Monthly Archives: February 2014

Shaefer Beer

There was a joke that used to go something like this: What kind of beer did the Doctor recommend to the woman who was going to have twins? Answer: Schaefer, because it’s the one beer to have when you’re having more than one.

If you’re of a certain age and lived in the New York Metropolitan area, you remember this little bit of advice because it was oft repeated in highly polished ads like this:

In the nineteen sixties and early seventies, it was the rare New York bar, deli or restaurant that didn’t display a neon Schaefer sign. They promoted on television and magazines, using movie stars and celebrities. Schaefer sponsored the Brooklyn Dodgers before they left the borough, and there was even a Schaefer pavilion at the World’s Fair in 1964.

What happened to it?

Schaefer History

Brothers Frederick and Maximilian Schaefer started brewing in Manhattan in 1842. They started small, but stepped it up when they moved to what was then considered the “sticks:” Fifty-first Street and Park Avenue. In 1915, Maximilian’s son, Rudolf, realized they were sitting on a real estate fortune and sold the property — part of which was to Saint Bartholomew’s Church, which is still there and became the focus of a high profile, potential real estate deal and ensuing controversy.

Schaefer built a new brewery in Brooklyn, but the passage of Prohibition in 1920 put a crimp in their plans. They kept the brewery running, producing “near beer,” and some other stuff like dyes and artificial ice — the latter being cited in most research articles about Schaefer, though how can you have artificial ice is? Isn’t all ice, ice?

When Rudolph passed away in 1923, control of the company passed to his sons, with Rudolph Jr., eventually becoming president. When Prohibition was repealed on April 7, 1933, he had already launched an extensive advertising campaign that solidified the company’s dominance in the New York market.

By 1944, they were selling over 2,000,000 barrels of beer annually, which at the time was unheard of. Beginning in 1950, they expanded out of their home market with mixed results, but their most dramatic move was in 1971, when they built a ultra-modern brewery just outside of Allentown, Pa.

It was so efficient, they no longer needed their other breweries, which they began shutting down. The most noteworthy closing came in January of 1976, when they announced the shuttering of their Brooklyn plant, which brought to a close a 134 year association with NY City.

It was this decision that really sealed the company’s fate. New Yorker beer drinkers — like most beer drinkers of their day — were loyal, but not to out-of-towners. With the geographical connection severed, there was no longer any reason for their allegiance.

At the same time, there were tectonic changes afoot in the beer industry. Large regionals like Schaefer and Rheingold (and Piels, Schmidt’s, Hamms, Old Style, Lone Star, Blatz, etc.) came under attack by the growing national brands like Budweiser, Schlitz and Miller. It was grow or die, and Schaefer was fading. In 1981, it was purchased by a large Midwest brewer, Stroh’s, who hoped that together they could achieve the critical mass necessary to compete. It wasn’t to be and in 1999, Stroh’s was purchased by Pabst.

Still Around

Since the demise of Schaefer and others like it, breweries continued to grow larger through acquisition and merger, with their tentacles extending around the globe. Even US behemoth Budweiser wasn’t too big to get absorbed into beer juggernaut, AB Inbev.

At the same time, craft brewing exploded. Practically everywhere you go, there’s a local brew pub that produces quality beer by the thousands — not millions — of barrels per year. It’s almost a throwback to the days when one of the joys of traveling in America was to sample the local brew.

Somewhere in the middle are the lost brands of yore. As it turns out, after purchasing Stroh’s, Pabst Brewing continued acquiring similar, regional breweries, and producing the beers with their original recipes.

Schaefer Coaster

Schaefer Coaster

Thanks to this company, a twelve-pack of Schaefer turned up in the cooler of my local liquor store, sporting its distinctive logo with the sprig of barely in silhouette in the background.

I made the purchase, noting that it was quite a bit less expensive than the heavily promoted national brands, and to a greater extent than the imports and pricier new domestic premiums like Sam Adams.

It had been a very long while since I’d last sampled this once iconic brew, but if my taste memory is still in tact (and I think it is), it seems to me that they got it about right.

