Just shy of his 50th birthday, Jarvis Bagley’s life has become an awful cliché. Long divorced, long single, estranged from his children, working an unfulfilling job, Jarvis has long since dropped courtesy and decorum for acrimony and rancor.
So lost is he in his contempt for others, that he finds his most meaningful relationships interacting with his favorite craft beers and the anthropomorphized caricatures he turns them into.
His lone solace is competing Tuesday night trivia at Grendel’s Tap & Pub. His greatest dream is winning the coveted Saxon Keg—the Pub’s prize awarded to the best trivia team of the year.
But if he wants to win the Keg, and maybe put his life in some kind of order, he’s going to have to put together a winning team. Worse yet, he’s going to have to get along with the real people who will form it.
Chapter Six: Jarvis and Catherine Discuss Bad Parenting
Saxon Keg Point Standings—Early July:
- Jarvis Bagley and “Friends”: 850
- Isaac Newton’s Missing Apple: 800
- The Ken Dolls: 710
- Make Trivia Great Again: 480
- Saxophones and Saliva: 320
- Zen and the Art of Beer: 250
- The C-Chord Walk Downs: 140
- The Off-Road Commuters: 30
- Others: 20
In one of the most serendipitous moments in the modern craft beer movement, the founders of Indiana City Brewing happened upon an apt and historic location to house their business.
More than a century earlier, Home Brewing Company—founded by the likes of John Hook’s father and Kurt Vonnegut’s grandfather—became a Midwestern juggernaut, cranking out as many as 35,000 barrels a year. But because Indiana holds a deep-seated “Utah-fetish,” those wise souls sent to Indianapolis—sent by the even wiser souls who repeatedly shelved their rifles and rolled up their Confederate flags so that they could go the polls and elect them—decided that Prohibition needed to get started a full two years before the rest of the country joined in. By 1922, Home Brewing was kaput.
For her expansive knowledge of beer and brewing, Catherine Addleson-Smith had no idea that Indiana City brewed and served in Home Brewing’s old bottling building smack-dab in the middle of downtown Indy. I took pleasure in knowing something she didn’t. I was cool about it. Casual, even. But I savored it, nonetheless. Since she joined the team, I could count the number of trivia answers I knew exclusively on one hand…maybe two.
When I knocked on Catherine’s garage door, a four-pack of Shadowboxer Oatmeal Stout dangled from the curve of my index finger. After she had forced the door open from inside, I held the cans aloft and half-grinned. She returned my expression with a blank stare. If she were a comic strip character, I suppose the thought balloon suspended over her head would have made some reference to the three chests of beer sitting behind her. I knew that would be her reaction, of course. But somehow, I felt compelled to bring something. If I was going to spend the day on her porch downing all her beer, I had to find some way to mitigate the “mooch-effect” which I knew would haunt me.
Nodding—and sighing simultaneously—she took the cans and placed them in the chest behind her.
“I know it’s a bit too warm this time of year for a stout,” I said, “but Shadowboxer is worth the violation of beer decorum.” On those words, she reached back into the chest where she had just placed the cans, withdrew them—still conjoined by the plastic carrying cap snapped over their tops—and slowly pivoted them in her hands. What I didn’t tell her was that I had meant to bring a four-pack of Tribute Pale Ale instead and tuck away the Stouts for a chilly, rainy day at home. But after last night’s trivia fiasco, I promptly went home, sat in front of Netflix, and knocked every one of them out. When I make plans with other people in mind, I don’t follow through very well.
“Heavy,” she said still looking at them.
“Yeah,” I answered. “But good. Smooth.”
In the intervening years between the death of Home Brewing and the birth of Indiana City, the old bottling facility had served a number or roles: plumbing and lumber for a while, and later a boxing gym. Etched into the blackness of the can, a cinnamon colored diamond wrapped around the now sweating curves. Filling out the bottom have of that reddish blot stood the boxer himself, his arms extended as if resting along the ropes. The silver shading across the tops of his muscular shoulders bespoke his raw power, and the downward tilt of his head—his eyes presumably staring hard into the canvas—bore witness to his grace.
Sensing my gaze upon him, the Boxer turned his head my way, then torqued the rest of his body around. In the blackness of that face, I could feel his expression of solidarity. Without a word, he held his right arm up, forming a 90-degree angle at the elbow. Quickly he forced two short fist pumps, then pointed at me with the left glove, and just a suddenly turned himself around and resumed his trademark pose on the can.
“Okay,” Catherine Addleson-Smith said as she gently retuned the cans to the chest fridge. “Thanks,” in a voice best described at flat, if not one punctuated by descending inflection.
