5 min read

Words Fail Where Beer Doesn’t

Words Fail Where Beer Doesn’t

I’m having one of those days where I would much rather sit down with a warm baguette, fresh butter, and amber beer and not worry about a damned thing else in life. For a few hours, anyway.

When I was a youthful teenager, yet not able to fly on my own, my father had on his schedule a day when the cloth roof of our Ford LTD needed replacement at a body shop. He pulled me out of school for it. The shop itself was near Belvedere, from what I recall, in Decatur in Atlanta. I don’t remember precisely how I ended up in this adventure, but Dad, in his infinite wisdom, chose to haul me all over Atlanta with a full day MARTA pass. I didn’t fully cherish the experience for what it was at the time, and for that, I am woefully regretful.

We boarded a bus to the rail station, the reason I recall the name Belvedere, I believe. It was easy to remember because there was also a popular TV show on air at the time, Mr. Belvedere.

Our first stop was a McDonald’s because my father never passed up an opportunity for a good sausage biscuit, and he could find one in the same manner a hound dog finds a coon in the woods. A ‘coon’ is a raccoon for all of you non-backwoods citified types. This one was different because it was adorned much in the manner of a bar or a tavern, harder shinier woods, the lack of the fast-food atmosphere and decor, even though that was still what it was.

Next, we headed to a music store, my father was an avid guitarist and semi-professional musician, simply could not stay away from anything musical. I wanted a Steve Lukather cassette, the ones that help teach one to play in that musician’s specific style. I got Jeff Beck instead. They were out of Steve. Jeff was the last copy. I won’t identify the guitarist being continually picked over and left on the rack.

Lunch was at The Varsity, an Atlanta institution. It was still a walk-up front space at the time. It was holiness to him, a burger to me. He said it was something that every self-respecting Atlantan had to do at least once. I considered that goal accomplished without nearly the fanfare.

Another train, and we were at Sevananda Co-op. I had never seen a grocery like this, and it all looked like we were at a Grateful Dead show. I did find the aesthetic pleasing, and the reggae band playing in the street for a music festival neither of us had been aware of was lovely. I wanted to stay and watch. I’d not heard reggae before. We ended up at a brewing supply shop down the street.

That was as much his scene as the live show had been mine. He gave some instruction to me on the wine-making scheme he had planned, spoke to the counterman about his machinations, and after some time examining and weighing options, made a few small purchases and headed to a payphone.

Few had cellphones at that time. Pagers weren’t even widespread yet.

We picked up the car at the body shop and rode home in new style. It was excellent work.

The day had been pretty much lost on me. At that moment, anyway. Seeds were planted that would sprout later in my life. Later, even now, I look back on that day as a beautiful, worthwhile day, and I’m glad I shared it with him because it has allowed me to pick apart things of his personality I’d somehow missed at the time.

We are led to earlier today when I made a groundbreaking realization. It’s one of growth and modification.

This thought sprung forth as I attempted to read a book from one of my all-time favorite authors that sadly I’ve neglected for a decade or so. His prose led to revolutions in my life and a career path. I wanted to write like him when I grew up.

His prose is like a walk in The Louvre. You can see everything in vivid color like an early Monet.

But I am a published author now, too. I write magical realism, a different genre than he. I have had other mentors, other styles, and characters that scream at me in my quiet moments, unable to decide if they are on amphetamines or just too much sugar and caffeine.

It’s the screaming and chiding that mess up everything. They want to talk, dammit, and they want me to host the conversation for them. Screw the interior decoration. So now, I am the Aaron Sorkin to his Martin Scorsese.

Let’s compare style by style. This is something in his flavor:

Visage of the cyan-stained strands of cotton, inked with passionate immersion of color permeated his eyes and conducted a hazy atmosphere of calm into his optical cortex, only to become amplified in the heated solar light streaming down burning tendrils from the heavens as miniature focused lasers seeking only to inform and educate, not drown themselves in emotive outburst. He sighed in a moment of decision leading to a swell of tranquility.

My version:

“I love that shirt. It looks just like the ocean that time I went to the Bahamas,” Bob said gleefully.

I can’t. I just can’t anymore.

Part of it makes me sad. His prose is no less pristine as it ever was, the writing no less beautiful. Today I have 35 years of back history since the traipse across Atlanta, and I am wise enough to understand that a nice beer does not belong in a champagne flute at any time.

Listen, people. I’m going to die one day.

The only two things that are certain, it is said, are death and taxes. I’m not so sure about the second one, but even Jesus had to deal with the first one.

According to my scheduling, it won’t be for a good while, but eventually, I’ll have to take my number to Checkpoint Delta and cash in my chips.

But these customers in my books, the Jakub Risers, and Shelby Curls, and James Hesters, along with the women that keep them from walking into walls, all want to talk.

They don’t want you to photograph them; they want you to pull up a chair (and a beer) and learn from the conversation. I am forbidden from writing champagne. I’m now okay with that. I write fine Alaskan Amber, Shiner Bock, and Lone Star.

The prose brings a Chicago hot dog with a genuine Vienna Beef link. Sometimes they get all New Yawk and need the kosher kind. Like my own father, some settle with simple joy for the “creekbank” hot dog with only a single striped sash of mustard.

I don’t remember what we talked about that day. I do remember that we talked a lot. We spoke deeply. We understood each other for a change, person-to-person, and I got to see him for who he genuinely was.

He was pretty effing cool, too.

There are many things in life that we all need to do at least once. I’ve learned that I am not built to write caviar. Not spectacular at reading it, either. The flavor is excellent but no longer mine.

I’m more interested in a warm, crusty baguette with gently softening herb butter, a beer that sings my name, and a kind yet striking conversation.

Any old conversation will do.