Category Archives: Miscellaneous

I Can See It In My Dreams

I had never been to New Orleans before the flood.  My deepest emotional connection to the city has always been Tom Waits’ brilliant ballad, I Wish I Was In New Orleans, which is the song used in the montage above.  I had know particular opinion of the place, except that I wasn’t much interested in the notorious debauchery of Mardi Gras, and I suspect a lot of exaggeration in terms of the seedy, dark side of the city that so many writers have so enthusiastically given their verbiage to.

My good friend Andy, who gave birth to the Do They All Die? series on here, has been living down there for the past year, aiding in the rebuilding project.  It’s hard work, what he’s doing there.  Work that burns out a lot of the people who try to do it.  Andy has signed on for a second year of rebuilding.  We’re proud of him up here in the northeast corridor. He’s been encouraging me to come and visit him in New Orleans all year.  Before that, he spent four years trying to get me visit him in Toronto.  Which I never did.  He called a few weeks ago and explained that he was coming to Philly, and I could hitch a ride down with him, splitting the cost of gas, and then I only needed to pay for a plane ticket back.  I agreed.

We left two Sundays ago, on August 10th.  The plan was to drive to Pittsburgh, spending the night at our friend Jess’ place.  On Monday, we’d drive to Tennessee, having dinner with an acquaintance of Andy’s, and spending the night.  On Tuesday, we’d get into New Orleans.  I’d fly back to Philadelphia at dawn the following Sunday, giving me roughly four and one-half days in the Crescent City.  The plan went off pretty smoothly on Day 1.  I met up with Andy a bit later than hoped, but we made good time to the ‘Burgh.  Jess took the two of to a friend’s birthday party, for free food and drinks.  Andy and I are dazzlingly charming fellows, and somehow, both Jess and the birthday girl, Sarah, were talked into joining us on the trip.  We thought as late as Monday morning that they weren’t coming, and, then, they bought plane tickets.  We decided we were now running late and twice as populated, and thus too much of a burden on some stranger in Tennessee who I can only imagine as being achingly beautiful.  We elected to drive straight from Pittsburgh to New Orleans, a 1200 or so mile drive, getting into town around dawn.

TC, Sarah, Andy, and Jess.

TC, Sarah, Andy, and Jess.

That’s us there, sometime early on Tuesday, probably somewhere in Tennessee or Alabama, two states in which we spent a lot of time.  Upon arriving, we met up with Maura, Andy’s better half, who made us pancakes as she and her roommate Caitlin prepared to eat their weight in ice cream, later that day.

Maura on the left, Caitlin on the right.  There were no survivors.

Maura on the left, Caitlin on the right. There were no survivors.

During the day we slept and took it easy.  That night, however, we went to the Maple Leaf, for Rebirth.

Andy had been talking about the Rebirth Brass Band for a while to me, and I was excited.  But to talk about Rebirth to people who haven’t seen it is like trying to explain the Sun to owls.  Rebirth Brass Band are eight or so black men.  They’re dressed like they belong in amateur rap videos.  Flatbilled, crooked hats, wifebeaters, jeans.  The Maple Leaf is dark, but they’re younger than you’d expect a 25 year old band to be.  The youngest members are probably in their 20s, and the oldest are, perhaps, in their 50s.  In the back of the stage stand the drummers, two of them, I believe, and the sousaphoner (sousaphonist?  sousaphone player?).  The front of the stage is all brass.  A couple of trombones, a sax, and a lot of trumpets.  Anyone in the front row may sing, apparently, but singing isn’t really the point of Rebirth.

Rebirth is shockingly loud, for starters.  Our ears rang all the next day.  At times, if you stand close to the stage, the volume is so extraordinary my ears couldn’t handle it, I heard the horns like they were coming through blown speakers.  They are, in fact, unignorable.

They are demanding, as well.  Tuesday nights at the Maple Leaf allow no room for dissenters, for the indifferent, for the analytical or critical.  You go, you hear, you dance, and there is nothing else, anywhere.  You are with us, or you are someplace else.  They’re a tradition with all the passion and energy of a revolution.  They’re beautiful like fire.

