Night Calls

“As I walked, I got to thinkin,’ you ain’t never coming home.” ~ Jeffrey Lynne

I ventured over to the Boo on a flustered misty evening in search of a barrel-aged beverage I’d had a week or so before, but the bartender said she didn’t know what I was talking about since the taps changed constantly. So I enjoyed a coffee stout of some sort and pondered my next move. The whole point of this excursion was what used to be known as a nightcap but because I didn’t find my heart’s desire, I left my options open.

An unknown woman looked directly at me and her two companions and said, “Okay, let’s go.” And then she looked back at me, laughed and said, “Oh, no not you.”

“Why not?” I replied. “Where are we going?” But nothing came of it and I made my way to a cavernous lonely pool hall a few blocks away.

I climbed a barstool as a tall exceedingly mellow, almost too-calm bartender went about his business. “How was your day?” he smoothed. I thought about it for a minute.

“That’s a good question,” I replied. “I’m trying to remember what it was I accomplished.”

He was slow to respond. “Why accomplish anything at all?”

Whoa, I thought. And I suddenly became very comfortable in the space.

“What sort of IPA would you recommend after a coffee stout?” I asked.

He looked up slowly and regarded me with a measure of skepticism. Finally, he said, “The only IPA I would ever consider drinking is the American behind me. It has all the character but very little bitterness.”

Well, now I was skeptical.

“Do you want to try it?” he asked with a thin, wry, knowing smile.

“Sure,” I said. He set down a couple of swigs in flight glasses. One was First Kiss, said to be made with local wildflower honey that promises to leave the palate refreshed. Of that much, I’m certain. The other was likely Ballast Point’s Grapefruit Sculpin, but it’s all since become rather slippery in my mind.

The grapefruity hop flavor won out. It turned out to be a perfect fit. I worked on one for awhile and he returned and asked if I wanted another.

“No, thanks, I’m good.”

“Well, would you like to taste a sour?”

“I’ve only ever enjoyed one sour,” I said. “And getting to it wasn’t much fun.”

“Well, try this,” he said.

It was getting late. I knew I should be going but there were more than 20 taps behind him and, after all, his deep, contented, thoughtful behavior had led to surprising success with the IPA. It smelled a bit of lemon. I took a sip and my mouth moved so cleanly to the tart, fruity citrus of Sour Monkey that I was taken aback.

“That was a very good move!” I said.

He nodded knowingly as if hearing my words but staying deep in his own thoughts.

I realized then, that I was dealing with a French structuralist mixologist; one with near complete understanding of the inherent structural tendencies of the beer mind and the way it sorts, clusters and mediates inputs. He knew that if he paid close enough attention to me and my reactions, perhaps even reading microexpressions, he could lead me to the next beverage.

He was about to suggest another taste but was called away for a smoke break. And it’s a good thing because I was beginning to feel rather Kerouacian about it all, and who knows where that might have ended.

And then, just as I got up to go, an odd circumstance occurred. It might not sound remarkable to you, but it affected me very profoundly at the time. I saw on the row of taps, the very thing I could not remember but had set out to find in the first place.

Three Sheeps Cuvee Blend.

Probing Questions

These HMO ads make me ill. They are trying to compete for business based on how much they claim to care. I don’t need to be sold on that. I’ve never had an experience where I felt a healthcare professional didn’t seem to care. I’m not saying it doesn’t happen, but when it does, I bet it’s more about someone having a bad day.
At any rate, I have to get a colonoscopy soon and while I truly hope to be handled with care, whether or not these fine, hard-working, underpaid, underappreciated, unsung heroes actually give a shit about my life or feelings is not likely going to make or break that day.
If I am to choose between providers, I’d rather it be between one whose facility looks like a spaceship and the staff dress like aliens, and another made up as a congressional hearing room and everyone wears a suit. But to my knowledge, that’s not even a choice!
Why, exactly, is healthcare so expensive?

Working Blue

Today, I overheard a snide remark from an overloud conversation in the coffee shop. The person staring out the window was presumably on a phone, although I could see no device and cannot be certain there was anyone on the other end. At any rate, the thing that popped out was said with great certainty and derision. ‘Men don’t get ‘blue balls!’

And it shocked me.

I pulled back from my reading, shook my head and looked over. Mind you, this was a complete stranger. But I had a powerful urge to insert myself and warn all parties involved about the truth of this very real, dangerous and corrupting condition.

It’s important not to get lost in a debate about blood flow and whether or not the testicles actually turn “blue.” The word is a poor choice in describing the affliction. The fact is: the brain chemistry of the male, around or about the penultimate, is undeniably in an altered state. He is far beyond inarticulate. He cannot string words and barely registers information. He must not drive or operate heavy equipment and by law should wear an odd hat so that all others can avoid him. His brain lives in a supercritical state flashing between gelatinous goo and some sort of boiling gas. How long it persists is anyone’s guess but mix it with alcohol or other stimulants and you have on your hands a veritable shit train of tragedy, despair and perversion. The roads leading to and from “Gentleman’s Clubs” are perilous at any hour but after midnight one would have better odds of safe travel crawling through a gater-infested sewer.

