The Tap Room - Second Fermentation (Part 1)

Welcome Back to the Tap Room series.  Today, Kevin Still gives the Tap Room a little more depth, a little more character, and a little more edge.  I love what he's done here with the characters, how he's made this a decidedly real setting.  Please spend some time with his words, think about what he's weaving. Make sure to catch up on all of the previous Tap Room posts here.  And while you're at it, visit his site here (great movie reviews, Kev). Now, without further delay, welcome back to the tap room.

[parental warning: there's a wordy-dord or two here if you are the type that is easily offended]. _________________________

“The recipe calls for a batch of dry hops in the second fermentation,” she said, pulling a pint glass towards her face. “But I think I can live without it. Spend all that time cleaning shit out of the first batch just to throw it back in on the second run? Doesn’t make any sense. I say screw the recipe.”

She stopped talking long enough to take a swig of her beer, bright orange with white belt laces marking her sips along the insides of the glass, and Alan marveled again at how much she looked like a man. An old man. He even found himself second-guessing her with his eyes. Checking her profile. Her chest. She hadn’t said her name – its name – yet. And he wondered.

“What do you think?” she asked, rubbing her mouth with the back of her hand.

“Yeah. No, yeah, I agree,” Alan said. “If a second fermentation does anything, it filters out the crud. You gotta keep it loose till bottling.”

She smacked Alan’s arm, “I’m talking!” He guessed she was agreeing; at least, her voice was full of enthusiasm and she was smiling. He did not know this woman. She was already at the Tap Room bar when Alan sat down for a pint. Five minutes later they were talking beer recipes and fermentation cycles, which Alan knew nothing about. He bluffed his way through the brewing conversation. She didn’t seem to notice, or mind, and Alan appreciated the distraction. He came looking for a quiet afternoon. He found a chatterbox working through a solid beer buzz instead. And he liked her instantly.

She swatted at the bartender walking by, the one who tried to put money on the High Definition tennis match playing over the bar. Thumbing a gesture at Alan she said, “Dale, this guy knows what I’m talking about. He said skip the dry hops, too. Shit, pour him another something good.”

The bartender looked at Alan. “You ready for another beer?”

“How about a burger?”

“And how you want that?” “Cheddar. Everything on it. Could you burn the meat?”

The bartender flittered his eyebrows in amusement. “Alright, cheddar, everything, burn the meat. I think we can do that.”

Alan thanked him and sipped his pint.

“I tell you though,” she started again, “only thing I love more than beer is being on the river.” Alan turned to listen but saw a waitress over her shoulder. Bouncing between tables, the waitress was pretty. Maybe nineteen or twenty. Short skirt. Long socks. Firm thighs. She was tall. Light brown hair fell over her collar while a thin line of skin shown beneath her chin. Alan wondered what she smelled like up close, imagined the softness of her neck. The sight of the young waitress made Alan swirl back towards his glass.

“My brother and I kayak once every three months,” she was still talking. “Shit, I came in town today to pick up some camping equipment at REI. Bought two new pairs of running shoes on sale while I’s at it. My girlfriend nearly bleeds everytime I come to town. She knows, even though I’m coming to get more camping gear, that I hit the Tap Room while I’m at it. Do it everytime. How could I not? And she knows I have three pints before driving back to Kinston. But, hell, it’s a straight shot. So.”

Alan thought her voice sounded like she’d stopped smoking five years before but ten years too late. He suddenly wanted a cigarette. He didn’t even smoke, but he wanted something that would burn his throat. He wondered if his new friend smoked Winstons. His dad had smoked Winstons, which meant Winstons were the first cigarette Alan tried. Twelve years old, he and his friend Michael hocked a pack from his dad’s carton on top of the fridge and skittered down to the woods behind the house. They didn’t know how to inhale, so they puffed in and puffed out, feigning coughs every few breaths. Alan remembered the way they leaned back against the trees, crossing their arms over their chests and their legs at the ankle. Michael was the closest thing Alan ever had to a brother. By the time Alan was old enough to buy cigarettes, Michael wasn’t there to practice leaning on trees or carhoods, to practice smoke rings and inhaling without the coughs, so Alan didn’t care anymore.

Share Your Story - An Invitation

Yesterday I sent an email to the email subscribers here at the collective.  I mused a bit about blown tires, a soon-to-arrive baby, and the goodness of this present life.  I then opened it up to the email readers, "share a bit," I asked them.  Stories beget stories. Art begets art. Several took me up on the invitation, shooting emails back telling the group their most recent stories.  I sat in my living room, reading aloud to my wife, laughing a bit (thanks for the beard story Hamster), pondering a bit (thanks for the southern story Abby), and watching my wife cry a bit (thanks for the mother imagery Erika).  Stories evoke so much.

