boring pumpkin beer and then go watch CSI Miami and make Jiffy Pop”.  I’ll bet that is considered fun in Vermont.  When it came here to my table, it wasn’t so fun. Immediately forgettable.   

Magic Hat Wilhelm Scream-  Everyone around the table remarked about how “subtle” this was, which I think was code for “bland”.  You know when you go out to eat at a restaurant for senior citizens and no matter what the entrée is it still tastes like everything else?  For example, I have been trying to get proof for years that Bob Evans actually serves the exact same stuff molded into different shapes dependant on the order.  It’s just this vat of “protein matter” which is scooped out onto the plate.  It’s like Play-Do that you eat.  This would be the beer equivalent.  It’s not bad per se, but there isn’t much to get excited about.  It’s certainly not as exciting as the screaming pumpkin on the label. 

New Belgium Pumkick-  This is really pumpkin pie-ish but not nearly as rich as several other examples.  With a reasonable alcohol content, this would be a good beer to serve at a Halloween party.  It is very well balanced.  It sort of reminded me of that couple you see that walks into a restaurant with perfect hair and outfits.  You know that their home is absolutely spotless and tastefully decorated.  They might not be the most fun people you ever met, but would be amazing neighbors. I’d drink this again.

New Holland Ichabod-  This beer was swampy.  Lots of cinnamon and not enough ginger/nutmeg flavors for my taste.  I bet there was a bunch of dudes with beards standing around brew tanks and everyone pussed out when the head brew master said “What do you think?”. Hey man…  You remember how Steve flipped out last year when I said the IPA wasn’t hoppy enough?  I’m not saying shit about this…  We’ll be making the Xmas Ale in a month.  I’m keeping my mouth shut until then. 

Red Hook Out Of Your Gourd Pumpkin Porter-  This is a lighter version of Southern Tier’s Warlock.  On first thought, the combination of coffee flavors with pumpkin spice doesn’t sound like a good idea. It really works though.  It’s like some kind of doom beer with a silver lining like if you saw Black Sabbath play out in 1974 and they closed the set with “Sabbath Bloody Sabbath” and then kicked into “The Pina Colada Song” while all grinning from ear to ear.  

Rivertown Pumpkin-  There is a ton of molasses in this flavor profile, which made it unique amongst these beers.  When I taste molasses, I think “old timey” like Jerry Garcia playing in a jug band. Unfortunately when I drank this I also wrote in my notes “…there’s so much molasses, it’s like you ate out someone’s grandma…”.  I don’t think the brewery is likely to put that quote on their website, but it’s honest.  Well, it’s the first thing I thought of anyway. 

RJ Rockers Gruntled Pumpkin Ale-  This is a lighter version of the Fat Head.  It’s OK, but it needs more pumpkin.  It needs more everything.  It tastes like something Coors would brew.  This tastes like it was brewed by committee.  I would imagine that if Sears made a seasonal pumpkin beer, it would taste like this.  The brewer is from South of the Macon Dixon line, where it appears it is almost impossible to brew great beer.  Why is it that for an area to create good beer, it also has to have lousy weather?  It's the band/beer connection.  Seattle/Portland/Michigan all have wet crappy weather and good bands.  I'm not sure how Denver fits in...   

Rogue Farms Pumpkin Patch Ale-  I had my doubts on this as it comes in a giant orange bottle trumpeting how organic it is.  I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but usually the more “organic” something is, the shittier it tastes. Girls in peasant skirts and Birkenstocks are not normally noted for their culinary skills, you know what I mean?  They can do yoga and are usually pretty good at crafts.  They can’t cook though.  However, this is outstanding.  Pumpkin, nutmeg, and cinnamon on the finish in a deep amber color announce this as a “Big Boy” beer.  I’m a huge fan of this.  This beer is the “American Beauty” of pumpkin beers.

Sam Adams Harvest Pumpkin Ale-  This is like a prototype of a “pumpkin ale”.  It’s balanced, spicy and has well integrated pumpkin flavor.  It just doesn’t really go all the way.  This is for people that like black labs, Bruce Springsteen, and consider the Camaro to be the pinnacle of a sports car.  That is not to say that these things do not have some value on their own, but once you know better, it’s hard to be satisfied with this.

