by Deirdre Sinnott
When I was 14-years-old, I found myself in a tight huddle with a few of the cool high school kids on a cold night in the tiny village of Clinton, New York. For most of the people in our knot, beer was the main attraction. But finding myself standing, concealed by tall cedars, in the town’s small graveyard, splitting a six-pack of Genny Cream Ale, gave me my first tantalizing glimpse of the social glue alcohol could provide. Across the street stood our destination — the Clinton Arena and that night’s hockey game. I stamped my feet, hating the cold of the crunchy snow and loving the freeze of the Genny as it slipped down my throat. I was in ninth grade or so and it was the first time I had my own beer to drink. But of course it wasn’t my last.
I rode a wave of suds through college. It was my constant companion, whether I was flopped on the industrial carpet of my good friend’s dorm hallway charming his mates or perched on a stool at the glittering bar of Phoebe’s Garden Café in Syracuse, NY, after a grueling day in the college theater mines. The arrival of the beer signaled that a new phase of the day was beginning. Beer was my reward, my comfort, my release.
I was never really satisfied with the volume of liquid that a mixed drink offered. I was incapable of sipping, so my alcohol/drunkenness calculations were frequently found wanting if I strayed into the rye-and-ginger or the gin-and-tonic world. I found that beer, in a single serving size can, prevented the sort of mess that a Long Island Iced Tea might engender. At least drinking beer usually meant that I was not going to rely on friends to hoist my arms over their shoulders and stagger together, like a bad imitation of the Rockettes, across the manicured lawns of fraternity and sorority row to get home.
As I grew older and moved to New York City, beer made for the perfect excuse for camaraderie. After rehearsals, my fellow theater addicts and I would retire to a bar that served 50-cent beers in eight-ounce glasses. The place was crusty, covered with a patina of wild 1970s action where men, still dirty from a day of manual labor, smashed down shots and brawled for fun. Some of the holdovers still occupied the same barstools; their hands remained rough, but not as steady. Buying rounds there was easy and drinking them even easier.
Beer rarely broke its promise to me. It remained a reliable 5% alcohol level, enough to soothe my troubled brain and normally expensive enough to keep me from enjoying too much of it.
I don’t remember my last beer. I know I was drinking Budweiser instead of my beloved $1.49, 40-ounce malt liquor. I’m sure it was cold and had an effervescent bite as it slid over my tongue. It, no doubt, radiated tranquility through my core. The difference with that beer was that I drank it alone. The “social” part was over. I stuck with the beer, not the friends.
Now that beer and I have parted ways there are no hard feelings — at least on my part. Breweries across the U.S. and Ireland might have noticed a slight decline in their sales numbers in February 1997, but I’m certain that others have taken my place at the tap.
But during those early years, I loved beer so much that I said I could write verse about its virtues. Of course I was too busy enjoying it to actually put fingers to keyboard. So here is the best I can do now, in this post-beer moment:
Time was, I was queer for beer, my dear.
I drank and I drank till I stank.
I didn’t care if the weather be fair,
Snowy or hot or what-not for my shot.
Nights weren’t concluded till I was polluted,
Like a sack on my back run down by a Mack.
When the sun rose and I woke from my dose,
God it was vile, lying in bile, face creased by floor tile.
Those mornings I vowed to stop getting plowed
Alas by midnight all the might of my fight
Would fail by the wondrous pale of an ale.
This is Deirdre Sinnott’s second essay for Drinking Diaries (back in November, she wrote a great piece called “The Grinder.”) You can find out more about Deirdre by visiting her website at www.DeirdreSinnott.com.