Everything Reminds me of something Else

Orig_Jones_BeachThe Jones Beach Marine Theater opened in 1952, and was one of Robert Moses’s pet projects. It was unique because of the moat that separated the stage from the on-shore audience. This arrangement allowed for “in-water” performances, but made floor seating impossible and created a gigantic separation between stage and audience. The set-up was so impractical, actors and musicians were ferried by barge and dinghy to and from the stage.

It was conceived as a venue for musical plays, with music provided by Moses’s friend, Guy Lombardo and his orchestra. Guy was famous for his very square, televised New Year’s Eve celebrations, broadcast live from the Waldorf Astoria Ballroom. His final concert at Jones Beach was in 1977, and in the eighties, the theater evolved into the major Rock and Roll venue that it is today — newly branded The Nikon Jones Beach Theater.

I don’t recall what I’d gone to see, but it was a musical and Guy Lombardo was playing. This was in the early seventies, so the moat was still there. Even looking through youthful eyes, everything seemed too far away — I mean, the stage was on an island for Christ’s sake! But that was okay, because what I remember really looking forward to was going to the Schaefer beer tent after the show, which was set up for the expressed purpose of dancing and drinking beer — and I repeat: after the show.

What you have to understand about the Jones Beach Theater is that it is on a barrier beach, accessible by crossing narrow bridges that connect to the Long Island mainland. I suppose some people arrived by bus, but my guess is that most theater or concert goers arrived in private automobile, which they would have to drive home after throwing back a few in the tent, and perhaps doing a little dancing to burn it off.

I don’t have an independent memory of actually drinking a Schaefer beer in their famous tent. I remember it being there, but I think it was closed for some reason. It would have been okay for me to order one up, as the legal drinking age at the time was eighteen.

new Jones BeachThe Jones Beach Theater changed a lot over the years. Firstly, the moat was filled in and orchestra seating was added. Secondly, an upper level was added, bringing seating capacity to 15,000. Huge video screens flank both sides of the stage, which is good because there is still too much space between the original seating and the stage. If you’re planning to go, I recommend paying up and sitting where the moat once was.

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So…What?

No one understands why or how, but occasionally large groups of people start doing the same thing, or liking it, or wearing it, or eating it, or believing it.

Beginning a few years ago, I noticed that when some people were asked a question, they started their answers with “so.” It probably started on the Sunday morning talk shows, and then spread across the rest of the broadcast media until you can now expect it if you ask someone for the time: So, it’s…eleven thirty.

There’s nothing new about using “filler” words at the beginning of an answer, the theory being that the speaker is stalling for time. It’s like the old grammar school ruse of beginning an answer by repeating and embellishing the teacher’s question.

Teacher: Mr. Nolan, can you explain the three primary exports of Bolivia?

Me: Yes. The three primary exports of Bolivia, a South American country whose climate is similar to ours, are : bauxite, fresh cut flowers and anchovies.

Teacher (shaking head ruefully): Please sit down Mr. Nolan.

(This shows that the slight pause only helps if you know the answer and just need a little extra time to dig it out of memory.)

The most popular filler word at the beginning of a sentence is “Well,” which doesn’t make sense when you consider that the word is meant to denote a favorable condition, state of being or outcome — or a place from which to draw water.

The people who write dictionaries acknowledge this in their most subordinate citations by saying: It’s employed when pausing to consider one’s next words.

True enough, but that could apply to any of the similarly used non-words, such as “Hmmm,” and “Uhh,” the latter of which we learn pretty early-on to avoid because there’s always some little prick eager to mock us by making us sound like Lenny from Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men.

I asked around a bit to see if any of my acquaintances were aware of the “so” trend, and got the feeling that this change had passed unnoticed into the culture — but I was wrong. As far back as 2010, a few publications took note.

The New York Times article offered a few explanations. Linguistics scholar, Galina Bolden, opined that it’s about the culture of empathy, and its use signals that your explanation has been chosen for its relevance to the listener. Maybe for some, but I don’t think there are too many people thinking that much about what’s relevant to anyone except themselves.

