One of my favorite beer shirts reads “Fizzy Yellow Beer is for Wussies.” I often wear it with pride. When I put it on earlier this summer little did I know that I would later suffer the ignominy of being photographed in that same shirt whilst holding a Miller Lite.
Before you reach for the unsubscribe button, allow me the chance to mitigate my shame by explaining how I wound up in such a predicament. I had gone to the Spiral Bookcase (a wonderful independent bookshop) to listen to my friend Brian Biggs play guitar and read from his latest book.
As they always do for their “Salon” evenings the good folks had set out some wine and cheese. While another author was reading, I ventured to the back room for some refreshment. There I ran into another friend, engaged in conversation with a man who was sitting on the floor. After our mutual friend introduced us, Fred promptly offered me a beer.
Now, please pay attention because these details are important. First, Fred did not have a beer in hand at the time so I had no idea what he was offering. Second, I assumed that since this was a more sophisticated gathering that the worst that I would be handed was a Lager (for those of you not from Philly that is shorthand for the ubiquitous Yuengling Lager that dominates the market here). Third, and most importantly, I did not want to seem rude by asking what kind of beer it was. And so I answered, “Yes, please.”
Now I can’t be sure if he actually read my shirt and was trying to stick it to me or if in fact he was just being generous and hospitable. In truth I think it was definitely the latter and so, trying to keep a smile on my face I cracked it open and took a swig. Suffice it to say, it did nothing to change my lowly opinion of that wretched beer, previously expressed here.
As time passed and the beer got warmer, the beer actually took on a distinctly soapy character. Brian and his wife Sacha we so tickled at the irony of the picture of me in that shirt with a Miller Lite in my hand that they snapped this excellent picture, before I could hide. It is, as they say, worth a thousand words.
Little did I know that my unwilling journey into bizarro beer world was not yet over. By the time I finished I actually needed something to wash it down and so I ventured back into the back room in the hope that a little wine might help. Fred was still sitting on the floor and upon seeing my empty hand, he said, “Oh, are you finished? Here, have another!” He immediately reached into his brown bag, pulled out another can and held it out to me.
This time I objected, “Oh no, I’m fine, thanks.” But Fred persisted. “No really, please, I want you to have it.” I continued to object and he continued to offer until finally, with a great sense of resignation, I acquiesced, thanked him, and took the second can.
It took a while for my friends to stop laughing when they saw my renewed predicament. I did not finish the second can and made sure to avoid Fred like the plague for the rest of the evening. Thankfully, about 30 minutes later several Deschutes’ Black Butte Porters helped to heal my psyche and palate.
But the real point of this story is neither the humor nor the irony. I could have refused the beer either or both times it was offered. Indeed, I knew from the outset that I was not going to like drinking it. And yet I accepted anyway. It was not just that I wished to avoid being rude. But more importantly, hospitality and graciousness are central virtues that need to be honored, even if it means eating, drinking or enduring something I don’t really like.
Of course there is no absolute limit to be placed when it comes to how far you will go in compromising your own sense of taste and comfort. Everyone has to figure out their own limits. But in that situation, I took the beer because in Fred’s offer I saw someone who was genuinely trying to offer kindness to a stranger and in so doing establish some sense of connection and mutuality. That kind of hospitality is rare enough and too valuable to dismiss simply because I am a beer snob. So perhaps, those two cans of Miller Lite held far greater value than their fizzy yellow contents because in this disconnected and self centered culture they helped to remind me of the importance of hospitality and of generously welcoming the stranger.