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Barney, Bieber, and Butts: Tivoli Writing | 2013 | Lake George 2013


I hate to advocate drugs, alcohol, violence, or insanity to anyone, but they've always worked for me.  

-Hunter S. Thompson


Beers' Night Out

There is a theory that modern civilization owes a great deal to beer. In short, hunter-gatherers individually lacked the time and resources to create a raspberry pilsner, so our nomadic ancestors were seduced into an agrarian lifestyle that might someday involve into local microbrews. I am not sure if teetotalers simply minded the goats while others were busy getting sloshed or if they were cast out of the tribe for being dull.

Similarly, nearly annually, my father and brothers insist upon a Guys' Night Out, which is to say, they sample local breweries' fare and eventually feeds me in exchange for acting as their designated driver. Though I was forewarned, I had nearly forgotten it was tonight, only remembering when I checked my phone before going to a showing of In the Night Sky: I Recall a UFO in Kingston, there to hawk my books. Amber and I get home from that with just about enough time for me to drop her off (women being expressly forbidden from Guys' Nights Out) and leave again.

Our first stop in The Hop in Beacon, where they immediately blow $40 on three beers and a mediocre cheese plate. This pub is an evident haven for New York City hipsters, which my father sees as a venal sin, compounded to mortal by dint of my brother and him being served middling beers in markedly smaller glasses than the hipsters are given. Apparently, my family is not the sort of clientele to be encouraged. Perhaps we are not fashionable enough. Since my brothers grew up in Beacon and my father has been a resident for over three decades, this shoddy treatment doesn't impress us. As there are no places to sit and the bar fare unironically consists of food like rabbit and raisins, there is little keeping us there beyond the remaining beer in their glasses. Dan asks, annoyed, what kind of pretentious bar doesn't have wings and burgers. They are permitted to have as many macrobiotic sea cucumber salads as they like and may garnish their burgers and wing with such gustatory curiosities as wasabi and organic pink tomatoes, so long at the "burgers and wings" requirement is enthusiastically met.

Our next stop is the Newburgh Brewing Company. A note on Newburgh, for context: I have twice worked jobs in the city. Once as a clerk at the library, once as a teacher at the Liberty Street Boys and Girls Club. While I adored the kids and most of my coworkers, my feelings on Newburgh are closer to disdain mixed with apprehension, particularly once the sun sets. It is not that Newburgh doesn't have potential. There is gorgeous architecture and it is directly on the river, only the buildings are often boarded up and graffitied and the river is the teratogenic. Liberty Street reportedly has more crime than any other street outside of New York City. Never in Newburgh did I feel especially safe walking the twenty feet from front door to car, particularly after someone stole my cars antenna for no reason other than they could. I had to protect my students against gang members, crackheads, and teenagers rutting in the chain-link alley next to the playground. Once, when I came into work, I was informed that a predawn SWAT raid led to the incarceration of several men who lived in their homes and I was cautioned to be "sensitive" to this fact.

All of this is to underscore the admitted bias I have against the city, so when I tell you the brewery was actually charming and I want to find an excuse to bring my friends there, you'll understanding I don't say this lightly. My father was won over by virtue of his being carded upon entrance. Unlike The Hop, this was vast and open, with high ceilings. Against one wall, people tossed beanbags in lieu of darts. Every few tables had board games and a bookcase of them rested against another wall. This is a place where one is supposed to hang out for a while, not take their cheese plate and go. As my father and brothers ordered, I noted the brewery served actual food. I motioned toward the chicken burrito, suggesting this might be adequate payment for my ferrying, especially as it was after eight and I had only eaten some stale cheese, toast, and overseasoned walnuts at The Hop. But, I am informed we will not be eating here, just drinking. I am directed to a serve-yourself designated driver station of pitchers of ice water, though we order two soft pretzels with mustard to tide ourselves over and give them a doughty mattress into which the beer may soak.

A musician sets up near us and I exploit the relative quiet to interrogate my father. "Before we left, mom said that she thinks Amber is bossy. Now, I think this is about the least likely adjective to apply to Amber. I nearly have to squeeze decisions out of her. But I wondered at your opinion."

