Yesterday (Nov 1) the Church celebrated All Saints Day. This feast day reminds us of the important fact that we all have the potential to be saints and are indeed called to live into that potential.
So in honor of all the saints, great and small, known and unknown alike, I want to share this past post on saints, their nature and how our preconceptions can get in the way of recognizing them.
One never knows where inspiration will strike. As someone who looks for moments of the Divine outside its traditional milieu, I try to stay alert for such things, but at times even I get caught off guard.
I was heading towards the checkout line at the local Acme when I noticed the young woman standing in front of me. Her tank top revealed a multitude of tattoos, none of which were very good. Yet as I was about to squinch up my nose in displeasure, I noticed the tattoo on her shoulder. But what struck me was not its quality (it was just a poor as the others) but rather the sentiment that was permanently inscribed there. It read “Every saint has a past. Every sinner has a future”
I stood transfixed, completely absorbed in considering the depth and meaning of those words. If anything their poor execution made…
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“Did you go in the pit?” My wife’s frown made it clear that this was no casual question. She didn’t really need to ask. I limped very slowly down the stairs, leaning on the bannister. As I collapsed into a chair, exhausted and in pain, one question kept running through my mind, “If only…”
“If only…” How many times have you asked yourself that same question? If only I had ordered chicken instead of fish. If only I had zigged instead of zagged. That morning the question concluded with the words, “If only I had gone to see Ruby the Hatchet instead of Alestorm.”
It was one of those rare occasions in which I had to decide between two concerts. It’s rare enough that I have the time and energy to go at all. Now I faced an embarrassment of riches. Behind Door #1 was Ruby the Hatchet, my favorite slinger of stoner-doom-occult rock that’s straight out of 1972. Door #2 was a wildcard. Alestorm is unique, being, as far as I know, the only Scottish-pirate-metal band in the world. Plus their tour mates, Nekrogoblikon, a melo-death act out of LA sporting a guy in a goblin costume, were pretty unusual themselves.
Perhaps you can imagine (then again, maybe you can’t) just how vexing a choice this was. What tipped the scales in favor of Alestorm was the fact that good friends were also going . If I went to see Ruby, I would be flying solo. Not the end of the world, but it’s always more fun to go with friends.
The Voltage Lounge (formerly Whisky Dick’s) was dark, filthy and cramped… in short, everything you want in a venue for this kind of show. The all-ages crowd was remarkably diverse and included the usual motley assortment of denim, leather and obscure metal t-shirts. But there was also a dude sporting an old school Mohawk, people in pirate and Viking garb, a few black metalers and a surprisingly large proportion of women.
The first two bands were local acts whose surprisingly good chops were obscured by bad sound work. There was a small pit going but nothing exciting enough to entice me, especially because I was still feeling right knee injury from a Gogol Bordello show in the spring. I was happy watching from the balcony and resolved to take it easy.
I don’t have a rational explanation as to why I followed. Maybe it was testosterone. Maybe it was the Fatheads Headhunter IPA I just finished. Whatever the cause, my better judgment checked out for the night.
By and large the pit was extremely energetic but good natured. One standout was a young woman who didn’t just make a cursory pass through the pit but hung with the big boys most of the night. In between songs I shouted to her, “You rock!” She turned to me, gave me the finger, screamed, “Fuck you!” then immediately broke out into a grin and high-fived me. But highlight of the evening had to the stage diving.
I haven’t been to a show where stage diving was allowed in more than twenty years. But during Nekrogoblikon’s set people would surf up, dance on stage or even join in the singing, before hurling themselves onto the hands of the crowd. It was so much fun that John Goblikon got into the act, jumping off the stage and surfing to the back of the crowd before making the return journey.
When Alestorm finally took the stage things reached an even more frenzied pitch. By that point I was not only winded but beginning to feel that my knee was worse for the wear. Again, logic would have dictated a hasty retreat to a safer distance. Yet I stayed.
It would be tempting to say “The beer made me do it.” The only problem with this is that I had only two at the show and had been drinking only water for the last hour. So I truly have no alibi.
Halfway through the set I was done. Looking across at Ben I could see he was fading too. By the last couple of songs the whole pit was barely bumping into one another.
As I hobbled very slowly back to the car I knew something was seriously wrong. But for now there wasn’t much to do about it. It was 1 am and all I wanted was a big glass of cold water, a hot shower, a handful of Advil and bed.
This brings us back to the beginning of our tale and my well-deserved spousal admonishment. Fast forward through several trips to the orthopedic surgeon, some MRI’s, large needles draining pale yellow fluid from my knee, cortisone shots, a brace, a cane and a bottle of Advil and here we are.
