Saint Brewski

When Nicholas of Myra showed up at the inn, he knew there was trouble afoot. The proprietor was acting shifty and Saint Nicholas, man of many, many talents, got him to confess to the murder of three children. We assume he was at least a bit surprised when the owner also admitted to butchering and pickling the children in brine. Maybe more surprised that he was planning on selling them as ham. Because that seems like an unusual thing to do.

Saint Nicholas brought the children back to life and probably unpickled and reassembled them. For this feat, he was (later) awarded the unlikely duo of patronages for children and brewers. Brewers. There’s not a clear reason for this, but one plausible explanation holds that since later paintings depicted Saint Nick standing above a barrel and some naked children, people leapt to brewer and children more naturally than rebuilder and reanimator of pickled ham children.

For an organization whose relationship with alcohol is requiring those who use it to kneel and repent, the Catholic Church sure has a lot of saints dedicated to beer. Saint Augustine is a patron saint of brewing, awarded due to hours of dedicated taste testing. Saint Wenceslas is the patron saint of Czech brewers and bad Christmas songs. Saint Brigid brought beer to the lepers, which is nice because if a group of people in 450 AD Ireland needed a beer it was the lepers. Saints Florian, Benedict, and Boniface are all linked to brewing. But Arnold is the name to have if you want to be a saint associated with beer. Saint Arnold of Metz was the 5th century originator of the motto [paraphrase] “save water, drink beer.” Or more accurately [paraphrase] “if you don’t want to shit yourself to death from typhoid, drink beer and not that green water that smells like a cow’s rectum.” Saint Arnou of Oudenaarde and Saint Arnold of Soissons are both said to have pulled off a “fish and loaves” miracle, but with beer. Saint Nicholas is not only one of many patrons of brewers, he’s fully outclassed by the other canonized booze mascots.

Still, Saint Nicholas’s life has nuggets of 40 proof potential. He was a bit of a brawler, knocking out a heretic called Arius. Facial reconstruction and 3D technology show evidence that his nose had been broken and reset a number of times. So Old Saint Nick evidently saw some havoc. According to patristics professor Michael Foley, Saint Nicholas is the most patronaged saint behind Mary. Considering she had a baby with God that’s not bad company. Although he doesn’t really justify the brewer patronage, his other patronages are sort of alcohol adjacent. He is the patron saint of unmarried people, pawnbrokers, coopers, sailors, and prostitutes. Add the broken nose and fist fighting heretics and you’ve got a Hammered History Saint.

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I Have the Sneaking Suspicion that My Dog is Seeing Other People

I walk the dog in the afternoon. She is excited. She understands habits and sequences and knows that when I put on pants and grab a few blueberries from the fridge that she is going outside. She has been at the front door wagging her tail since the sweats came off.

Though I grew up with a dog and I love dogs, I am and have for many years identified myself as a Cat Guy. It’s true. And I don’t really know how it happened, but I woke up one day and I was just a Cat Guy. I talked to the cat. I knew things about cats that other people don’t know, so I became a Cat Guy Aficionado. People called me for advice on cats. It’s then I decided to put my shoulder into it. You know, really be the Cat Guy. Go all in. Some people will find it pathetic, sure. You’ll have some twinges while seeing yourself parodied in movies, but oh well. And so I have cat mugs, a cat shirt, cat implements to remove hair. My students know all about my cat. I understand that they find this sadly charming, like it’s kind of charming, but at the same time I’m not on any “if the zombies come, who do you want in your crew” lists. I get it. It’s fine. I am a Cat Guy.

But now we have a dog. “Dogs are fine,” I always said. “I love dogs,” I always said. But I’m a Cat Guy. But now, of course, I am also a Dog Guy. Oh, I’m not that Dog Guy. I’m not going camping or hunting with my dog. I see other Dog Guys out there running or hiking with their dogs and I am not one of them. I will not be one of them. I understand what kind of a Dog Guy I am. My shih tzu’s legs are three inches long. When my shih tzu is sleeping among her toys and dolls, it is genuinely hard to tell she is a dog. During play my shih tzu has perfected the tactic of hiding behind the coffee table until things cool down. My shih tzu wears a jacket if it’s too cold. Burke is considering getting our shih tzu booties for walking in the snow and I am frantically googling to find out if this is a thing that people who aren’t Kim Kardashian do. I understand what kind of a Dog Guy I am. I’m a Small Dog Guy.