On her porch I took healthy draws from Catherine’s own single-hopped pale ale. After last night’s mini-bender I was still “Jonesing” for more. Alas, a two-hour trip to Indy and back seemed too impractical for a handful of beers. But when I described Tribute to her—a perfectly balanced pale that bit a little on the front end and closed with a delicious, sweet finish—Catherine Addleson-Smith nodded twice, moved her eyeballs into the beer catalogue stuffed under her forehead, and disappeared into her garage.
“Here,” she said six minutes later. Before me hovered a pint of beer best described as artistic. The color reflected hues of brown, gold, and amber while a perfect head of foam filled out the glass’ top centimeter. After my first draw, I was hooked. I still preferred Tribute, but I nodded in satisfaction after my first gulp of Catherine’s brew. On its own merit, the sharp second-bite on the finish gave it a distinct and savory taste.
“That’s good,” I said earnestly. I took another drink, and as I sighed in satisfaction, I turned my face back to her. “You have a name for this?”
“If one comes to mind,” she said, “you can have the honors.”
Halfway through my second pint of “Hrothgar’s Throne” the conversation gravitated to last night’s game.
Paul’s trivia contests followed a standard pattern. The games were comprised of six rounds, of three questions each. In each round, teams could place five, ten, or fifteen-point values on answers of their choosing. One value per question, per round. No repeats. A “Halftime” question followed Round Three, and a “Final Question” followed the sixth round. In both cases, teams could wager up to as many points on their scoreboard as they wanted. Get it right, double the bet. Wrong? That was moving backwards.
Last night’s game, however, came with added fireworks.
“You get hot under the collar at the shake of a stick,” she observed. As usual, she delivered her comment with a matter-of-fact tone to her voice. As she spoke, she pulled her evergreen infused lager to her lips in a manner more befitting a description of the weather.
I sighed. It’s what I always do when someone calls me out after one of my episodes.
“Yeah,” I said. “I don’t know why, but once I’m worked up I can’t stop it,” I said. Honestly.
During the second round of questions, I noticed that Jared had been dropping answers to the team in the adjacent booth. He was our brilliantly smart server with a razor-sharp sense of irony. A displaced metrosexual, given Ephraim’s population and demographics. And on any other night of the year, he was, hands-down, my favorite human being in the entire town. But at that moment, however, he was nothing of the sort.
The dudes sitting behind us—the ones benefitting from Jared’s sudden impulse to share—were camo-wearing, tree-stand-hugging, Toby-Keith-loving, Dodge-Ram-driving Republicans. They weren’t dumb, regardless of assumptions all the Ephraim professors on my Facebook feed said. They knew, for example, the approximate speed needed to reach escape velocity (25,000 mph), and they had no problem with John Wayne’s real name (Marion Michael Morrison).
But when Paul asked us which article of the Constitution forbade religious tests for government positions, I could hear the air whooshing out of their Fox News silos. One turned to the other, then the next, then a third with nonverbal exchanges that proclaimed: “I don’t know… Do you know…?” As I’ve said all too many times, it turned out that their actual knowledge of their beloved Constitution started and stopped with the 2nd Amendment. And somewhere in the midst of that they assumed it also commanded every American to bow in their living rooms before their framed paintings of that two-thousand-year-old brown-haired pasty-white guy hovering above the rocks in that ill-fitting bathrobe.
For reasons I still can’t fathom, Jared leaned toward them as he sped his way past the booths and loudly whispered the answer.
“Article Six!” he all but hissed.
“Thanks, brother!” One of them shouted back after the momentary look of “why is he helping us?” had passed.
In round three, Jared let them know that the U.S. Embassy in Israel was in Tel Aviv, and during the “Halftime” question he nudged them again, cluing them in that “gamophobia” is a fear of being married or committed to a relationship.
When he leaned their way during the second question in the fourth round… That’s when I hit the wall.
I don’t remember what I said. When the really ugly scenes unfold, I file them away in vault somewhere in the basement of my head, so that I don’t have to suffer the embarrassment of memory. Still, some details managed to escape the file cabinet. I know I was loud. I know I stood up and stopped Jared in his tracks. I know he returned my red face and torrent of spittle with wide eyes and a stunned expression of abject horror. I don’t know how the four Republicans took it in. I tend to subconsciously steer my line of sight away from people who intimidate me, and those four bastards scared the complete shit out of me. If Maxwell’s punch to the face last winter hurt for a month, then those fuckers would probably make me whimper with each step I took for the next year.
But with Jared I was explosive. I was profane. Emily walked me outside, while several teams shuffled and changed tables. In the evening humidity, I whipped out my first Marlboro in seven months. It was that big of a deal. Several people opted to step outside while I smoked and ask me, “Are you okay?” or “What can I do for you?” It’s all code language you use when doing a quick round of “social reconnaissance.” Two cigarettes and a half-dozen “I’m fine’s” and “I’m sorry’s” later, Emily walked me back inside. The team had moved to the southeast corner, by the “garage door” windows. Normally, on a night as warm as this one, they’d be flung wide open. They had indeed been open, in fact…about twenty minutes earlier.