Sam Adams Fat Jack-  Sam Adams gets wild and brews some crazy shit because they can.  This is one of those beers.  They drop 28 pounds of pumpkins into the brew kettle for this.  It sounds like a good idea.  I just wish it tasted better.  It’s like a reduced sauce version of Harvest Pumpkin Ale that you need to drink out of a snifter.  I kind of hated it.  I know it seems like bullshit to call out Sam Adams for not taking chances on their other beer, and then say, “you took chances with this and I hate it” but I’m doing it.  If this were a band it would be like Soundgarden.  It is really bombastic and when you look a little closer you notice there is no real substance.

Saranac Pumpkin Ale-  This is another big hippie brand.  If you go to Western NY, the folks love their Saranac.  I think this is because Saranac got into the micro/craft beer game really early.  The problem is their beer just can’t hang with the Big Boys.  This is OK.  It has the spicy autumn feel, but I didn’t get very excited.  I went to see Phish one time.  People were very excited.  I couldn’t figure it out.  I left after their first set.  No one seemed to mind.  Like Phish, Saranac will do fine without me.  

Schlafly Pumpkin Ale-  I bought this in Indiana where they guy at the beverage store was all jacked up about this brewery.  He was also jacked up about the Cleveland Browns, so I took his opinion with a grain of salt.  However, I have a newfound respect for that poorly dressed gentleman with the copious amount of ear hair.  This beer is terrific.  This tastes like Thanksgiving.  It reminds me of when I saw The Blasters play.  It immediately raised the bar on the whole damn thing. 

Shipyard Pumpkin Ale-  This is pretty light on the stereotypical flavors.  It’s more like pumpkin zest ale instead of pumpkin ale.  I had pretty high expectations for this and was disappointed.  Imagine you went to a rock show on a Friday night and hoped Jack White was going to blow your head off, and instead Bon Iver shuffled out.

Shipyard Smashed Pumpkin-  And then I tried this…  This is smooth, tough, and assured.  All the flavors are amped up, and the alcohol content is too.  You knock back a couple of these, you’ll probably end up in a wheelchair.  The Shipyard Pumpkin Ale is Iggy Pop on his “Blah Blah Blah” album and this is The Stooges “Fun House”.  Blah Blah Blah is OK, but why listen to that when you have Fun House? 

Smuttynose Pumpkin Ale-  I looked at my notes and uncomfortably noticed I had written “…really herbal musky like a hippie chick’s two day old panties.  I can imagine gagging pulling them down while her Siamese cat looked on impassively”.  I would like to take a moment to say that I have never had that experience, and it takes quite a flavor for that to be projected into my mind.  This was not my favorite beer of the evening. 

Southern Tier Pumking-  This is a warm friendly hug.  It’s a big piece of pumpkin pie with a scoop of vanilla ice cream on top.  It’s dessert in a glass, and it’s really good.  When I was 17 and interested in tricking cheerleaders out of their sweaters, this would have been a very effective tool.  “Yes my dear… drink deeply.  This elixir is just like candy.  Pay no attention to the 8.6% alcohol content.  Yessss.  Yessssss…. Now step into this van.”  You know, who am I kidding?  We had Bartles & James wine coolers and that didn’t help me either. Chloroform wouldn’t have even helped.  I just had to outgrow that awkward stage, and with luck 2013 is the year I do just that!        

Southern Tier Warlock-  Wow.  Like a pumpkin coffee with cream and caramel.  I don’t think I could drink two of these, but one is just fine.  It’s 8.6% alcohol, so it is important to stay in your shoes with this.  It’s one of the most unique and interesting beers I have had in a really long time.  This is one of those “once is fine, twice is too much” like if you spent a night with Lady Gaga in a hotel room or went camping with the Hell’s Angels.  That is an experience that once would be pretty memorable.  The second time would just leave you kind of shell shocked and looking for answers.

Thirsty Dog Pumpkin Ale-  Upon first sip I'm thinking, "Well aren't those pumpkin pie spice flavors delightful", but then they completely disappear.  I was at a party when I was really young and a girl that clearly didn't know what I was all about rubbed my crotch through my jeans.  Her friends got an idea of what was going on, got her the hell out of there, and I was left there with my tiny wiener screaming "Hey!  What happened?  Get back to that!".  That's what this beer is like.

Tommyknocker Small Batch Pumpkin-  This beer has a really weird finish like how your hands smell if you have been rolling change for a half an hour.  I don’t think the “touch of spice” listed on the label was engineered to provide that experience to the drinker.  This is a beer that if you had it served to you at the brewery, you would have to be polite and smile and say things like “this is interesting” or “what a unique flavor profile” before deftly pouring it out into a plant.

