Monday, June 27, 2016

AFTER THE FIRE: Out and about in America, Europe … and my cups.

AFTER THE FIRE: Out and about in America, Europe … and my cups.

A weekly column by Roger A. Baylor.

Kindly note that I’ve changed the name of this column to reflect the fact that my involvement in the “craft” beer business no longer is ongoing. As a recovering former small business owner, I survived the frying pan, and perhaps it’s time for an evolving perspective. Just don't expect me to jump back into that particular fire ... at least yet.


The Irish Rover was established in 1992 and to me, it always has been Louisville’s most authentic Irish pub. For as long as the Rover has been in business, these words have graced the menu.

“A pub is a poor man’s university.”

It’s more important than Guinness, and a sentiment after my own inclinations. I tried mightily to honor this dictum during the period of my own pub business.

Being just down the street from a university didn’t hurt, but the degreed customers were not the only part of the learning equation. My pub usually was an egalitarian venue. I tried my best to keep it that way in spite of the “craft” beer cost structure.

It’s over now, and I don’t miss the beer, though being divorced from a university of my own making is harder than I imagined. It’s especially true in times of compelling international news, as with last week’s Brexit referendum in the United Kingdom.

Social media debate simply doesn’t replicate cool pints and pointed fingers in a pub atmosphere.

Luckily my old friend Jon invited several of us to his house on Saturday for an afternoon of UEFA Euro matches, beer and conversation. We spent four hours talking about British politics, insidious neoliberal economics and the turning of calendar pages. Alas, we’re not getting any younger.

As I’ve noted elsewhere, the themes and controversies attendant to Brexit’s “leave or remain” paradigm effectively symbolize the life of my own mind, coming full circle from the starting point of the Berlin Wall’s sudden dismantling in 1989.

The fall of The Wall was the first thunderclap of a storm that modified – though not completely erased – the post-WWII world order. The collapse of Communism provided the opening for expedited globalization, and whether by chance or otherwise, it coincided with my personal decision to seek a career in beer, right here at home.

It wasn’t always clear to me then, but the 1990s were the ideal time for neoliberalist economic policies to poisonously blossom, hastening the concentration of capital in the hands of the few, prompting the populist backlash emblemized by Bernie and Brexit, three decades later.

I was kept busy thinking globally, but drinking locally. My preferred variant of capitalism was a small, local, independent, grassroots business, with a necessarily educational offshoot – the ad hoc poor man’s university – providing a framework for education through beer, and also ensuring I wouldn’t go stir crazy in the American hinterlands.

Through it all, to greater or lesser extent, I kept in touch with Europe, and never once stopped thinking that I should have been European.


The year 2009 was the advent of Bank Street Brewhouse. At the time, I’d convinced myself that we were marrying European sensibility to American “craft” brewing. It may even have been true, although the subsequent record provides decidedly mixed testimony.

At their worst, my forays into attempted definition proved I had an unclear notion of self-exile-in-place.

Coinciding with BSB’s launch, I’d started writing a weekly column for the local newspaper. My essay of February 5, 2009 on the topic of personal geography generated a surprising degree of rancor, and for reasons that surprised me.

I fully expected to be admonished for deploying a certain rhetorical device pertaining to closets, and was prepared to take my medicine. I still am. However, I can’t un-write a published column, only learn from it. This I’ve done, and continue to do.

What I didn’t expect was to be denounced by a longtime pub patron and friend, who immediately boycotted the Public House in protest, citing grounds of Roger’s publicly failed patriotism.

Eventually he returned, and while this isn’t the point, I’m frankly unable to tell you what the point might actually be. To each his or her own, but to me, Europe’s been my life for as long as I can remember.

Granted, I’ve made shoddy work of it. Language aptitude eludes me, and here I remain at the age of 55, stuck inside of Nawbany with the Bamberg blues again. I’ll probably never live in Europe, and yet it’s impossible for me to imagine not being obsessed, haunted and enraptured by Europe, even if much of what I wrote in 2009 is revealed to be drivel.

I’ll take that chance, and so the original column follows. If it provokes another boycott, I can live with it.


Out and about.

But the whole point of liberation is that you get out. Restructure your life. Act by yourself.
-- Jane Fonda

Shouldn’t the act of writing be as personal as it ever gets, especially if the results are intended for public, not private, consumption?

Shouldn’t one’s own words be inextricably linked to one’s own identity, with the writer endeavoring to honestly address matters like self-realization, personal liberation, and all those little acts of defiance, mourning and acceptance that go together to make a life?

