Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Barography: Shades of Green

Last time I told you about the first bar I chose to go to, back in Appalachia. Today I'd like to talk about my first New York bar, Shades of Green. My pal Alex has already talked about it at World of Awesome, but I think I might have a thing or two to say about it myself. For me, Shades is particularly relevant to me as it is the first bar I ever drank at.

I've talked before about how I didn't drink as a teenager. I saw little reason to; I didn't particularly care for those yokels who talked about nothing else, and my buddies and I were having fun in our own weird, incredibly nerdy ways. When I first entered college and heard the term "straight edge" I thought, well, hey, that's me.

That's right, I once thought I was straight edge. After puberty's wildest throes had hit and I remained the same insecure, dateless nerd as before, I settled in a sort of "well if I'm going to be like this, I might as well be this way on purpose." So I didn't drink, I didn't smoke, and I didn't allow girls to touch my dick. (Dry humping was extremely OK.)

But this isn't here to be an examination of my weird sexual hang-ups as a young adult. You have to pay therapists lots of cash money in order for them to pretend to be interested in such; I can't imagine casual readers of this blog, looking for some laughs, some recommendations, and the occasional sexy picture of yours truly, could be paid enough money to read about it. No, this blog is about drinking, and this entry is about how I started drinking.

It started, like so many life-altering decisions throughout my life, with a crush on a girl. Margo was my first college crush. She was fun and funny and seemed to think I was, too. I started hanging out with her and her friends my freshman year, hoping to win her over, and, I'll be damned, it started to work. But, oh, how I remember that fateful day.

"Hey, this weekend we're going to Shades of Green. It's a bar nearby, you should come." I was almost ashamed to admit that my alcohol consumption to date had been a few sips of Natural Light given to me by my father as a sort of reverse psychology maneuver when I was six and a Budweiser a buddy smuggled in for me at Academic Appalachian Camp at Transylvania University (those are all real things) that I drank out of obligation.

I realized the reasons I hadn't drank in high school were pretty much not applicable anymore. It seemed quite unlikely that some dumbass redneck I could barely tolerate sober would swing by a bar in the Village just when I was finally drunk. So I nervously agreed to go along and the rest is history.

God, I remember those early days, those "trying to figure out how to do this" days. I hadn't acquired the taste for beer yet, nor, really, for anything else. I believe my first regular drink was a whiskey sour. A goddam rail whiskey sour! Lord, the thought of it gives me the sweaty mouth something awful. I recall experimenting with white Russians--another punch to the old digestive system, there. For a while I settled upon bourbon and the occasional cider.

But that's not altogether interesting, is it? The more I look back at the time and all that it led to, I find that the pertinent question is not "Where did I start drinking?" nor "How did I start drinking?" but "Why did I start drinking?" and even more "Why do I drink?"

"Why I Drink." Sounds like the worst essay ever. But this isn't so much a list of grievances (though Lord knows my students give me new and weirder reasons every day) or heartbreaks (I try to contain that in my songwriting, for your sake, dear reader) or occasions (End of the World Day!) or what have you, it's more a "why did I take to this activity I never thought I would like?" situation.

The answer requires a bit of backstory that I never quite understood until, well, until I saw a therapist. Near the end of my marriage I sought out therapy in order to learn how to argue with my ex--arguing and fighting seemed like an anathema to me, and it was driving her crazy. Well, one week in, we split, so for the next year I basically met once a week to figure out what the fuck was wrong with me. And, as far as we could tell, it all pretty much boiled down to one thing.

I wasn't screwed over by my parents or some touchy relative or high school melodrama. I was simply aware of too much, too early. This may come as a shock to those of you who know me now, but I used to be a weirdly smart kid. Standardized tests were my bitches, gifted classes, academic team, the whole shebang. And that did very well for me in a lot of ways. God knows I wouldn't be where I am if I didn't used to be really smart.

