From time to time, for reasons innumerable, the beer drinker may find himself late to the party. The beer drinker may leave late from work, or have committed to a prior engagement, or encountered unforeseen traffic. The beer drinker may just be a lazy procrastinator, or very stylish. I was one such beer drinker some days ago, and instead of the party, I was late to the bar, and instead of the bar, I was late to the lounge of a local Chinese food restaurant.
I had not previously been to this Chinese food restaurant lounge. I soon learned that it had a bit of a reputation locally as a place to get very cheap hard alcohol served in liberal portions, and as such was known to attract a certain seedy and salty element. Outside the lounge, there were dirty-faced men pacing and chain-smoking, some never straying from the sidewalk to come inside. There were gentlemen with conspicuous muscles, seemingly agitated. There were alcoholics of varying degrees. There were also college educated white people in their mid-twenties wearing fashionable eyewear. Guess which one of those descriptions I fell under.
Being late to join a group of alcohol drinkers offers an interesting dynamic. The late arriver has a choice to make. Does one binge recklessly in an attempt to quickly match the surrounding inebriated frequency? Or does one drink at a responsible and adult pace, resigned to forever trail in the intoxicant wake of the crowd? In an uncharacteristic, perhaps cowardly move, on this evening I chose the later, and settled down at a small table with my wife, the two of us calm and relatively sober observers to the chaos that had begun to ferment. I sipped on a small glass of Jameson, accompanied by a 16-ounce can of Rainier Lager.
Not being known as a Seattle proper craft beer destination, the only draft offered at the bar had been underwhelming. There had been Shock Top, and Bud Light, and some other equally unappealing option that I can no longer remember. Perhaps in a feeble attempt to equal the tenor of my surroundings, and definitely because there were very few other options, I opted for the whiskey and the cheap staple. The beer was cold, and tasted exactly like it always does. At the very least, Rainier affords the Seattleite an opportunity to hold an aesthetically pleasing can of beer and feel some semblance of civic pride. Rainier is local, with many charming historical ties, and is old enough to have been drunk by my grandfather. It might be piss, but it's not completely insignificant piss, which is something more than nothing.
There was ping pong at this lounge, and it was very popular. Our small table sat near the mid-line of the table, and from the moment we sat down, the action never halted, with no shortage of coming challengers lurking in wait around the perimeter. Our friends won a game of doubles, and then lost. Their victors held the table for another game. During a pause in play, a very drunk man interrupted the proceedings, wishing to voice his preference that the table switch from doubles to singles. He wished to challenge someone at ping pong and wasn't about to dilute his efforts with something as silly and ridiculous as a teammate.
The drunk man got his way. He held his paddle awkwardly, but not without confidence. He stood seemingly a half pace too far back from the edge of the table, blinking wildly to will his concentration when called upon to serve. He served the ball with flourish, with an aggressive bounce and long, sweeping arch. There were times where he completely missed the ball. And he was very good. He lurched from side to side, swiping and stabbing the air, imparting spin, attacking with harsh angles, teetering on the precipice of disaster but never succumbing to the void. He made quick work of his opponent, and quickly took up another game with the next in line. It was then that the man in the white shirt entered the frame.
The man with the white shirt, like so many others before and after him, wanted badly to play ping pong. He made this very clear. He tapped the drunk man on the shoulder, engaging him incessantly at every dead ball. He thought it only right that he be allowed to play, if not immediately, then certainly the next game. And to his taste, the next game was not coming fast enough. He urged the players at the table to speed up the pace, to hasten his turn at the table. Told that his time would soon come, were he only to remain patient, the man with the white shirt looked unsatisfied, if not insulted. In an act of defiance, the man with the white shirt stood at the very edge of the acceptable bounds of the playing area, a passive-aggressive force, breathing on the neck of the drunk man, at a distance that would have caused hesitation in a lesser or more sober competitor. The man with the white shirt, silent girlfriend on arm, continued to talk, cocksure, projecting self-assurance. Clearly the drunk man would not accept the challenge at hand for the drunk man was certain to lose. The drunk man had looked upon his fate in the form of this white shirted foe and the drunk man had trembled, afraid.
The man with the white shirt stood for a time, the seconds feeling a fraction longer than normal given the awkwardness he felt no shame in encouraging. His assertiveness did not wane. His face forever mugging, an unflinching sneer. Finally, the drunk man won his game, and it was time for the two to do battle. There was a bit of brief pregame trash talked, mostly incoherent. Each man produced a few sweaty dollar bills and slipped them under a coaster as to heighten the stakes. In the spirit of sportsmanship, the two volleyed for a bit, allowing the newcomer a moment to calibrate the paddle in his hand and the table before him.
Early signs were not encouraging.
Perhaps standing still for so long had given the man in the white shirt a false sense of returning equilibrium, artificially emboldening the estimation of his own coordination. Because he looked like total shit. The man in the white shirt failed to return even the most simple and considerate of serves. He threatened to topple each time he bent over to retrieve the wayward ball. The audience sat stunned, unable to fully comprehend the disconnect between what they were witnessing and what they had come to anticipate. The drunk man smashed the ball, sent it flying into the chest of his incapacitated opponent. The man in the white shirt gave little resistance. Not a single volley went beyond three paddle-to-ball connections. It was a slaughter. With each point accrued, the drunk man bellowed the score a little louder, clearly relishing the poetic justice that was unfolding. There were whispers of a mercy rule being enforced, a skunk. The man in the white shirt stood almost fully still, the reality of the situation weighing him in place. His girlfriend turned away. His friend offered a few fits of meek laughter, the only trace of sympathy to be found.
I witnessed this, from a distance no fewer than four feet. I saw a man have the soul beat out of him by a ping pong paddle. Before the score could even reach 11-0, the man with the white shirt placed his paddle gently on the table and walked away, slowly, the corpse of his hubris dangling bloodless from his scrawny neck.
The drunk man said nothing. The sound of glass bottles colliding at the bottom of a trash can could be heard in the distance. I sipped on the remains of my Rainier Beer, the final metallic drops of liquid slid past my tongue. The beer was no longer cold, but it was refreshing.
Appearance: 2.5 / Clear and golden yellow, light head and suds.
Smell: 1.5 / Sweet and grainy. Smells of the can if poured from same.
Taste: 2.0 / Follows suit from the aroma. Minimal flavor, some sweet graininess and hints of malt.
Feel: 2.5 / Light, drinkable, above-average carbonation.
Overall: 2.25 / Graded on a curve for lack of pretention, best served cold.
Kyle writes about baseball at Lookout Landing. You can follow him on Twitter @AgainstKyle