As I suspected, the medial meniscus is shot If you don’t know what a meniscus is, that’s not surprising. In simplest terms the meniscus is the rubbery knee cartilage that cushions the shinbone from the thighbone. It can tear from being forcefully torqued which happened plenty in the pit. Since I tore the meniscus of my left knee eight years prior, I have a pretty good idea of what I’m in for. For the next three weeks I’ll be hobbled and have to take it easy. Then comes the arthroscopic surgery. The jagged edge of the tear will be trimmed and all the loose cartilage pieces floating around in my knee get suctioned out.
Recovery isn’t too bad. Walking cast for a day or two and some pain meds. Then it’s just a matter of carefully working my way back. More brace, more cane, more taking it easy. Lord willing I’ll be back to 100% before Christmas which isn’t too bad.
But the real point of this cautionary tale is not so much the what, as the why? Why did I go in that pit when I knew there was a real likelihood that I would get hurt? It’s not the first time I have asked this question. I’m not sure I can explain it but I am sure that at least part of it has to do with trying to deny the fact that I am getting older. At 47 I can tell you my body just ain’t what it used to be. Although I exercise regularly and eat a more healthy diet than I have ever before, the plain facts are that my joints ache and it takes me much longer to recover from a strenuous workout or injury.
So why do I continue to attempt such age-defying stunts when I know that there will only be an ever-increasing price to pay the next day? If I ever discover the answer, I’ll let you know. In the meantime, if you have ever done something stupid and found yourself asking “If only…”, please share your stories and, if you have any, insights as to why.
We were cleaning out my grandmother’s house and figuring out which knickknacks we’d hold onto. I’d set aside a few things when my wife held up this oddly shaped tin pail. It was vague familiar. She asked what it was. My mother told us it was a “cherry-picking pail.” Whatever it was, my wife liked it.
Flash forward a decade. A colleague brought in a similar looking tin pail with a lid. She brought it in because she had just discovered that it was her grandfather’s growler and she thought I’d like to see it.
In the intervening years I had indeed learned that the mostly glass growlers that I used to bring draft beer home had stated out as simple galvanized or enameled metal pails. As the realization dawned I ran next door to my house to pull the “cherry-picking pail” off the dusty shelf of its exile.
While the shape and size varied slightly from hers, the material and apparent age were the same. This odd pail was not for cherries at all- it was for beer!
Given the fact that mine narrows at the neck this makes much more sense. For gathering cherries or anything else that you’d be tossing into a container, said container should have a wider, not narrower opening. Moreover, my grandmother was decidedly anti-booze and a member of the WCTU, which gave her motive to disguise the boozy past of this heirloom.
While it’s safe to say I won’t be taking this to the local bar or brewery for a fill up, I am glad to had this piece of family history to my growler collection.
As to the full history of growlers there is much agreement but also some debate, particularly as to the origins of the name. If you want to learn more you can do like the old after school specials would say and “Consult your local library” or just click on this link, or this one or this one.
So do you have any beer related heirlooms in your family? Please share your stories and pics.
I was already a little on edge just walking into the show. A lingering knee sprain from a Gogol Bordello concert meant no mosh pit but even so, I was worried about how I would get along with the crowd who had come to see Behemoth. Beside that I was on my own which created a certain amount of anxiety all by itself. Yet there I was, finding a seat in the balcony. Once I settled in and ordered a beer, my next job was finding a friend or at least a conversation partner.
I looked around for options. To my right was a couple in their late 20’s with the usual leather, tats and piercings. Several seats down on my left was big guy sporting a shaved head, lots of ink, a shirt that read “Blackcraft” and a laminated VIP badge.
I opted for door #1.
They were friendly enough. We chatted about beer and the bands for a while but there was no real connection. Once that conversation petered out I glanced back to my left. I’m not a small man (6 ft and 225) but this guy made me feel puny. He looked like he made his living as a bouncer at some very nasty bars. Not the most inviting conversation partner to say the least.
So I had to decide… which fear was going to get the better of me? Was it worse to go through the concert alone? Or to broach a conversation with a guy who looked like he could kill you just by being a bad mood?
This time I went for door #2. After the customary “How you doin?” I asked if he was with the band? Turns out that he was just a fan who had come up extra early for a VIP meet and greet with Behemoth. In fact he had left early that morning to drive all the way from south of Richmond, VA. As he shared the experience of meeting Nergal and company and what nice guys they all were, I moved a seat closer.
I welcomed him to Philly and we introduced ourselves. I asked Matt what he was drinking.
“Jack and coke.”
I ordered our next round. He insisted on getting the next one. While we waited I told him about the opening act, Myrkur, then we discussed other bands we liked. Like me, Matt has wide-ranging tastes. He rattled off a long list of genres that on his phone. My ears perked up when I thought I heard him say “Praise Music” but I let it go.
After some time the conversation drifted from music to our families. He’s got three kids, all younger than mine. From there it was an easy segue into the trials and tribulations of parenting. In addition to working hard as a telecom lineman, Matt also worked hard to instill decency, respect and morality into his kids.
At this point I couldn’t help but circle back. “Hey Matt, earlier when we were talking about music, did you say you liked praise music?”
