First, the beers got bigger. It was hard to object. The mouths, wider than ever before, stretched out obscenely, forever twisting into new, more aerodynamic shapes; vented slats cut into the lip for easier pouring, mistakenly assuming it would ever see a glass. They were a boon. They explained their ease. With the bigger beer, more was less. Keep your cash. Feel the flow.
They always had nicknames before, loutish, undignified. Cold One wasn’t specific enough and Brewski vaguely ethnic. But tall boys, sounding like soldiers, stood solid in rows, towering over the past, nearly blocking it out entirely, dwarfed only by the intemperance of the still-menacing 40 ounces.
Commuter beers. For the train times. Your half-hour to be brown paper bag, slumping against your own weight, watching Westchester unfold, buildings shrinking down into chimney and grass, two story things. It wasn’t hard to become a regular.
It threw numbers into disarray, first of all. Six was a stealth twelve. You could say, “I’ve had four,” to people of a certain advancing age and leave them dumbfounded, dreaming of their own abandoned addictions, unsure of how much they smell on everyone’s breath as their stories become increasingly unhinged.
It became a society doubled in all respects, always punchy and full of gas, bloated and back on its heels. Fights broke out more often, with less incentive. Dry, dispassionate affairs, with enthusiasm a poor substitute for real anger, the punches were less accurate, but visually very impressive, every one a haymaker, every connection drawing twice as much blood.
Wine couldn’t keep up. Meant for meals, its existence buoyed only by palettes undiluted, it became a sauce component at best, but more often suffered the humiliation of being little more than a juice drink, boxed with straws attached in plastic wrapping. Sommeliers found themselves pushed into the streets, sitting in circles sniffing corks in rotting row houses. Even water was called into question.
One of the kind surprises of this new world was how the politicians reacted. The first round of boiler makers hit without much interest, or, at best, derision. And rightfully so. This wasn’t a smooth undertaking, drinking straight liquor on a national stage. Even the most poised, the ones that made everyone laugh on the late night talk shows, twisted and half-sneered as it went down. Short dark men in gray suits scuttling around, whispering percentages into their ears.
“Here’s to you!” they said, toasting from the top shelf.
They won with the percentages and forced an important concession from their opponents:
“Now I’ll eat anything.”