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Oh Shit Moments in History

Saturday was a lazy day. The weather was the stone wall gray of November, the COVID numbers were in the 20,000s, and it was Cheat Day. I had planned to meet my friend for a night of revelry, but COVID got in the way there, too. His daughter was quarantined and waiting on a test results. Plus, sitting in a bar didn’t exactly fill me with calm.

So no bar and no drinking that night and this was fine with me. It was 5:30 pm. I had just worked out and showered and was dozing in my armchair in front of my TV like a good 82 year old when my phone rang. It was my friend.

“Got the test, it’s negative.”

Though I had settled my mind on a quiet evening of movies and milk and cookies, I agreed to a called audible and a night of revelry. He would come to our flat. The plan: drink many beers, a bottle of Becherovka, whatever whiskey I had in the house, and eat wings.

All those things happened.

Which is why Sunday I lie prone on the couch staring at the ceiling and wishing for some heavily-armed people to come in and kill me. I have things to do, but these tasks are going to be difficult when the dual acts of breathing and not dying are taking up all of my mental acuity. My hangover exists on several levels. I have anxiety, I have heartburn, I have an upset stomach, I have a headache, I can’t focus, I can’t read, I can’t speak without punctuating every three words with “What was I talking about?” It’s rough.

As my tolerance to alcohol has diminished drastically in my forties, I am also now just getting glimpses of myself singing along to Postmodern Jukebox, to what I assume is the massive chagrin of my upstairs neighbor. It’s one of those “Oh shit” moments that tend to come after a  night of drinking your weight in liquor.

And it’s perhaps in this time of strife that I consider my history, for there have been far worse consequences and far worse “oh whit” moments to a night of drinking. Simply having a banger of a hangover isn’t that bad, the singing is worse, but I still possess my limbs and, upon last glance, there are no notes taped to my front door. And it’s in search of that succor that my mind drifts to William of Adelin.

In 1120, William had a binge drink-up that ended about as bad as a day of drinking could when he died in a boat wreck. Not only did he die, but so did about 300 of his drinking buddies, many of whom were his half-siblings. Evidently William’s dad, Henry I, was very fond of impregnating people he wasn’t married to and they could put together three sides of a rugby team. The ship’s captain, Thomas FitzStephen, was also shitfaced. Rowdy and drunk before disembarking, they all not only refused to let priests on board to bless the ship, which just seems like bad luck, but they made fun of the priests, which seems like fun, but just not that bright. The only person to bow out of the trip was Henry’s nephew Stephen of Blois, who had (apparently) a bad case of diarrhea and this also explains his bowing.

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Who Knew?

Last night we watched one of my favorite shows – Seinfeld and I was engaging in one of my favorite activities. That is, looking in the background to find someone who would become famous. Or infamous. In the last episodes we watched, there were two faces that stood out – Bob Odenkirk and Bryan Cranston. They would both be involved in not only one of the best TV shows in history, but one that was in part responsible for TV’s drastic replacement of movies. It’s funny to see them in small roles knowing what they went on to.

Every time we put on an old movie or show, I look in the background to see who’s there. It’s simple Hollywood reality that before people get famous, they’re extras and in bit roles and it’s fun to see them toiling in their early years. In the last three weeks I have seen Rainn Wilson as an extra in Galaxy Quest and who knew he’d go on to be in a paradigm shifting show. Sometimes they’ve developed beyond simple actor. I recently saw Patrick Stewart and Alan Rickman in the 70s miniseries Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy and both would go on to become not only massive actors, but also cultural icons.

Watching News Radio a few weeks ago I couldn’t help considering the trajectory of Joe Rogan, who was at the time simply a comic actor and a comedian (with hair) and who is now a major player in society and culture and who has honest sway with those who have bumper stickers of Calvin peeing. Who’d have known twenty years ago that he’d be discussed by national politicians and a cited resource for how people deal with a pandemic? Probably nobody. More surprising is a character from the movie Two Weeks’ Notice. We watched this romcom of basic pedigree a few weeks ago. It stars Sandra Bullock and, naturally, Hugh Grant. What stood out to me while watching was that the film takes a lighthearted look at protesting capitalist culture, which was a sign of things to come…minus the lightheartedness. It also cameos a guy named Donald Trump, who until then was a punchline with a bad combover and good hotels.