Troeg's Master of Pumpkins-  Packaged in a 375 ml bottle with a fancy pants cork, this screams out "we're proud of this!".  It is really deep with pumpkin pie crust, nutmeg, creme brulee crust, and clove dominating.  This is less of a beer than an after dinner drink poured in snifters.  I can imagine a roomful of conservative men making insensitive racial and sexual comments while knocking these back.  

Unita Brewing Company Punk’n- Let’s get this out of the way.  Unita has absolutely awesome graphic art.  Their design work is as good as it gets.  It’s just a damn shame the beer isn’t as good.  I mean, it’s OK but completely forgettable.  This beer reminds me of when I came home with Black Flag’s “Loose Nut” record.  It looked so fucking cool, and then I put it on the turntable and thought, “This sounds like Black Flag, but why do I want to get “Slip It In” or “Damaged” out and not listen to this again?”  This is the beer version of “Loose Nut”.  It’s pretty good, but why drink “Loose Nut” when you can have “Damaged”, right?

Weyerbacher Imperial Pumpkin-  This has a reddish color with plenty of dark flavors.  It’s just not very reminiscent of autumn or pumpkins. I had just had the super sweet Pumking from Southern Tier, and this style is so dramatically different it probably didn’t show as well as it normally would have.  I did get this image of a goateed goth guy in a creepy leather outfit picking his teeth with a long pinkie fingernail asking me detailed questions about where I lived.  Every time I would try to change the subject, he just pressed on wanting to know about what kind of locks I had, a security system, and so on.  I knew he would be waiting to hurt me one night, and like a bad dream I couldn't get away.  Is it possible for pumpkin ale to be evil?

Whole Hog Pumpkin Ale-  This is very rich pumpkin pie with a nice kick of nutmeg.  I could see watching a Little House on the Prairie marathon with the sound off with the Byrd’s “Live At The Fillmore” blasting out of my speakers while drinking this.  That might sound terrible to you, but just wait until you try it.  It will be like the first time you watched The Wizard of Oz with Dark Side of the Moon on. How’s your mind now?  Blown?

Woodchuck Pumpkin Cider-  I cannot stress how terrible this is.  I knew I would regret buying this the second I did it.  This is sort of like a sweet tart that has been dissolved into a melted Popsicle.  The odd thing about it is the whiff of bile on the nose that rises from the glass like a bad omen.  It's almost as if it is telling you that you will be barfing with authority in hours after drinking this.  The only use of this product I can see would be for high school senior football players to use as heavy artillery in their efforts to finger their younger girlfriends at house parties and back seats of vans.  I studied the bottle and thought I saw the brew master’s name was Mengele, but I might have been mistaken.  I was reeling from the initial taste.  

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Thursday, October 23, 2014

Nurse the Hate: French Revenge

I had been walking around the French town of Selestat looking for a safe bathroom.  One of the real areas of tradecraft in being a traveling musician is the ability to find a private and clean toilet.  Most clubs bathrooms, even in Europe, can be fearful.  On this particular occasion I knew I would need some privacy as my meal from the previous evening was made up of things like strange blood sausages, horrific German red wine, and sauerkraut.  There is no good end to that particular combination.  As this was France, I would probably need a permit for what I was about to do, and certainly I would not have the proper documents necessary to get processed in time for the event that had announced itself with increasing authority.

One of the things that baffle me more and more as I travel is the condition of toilets.  I think each one of us has a story much more horrible than any wartime atrocity involving a public bathroom.  Finding a bathroom in unusable condition is certainly not a once-in-a-lifetime phenomenon.  We have all been there.  I like to think that most people I am friendly with (except Leo of course) are incapable of doing the things I have seen in men’s rooms across this planet.  How exactly does one get fecal matter on walls?  Is it a lack of technique?  Is there a legion of men out there that get into a stall and just don’t know the most efficient way of handling their business in there?  “Oh Christ!  Wait!  You sit on that with your pants down?  I thought that was some sort of sink!”

It is hard to get in the mindset of someone that walks into a common use space, destroys it, and then comfortably walks away.  Let’s get past the idea that some people are beyond redemption, and exist exclusively on a “fuck everyone else” basis.  There is no question these people exist.  Still, I can’t imagine how they get themselves in the position to defecate on floors/walls, leave soiled TP everywhere, and then don’t think to themselves “You know, one day I might be the next one in a stall like this.  I can’t do this.  I just can’t.”  Yet, they do…  Then the rest of us are forced to live a life of caution and fear while looking for a men’s room.