Another theory is that it started in Silicone Valley and has something to do with how computer programmers answer questions, and the growing influence of our data-driven culture. The writer of the piece, Anand Giridharada, opined that it’s use has the “whiff of logic to relay authority,” and conveys an “algorithmic certitude that suggests there is a right answer, which the evidence dictates and which must not be contradicted.”

That sounds logical and leads nicely into what Ben Yagoda wrote in the Chronicle of Higher Education in 2011, that when people use it, the underlying message is: “I understand the question and how it displays your incomplete knowledge of the subject. What follows is an answer that will help you comprehend what’s really going on and, in addition, suggest a unified theory of the reality.”

I’m sure some people are consciously trying to impart such a message when they start answers with “so,” but most aren’t that guileful. I tend to agree with Doctor Penelope Gardner-Chloros, from the department of applied linguistics and communication at London’s Birkbeck College, who was quoted in the Spectator: “We accommodate, and converge with the group of people we want to belong to. Someone using “so” like this may well be doing it because they’ve heard other people doing it. It spreads like the flu.”

Pharrell Williams Hat

This hat speaks for itself

So, in other words, people do this for the same reason they do almost everything: they want to fit in. The way we talk has a fashion of its own, with phrases and expression going in and out of style. It’s no different than running out for one of those traffic-stopping Smokey Bear hats that Pharrell William’s wore to the Grammy’s. We have the idea that conformity is all that stands between ourselves and the acceptance of our peers.

Everything reminds me of something else

When we were kids, sometimes you’d say something to a playmate and they would answer: “So?” which was intended as an insult. For example:

Me: Hey, Steve, my uncle is going to take me to the Yankees game this Friday.

Steve: So?

This is kid-speak for “I don’t give a damn,” or “Who gives a you-know-what?” The best way to reply to this slight (even as an adult — especially as an adult!) is to smile and answer calmly: “Go sew your mother’s girdle.”

Of course, this is kid-speak for “F” You, and I so treasure the few opportunities I get these days to employ it.

One last thing, the cartoon above is from the film Of Fox and Hounds, which came out in 1940, which was voiced by Tex Avery and Mel Blanc. It’s the first time Tex Avery used characters based around George and Lenny of John Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men.

All the best,

Joe

Pizza, Lou Malnati’s, Facebook and the NSA

People get emotional over many things that have no bearing or effect on anything important. I have fond memories of heated, teenage arguments over who was better: The Rolling Stones or The Beatles. Many people self actualize through the performance of a favored sports team, even though its success or failure has no impact on their own.

Food’s another thing people get parochial over. Friendships have been terminated over who makes the best clam chowder, barbeque, gumbo, chili, pasties or chow mien. Disagreements over pizza have a tendency to get heated, sometimes with one party going so far as rejecting the very legitimacy of what the other guy claims pizza to be.

A Facebook friend posted John Stewart’s rant about deep dish pizza, making a mockery of how your stereotypical, outer-borough New York  character views the matter:

Pepsi paper cup

Most cones were white

I get this. I grew up on Long Island and for me, haute cuisine was two slices and a Pepsi, served in a cone-shaped paper cup that was stuck into a stainless steel base. (If this drink delivery system means nothing to you, you’ve missed out because it’s as extinct as the dinosaurs. The bright side?: you’re young.)

The paper cup was put in this pedestal

The paper cup was put in this pedestal

In and around New York, most pizzerias turn out a pretty consistent product because there are only a handful of companies that supply these restaurants with everything from dough, cheese, sauce, boxes, toppings, napkins and paper plates. I’m talking Pizzerias, not restaurants that also make pizzas and with straight faces offer abominations like goat cheese, hossenfeffer and horse radish pies — which, incidentally, is clearly not legitimately classified as pizza.

