Category: Social Ties

Big Beer Mondays at Mister Up’s

Taken the day after Independence Day. This is not Mister Up’s, but an old-school diner in the hills of New Jersey. I ordered a coke and a slice of cold apple pie. I think I was reading “The Sympathizer” by Viet Thanh Nguyen — not entirely sure. The service was fantastic. The waitress reminded me of Rachel. 

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.

And if you order a beer, make sure to tip Rachel.


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?