So here I was, walking in this small French village in cowboy boots, jeans, and a baseball hat before a show.  I couldn’t be more American unless I was in an Uncle Sam outfit while on stilts holding sparklers.  The last thing I was going to do was walk into an empty restaurant, go all the way to the men’s room in the back, and then leave without purchase.  I care about the rest of you.  You think I want you to run into an angry French dude whose only experience with Americans was a guy that exploded out blood sausage and sauerkraut and left without even buying a Pernod?  Those folks forgot all about D-Day.  They have moved on.  International relations are tricky.  This was a delicate matter.

I walked around the town like a Toilet Goldilocks.  Finally I found a public building that was open for some sort of crafts fair.  This is absolutely ideal for those novice travelers out there.  Public buildings like this get very little use, but have cleanliness guidelines mandated by the State.  The only thing better is an empty church.  I walked across the wooden floors looking at the unmanned trade show booths, making no eye contact with the two people in the room.  Bang!  I spot a staircase that must lead to the toilets.  Bingo!  I walk inside and it is as clean as I would have hoped with three pristine stalls.  The only issue is an academic looking French dude in wire rimmed glasses that is washing his hands.  He gets one look at me in my Uncle Scratch t-shirt and sniffs with disapproval.  “Wow!  They actually do that!”, I thought to myself.

So I close myself into one of the stalls and get down to business, a wave of relief cascading over me.  I am not going to sugar coat this.  It was bad.  Very bad.  Suddenly, the door closes as the French guy leaves and the lights go out.  What a dick!  I am now in total darkness as this French dude decided to make some kind of statement and shut me in the dark.  It was then “The Miracle of Selestat” occurred, and I realized that the Uncle Scratch t-shirt I was wearing was glow –in-the-dark, providing more than enough light to finish what I had started in peace. 

The only reason I bring up this horrible topic at all was today I went into a public bathroom after a heroic amount of iced green tea.  I was minding my own business at the urinal when in walks this guy speaking rapid fire French into a cellphone, wrapping up his call as the door shut.  He shut himself into the stall, a series of noises announcing that he would be embarking on some sort of project.  I washed my hands and hit the automatic dryer.  That’s when I spotted the light switch by the door handle.

The argument could be made that this was some sort of cosmic opportunity to get revenge on the people of France.  I had been in the exact right moment at the exact right time to allow this cosmic balancing of the scales.  Of course, it did pop into my head that he could have been French-Canadian, and why drag the people of Quebec into this whole mess?  What did the Canadians have to do with the Blackout of Selestat?  My gut tells me he was French though.  It was that fucked up sport jacket and swarthy beard that put it up and over.  I considered carefully.  It crossed my mind that maybe this was some sort of test, as in “could I be the better man”?  If I flipped the switch, would I be answering for this in some sort of afterlife tribunal?  “Look, I have already explained my actions at that 1987 Halloween party.  I also will stand by following my heart on that matter on the East Coast years ago.  Why do we have to even discuss a simple light switch incident in 2014?  That was so long ago!  Certainly as a Saint, I would expect you, Peter, to have more pressing matters…”

In the end I decided to leave the light as it was, that just knowing I could have had my terrible revenge was enough.  However, if I ever find myself in Selestat again and hustle into that trade association men’s room, all bets are off.       

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Nurse the Hate: NFL Week 7, 2014

I was on quite a roll there with the NFL.  Oh, I had all the answers.  But those days are over.  I am back to floundering out there in the wilderness like all the other lost souls.  It happened so quickly.  One moment I was laughing it up at a Belgian Beer event in a stupid elf cap watching winners fall to me like fluttering leaves.  Then, just a week later I find myself nursing a sore jaw from a dental procedure, hobbling around in a walking boot with Achilles tendonitis, and with the definite scent of “loser” all over me.  I am like one of those guys you see at a casino checking for change in the slot machines.  Unshaven.  Smelling of stale cigarette smoke.  Sipping the last inch of draft beer from a plastic cup.  Eyes darting around looking for a wounded animal to pounce on and get back in The Game.

I think I have found that wounded animal.  As I gaze upon the shady casino of life, I notice a drunken tourist with a handful of chips weaving across the hideous carpet.  His goal is the hard plastic bench by the men’s room where he hopes to clear his head and rest, but where he will pass out.  The chips will fall from his relaxed hand to be gathered by the first cheetah to wander by the plain.  Yes, there is a time to prosper from others misfortune, and this week’s misfortune will fall on the San Diego Chargers.

