I could stand the sight of worms
And look at microscopic germs
But technicolor pachyderms
Is really much for me
I am not the type to faint
When things are odd or things
But seeing things you know that ain’t
Can certainly give you an awful fright!
What a sight!
Chase ‘em away!
Chase ‘em away!
I’m afraid need your aid
Pink elephants on parade!
This story has very little to do with Pink Elephants, Sun Ra, Disney, or the DTs. But you’ll see in a moment how it all connects.
A while ago – quite a while, almost but not quite in another lifetime, I went to Belgium.
I was there to visit a friend, Papa Christo. He and I worked for Cisco at the time, and he was over there in in Brussels for a year. He had a nice apartment on the company dime, a company car, and a lot of spare time on his hands. So Barb and I decided to take a hike over, along with the youngest (then only) kid, Olivia.
There are lots of story from that trip. Thinks like hiring a babysitter in Amsterdam so we could explore the red light district. Things like running into tattooists I know on the canal in that same city. I could (and will one of these days) talk about falling utterly in love with a hooker in a window, one of those moment where I lost a piece of my heart to someone I never even spoke to.
I could talk about my child having a screaming melt-down in Notre Dame, I could talk about driving in german and the underground in paris. I could talk about about the greek restaurant we stumbled into one night where the owners adopted my child and turned a bad evening into one of the best on the trip. I could talk about buying the world’s best eclair in a walled city in the Alsace, about drinking riesling by the pitcher while my two-and-a-half year old ate roast rabbit, about traveling europe with an amazing child who now remembers nothing but a piece of yellow hazard tape in a german hotel.
But I wanna talk about beer. And specifically, about what happens when well-carbonated beer gets warm, and you’re partying in a place where you can get anything you want legally by driving to the next country.
So let’s start with the beer.
Forget what Germany claims about being the beer capital of the world. Forget what they say about the best beer, the most beer. Germans like beer, sure, but so do the british. So do americans. So do lots of people.
In Belgium, beer’s a culture. It’s a fucking religion. And in fact, it’s true; Belgium’s best beers are made in monasteries , by monks.
Belgians drink more beer per capita than anyone else, anywhere. They make more distinct beer styles than anyone, anywhere. Each beer has it’s own glass; not each kind of beer, but each beer.
Belgian beer is the best in the world. Fuck all this german hefeweizen, british stout, czech pilsner stuff. Forget your american microbrews. Forget yer fuckin’ homebrew, even my own homebrew. Belgian beer is the best. It’s also strong. Compared to what we’re used to in the US, it’s really, really strong. You get drunk a whole lot faster than you expect on this stuff.
When I talked to Christo about Belgium before I got over there, he said “…and there’s so much beer here it’s amazing? There are hundreds of kinds! There are millions of gallons of beer in this town! Well, there were, but now there are only thousands since I got here…” Papa, he likes the beer, and so do I.
We set out to do some serious drinking while I was there. We visited pubs in Ghent, Brugge, Antwerp, Brussels, Leuven, and I think some others I can no longer remember. We tried as many beers as we could manage, given that we were traveling with a two year old and didn’t always get to park for long (Though she had a habit of falling asleep in her stroller, which was useful for a quick three or four beers in a pub mid-day). We tried more beers than I can ever remember, and wound up, frankly, drunk for a lot of the time we were there.
And then there’s the other shit.
So the thing you gotta understand is, Brussels ain’t far from Amsterdam. Maybe an hour by car. And if you don’t know about amsterdam, I dunno what you’re doing reading this blog. You can get whatever you want there; pot’s legal, hash is legal, drugs like mushrooms and acid, if not legal, are not really very much illegal. Stronger drugs are available pretty easily.
So given that Brussels is close, no one really much thinks about pot being an issue. The flow of pot from amsterdam to Brussels is like a mighty green almost-legal river.
Which is to say, we didn’t just have access to pot. We have a box with fifteen or twenty different kinds of pot. we could choose different types of hash, thai, american weed, locally grown weed, weed from all parts of asia and the middle east. It was a pot buffet.
