Trifler No. 23 [On Shops]

“You bring your days to rest, / Remain a living soul. / In time of hate and waste, / Wars and rumors of wars, / Rich armies and poor peace, / Your blessed economy, / Beloved sufficiency / Upon a dear, small place, / Sings with the morning stars.” –Wendell Berry

I. 
My bike guy works on Bridge Street, near the foot of Castle Hill. He pedals in each morning at 8:30, give or take, and, if no customers or carry-over jobs meet him, he begins puzzling through the Times crossword. I know this because I—who am the proud owner of an ever-breaking, rickety bike—am often stationed at his door when he rolls in. And, over the past year, we have come to know each other, he and I. Our meetings work on strict ritual and settled ceremony. He greets me with a “Hiya,” as he unlocks the door. I respond with a “good morning.” We step into his one room shop smelling of grease and must and rubber and time—filled with used bikes, disused bike parts and various sale items shelved on the north wall. Either he or I will comment on the weather. The last time, it was my shift: 
    “Warm.”
    “It is,” he agrees. He always agrees, “and possible thunderstorm tonight; I like a good thunderstorm.” I agree. I always agree. We then proceed to discuss my bike’s newest fracture or bend or puncture or loss. He tears off a ticket with a number, hands it to me, and asks, “What time would you like to pick it up?” 
    “What time will it be ready?”
    “Oh, say, midday?” It will always be ready at midday.
    “I’ll come back around noon, then.”
    “Cheers.”
    “See you then.”

I work away the morning in a café or the Christ’s College Library and walk back up Bridge Street at noon, over the bridge at Quay Side, past Magdalene and The Pickerel, to the bike shop door. He greets me with a nod, and explains the damage—holding up a glass shard he extracted, some stripped bolt, or a frayed gear cable. They are his temporary trophies and my temporary hassles.

While I pay, I ask him the same question, “Did you finish your crossword?” For I have learned that he judges his days by that puzzle. It is his reference point, his barometer. Business is middling if it’s finished by lunch. Business is less than satisfactory if he tears through it in an hour. Business is good if he has yet to finish. Last Tuesday, he told me he had been stuck on a clue for two hours that morning: “‘flier,’ five letters, started with a p.’ I thought for a few seconds.
    “Plane?”
    “Pilot!” he blurted, “Couldn’t believe I couldn’t think of that—just couldn’t believe it.”
    “I wouldn’t have thought of it—terrible at those things,” I replied, tearing off my own receipt and examining the total. Every now and then we’ll discuss other things—his Royal Family calendar, politics, BBC4 radio shows, and, once, Mozart, but that discussion always happens while I pay, never before, and it cannot carry on too long. He has his work, I mine. I usually end by saying, “Welp, I’m off. See you soon, I’m sure.”
    “Hopefully not too soon,” he says. I laugh and shove my bike out the door.

A trip to the bike shop has become one of my great joys. It is a local ritual—a living and growing tradition, a rhythm of participations that has little to do with progress and its pretensions. In a real sense, it is progress’s foil, for it moves forward by returns to the old and not by blind leaps into the new. It is my way into a kind of membership here,** and membership, it seems is a thing of months and years not of minutes. It requires repetition and ruts and symbolic gestures and verbal ceremony and tacit understandings. It settles on one and makes one supremely settled. Membership ages no faster than wine. It is rarely a business of asking or telling; it only shows up and plays its part until the play somehow needs its part. Membership is the way into a town and this shop is my way into a membership.

II.
I have begun to frequent other shops—one a tailor on Victoria, owned and operated by a  gold-chained, barrel-chested, Russian immigrant, his family sewing around him, his relatives popping in and out for tea. He is a brusque man who dictates and cares little for offending customers: “Why didn’t you come out at look at yourself in the mirror?” he asked me once with scorn, “Next time you do.” I nodded and paid. 

