Drinking with the boys
by Jon Worley
This wasn't the column I was going to write this week. My first thought was to discuss the "scrotum scrum," the controversy about The Higher Power of Lucky, the newly-minted Newberry winner for best (non-picture) children's book that introduces itself with a short digression on the word "scrotum." I'd pulled quotes from George Carlin, the Rev. Billy C. Wirtz and even "The Music Man." A number of dingbat parents groups and simple-minded school librarians were all in a tizzy, threatening to ban the thing one way or another. That one was gonna be good.
And then my younger son Sam, who turned two a while back and doesn't talk much, turned to me on Wednesday and said, "I wrote an 'S'." He pointed at his paper, and he'd written, well, a "Z." But, you know, he gets points for trying. And talking. And making me wonder just how it is you can gauge what exactly is going on in the mind of a little kid.
That one was gonna be good, too. But yesterday I ate lunch at the National Museum of the American Indian with Max and Sam (Barbara had an engagement to speak to some students). I had a beer. And, well...
First things first. If you have a chance to dine at the NMAI (or the recently refurbished National Museum of Natural History), do it. It's not cheap--entrees can hit $10-$15. But this isn't fast food. It's pretty damned stellar cafeteria fare. I had buffalo chili with a side of smoked squash ($5 and $3, respectively). Max and Sam split a fruit cup and a large piece of frybread. Not so adventurous, but relatively healthy.
Anyway, after herding the guys through the checkout line without hands (both were needed for my overloaded tray), we plunked ourselves down and ate. Max ate the cantaloupe and honeydew, Sam ate the blackberries and pineapple and they both split the blueberries. They drank their milk politely and were, in all respects, astoundingly perfect. Sam, in particular, can get distracted in restaurants and go a little berserk. He is, after all, two. But not yesterday.
So they got approving glances from the folks eating near us. As for me, well, my beer was not welcome.
I don't usually get beer at the Smithsonian. The general offerings consist of some American macrobrew and an import or two--if you consider Corona or Kirin (the latter is brewed in Los Angeles) imports. I'll have the tamarind agua fresca, thank you.
But yesterday I saw something called Firestone Walker Double Barrel Ale. I took a (very) quick glance at the label and it looked good. Well, it didn't look bad, and I'm always in favor of trying something new.
For those who care, the "Firestone" in the name is an heir to the tire fortune, though his parents are better known for their wines. The beer itself was good. Non-assuming, not particularly flavorful but with a nice body. In short, the sort of beer you can settle down with and have a few. I'd have another one, which is about as complicated as my beer ratings generally get.
So anyway, I got these looks. Not just stares, but disapproving ones. Stares that seemed to ask the question, "How can a dad responsible for the safety of two preschoolers be drinking a beer with his lunch?"
By and large, I'm oblivious to other people. I simply don't care what people think of me. Maybe if I was on trial or something I might, but in the course of my life I rarely concern myself with other people's opinions of me, unless said opinion causes an obvious problem. I wouldn't have even noticed these stares except that they were omnipresent. The first adult I made eye contact with (it's always important to scan the room when you're with young kids, just so you know what they're seeing) had that highly offended look, and so did the second. As my eyes passed over more tables, I got plenty of variations on the theme.
I know a lot of people--probably a majority of people in this country--believe that you shouldn't drink around kids. Or, at the very least, that if you do you should feel bad about it. I don't. I think that if you drink, you should drink around your kids. Teach them (by your actions, not by sitting down with tumblers) how to drink responsibly. It just seems to make sense to me.
One of the main differences between DC and Durham is the lack of a "hang out" culture. If I wanted to go have a beer with someone in Durham, I could pick any of a number of houses in my neighborhood or call a list of friends. I didn't do this a lot, as much of the attraction of having a beer had to do with not being around the boys for a while, but the possibility was there. We've met a lot of nice people up here, but most of them aren't comfortable with our general Friday night plan of cracking a few brews with friends and letting the kids tear up the house. It's too bad, really. When kids see their parents relaxed and happy, then they're relaxed and happy. Around here, there are lots of people who don't relax, period.
I know, most of the people in the restaurant were probably tourists...though the NMAI cafeteria has become something of a local "secret." And so blaming the stern looks I got on the general DC culture is a bit of a stretch. But they pissed me off, and recently a number of folks I know have been discussing the excess of intensity among most folks in and around DC. So, you know a little confluence.
But don't let my silly diatribe keep you from the restaurant at the NMAI. It's really great. And, if you are inclined, do try the Double Barrel Ale. It goes great with the chili.