He strokes his beard thoughtfully. "I wasn't intending on imparting fatherly advice, but you've got a few beers in me... I like Amber. I liked Emily, too, but I like Amber more. She talks to me. At parties your other girls, they'd direct remarks to your mother. Amber might be a bit passive-"

"She's getting much better, you'll see on vacation."

"Right. Yeah, I like her. I know you've disregarded what we've said about other women, but she's good with you."

Bryan segues into mentioning how he has talked his siblings up to new acquaintances, how I am working on my fourth books and have an artist girlfriend who actually gets paid, how Dan does million dollar industrial automation projects and is on track to be a millionaire before he is thirty-six. He does not mention that he is now a working nurse who, though he does not quite make enough to justify all of his college loans and thus still lives with my parents, it earning a good amount working in a field he enjoys (and which I would not try on a dare). It feels only a little while ago, a few of these meals, where I was an unemployed writer, Bryan toiled at Wal-Mart for barely above minimum wage, and Dan was unappreciated at The Gap warehouse. I still do not feel especially prolific or on track, I am constantly worried I am about to be destitute, but I have to admit that it is a nice change from actually being on the verge of destitution.

These meals serve as a sort of checkpoint, a notation of how our lives are going. Though my father says he is not much for fatherly advice in these moments, I think he is exceedingly proud at the progress his sons are making in their lives. Now that we are leading such separate lives - Dan with five kids and his own business, Bryan buffeting between nursing jobs, me living with Amber an hour from my parents while teaching and writing - it is much less often that we are able to connect.

They last only for one beer before deciding that they would now like dinner. It is nearly nine, but they assure me there is an excellent steakhouse only a bit away, and outside the specific borders of Newburgh. Anything would have to be better than overpriced rabbit and raisin, so I am happy to make the trip.

As we navigate through streets in Newburgh at which one does not want to stop, we are halted at a traffic light while a woman in disheveled pink stumbles across the road. She starts to totter toward my car and I put my hand over the lock, but her intoxication pulls her in the other direction in an almost visible fashion.

Schlesinger's Steakhouse is attached to a cigar emporium. As we enter, I note a sign saying that they have a nonsmoking bar in the back. It is possible we've time traveled a dozen years in the past, but I have to admit I find it unlikely.

We are seated and presented with good, hot rolls and a jar of pickles. This latter complementary fare is new on me, as is the fact that the menus are printed on brown paper bags. The atmosphere is intimate and upscale, such that I feel a touch underdressed without a lit stogie and a suit jacket.

Since this is a steakhouse, they are not much for light fare. As the rest of the party is indulging their meat tooth, as it were, I order a pub burger so as to not be further exiled.

"Did you say pub steak?" asks the waitress.

"No, burger."

She looks me over. "The steak comes with a salad."

"Oh. I suppose-" I look at my brothers, who nod "-steak?"

"How to you want it?"

"Um..." I search for an answer, but this is not something that can be conveyed through nodding. "Well?"

This is the wrong answer - good steak should never be done well, apparently - but I do not know until she leaves that I have committed some carnivore faux pas, worse than being the designated driver because most alcohol takes like medicine and rot to me. This is why I would not have been welcomed into the agrarian tribe: I don't appreciate a beer and I burn steak.

Soon in Xenology: Lake George.

last watched: Igby Goes Down
reading: Sex and Rockets
listening: Ingrid Michaelson

Barney, Bieber, and Butts: Tivoli Writing | 2013 | Lake George 2013

Thomm Quackenbush is an author and teacher in the Hudson Valley. Double Dragon publishes four novels in his Night's Dream series (We Shadows, Danse Macabre, and Artificial Gods, and Flies to Wanton Boys). He has sold jewelry in Victorian England, confused children as a mad scientist, filed away more books than anyone has ever read, and tried to inspire the learning disabled and gifted. He is capable of crossing one eye, raising one eyebrow, and once accidentally groped a ghost. When not writing, he can be found biking, hiking the Adirondacks, grazing on snacks at art openings, and keeping a straight face when listening to people tell him they are in touch with 164 species of interstellar beings. He likes when you comment.

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