Fun Mining.

I have a theory when it comes to drink.

I know that through science, the cause and effect is well known.

I know how my suffering liver fights to strain out the toxins of my manhattan and why it rewards me with a splitting crack through my brain the following morning.

“It’s dehydration,” they tell me.
“Drink lots of water before turning in,” they say.
“Take four Advil and the hair of the dog in your black coffee.” No thanks.

I now what a doctor would tell me, and that my theory is wrong…

But I prefer it for its elegant, impractical, foolish simplicity.

Alcohol’s true power is to suck the fun and enjoyment out of tomorrow, to let you have it now.

RIGHT NOW!

All you need is a scotch and soda, tequila and lime, gin and tonic or better. You get two days worth of fun all at once and what a blast it is. Next morning though has been strip mined of pleasure. You awake to an ugly hole and piles of till, rashly left to clutter the landscape of what was once, a new day.

As we move slowly and gingerly through this destruction, we can’t help but think, “This is so wrong. I shall never do this to a new day again. Where are my sunglasses?” We see with hope, the fresh fields of tomorrows stretching far out beyond the edge of the ruin.

And right then, we mean it! At least… until we are far enough over the good, green hills of days yet to come, to have sufficiently forgotten the sight.

“Oh. Neat, please. No cherry.”
“Thanks.”

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A Taste of Maine

“Here honey, try this! It tastes like Maine!”

I watched as the little girl happily took the ice cold, orange wrapped bottle from her smiling, tourist father and took a long swig. Then she stopped, eye’s the size of half dollars. Dad laughed heartily and the little girl looked around desperately for some way to wash the taste from her mouth.

The soda that she had just been tricked into drinking holds a special place in my heart. Few will willingly let it pass their lips and fewer still will admit publicly to loving it. The drink, is Moxie and while I would expect a soda that “Tastes like Maine” to be a combination of pine trees, moose and seaweed, I find it to be quite refreshing. Others, would agree with the little girl.

Moxie is a regional soda and like so many others, it’s beloved by many Mainers, even those who can’t stand the stuff. To describe it, it starts off tasting a bit like root beer but that is quickly overridden with a very bitter finish. It has some, but not much carbonation and is old as the hills.

Back in the 1870’s, Moxie was invented by a Maine doctor who was, at the time, working in Lowell, Massachusetts. In its original form, it was uncarbonated, billed as a curative aide, (though in those days, what wasn’t?) and must have been fairly hard to get down. Of its many healthful claims, in addition to preventing “softening of the brain” as well as the “softening” of other male specific anatomical bits, the good doctor hoped it to be a respectable substitute for alcohol. In an era when most everyone you met was in some degree of drunkenness, the inventor hoped to have come up with a beverage that could be consumed by adults with out being laughed out of the corner watering hole. To some degree, he succeeded. Moxie appeared in some New England bars and was allegedly given to patrons who had already had too much but were demanding more. Whether it slaked their thirst or just put them off liquids for a while is not known. The effect was the same.

Over the next several decades, Moxie’s fame grew and spread, though mostly through costal New England. Ted Williams endorsed it at one time as did Calvin Coolidge. It has also seen advertisement space in the illustrious literary circular, Mad Magazine. With time though, Moxie’s star began to fade. Then, one day, a young New Hampshire boy found it.

When my family traveled to the Maine coast for the summer, I knew that it would mean beaches, sea gulls, lazy days and, of course, Moxie. Kids will naturally try anything providing that it is loaded with sugar and that your parents want you to limit your intake. My Grandmother always made sure that there was a big bottle of Moxie in the fridge and every summer, it took me a while to get used to the taste again. Often, it was the only soda in the house, and since kids seem to need soda to live, I drank Moxie. I even started to like it!

Fast forward a few years and now you have an older, far geekier version of the little boy sitting at the cottage picnic table, eating his hamburger and drinking his medicinal soda. I had moved beyond the things of youth. I was older now and there were more important things to do. For me, that was spending long evenings, sitting around a table with friends, saving the world from evils beyond description using nothing but pencils, bits of paper and dice sporting far more that the usual six sides. It was the early 80’s and I had been eaten whole by Dungeons and Dragons.

