Unbitter Moments [Theoretically Thursday w/ Wes Hull]

Tonight was a whiskey night, but the only thing I found drinkable at the store was Bell’s Amber Ale. Now I know what you’re saying, but I don’t care about the authenticity of my beer: I don’t care if it’s designed for hipsters and furthermore, I don’t care if anyone here reading this actually likes it or not. Beer to me comes under two or three varieties: shitty, okay, and awesome/special. Most of what I drink is “okay,” meaning I drink it and it’s good enough for me to buy it again at a later date, but mostly, I avoid the two extremes. If I were a solar system, “Okay” would be my habitable zone. It all boils down to what you liked when you first drank a beer. The first beer I ever had was a stolen Bud Ice from the basement fridge at my Dad’s. I think they left me alone for a weekend in a brief period of trust/acknowledgement I wasn’t a moron. I remember being told not to have a party, by the two people who knew so little about me. I had like four friends in four schools and we never hung out outside school. In any case, they were close with my neighbors so, justified or not, I was constantly paranoid that my parents had spies everywhere assuring them of my every movement.

All that led to me spending most of the weekend in blessed quiet without my brother tugging my pant leg to play with him and without sneaking past my slumbering dad, parked in front of the television. I was spending a lot of time on the computer anyway–most of the night was spent trolling message boards for entertaining websites, pictures of naked girls I’d never meet and/or trying desperately to figure out how to meet a girl not unlike them and get her to touch my penis. But one night in the two night stint of solitude, I remember drinking my first beer and immediately convincing myself I was drunk. I may have even had two, and remember thinking “This is it? This sucks.” There was a certain fascination with it, however. My family is loaded with alcoholics and drinking that beer seemed equally wrong and dangerous, as if I was mountain biking on a cliffside trail thousands of feet above sea level. Was this how I would become a raging, liquor-addled mess? Was this how I destroyed my life peice-by-piece as so many stories and rumors had fortold? Was this my slippery slope, the moment when twenty years from now I’d be recounting in circles of strangers, the moment when I knew I was doomed forever?

In reality, I ended up having a continued fascination with alcohol in the “will-it-won’t-it destroy my life” kind of way. I rarely drank until I got older. I couldn’t get it in high school, beyond the normal dribs-and-drabs. By the time I moved out of my parents house, I had plenty of drinking friends and we drank all kinds of beer. It wasn’t really about the beer (it never was, the beer is a social lubricant for me, though that’s hard to say at 1am while drinking and writing alone in my kitchen). I would buy steaks from work and come home to three friends and a case of [insert beer brand here], light the grill and wait, sucking fermented hop-water out of bottles and bullshitting around our picnic table, bitching about our respective jobs, departments, or bosses, waiting for the ash to creep its way across the surface of the coals and then cooking rare steaks and maybe, if I felt like it, some steamed broccoli. We used charcoal because one night the gas grill broke while we were using it, and the nozzle that attached itself to the rusted-out pilot started spewing gas/flame like a flamethrower. I remember being somewhat intoxicated and pretending I knew just what to do (close the gas valve at the tank immediately) while my roommates looked on in wonderment or ran for the door inside. I remember thinking what would happen if I was wrong (the flame could follow the gas into the inside of the tank, explode, and render most of my person very dead), but only after I had solved the issue. I remember the cold sweat I got as I sat down and tried to remember if we had any charcoal to finish the steaks.

On other nights, I would get home and be alone with nothing but a frozen Stouffers skillet-meal and a six-pack and sit outside on my porch, slowly drinking my way through the beers with my feet propped up on the rail, reading a book and watching (on Sundays) the Latino family across the street have a picnic. They played music throughout the day, but it always got louder towards dinnertime, as if they had to hear it over their chewing. They always had too much food, and I always wanted to go over there, just call them from the gate and ask if I could join them–I could bring a few cervezas and they could feed me some of that chicken and orange rice with chicken in it, maybe some beef strips from some unidentifiable cow muscle region and yet doubly delicious with mystery made by some elderly woman with grey hair, vermillion cheeks and fierce eyes who I could have a stilted, broken-English conversation with. She would be friendlier than her grandson, who would see me as an interloper, but less shy than her daughter who would be beautiful but still in high school. Eventually the awkwardness would become too much and I’d leave, having finished my own beer and eventually through “forced hospitality” made to drink several of their Tecates (which really aren’t bad with a lime shoved down inside the can, as much as I hated it when I was younger). It would be dark by then, and they’d have kept their music at a loud level, and I would enter to my roommates bitching about our neighbors who “blast” their “spanish shit,” “all hours of the night” while they sit in the frigid air conditioning watching Scrubs reruns. Not that there’s anything wrong with that, Scrubs is great, but who needs recycled television when it’s 72 degrees and the light is failing into evening by slow increments, elongating shadows and turning the sky into a dark blue reminiscent of above-ground pool water and the bright eyes of a curious, energetic girl?

Although my tenure at that house only lasted a couple of years, it felt more like twelve, because those were my glory days. Other people reminisce about their football days or back in high school when they were top shit, but really, I remember my mid-twenties when I was broke but looking forward to my future, done with High School, almost done with Community College, and looking steadfastly towards my imagined future as a Pulitzer Prize winning novelist. I hated it at the time, but now that I look back at it, those were great days: I drove to work, hated it but kept an eye on the future, should it move quickly and demand a turn of the yoke. I wonder now if all those reminisces of age old stereotypical fame are really just recognitions of when life seemed simple enough, when the goals were as clear as the sun when it sets beyond the horizon and all you had on the schedule for the next day was to recognize that this was your life, one moment at a time, and that there was no one who could hold you back. I think now of those times and it makes me not think of beer, but of warm summer nights when fireflies float up from the lawn and the yellow sodium lights click on one-by-one, shrouding the empty streets in globes of nicotine-colored incandescence, illuminating the occasional neighbor walking his dog and letting him piss on your neighbors oak that has grown so large it’s roots are upending and devouring the sidewalk. Moments in time viewed from your second-story window as you finally turn off your fanlight or from the back deck, the low embers of the grill slowly fading as you smoke cigarette after cigarette and discuss the finer things in life, like the benefits of roller-derby in a modern society. My favorite, though, will always be the moment of absolute, full-on night when it’s too dark to read and all you can do is listen to the cicadas sing their endless cries and the traffic whoosh down route 50, knowing someone else out there is doing the same thing you are, with a different backdrop, with a different beer, with a similar sky, but the same hush of sound that takes their breath away.

This piece, as well as other ramblings by Wes can be found at Bringapencil.blogspot.com