Boy Friday

Because Stephen Hero isn’t affiliated with my primary employer, Mpls.St.Paul Magazine, you might make the mistake of assuming that on this “blog,” I have abandoned the assets that have made me such an editorial success: a subtle, variegated knowledge of the suburban mind, and the ability to tell my reader exactly where to get the good shit. Stephen Hero is not just some extremely well-written, hyper-literary diary. It could even be argued that I am doing my daytime employer a service by heeding the call for more transparency in the media; that in today’s “Fair and Balanced” climate, a window into the sources of the various isms and phobias that coalesce into what a charitable reader may perceive as my “bias,” and a less charitable one as my “prejudice,” is a good thing. A fringe benefit maybe, but that is not the point. Here, I can tell you exactly where to get the good shit too.

This last weekend, I was in charge of getting two things for my mother’s surprise party for her 60th birthday: The Keg and The Cake. I needed cake for 65, and I’ve heard that sheet cake is expensive, so I was prepared to spend some money, especially considering that I didn’t really start investigating this cake situation until two days before the big party. At first, I wanted to give the job to my girlfriend’s friend Kalinka, a Brazilian pastry chef that works in a St. Paul restaurant. Kalinka is a dessert sorceress. She bakes this incredible coconut fudge cake–it’s the only cake I’ve ever liked (I’m a pie man). There is something spiritual and authentic to her creations that belies the category of “confection.” (A benign eating disorder?) But Kalinka was already baking a cake for a wedding for one of her countrymen, and she didn’t have time for her friend’s big, white American boyfriend. (Racism!) I don’t have any other pastry chef connections, so I called the bakery by my house, the Uptown Wuollet’s, and for $75, I told them the flavor of cake I wanted and what to write on top of it: “Happy 60th Birthday, Mom/Jean Ann.” When the cake was unveiled, I think some people were a little confused by the Mom-slash-Jean Ann thing, but everybody loved how it tasted and one of my mom’s little old lady friends said, “When I heard Stephen was getting the cake, I just knew he would get a Wuollet’s.” (See, how killer that Mpls.St.Paul affiliation can be?)

Buying The Keg turned out to be much more controversial. Again, I had left planning to the last minute, so on my way back from the Picasso and American Art exhibit at the Walker on Friday night (heavyweight art show, and the Walker was delightfully empty, even after 5 on a Friday), I stopped in at Lowry Hill Liquor to reserve a keg. They were out of everything, and they immediately referred me to Zipp’s. They said it was the spot for kegs in the Twin Cities. I called Zipp’s and asked them if they had Summit Grand Pilsner. They did, but only in 8 gallon kegs, and my father’s family was coming, and I was sure they would be able to burn through a 16 gallon. I asked if they had PBR. They said that PBR was their most popular keg, and their cheapest, at $49.99. I like a top shelf pilsner or a lager, and Zipp’s has everything, but something nice, like Stella Artois, would have cost me $125.

Only one problem: My sister. My sister is a horrible person, basically. This isn’t her fault, of course; it’s her mother’s. With all due respect (she did just turn 60), my mom was given two boys right off the bat, she was probably envisioning–accurately, it turned out–a future filled with broken furniture, small-time delinquency, cursing and the NFL. The good woman was desperate for a little girl. And when she finally got one, she spoiled her rotten. And now the rotten little girl has grown into a monster, a grown-up monster that loves Michelob Golden Draft Light. When I told Megan about the PBR reservation, she screamed into the phone, “STEPHEN, this isn’t about YOU!” This was a shock. I mean, I knew that my sister isn’t emotionally stable, and I knew that she liked Michelob Golden Draft Light, but the day before, when I told her that I was going to buy a Summit Grand Pilsner keg, she just sighed, albeit in an unnecessarily dramatic way, and said, “I knew you would get something weird.” Now she was furious about the PBR. But my dad’s family, a big, garrulous, blue collar family with rural Minnesota roots (Staples-Motley area) loves PBR. At least the men in the family love it. The women prefer Michelob Golden Draft Light, like my sister, and most females that live outside of the 612, but they had grown to tolerate the PBR fixation of the men. And my mom’s family, a smaller family–one younger brother, one younger sister–that grew up in Brooklyn Center in the 1960s, more securely middle-class, is basically a light beer/rose crowd. Still, they didn’t seem like they would be disgusted by PBR on a sunny summer afternoon. I mean, I myself have been a recreational pot smoker since the late 90s, never really a beer drinker, so I admit, I don’t have a deep understanding of beer culture, but nobody had ever betrayed any overt animosity towards the PBR tradition. Lately, PBR has even found some traction with some of my younger, more tattooed male cousins–adding another layer to what is now a full-blown inside family joke. The most reasonable explanation for my sister’s hysteria was that the party planning pressure was getting to her. After all, because it was a surprise party, this would be the first time she’d planned anything without my mother…

Here’s the deal: I’m not a cheapskate, but I already spent $75 on the cake. And at that point, I didn’t know that that was going to pay off in terms of prestige, so I thought the better chance of embossing my image/avoiding confrontation was through a premium beer. So when my brother gave me a ride to Zipp’s on the day of the party, I asked the keg attendent how much it would cost to switch to Michelob Golden Draft Light. “Why would you do that?” the guy demanded. “Why not keep the Pibber? It’s the best beer, and look, it’s only 49.99. There’s a reason we list it in bold! The Michelob is $80 and it doesn’t taste as good. Why would you change it? Why?” I thought he was going to start scourging his breast and tearing his hair out. At this point, the keg attendant, a wiry dude with bleached hair and combat boots that looked like Spike from Angel chimed in, “Why would you do that? Why would you get rid of the Pibber?” I said, okay, okay, give me the Pibber.

In the parking lot, when Spike was wheeling the thing out, I slipped him a five and divulged all of my pent up shame about cheaping out on my sister and asked him if there was anything, anything he could do about this situation, anyway he could help me avoid the inevitable scene at my mother’s 60th surprise birthday party, now only a half hour and a drive to Elk River away. “Oh,” he said, “so you want to make it look like your family is getting the frat boy beer, but you want to keep the Pibber?” I nodded. I was encouraged–Spike looked like he had a plan. “Okay, this is gonna be gross, so don’t look.” He went back to the cooler and returned with a plastic Michelob cap to sub for the Pabst cap. Then he pulled out a white piece of cardboard. He hocked a loogy, spit on the cardboard, and rubbed it in the gravel of the parking lot. Armed with the makeshift sandpaper, he began vigorously scrubbing away the PBR-PBR-PBR ink printed all over it. He looked up, pleased. “I do this all the time,” he said.

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6 Responses

  1. So good. But why do all of your posts involve you slipping people cash?

  2. I am a powerful man.

  3. Good choice on the cake; Wuollet is always my stand-by on short cake notice.

  4. Everyone who’s anyone, knows the answer to your problem was a keg of Blatz.

  5. Not everyone’s from Hibbing, Paul.

  6. this story is begging for a sequel/follow-up…did anyone notice the placebo beer? Just got the title reference, too. nice work.

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