Good Ole Fun With the Relatives in Fern Creek; or, Am I Really Related to These People?

August 7, 2008

This whole thing is going to sound insufferably snooty, as any story that leads off using the word “insufferably” inevitably must.

The thing is, I was pretty much dragged by my mother to a family reunion this past Sunday, gathering together those on her side of the family, of which she is now the patriarch, the oldest living survivor. There would be no avoiding this. Whatever else may have been on my calendar for that Sunday was worse than secondary – it was stricken from the record.

So I met with distant aunts and uncles and cousins several steps removed from my ability to remember, faces that in some cases I recognized but could not put names to, many of them layered with a new coating of shopworn leather wrinkles.

I mostly sat and watched heavyset adults and kids splash around in a nice big pool, while family cliques grouped off in comfortable familiarity to eat and yak. And NASCAR was revved up on the big screen TV in the basement, to one side of the NASCAR paraphernalia on wooden and glass shelves. If there was a book of any consequence to be found in this house, I never spotted it.

These were my kin, my blood, residing in a part of town that, however clean and groomed most of Fern Creek is, gets the bad rap in Louisville as the stomping ground of barbarian rednecks. That, of course, is not fair, but my overeducated, superior-feeling ass could only see in the lives of my relatives too much evidence to support the stereotype.

They were all courteous and harmless; conversations remained safe and dull. I was no help, but neither did I hinder things. I sat and ate the grub offered, happy that there was plenty enough to offset the lack of a vegan main course. Lots of bratwurst, hot dogs and cheeseburgers went uneaten. In my carnivorous days, I could have polished off at least a couple of those.

The highlight of the day, for me anyway, was when one of my distant aunts and uncles picked up one of the empty bottles of Shiner Bock I had consumed and placed on a table near them. The party was BYOB, and this slightly upscale hefeweizen was what I had chosen to bring along. The way everyone looked at it made me feel like Cinderella in rags at the ball. This was the land where watery, aluminum-tinged Bud Light ruled. “That ain’t one of those beers that’ll put hair on your chest, is it?” asked one uncle. “Well,” says I, “since I already have hair on my chest I don’t have to worry about it.” Another distant uncle picked it up and stared at it, quizzically, eyebrows furrowed in a sort of uncomprehending, baffled, slightly distressed attitude. He passed it to a distant aunt who did the same, holding it up and looking at it, like the early man in 2001: A Space Odyssey trying to figure out new uses for a bone.

I immediately was reminded of that scene in The Gods Must Be Crazy where the Kalahari man picks up the Coke bottle thrown from an airplance and wonders what the hell it is. I mentioned this to my sister, and she laughed.

Is it fair to say I’ve outgrown these people, or merely grown differently? But no, one would have to grow, period. I couldn’t see any evidence of it in their cases, and saying so here makes me sound like an arrogant upstart who’s gotten above his raisin’.

And that makes me feel guilty, but it also makes me confused. I want to be sociable, genial, open to the experiences and lives of others. But I can’t help but be judgmental, elitist. That’s just the way it is.

So, maybe my relatives are bigger than me because I doubt they harbored such corrosive, cynical, jaded, unhealthy thoughts.

And that might mean that maybe I can learn something from them. Maybe we look at each other like we would strange Coke bottles fallen from the sky.


Rick Was Misinformed About the Waters of Newark

June 13, 2007


A bar conversation between two dapper fellows as they sipped two fine bottles of Newark’s finest Rolling Rock beer…




“I wish I could say I came to Newark for the waters, but I can’t, see?”


“But, my dear fellow I feel I must protest, for, in point of fact the waters of Newark are clean and clear as a bell, coming as they do from the rural, protected Newark Watershed in upstate New Jersey—not the polluted Passaic River as a number of jackanapes seem to think.”



“I was misinformed.”

Rolling Rock: From the Mountain Springs of, er, Newark

June 11, 2007

Pardon me for being out of the news loop on this one, but somehow the whole controversy about last year’s demise of the original Rolling Rock beer and the closing of its Latrobe, Pa., brewery completely passed me by. That might be because I hadn’t really thought about or consumed this beloved product for many years.

A recent sale at Kroger and elsewhere that knocked $2 off the case price (from $11 to $9 for 12 bottles) made it an attractive buy again, so I decided to give the old “33” another try. It always was a nice, refreshing, light summer beverage, and so the timing seemed right.

Not being a connoisseur or of particularly sensitive palette, I had no idea whether the beer tasted any different than it used to. I assumed that everything was the same as before. The bottle looked the same… but then I looked closer.

On the front of the bottle, the locale of St. Louis was there instead of Latrobe, and on the back the famous old “pledge of quality” had a suspicious preface:

“To honor the tradition of this great brand, we quote from the original pledge of quality:”

After which followed the original pledge text: ” ‘From the glass lined tanks of Old Latrobe / We tender this premium beer for your enjoyment, as a tribute to your good taste. It comes from the Mountain Springs to You ‘ ” ” ’33’ ”

The label changes alarmed me, so I looked at the 1-800 number on the case and noticed the words “Anheuser-Busch.” I called the number and got your garden-variety uninformed customer service rep and asked the question: “Where is Rolling Rock brewed and what is the water source?” And continuing, I asked, “Does Rolling Rock, in fact, come ‘from the mountain springs’ to me”?

After some hesitation, and the old ‘let me ask my manager’ schtick, I was told that Rolling Rock was bought by Anheuser-Busch and its brewing operation moved to Newark, New Jersey.

Rolling Rock is brewed from the municipal water supply of Newark, New Jersey.

That’s right, Newark, an EPA-Superfund site nightmare…

**(see rebuttal)

These are hardly mountain springs.

The customer service rep reminded me that the pledge comes with the caveat of its preface, which I understand, but still I believe it is entirely disingenuous, and fraudulent, to continue to run the old ‘mountain springs’ claims on the bottle.

The one bright spot is that the Newark Municipal water supply is not contaminated with added fluoride, unlike most big city water supplies across the country.

As for the taste of the “new” Rolling Rock, this fellow detected a decided difference.

As for me, I thought the beer tasted OK. Pretty much the same old refreshing summer beverage as far as I could tell.

My palette is not sophisticated enough to discern if the evidently heightened citrus taste is actually dioxin or herbicides or whatnot.


** I’ve been effectively rebutted on this point, as you can see in the comments below and on this posting issued by our playful ombudsman: Rick Was Misinformed About the Waters of Newark.