The problem was how early I was so smart. When other kids my age would be at the pediatric dentist's office, they'd run straight for the play area where there were blocks and such. I can distinctly recall being four or five and sitting next to my mom in the waiting room. I knew about the play area; I wanted to go there desperately. But to ask seemed crass; I would not go unless the subject came up from an adult.

I was a hopeless social neurotic since before I could multiply. Every single thing that would happen my mind would race the way only a precocious only child's could. I was used to living in my head, and this brain of mine used to work quite quickly. Every second of social interaction would include my brain coming up with a dozen ways this could be embarrassing if I do it wrong. I've tried to explain exactly how this works in my own stream-of-conscious internal narration, but I can't possibly layer all of it.

Take a simple thing like an attractive girl saying "Hello." My brain would immediately come up with at least ten reasons she said hello, each with its own backstory and connotation and reason. I would ten proceed to think of a dozen or so responses TO EACH OF THOSE REASONS and play them out in my head for possible missteps. At the very same time, I'm also thinking at least five or six things about myself, what I look like, how I'm holding myself, how I think that looks vs. how it looks to her, what other people looking in on this interaction might see, etc. Also simultaneously I would think of a slew of other times attractive girls greeted me and how they went wrong or right. All of this happens in the space of a second.

And it never stops. This is what it's like to live in my head, twenty-four hours a day. It takes me at least an hour to get to sleep as I replay everything in my head like an obsessive quarterback, imagine alternate ways things could have happened, and hate myself for how they did happen.

I spent eighteen or so years feeling this constantly. The first time I ever got it to calm down was that first night at Shades when I got drunk for the first time. They say alcohol dulls your brain, but for me, at least, that can be a good thing. Intoxicants are a much-welcome vacation from my own thought processes. Of late I've somewhat quantified what happens: with good booze or smoke, my head feelings lay low while my physical sensations seem intensified. I react with surety, whether wrongly or rightly, and, in fact act on my own accord as to what feels right. There is no microscopic examination of every possible meaning of every word or thought; there is sheer blissful existence.

I know that cannot be a permanent condition. Hell, I wouldn't be half the man I am today without my weird brain circumstances. Rare is the situation where I can't make a friend or get along well with folks, and I don't doubt the computations and permutations have helped greatly with this. It's helped as a teacher, too. I can smell a neurotic kid a mile away. I've taken some aside, "You're thinking this, right?" and their eyes widen in recognition.

Why do I drink? Oh, there's more reasons than I have time to tell you, from the exuberant to the melancholic; a night out cracking jokes with friends, a series of whiskeys to put a bad day away, to loosen up those dancing shoes, to give thanks for what I've had, to mourn the things I've lost. But the overall "Why does this guy like drinking so much?", the big reason? Sometimes it's nice to just enjoy myself and shut down the crazy parts of my brainstuff.

Anyway, Shades is a fine place with great Smithwicks and hordes of fond memories. I remember chasing tail with college buddies (to absolutely no avail). I remember taking my visiting parents there for lunch when the waitress said in her thick Irish accent, "Joe Rice, what are you doing here this time of day?"I remember having my fedora stolen, saving me from being a guy that wore a fedora. When I think of early good college times, I usually think of Shades, and it's not lost its charm yet. And they let you play Settlers of Catan in the back!

Author's note: I went through all my college photos and couldn't find a single one taken at Shades. I think that might actually speak to how much fun was had there. I did, however, find lots of embarrassing stuff to put on the facebook.
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Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Age 12



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Saturday, May 7, 2011

'Tis Summer, and PEOPLE Are Gay


Those are definitely the lyrics, not revised, nope, don't look it up.

Just taking a time in my grooming for this austere occasion to wish all you readers a very enjoyable Derby Day. Here is a very serviceable recipe for a tasty mint julep. I love a good julep, but cannot really do more than one or two before I switch back to straight bourbon.

Anyway, today is the day to dress extravagantly while drinking excessively; the most exciting two minutes in sports (very similar to the name some have given me in the boudoir), the Derby is rich with tradition in a state all-too devoid of culture. So tune your fiddles; break out your best hats, ladies; prepare the linen and the seersucker; and most of all get ready to dive in to one hell of a day.

