If you have not yet read the first entry, "BREWSHIDO", please go back and do so. You'll have to copy and paste into your browser until I can figure out how to insert links and make them visible. Sorry. Or you can click on it in the Blog Archive.
I went to college at one of the more highly rated schools on the East Coast...not for academics though. Rutgers University used to figure pretty high on lists of party colleges and my new-found friends and I did all we could to bolster that. After we left, the school decided it was time to concentrate on giving the kids a better education for their parents' dollar and RU fell off the list. Slackers!
My freshman year I was housed in one of the River Dorms. These are three buildings on George Street with only Route 18 separating them from the Raritan River. Our floor was coed and the rooms went boy-girl-boy-girl…things were good. There are balconies on the front and back and on either end. The balconies on the river side are now bolted shut because a couple of jack-asses tossed a 1970s-era console television off the 6th floor balcony of Campbell Hall. It was a beautiful thing to see as it plummeted to the array of dumpsters in the lower parking lot, the screen blowing out as it impacted the edges of two dumpsters at the same time. It split in two with each half falling into different receptacles. A roar went up from the collection of drunken students on all the lower balconies and hanging out of windows. It was one of our proudest moments. Yep, I was one of those jack-asses. So if you lived in the River Dorms after 1986, I apologize for your inability to toss junk off the rear balcony yourself.
But back to the beginning of the year, during orientation before any classes had started. One night at the first party of the year, I was handed a beer. This was not my first beer. Despite being mostly a nerd in high school I had been to a few parties, but never drank to the point of being drunk. Everyone else did that and I spent much of my time making sure they didn’t do anything stupid. Oh how conscientious, noble and idealistic I was back then. The groundwork for my advancement through the Samurai ranks was laid, but many skills still needed to be developed. My illustrious college career helped to advance some of these skills, but the beer culture in New Jersey hampered my training.
Back to that party...I remember drinking quite a few beers and lying on a bed watching television, enjoying the buzz in my head. The beer? Don’t ask, I don't remember. It was probably a NASCAR beer or worse. Yes, there are worse. Anything that a college kid can afford is usually some horrendous version of beer that makes one dream of quaffing a Coors Light. Yes, they're THAT bad. These "beers" don’t advertise and they pass that savings on to you. You also get added savings due to the fact that the brewery doesn’t bother wasting money on quality ingredients. Many of them were under $2.00 a six. These beers include, but are not limited to: Black Label, Meister Brau, Milwaukee’s Best, Schlitz, Schmidt’s, Rheingold, Piel's, Schaeffer and various other low-alcohol, highly metallic-tasting beers. It’s as if the beers eroded the inside of the cans to ensure that you got your daily allotment of aluminum. Beer is supposed to help fend off Alzheimer’s; these beers helped to undermine any benefits you gained on that front. Don't believe me? See the two links below.
Where was I? We were drinking bad beer and watching television. Then it was time for everyone to leave since one of the roommates who were throwing the party would turn into a pumpkin if not abed by 11:00. That was the last party in their room, incidentally. One of the girls looks at me as we’re leaving and says she can’t feel her lips, so I feel them for her with mine. I was in love. Well, not with the girl, but with the magic of beer. If I had not had a few there is no way I would have responded to that vague invitation in the manner that I did. So yeah, it didn’t go much further than that but it was still exciting. My girlfriend back home had dumped me for someone else just prior to that. The result of that whole mess was that beer and I became even better friends as I found a new use for it: dulling the pain of a broken heart.
Using beer in this manner is not recommended; it can lead to addiction, but at least I stuck to alcohol. Some people I met in college were hitting harder chemicals for their recreational endeavors. One good friend spent an evening discussing quantum physics with a blue elephant. I witnessed the whole conversation, well at least his half of it. After waking up the next day he felt that many scientific conundrums were solved in that conversation and desperately asked if I had been listening and if I could tell him what he was saying. Apparently, “hix plom golllof fortazen mayafar” had more meaning the night prior to the azure pachyderm. I still maintain that if anyone can decipher what that phrase means it would lead to the discovery of the God Particle or at least a way to alleviate the hangover gained from mixing beer and harder spirits. I pray for the latter.
So I got pretty good at drinking beer. Chugging was my specialty. Shotguns from cans, doing funnels, slamming down a bottle of beer or gulping it down from a cup, not many could beat me. I have retained that ability and have amazed many with how quickly I can toss back a Guinness, much to my wife’s chagrin. On the occasion that I’m drinking Guinness, I typically order two since the first will last less than five seconds. If I order a Guinness and another beer the waiter will sometimes get confused and think I want them mixed. When did this practice start? I know about a black & tan, but a black & blue? Mixing Blue Moon with Guinness is totally unacceptable and there are even more nefarious combinations out there. Poor Arthur Guinness. Forgive them; they know not what they do.
So I was great at speed drinking, but I did not do so well with drinking games. That’s mostly because I didn’t try; I never saw the point. When it was my turn at quarters I would usually throw the quarter at someone and then drink my beer. If I’m drinking, I’m drinking. I didn’t want the constraints of a game to dictate when I got to drink. If there were a lot of people in the game the beer got warm. And making drinking a punishment didn't seem right to me. So,I was content to watch the other fools and sabotage their fun. I would spend a good amount of time taking a pencil to the edges of every quarter so that when they got to the part of the game where you have to roll it down your nose, everyone got a gray racing stripe. It was particularly impressive on an Armenian friend of mine who is blessed with the full complement of his nationality’s most prominent feature. Again, I saw no point in these games...and don’t even get me going on the morons doing shots of beer.
Now, in college I actually had a decently paying job. I worked parking cars at night clubs down the Jersey shore. Everything was on tips so it was all "under the table" and most of the money went towards beer, CDs and food...in that order. I could afford some “decent” beer. So I bought cases of Budweiser longnecks. Yes, there was a time when Budweiser was the "good" beer, but that was mostly due to budgetary hindrances and the lack of alternatives. It was a step up from what we were drinking. Then I discovered Canadian beers and my fridge became stocked with Molson Golden.
Before you judge, you must remember that this was back in 1986. Sam Adams had only been founded two years prior and was not available in our area. Sierra Nevada had been in existence for a while, but was strictly on the West Coast, as was Anchor Steam. Harpoon had just been founded that very year and had nothing out in production that we could get our hands on, even if we knew about them. New Jersey was a wasteland when it came to beer with any good taste. Rolling Rock, Genessee and Ballantine’s were considered fancy beer. Drinking any import from Europe was considered “yuppy” and was frowned upon. Still, the occasional Beck’s, St. Pauli Girl and Heineken worked their way into the fridge.
So the moral of this story? I started off drinking some really awful beer, upgraded to the NASCAR beers and then graduated to those imports that I now shun. Those were some dark days, but at least I was too stupid to know it. The beers I enjoy now were not available, some not even yet dreamed of. The American craft brew movement was in its infancy and not yet represented in Jersey and the imports we were receiving were either Canadian or some of the worse that Europe had to offer. The Canadian beers became the preferred brews until the American craft beer movement got off the ground and microbreweries began to spring up all over the place, even in New Jersey. It was almost time to wake up.
Next Time: Sam Adams Arrives and Beer Snobs are Born