Now, I’m not a big stoner. I was when I was a kid, but it’s been years and years since I’ve regularly used that particular intoxicant. But my traveling companions were great enthusiast.
Which gets us to the evening in question and the pink elephant.
I don’t recall what we’d done that day, but it most certainly involved beer. Maybe we’d been to Antwerp (Which means, to throw the hand – ya gotta love those flemish names). Maybe someplace else. But we’d stopped and gotten beer to take home, and as usual we were choosing beers we didn’t hadn’t tried before. Tonight’s selection was a beer evocatively titled Delerium Tremens.
Now, this isn’t really my favorite beer of all time. But it was chosen on the strength of it’s name, and on the strength of it’s label, a pink elephant. And the operative word here is strength. It’s an incredibly strong beer, something like 10% alcohol. It’s also very heavily carbonated. Remember that it comes into play in a minute.
Once back at the apartment, we took care of business – baby to bed, food of some sort, showers and whatever. This was accompanied by quite a number of bottles each of that pink elephant beer.
At some point in the evening, we decided to do something rather complicated – I can no longer remember what. Maybe we were trying to wire up Christo’s stereo, or maybe we were moving furniture around. Maybe we were hooking up a VCR. I don’t know, no matter how hard I try to remember.
What I do remember is that it was complicated because of the number of beers we’d had, and because, of course, the buffet of pot had been set up and liberally sampled. So any motor task became gradually more and more complex.
Papa had just opened another bottle of DT when we’d decided on whatever task it was, but he’d then forgotten it. So it had sat gradually coming to warm room temperature after having been chilled.
We finished our task, finally, and were about to settle down to whatever movie or music or game we’d been setting up, and I asked Papa if he needed a beer.
Let me finish this one he said, then I want a Duval. We’d agreed that while we liked DT’s label, we didn’t really like the beer that much.
So he went to pound his bottle. Which was full. And warm. And – remember? Heavily carbonated.
Now we’ve all had a mouthful of something fizzy. That feeling that your face is gonna explode. Sometimes you wind coughing and blow out some of whatever you’re drinking. Sometimes you just wind up with it leaking outta your face or you gulp it and wind up in pain. Sometimes you even can feel the carbonation coming out of your nose. But this was better.
Papa gulped, and then took the bottle away from his mouth, and th bottle started to foam. And not like a beer that’s beer popped too fast – this looked like when ballplayers shake champagne to spray it all over each other. This was a bleedin’ fountain.
Now Papa’s a neat freak, and felt like this was a work-owned place so he was obsessive about keeping it clean. So he made a rather unique decision.
Instead of trying to cover the bottle with his hand, or his shirt, or trying to simply race out of the room, he put it in his mouth.
Now, realize it’s still an explosive fountain, a geyser of beer-foam. It’s not going to be settling down right away.
For a couple of seconds time stood still as Papa wrapped his lips around the neck of this bottle and tried to seal it down, sucking for all he was worth, like – well, you can imagine.
And then it all started to happen in slow-mo.
His cheeks began to puff out. Like a balloon inflating. His eyes began to cross, then shut.
His face began to go red. Foam started to spray out of the bottle where the seal of his lips was imperfect. His eyes took on desperate, bugged-out look.
And then foam started to come out of his nose. And when I say foam, I do not mean a dribble, a drop. I mean foam – a geyser of foam, coming out at full pressure. He looked like a shaving-cream dispenser, like a whipped-cream can.
Foam was simply blasting out of his nose, and for a frozen second, he wore a look of wide-eyed stoned confusion and began to try to catch the foam with his hand.
At this point it all became too much, the rest of us in the room erupting into crazed stoned laughter, Papa staring to gag and cough and choke and finally running out of the room. I was literally laughing too hard to stand up.
Poor papa – he came in still choking and tried to clean up the mess with a towel, which I took away from him. I think he had beer leaking out of his nose for another half hour and to this day, he won’t touch a bottle of Delirium Tremens. In fact, I can still get his face a rare shade of red by simply offering him a bottle of the stuff, which is why I keep one on hand.
Because you never know.