Flashback: Blindsided

New line of taps at Screamen Eagle

New line of taps at Screamen Eagle

Taps at Screamen Eagle

Taps at Screamen Eagle

Last Sunday, while Grace went to find an Inlet police officer who could sign the piece of paper to verify that we’d gotten the light over the license plate fixed, I went to Screamen Eagle for some curly fries. The sign out front said “20 BEERS ON TAP” and I said to myself “Huh? That’s new… no way they had more than a few before.” I walked in, and… well, take a look at the pictures and you can just begin to imagine my reaction.

The first tap handle that caught my attention was for Rogue Dead Guy Ale. Rogue is a top-tier microbrewery, so if any bar has Rogue on tap it gets an automatic thumbs-up from me. Any bar. A bar in Manhattan would get a thumbs-up. A bar in Inlet with Rogue on tap gets a big cartoon “Ahh-OOOOgah!!!” airhorn sound as my eyeballs pop out of my head, become as large as saucers, and hover there, trembling, for a moment.

Then my eye swept over the rest of that magnificent row of taps. Dogfish Head. Dogfish Head? Dogfish Head!! In Inlet!! CascaZilla, an entirely worthy hoppy ale from Ithaca. Sam Adams Octoberfest, one of the better festbiers out there. Pumking, an “Imperial Pumpkin Ale” from Souther Tier which is great fun, if rather gimmicky.

I continued past this new vision from a dream, wanting to see what was on the old, smaller row of taps at the middle of the bar. I was thrilled to see a Tröegs tap handle, although the Dead Reckoning Porter is not my favorite of their brews. If it had been Tröegs Hopback Amber, that might have done me in right there. As it was, the only handle from that row that seriously tempted me was the Lake Placid Honey Rye. Good stuff. Good stuff that I can’t get outside the Adirondacks.

After ordering my curly fries, I sat down in front of that first big row of taps. Then I saw that the Dogfish Head tap didn’t say 60 Minute IPA, as I expected. It said 90 Minute. Dogfish Head 90 Minute IPA in Inlet, New York!

Well, it took about all I had not to order a beer. I thought of how great it would feel to be down near my target weight when I go hiking in Acadia in three weeks. I thought of how wonderful it will feel after I reach my target weight, when I’ll be able to have a beer whenever I want — as long as I’m below that line.

I walked out with only my curly fries, feeling very proud of myself. If I’d known going into the situation that those beers would be there, it wouldn’t have been such a close-run thing. But being blindsided like that by Rogue Dead Guy, Lake Placid Honey Rye, and Dogfish Head 90 was nearly enough to make me stop caring that drinking beer outside of my weight benchmark celebrations would have been a major diet breach.

I met Grace just outside, and we walked over and sat down at a park bench. As we were eating the fries, I said to Grace “Do you know what I just walked away from?” and proceeded to tell her about my epic struggle. She said “Well, you can get those anywhere,” which made me feel deflated and irritated. Seeing my reaction, she said “I was trying to make you feel better by pointing out that you can get those beers at other places.”

Well, that brought me up short. My perspective suddenly shifted and I saw what I couldn’t see a moment before: of course she was trying to make me feel better; and of course I can get those same beers elsewhere.

Suddenly my reaction to the bar seemed conspicuous and puzzling. Why had I seen it as a unique opportunity that would be agonizing to pass up? The answer was simple, and revealing of my pathology: it wasn’t just the beer; it was the combination of the beer and the place.

Good times with loved ones make an enormous impression on me. Likewise, my memory suffuses special places with a magical glow. Put the special people in the special places, and I get a particularly potent nostalgia. It’s the one exception to the rule that I have a terrible memory: I can remember conversations with friends at camp from 1993.

The Adirondacks, and my family’s camp in particular, has always been my favorite place. For decades, as I’ve shared it with the people I love, my reservoir of happy experiences there has swollen. Camp is my primary nostalgia capacitor.

So when I walked into Screamen Eagle and saw those taps, two powerful forces intersected: my love of beer, and my nostalgia for camp. Here was a bouquet of excellent craft brews, one of them a paragon of the brewer’s art, popping up like magic in a cherished place where I never expected to see them. My reaction seemed so perfectly natural, so obvious, that in retrospect it seems inexplicable. But here’s me, trying to explain it anyway.

I felt like I wanted to celebrate. I felt like I had to celebrate. This intersection of delights obviously trumped any rules I’d set up. Right?

Well, I’m proud to say that the answer was “No.” I got out of there with my rules unbroken, because the rules are more important to me right now than they’ve ever been. Besides, my rules include allowances for celebrations, so the “imperative” for an impromptu celebration screamed of doublethink. Thankfully I was able to see through my own desperate rationalization enough to refuse it.

Back at camp, I got talking to Grace about my need to turn happy occurrences into celebrations. This led to thoughts about celebrations as revelment. We talked about how, in midwinter celebrations, people would use up a portion of their precious stores: they responded to privation with profligacy! This led me to wonder if celebration is always self-destructive, and finally to the big question: “What is a celebration, anyway?”

Grace pointed out that people often spent exorbitant amounts of money on weddings. She thinks that they do this at least partly in hopes that the expense will come back to them in some way. I hadn’t thought of that, but it makes sense, and it adds another dimension to the concept of celebration.

Maybe celebration is a constellation of the pagan, the selfish, and the giving: we receive privation and death, and we chortle in the face of the reaper; we receive prosperity, and we show it off and hope for reciprocation; we receive joy, and we want to share, amplify and extend the moment.

The purpose of all this musing was to examine my tendency to turn any unusual confluence of gustatory factors into a celebration. I am glad that it is in my nature to be joyous. But in the face of a universe which holds so much to be joyous about, I slip into revelment the way an iron filing in a magnetic field quivers toward a pole. This is a perversion of my joyous nature, and one that bears monitoring.

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