The Kansas City Chiefs are coming in this week after a bye.  This is not really that noteworthy to the players as they probably spent the off week driving around Kansas City noting how Caucasian and dull the inhabitants of Kansas City are and wishing they played for a team in a more cosmopolitan part of the country.  Something you don’t hear much in NFL locker rooms:  “I can’t wait for the bye week so we can go party in Kansas City.”.  The only reason I bring up this bye week is that KC coach Andy Reid is 13-2 after a bye week.  If given an extra week to prepare, that hefty fella will figure out a way to win.  What the hell else is he going to do?  He's in Kansas City with a week off.  In all candor, I think I went with this logic last year when he was 13-1 after a bye and lost my ass, but I’m going to the well again.  I’m taking Kansas City +3.5 over San Diego.

A way to beat a losing streak would not appear to be betting against Peyton Manning and the Broncos at home, but that’s what I am doing.  I haven’t checked the stats too closely, but I am under the impression that the Broncos haven’t ever lost at home.  Ever.  I think there were a couple fuzzy years when Brian Griese was the QB there, but that might have been some horrible memory implanted into me when I had that oral surgery.  I looked on the world wide interwebs, and I wasn’t able to find any photos of this.  I am going with my memory alone which tells me that the Broncos were unbeatable at home with John Elway, who then handed the keys to the franchise to Peyton Manning, who will then hand it over to a now groomed Andrew Luck in some sort of ceremony where dudes in robes are chanting and a virgin is sacrificed at a pot dispensary near the stadium. 

I will not let this 47-year Denver home winning streak deter me.  I am on San Francisco +7.  Since 2011 the 49ers have the best road record in the NFL.  True, they get to beat the crap out of generally lousy Arizona and St. Louis every year, but they must have beaten a good team now and again, right?  Right?  These guys are 11-2 ATS on the road in their last 13.  I think it has something to do with how insane Harbaugh gets and the team is driven so crazy they take it out on their opponents, but that’s just a theory.  San Francisco +7 in what is clearly a big mistake.  

To prove what a loser I have become, I am considering not only taking Miami +3 at Chicago, but maybe on the money line.  Sure, they broke my heart last week with that push they gave up to Green Bay at the bitter end.  Yes, I cannot identify more than two players on the team even after watching a full half of their game last week.  This is another one of those games where I am betting AGAINST Chicago more so than betting WITH Miami.  Chicago is 1-10-1 at home against the spread, the worst mark in the NFL.  This is because Vegas knows damn well that the hordes of dumb fuck Bears fans love betting on their team, especially at home.  After a week of sports talk chatter about how Jay Cutler is really a good QB and how he is “maturing”, they will all have their hearts broken when Cutler has a backbreaking turnover late in the 4th quarter.  Cutler is 11-27 as a home favorite in his career, and someone told me he was the QB in Denver at one time (another fact that I cannot prove as this would clearly suggest that the Broncos 47 year home winning streak I pointed to earlier was totally fabricated).  By Wednesday the poor residents of Chicago will convince themselves that all is well with the Bears, and the process will repeat itself.  Oh, one more thing…  Two thirds of the public is on Chicago…  Miami +3.

Season record:  10-7-1

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Nurse the Hate: Hate Ebola

I am not sure if you have heard anything about this Ebola thing.  The American media is in complete Fear Machine mode right now, stoking images of bodies stacked like cord wood with smoking piles of corpses in government sanctioned “purification pits” on the edge of town.  All great news stories in this century are about creating fear, and this one is a doozy.  Just when you think that Isis is coming to your house to behead you, now you discover that some crazy ass African monkey virus will get you first. 

I really want to rest easily and think, “Oh, those smart scientists and doctors will take care of this.” and then I can get down to the business of gambling on football and listening to my Sturgill Simpson records.  However, I will be damned if the Fear Machine hasn’t gotten me too. The Fear Machine likes to focus on “a horrible death while bleeding out of your anus and eyes… What it means to YOUR WEEKEND… Coming up after the break!”.  However, it’s the between the lines things that get me.  When you wash away the concept that everyone that works in a hospital is a caring, job focused, intelligent problem solver is when things get scary.