Certainly this was the general condition for much of human history prior to the electronic immediacy of modern times. Either a person was literate, retaining at least the possibility of leaving a tangible record of existence for posterity, or he wasn’t, in which case a life passed unnoticed -- unless one was part of the tiny minority deemed suitable subjects for biographical renderings.

In those earlier times, when something of significance needed to be said, those few who were literate were expected to compose manifestos, polemics, confessionals and apologetics. Just like Martin Luther’s famous tract, these were intended to be nailed both literally and figuratively to the cathedral door for all to see.

In the current age of ephemeral solipsism, you needn’t know any more than the method of posting a self-made YouTube video, then sit back to count the hits as they mount through e-links, and finally calculate the extent of your newfound (and short-lived) notoriety.

It just isn’t the same.

These themes of personal freedom and written expression today compel me to broach a difficult topic, and yet it seems to me the right time to tackle it: Who am I as an individual, where did I come from, and where am I going?

For me, the one achievement reasonably attainable in my lifetime is self-knowledge. Random serendipity deposited me here, and I was issued one non-renewable life with second chances rarely if ever permitted. There is so very much of it that cannot be controlled, time is short, and as an atheist, I don’t look elsewhere for answers. But each of us spends every single moment of our lives inhabiting our own bodies, so doesn’t it make sense to come to terms with who we really are?

As such: I can’t remember when it first occurred to me that I was different from the others.

There was neither a singular epiphany nor an earth-shattering revelation, only a dawning recognition that my attractions and desires were directed toward other places than those taken for granted as "normal."

For more than a quarter of a century, I’ve known the truth. The immensity of it overwhelmed me, and the implications usually blinded me to the realities of my situation. I kept going both directions, there and back and forth, never willing to admit that my orientation might be other than that considered typical for a male of my upbringing in a small Southern Indiana town and in a conservative, traditional society.

As a youth I wanted nothing more than to be like my friends, and after all, in those days we were not readily exposed to alternative lifestyles as part of our formative educational experiences. One might by chance read about such matters in books and see the issues skirted on television, but here? It really was the sort of thing that dared not speak its name aloud.

I was tormented by the usual doubts and questions. Was it nature or nurture? Had I done something wrong? Was I being punished? Did I have control over my real feelings and possess the ability to change them, or were they hard-wired and non-negotiable?

After much soul searching and heartfelt discussions with loved ones, dear friends, longtime customers, local politicians, cherished teachers, and even that pleasant fellow in White Castle the other day whose name I can’t remember, I’ve come to a momentous decision, and I’m able finally to reveal it to you, my faithful readers, and to the world.

I’m really a … a … a European.

There, I’ve said it. European. Not American.

Apparently the stork erred, and I’ve spent 48 55 crazy-quilt years trapped in this hamburger-eating, swill-slugging, mindless patriotic church-going, television-gazing country. It’s just so profoundly unfair.

I should be riding on bicycles or affordable public transportation through thoughtfully planned, human-scale communities to important soccer matches, and then vacationing in Madagascar or Bali or Cuba.

I might be drinking Belgian ale, Greek ouzo and Spanish wine from the appellations of their origins, and gratefully choosing between many more than just two political parties, among them one that actually reflects my own belief system.

I could be enjoying competent, universal, cradle-to-grave health care and never having to worry about the harmful encroachment of a fundamentalist Christian theocracy, with religion restricted to debating the architectural merits of charming church buildings in Rome and Kiev.

I would be refusing to own a firearm, seeing that the crime rate is low and I needn’t affix my status as genuine citizen and "real man" on gunshot cadences … speaking a full half-dozen languages fluently … and understanding that my tax burden, while high, is being distributed to the benefit of my community as a whole, which benefits me as an individual.

Surely the delivery error can be rectified with a revised document of authenticity.

Anyone seen that damned negligent stork?


June 20: AFTER THE FIRE: Less can be more.

June 13: THE POTABLE CURMUDGEON: I know I’m gonna change that tune.

June 6: THE POTABLE CURMUDGEON: A Mile Wide sidewalk superintendent.

May 30: THE POTABLE CURMUDGEON: “The Drinker” (A Book Review).



Shane Campbell said...

If we could comprehend it, we'd all want to be that European. I used to chalk up the pervasive narrow mind to a matter of geographic stasis but after just over half of Brits decided they too want to be "Patriots," I guess it's something else. Perhaps it's not knowing ones' self at all while assuming to comprehend the other guy too well. Cheers to you Roger. I think you made Bank Street just what many of us craved and now it's gone, I wonder how many ever knew what it was.

The New Albanian said...

Thanks, Shane.