The next day we awoke slowly.  It was raining, and our plans involved a bit of a tour of the city, so we had nowhere we needed to be.  The tour is a strange thing.  Of course, New Orleans, as a city, post-Katrina, is a strange thing.

New Orleans has a remarkable and distinct identity, geographically and architecturally.  It gets hot, but, at least during the week I was there, the heat was bearable.  As so many have said before, however, it’s not the heat, but the humidity that gets you.  In and around the Bayou, the humidity is so fierce that every time I stepped from an air conditioned building or car, my glasses fogged.  The humidity means it also rains, at least a little bit, just about every day.  The drainage system in New Orleans is absurd.  The rain water falls into a drain, from which is it pumped into the nearby Lake Ponchartrain.  When Katrina hit, Ponchartrain flooded, and the water in New Orleans had nowhere to go.  That, of course, was just one of the problems that others have thoroughly documented.  Anytime a hard rain lasts longer than about 30 minutes in New Orleans, the roads start to flood.

Of course the roads deserve a brief mention.  New Orleans roads might as well be unpaved.  They’re Third World rugged.  They have cracks, bumps, potholes, sinkholes, the works.  Near Andy’s house is a road where the pavement goes up.  Like a reverse-pothole.  You can’t avoid it.  And it’s only about a foot or so tall.

In some ways, New Orleans is like a European city.  It’s not nearly as densely populated, of course.  And not nearly as old as Amsterdam or Paris or London.  But the buildings follow adhere to a style that you don’t really find anywhere else.  And the city gives the impression that these buildings have always been here.  There was never any wild swampland, any plains or forests.  There have always been these brightly colored little shotgun houses, with their ornate column and draperies and shutters, live oaks sprawling above and beside them.

Beyond that sense, the houses themselves are something to behold.  They are, nearly every last one, ornate.  Pictured below here is the Wedding Cake House, as it’s known, on St Charles Street.  The house is immaculate, and its perfect whiteness is, really, the most significant separating feature.  The rest of the New Orleans architecture is similar, albeit, usually smaller, but still with the columns and rails and the rest.  The difference is a certain amount of decay.  Sometimes the paint is chipping.  Sometimes a house almost appears to be leaning.  Some houses are painted so garishly brightly, the owner must be some kind of clown, and yet, the house fits in perfectly.  New Orleans buildings are drunks in tuxedos.  A little bit of mud on the shoes, the tophat is the top punched through, a little stubble on the chin.  Huge trees line every main street in the city, and hanging from some of them, still, are beaded necklaces from February’s Mardi Gras parades.

The city satires respectability, that old-fashioned southern aristocracy is New Orleans favorite joke.

The Wedding Cake House

The Wedding Cake House

The parody that is New Orleans architecture.

The parody that is New Orleans architecture.

We took the tour of the destroyed areas of town, which, of course, is what most people back home have been curious to hear about.  So, how is New Orleans, after the storm?  Odd.  A lot of the buildings still have visible waterlines.  In general, the visible waterline is somewhat lower than where the water peaked, as during the storm the water would reach its height, then sink, resting a few feet below the high watermark, and staying at this second line for days or weeks.  So, if you see a watermark five feet high, the water probably reached seven or eight feet.  Many houses still have the spraypainted messages from rescue workers, signaling that a house had been investigated, and what had been found there.  Perhaps no message is more famous or haunting than this one, with 1 Dead in Attic spraypainted on the front of the house.  The resident climbed into his attic to wait out the storm.  When the water rose into it, he couldn’t get out, he drowned.  There are a lot of houses with messages, though, all over the city, but especially in the 8th and 9th wards.  Most are somewhat more abstruse than the bluntness that is 1 Dead in Attic, however.

The Lower 9th Ward has gotten a lot of press, and justifiably.  But it’s hard to explain what it’s like to be there.  There is nothing.  There’s not enough left to even get a good sense of what was destroyed.  All that remains of the Lower 9th are the foundations.  There are few battered houses, signs of rubble, all that.  I remember being in New York after 9/11, and seeing the stunningly large pile of rubble, broken glass and steel and concrete, and being shocked.  Seeing the Lower 9th isn’t like that.  You could drive by it and not realize that there had once been hundreds, thousands of houses there.  There was total destruction.  Utter.  All that remains is grass.  There are a few rebuilt houses there.  A few of them are even occupied now.  And I can only imagine it’s bizarre and even terrifying at times to live within the city limits, with hardly another soul within a mile of you most nights.

