Us versus Them

Feeling somewhat dejected, I consoled myself with the music of the folk singer Loudon Wainright. For those who don’t know he is the hallowed composer of such classic hits as, “dead skunk in the middle of the road,” the followup hit, “dead skunk on the shoulder of the road,” and the somewhat attenuated, “dead skunk up the hill some on the other side of the road, cause it got clipped so it still had the energy to run a bit but it died anyway.” The main hook of the song was resonating with me. “Stinkin‘ to hiiiiiiigh heaven!”

You said it.

There is a tall can of Budweiser in my fridge but I just can’t bring myself to drink it. Not since the news that Budweiser InBev is buying Miller Beer. That is like all the Jedi knights moving onto the Death Star. It’s like Reagan and Gorbachev tearing down the Berlin Wall and then using the bricks to build a spacious condo for both of them to live in. It’s like Indiana Jones living with snakes. It’s like the Taliban buying Bryn Mawr College. It’s like Coke and Pepsi being denied a marriage license by Kim Davis. It’s like Sherlock Holmes going into business with Professor Moriarty.

Come to think of it, how did that random can of Budweiser get in my fridge, anyway?

Truth be told I don’t particularly care for either Miller or Bud. They both taste like musty club soda to me, but that isn’t the point. I’ve consumed large amounts of both beers on occasions that called for it. Fourth of July cookouts, Metallica concerts, football games–both intramural and professional. In short, it is the proper potation for purely American pursuits. What has me concerned is the collapse of giant polarizing entities in a culture that thrives on them. As a nation we love to love what we love and we love to hate what we hate.

Really, how did that can of Budweiser get in my fridge?

The idea of dynamic tension is an old one. Charles Atlas popularized the practice in the early 1900’s. Pit one muscle group against another and watch them both grow into massive weapons you can use against Coney Island bullies that kick sand in your face and steal your girlfriend. What’s good for personal fitness is good for product marketing. Over the course of the twentieth century small-scale competitors grew into merchandising titans that demanded brand loyalty.

It’s fun to watch the two biggest teams go at it. The spectators choose sides. They feel like they belong. There is an opponent that channels their vague rage. This is the essence of conflict. Of triumph. Of the dialectic that drives innovation and strategy. Bud and Miller have been cast by the vast marketing machine as the dueling drinks of American champions, war heroes, and dusty cowpokes riding off into the sunset. It’s one or the other. You’re either in or you’re out. We’ve been blasting at each other with our flintlocks for a hundred years. Now they want us to throw down our weapons and shake hands.

It was getting ridiculous. I still couldn’t figure out about that one random can of Budweiser in my refrigerator. Even stranger was that it was tucked in a beer koozy commemorating the “Boggy Bayou Mullet Festival” out of Niceville, Florida. How did that get there? Was I in Niceville, Florida, recently? Where is Niceville? Is it even nice?

I was late for a meeting so I hopped in a cab with my cold beer and my newspaper and hightailed it over to Buckhead. As I continued reading about the Bud-Miller merger it became clear that the two iconic beers may not be the staunch American bulwarks they claimed to be. The merger had more to do with an Argentinian investment firm, the Santo Domingo family of Columbia, and a fellow named Jan DePlessis hammering out negotiations in London. There was no mention of the United States of America. Bosh! I yelled, sipping my random can of beer. Super cold and delicious in all its stale mustiness.

As usual the traffic was terrible so I got out of the cab and walked. Overtaken with thirst, I stopped at one of these trendy Buckhead bars for a hit of good old fashioned American bourbon. I surrendered my can of Bud and traded it for a fresh bottle of a beer called “Eschaton” made by the Wild Heaven distillery in Atlanta. I inserted it into my Boggy Bayou beer koozy.

“Eschaton,” a fellow next to me muttered. “The end of the world.”

He was a well put-together chap, wearing Armani everything, his face pulled tight from countless surgeries. The keys to his Ferrari in plain view on the bar. We got to talking. He mentioned that he had just returned from Paris after their fashion week had wrapped. He was upset because, as he put it, “Demna Gvasalia was just named artistic director of Balenciaga. Somewhat of an insult considering the notoriety of the iconoclastic Vetements, don’t you think?”

“What the hell are you talking about?” I said. “Is that even English?”

“Just saying, the world is changing. We can’t count on the old power structures anymore.”

Maybe we had more in common than I thought.

“That whiskey you are drinking has been bought by the Japanese,” he said.


“That beer you are drinking is named after the end of the world.”

“At 12% alcohol-by-volume it may very well be,” I said.

“The Boggy Bayou Mullet Festival,” he said, motioning to my beer koozy, “is run by Ukranian Separatists.”

“Wouldn’t have thunk it,” I said.

“Niceville, Florida is ill-tempered.”

“Ever heard the song ‘dead skunk in the middle of the road?’” I asked.

“It’s my favorite.”

“Let’s sing it together.”

More Alembics to come.

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