We buy our wine from a neighbour’s establishment down Holland Road—a red-fronted, tall-ceilinged upstairs cellar, wooden from floor to shelf and dusty in the right places. We tell them the dish—its meat and its spices—the occasion, the price point. They search the shelves, bring out two or three, drop words like lush, brave, oaked, toasty, jammy; one learns to wait and to anticipate the next rich word perhaps as much as the next rich wine. In trust, we buy. In joy, we drink. 

Others will follow. Rumours have reached us of a cheese shop on All Saints Passage, of a butcher on Victoria, of a grocer and a baker on Chesterton. In time we may begin to patronise these and make our town larger by making it smaller—not for reasons ecological or sociological or economical or environmental, but for reasons sacramental, which subsume all the others and put them in their proper place, namely, the second place.* For the primary fact of small shops is that they have a greater capacity to bring one joy, and, of course, as is true of all the greatest things, to bring one woe. A grocer or a butcher or a barber or a bike man or a tailor may tell one off or turn one out or laugh at one, for he is a man, and whatever else man is, he is not safe. The grocery store or buy-it-all emporium holds no such dangers; it will not expose one to hazards but neither will it bring one much joy, only a mild amusement or dull annoyance. 

III.
Yesterday, on my way home from a grocery run, I crossed the Jesus Green footbridge, spanning the lock. The store had been clean, well-lighted, wide-isled, soft-musiced, low-priced, safe, and my satchel was heavy. I thought little of food or shops but absently surveyed the river and its clientele as I dismounted and led my bike along the uneven boards. As I walked, my gaze fixed on a sandy-tan moving object on the uphill slope of the opposite bank, just under the large bushes there. As I neared, I saw that it was a man—an old man in a linen suit and a panama hat, holding a small bucket and reaching into the bushes. He plucked and dropped, plucked and dropped. It was then that I remembered, there are shopping places more primeval, more public, even than the shops.

R. Eric Tippin
Corner House, Cambridge
August 27-30, 2016

Image:
"Coffee John"
Poster Paint on Cardboard - c. 1900
Artist Unknown

* This construction is stolen from the subject of my Ph.D.
* The idea of ‘membership’ has been appropriated (with a difference or two) from the author of this post’s epigraph.

Gambler, No. 30 [The Brewers]

“As soon as I enter the door of a tavern, I experience an oblivion of care, and a freedom from solicitude: when I am seated, I find the master courteous, and the servants obsequious to my call; anxious to know and ready to supply my wants: wine there exhilarates my spirits, and prompts me to free conversation and an interchange of discourse with those whom I most love: I dogmatise and am contradicted, and in this conflict of opinions and sentiments I find delight.” – Johnson

I

“Yes, as Johnson says, it is the poets who preserve the language.” I twirled my Belgian-whit, brought liquid to lips, and set glass to wood. “After I read Dante, I told myself two things are needful to appreciate him, truly; one must learn Italian and become a Catholic.” I lifted the glass once again. “You see, Musa’s translation, so I suppose” – here twirling the beer and holding the glass out like a sort of speaking-stick – “is very good, but Dante’s rhyme scheme, the aba bcb cdc, is lost in the English. In Italian it would be very much like Spenser’s stanza, where that second rhyme becomes the first and sort of whirls one about.” I paused from speaking and enjoyed the brew. The man across from me concurred. Beyond him, huddled in a dark corner, our tattooed waitress smoked a cigarette with a patron. Another man sat at the bar, smoking and trying his luck at the penny-slots. He sat half-turned on the stool, as if speaking to the specter in the next seat, as if waiting for the friend he knew would never show. 