By the time I understood who Ronald Reagan was, in the mid-1980s, I only knew him as the president. My parents of course knew him to be a B actor in goofy comedies and as the Gipper. My parents also did not like him and I never really got why. He was just the handsome guy with the voice everyone at my grade school tried to impersonate. I guess I understand that now, since I really wish Trump had kept his role as bad combover hotel guy. It seems that purveyor of the end of American democracy and the most hated person on the planet is a bit of a stretch. 

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When in Rome, Eat

Arancini compliments of the Trevi Fountain

It’s about noon on Saturday and I’m eating an arancini (rice ball that you’d sell your liver for) in a back alley in Rome’s center. The Trevi Fountain is causing liquid havoc behind us as are the roughly 23,000 people there. Up ahead are the Piazza Navona and the Pantheon. I have been, as are many people, vastly overwhelmed by the history in Rome. It’s not that every shop is historical, for example I’m pretty sure Cicero didn’t have a fridge magnet in the shape of rigatoni. But history is everywhere and that can be hard to wrap your head around.

We got in at about 9 am yesterday and dropped our bags at the hotel. We then instantly went out for a walk, making the Colosseum and the Forum our aim for the day. We set this because we know that once these aims are met, we can begin our more primary (corporate lingo for “actual”) aim of eating food and drinking wine.

But first, the history. Despite all attempts, the Colosseum has grandeur. It’s hidden behind 19,293 people taking selfies (us included) and the Spanish tongue lashing I get for walking down the steps to the Colosseum in between a man and the woman he’s trying to video in slow motion seven feet away on the other side of the steps. I point to the fact (twenty feet away now) that perhaps his placement for his project and the fact that there are roughly 10,000 people trying to walk down that artery is the culprit rather than rude tourists, but he’s already yelling at a group of Russians for the same infraction.

Amid it all – the heaps of tourists, the men dressed as gladiators, the African gents hocking wares and then saying “Africa” to us (we couldn’t really suss out the strategy there) – we can poke through to the history. If you think about it, the Colosseum was not only famously the site of famous gladiator competitions, brutal fights, and slaves and citizens being forced into the most monstrous and awful situations. It’s also where Cicero and Julius Caesar and Marcus Aurelius went to watch these things happen.

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His Rotundity and a Hard Cider

When John Adams became the White House’s first resident on November 1 1800, he was alone. Staff had rushed to get it ready for him and it was replete with his furniture and a hanging portrait of George Washington. The yard, on the other hand, was filled with cannons and mud. There’s no way to know exactly what John Adams was thinking as he took in the house. He may have been damning his move-in luck, as the last time he moved was into the president’s house after George Washington’s servants had boozed hard the night before and left the place a wreck. He may have been planning the Abigail Adams Cannon Mud Garden (tours twice daily). Or he may have been grumbling at the portrait of Washington.    

John Adams’ life of dedicated public service is matched by few other Americans. He was a framer, member of the Continental Congress, and minister to France and the Dutch Republic. He helped draft the Declaration of Independence and negotiate the Treaty of Paris. He was significant enough to the American revolutionary cause that he’d have been hanged by the British had he been captured. He was by almost all accounts a brilliant and dedicated politician, thinker, and statesman. But for all of his intellect, Adams may have had a bit of a George Washington problem.

The American Revolution and its heroes were fresh in the memory of the country. The wartime exploits of men like Ethan Allen and Henry Knox had become legend. America had fallen in love with the battlefield action and heroics of the glorious cause. John Adams and Ben Franklin had undoubtedly helped sway the cause in the meeting rooms of Europe, but tales of a negotiated loan didn’t hold a pub audience in rapt attention in young America. America admired action. America loved heroes. America adored George Washington.

From his looks to his demeanor, George Washington was every bit a military hero. He was tall, broad, and built like a brick outhouse. He was courageous and carried himself like a man whose underwear saluted him before climbing up his legs in the morning. He was the subject of legends and depicted in famous portraits. He was larger than life, an American hero. And then he was elected president. Unanimously. Twice. In the eyes of America, there was simply no alternative.