The games would run long into the night and required close attention to detail, lest you miss the secret door that lead you to the treasure room or the pit that ends abruptly in ten foot spikes. Artificial stimulant was called for. The soda of choice was usually Coca Cola and it was sucked up by the gallon. I remember watching six packs practically vaporize at these sessions. The problem was that if you had paced your self in your soda consumption, hoping to make the drinks last, inevitably one of the guzzlers would start bugging you for some of your precious supply. I bought a lot of Coke that I never got to drink. Enter, an old friend.

On my way to some weekend D&D game, I stopped in at a corner store for the required survival provisions of chips and soda. With a fresh bag tucked under my arm I reached for the Coke and saw… Moxie! It sat there on the bottom shelf, looking neglected and sad. I immediately left the big red bottle I originally grabbed and swapped it for the orange “Bottle of Bitter Doom!” As expected, after an initial taste from the unfamiliar members of the group, no one ever asked me again for a soda. It was mine, ALL MINE!

Like most adolescents, I drank an indecent quantity of carbonated, corn syrup flavored beverage. I shudder to think what its done to my intestinal track and marvel at the fact that I never developed diabetes. Things have changed and I’ve long since forsworn soda. I just don’t drink it anymore… with one notable exception. During the weekend days at the house, especially if I’m doing loud and manly things with power tools, I need a drink. Beer is out of the question for the industrious hours. It makes me want to sit down and relax. No, if I’m going to get covered in sawdust and scare the hell out of Action Girl with my dubious handling of a Sawsall, then I need something to keep me going. I need Moxie!

I live in Maine now and Moxie is the official beverage of the state. Not a stellar use of our governing time, voting it in, but still, it makes me happy. Short Stack too, has started to appreciate it. Most likely because his dad seems to like it so much, and he always wants a sip.

He’ll take a tentative slurp, make a sour face much like the girl did, but then after shaking it off, comes back for another. I think he’s starting to really like it. I doubt that Action Girl will object too much about his choice in soda, so long as it’s accompanied with the promise that my old Dungeons and Dragons books stay carefully locked away from his sight. I doubt seriously that she could deal with that blow.

*Fsssssssss!* Moxie, anyone?
*Slurp* Ahhhh!

Double Exposure

A few months ago my father sent me a scan of an old and half forgotten photo of his father; my Grandpa. It was taken by my Grandmother while they vacationed in Canada. Yesterday was their 70th anniversary and It’s been along time since I’ve seen my either of them. I was twelve when he died and though memories from that age can be incredibly vivid, they are also extremely selective. There are only a few times that I can recall, with real clarity, time spent with my Grandpa. General memories run along the lines of his voice, his silhouette and his smell.

He had a gruff, raspy voice after a life time of smoking multiple packs of cigarettes a day. I can still hear it echoing around in my head. For some reason, he always called me “Little Rebel”, which I remember being both confused and bemused by. It was made doubly strange by the fact that my entire family came from New Hampshire and that I was a ridiculously good natured, trustworthy kid. But hey, “Little Rebel” it was, and since he was the only one who called me that, thinking about the monicker warms my heart to this day.

This was the man who gave me my first gun. My beloved .22 caliber, single shot Stevens. They were the one who lived too far away to visit easily or frequently and so, through that infrequency, gained a kind of mystique. Plus, as my Father’s Father, that made him all the more impressive to a boy who knew that his Dad could do anything in the world. Grandfathers hold a very special place in the minds of little boys.

There are a few things that stand out in my mind about him. First of all, the cigarettes that eventually killed him. He always had one going and I can’t really picture him with out one screwed into the corner of his mouth. Then, there was the coffee that he always seemed to have a half full mug of. He couldn’t make it through the night with out either. On the few times I spent the weekend with them, I can remember him getting up consistently at two AM and going to the kitchen for a smoke and a coffee. It was something that called him out every night.

When my Dad was kid, his Father started drinking. It got bad. Bad enough for his young, only son to leave home when he was still really just a child and move in with an older sister and brother-in-law, half a country away. My father grew up strong and confident in his own abilities and and moved along in life. Then he got married and I came along, That was something kind of extra special in the extended family. I was the only son of an only son of an only son. The line ended with me… and my father would not take me to his parent’s house. Not until my Grandfather stopped drinking, and you know what? He did.