New Orleans is unique.  It’s a stunningly poorly run city.  Remarkably corrupt.  Irrepressibly infuriating.  It’s also beautiful.  Dynamic.  It’s alive in a way that few cities can be.  Strangers on the street say hello.  Your next door neighbor is probably dealing drugs, but he’s quiet and friendly as anyone you’ll meet.  There are jazz bands everywhere–at the clubs, on the streets, at the midnight bowling alley.  I could live there, I think.  After all, I live in Philadelphia, so I already have an affinity for flawed, great, American cities.

Post-script:  On Wednesday night, Jess, Sarah, Andy and I were joined by our new friend David, where we went to a bar known as Snake and Jake’s Christmas Lounge.  The place opens up around 9PM, and stays open till the bartenders feel like shutting down.  This is the kind of place that can’t exist just anywhere.  The picture below is what the place looks like during the day.  At night, it’s almost entirely invisible, except that wreath is lit up.  They’ve got Schlitz for $1.50 and the other beer is, I think, $2.  The bathroom has no door.  While I still feel a little dirty from the place, I’m glad such dark, joyful places exist in the world.

Dive Mecca.

Snake and Jakes Christmas Lounge: Dive Mecca.

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The Klaw 100

There’s a meme for personal blogs and online diaries: a list of movies or books or whathaveyou is passed around.  The blogger publishes the list on their blog, marking the books they’ve read or movies they’ve seen.  We haven’t done that ’round here because, for one, this isn’t really a personal blog, and, for two, we don’t really know anyone who keeps that kind of blog anymore, so no one passes them along (thank God).

Anyway, Keith Law–baseball writer, connoisseur and bookworm (he’s Mr Thursday, on HGH, if HGH did anything useful)–has decided to create a list of his favorite 100 books.  He estimates he’s read 400-500 books.  I don’t really know how many I’ve read–I’d guess it’s 30 or so per year, depending on the year.  Far more than that in high school and college, at least double that rate.  Anyway, we’re going to take his list here, and give you a few comments on the books he’s listed that we’ve read.  Or, if we have anything to say about the one’s we haven’t read, maybe we’ll comment on that.

He’s divided his list into 5 parts.  We’re just lumping everything together here, in one overlong post.

98.  The Man Who Was Thursday: A Nightmare, by GK Chesterton. The title of this blog is, in part, a reference to that book.  It’s a comic masterpiece dealing in the existence of God, in rebellion, in fear.  Chesterton’s prose is death-defyingly poetic, and, even more wonderfully, the book wraps up the whole ride in just a touch over 200 pages.  Brief, bright, and beautiful.

90.  The Hound of the Baskervilles, by Arthur Conan Doyle. This is, generally, considered the best of the Sherlock Holmes novels, whether written by Doyle or others (in the others category, the excellent The Seven Per Cent Solution reigns supreme).  I haven’t read the book since high school, but I loved the book at the time, and, aside from the iconic Prof Moriarty, the book has everything one could want from the grand detective.

83.  Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, by Mark Twain. I used to read in bed, for at least an hour, every night.  From the time I could read until I got a driver’s license, basically.  Huck Finn was one of the two Mark Twain books I read over and over again (along with The Adventures of Tom Sawyer). Admittedly, I read these books, in part, because I was infatuated with their age–the copies my mother possessed, and allowed her grade school middle son to read, were nearly 100 years old.  If I recall correctly, the Huck Finn was a 1900 edition, and Tom Sawyer 1902.

In the end, I loved Huck Finn more than the excellent Tom Sawyer for it’s extraordinary brashness, the spectacular boldness of the story.  The book is vibrant with conmen and swindlers and children trying to escape the confines of “sivilized” life.  I can only imagine that when I, as a child, asked my mom what “nigger” means, she was both shocked at the question, and relieved that she asked at home, and not at school.

To this day, in my opinion, Twain has found no equal in his ability to capture the voice of the dialects of his characters.