There is a tendency – I had almost said a temptation – for modern man to over-generalize his experience in life. “This bar, this beer, this person” becomes something more like “just another beer at just another bar with just another human.” It is true that globalization and the increase of unnecessary technologies destroy localization. Globalization destroys neighborhoods, not like an unruly giant, who picks up homes and smashes them together with an odd mixture of rage and joy. No. Globalization destroys the neighborhood like a humble, innocent, yet uncreative architect, whose rows of houses are as unchanging as rows of headstones. But even as I muse on our despondent situation, there is at least one ray of hope. There is at least one sector of society, one brotherhood of men who have risen from their headstones, dusting off the ash and dirt of the prohibition and raging with the unending joy of resurrection. There is one race of men out to preserve the species. And these titans, rearing their heads with laughter, are none other than your local brewers. And it is with great joy – after months of despondency and near despair – to have discovered these brewers brooding and existing even in Las Vegas. Even in the new-age desert a man may drink a pint of good, local beer.

II 

Over the past year, I have casually searched for good local beer. Discovering and supporting local beer is important. First, it is important because it supports, in its way, local community, local men, local flavor. Second, it is important because craft beer, as opposed to supporting drunkenness, acts as a buffer against it. By its very name, craft beer is about creation, and a craft brewer crafts a beer for taste and no other reason. If you do not care for taste in your beer, it’s likely because you have no taste. And drinking simply to blackout is nothing but a mild form of suicide; it is the tasteless trying to taste less than they already taste. But craft brews are for crafty people, for people who, like carpenters, are into crafting and creating things. I suppose, if it is not irreverent, that Christ was a crafty fellow. If Christ were alive today, he might drink craft brew. For Christ, apprenticed as a carpenter, both carved wood and had a hand in creating man. I can see him now, whittling away at some object as a teen – perhaps a miniature of his mother. It’s hard and blasphemous, in any case, to picture Christ blacking out. It’s hard, and blasphemous, to support those brewers of the night, those brewers who brood on dark thoughts, who deceptively brew light beers, who in the cover of night seek the deeper darkness of their unconscious.

III

Like the great morning star, the brewers in this town rise above the rabble and ruckus. As one may eat his peas before his pudding, let us began with the worst of the Vegas brewers. One thing to note about Vegas breweries, generally speaking, is their fondness for bad beer. That is, the local brewers love brewing lagers and pilsners, IPAs and pale ales. This makes finding the good rather difficult. One must wield his scythe and proactively separate the wheat from the chaff. And even the wheat here is a toil on the taste buds. Instead of brewing a good wheat beer, the brewers concoct Hefeweizens, filling them with banana notes and making one cringe. Now, though the outer ring of these breweries consists of bad beer, if one descends deeply enough, he will find hidden treasures. 

There are two breweries, to begin with, that are an exception. Big Dog’s brewers not only brew bad lagers and pale ales and Hefeweizens, they also have achieved the very difficult task of brewing a bad Brown Ale. What is notable about their Red Hydrant Brown Ale is that it actually tastes worse on tap than out of a can. Any beer brewed for a can must immediately be canned.* Another brewery to avoid is Bad Beat Brewery, out of Henderson. Now, I have only had two of their beers to be honest, but the only other one on the shelf was a pilsner. This brewery, as far as I can tell, does not brew anything worth spending money for. If a local man offers you any beers from these two breweries, I think it is certainly permissible to question that man’s character. If this man offers you a lager, you at the wrong social event.

There are, nevertheless, three breweries here that have not just decent, but delicious brews. The Crafthuas brewery, a small, coffee-shop sized brewery in Henderson brews a delicious saison. This brew is a nice summer beer. It is smooth, refreshing, not too bitter, not too sweet, and certainly not too thick. Now, if a man offers you this beer, you must repay him in some fashion. If you are from the Midwest, you ought to offer him the saison from Boulevard as repayment.

The Joseph James Brewery, another Henderson gem, has achieved the reverse of Big Dog’s accomplishment. Though their lager is on par with Bud Light, their Citra Rye Pale Ale, though a tad too bitter for my own tastes, is decent. It is fruity and strong, two other qualities that I usually dismiss immediately, but which are not overdone. Their Weize Guy Hefeweizen is also drinkable. It’s banana notes are not overly dominating, unlike other Hefeweizens in this town. The sin of the craft brewer, as the sin of the saint, is over-craftiness, of going over the top. His sin is often an excess of taste rather than a lack. Though these brews are not overdone, they are not the best beer. However, if a local here offers it to you, you need not cringe or stick up your nose at him.

