– Martin Luther (1483-1546), German monk and Catholic priest, key figure of the 16th century Protestant Reformation
Twinkies, Bering Imperials, and Schlitz
Unable to finish my third cup of coffee on a hot and humid July morning in the North Country, I rummaged through the bureau drawer and took out my ever-growing list of Things I Used To Enjoy (TIUTE). Reluctant to admit that “strong coffee on hot days” has become a TIUTE, based on a single bad experience, I did not immediately enter it as item number 94 on the crumpled page, but I left the list and red pen on the table in case tomorrow’s tests confirm today’s diagnosis.
The TIUTE (pronounced tie-yoot) list has been cobbled together over the past four or five years as my aging body has forced me to concede that the enjoyment of certain passions and pleasures is not worth the pain of recovery. Right at the top of the list are:
1. Swinging a baseball bat (torn rotator cuff rehab)
2. Basketball (eroded hip and femur replacement)
3. Splitting firewood with maul (ruptured disc removal)
4. Shooting magnum caliber rifles (plastic replacement lenses in eyes)
5. Running – except from large carnivores (general deterioration of muscles and joints)
Although modern medicine can perform some miracles, I have learned through experience that one’s time, energy and money is better spent on the care and maintenance of original equipment than on the surgeries and rehabilitations required for repair and replacement. Another ten years like the last decade and my body will be mostly metals and polymers rather than flesh and blood, making my mortal remains more suitable for recycling than cremation. How do you “scatter” a box of ashes that contains a stainless steel femur and hip socket, various nylon fittings, pins, wires, and gobs of melted plastic?
So most items on the TIUTE list, surrendered for health and medical reasons, are clear and self-explanatory. The rationale for some of the other entries is less obvious. For example:
37. Twinkies desert cakes
52. Bering Imperial cigars
73. Schlitz beer
Each has a history.
Number 37, the Twinkie, was added in November 2012, the month the national news services reported Hostess bakeries had gone bankrupt and out of business and would no longer be producing this internationally famous junk food that was once a staple of my diet. As were the excellent Hostess fruit pies and the cupcakes with cream filling and the decorative white squiggle of icing across the chocolate coating on the top.
The day the Twinkie* died was a sad day indeed. Although my wisely health conscious wife had banned them from our household long before their disappearance from the grocery shelf, it was my habit to visit the local Hostess outlet store on departure day of a bird hunting trip to stock up on what the Over the Hill Gang regards as dietary staples. Oh, we can still find other brands of cupcakes and fried pies and gummy cinnamon rolls, but none that are so unselfconsciously made with those basic food groups of our youth: lard, sugar, white flour, saturated fats, reconstituted fruits, plaster, and a range of dyes and preservatives. These were foodstuffs that were both tasty and imperishable, perfect fare even after a few weeks under the seat of a pickup truck or in the bait locker of a johnboat.
Twinkies, alas, were placed on the TIUTE list not because I could no longer tolerate them but because the cruel forces of capitalism swept them from the American scene. Don’t try to console me with Little Debbie Cloud Cakes, please.
TIUTE list item number 52, the Bering Imperial, was also a financial fatality of sorts since I can no longer afford the fine cigars that my college roommate and I used to smoke to celebrate achievements or life moments of major significance, such as the day he finally convinced the stunningly beautiful waitress at the Greek restaurant to go on a date with him. (She dumped him about a month later, and we smoked Imperials that evening, too, in a ceremony of commiseration for life’s love lost.)
Cost was only part of the motivation for TIUTE-listing the Imperial. All cigars, even those innocent looking little Swisher Sweets cigarillos, were condemned several years ago because my cultivated tolerance for leaf tobacco faded with diminished exposure to their poisons. Smoke one now, and my eyes ache, my throat is sore, my nose is plugged, and my mouth tastes like a campfire, effects that offset the pleasant nicotine high that used to sharpen my sensory perceptions and intuitive comprehension of life’s panorama and made me a better writer. Or so I thought.
Yes, I miss smoking a cigar now and then, but I also occasionally miss playing rugby. I am unlikely to revert to either of those self-destructive behaviors.
Schlitz beer, number 73 of the TIUTEs, made the list for the most mundane reason: I no longer like it. No, Schlitz is not necessarily worse or better tasting than any of the low-grade, mass-production beers packed onto the shelves of my town’s liquor vendors, but it is the brand I over-imbibed on my journey to locally and regionally brewed ales – good beers. Although we made some wonderful memories together, Schlitz and I will never be able to rekindle our relationship.
Billed as “The beer that made Milwaukee famous!” Schlitz was first brewed in 1849. Despite what my grandchildren say I was not on hand to taste that first batch, the year of my birth being exactly one hundred years later, clearly a portent. Doing my best to fulfill destiny I dedicated some twenty years to drinking as much Schlitz beer as I could as often as I could. Amazingly, production by the Joseph Schlitz brewery maintained a comfortable lead over my consumption.
One night during a Schlitz-inspired conversation with the Bodhisattva, I reached enlightenment and moved upward to a new level of existence. Pale ale. Hoppy brews. From local vats. The true path to Nirvana.
Of all the items of self-denial on the TIUTE list, I think number 73 is the one which Martin Luther would most enthusiastically endorse. During his days of intense theological study, according to legend, he used to get totally blotto and chase the devil around Wartburg Castle. I want to believe he did this while drinking really good locally brewed German beer, not some cheap communion wine from Sicily.
But I also like to imagine him clutching a pop-top can of Schlitz in his right hand, a Twinkie in his left, and puffing a Bering Imperial cigar as he ran howling and swearing through the castle’s stone corridors. The morning after his binge I could bring him a strong cup of coffee and say, “Marty, it’s time for you to start a TIUTE list.”
* My nine-year-old granddaughter assures me that authentic Hostess Twinkies can still be purchased at the supermarket in her hometown. If this is true, I may do some back-sliding and remove number thirty-seven from my TIUTE list.
If you enjoyed this blog post, you may like my novel Hunting Birds, available in both paperback and Kindle editions at Amazon.com