77.  Song of Solomon, by Toni Morrison. This is the only Morrison I’ve read, and to be honest, the only reason I haven’t read more of her is because Oprah and I have generally differed on our literary views, and because Morrison, to me, comes off obnoxiously in interviews.  The book is filled with details without being overwhelmed by them, and the imagery–from the nature of breastfeeding to Doctor Street–are haunting.  As always, whenever I think of this book, I really believe I need to get into more Morrison.

75.  Blood Meridian, by Cormac McCarthy. I read this book last summer for the only time–though I vow to re-read it sometime.  The book is the most violent I’ve read.  That violence is crouched in allegory and bizarre, and often confusing events.  I still don’t know quite what to make of the book (though, of course, I’ve still only read it once through), but I will repeat here what I’ve said elsewhere:  when this book is “good”, it’s spectacular.  It’s well worth the read, just to experience the Judge, if nothing else.

67.  Brave New World, by Aldous Huxley. Whenever this book is mentioned, I fail to understand whether it’s generally considered a triumph, or a disaster of a book.  Regardless of the opinions of others, I love BNW.  The book successfully anticipated a number of late-20th century political and social (and technological) developments, and maintained a compelling narrative for someone who read the book in 2000 for the first time.

65.  The Big Sleep, by Raymond Chandler. Chandler, I suspect, is someone who a reader either adores, or cannot be bothered to read.  I fall into the former group.  My Chandler love began with Will You Please Be Quiet, Please? and continued, triumphantly, into his detective stories.  The Big Sleep is the most famous, and, perhaps, the best of Chandler’s considerable work.  Phillip Marlow–the model for all grizzled private detectives–is following a case so twisted and hairy that, even without the red herrings, it can be damn hard to follow.  Even Chandler himself didn’t know who committed all the murders.  For the movie lovers out there, it doesn’t hurt to picture Humphrey Bogart as the leading man, as Bogey played Marlowe in the 1946 version of the book.

57.  Treasure Island, by Robert Louis Stevenson. I read this in, I don’t know, 5th or 6th grade, for a book report, and loved it.  I ought to read it again.  And, to recycle an old debate from around here, pirates do beat ninjas.

55.  The Maltese Falcon, by Dashiell Hammett. I haven’t read this, but the movie in outstanding (with more Bogart–who’s to complain?), and the book has a stellar reputation.  I love the detective genre–I’ll get around to this, sooner or later.

53.  1984 (George Orwell) and 52.  On the Road (Jack Kerouac). I must be one of the few Americans who had to read A Brave New World but not 1984 in high school.  OTR is a book I haven’t read, honestly, just to avoid assimilating into the hive mentality at college, which involved romanticizing everything, playing acoustic guitar in public places (especially under trees), and reading this book compulsively.  I’ll read them eventually, but I’m in no rush.

48.  I. Claudius, by Robert Graves. As an advanced level Latin student from 6th grade onward, I’ve both read the book, and seen the exhaustive and mostly excellent series based on it.  Incest, violence, fire, insanity, backstabbing, poisoning–it’s a ludicrous soap opera, set 2000 years ago.  Personally, I don’t have much sympathy for the character of Claudius, who, at times, comes across as both cowardly and clumsy, but the chaos that surrounds him is too fascinating to look away.

41.  Lord of the Rings, by JRR Tolkien. Love the series, and The Hobbit, to boot.  Mrs Thursday loves Fellowship most, whereas I prefer Return. The books work as a sort of Dumas story with gravitas.  Certainly not for weak-eyed readers, as the print tends to be small on these books which clock in at well over 1,000 pages.  Worth the effort of going through at least once, though I imagine I’ve read the series more than any other books, as I tried to do the trilogy on a yearly basis from childhood until college.

38.  Catch-22, by Joseph Heller. Read it.  It’s a fun book, though it wanders a bit in the middle.  The circular nature of the language is downright astounding, and even more impressive, though subtly, is the circular nature of the storytelling.

34.  The Trial, by Franz Kafka. This is not my favorite Kafka, as I think his short stories tend to be stronger than his novels, and I’ve only read The Trial once, and The Castle I haven’t read at all.  The story is disconcerting, at the least, and the stark narration is terrifying.  Dark, dark stuff.

