Big Beer Mondays at Mister Up’s

On Monday nights, five dollars can get you 25 oz. of any Vermont brew at Mister Up’s, a local restaurant and pub in Middlebury. There are about a dozen local beer selections, from dark and creamy pours like Otter Creek’s Oatmeal Stout to Burlington’s Queen City Hefenweizer, a light, citrusy ale that tickles the lips.

Ordering one “big beer” is a given. Ordering two isn’t unheard of. Ordering three… well, good luck.

By 9:30 P.M., the booths are packed in both dining rooms, with locals and college students alike. This is nothing like the Thursday bar night at Two Brother’s Tavern, where sweaty collared shirts and silky tops dominate the downstairs lounge.

At Mister Up’s, there’s no loud music, no dancing, no strobe lights. No one appears hammered. People often keep their scarves on – the cozy charm of questionable heating. Sometimes, there are board games. Often, it’s just cards.

The bar stools are taken, minus the occasional lone seat between parties of two and three. Rachel, the bartender, frantically fills oversized mugs with beer, sometimes clamping down on two taps at a time, serving up one after another. I marvel at her speed, her coordination. She hands me a “big beer.” I clutch it with two hands; it’s always heavier than it looks. I glance at her forearms in awe.

Rachel is the gem of the joint. Though tucked away on Bakery Lane, there’s no baker in sight. And besides the occasional burger or taco assembly, the chef doesn’t seem to do much besides stick frozen food in the oven. Sometimes, the fryer. Don’t be fooled by the exotic adjectives on the menu, like “Cajun” in front of the word “salad” or “sandwich”; it’s all standard American fare. You might as well have brought your own seasoning to sprinkle on yourself. It’d be less salty. You might actually taste the spice.

Hungry students usually order “fingers and toes”, a benign plate of chicken fingers and fries. It’s a college favorite, only because the rest of the menu is a crapshoot. Even 0rdering nachos can be risky. Will all the cheese be melted? Will half the chips be burnt?

The cookie skillet “a la mode” is admittedly delicious, but it’s a dish that’s hard to screw up. Think vanilla ice cream melting into the warm, molten nooks of a chocolate chip cookie, sizzling with crisp buttery edges that hide a soft, doughy inside. For sober pals and underage buddies, this dessert is a nice alternative to the classic “big beer.” It’s also reasonably priced at $6 per skillet that’s big enough to share.

If you’re 21, stick to the $5 deal on great beer. And make sure to tip Rachel. If you’re underage, stick to Proctor. Microwave a cookie and put a scoop of vanilla on top. Granted, the white ceramic plates aren’t cast-iron skillets, but it’s satisfying enough. Save yourself the trek down College Street and instead, spend those $6 on a squealer of Drop-In (recommended: “Fetchez la Vache!”). Sip with friends on a chill Monday night. Casual college drinking, it’s never too young to start.

Why it was easiest to fall in “love” at 15

Charlie Thompson was tall, blonde and blue-eyed. He played football, got mediocre school grades and didn’t own an SAT prep book. He only ate rice when it was drenched in soy sauce from a take-out container. He watched Family Guy and drove a truck.

In short, he epitomized the American boy my immigrant parents feared would inevitably date their Korean daughter.

Thinking about him now, I doubt we’d have much in common today. But I don’t think I’ve ever been more in love than I was with Charlie Thompson at age 15.

It wasn’t just the hormones. Maybe it was the insecurity of being an adolescent — the discomfort of budding curves, waking up to a pimply reflection –that made it so easy to fall in love with someone else. It was soothing to know someone found me attractive and desirable when I, for some reason, could not.

“We accept the love we deserve.” Wrong.

It’s easiest to fall in love when you actively seek affection and validation. We accept the love we need. A narcissist is notorious for being a player, for bouncing between partners, often juggling several at the same time. When you’re so in love with yourself, you refuse to compromise for others. You can’t be selfish and be in love.

My freshman year of college, I was busy doing so many other things for myself, learning to live on my own, meeting new friends, getting a taste of “collegiate” activities like acapella and ultimate frisbee. I had no time and no need for a significant other. My high school boyfriend’s “love” became another commitment, no, more like a distraction. I felt more confident to do things without him. I didn’t have time for this. I didn’t need this. So I fled.

So maybe what I felt for Charlie Thompson was not love at all, but a twisted validation of my self-worth. Maybe my “love” for him came from his “love” for me; it was simply a souvenir of conquest, like Lt. Raine’s collection of Nazi scalps in Inglorious Basterds. Heh.

This post ended in a very different place than I thought.

 

 

Diversity?

“An old, old, wooden ship…”

Institutions of higher ed love throwing this word around. To be exposed to “diversity” is to be educated. It’s as if the credibility of your degree is directly linked to the diversity of the incoming class.

But what do most schools mean by “diverse”?

Diversity of bodies or diversity of experiences? If an elite education is the key to social mobility, who loses out in the game of increasingly selective admissions? Affirmative action, athletic recruitment, “feeder” high schools — how do they write the rules to skew the odds?

On place, virtual reality and compatability

“Geography is destiny.”

I’m beginning to appreciate the versatility of this simple phrase.