Consider also, that not all Valentine’s Day celebrations end well, no matter how thoughtfully prepared. Angry, distraught and thoroughly distracted individuals are on the roads. The New Year’s crowd is far more predictable.

Even the eponymous saint of this day orders food delivered tonight.

Hazzard Pay

These old houses don’t give up anything easily. Demolition is a grueling sport and not for the faint of heart. Doing it for any length of time without getting hurt requires a Zen-like emotional intelligence that not many have and perhaps even fewer understand. One must overcome fear, summon anger, remain calm. There are times to forgive and forget and attack and retreat. And though this sounds like a war, it cannot be thought of as such because you are, after all, not just trying to destroy, but build something beautiful.

A 13-amp sawzall with a 12-inch blade is a formidable weapon and something of a magic wand. It is a good and sometimes best friend that you rely upon but don’t invite to dinner parties because you’re afraid it will offend someone, get drunk and start cutting off heads.

Wielding one in an old house is fraught with peril. The smallest surprise could end in a lost finger or severed artery. Even when used with care, there are so many thick fat nails per square inch that sparks fly constantly in a Black Sunday cloud of picobit debris. One worries the cloud could ignite, explode and spread the whole house into neighbor’s nostrils for blocks on end.

The dust is, after all, the biggest danger. Without a strict protocol, tiny bits coat the throat and end up in the lungs. The nose is clogged with a dangerous living goo that ultimately falls to the shower drain in the  common farmer blow. Routine exposure to this kind of attack requires modern tools and breathing apparatus.

At any rate, at the end of the day, my throat itches in an odd manner and the only thing that seems to clear it is a well-focused, hoppy beverage.
It has become a welcome remedy, and I do believe it is deductible; for it is now what has become healthcare in America for those without access to opioids.

I Blame it on the Weather

Everything is a bit thick; the cold, the fog, the rhetoric. The temperature swings are extreme. It’s more or less familiar to those who grew up in this climate, there’s just more of it. More of everything, everywhere, all the time. Newcomers who have not yet acclimated will be somewhat out of sorts as they go about their day. Acclimation takes time. It’s a very individual thing. And even when the general shock of this variable weather wears off, one still has to go about the ugly business of making peace with it. Not everyone can do it. They put in a few years and then head for more temperate locales. It explains why Austin exploded and bustles but this place takes frequent naps. But, this city is growing. I recently moved into a new high-rise apartment building and there’s a  great mix of people.

But people are people, and the weather weighs on everyone, whether they acknowledge it or not, and then add in our doomed planet, the general decay of society and the knowledge that only three people froze to death so far this year, and perhaps it lends context to the exhausting and troubling confrontations one is bound to witness.

For example: A 50-pound weight dropped eight inches to the bottom of a cabled lifting rack will communicate vibration and noise through a concrete slab to every apartment on the floor below. It will, of course, be worse for the tenant directly below the weight room. Even if it registers only as a dull thump, it could easily drive a person crazy, especially if one’s unit is posh on an upper floor. So after a few months, a sign went up asking tenants not to lift weights between 8 p.m. and 8 a.m. I don’t know when it went up, and certainly have been guilty of breaking the new rule or suggestion or whatever it is. Information is everywhere. People have ear buds in, and televisions on, and phones to manage. The last thing anyone does anymore is look at the black and white Helvetica Neue attached to the wall. So if it happened to be a bit past eight when the young man was lifting, I certainly understand.

But I also understand that he is young and a young man working out has an inordinate amount of testosterone coursing through his veins. No matter how many degrees he has or accomplishments attained, when he is working out, he is stupid. He could be an accountant but he will still have trouble keeping track of his sets. Factor in the motivation he summoned to drag his ass into the weight room at that hour, and you have on your hands a rather delicate brain chemistry that most likely does not want to be interrupted and certainly does not want to be wrong.

Enter the seething tenant; a well-to-do baby boomer with too much time on her hands. Like many here, she’s moved from a private home in a quiet suburb into a concrete structure where people are stacked upon each other. She is very much a fish out of water, so every inadequacy she encounters takes on great urgency and battling them has become a full-time job.

Regardless of how intelligent or successful either person may be, this was going to be a low-information debate. It naturally decayed quickly and then it just got ugly. Questions of race, age, wealth, politics, education and Trump were hurled back and forth like chimpanzees debating with feces on the set of Fox News.

I continued to pedal and read through it all, trying to block it out and sweat. She left in a cloud of anger. He went back to pulling on things in exasperation, and I reached my finish line, wiped down my machine, retreated and locked myself in my apartment.

But there was nothing for it. I should have known not to check my email. No good can come of it after 9 p.m.. The light from the screen messes with your circadian rhythm and is a factor in why people can’t sleep. There are cameras in the weight room. I was a witness. Could I provide the long-suffering building manager with an honest recap of the altercation? It was understandable if I could not.

I could not.