Today I give you a brief invitation.  Every month, I'll be giving a bit of a behind the scenes peek at my life to the email subscribers.  I'll ask them to take a little and give a little, sharing a bit about their lives with the group (if so inclined).  It's a really grand thing, this sharing of testimonies.  If you'd like to be a part of the monthly exchange, subscribe via email.  There's a box over there in the upper right-hand side (see it).

And if you are already a subscriber to the RSS feed, leave a comment letting me know you want in!  I'll put you on the subscribers list.

Thanks again to those who shared.  It made for a good Lord's day exercise.

Collective Covenant (A Group Participation Project)

This will not work without group participation, but I’ll take a bit of a risk. For the last several months, our church has been walking through a survey of the Old Testament. We’ve watched as the patriarchs experienced the living God. We’ve heard the prophets beg the Israelites to return. We’ve been reminded:

God made covenant with a single nomadic man, so that he could set apart a chosen people, so that he could step into a fallen world and redeem the broken and lost pieces.

Though we think about God’s Old Testament covenant as playing out on a national level, it’s the testimonies of the individual that remind us of a personal God.  He was the faithful provider of Abraham. He was the wrestling blesser of Jacob. He was the hope of salvation to Rahab. He was the promoter of Joseph. He was the merciful father of David. He was the prayer and work-ethic of Nehemiah.

God’s evidenced his eternal purpose through the stories of his people. And ultimately, those stories remind us of his overarching plan for redemption.

Here’s your part (I hope). How, when, and where did God cut covenant with you? I’d love to collect your stories in the comments below, to see how that scarlet thread of Christ’s narrative started with Abraham and ran all the way through history to your life.

So, who’s first?

**and for those of you who are wondering, the serial story ain't finished yet.  We're just taking an ever-so brief break.  Letting some of the pressure out of the cooker, so to speak.

Frank Sinatra Lonergan, Lucky Lotto Winner Number 1 (a serial story) – 12-83-77-5-39

This installment of our serial story was written by the lovely and talented Abby Barnhart. Thanks, Abby! To read the entire project, click here. __________________

Frank hummed himself to half-sleep, but couldn’t find the deep stuff. His hunt for Janell’s yellow dress, those needy nights together, their Palace in Queens, returned only mist. He’d been searching for that Janell, and that Frank for that matter, since ’67, and waking dreams were as close as he could get. Pitchforks pulled, the memories propped eyes open, waiting. For the voices to hush up, for the ghosts to return. Frank wouldn’t sleep if he could; he couldn’t even if he should. Sleep was for the innocent, the at-peace, the settled. And Frank Sinatra Lonergan was only innocent in the law’s eyes, only settled after a nightcap, and never, never at-peace.

Too haunted to hash past with himself, Frank set to work. He pulled a Phillips from his backpack and starting taking apart the plastic shell of the photo booth. Anything built can be torn down. A man, his family, his fears. Frank worked systematically, forming order from the remains of the captor of memories. What he expected to find wasn’t the point; just the act of dismantling seemed to rebuild what had been demolished in Frank. He worked faster with each screw loosed, and in his fervor he felt more certain. Every plastic panel stacked at his feet, a step toward restoration. Frank hadn’t planned this step in his story but at that moment, with shadows of Janell and Mary nearby, and Momma’s hogs rutting around in all their business, it seemed the only next thing to do. By the time the early riders paced with purpose beneath the sidewalks, Frank was gone and all that was left of his haunted house lay in evenly-distributed stacks of plastic on the subway station floor.

No one noticed, as New Yorkers never do. Numbed by the constant hum, they can’t pick out the melody, even when it’s singing their tune. If they had glanced into that dingy corner, they’d’ve been the lucky ones at Wednesday’s water cooler. Peaking from the dismantled photo-return slot: a New York State Lottery Ticket: 12 – 83 – 77 – 5 – 39. And the Mega Ball: 4.


Several blocks away, an exhausted Frank slipped into a lonely diner and rifled through that envelope for the millionth time. He ordered poached eggs & bacon, sipped coffee between bites, and felt free for the first time in months. The faded photos from the now defunct booth sat between a postcard he never sent and a candy wrapper from his first bus ride East. Mary’s favorite, Sugar Daddy. Behind that, their marriage certificate scribbled on yellowed paper, a few dried flowers from Janell’s improvised bouquet. Frank could still smell them, and he nearly sneezed from the sudden force of things rushing back. He fumbled for his laptop and caught what he could from the onslaught.