I considered unpacking this year’s election as a prime example (just check out this map of voting patterns by the New York Times).

I’ll spare you. Let’s talk something fun and fluffy: long-distance relationships.

Even in this age of modern tech, when we can “face-time” without moving an inch or find a date through strategic swipes on our smartphones, place still constrains our personal lives. There are just some things we must “feel” to feel. All hail the power of touch!

Until we can upload our tactile senses or some form that connects our physical bodies to this “cloud” of communication, place will continue to matter. Touch is the last barrier, the inevitable next step in breaking the chains imposed on *love* by physical distance. We already store most of our social interactions in this bustling crosshatch of wireless signals and cable cords that span oceans, that bounce off space satellites spinning hundreds of miles per hour, that ping and vibrate and light up our screens. A new virtual reality communication network could make us more likely to commit and stay in long-distance relationships.

But is that a good thing?

I guess that depends on your theory of human compatibility.

If a person’s compatibility is just limited to a handful of individuals, each relationship should be treasured as a rarity. Loss aversion is logical. “There’s plenty of fish in the sea,” or “Good things fall apart so better things can come together,” are meaningless cliches we tell ourselves and our friends to make letting go seem less tragic than it actually is: losing your one and only (or very few). Virtual reality is a godsend for all hapless romantics.

But if you think humans are simply hungry for connection and will savor a bite of salmon just as much as say, a fresh shucked oyster, then virtual reality is a crooked scheme to hold people back, to distract them from life itself. If geography is destiny, virtual reality would be rejecting destiny and opting for delusion. Everyone’s mind would be stuck in the place they were living last. It would stunt people’s networking opportunities and deteriorate local communities. Social capital would sit and stagnate and inevitably rot. Both good and bad relationships would likely get unwarranted extensions.

I’m not sure how I feel about human compatibility or what havoc virtual reality could wreak on social circles. But I am confident that place should matter. Our physical surroundings shape how we walk, talk, think, breathe, eat, sleep — everything! It reminds us what’s real; it calibrates our senses; it connects us to roots deeper than our years. No matter how much of our day is spent floating in “the cloud,” the idea of place grounds us in space and time.

If place ceased to matter, we’d be more fearless in falling or staying in love with whoever, wherever, whenever… but in so many other ways, I think we’d end up lost in our own heads and lonely in our bodies.

The Conversation On Labels, Without Labels

Recent clamor and debate over an op-ed written by Caroline Bartlett ’20 reminds me of Shaun King’s visit to campus last fall. Some liked his talk, others thought it was a little lackluster, but in the packed pews of Mead Chapel, I remember there was a collective eyebrow raise when Charles Rainey ’18 stood up and asked this question:

(I’m paraphrasing, but here’s the gist)

“How do you get people to understand, to really listen to what it’s like to be black under a regressive administration like Middlebury’s? A campus that is so overwhelmingly white, in a state that is so unbearingly white … white people who consider themselves socially liberal but are really complicit in perpetuating racism on this campus?”

King thanked Rainey for his question. He stepped back from the mic for a second. Then, he began to tell a story. His humble response blew me away.

While serving on the community council at his church, King received complaints that he disrespected women. One afternoon, a colleague took him aside and pointed out that he habitually talked over women at the meeting, but never the men.

“My first response? ‘Pft. No I don’t,'” King said. He bristled at the thought that he, someone who had devoted his life to social justice activism, could be considered sexist, let alone be one.

His colleague calmly cited meeting after meeting, instance after instance, phrase after phrase that King had cut off. All came from women.

But it wasn’t the concrete examples that led King to examine his own bias. It was tone of the person who delivered them.

King described it not as a confrontation, but a conversation with someone who held him to a higher standard, who knew his actions didn’t reflect his intentions, who cared about him  enough to tell the truth: he wasn’t acting like his best self.

This simple story illuminates why conversations on gender and race often spin in circles on this campus; how basic assumptions on appropriate language and behavior are now divisive among students who, on the whole, are thoughtful and intelligent.

While King admitted his habit was sexist, it’d be absurd to label him as a misogynist. Shouldn’t we extend the same compassion to others if we accept the problem is systemic? We live in a society that bombards us with bias, that ingrains terrible assumptions within us. Mistaking these inevitable slip-ups in speech and action as permanent reflections of character, whether that’s an individual, a team or an entire department, just isn’t fair.

One can think sexist thoughts. One can do biased things. But we need to stop throwing around misogynist, racist, bigot or any of these rightfully-so offensive terms as damning nouns unless they are truly deserving.

I fear people will misconstrue my thoughts to be apologizing for the often blatant racism on this campus, the daily microaggressions against women, the structural biases embedded within our social spaces and our syllabi.

Let me make it clear that I’m not. I whole-heartedly agree with Rainey and Bartlett (an incredible first-year skier, and writer, who might not have gotten the credit she deserved for her record-smashing margin of victory). I agree that Middlebury as an institution needs to take a more progressive stance on equality and inclusivity. Students and administrators that perpetuate bias through their actions, or lack thereof, need to be held responsible. Policies need to change. Attitudes need to change. People need to change.

But if we condemn people to these derogatory labels, what hope does it leave for changing their core beliefs? What can it do but create defensive hostility?