I'll be at Harefield, yelling like a damn fool.



P.S. Insider tip: if the rain really comes, Shackleford is a known slogger. Read more...

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Mono-Lagering: Union Hall

Given a gift of free beer coupons from 30 different bars from Brokelyn.com, Mr. Rice has decided to visit each one, and record his thoughts.

Back on the road for another Mono-Lagering--well, back on the subway, at least. My ignorance of Park Slope geography showed up again as I found out Union Hall was also ridiculously close to my friends' apartment. So this past Tuesday, I decided to drop by for a couple of drinks to relax after a stressful day of watching my students try to puzzle out the labyrinthine tricks of standardized testing. My first hint of what was to come was outside, where a placard advertized burlesque (more on that in a second) and "Adult Education: Social Anxiety."

My expectations sank deeper than the Marianas. Was that an actual class? On social anxiety? At a bar? I could imagine few worse ideas. On the other hand, maybe it was just a band with a very terrible name, designed to make sure no one but total freakshows ever showed up for a gig. Either way, I sort of steeled myself, took a breath, and walked in.

I stopped dead in my tracks. The place is fucking huge. This was seriously one of the biggest non-beergarden bars I have ever been in at any point in my life. There's a long bar along the right that had to be fifty or sixty feet long. (Maybe more: my concepts of space and time are horribly lacking.) But that's not all; to the left there was a large library/lounge. I immediately loved that little bit. It felt like an old Gentleman's Club (not the sort where Russian women testily ask if you want a dance every ten seconds), the sort of place Victorian adventurers would gather to swap stories of tigers, intrigue, and turning invisible or something.

And still this bar went on. Behind the lounge were two bocce ball courts, side-by-side. Behind that was a raised section, marked "Reserved for Bruklyn Knights." I didn't even go downstairs, where there is apparently a performance space. This is a bar so big it has a split personality (another point I'll touch on again in a bit).


But the overall vibe I got on that pleasant afternoon was that of Men. From the library/lounge to the competitive sport indoors to the private club planning to meet in the back, everything felt like that mostly-illusive idea of a Club of Men, which has long fascinated me. My grandfather was a fairly high-ranking Mason. My Dad was a member of the local Elk's Club. Both interest me for differing reasons.

My first real experience with the Elks, outside of a conversational reference point, was when my first band played their first show. We were dopey assholes that barely knew their instruments and had songs about hillbillies and making fun of Pearl Jam. We opened up for a punk band called the Connie Dungs. Though half the crowd came for us (we had sold so many t-shirts that we actually had to perform), the other half was decidedly not amused. If I recall correctly, a Taco Bell "burrito" was thrown at us at one point.

But that wasn't the Lodge my father belonged to. Dad's Elks' Lodge was something of a speakeasy. In the middle of a dry area of town, it's a full bar and gambling emporium. I actually got to visit it a couple Christmases ago. Dad and I escaped a boring party thrown by my maternal Aunt (sweet lady, but that party was a snoozer). On the way we had one of those great father-son talks. He was also an early divorcée and, as he put it, the Elks was his Harefield; that is, the bar where he found a second home after a marriage failed.

That made it even more of a significant event, visiting that place. Boy, was it a sight. It was mostly old men grumbling at each other, just talking shit the way they have for fiftysome years. Card games going on at one table with rules Dad did his best to explain to me. Dad bought me a Bud and we chatted and I was introduced to his old bar buddies. It was fucking great. I bought the next round, and put in a shot of Maker's for myself because, why not? When I realized the two beers and a shot cost me around six dollars I never wanted to leave.

Speaking of buying booze, back in the present, I sat down at the top of the bar and selected Left Hand Stout from their twelve, wonderfully-varied taps. It was creamy, thick, and delicious, while not being overwhelming or heavy. The friendly bartender chatted me up a bit and it's apparently very light in both alcohol and caloric content. A sort of micro-brewed American Guinness I guess. I munched on a long pretzel and realized I miss the prevalence of bar snacks.