“So are you a churchgoer?”
“Indeed I am.”
“That’s cool. I’m an Episcopal priest”
At that point Myrkur took the stage.
Between the sets we talked about Jesus. We talked about the perceived contradictions of being a Christian and liking metal. I asked him about the Blackcraft shirt. He said it was pretty much the same thing as liking Behemoth. He liked the designs and didn’t worry about how others might interpret them. He knew what he believed and the rest was of little importance.
I respected that. I’m not sure that, even if I liked it, I would ever feel comfortable wearing something covered in the symbols of Satanism or black magic, but I admired his sense of himself and his confidence.
So there we were, surrounded by pentagrams, goats heads, 666’s and every other imaginable symbol hostile to Christianity, and we were talking about Jesus and the challenge of trying to raise decent children in the 21st century.
Once the show ended I told him that since he was facing a seven hour drive he was welcome to crash at my place. He insisted he was fine. Even so, I couldn’t let him leave without partaking of one of Philly great late-night institutions.
We poured out of the TLA and across the street to Lorenzo’s. I must admit that it was gratifying when he marveled at the size of slices. Although the place was mobbed, we were given enough berth to finish our pizza comfortably (one of the perks of looking big and scary I suppose).
Back out on the street we hugged and then he gave me his VIP lanyard. I protested but he insisted that he still had plenty of swag to remember the show. And this way I would have something too. We exchanged numbers. Not knowing his last name I just put him under “Metal Matt.”
Some of my favorite Gospel stories show Jesus finding faith in the most unlikely people- soldiers, lepers, prostitutes and tax collectors. Time and time again he marvels to find they have more than religious professionals and otherwise upstanding citizens. When I first saw Matt sitting down the row, I was scared to talk to him. By the end of the night I was happy to offer him the guest room in my home. And from a concert that, at least on the surface, was all about celebrating Satan, what I found instead is that faith continues to show up when you least expect it.
For most of the summer I have glanced at my “to do” list and thought, man, I have to get back to writing for the blog. And yet, each and every week, it would get displaced by something more important or even overlooked altogether. For the life of me I can’t figure out why. The fact that I haven’t written anything before now is, well, kind of absurd.
Why do I repeatedly neglect something that I not only enjoy, but also find fulfilling? I don’t have an explanation but I do have an analogy. It’s kind of like exercise. You know from past experience that if you go work out that you’ll not just feel energized physically, you’ll also feel that sense of accomplishment too. You’re whole day will just be better for it. And yet, even though I know this, there are times when I find myself making excuses and procrastinating. Not only will it not be bad, once I get started, I probably enjoy it. But none of that stops me from moping around and some days, even though I have the time and energy to do it, I find a way to weasel out.
Well today the weaseling out stops. Even though I had other things I could be doing, I made myself sit down and start writing. And you know what? Just like working out, once I got going, I really enjoyed not just the writing but also finally clearing that lingering item off my to do list.
Next week, I’ll share a story about another time when I had to overcome my own self-imposed inhibitions only to find that all those excuses I made in my head turned out to have no basis in reality.
Until then, here’s to knocking things off the to do list
The last six weeks have been exceptionally busy. I’m pleased to report that all our endeavors were successful both in terms of fun and funds raised.
The 3rd installment of the Biblical Brew Off saw our biggest crowd yet. There is no doubt that the women of Team Eve helped to bring many of their own fans which swelled the crowd. Those present got to sample the seven brews, dine on BBQ and bid on the silent auction while team of judges (Theresa Conroy, Danya Henninger, George Hummel and special guest Jay Brooks) ranked the offerings.
Team Jesus took back the crown but Team Eve took the People’s Choice with their Saison d’Eve. But the real winners were the charities who split an all-time high of over $2700.
Beer Week was just as fruitful. Sarah Weissiger joined Rabbi Eli and myself at Fergie’s for the latest iteration of A Priest, a Minister and a Rabbi Walk into a Bar. Sarah’s knowledge and humor blended perfectly. Together we shared our thoughts and mused theological. The crowd was wonderful and posed heartfelt questions.
A few days later I took my first turn working behind the bar at the Old Eagle Tavern. Lew Bryson and I poured beers for a big crowd some of whom were regulars but many of whom came out to support us and the good work of North Light Community Center.
I have to say that it’s a lot harder than it looks. Thankfully Ryan (the regular barkeep) was a good teacher and the patrons were patient (although I was occasionally heckled for being too slow). Between keeping orders straight in my head and dealing with foamy taps, I was ready for a beer myself by the time it was all over. All told we raised $275 in tips and Erin kicked in another $200 from the house’s take which meant that North Light Community Center got $475!
The money we raised for charity is great but what is even more important about these events is that they bring people, who otherwise might never meet, together in a way that fosters conversation and helps build common bonds. There is real power in coming together over a beer and I am truly grateful to have friends that help me harness that power in new and creative ways.