I have spent my fair share of time in area hospitals while caring for senior citizens and checking in with friends.  The one thing that I have taken away is that hospitals are very much like every place I have ever worked.  If you look around your place of employment I will guarantee you that a mere 20% of the people employed there know what they are doing and are blessed with common sense.  You cannot tell me that a hospital is any different.  There are some real “lowest common denominator” individuals mixed in with the actual caregivers.  I’m not trying to be an asshole here.  I’m being brutally honest.  I think we can agree that not everyone that ends up in medical support roles does so out of virtue.  There are an unhealthy number of people in those roles that I know that got there after partying their way through high school, their early twenties, and realized that they might want to make more than minimum wage.  “I was gonna be a hair stylist, but then Judy told me that she is making like really good money as a (fill in name of tech position here).  We’re going to totally get an apartment together too.  OMG!  Where did you get those ear rings?”

That’s who is handling key elements of that blood test of yours or that MRI.  Rest easy. 

So, let me get this right…  A guy shows up at a Dallas hospital.  He tells them he feels really shitty and he just got back from Liberia.  Meanwhile, every respected news source on the planet has been saying non-stop “if you see anyone from Liberia that is even remotely sick, they probably have Ebola, and that is really, really, really bad.”.  The Dallas hospital, despite all of the worldwide panic, says “Hey man.  You probably have the flu.  You should go home.  Call us if you get really sick.”  I like to think this was a group decision based on his insurance status, or maybe someone blindly following policy despite this situation screaming out “SPECIAL CIRCUMSTANCES!!!”. 

The man returns in an ambulance, so I think it is safe to say that he is really fucked up by this point.  They hastily set up care; expose a bunch of people in the process, and then one of the nurses comes up sick.  At this point one of her co-workers thinks to herself, “Wow, that is a drag that my co-worker got Ebola from that fucked up African guy we were both caring for together.  Maybe our protection wasn’t up to par.  Hmm…  I don’t feel very good.  Maybe I should quarantine myself like they said we should do in training.  Ha, fuck that!  I need to get on a commercial airliner so I can go plan my wedding.  I mean, what’s more important?  Stopping the spread of a potential epidemic that could kill millions, or choosing the DJ for my wedding?  When does my flight leave?  Cough!”

Only a young woman planning a wedding could be so self involved as to not care about anything else.  Personally I am trying to “friend her” on The Facebook so I can get updates like “Just shit myself.  I need to clean up before the caterer gets here with the wedding cake samples!  68 days until I marry my best friend!” or “This blood coming from my ears is the exact shade of the bridesmaids shoes!  Lol!  66 days until The Big Day!”.   It is really all about her special day.

What’s the chance of her coughing on someone with the sheer amount of space Frontier Airlines provides in coach? I mean, there must be a good two and a half inches between seats.  The good news is that Frontier Airlines cleaned up the plane after the bride-to-be infected a bunch of sad sack passengers.  If there is one thing you can be sure of, it’s that the airline clean up crew was 100% trained and outfitted properly.  Have you ever been aware of an airlines service person to cut corners?  Who wouldn’t be excited to have hopped on that plane on the next flight, which of course went to yet another city to help spread this disease around the country.  Once again, I would like to stress that from all reports, the bride-to-be did come to a decision on either chicken or beef for her reception entrée, so not all was lost.  It’s a fair trade.

I’m also not exactly filled with confidence with the CDC.  Maybe it is because they are scientists and are being forced to talk in sound bytes for TV.  For example, in science they never want to say something is “impossible”.  So when some fella from the CDC that has almost no media experience goes on TV and says “it is a very small chance that the Ebola virus was transmitted on that plane”, he thinks he is saying “Based on extensive research, there’s no way that happened”.  Then the news people react and say, “The CDC would not rule out that the Ebola virus has been delivered via air to most major US cities.”  When the CDC guys comes on to refute those charges, he then inevitably lets something else slip along the lines of “we don’t really know for sure” that fills the air with more uncertainty.

I don’t know how this thing will shake out.  I know for sure I am not going to eat any raw monkey meat or allow any bats to shit on me.  I am also not going to that Dallas hospital for any treatment if I start feeling sick.  I just hope I can hold on until that girl’s wedding.  If I can wedge myself in her life via The Facebook, I’m going to the reception.  Oh, and I’m getting the chicken.

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Nurse the Hate: 2014 NFL Week 6

I have always disliked Florida, Miami in particular.  I have a theory that just like a carton of orange juice, the sediment in the United States all comes to rest at the bottom, in this case Miami.  Every two bit hustler and con artist in this country eventually ends up in Miami after having to flee whatever place where they committed their crimes.  The entire city reminds me of a terrible nightclub.  The food is always lousy.  The music is horrible.  At any moment somebody is preparing to rip you off.  It is this probably unfounded feeling I have for the city that makes it difficult to bet on the Miami Dolphins.

