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Nostalgia April 2018

A Taste for Beer Nuts

By Bill Levine

My incipient alcoholism stopped after I graduated from college, in part because life was no longer frat-centric. In addition. drinking had failed me. I had strived for Joe College aspirations, but ended up more Joe Schmo.

From 1969 to 1971, beer nuts were my favorite snack food. Hell, a bag of beer nuts was then one of my favorite foods – period. But since I graduated from college in 1973, I haven’t had
the anticipatory pleasure of watching faintly sweet and salty peanuts fall on a warped, wooden bar table, to be washed down with a 25-cent beer. Miller High Life and beer nuts were my Zagat pairing back then, with sweet and salty taming the astringent beer signature.

My beer nut heydays were during the school week of my freshman and sophomore years at college, in the heart of Maine’s nowheresville. I would study diligently in the library. Around 10 p.m., I would head back to the frat lounge to wait for the “Jack’s run” announcement, then hop into our frat’s Big Jack’s car and head for my college town’s only nightlife for the under-20 crowd.

Entering into Jack’s gravel parking lot is always a little depressing. The bar is a stand- alone wooden building on the main drag leading into town. The beer sign out front distinguishes this iconic dump from a residential house. The inside is cheaply decorated with beer logo lights some of which actually light up. There a pool table and foosball table in the middle of the floor, and coveted booths with jukeboxes around the periphery of the room. After soaking in the dreariness, my frat brothers and I occupy one of the many warped wood booths.

The moment of truth arrives when Big Sandy comes to take our suds order. I relax when she doesn’t ask for my ID, as Jack’s is not a 100% carding-free zone. I can now drink with the big boys. Sandy remarkably then brings back 5 drafts sans tray, all enfolded in her expansive flesh. She throws the two beer nut bags on the table. My frat mentor Stu banters a little, “Beer
nuts, Bill,? Try a pickled egg.” Stu shoves the odious egg towards me. I say something like, “I’d rather choke on a Slim Jim before I have an egg,” as I rip into a bag of beer nuts.

The height of the evening for me is after 4 beers, around 11 p.m.. I am feeling light-headed and presumably saying funny things. I am no longer terribly shy and able to say “hello”
if my crush, Marilyn, shows up. Our table conversation centers around the girls that have shown up. We look around to which girls appear the most inebriated. To pronounce a girl shit-faced, is a subliminal revenge for her never flirting with us. For indeed the chaser with our beer-gulping is the endorphin-wash of securing a date with a coed.

Dates rarely happened, however.

By midnight it is time for our last call. I am now feeling a little sick after 6 beers, 4 beer nut packages and a perhaps a pizza, When I get back to the dorm, after the usual nausea-inducing fast turns on the winding roads, the first thing I do is barf beer nuts. Even after the nausea subsides I have a struggle to fall asleep as just like the Beatles’ fool on a hill – “I feel the world spinning round.”

These consequences of my drinking did give me pause to reflect on its sturdiness as a social crutch by late sophomore year. I was beginning to grasp the fact that only in the heady first couple of months of school was alcohol an elixir for relating to girls. The new, drunken me of that time used playful slaps on a coed knee’s as exclamation points for my barfly rambles at frat parties. This brief bravado led to a frat-party pickup and a walking make out session with a rural Maine girl, and then later a sober date with her which I killed with my anxiety.

I had had no dates since then. Alcohol as my love potion had an early expiration date, but I failed to appreciate this wisdom, as I continued my heavy diet of beer and beer nuts.

I began also to reckon with the possibility that I was becoming just a dateless, shy alcoholic. Yet excess imbibing still had value as a social lubricant on a campus where everyone
in the frat scene was oiled. Under the influence, I could take center stage as a jolly drunken choral director leading hollering and sloppy voices in renditions of “Love Grows Where My Rosemary Goes.” Without the influence I could easily just hum songs to myself.

My incipient alcoholism stopped after I graduated from college, in part because life was no longer frat-centric. In addition. drinking had failed me. I had strived for Joe College aspirations, but ended up more Joe Schmo. This assessment combined with vomiting and hangovers soured me on binge drinking. At commencement I was mostly disengaged by the speaker, but I heeded the gist of his and all commencements speakers’ exhortations, “Sober Up, you’re entering the real world.” Thus I have had only a package or two of beer nuts since college graduations because, like false expectations, they only go good with beer.

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