It took a long time. I only really got to know him when I was somewhere around eight. But I did, and here’s the interesting thing. This man who made my Father’s childhood so awful and so sad at times; this man who had been out of control with drink for so long, I have nothing but tender memories for. When I was with Grandma and Grandpa, I had a wonderful time. He taught me how to shoot, how to identify the different types of steam locomotive and that if you were sharing a house with him over night, you needed to be asleep before he was. Other wise his snoring would keep you up for hours.

I can still see the two of us sitting at the red picnic table in their back yard. The cup of coffee, the open pack of cigarettes, my peanut butter and jelly sandwich and a Coke. We’d spend hours there, shooting at targets that he set up on the hill behind the house and talking. I don’t recall what we talked about, but I’m forever glad we had those conversations. He seemed to enjoy them.

The photo my Dad sent is a classic accidental double exposure. Two exposures on the same film. The effect is a ghost image of a man who I knew in such a different way than my Father did. Rather an interesting allegory for the two ways his son and grandson saw him, I think. On some level I believe that my Grandpa was hoping to make amends with his son by being so good to his grand son. From the perspective I have, I’d say that he achieved it. I proudly named my only son after the Grandfather who was so kind to me. The only son of an only son of an only son of an only son.

Thinking about you today, Grandma and Grandpa.

Valhalla in Salzburg, part III

Now, as I have stated before, I was, repeat WAS a picky eater and though I had a very long “I no eat” list, I was also raised to be polite. I would never have turned away an offer so generously given. Especially since I had already started ingesting it. Besides, it was obvious that it wasn’t going to kill me. After all, the plumber was still alive. I was also, at this point, ¾ in the bag. Something that happens quite infrequently and it no doubt helped with my “Eh. What the hell” attitude.

I took another bite from the pile on my napkin.

*Chew, chew, chew.*

Mountain Man, knowing the normal depth of my pickiness, looked at me quizzically.
“What does it taste like?” he filially added. I pondered this between bites and finally replied, “It’s kind of like… well… It tastes like… boiled, shaved cow’s cheek I guess. Want some?”

With out a moment to consider, he reached over and took a few slices off the stack. I have no doubt in my mind that my friend would eat a live trout if presented to him. The guy is like a garbage disposal. For him, this was nothing. Someone had even killed it first and cut into bite sized pieces.

When my napkin was empty and we could see the bottom of our steins, we decided that rather than going up for a fourth pint, it might be a good idea to get some fresh air. Sloppy “Danke Schone”s were given to our plumber and we staggered off on our merry way. First to the facilities and then out to hopefully walk some of this off.

“Beer as sustenance” had some flaws. The first is the rapid deterioration of the fine motor skills. The second is that once you have made your first stop at the loo, you seem to have to go again and again every few minutes. Aren’t kidneys and livers amazing things? All I can recall for certain about the bathroom was just how amazingly full of white tile it was.

Another problem with “beer as food” is that it shuts down the majority of your higher brain functions and instead gives control over to what apparently is a five year old who lives in your head; lying dormant until the opportunity arises. Both Mountain Man and I were wowed by what was, in all honesty, 4×4 plain white tile. Then we were wowed by a stone wall, then were were wowed by streetlights. What was in that beer?

As we wobbled out in to the night, one of us had a brilliant idea. We should call home to the States! We found a phone boot standing out by its self in the center of a little garden. I was first into the booth and managed to get my pre-paid phone card into the slot.

I don’t recall the actual phone conversation I had with my folks back in New Hampshire. It was probably along the lines of “DIS ISH GREAT! WERE HASHING SCHO MUCH FON!” Though the dialogue of the call is forgotten to time, I have been assured by my parents that I seemed to be having a good time, and that the beer breath was palpable through the telephone connection. Though they didn’t approve of drinking to excess, they have both told me that they were cracking up for a good half hour after that call home.