I had been under the impression that Miami had shut down their football team as I cannot recall actually seeing a Dolphins game since the late 1980s.  I did some research and discovered that they still have a team down there, and it is coached by soon-to-be-fired Joe Philbin.  This does not really fill me with confidence when taking Miami+3 over Green Bay.  Joe Philbin would probably be a good fit as a high school coach in Minnesota where he would spend a lot of time talking about "doing things the right way" and "our culture".  This is not a good fit with a group of savages that play the most violent game on the planet for money.  I think the Dolphins have a receiver on the injury list for an "optical sprain" from rolling his eyes too much while listening to Philbin.  I am going to forget all that and note that Miami has covered 7 of the last 8 as a home underdog.  On top of that, today it's going to be 85 degrees with 70% humidity where Green Bay rolls in for a nice toasty 1p kickoff.  Those Green Bay guys were carving pumpkins and raking leaves.  Now they have to play football in a steam room.  Miami +3.

I am taking San Diego -7.5 against Oakland today.  The key factor in this game is that Oakland is really fucking horrible.  There isn't any other way to delicately say it.  The Raiders have lost ten in a row.  They don't do anything well.  Whenever I see a Raiders game I always feel like they are totally disorganized, like they just threw the team together a half hour before kickoff.  "Dude, can I be quarterback?  It's my ball, so I should be quarterback."  Meanwhile San Diego is 10-1 in their last last 11 against the spread.  The Chargers are very quietly playing very good football, and I will be stunned if they don't destroy Oakland.  Show me your Thunderbolt!  

Against my better judgement, I am going to take the Giants +3 today.  I know in the back of my mind that they are due to come back to earth after winning their last three.  I know this.  There will be some awful highlight clips of Eli Manning looking sheepish after throwing a pick 6 running non-stop on ESPN Monday morning.  However, they have covered 13 of their last 16 as underdogs.  Meanwhile Philadelphia is terrible at home where they have only covered 8 of their last 31 as favorites.  I am sort of tiring of the "Chip Kelly is smarter than everyone else" story line, so that will at least make me feel good as I place this doomed wager.  Giants +3.

Season Record:  10-5

Friday, October 10, 2014

Nurse the Hate: Hate The Guilt

Guilt is a difficult emotion.  It is a consistent tug on your sleeve.  It is the muscle tension in your neck.  It is like a gloomy Monday morning.  A Catholic upbringing practically guarantees a lifetime of guilt and regret.  From my earliest years I had drilled into me from authority figures that if I found pleasure or joy in something, I must immediately become more pious to avoid an inevitable tumble into eternal damnation.  That’s a lot to drop onto a kid with a bad haircut and dirty shoes.  “You mean if I pick out all the marshmallows in that box of Lucky Charms, I am going to have a red hot wire coat hanger shoved up my penis hole by a scary looking demon forever?  Well, that seems a bit extreme, but you’re the Nun so you must know…”

There was no greater guilt than avoiding responsibility.  This is what is troubling me now.  I am feeling a crippling guilt that I have abandoned someone in need.  Making matters worse, there is no logical reason to feel this way.  Even as I prepare to type out this confession, I recognize the complete foolishness in my feelings.  Yet, I cannot ignore the emotion.  It is there.  I am hoping to unburden myself to you, the reader, and gain some sort of release from this shackle of guilt.  Let me begin…

A number of weeks ago Leo told the rest of us he was going to buy an old MG.  He found it like he finds almost all major purchases, he stumbled into a shoddy homemade sign as he drove down the street.  While most of America enters into a car purchase with careful consideration and lengthy information searches on the web, Leo drove by and decided “I will buy that.” Much as you or I would buy a bag of chips.  It is why the wild flapping arm inflatable is such a devastatingly effective marketing tool against Leo.  “Hey Lee!  Look over here!  It’s me, your friend here to tell you about a great cell phone deal!  Don’t read the contract!  Just sign the contract!  Only $68 a month FOREVER!!!”   The wild wacky flapping arm man will never steer you wrong Leo…

We were all skeptical at this car purchase decision.  Leo has a long and very well documented history of not taking care of anything he owns.  I could tell you the sad tale of the previous MG, towed away in disgrace one weekend afternoon a few years back.  There was the final doomed voyage of his shitty boat, the S.S. Snickers, which was finally left to rot away in his driveway as the seasons changed.  He owned a broken motorcycle that may have never run, even when fresh off the factory assembly line.  There was “the People’s Porsche” that did not run, and then finally sold for pennies on the dollar to a stranger on the phone.  When the buyer arrived, he opened the hood, wiggled a few wires, and drove off in the car that had not run for Leo past the day he purchased it.  In summation, there is no doubt on the final end of any recreation vehicle that enters Leo’s Doomed Driveway.