30.  Empire Falls, by Richard Russo. This book came recommended to me by a smart and enthusiastic reader.  Normally, I avoid Pulitzer Prize winners the way I avoid Oprah recommendations, but, hey, it was there.  The climax is startling, for certain, but the trouble of small people in a small town in Maine is discernible.  Excellent book, and probably the most recent on Law’s list, though I prefer other newer books to this one.

17.  The Great Gatsby, by F Scott Fitzgerald. To be honest, when I saw this book at this spot on the list, I was disappointed.  I utterly expected Gatsby to show his face in the top 3.  This book, for me, falls in that myriad list of  books I read in high school, and while I didn’t dislike it, I struggled to grasp the hype.  It deserves a re-read, I suspect.

14.  The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle, by Haruki Murakami. Hey, Amazon just delivered this book to me, today!  I’ll let you know how it goes.  Honestly, would have guessed this to make the top 10.

13.  A Confederacy of Dunces, by John Kennedy Toole. Law mentions that Walker Percy was less than kind in his introduction to this book.  It’s been years since I’ve read the book, but I don’t remember him being particularly mean.  Of course, when I read the book, I was still enthralled with Percy after reading Lost in the Cosmos, which, at the time, I found outstanding.  CoD, is, of course, one of the funniest books I’ve ever read.  Ignatius is vile and lazy and utterly hysterical.  A despical Don Quixote, set in New Orleans.  Book doesn’t have a lot of drive, as it’s just about the meandering adventures of a fat guy, but it entertains enthusiastically.

4.  To Kill a Mockingbird, by Harper Lee. This has long been my pick for The Great American Novel.  Worth every ounce of praise it’s ever received and then some.  The story is effective for its ability to take a very personal and quirky story and turn it into something universal and culturally significant.  The reader ends up joining the peanut gallery in the courtroom.  I’ve written a bit of fiction in my day, and sometimes, I start to hate my stories for failing to achieve that feat.  Harper Lee is called a one-hit wonder, but to me the title is misplaced.  One-hit wonder implies a failed effort at a second hit.  Lee never attempted to publish another novel.  Which, of course, is an absolute shame.   Anything half as good as her opus is well worth the read.

1.  The Master and Margarita, by Mikhail Bulgakov. I’m intrigued by stories that take a long time to write.  James Joyce famously took more than 13 years to write Finnegans Wake, which is a fascinating book if you’re patient but is an absolute bitch to read.  Virgil famously (among Latin scholars) spent the final 10 years of his life on The Aeneid, which he (probably) failed to complete.  Bulgakov spent (with some interruption) the final dozen years of his life, and the book was completed by his wife.  While Joyce’s Wake is enormously long and riddled with inscrutable, multi-level and multi-language punwork, and Virgil’s masterwork is enormously long (for a poem), and riddled with complex and astonishing wordplay, Bulgakov’s finest is relatively short and straightforward.

The book as all the more incredible for that.  It’s a novel of perfect economy, with no wasted words or sections.  Every phrase advances the plot, and every step the plot takes forward transforms either the characters themselves, or our understanding of them.  There are a number of memorable scenes–the broom-ride, the ball, the conversation between Yeshua Ha-Nozri and Pontius Pilate, and, perhaps, no scene more wondrous than the opener, which is much like that of The Man Who Was Thursday, except that the devil gets involved.  While Blood Meridian’s Judge as Satan is all horror and vile, black, evil, Woland is a tempter, dignified and polite and cunning.  His works are more subtle, but just as damning.  I don’t think I’d call it my favorite book, but Klaw certainly didn’t make a bad choice here.

The Klaw 100: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, Part 5.

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Watching Tiger

Every Easter, my parents would take my brothers and I in the family station wagon to my aunt and uncle’s house.  Aunt Cookie and Uncle Dom only lived about 5 miles away, so the commute wasn’t long, and we saw them frequently, anyway, but this is what we did.  This was the Easter event.  And every year, eventually, my brothers and I would get sick of conversations taking place outside, and we’d be banished from ball-tossing by Uncle Dom, and so we’d retire to the living room and put one whatever was available.  Until our other uncles–Bob, John, Ed, Murph, and Dave–with the backing of Dad, would force a channel change, and we’d be stuck watching the Masters.  Like clockwork, every year.

