On a recent Friday night working on the Times’ design desk, I sent my final page for the evening, checked in with the rest of the staff to see if there was anything left for me to do and I quickly retired from work a good 15 feet to my refrigerator and I cracked open a bottle of Unibroue’s great and appropriately named La Fin du Monde (9%).
“The End of the World.”
I flopped down on the couch and turned on a ballgame … fine, a ballgame from 28 years ago, the still great Game 7 of the 1992 NLCS between the Braves and the Pirates. Still, this was the life right?
Well, it should be, right?
You know, a few months ago, if you’d told me I was going to spend the tail end of winter and the frigid beginning of a north country spring holed up in the house with Christina and the boys, working from home with a fridge stuffed full of beer, I’d have been OK with that.
The reality, of course, is that the past few weeks have been filled with anxiety every time some oblivious neighbor crosses paths too closely at the Stewart’s down the street, shame at the amount of time I spend sitting around in pajama pants and a ripped old Giants sweatshirt while I work and abject horror as New York City drowns in the sick and the dead.
But we all make do, right?
My editors have been tremendously patient with me working from home, ignoring the clamor of blocks and books on my desk and floor and the odd “He stole (insert toy here) from me” while I sit in on budget calls, and have been kind enough not to mention if it’s a source of frustration.
Like a lot of parents in the north country and throughout the United States and, hell, the world, we’re now teaching our kids at home, which is both fun and exhausting.
My older son John’s kindergarten teacher sends daily assignments and has weekly Zoom chats with the kids and she tries not to mind when John munches popcorn throughout or exclaims “What are you talking about?” at her during storytime. John is adapting to daily math and handwriting lessons with similar in-his-pajamas-all-day aplomb and is pleased to have more time to spend with our Nintendo Switch after his assignments are completed.
I guess he’s happy to see more of us, too, although not when it’s time for writing practice.
Ben, age 3, seems relatively oblivious to no longer attending daycare. He rattles around the house calling every small toy “Mario” (after the Nintendo hero/apparently part-time plumber), just happy to see more of his mom and his big brother.
Christina’s taken a headlong dive into Animal Crossing: New Horizons, which appears to be Reddit’s favorite game of the moment.
So here we are. We’re a nation of workers who should be earning hazard pay or day-drinking homeschool teachers fumbling through lessons while taking conference calls with not just coffee in that mug, maybe. Not saying me. I’m saying you. And there’s really no end in sight.
Part of how I’m dealing with it, to be honest, is Christina’s absolute score from Bear World on US-11 on the day Gov. Cuomo announced his “New York State on PAUSE” executive order.
When the order was first filtering out, we weren’t sure what was going to be open come that Sunday and what would be closed. Since I’d been pretty sick for a few weeks (no clue if it was anything serious), Christina offered to go pick up a few essentials.
We had been squirreling away a can of this, a can of that for a few weeks at this point, just in case anything like this would happen. But she wondered about things like coffee, fresh fruit, etc.
So she went out to grab a few more things and I waited at home with the kids, hoping she’d be fast and hoping people would stay the hell away from her.
By the time she got back, she’d gotten plenty of the essentials. Apples. Bananas. Plenty of beer.
Christina, being the love of my life, took the time to stop at Bear World, US-11, to stock up, and she brought home quite a haul.
“I didn’t know what to get,” she said. “So I got a little of everything.”
Indeed she did. From an 8-pack variety pack of German brews put out by Bitburger (always a favorite in the O’Brien-Knott household) to a sixer of Saint Archer Gold to a four-pack of that great Canadian heavy hitter with the appropriate handle.
And a lot of this stuff just sat in the fridge for a week or so. There’s work. There’s the kids. I’m back in school working on my master’s in education. And then there’s the stress of, well, everything.
But the really good thing in all of this is that Christina and I get to spend a lot more time together, working from home. If I’ve never mentioned it, she’s the Sunday features editor at the paper and the host of the Times’ great Second Look history podcast. So we work together at the paper and have for a few years now. But as an editor, she’s on the day shift. I’m on the night shift. I always joked that our desks are 20 feet apart but we see each other for maybe 20 minutes during the entire work week.
