Sunday, July 26th, 2009
It is truly a glorious day. Of all the July 26ths I’ve experienced on this planet, this is easily the best I can remember. The sun is shining but not yet blazing down, not yet punishing us for wishing away the rain all winter, and in this pre-noon hour the air is easy and calm. Out my two windows I can see two rectangles of pure blue, and if I prop myself up on elbows, the very top of a cherry tree in my neighbor’s yard. I am lying on the floor of my office—a corner office, let it be said so as to allay the concerns of anyone who wonders if my recent change in employment has come with any loss of status. No, on the contrary. Things are looking up and, in fact, I believe my new employer—however much he may sometimes harangue me or silently brood on my many short-comings—ultimately holds me in high regard and sees me for who I am. In all important matters and most trivial ones, we are of a single mind.
For example, he won’t mind one bit that I’m taking Sunday off like this. I worked nearly to midnight last night—a not unpleasant experience in so far as a certain amount of industry seems to enhance leisure, where too much ruins it, like salt on beef. And today, while there is an open project for a client down in the Bay Area that could stand a little of my attention, I have left that aside and, disdaining my desk for reasons both practical and symbolic, have spent some considerable time here on the rug comparing the quadrilateral of blue framed by the north window with the quadrilateral of blue framed by the west window, lazily asking myself if I might discern any difference between them. Here’s what I’ve got: the blue to the west is a little deeper and that to the north just a tiny bit brighter with just the suggestion of the merest raster of hot white creeping in at the lower margin. It is subtle, I grant you that.
Besides, in the few minutes I’ve spent flipped over onto my belly, the better to put pen to paper to describe that difference, that difference may well have changed. I can’t tell without rolling over onto my back again and one can’t write while lying on one’s back, or this one can’t anyway, nor could he possibly taste this beer situated to the northwest of the notebook.
Sometimes nothing seems to sit so well and speak so clearly to a man’s sense of well-being as a beer before noon. There are days when I let the time slip away and, suddenly in the mood for a beer, I would almost go so far as to sneak around the house setting the clocks back if I could somehow do it without myself noticing, so that I could then come back down stairs in time to enjoy another ante-meridial brew.
But today, thanks to a certain get-up-and-go industriousness on my part, I’m way out in front of the Noon balloon, with a large cold bottle of Ninkasi Beli—well look at that. My pen just ran out. I was writing this in pen with the idea of typing it up later and the pen I had been using just up and quit. Looks like no one wants to work today. Well, another more fully flowing pen has been found. What I wanted to say was that I am drinking a Ninkasi Believer Double Red Ale, which is my third favorite beer in the world right now after the Ninkasi Total Domination IPA and the, to my mind, incomparable Ninkasi Tricerahops Double IPA, which is just a really good beer.
Now, beer tastes are notoriously subjective and a good beer is, at any rate, better drunk than described—I mean, just to dispel any confusion inherent in my syntax, that it’s better imbibed than described, and I’d go on to aver that a good beer is really best drunk sober, at least when it comes to savoring the taste of it. That is to say, from the point of view of pure connoisseurship, it is better to drink beer sober than to drink it drunk. I hope that’s clear.
Now, I need to flip over again on this rug, just to take the pressure off the spots that have been bearing it and put it onto other spots that have had a rest, and meanwhile to give myself a different look at the same old things. Likewise let me flip around on my last statement about sobriety and beer enjoyment and take another look at it from over here. From over here, I’m inclined to say that, as much as I have come to love the taste of these beers, to the point where just a glimpse of that bold Ninkasi ‘N’ is enough to water my gums and, further, while that first sip is truly the most sublime, so perfect that almost without fail I am forced to close my eyes and utter a small oath--despite all this sensory joy, I have to ask, “Would I even crack the bottle were it not for the alcohol in it?” Well, here’s hoping I never have to find out. I suspect I would become a water drinker. When you love a beer, it’s all the way, not just the first 93.7 percent.
Crap. I said I wasn’t going to work today and here I’ve gone and launched a campaign for this beer, while getting no closer really to what I set out to tell you. Old habits die hard, they say, and mine is this despicable tendency to want a running start on things. So you’ve learned now that I am on the floor, that I’m drinking beer, that I write in pen and later retype, which means that you know I am, somehow, both lying on the floor and sitting at my desk, but what you don’t know, what I meant to say right out is, simply, that this summer day, this July 26th reminds me of my days hiking the Appalachian Trail.