I remember watching Fred Couples win in 1992, and watching Tiger being his reign of dominance in 1997, watching Greg Norman fall apart, Jack Nicklaus in 1990 (and 1998).  I have a lot of memories forced upon me from the Masters.  I can’t tell you much else about the other golf tournments, even the other majors.  I know the British Open is sometimes at the Royal and Ancient in St Andrews, which I like because I’ve been there, walked that course, played miniature golf on it.  I have physical memories of the geography to associate with the action on the TV.  But, I don’t watch the tournament, hardly ever.  I don’t even know where they play the PGA Championship, and I don’t really care.  If you had asked me on Saturday where the US Open is played, I couldn’t have told you.

I don’t have anything against the sport.  I go to driving ranges every once in a while, and I completely understand how and why people get into the game.  I just can’t watch it.  From my perspective, every major tournement starts off like the World Series of Poker, in which there are the guys you’ve heard of–Tiger Woods, John Daly, Phil Mickleson–and then the city of Pittsburgh playing in the opening rounds.  By the weekend, the field is cut down to Woods and Phil and just a few dozen ‘Burghers.  There are just too many stories to follow, for me, too many blank players.  No  villains, nor heroes.  Just masses of people swinging sticks.  Without a narrative, I can’t sustain the broadcast.

But I love Tiger Woods.  I love his inscrutability. I love the way, with every successive win, sportswriters retread the same story: Tiger amazing, relentless, hyper-competitive.  I love the expectation of perfection.  I love the way he acts like a petulant child when he makes a mistake, throwing a club and muttering to himself.  I love the way he can tune out the howling throngs that follow him hole-to-hole, but can hear the tiniest camera click, or murmur in the audience, disturbing his peace, as he tries to make the next shot.

There’s a cliche about things that are inevitable: “Rooting against [that] is like rooting against gravity”.  Which is to say, there’s no point in getting bothered about something that was always bound to happen anyway.  Extended, the cliche almost says Tiger Woods’ victories are so imminent, so frequent, so constant, there is no reason to celebrate or mourn them.  He’s automatic.  He’s an android.

But, personally, that’s my favorite thing about him.  He’s too good.  We now expect him to falter, to be human.  To have that one weekend when he’s not up to the task.  And yet, he doesn’t.  He continues to make every necessary shot, to stumble just a little bit less than every other competitor.  I like watching him because it’s like being able to SEE gravity.  To see the force the propels everything else.

Tiger Woods won, again, today.  And, again, we were all amazed at the drama and routine of him.

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A Little Help Here

The recent blogger comments joke-meme that seems to be supremely popular seems to be this:

“Oh my God!  That’s… that’s… Mr Thursday’s music!”

With the “Mr Thursday” being replaced for whatever is appropriate for the joke.  Can somebody tell me where this comes from?  It feels familiar, but I can’t place it, and it’s driving me frickin’ nuts.

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Ah, autumn!

The air is getting cooler–at night, it’s almost downright cold in Philadelphia.  Each day is a little shorter.  The leaves are beginning to change their colors.  The birds are beginning to fly south for warmer weather.  The air is beginning to get a sweet smell from leaves biodegrading and from mothers firing up their ovens for the first time in a few months to bake their children cookies.  Children who will then head out for high school and college, and attend class, and go out afterwards and get recklessly, hopelessly, intoxicated. 

A few of them will get drunk enough to do something stupid.  They’ll jump out of windows and break arms and legs, or pick fights with people far too large for them.  They’ll drive and run red lights and get into accidents.  Of course, the same can be said of almost any age group, but it’s no surprise that it’s the underaged who find themselves in the most trouble, in regards to alcohol. 

When I was underage, drinking was facilitated through a number of means.  First, almost always could an older sibling or friend be found to purchase alcohol with our dollars.  The actual acquisition of alcohol for an underage drinker is remarkably easy.  The summer after my 19th birthday, I estimated that I spent approximately one-thousand American dollars on cheap beer and liquor, for myself and my two closest friends, as well as anyone who cared to come to our parties. 