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On the Road Again

It’s on the tram on Monday morning that I realize I’m having something of a lowkey panic attack. To be fair, I’m not hyperventilating and my heart isn’t racing. It’s more that I am sweating and wishing everyone around me would magically rush off the tram at the next stop.

It occurs to me that it’s because I am doing something for the first time in two years. I am going to work. In pants. Oh, like many, I’ve worked solidly throughout the pandemic. I’ve taught, edited, given workshops, and written coursebooks and magazine articles consistently over the last 19 months. All online. All in loungewear. There is very little traffic between my bed and my computer in the living room twenty feet away. I have to contest with a grumpy cat and a permanently hungry dog, but that’s all.

This is the first time I’ve been on public transport, surrounded by commuters, early in the morning in almost 18 months. And I don’t like it.

OK, I like it a little. I’m out of the house, I’ll see other people today in person. This means I can pat a friend’s shoulder or, theoretically at least, pummel into oblivion a student who refuses to do their homework. My lunch is in my bag, my shoes are tied, I am reading. I feel almost like I’ve been removed from the workforce and this is my first day back, which it sort of is. I decide to enjoy it.

I do. But I don’t. Did you know that when students are sitting in front of you in the same room, they can see when you scratch yourself? They can also hear the aggravated asides you make even if you hit the ‘mute’ button. There’s no escape. There are no breakout rooms. You can’t put students into breakout rooms to talk while you go get a drink of water. And there’s very little chance of a cat walking across the screen and cheering everyone up.

By afternoon, I am exhausted. I’ve only taught two classes, but I’ve been on my feet all day, a thing I’ve only just remembered. I tuck myself in the corner of my office and plan for Tuesday. My colleagues and I chat while I do it. I am taken away from my work by a couple of questions and by the time I get back I have to fully work my way back into what I was doing. I cut my tomatoes and eat my lunch without the benefit of a sitcom I normally watch while eating. And at the end of the day, very tired, I head down the steps towards the tram stop and home.

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A Night in Paris

In the back of the Parisian pharmacist I am struck by how much it looks like the cluttered back of a pharmacist. The somehow gritty beauty of Paris has been left on the street and replaced with stacks of nasal decongestants and a computer. The Parisians and their disaffected cool have been replaced by two guys in white coats.  

One of the guys calls my sister’s name and then jabs a long stick into her nose. I feel as though we are in a movie being worked over by the cronies of some guy he double-crossed. His name would be The Gouche, le Prick, or Ted. Something in me wants to scream out “get your hands off my sister!” as a joke, but as we need these men to administer and relay the results of our COVID tests, I decide that messing with them and then not being able to explain it in their language isn’t my best interests. I keep quiet. When she’s done, he gestures to me. He is well dressed beneath his short white coat. The stick goes up my nose and stays for a time just long enough to feel medical. He tells us we will get an email in 5 minutes.

That damn le Prick.

One of the major benefits to living in Central Europe is the ease with which I can visit another country. Paris is less than a 90 minute flight. My sister has been on a holiday in Provence and will finish out her trip with two days in Paris and I can meet her on Friday afternoon and be back in Prague Sunday morning. I told Burke, “I will get croissants for Sunday breakfast,” which may be the coolest thing I’ve ever been able to say and mean.   

I reaped these benefits as my bus from the airport came into the center. Heading up the streets of Paris’ city center was a treat after two years of lockdown. Walking to the hotel at lunchtime was more so. The people crowded the tightly-packed street tables at cafes and they chatted and smoked and wore scarves and didn’t wear bras and argued and gestured and somehow managed to look cool eating quiche. It was glorious.

But anyone traveling these days knows that there are now extra steps and headaches with traveling. You need new documents and tests. You pay for men in white coats in the backs of pharmacies to put sticks up your nose and you await results.

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In my outlandish attempts to stay out of a motorized scooter, I work out a lot. This sounds more impressive than it might initially seem. This basically means that six days a week I cry, sweat, and shout obscenities at a deity I don’t believe in for 26-32 minutes. It’s basically the same as going to the bathroom and eating, but the time is shorter and longer, respectively.

