The importance of knowing what’s important.
Recently my doctor — a renowned lipid specialist — suggested I lay off the booze. In her estimable opinion, it was not enough that I cut back, she advised me to “take the pledge.”
It seems I have extraordinarily high levels of triglycerides and bad cholesterol. Failure to heed her advice, she warned grimly, could drastically shorten my lifespan. For years we have tried various remedies, diets, and lifestyle changes, but nothing has worked. Eliminating beer, with its high sugar content, is apparently my last hope.
Now, you should know that there are very few things that bring me pleasure in this life. Besides the obvious — spending time with my son, my fiancée, a good book, or the occasional weekend getaway, there isn’t all that much I enjoy these days. Beer may not exactly rank with the aforesaid, but it deserves an honorable mention if only because it has the wondrous capacity of making dull or mundane activities — such as a professional baseball game, a social gathering, or the holidays — slightly less intolerable. I told my doctor I would have to think about it.
I suspect most men receive a similar health-inspired ultimatum at some point in their lives: cut out the red meat, the cigars, the whisky, or suffer the consequences. Some of us take this advice better than others. A certain sportswriter I know has no interest in the counsel of physicians, so he simply avoids them. He is easily 150 pounds overweight, and probably half of that is his alcohol-sodden liver. He lives for sports and fast food and a six pack when the work day is through, and that’s the way his life will go until the inevitable heart attack carries him off in the (doubtless) near future.
MY CASE IS NOT quite so extreme. I recognize that there may be compelling reasons to make positive lifestyle changes. Perhaps you would like to be around to get to know your grandkids, assuming your children give you any, which is by no means a certainty in today’s culture. What is so great about grandchildren? Not having any it is difficult for me to say, but I do remember asking a colleague, shortly before her untimely death, when she was happiest in life. Without missing a beat, she replied, “The birth of my first grandchild.” I suppose I can see that. Grandparents do not have to suffer through the agony of childbirth nor the struggles of being a young parent with no money, nor get up at 3 a.m. to comfort a sick or crying infant. Grandchildren are like beer, but without the hangover.
Beer hasn’t always been one of my life’s few pleasures. Until I was 30 or so, I did not know there were any other brands save Busch, Budweiser and Stag. And we didn’t drink Stag because my father had always made fun of it, even though we grew up in the pungent shadows of the Stag Brewery. Dad was a strict Budweiser man; today he drinks nothing but German imports, while I drink Stag. I am not exactly sure why, but Stag has become the hipster’s beer of choice, at least here in the Midwest. Probably it is a reaction to all those precious micro-brews quaffed by the bourgeoisie. I drink Stag because it is dirt cheap and supposedly “sugar-free as beer can be,” and, regardless of what my father thinks, it tastes better than most domestic beers.
Recently I watched a PBS documentary that tried to explain why most domestic beers are so awful. According to the filmmakers, German breweries, and by extension, German lagers, were shunned during World War I, resulting in the rise of third-rate American breweries. Before the German breweries could reestablish themselves, Prohibition came along forcing the best German brewmasters to throw in the towel. Prohibition was followed by World War II, which forced brewers to use cheap ingredients (rice, corn) that were less subject to rationing. By the Fifties, Americans were used to — in Joel Achenbach’s phrase — “carbonated water with a little yeast action thrown in.” Germans, who endured far greater deprivations than Americans, never allowed their pilsners and kolsches to suffer in quality. Germans knew what was important.
I like to think I do too. I have taken a number of steps to better health. I have cut back on red meat, I try to get a bit of exercise now and then, and I have switched to whole wheat pasta. But a middle-aged guy can only do so much. Asking him to cut out beer, as far as I’m concerned, is putting too much of a strain on the doctor-patient relationship. Like the German people, I can endure a lot, but one’s quality of life must not suffer too much. Stag, anyone?