You Wanna Go Where Everybody Knows Your Name

Today’s jumping off point is the theme song from the long-running sitcom Cheers. The image conjured by the song and the series is of creating a home-away-from-home for yourself through the habit of repeatedly visiting the same establishment and getting to know the other regulars, even though you and they may may have started out having nothing in common.

The Cheers scenario was brought to mind when we went with our choir friends after rehearsal last night for our weekly outing to the local Irish-themed pub that has been our hangout for at least a couple of years now. Almost before I could sit down, our regular waitress Kayla (cultivated by our habit of leaving 25-30% tips) brought me a small sample of a new draft beer to see if I’d like to make that my choice for the evening. Kayla knows most of our preferences (one pinot grigio; one manhattan (Maker’s Mark) with a side of ice and extra cherries; two glasses of cabernet and a vegan-friendly pizza to split; et cetera) and she knows I’m adventurous enough to try a new draft beer if they happen to have one.

As a result, over the last few weeks I’ve been introduced to the Captain’s Daughter double IPA from Grey Sail Brewing of Westerly, RI and last night’s selection of Dogfish Head Beer for Breakfast. The Captain’s Daughter was nice, but the Beer for Breakfast was especially memorable. (And wow, does that sentence read badly if you don’t have the context of the preceding sentence–I’m really just a mild-mannered scientist, I swear!) img_0898For this imperial stout, the off-centered ingredients (their words, not my opinion) that Dogfish Head used include universal breakfast staples such as maple syrup and coffee, as well as mid-Atlantic breakfast favorite scrapple (as befits their Delaware home). I’m not sure I could pick out all those ingredients, but the beer was highly aromatic, had a lovely dark color and luscious mouth feel, with lots of sweetness up front to appeal to practically all of the senses. Went down nicely with chicken tenders and a side of sweet potato fries.

Of course, our frequent visits mean that Kayla knows more than just our food and beverage preferences, and we know a few things about her as well. Our friendship isn’t at the level of the regulars at Cheers yet, but it’s interesting to me since I don’t look for this kind of relationship as naturally as some people do. It isn’t something I remember my parents practicing or teaching me as I was growing up, so it’s still a little surprising to me when places where I’m a loyal customer remember me and treat our interaction as something more than just a business transaction.

I am obviously a slow learner, though, since the choir group has been through more than half a dozen different establishments over the nearly 25 years since I moved here and joined the choir. Some of the changes were due to lifestyle changes (increased financial stability; new dietary choices), some to simple preference (not wanting to deal with noisy college students and waiting for a table), and a couple because we outlasted the ownership (twice in the same physical space, even though we were trying hard to do our part to keep them in business). I clearly need to be more attentive to building this kind of a relationship, especially since, as the song says, “Making your way in the world today takes everything you’ve got…” Enjoy some nostalgia and stream an episode tonight, or better yet, pay a visit to your friendly neighborhood watering hole and get to know the regulars. Cheers!

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What happens to “stuff” when nobody needs it?

Long time, no blog. Lots of reasons why:

• Life gets in the way, and even though in theory my life should be pretty well under control, I haven’t had blocks of time to sit down and write something for fun.
• I’ve been finding it hard to maintain the discipline of keeping track of different beers and trying to find something interesting and unique to say about them. It’s not that there isn’t a lot of variety—there definitely is—but I feel like I’m running out of novel ways of presenting my experiences.
• In some ways, I’ve accomplished one of the goals when I set out, which was to make some sense out of the plethora of choices that one faces when walking into a well-stocked liquor store and trying to choose what to bring home. I still enjoy looking for something new, but I’m also perfectly happy to fall back on a familiar favorite and know that I won’t be disappointed, which means there isn’t necessarily much to write about on the beer front.

On the other hand, life goes on, and maybe there are other parts of my life that are worth writing about and thoughts that are worth sharing, so I think I’ve decided to keep writing here and not worry about whether beer is the focus or not. For instance, lately I’ve been spending a lot of time thinking about the superfluous “stuff” that fills up the spaces we occupy.

This topic crystallized for me about a month ago. At the school where I work, once a week we have a Quaker-style Meeting for Worship where we sit together in silence and wait for someone to be inspired to talk about something. This particular meeting was the last one to be held in our old “auditorium” (using the term somewhat generously) since we just finished building a beautiful new multi-million-dollar performance and meeting space. The walls of the old auditorium are adorned by larger-than-life oil paintings of former heads of the school, and I found myself looking around and wondering what was going to happen to those portraits when the space was re-purposed to become a technology lab. I can’t see them going into the tasteful new performing hall or the surrounding gallery space, and I don’t know of any other space on campus both large enough and appropriate for their display, so where do they go? These are people who were well-respected, and they all presumably have families who remember them (or at least know about their history), but even if one of them were a family member, I can’t imagine having his/her stern visage staring down at me from over the fireplace every day. Do the portraits just go into storage? Does the school try to find someone who wants them? Or do they eventually end up in a landfill somewhere?

I’m facing some of the same issues in my personal life. In my house, we have a massive accumulation of children’s books, toys, games, music, et cetera, all of which nominally belong to people who will in a couple of short years be out of the house and on the road to adulthood. Over the summer, the four of us spent a significant number of hours sorting Lego® pieces into sets which are now being sold on Amazon. This project has multiple benefits: it brings a little money into the household, but it also takes “stuff” that is no longer useful to us and transfers it to someone who can make it useful again. But Lego® is only a small fraction of the child-rearing detritus that we will need to deal with in the not-too-distant future, and it’s a little daunting to contemplate the task of figuring out what will stay and what will go.

I also just had to spend a couple of days helping my brother organize my mother’s effects as we prepare her for another round of downsizing, necessitated by her need (at age 95) for a more advanced level of assisted living. Even though we went through a similar process not long ago, there was a lot of “stuff” that was no longer going to be useful to her that we had to decide to keep anyway (and deal with later), throw away, or try to transfer to a new home. I came away with a framed art print, a few music recordings (which she can’t enjoy any more due to hearing loss), a footstool that was hand-built by my grandfather (that I’m not sure we can really use), and several boxes of sheet music (rendered superfluous by arthritis even before the hearing loss set in). Some of the sheet music was claimed by the budding string quartet player in this household, and some of the rest may find a home through the agency of the string teacher at school, but some of it may just end up going to the recycling bin as “stuff” that has outlived its usefulness.

The same string teacher remarked to me as we discussed passing along my mother’s sheet music that one of the things she enjoys about the art form of music is that you create a product that is often ephemeral. I hadn’t thought about it that way, but she’s right that unless you make a recording there’s no residue of “stuff” to deal with later, and recordings often end up languishing on a shelf somewhere until someone decides they are no longer needed. As a result, I’m feeling inspired to try to find ways to reduce the burden of excess “stuff” that I might impose on others.

I’m also grateful that the holidays brought me lots of gifts that won’t add to a pile of “stuff” for someone to deal with later. In a few cases, I received needed replacements for items that were lost or worn out, but I also got lots of consumables, including chocolate, coffee, whiskey, and some home-brew from my brother (so this post isn’t completely beer-free). So as I sit here on a Friday night, waiting for a snowstorm that’s supposed to arrive tomorrow afternoon and gearing up for semester exams next week, I’ll enjoy another of those consumable gifts and wish any readers out there all the best for the New Year of 2017. Cheers!

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