Janell kept her wedding lilies pressed in her Bible on the left side table by the door of our Palace. She grew flowers in the window box over the kitchen sink, said it made her feel whole, growin’ something in the dirt like she was doin’ inside. She filled out fast. We ate fish every Sunday and cornbread between, and I never thought I’d leave her. Word of Mary missing back in Millwood shook me all kinds of up and I lost track of what love meant somewhere between guilt and forgiveness.

Frank Sinatra Lonergan, Lucky Lotto Winner Number 1 -- Don't Think Twice, It's Alright

The serial story continues.  To read the first EIGHT parts, click here. ____________

The man behind me on the bus out of Millwood finally asked why I kept staring at him. I lied and told him that he looked like someone I knew. I didn’t have the heart to tell him he looked like one of Mama’s hogs. The man smiled, pressed me, asked me who it was. I chuckled and said, “the grand general of the black pig army, sir.” He looked at me cross ways, squinted his eyes, offset his jaw to the right and told me that if I couldn’t give a straight answer he’d carve me up like a Christmas ham. This time I laughed and noted, “ironic, I reckon.” Without breaking gaze, I pulled my cap slowly down over my eyes and reclined my seat.

We cruised along the highway, making the occasional stop at a small town bus station or diner. From time to time I’d switch buses, make the connections that would take me to New York. Through it all, the pig general followed along with a small stack of Kerouac books and Time magazines. I didn’t figure him much for a lover of Kerouac. Then again, he probably didn’t figure me for the lover of a full-figured, full gospel woman.

In Portville we boarded a bus full of hippies. They carried travel guitars and smelled of marijuana. They sat near the front, sleeping off some kind of funk. Moving further to the back, I chose a seat next to a large woman who could have been in Janell’s church choir. She smelled of boiled peanuts, coconut oil, and RC Cola. She asked me if she could bum a smoke but I told her I didn’t have none. She said that was a shame and told me I smelled like Kansas. I asked what that was supposed the mean. She just patted my arm and asked me what I was running from. Nothing, I said. She smiled and asked, “you running from love or your mama?” I told her it wasn’t like that. She turned to look out the window and lulled, “mmm-hmmmm.”

The air brakes released and as the bus eased out of the station, I thought about Janell, about the possibilities of life together. At only twelve weeks, her body wasn’t showing the changes yet. When she told me, I immediately took to planning. We talked about which side of the tracks we’d call home, asked which side had the smaller throwing stones. We considered the possibilities, considered sticking it out with the spiritual singers of Janell’s church but we knew it wouldn’t work. After all, Millwood was just like the rest of 1967 America. There were only two unpardonable sins—fascism and miscegenation.

On the Saturday before Easter, we visited Elder Johnson. We had planned on asking him to marry us quietly in his home. We’d threaten to live in sin if he wouldn’t. But when we arrived mama and little Mary were sitting on his couch, Mama visibly uncomfortable with the black protestant feel of it all. She came right out and asked us whether Janell was pregnant, said she’d heard rumors, said she wouldn’t help raise no mixed up son of a whore. Elder Johnson stood in the corner of the room. It was the only time I had ever seen him powerless. Mary, ran to my side, hugged tight to my leg. Janell fled, crying. I shook Mary free and followed after Janell. The storm door slapped shut. I looked over my shoulder through the window. Mama had taken to yelling at the Elder. Mary watched me from the window, begging me not to leave but understanding that I had to.

I caught up with Janell a couple of blocks down the road, told her I’d hop the next bus out of Millwood. She planned on taking the train. Traveling separately would help us avoid suspicion, make it more difficult for our folks to track us. Neither of us knew nothing of New York, so we chose Grand Central as our meeting place. I told her it could work, sold her infinite possibilities—her singing for money, me working a blue-collar job, us raising our child as the face of the new America.

Mary was my only regret.

The bus lumbered slowly through the Appalachians. One of the hippies in the front of the bus pulled out his guitar and started lazily strumming that stoning song Bob Dylan wrote about rainy day women. “Shut up,” the pig general yelled, “some of us are trying to sleep back here!” And without missing a beat, the hippy quickly transitioned into a more appropriate tune,

It ain’t no use to sit and wonder why babe If’n you don’t know by now And it ain’t no use to sit and wonder why babe It’ll never do somehow When your rooster crows at the break of dawn Look out your window and I’ll be gone You’re the reason I’ma travel’n on But don’t think twice, it’s all right.

Ghosts are made for giving up. But don’t think twice, it’s all right.