After a year of working out four times a week and gaining a steady pound a month, I decided something more needed to be done. I realized of course that battling for control of my waistline is food and beer and the fact that I love them more than oxygen or my mother. Was I going to give up food and beer? No. Never. At most I was able to move them to two days a week, Friday and Saturday, at which time I did as much damage as I could on the other five days. I did this guilt free, unless I thought about it, which is why I didn’t. And I successfully replaced thinking with carbohydrates. It was a foolproof plan.

By February my pants no longer fit and I was beginning to breathe heavily while doing math in my head. The two sacred days were untouchable, but what I could do was add more workouts.

I added two days, which made it six days a week. Two days of home cardio, two days of dumbbells, and two days of running. Running was a throwback for me as I used to be a runner because I realized the efficacy of home HIIT workouts. Also, I decided that running sucked the sweat off a dead giraffe’s nether regions. But I added it because HIIT workouts and dumbbell routines involve many parts and keeping track of time.

Running is easy. You go to a park, choose a route 3.3 miles long and a finish line, run until you get there, and then stop. Easy. All you have to do is not collapse and die on the route and you’re golden. No time keeping, no specific exercises to remember and execute while trying to not aggravate your downstairs neighbor. Just run. Simple.

This worked fine for a while. My pants were buttonable without losing consciousness from oxygen loss. I could do math in my head without alerting a nearby paramedic corps. I had figured out the secret. Eat reasonable five days a week, two days a week eat like Babe Ruth at his neighbor’s Bar Mitzvah, and exercise six days a week. Brilliant.

But then autumn came. Autumn is my favorite time of year – cool, crisp, cobalt blue skies, changing leaves, dark nights. Autumn signals me to watch spooky shows, read ghost stories, and to take long walks and think of adventures, past and future. Unfortunately autumn also signals me to eat and drink carbs in the form of comfort food and dark beer until I explode. Not too many adventures this year, but I did that part about the carb thing.

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Pee Games and Friday Night with Bigfoot

It’s a Friday night. Besides me, everyone is in the living room and asleep. Bela the cat is on the pillow behind me and Maisy the Shih Tzu is splayed out on the rug surrounded by toys and the remnants of a smoked pig foot that has made her happier than money or success ever will for me. Burke is asleep on the couch. Seinfeld – newly arrived on the Flix – plays unhindered on a very low volume.

Many things these days happen at a low volume or with genuine attention to keeping quiet. This is because the canine hand grenade sleeping on the rug currently dictates the mood of the house, which, though in a state of soporific warmth and coziness, can change on a dime. One wrong move, one misstep can turn this sleepy living room into a barking hissing maelstrom of activity that I will almost certainly be relating to a therapist someday soon.

It’s for this reason that I don’t venture into the kitchen for the chocolate chip cookies I so greatly desire. Maisy the Shih Tzu has a nose for food (any: human, cat, dog, probably duck). So the number one way to become a beacon for a tail-wagging, barking Shih Tzu is to put anything near your mouth. The number two way to attract the attention of this pup is to walk out of the room. Maisy the Shih Tzu has evidently been gifted with the instincts of a green beret. Walking out of the room even with her completely zonked out will result in her raising her head, following me, and then peeing. So I go nowhere and I read.

I’m reading Devotion by Max Brooks. If you haven’t heard of this book, it’s worth looking into if you like eco-horror, Bigfoot, or really bad things happening to quasi-annoying people. The story is about a small eco-centric community of five smart homes set remotely in the foothills or slopes of Mt. Rainier. The community has one access road and the homes are powered by waste and sunlight. Their supplies are delivered by drones. The people who live there are in no way outdoors enthusiasts, nor are they the survivalists who might have with them arsenals that could have carried the U.S. Marines at Iwo Jima. They are well-off city slickers. So when Mt. Rainier erupts, cutting off their one link to humanity, they decide to shelter in place. This would probably work were it not for the fact that a tribe of Sasquatch has been forced to find new sources of food. lar power.  and , consisting of six smart homes and a central Community House. They come across these pragmatically useless people, mayhem ensues, and we get a very non-Discovery Channel version of Finding Bigfoot(‘s Arm in my Ass).

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