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Why People Drink Beer

Sunday, September 16, 2007

Scenes from a festival: Good pizza (With NOOO PAW PAWS!!) at sundown
Redhead on the shore, taken by a mom who's sitting down and unable to keep the camera straight

Skary gyro lady who looks like she has wrapped your brain in a pita. It says "Hungry for something different?" File under: creepy carny art.

I don't drink beer. More of a wine person. Well, I should qualify that in the interest of total disclosure. When we go to Las Trancas, our favorite Mexican restaurant, with the most delightful waiters on the planet, they now plunk a Negra Modelo down in front of each of us without even asking. And then idly amuse themselves through the time we're there by trying to get me to order a second cerveza. They know I'm a one-beer girl, and by about the third quarter of the first, I'm done. As soon as I've slurped the lime juice off the top and it's something other than ice-cold, I lose interest in beer. Too much volume for the buzz. These same waiters like to torture me by bringing hot boats of chips and fresh salsa and putting the basket right in front of me. They watch me turn my head away and push the damn things down the table to those who can eat them without turning into a human barge, and they laugh and tell me a few chips won't hurt me, why not try some? As the kids are vacuuming up the last fragments and I'm sighing in relief that I haven't caved, they swoop out with another boat of hot chips, and pester me as to why I'm not eating them. At this point I moan and put my head in my hands. Bring the food already and stop with the chips. You're killing me. Knowing what little I do of the restaurant business, I get the feeling they have a bet going in the back as to whether they can get that nice senora with the bad Spanish to drink a second beer or eat hot fragrant tortilla chips.

So it's Saturday, and I've brought the kids and Baker to this paw paw festival, the perfect kind of festival, because it celebrates a wild fruit endemic to the Appalachians, and that's where we live. There's paw paw curry and paw paw pizza and ice cream and slushies and my dear friend Chef Dave Rudie, who talked me into coming here, is doing a cooking demonstration (here, he's slicing frozen pureed paw paws while Deb makes sure he has the right tongs and enough scallops and plates and butane cans and...)Dave's going to make paw paw lemon curd and paw paw cream sauce and in an orgasmic finale feed everyone a giant honkin' sautéed scallop draped in his velvety paw paw beurre blanc. The festival's less than two hours from home. It's a crystal clear day, the first crisp fall day we've had in what seems like an endless succession of hot, muggy ones. It's maybe 68 degrees in the sun. Sign me up. I've brought the kids and myself here because I know that hanging around the house making sure the bathroom grout is clean (my other pressing agenda for the morning) is bad for me. I need to eat somebody else's cooking, let the kids wander in a safe place that has face-painting by a girl named Echo , to feel Chet building my arms into living pieces of sculpture as he hauls on the lead. I need to talk to some other adults and breathe the cool air and hear some live hillbilly music that won't suddenly include a song that will crush my heart like a beetle. I need to drink a beer.

The Marietta Brewing Company has made some paw paw beer and is selling it for $5 a pint. Paw paw wheat beer. I make sure the kids know where I am, inside a snow-fence enclosure where all us beer drinkers will happily co-exist, maybe, given time, reproduce! in our paw paw beer ghetto. Phoebe leans against me, her coppery hair silky and fragrant in the sun. Chet leaps up onto my lap, spilling a little beer on my groovy new pants. I can see Liam bouncing wildly in an inflatable rubber castle. I take my first gulp of the cold fruity paw paw beer. Wow. That's good. I try to tune out the music, which is too loud, and settle back to look around at everyone else.

I've been talking with a woman maybe half my age who is also here alone with her two children, one still nursing, one barely weaned. We're in the farthest corner of the beer ghetto, trying to get away from the speakers. They are the dearest little girls you could dream up, and she is lovely, newly moved here from northern Ohio into a farmhouse on 90 acres with an outhouse. It's got running water but no bathroom. Oh. I think about the implications of that, with two little babies to care for, and am suddenly thankful to have had shower tile grout to scrub all morning.

She tells me that she's not a beer drinker, either. She's going to have to hang around the festival for a long time to let her single beer (maybe her third this year) wear off, but she wants to make it back home before dark. Like mine, her husband travels for a week or more at a time, and he's gone again, too. And last night she was awakened by a pounding on her front door, in the middle of nowhere, she alone with her two babies. WHO IS IT?? she hollered, in her loudest, fiercest, most manly voice. No answer. More pounding. She couldn't see and wouldn't open the door on a dare. She's got a gun in her hand, had it within three seconds of hearing the pounding. She's firing on all of her terrified cylinders, thinking of her babies, thinking of what she will do. It's a weird world out there. At this point their 9-month old Aussie shepherd x chow puppy is going nuts, barking and barking. She wishes it were a Rottweiler, or that it had more chow in it. The pounding stops, a car crunches the gravel in her driveway as it pulls slowly away, and she never knows who or what it was, or whether the pounder will return tonight. And she's got a week more alone out there with her babies. Good God! I want to take them all home with me. She needs a beer. We both need a beer.

I take another draught and feel the beer beginning to work on me. I look up at the sky, where a puffy white cloud is drifting. A tear forms in the corner of my eye as I contemplate the cloud, changing and spreading against the blue vastness. A turkey vulture drifts across the cloud, always my harbinger of good. It turns its head to look down at us, at me, looking up at it.
And I am filled with the sudden, overwhelming and utterly foreign feeling that everything is going to be all right. I breathe in the cool air and realize that I'm gasping. That I've been looking for this feeling for so long that when it finally comes, unbidden, it hits me with the force of a freight train.

I look across the beer garden, seared with sudden insight, at the people assembled there, all of them drinking, most of them smiling and relaxed. All of them damaged, all of them needing succor. Jesus, I think. No wonder people drink beer.


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