Have I ever mentioned that I hiked the AT? I try to work it into conversation whenever possible, so it seems likely. Anyhow, it was sometime back in the last century, when I had time for adventure of the sort that requires getting out into something unknown. Days like today recall those indolent early southern miles when I had worked through my start-up pains and was in full vigor. Then, the trail stretched out before me like an invitation and it was nothing but that I might pick up my pack, an enormous affair of aluminum tubs and green nylon and, slinging it on my back, as an ape carries its child, we would set out and cover 20 miles before lunch. There is nothing like coming into some shaded mountain lean-to, swinging down that pack and throwing yourself down next to it on the dry boards, feeling your breath in your lungs, your heart in your chest, the sweat of good effort just abandoned drying in the warm pre-noon shade. That pack, your companion, that had ridden you all morning, clinging tight at your waist, gripping your shoulders, now lies inert by your side, wet with your sweat.
Huh, when the light catches this glass just right, the beer glows this amazing shade of red, like some alchemist’s brew. I still prefer the Tricerahops, but this is a beautiful thing.
In those ancient days, I thought life might be primarily a sensual thing; anyway, I certainly put the time and effort into finding out. It seemed the most important thing in the world. In the company of some sympathetic and agreeable soul, together we would set out, with a vague, unspoken notion of an eventual goal, but in no real hurry to reach that peak. It was not a conquest but another sort of adventure and so we were happy to frolic on the mountain side, as it were, leaping from crag to boulder, like young goats, feeling our muscles warm with the effort. We might pass many happy hours in this way until, by chance it seemed, or by the design youth calls luck, we found ourselves suddenly mounting the peak, nearing the edge, where together and alone, we threw ourselves off as though we might take wing and soar.
It’s possible that time has burnished those memories. But I was a hiker then and the mountain was my metaphor. Today I am, well, it’s no longer clear to me what I am, but I am something else— husband, father, home body—and my native simile has become correspondingly more domestic.
For example, I was down at Home Depot the other day and I had one of those big flat carts they have there--you know the ones with the small iron wheels--and I had it all loaded up with bathroom tile. It took a fair bit of effort to get it up and going but once it’s rolling, it rolls along impressive-like. And I’m going down this long, empty aisle, just a long, flat stretch of concrete. Way away down at the end I can see where someone has stretched an extension cord across my path—they’re vacuuming up a spill in the next aisle. This being the Depot, they’ve got a yellow sign up that says both “caution” and “peligro” and the cord is running under one of those plastic extension-cord cover things. Here’s a photograph, if you’re having a hard time picturing it, though the one the Depot had was black.
So, anyway, you can see this obstacle way up ahead, coming up steady, and then suddenly you’re on it. You can try to slow the cart but it’s heavy and if you slow too much the little wheels will jam, and then you’ll have to back it up and take another run at it and besides it took so much effort to get it up to speed in the first place and while you’re thinking about it, bu-bump, you’re up and over it with a jolt you’d hardly notice were you not looking for it. That, my friends, is life. Say what you will, you cannot frolic on the side of a speed bump.
But everyday is not Home Depot, thank god. There are still surprises. And, reflecting on past surprises and the joys that came with them, I’m suspecting it’s surprises that make the future so goddamned seductive. Furthermore, I’m pretty positive that the future is the working end of whatever it is that makes life worth living. So I try not to underestimate surprises and I do not discount the future.
Because I remember, as much as I loved hiking that trail, and as great an adventure as it was for a man-boy such as I was then, there was this nagging thought I could never entirely banish that the whole damn thing was just too contained, too circumscribed to be fully legit. It had a beginning and an end; more than that it had a map and a series of guidebooks, and white blazes ran like a dotted line along its entire length. It was a kind of Disneyland for the part of your soul that needs adventure.
Couldn’t there be another adventure? Something much wilder? Couldn’t you take some sympathetic soul by the hand and set off into a pathless wood and make your own way somehow? You both know there will be trouble. You know there will be rain and snow. But so much the better to enjoy those days when you are in sync with each other and with the world you live in, when you suddenly find that spark that was smoldering deep beneath the ashes. There are those days when your best effort is done before noon, and you can lie back and watch the sky float past your window—Oh, I can’t explain it all, and I’ve said too much already. There are some places you can only get to by going there.