Of course, he bought the MG in a complicated transaction that involves him putting in a floor in the seller’s house and probably some other tasks to which he has only a basic understanding.  “Leo?  Are you sure there are supposed to be sparks coming out of the hot water tank?”  Translation?  It was his kind of deal.  We arrived for practice one night and he proudly proclaimed his ownership of the MG.  I think it’s from the late 60s, a rare hard top.  It really is an interesting car.  It is in decent shape, but needs some cosmetic work along the lines of some trim, work on a quarter panel, etc.  We all did that move that guys do while looking at a car by standing back at it and leaning our heads back as if that angle would allow greater perspective.  While not breaking eye contact from the car, Gary asked, “Does it run?”.  Leo was quick to reply, “Dude!  It totally runs!  All I need is a new battery and..” 

Leo appears to be oblivious to the fact that for a car “to run”, it would signify that the owner would hop into the vehicle, turn the key, and roar off down the road confidently.  A car that “runs” does not require to be determined number of visits to an auto parts store prior to driving down the highway.  But let’s leave that alone for a moment.  I cannot explain why, but I felt protective of that car, like it was a person.  I think it was because my earliest memories of cars as a child were of being beaten down by the wind as a passenger in my father’s MG Sprite.  To give insight on how much has changed in our litigation fueled fear dominated America, I must have been 3 or 4 with no car seat in sight whipping down the highway wedged into whatever area is available behind the seats of that car.  The 1970s were a Golden Age.  No car seat, yet here I stand to tell the tale.

I circled the MG.  I thought to myself, “This poor thing has spent 40+ years proudly doing its work.  How unfair to befall a fate like this… A long slow deterioration sitting exposed to the elements in this driveway.  These little fixes could be made.  This car could be stored under a tarp, and then allowed to spread its wings on days of glorious sunshine.  It needs care.  It needs a watchful eye.”  I felt a sense of alarm at what I knew would happen to this proud car.  Despite whatever empty promises made by Leo to “get that part” or “fix the side”, I knew nothing would happen.  It was like rolling a patient into hospice and cutting off their hydration, allowing them to die slowly as onlookers noted the unavoidable cruel end.

As I walked down the driveway, I said to Leo “You can’t leave it out like this.  It will rot out from underneath.  You are at least putting it into the garage right?”  Oh yeah… yeah…  His garage, currently filled with abandoned home repair projects and scraps from various jobs, would need to be organized.  I knew it would never happen.  Ever.  Like the rolled up carpet from our practice space, it would remain in stasis for the forseeable future.  I turned to look back at the car once again, worried for it.  I felt like I was leaving a six year old child alone at Bonnaroo. 

It is ridiculous to project these types of feelings on an automobile.  I recognize that in reality it is no different than throwing away a can of tuna or a lamp.  It is a thing.  He could have just as easily stacked aluminum siding in his driveway (which would also be as effective in transporting him as that car ever will be).  I don’t know if it is some unresolved feelings I have somehow tied into my father or my childhood.  If I leave that car to die in Leo’s driveway, is it if I have left my childhood to die?  Is it like leaving my infirmed father out in the rain?  Is this the guilt?  How can I allow myself to be free of the responsibility of the death of that car?

Now two months later, the car sits untouched.  The garage door is closed, no movement of the various garbage inside the potential car storage area.  Winter is approaching, in more ways than one.  I think I need to recognize that when that car was sent off to Leo’s house, it was already marked for death.  When the previous owner made that deal, the die had been cast.  He was the one that sent the MG to the dungeon.  The best I can do is hope it dies a quick death, sold off for scrap for a soon-to-be-broken drill or erratic washing machine. 

When I go over to practice, I can’t even look in the driveway.  I stare straight ahead to the porch, festooned with an old entertainment center with a handwritten “For Sale” sign, weeds growing around the foundation of the home.  The key is to get inside quickly, avoiding glancing down the length of the house and see the fading paint of the MG.  Just think of something else.  Anything else.