But now we see each other pretty much all day, every day, and it’s honestly pretty great. She not only brings home great beer scores, she also has been keeping me sane, staying up late with me on our nights off and watching bad reality TV while we split tall cans of beer and laugh at how weird (and great) our kids are.
And the beer has been pretty good. I’d stocked way up on 15s of Founders’ All Day Session IPA, which is a staple in my house like rice, pasta and whatever else you’ve been out panic buying. And when Christina and I trick the kids into going to sleep, we break out some of her panic buying stash. And it’s all been pretty solid.
Starting at my least favoriute, Saint Archer bills Gold (4.2% and only 95 calories) as “the ultimate light beer.” I think War Horse Light out of Geneva, which clocks in at just 4.1% for one of the easiest-drinking great beers in the world would beg to differ. But it’s not bad. A light lager out of Encinitas, Calif., was fine. Gold is kind of a fancier, nicer cousin to a Budweiser. It’s smooth and light, but there’s that kind of skunky finish that makes you regret for a few seconds in its wake.
It definitely wasn’t bad, and Christina, a bit of a light beer enthusiast, really liked it. So we were off and running.
Where this haul started to hit its stride was the German stuff.
Christina lived for a year in Germany after college on post with her cousin, and she delights in making me jealous with old pictures of the Swiss alps and German cathedrals. She gained a real affection for the simplicity of a good German beer. While I like the often insane variety of American beer for better or worse (pickle juice and beer is just an abomination), Christina’s always liked the consistency of the German output.
And this was no exception.
I’ve always loved Bitburger Premium Pils (4.8%, 38 IBU), which is kind of the gold standard for me when it comes to a good German pils. It’s light enough to cool you down on a hot summer day, but it doesn’t cheat you on flavor.
So that was a layup. But what really sold me on this 8-pack were the friends Bitburger brought along.
Benediktiner Weissbier (5.4%, 13 IBU) is a delightful Hefeweizen, with a really light palate but a good strong kick in the finish. There’s a sweetness to it and that kind of banana taste in the finish that you’ll find in a lot of Hefes.
I liked the Hefe even more than I liked its lighter cousin, Benediktiner Hell, a Helles Lager that clocked in at about 5% and had a much cleaner, lighter finish. This was a good beer, clean and smooth and a bit maltier than the Bit or the Hefe, and it might have been Christina’s favorite.
We’ve been more or less on the same page on these beer-sharing nights, with the lights and the Germans and the odd Guiness that was lost in the back of the fridge. But Christina just could not get into the Köstritzer Schwarzbier (4.8%, 22 IBU). A black lager out of Bad Köstritz, Germany, I liked the warm notes of coffee in the otherwise light and easy Köstritzer. Christina acted as if she’d just had a swallow of motor oil.
Needless to say, I got to drink both of those and didn’t have to share.
So things have mostly been OK, right? The north country hasn’t been hit that hard by the virus yet, and my family is healthy and happy and we’re just trying to ride this thing out and see where we all are in a few weeks or months.
So on that Friday night, with my work finished for the night, and it’s just me and “The End of the World.” It’s 9%, but it comes on pretty smooth. A nice, spicy nose and a bit of fruit in the finish. It’s a great beer, one that reminds me of trips to Montreal in my 20s and bad decisions.
And I was thinking about my sister in Pennsylvania, my brother in Michigan. My Uncle Paul in Elmhurst, Queens, which is at the epicenter of everything frightening in that part of town. I was thinking about the end of the world, or what feels like it to a lot of people.
What I really thought about was that as scary as a lot of the news is and as mind-boggling as some of the numbers are in New York, in Italy, in China, I’ve been lucky enough to spend just about all of this madness with Christina and with our boys. And although I miss an awful lot of people, some of whom might be among the 10 people who actually read this thing, I feel hopeful that when we come through the other side of this thing I’ll see some of you out at one of the great bars and breweries in this part of the state.
I might even buy you a beer if you promise to return the favor some day. You don’t even have to keep the promise. Odds are I’ll forget anyway. Stay safe out there, everybody, and I hope to see you soon.