A bigger problem, frequently, was location.  Unlike the of-age crowd, we could not go to bars, if we wanted to, and we didn’t own homes for ourselves.  So, during the summer, we became professional house-sitters.  You’re going on vacation?  Yes, I’d love to stay in your home, clean-up, feed your dogs, and throw gatherings for myself and only 25-50 friends and all the Beast Ice I can afford.  Oh, and you’ll pay me for this?  Lovely. 

When no empty house was available, people resorted to less trusty means.  The most popular method was to travel to the home of some whose parents were heavy sleepers, and early to bed.  Once they sleep, their blessed son calls everybody and within 45 minutes, there’s 50-100 people in the woods behind the house, drinking out of plastic cups.  In fact, houses with woods were always popular places to drink, because even if drinking inside was popular, in the event of a police visit, where does everyone run to?  The woods.  Run to the woods.  Hang out for 30 minutes.  Come back.  Keep drinking.  [In fact, I have a fantastic story regarding this very event, but Mrs Thursday has informed me that this story is not to be repeated where certain parties can find it until 2027.  So, keep reading.  In less than two decades, we’ll get that story to you.] 

Now, personally, I believe that the stupidity of underage drinking almost always occurs because the drinking age is 21, and since parents are liable for their children’s indiscretions, most parents are justifiably unwilling to facilitate underage drinking, even if they, too, disagree with the law.  The common, pithy remark from people who support a lower drinking age goes something like, “At 18 you’re old enough to vote for President, or die for your country, but you can’t sit down with a cold beer.”  It’s not a bad quote.  It does show some confusion regarding what the US Government thinks needs the wisdom of age to do.  However, it’s oft repeated, and while it shows that the law is silly, it fails to show that the law is dangerous.  The fact the the 21 drinking age is dangerous is what people need to see, if anything is to change. 

Why dangerous?  Because of the method of introduction.  Sociologists and psychologists and other people who study high schoolers gauge that the two biggest influences in their lives are their friends, and their parents.  These are people that little Billy has known for most of his life.  There is an inherent trust–even as things may be hostile between a parent and a child, most children can admit that their parents generally look out for them.  However, children are forced to avoid their parents in order to have alcohol.  So they go to their friends, whom they trust almost equally, and who aren’t going to judge them or prohibit their activities.  These friends, however, are ignorant.  At least, they’re no less ignorant than Billy.  And they end up drinking foolishly, irresponsibly, whatever, because there is no one to keep them in check, or teach them responsible drinking. 

Then the child graduates high school, and goes on to college, and all those trusted relationships are gone.  At least, they’re placed on hold.  New relationships are formed, and, at least, at first, they’re not as trustworthy.  Most of the kids who didn’t drink in high school start drinking as freshmen in college.  Again, because they can only obtain alcohol illegally, they drink cheap, disgusting drinks, and drink them quickly, and in large quantities.  When you’re under 21, you only drink to get drunk.  You can’t relax with a beer because, after all, you’re drinking in the woods.

Most of the lower drinking age advocates push for a drinking age of 18.  Honestly, I think this is inadequate.  I think provides a parent only a few scant months to teach a child to drink safely, to appreciate a good beer or wine.  Plus, it’s given Billy far too much time to run around in the woods, avoiding cops. 

I think parents should have the ability to serve alcohol to their children.  A 14 year old cannot buy alcohol, but if mom wants to give her daughter a small glass of wine with Christmas dinner, it’s perfectly legal.  To buy alcohol, I think 16 is appropriate.  A 16-year old can legally consume alcohol, and can legally buy beer and wine.  To buy liquor, or to drink anything in a bar, the necessary age is 18.  Thus, there’s a natural progression.  Alcohol only under the supervision of parents, followed by beer and wine, independantly (but, theoretically, still with some supervision, as they’re going to have to drink somewhere) and then at 18, the kids are adults, and they’re free to drink as they please, where they please. 

It’s not a perfect system.  Certainly, 16 year olds will buy alcohol and provide it to their 15 year old friends, and so on.  But, at least, parents get the change to teach their children responsible drinking before the children learn from their friends to get blackout drunk, and the children learn to handle lower alcohol beverages before they head for the Wild Turkey 101. 


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