I've long been fascinated with the Masons. First off, I adore my late grandfather. GK Harmon was one hell of a man, the kind that sends us into tizzies trying to outworship his generation. But also, the Masonic story is fascinating, and the conspiracy theories even more. Directly post-college I tried to drum up interest in joining the Masons with my pals. That landed with a horrible thud. Even if the worst theories are true, damn, man, I want IN on that!

There's just something about a Men's Club that feels . . .intriguing? I'm not sure. I hesitate to dwell on it too much, as I don't especially like the gender politics of exclusion. However, I cannot deny that it's damn fine to just sit around and spend time with other dudes every now and then. I've always been friends with a lot of girls, and sometimes even catch hell about it. But I love a night of Men and I'm not sure if I could ever place why. I don't tend to buy into theories that men and women are naturally so different; it doesn't sit right. Sure, there might be some intrinsic differences (psychologically/emotionally, not just, uh, genitalially), but cultural indoctrination seems more likely for "Men are like ______, but women are like ________!" CUE LAUGH TRACK.

Hell, sometimes hanging with the boys includes a girl or two. Just like I've crossed over into being "one of the girls" there's sometimes a girl who is freely accepted in dudery, from poker night to late-night drunken trips to horrible strip clubs.

Tangent time. What the fuck is up with burlesque? God, I hate it. It has all the weird social discomfort of real stripping except no one gets naked. They wear nerdy costumes, have stupid fake names, feel way too confident about the way they look unclad, and generally just annoy me. I feel this tangent drawing to a close because I just figured out what is up with burlesque. It's Nerd Stripping. Nerds ruin everything, including things that were already terrible.

I'm not sure what exactly makes an individual apt for boys/girls night crossover; could be the fact that this individual never has and never will do sex on any of the members of the opposite gender in question. I could also be gay.

Anyway, Union Hall didn't have many people there at four, but most all were men. There was the helpful bartender, an older man drinking mixed drinks, and two younger fellows playing bocce with some of the weirdest body language I've seen. The Stout had been tasty, but it was too much to have more than one in a row. For my free pint, I chose a Captain Lawrence Kolsch. Been drinking a lot of kolsches lately; the warmer weather is bringing out the crispness. The Lawrence one is particularly crisp with a nice sweetness, very refreshing. To make up for the low alcohol content of the Stout, I paired the Kolsch with an Old Whiskey River.

Musing over the snack menu I noticed they served beer cheese. I've tried to explain this stuff recently, and it isn't that easy. It's a spreadable cheese, kind of like pimento, I guess? Except it's spicy and has beer in it. It's popular back in Kentucky, and harder than hell to find up here. As the owners of Union Hall (and Floyd's and the Bell House) are from Kentucky, so they've started making their own. Dear God is it delicious! And amazingly terrible for you, but who gives a shit, right?

Beside the head of the bar is a giant bulletin board where all the upcoming events are advertised. Bands, karaoke, game nights, classes (?), interviews . . .it honestly felt a little disparate and desperate. It's like Union Hall has a multiple personality disorder. Is it a men's lounge? Is it a venue? Is it a bocce joint? I mean, it is big enough to host not only multitudes of people but ideas, so I guess it's all right.

There's something hard to define about Union Hall. I liked it quite a bit, but something makes me slightly uncomfortable if I try to think about it. I guess it's like a Men's Club or a boy's night that way. Yeah, it's great, but if I try to examine why I get squicked out and worry I'm going to ruin the enjoyment I get. It can't be that I am uncomfortable exploring my feelings both about myself and my fellow males, can it?


That's just a stereotype, and those are bullshit.

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Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Drinking Through the Ages


...My ages, that is. Hi it's Leah. Every Wednesday for the next six weeks I'll be posting an illustration based on a memory or an experience of mine whilst or having to do with drinking. Enjoy! We'll start young...



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