The best of the local brews, though, are the brown ales. The Busker Brown Ale from Joseph James is your standard brown. It is rich and smooth. It does what all good brown ales do; it sets a man’s wits afire. A man nearly starts quoting the bard when he drinks of it. A man can drink a brown ale slowly; he may enjoy it; he does not worry about it growing too warm; he waits not till his hills turn blue. This is no more true than the best of the best in Vegas. In a small little brewery on Bonanza Road, in the darkest recesses of our town, shines a light as if in a black pit. I have only had one beer from the Tenaya Creek Brewery, but the Bonanza Brown Ale towers above the other beers in this town. The Bonanza Brown is the closest thing to drinking tobacco, the closest thing to that rare pleasure of enjoying two things in one. Apart from perhaps the milk stout or the chocolate porter,** the brown ale is the richest of the beers. And the Bonanza Brown is certainly a bonanza in the mouth.

IV 

These beers are difficult to find in a town that hardly realizes they exist. But it is the joy of the Gambler to spread the good news. It is his noble task to ask and pester his local bars until they provide him with locally crafted beer. It is his task, along with these noble brewers, to help preserve the tongue. While he sits in dark booths brooding over another town’s beer, quoting the poets, he must not only seek to preserve the language. For what does it benefit a man to save his language but lose his tongue? What happens when bad brews brew bad poems? This must not be. A man must drink from the fountains of his local brewery; he must, though, drink their best. For only then will his tongue be loosed; then will he no longer speak in prose but poetry. 

Broom Snow
The Jolly Mariner – Rochelle Avenue
Las Vegas, Nevada
August 20-27

Painting: "A Tavern Scene"
By James Flewitt Mullock
Oil on canvas, 1883

_______________________

*A distinction is needed. A beer brewed for a can is different than beer brewed and placed in a can, a beer meant for a glass.

 

**I have found no porters here, and it being summer, I have not tried the local stouts and therefore cannot comment on those noble brews. This analysis does not include the local brew-pubs that do not distribute.

Impressions No. 1

The more I read and learn the more I find I yearn for times and places other than my own. The breakneck pace of life is at times unbearable, not in the speed of time per say but the speed of events. I travel at thirty miles an hour and think it slow, no sooner have I read a headline and it is obsolete, I go for a morning run and I am already late for a meeting I thought for sure I had plenty of time to make (the last one being entirely my fault). I long for slower days. I miss seeing the lights in the universe at night that we call stars but powerful telescopes are now showing are galaxies. In my current Denver night sky I can only see a handful of stars, which could very well be satellites and that seems very unsatisfying. I wish for silence. Everywhere I go music seems to be blaring, or engines roaring, or people yelling. On top of it all, the world at this time seems to be slowly and irrevocably sliding into chaos. Insanity rather than wisdom is winning it seems on all sides. It makes one, me namely, want to tune everything out and simply long for better days.

Perhaps I am alone in this, but I would guess not, that when I am down often what I am reading serves as a correction for my thoughts or balm for my soul. One such constant companion of grace is the liturgy of the Hours that the Church has had for thousands of years. Specifically the Office of Readings has a way of being what I need when I need it. For this particular malady Saint Augustine had a particular scathing reply. In a sermon reviewing the suffering of the faithful he remarks, “…you find men complaining about the times they live in, saying that the times of our parents were good. What if they could be taken back to the times of their parents, and should they then complain? The past times that you think were good, are good because they are not yours here and now.”[i] What is particularly interesting is that this man died in a turbulent period of history, to say the least. Ingratitude for Saint Augustine springs from a deliberate forgetfulness. A forgetfulness that is strong in me. Perhaps, to turn the phrase, I am far to easily unamused.