In spite of the consistency, many New Yorkers develop strong opinions about which of their local pizza places is best. Their loyalty is so strong that even late at night they’ll drive past more convenient parlors to get to their guy,

After watching Stewart’s act, I Facebook commented that while it is true that Deep Dish Pizza isn’t really pizza, it can still be good. I mentioned a chain in the Chicago Area called Lou Malnati’s, and how I usually try to stop by when traveling there. My friend came back and said that he agreed that it could be good, but repeated the “not pizza” stipulation. I resisted observing that since my friend had long ago moved to the Boston area, he had no pizza credibility because a sound case could be made that New England pizza isn’t pizza either. I bit my tongue.

Lou’s pizza is different. The somewhat watery sauce has pureed tomatoes in it, over which a ton of Mozzarella is poured and melts into a single, pie-covering, eighth inch thick cheese disk. On top of that go the usual suspects: sausage, mushrooms, etc., and New Yorkers will complain about their quality, especially the sausage and pepperoni, but that’s because they just don’t do that stuff the same way in Chicago. And yes, more sauce is added on top of everything, which is pizza heresy and should come with a prison sentence, or at the very least a public admonishment delivered by the a famous and very, very rich, faux news caster.

After this exchange, I briefly considered going online to order a pie from Malnati’s, which I’d never done before. The urge passed, but I would not be forgetting about Lou’s pizza. A few days later, I logged onto Facebook and after clicking around a little bit, an advertisement came up for, of all places:  Lou Malnati’s!

So, I thought, that’s how Facebook is monetizing itself. It’s a profit deal (enjoy Steve Martin in The Jerk realizing that a carnival weight guesser doesn’t care if he guesses wrong because the prize is worth less than the dollar he charges).

On some level I knew this was going on, but it was the first time I’d experienced it. It’s pretty clear that Facebook is scanning everyone’s posts and then running them through an algorithm that looks for matches with the names of companies that pay them money to direct traffic to their websites. Badda bing, badda boom, when a user clicks the website: cha ching!

What did you think, somebody was going set up this gigantic contraption for you to waste time on for free? Hey, this is America.

I guess the NSA doesn’t have anything on Facebook. Now all I have to do is figure out if this bothers me. I’m leaning towards: It doesn’t, but that could change.

Everything Reminds Me of Something Else

I went to collage in Northern Wisconsin and back then, the pizza places started their dough by running it through a machine that had rollers like a motorized, old fashion clothes wringer. To make it pie-shaped, a pizza cutter was run around a circular form, and the excess was “recycled” into the next pie. From there they would proceed in the normal fashion, first sauce, then cheese, and finally toppings, that would rightfully get you a good beating if you tried serving them in the New York Metropolitan area.

The sausage were little balls of greasy, grizzled mystery meat that was seasoned with fennel seeds, garlic and salt in depressingly excessive quantities. Onions, peppers, and mushrooms came out of a jar. The only topping I considered barely acceptable was the pepperoni, but only after I used a pile of napkins to sop up the slick of greasy oil that had been liberated by the heat of the oven.

And as bad as that was, I don’t think it would have left such a lasting negative impression hadn’t it been for what followed. Upon taking it from the oven, it was cut it into squares. Squares! I swear to God! When I first saw it, I thought I was the butt of a practical joke, but no.

It seemed to me that everyone knew that a round pizza — even one formed by a clothes wringer and a plywood die that was probably never, ever cleaned — was cut into triangles. Only a square pizza, which is known as Sicilian, was cut into squares. But no, I was not having a joke played on me. I was told that this “cut” wasn’t at all unusual, not just in northern Wisconsin, but all over the Midwest, even Chicago (which as it turned out, was no big ringing endorsement).

Another Pizza anomaly that I noticed was that pizza was not sold by the slice, which to me was comparable to offering hamburgers only by the dozen.

One of my friends, Hank, an easterner like me once engaged one of the local pizza merchants in a drunken, drawn out interrogation concerning why pizza was not offered by the slice. The merchant kept saying that the traffic wasn’t sufficient. Hank kept looking out at the street and the cars going by, and asking: “What does the traffic have to do with selling pizza by the slice. Most of the people who come in here are students and don’t even have cars.”

God, I miss Hank.