Mountain Man was next and I remember him taking a nonchalant pose in the booth and talking. And talking. AND TALKING. Good Lord! I started to wonder if we had phoned the UN with some new ideas about a solution the Arab-Israeli problem or something. Then, the Hefeweizen started to call again…

I looked around for some place to deal with the issue but there was nothing. The only thing big enough near to hide behind was the phone booth. Even the shrubs in the garden were about knee high.

A quick aside here about my luck. I know my luck well enough to realize that the second I start to do something naughty, a policeman or nun or a Grandparent will come by and see me doing it. I don’t know if it’s karma or what, but that’s the way my luck runs and to say that it makes me a cautious person is an understatement at times. If this were not the case, I might have been “watering” the azaleas at this point, but I know my luck better than that.

As I started to get more and more urgent messages from my bladder, I watched Mountain Man for any sign of getting off the dang phone. None was forthcoming. After a few more minutes of waiting I finally pulled a wrapper out of my pocket, wrote a note on it and pressed it to the glass of the booth for him to read…

I don’t know who “some of us” were, but I can only assume I was referring to the royal “we”. Or possibly, a royal “Wee”.

After the badly needed “Pinkle Pauser”, my friend informed me of an English language movie house. near by. Without hesitation, we were off! By this point, memory starts to fail me. I can recall sitting in the almost empty theater and that the movie was “Wallace and Grommit in A Close Shave” which alone, is a great little movie and quite funny. After a trip to a beer hall and three liters, it’s difficult to stay in your seat because you’re laughing so hard. Again, it’s the five year old taking control.

I don’t remember anything after the movie. Not getting back to the hostel, not the kids staying there, not the stinky bunk room or even how I managed to get into an upper bunk that was mercifully vacant.

Epilogue.

The next morning was a little… tender. We both were moving slowly and painfully, though to our immense pleasure we found lots and lots of very hot, very black coffee in the cafeteria. The hostel was a pit to be sure, but Mountain Man did come through on one point about it. The breakfast was amazing. You ordered it by country preference.

English= toast, yoghurt, weetabix and baked tomato
German/Austrian= cold meat, bread, butter, fruit
Australian= kangaroo and muesli… or something
American=2 eggs, scrambled, toast, homefries, sausage and bottomless black coffee

It was like heaven. We ate slowly and drank enough coffee to power three city blocks. Most of the day was spent café surfing and admiring the passers by. It was a wonderful way to observe a beautiful place like Salzburg. We ate out at a restraint that night. The beer was great, if no tin smaller quantities and the food wasn’t boiled, though it might have come from a cow.

Our train left early the next morning and I slept quite deeply, my last night at Delta House, Salzburg. While Mountain Man had been getting breakfast that painful next morning, I had slipped out to the front desk… and reserved the private double on the top floor. The experience of bunkhouse had loosed me up a good bit, but I still had standards.

Valhalla in Salzburg, part II

These doors weren’t just big. They looked like they belonged on the front of a castle. A smaller entrance, apparently intended to be used when not mounted on a massive war horse, was set into one of the main doors. With out a pause, Mountain Man reached out and pushed it open. I was really feeling uncomfortable at this point.

“Where are we going?” I hissed. “Wait and see. It’s totally worth it.” was all I could get out of him. Beyond the door was a hall. Not a hall like you see in a normal building, but a hall that matched the doors that shut soundlessly behind us. Double barrel vaulted arches loomed overhead in the darkness and busts of old men set on pedestals gazed disapprovingly at us as we wandered down its length. It was like we had found a back door to a museum. I just knew we’d be arrested soon.

The hallway forked and Mountain Man unhesitatingly led me on. Then down a set of stairs and then… What’s that noise?

Somewhere down the hall, I could just make out what I thought might be a crowd of people. As we finished the flight of steps, we entered a large windowless room. At least I think it was windowless. I can’t say for sure because every inch of wall space was taken up with racks and racks of beer steins. There were two sizes, big and bigger. The center of the room was dominated by an impressive, circular stone fountain. Mountain Man quickly informed me that the smaller of the steins were for the ladies and selected one big enough to make a home out of after you finished your drink, handed it to me and then grabbed his own.