Yes, conditions in this day and age are less than perfect. In some ways life is worse now than in former days; but, in others life is so much better and I have so much for which to be thankful. In this day and age in the United States of America the child mortality rate (from disease and such) is considerably lower. On a more personal note if health care were not where it is today my daughter would quite possibly be mentally retarded by this point and for sure would be later in life. With the advances in modern science as they are today she is not only able to avoid the loss of her mental faculties but thrive. For this I am truly grateful.

While the world we live in does seem to be sliding into insanity we are in fact not living in the middle of a nightmare. No matter how bad things may be or will become we can look at times in history that were worse and be thankful. While I have little silence I have many opportunities to hear God speaking in the noise. I am beginning to see how He can use the sounds around me in the same way that He used the silence in other ages. While I cannot see the stars I have an entire western horizon of mountains to see beauty. In the evening they are lit up in a gorgeous light display, which I can choose to see and enjoy or miss. Beauty surrounds me; I must choose to see it. While the pace of life is exhausting at times and annoying the fact of the matter is that because of the speed I can, if need be, see family on the other side of the country in a few hours; I can chat with a friend on a different continent instantaneously; I can be at the grocery store (or fast food establishment) to soothe pregnancy cravings of a wife in minutes. Whatever I need is always close at hand. 

I miss the wonder around me constantly because I pine for times, places, and things I cannot have. However, should I get what I want the condition of my soul is such that I would not enjoy it but rather again wish for what I do not have. Fortunately I have people such as Saint Augustine to point out foolishness in my thinking and wise voices* to show what a quiet, simple enjoyment of the world looks like. Through them I can relearn how to be fully present and amused with the gifts given to me in life. Perhaps this is one reason why our great, good God said, “It is not good for man to be alone.”[ii]

[i] Augustine, Sermon “He who perseveres to the end will be saved”

[ii] Gen 2:18

*Specifically thinking of Eric Tippin and his Trifler No 18 here.

Phineas Craven
Kitchen Table
Littleton, Colorado
August 25, 2016

Image:
"Saint Augustine in His Cell (copy after Sandro Botticelli)"
Oil on Board - 1964
Jenny Clement

Trifler No. 22 [On Freeways]

“For such is the inequality of our corporeal to our intellectual faculties, that we contrive in minutes what we execute in years” – Dr Johnson

We put on our Sunday best and stepped south down the Carlyle sidewalk, ducking leaf-heavy branches and chatting with little aim. The August sky rolled with clouds; the river sat glassy; the air moved but without a hint of bluster. It was late morning. Church bells rang downtown, and the necklace tourists were beginning to emerge and sift through Jesus Green toward the centre. ‘Let’s take this sidewalk,’ I said as we stepped off the footbridge by the ice cream shack, “alter the routine, keep our brains guessing.” My wife agreed with a slight swerve.

Jesus Green has two tree-lined sidewalks—one old, grand, wide, and plane-treed, and one new and narrow-trunked. We took the latter. Others walked before and behind us, stringing up and down the sidewalk in a silent, straight procession, and I was glad to remember that this was not just a sidewalk but a freeway—older and more storied than the M11 or I70. I thought too how tragic it is that the great pedestrian, tree-lined freeways of Cambridge are now relegated to the words ‘sidewalk’ and ‘pavement’, while the hot, barren, rubber-flecked, death-dealing motorways retain those names. I thought how the highway was no longer a place for a highwayman, and a freeway was no place for a free man, while the pedestrian paths are still veins of commerce and vessels of travel—places of conversation as well as movement, of encounters with men, not machines. The good Samaritan could still operate here, I thought. He would have to pass by on the other side of the M11.