Any other pub… Any other time in my life… My ass would have been tossed out. Maybe for good. Emily was professional…and more than that. Jared even walked to me, touched me on the shoulder and apologized to me.
God… I am such a dick.
“It’s just a game, after all,” said Catherine Addleson-Smith uttering THE four words that absolutely make me clench my teeth and pinch the inside of my thigh to keep from screaming. She had just returned from the garage with a fresh pint, this time an imperial IPA with a mixture of Chinook and Amarillo hops wrapped up with a soft, grapefruit aftertaste.
“I mean…Jared could have told those fools the answer to every question, but they still would have lost on the Final one.”
The final one.
“Put the following rivers in order by length,” Paul announced.
The rivers in question were the Mississippi, the Yellow, the Nile, and the Amazon. The correct order was:
- The Nile
- The Amazon
- The Mississippi
- The Yellow
While ruining the evening with my colossally stupid unforced error proved the worst part of the night, ending that night on a “length of rivers” question pushed my spirits still closer to the neck of my dark, funnel of moodiness. I didn’t know the answers. Catherine did, however, and she listed them before I could lift and then lower my beer.
I was surprised that the Mississippi made the list, though. I figured something like the Danube or the Volga would run farther. It had been almost a decade since I last crossed it, back when I made frequent trips to St. Louis. Back then I was dating a secretary for a real estate firm. I had met her on Match.com, and even though the three-hour drive was a long distance to cover for a few laughs and a good lay I took it. Especially since my next-best option was “Elaine,” a gorgeous brunette “from Cheviot, Ohio” who had been “abandoned in Africa” by her “ex-husband” and begged me for my credit card number so she could “pay for her way back home.”
Every time I crossed the Mississippi, I would peek out over the concrete abutment along the edge of Interstate 70, and stare out into that swirling mixture of blue, green, and brown. Watching the water cut such an enormous swath out of the landscape, I would hold my gaze on it as the same, profound thought caromed through my mind: “That would be a horrible place to die.”
Only a few years earlier, the I-35 overpass collapsed in Minneapolis, and for whatever reason both Dateline NBC and 20/20 spent all of the 1990’s obsessing over the millions of loose nuts and tons chipping concrete on America’s bridges. As I crossed, I tensed up, bracing myself for the rumble I was sure would happen. Preparing myself for the sudden, violent drop I knew I would feel. More importantly, I made peace with the fact that, if anyone ever found my body, they’d find me strapped into my shitty 2006 Chevy Cobalt—a five-year-old sedan that rolled across Illinois with all the smoothness and silence of a ’74 Gremlin.
Thank to Catherine… Thanks to a lot of people, actually, we left Grendel’s with the win. I didn’t look at the Republicans when Paul announced our victory, but Max and Sarah did. Their faces told me that a quick exit was a good idea. On the way out, I passed Jared. He nodded awkwardly, a gesture which belied the combination of hate and hurt that escaped his eyes. Once outside I looked through the windows as Jared bussed tables. He was more than that aforementioned favorite person. He was also one of the most genuine people I’d known in this town. When he talked to me, he wasn’t pretending to be interested in my life for the sake of a tip. He wanted to know when I’d last seen my kids. He wanted to me to introduce them to him.
For a moment I tried to catalogue all the relationships with real people. For a second moment I replayed the myriad ways I had managed to send every single one of them up in flames as if they were a pile of dried leaves.
“I treated him the same way I did my own kids,” I said resting my near empty pint glass in my left palm while running my right index finger around the lip.
Catherine started, lifting her eyes toward me when I spoke. It was funny, really. I arrived there fully determined to figure out a way to get her to talk about her son. Instead, after opening the door herself, I stood at the threshold without another word to say.
“Jared’s a good kid,” she said. “I’m sure he’s already forgiven you.”
I helped myself to another beer, sat back down, and stared into the trees. She knew I wanted to ask about her son. I tried to mask my curiosity with the pensive expression I had naturally worn when I talked about Jared. But was gone. She knew that, and she knew what I was up to.
“I was a selfish father,” I finally said. The silence between us had become uncomfortable, and I said it as much to break that as anything. More silence followed it, however. After roughly another eight fluid ounces of quiet, I turned her way again.
“I suppose you’re going to tell me that I should try to patch things up with my kids,” I said. “You know…? While there’s still time?”
“Still time for what?” Catherine replied, her eyebrows up. “I’m not going to tell you shit.”
If she wanted me to go home, she didn’t say it. She also didn’t say another word until I nodded and saw myself out some 30 minutes later.