I followed him to the fountain where we gave them a quick rinse in the ice cold water and carried them to a bar that looked like it had been ripped directly out of Dungeons and Dragons. A big, bald man, complete with impressive mustache grabbed our steins and filled them from a hog’s head behind him.

“The secret,” Mountain Man whispered to me as our steins were being filled, “is to immediately stick your thumb as far down into the beer as possible when he hands it to you. Otherwise it’ll overflow. That’s how they spot the tourists.”

I did and instructed and killed most of the head before it could go on an independent expedition down the side of the vessel and across the bar. We paid and stepped through another arched doorway into… Valhalla?

“So this is where all the Norse Gods go to get away from it all”, was all I could think to say. The room before us was enormous, punctuated by huge columns that held up massive stone vaults barely visible above the smoke and darkness. Long communal tables were peopled by all sorts of Salzburgers. There were families, off duty workers, old folks, everyone except tourists. I quickly wondered how I could look as Austrian as possible.

Mountain Man has no problem blending in here. Though he and I grew up in the same town in New Hampshire, he is about as Germanic looking as you can get. Tall, fair skinned, blue eyes, blond hair and possessing the ability to not only speak German, but to speak it so well that German speakers don’t know it’s not his native tongue. They may not think he’s from their area, but he’s so good that they just assume he’s from Frankfurt or something. It doesn’t hurt that his real name is a common one in this part of Europe, either.

I am a different story. I don’t look particularly Germanic, at the time, I didn’t speak hardly any German at all, my name is not one found in this part of the world and to make it worse, pretty much my entire wardrobe came from L.L. Bean. I wasn’t sporting a fanny pack or twenty six pounds of camera equipment but essentially, I screamed “tourist”.

I summoned up my best “I belong here” look and followed my guide to an empty booth on the periphery of the throng and scooted in. Mountain Man smiled, clinked my stein and hoisted. I followed suit and was in heaven.

I love beer. Specifically, I love good beer. Precisely, I love good wheat beer, and this was the best I’d ever had in my young life.

Many years ago, My father did something truly dastardly. I don’t know if it was his plan from the start., but the effect was the same. At some point when I was in high school, my Dad made it known that I could have a beer out of the fridge if I wanted it. The rules were that I could only have one, that I couldn’t give any to friends and that it couldn’t leave the house. The goal was to demystify beer and hopefully keep me from doing some of the usual stupid kid things involving alcohol and parties and it worked for the most part. The evil part was revealed to me only once I went to college. It turned out that what my Father always bought was really good, imported beer. When you are raised on caviar-beer, so to speak, cheese whiz-beer holds little appeal. This was my curse. As a poor student, I saved up for my expensive imported beers, didn’t share with the guys drinking the PBR and tried very hard to make each bottle last as long as possible.

Here, in Salzburg, it was a different story. I was staring down what looked like a ceramic well of fantastic beer and there was plenty more where that came from. The first liter went down eeeeeasy. The second, just as smoothly. The third, I don’t remember so well.

At some point a older man in coveralls wandered over with a stein of his own and a plate piled high with thinly sliced meat. He asked something in German and Mountan Man replied favorably. “He wants to join us.” I was feeling mighty rosy by now and flashed him a big lopsided smile. He grinned and sat opposite us. Mountain Man and the the gentleman made introductions and I was informed that he was a plumber that he had just gotten off work. We shook hands, I did my best “pleased to meet you” pantomime and he nodded approvingly at our drinks.

After a few minutes of me staring hazily into the crowd while Mountain Man and the plumber chattered away, I was shaken from my thoughts by an offered plate. The plumber was smiling at me and making the international “do you want some” gesture with his open palm. The plate of meat looked… safe and the realization that I had roughly three leters of beer in me and nothing else, struck home. Brightening at the concept of something to soak up the Hefeweizen, I happily accepted. He loaded up a napkin and passed it to me.

The meat was… chewy. Not fatty, exactly, but tough. I had another piece. Chew, chew, chew. “What kind of meat is this?” A brief exchange was had between the two German speakers. “Boiled, shaved cow’s cheek”, Mountain Man gleefully replied.

Hmmm. I took another, very long pull from the stein.

Conclusion next.

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