by Scott Saalman
I sat beside Ernie Bombeck at The Shaky Stool.
“It’s One Beer Scott,” Ernie slurred, a nickname he called me due to limiting myself to only one beer per visit. Based on numbers of beer per sitting, I could call him 12-pack Ernie.
“You look agitated, Ernie.”
“I’m still miffed about last fall’s results. They should’ve done a recount.”
Fall. Recount. Suddenly, I understood — or thought I did. The Jasper mayoral election.
“Ernie, they did do a recount. It went in Seitz’s favor.”
“Not that. I mean that thing in the paper about Dubois County being the third drunkest county in Indiana.”
“Oh that,” I said. Something called the County Health Rankings and Roadmaps program declared Dubois the third highest county in the state for excessive or heavy drinking. “Ours is drunker than 89 other counties. Such a pity. Shocking, huh, Ernie?”
“Shocking that we were beat out of the top spot you mean! We’re slipping, One Beer Scott. Surely we’re better than that. I’ve done my share to put us on top. What’s happened to our community pride?”
Red nosed, he downed the last half of his beer. “Another,” he called to the bartender.
“I have an idea to improve our ranking,” he said. “We should lower the legal drinking age.”
“Bad idea,” I said. “Kids are already drinking way too young. Grade-schoolers even.”
Something I said put a faraway look in Ernie’s rheumy eyes. He smiled as if dropping anchor adjacent to some happy shore. “I remember my first time. Seventh grade. Christmas. We snuck a Schlitz out of my uncle’s garage fridge. A 16-ouncer. Just one. We passed it around like mini winos, got buzzed. For years, we sang ‘99 Bottles of Beer’ during grade school field trips, making us thirsty for something we had yet to taste. Then came that first shared Schlitz — it was a holy moment. You never forget that first taste.
“I was 15 when I first got drunk,” he added. “My buddy’s birthday party. I woke up with my head in a fireplace. I had enough ash on my head to skip a lifetime of Ash Wednesday services.”
“Another,” he said to the bartender. “Third place! Sheeeeeesh! No one remembers the bronze medalist in anything. You know what, One Beer Scott? I partially blame this fiasco on the craft beer craze.”
He then shared his craft beer conspiracy theory.
“Just look at the menu. All those crazy beer names. It’s overwhelming. It takes an hour just to decide which beer to choose, wasting important drinking time.”
“Just listen to them,” he said, moving his right thumb hitchhiker style over his right shoulder, directing my attention to two younger couples at a table.
“How about this?” one woman said. She recited from the drink menu: “This luscious Belgian style quadruple pours a deep amber hue with shades of copper and ruby. Maturing for months on oak, this beer reveals a profound vanilla character and malty sweetness, supported by a creamy mouthfeel.”
The three others silently stared at her, spellbound by her poetry.
Ernie growled, “Did she say creamy mouthfeel? What the heck? This is a bar, not a DQ.”
“S-h-h-h,” I said.
“Listen to this one,” the other woman said. “This beer features an abundance of dark malts and high alpha hops for a powerful impact of roast, chocolate and sweet bitterness. You can sense the velvety malt character, balanced bitter intensity and soothing chocolate notes created by long aging on fair trade cocoa nibs.” A chorus of oohs and aahs followed.
“Am I understanding the English language correctly? Did she just say nibs? I can’t listen to this madness anymore,” he said and downed his beer. “Another,” he ordered. “I’ll show her my nibs.”
“See what I mean, One Beer Scott? They’ll read the descriptions of every beer on that menu. It will be last call for alcohol by the time they choose. Those four chairs could best be used by someone like me who would have already drunk three Buds by the time they ordered their first beer. No wonder Dubois County is so low on the list.”
“I worry about our community’s reputation, One Eyed Scott,” slurred Ernie.
“One Beer Scott. Not One Eye Scott, Ernie. You call me One Beer Scott, remember?”
“We’re on a downward spiral, I tell you. I can just see the Herald headline now: Strassenfest committee nixes ceremonial first keg tapping! Say it ain’t so, Beer Eyed Scott.”
There seemed to be real tears leaking from Ernie’s bloodshot eyes. “I haven’t missed a keg tapping in three decades. The tradition, the hoisting of steins, the pageantry, the Port-O-Potties, the ‘Zicke, zacke, zicke, zacke, hoi, hoi, hoi.’ It’s like our Run For The Roses, Beer Keg Scott. This is America!”
The couples behind us were still deciding. “…exceptionally floral nose.”
“Bartender, another. And get my good buddy What’s His Name here another.”
“No thanks, Ernie. I’ve had my one beer.”
“Floral nose. Why I ought to floral his nose with my floral fist …”
“Calm down, Ernie. You’re not thinking clearly. At least this way there’s more beer for you.”
“Hey, good point, One Toed Sloth. I like that.”
“…the aroma and flavor are rich with a mix of coconut, pineapple, and the delicate citrus of mosaic hops,” read one of the Shaky Stool patrons behind us.
Ernie harrumphed. “There still should be a recount.”
Will Read and Sing for Food will perform at 2:30 p.m. on Sunday, March 13, at the Dubois County Museum. The performance will include a tribute to the late great humor columnist Erma Bombeck, featuring various women from the community.