But my thoughts were interrupted by a distant yell coming from the southeast across the opens of the green. I squinted in that direction. All I saw at first was a streak of Sainsbury’s orange hurtling across the open grass toward our sidewalk. Another yell, and another. I still could not hear words, but I recognized rage in the voice. I craned again, and this time I saw him: he was on a bike, pedalling like mad, almost galloping across Jesus Green in the direction of the tennis lawn just ahead. Orange grocery bags swung from his handlebars, and his right arm was extended straight in front of him—lance like. From a distance he looked like some errant knight pricking across the plain in fear and wrath. And all the time he ranted and screamed and cried out like a minor prophet. By now we could hear what he said, “We need you! Men are dying! Can Cambridge form a militia? Harvard can do it! Princeton can do it! Why can’t Cambridge? You! You cowards talk; I want to see you walk. Go fight. We need you. Men are dying. Go fight. Cowards! And you’re doing nothing. We need you! We need you!”

We were not yet to the portion of the sidewalk by the tennis lawn where he was heading, but those who were had, by now, seen the man descending upon them. They froze and quailed. He raged on, shooting nearer and nearer. No one moved. Just as he reached them he swerved off and rode parallel to the sidewalk, pointing at every person he passed, and continuing to yell “Cowards! We need you! Men are dying! Why won’t you help?” He crossed the sidewalk and rode down the other side, continuing to point, continuing to rant. The pedestrians began moving again, heads down, feet shuffling. After three or four more passes, he stopped in the middle of the pavement facing in our direction.

We walked toward him. He continued to rave about militias and men dying; he called us cowards; he called us worse. He shook his outstretched finger. He did not move. All those on the sidewalk were now walking quickly, veering around him to the right and left; giving him a wide berth. He became a kind of river boulder, cutting one stream into two. At last, it was our turn to face him. I will stay on the sidewalk, I thought. I will not be intimidated. Just then I felt my wife detach and slide to the left of the path. He continued to stare me down with his Nahum-eyes, and I did not veer.

********

An encounter on a motorway is an encounter between two hermetic machines—buffering the selves within from other selves and the outside world. For an automobile is a little world that pretends to autonomy and breeds isolation. In a way, the new highway is a place of deadly quiet—only loud in one sense, silent in every other—in chatter, in cries, in yells, in laughter. At least ships passing in the night can call out to one another. Cars passing on the highway can only roar. Not so the pedestrian freeway. On it, every pass is a potential encounter, a dangerous proximity, an electric potential. A man may be grabbed, hit, bowled, complimented, insulted, praised, robbed, denounced, or nit-picked by any stranger on the path. The motorway is dangerous because it is fast. The pedestrian freeway is dangerous because it is slow. The motorway is volatile because it is inhuman. The pedestrian freeway is volatile because it is human, for there the only buffer is convention, the only barrier propriety.

And I found myself face-to-face with a madman who lacked the faculty for convention and the gift of propriety. The danger of this crept upon me as I neared. I had a vague goal of staying between him and my wife; Tennyson flashed through my mind: ‘To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield.’ I clenched my fists. My face grew hot, but I kept a straight line. Madness has its own charged energy one can feel like static electricity before a lightning storm—a sense of total unpredictability. One feels what it might be like for the absolute to meet the relative.* At least that is how I felt as I readied myself to meet him.

Just as I approached, he seemed to run out of things to say, or perhaps his brain hit a barrier like a fly at a window. He began repeating, over and over, in a winded, hoarse voice ‘We need you. We need you. We need you. We need you.” He grew less frightening and more pathetic. It occurred to me, then, for just an instant, that I could help—run up to him, offer my services, lead him away to a safe and quiet place, bind up his wounds, pay the innkeeper, leave money for his provision. But by then, I had already passed by on the other side.

R. Eric Tippin
Christ’s College Library, Cambridge
August 21-24

Image:
"The Good Samaritan"
Serigraph - Date Unknown
John Mosiman
Photo Credit: Sacred Art Pilgrim

*This idea was stolen from a priest at St. Edmund’s College whose name I did not catch.