Beerfest, Beardfest

August 11, 2011

Every so once in a while I get flashes of memory from last weekend’s Toronto Festival of Beer which make me realize just how drunk I was.

For instance hugging some random gay hooligans on the way to the streetcar. I only call them Gay Hooligans because they were homosexual and had caused some kind of ruckus.

We stumbled upon their friend, who Mandi thought looked like Nathan Lane, and who seemed about to be gay-bashed by some guys who looked like night-clubbing Mormons. It all had something to do with a large wooden picture frame sitting harmlessly on the side of the road. Or something like a picture frame. I guess they’d been swinging it around. I realize now that I was too hammered to fully take in what it was or what was going on. The Gay Hooligans had upset the Nightclub Mormons and left their friend holding the bag (or picture frame, or whatever it was). The Gay Hooligans were halfway down the block, running with their pants around their thighs by this time. I believe they were slapping their own asses. That part is hazy. Well, hazier.

About five minutes later we were forcing our friendship on them in a group hug for which the purpose and inspiration is lost to me now. Solidarity against the Nightclub Mormons, I guess.

Here’s the thing. When I say we met them on our way to the streetcar, I more accurately mean we were on our way to grab a pitcher of beer at the Gladstone before catching the streetcar. I suspect I didn’t really need a 4th of a pitcher by this time.

I base this suspicion on the fact I sat myself down in the booth of a man I was convinced was a member of the Mafia. He was muscular, with a shaved head and a square jaw accented with a trimmed goatee.  He was sitting alone exuding an air of iron will mixed with detached malice. He would type something on his MacBook, survey the room, paying special attention to a tennis match on the TV—it might not have been tennis, it might have been CNN for all I know, I feel like it was tennis—then he’d unhappily type something else on the MacBook. The waiter kept making sure his every need was attended to and looked, I thought, a little afraid of him. The man looked like he could cock an eyebrow and have somebody killed. Maybe the waiter.

Anyway, on the way back from the washroom, I swung into his booth and started grilling him. Politely, though. The surety I felt that I was close to being wiped-out execution-style in the alley out back inspired me towards politeness. Strangely, it didn’t inspire me to not sit down in the booth and start grilling the supposed mafioso.

Well, I still lacked enough judgment to be polite as I asked questions such as:

  • Are you sure you’re not part of the mafia?
  • No? You’re not a bookie? You’ve been watching the tennis game pretty intently. What are you looking at on your MacBook if it’s not point spreads?
  • Stock options, huh? That’s what you do when you go out to the bar? Sure it’s not mafia stuff?
  • Me? Oh, well, I was at the Beerfest all day. Yeah, I had a few. I wouldn’t be sitting here if I hadn’t.
  • Am I annoying you? I can take off if I’m being annoying.
  • So why are you here? I’m interested in Mac culture. In people who sit in coffee shops with their Macs.
  • Oh, your roommate is the waiter? He just said you’re Persian Mafia.
  • Yeah, he’s obviously joking. Are you sure I’m not just meant to believe it’s a joke?
  • So you’re here because he called and said you should come hang out because it isn’t busy tonight. And you actually came? Just to  hang out. Here? But you aren’t even talking to him.
  • Well, yeah, I people’ve been keeping him busy. I thought he was your toadie. Are you sure this isn’t a cover? You have an imposing look about you. You’d make a good crime boss.

The man, and his roommate, seemed amused. Well, the roommate was openly amused. The supposed mafioso merely gazed at me with a benignly sardonic expression. Regardless, my party was allowed to collect me and drag me away to actually catch the streetcar and I didn’t end up wearing cement Docs at the bottom of Lake Ontario.

Another thing I don’t remember is having the above photo taken. It was taken by a guy named Andrew who spotted us on the way to the Porta-potties. We hadn’t met him before but he listens to our podcast. On the Internet we know him as Mandinder. I had wondered if he was South Asian. No, he’s more like the—almost literal—polar opposite of South Asian. From what I remember. I do vaguely remember him paying me a beer token. For what I have no idea. Perhaps just the pleasure of touching my beard.

That day lots of people wanted to touch my beard or have pictures taken with it—and with me by default. Most applauded my hard work. I’d explain it’s literally the opposite of work to grow a beard. They all lamented they weren’t allowed to grow a beard because of edicts from their wives or their friends would tell them they “wouldn’t get any pussy”. It amazed me how many men would openly admit to totally not having a ballsack.

I also suspected they weren’t getting laid by being clean shaven anyway so they may as well grow the neck-warmer.

Speaking of ballsacks. One kid who wanted to touch it had, I remember, rather blearily, inhumanly sapphire blue eyes. I wondered if they were perhaps coloured contact lenses. I was also seeing things in a sort of 3D tunnel vision at this point, so it was probably a mild hop-induced hallucination and they were in fact muddy brown. Anyway, when he was patting my beard he said, with some surprise, “It’s firm!” When Mandi suggested it was like cupping a breast, he said, “Naw, I was thinking more like a ballsack.”

I then twisted my scruff into a phallic appendage and said, “Here. I made it into a cock for you. How’s that? Wanna touch that?”

He declined to pay me a beer token for the honour.

It was interesting the amount of attention the beard garnered compared to when we were at the Winnipeg Folk Festival last month. One might expect that crowd would have been more appreciative than the more middle-of-the-road Toronto crowd at Beerfest. No so. I figure this is because at Folkfest, though not too many large beards were to be found, most people there probably know someone who has, or had, a large beard. I got a few nods from attendees, but the only people who made a big deal of it were media. CTV interviewed us—though I imagine they didn’t air our clip—and some photographers covering the event took some pictures. They looked more like the types for whom a large beard is a novelty.

The only real comments I got were from a waxed-mustachioed BMX trick-rider at the skate park in downtown Winnipeg who said, “Takes dedication to wear a beard like that all summer,” and at the airport two security guys asked me how long it took to grow. That was a 180-degree turn around from the security check in Toronto a few days previous where I believe I was profiled as possible Taliban for having such a hirsute chin. Well, my bag got checked. No strip search. Perhaps I’m being paranoid.

I think the reason for intensified Beerfest interest in the beard was twofold. First, people there are drunk off their tits and drunk people are easily amused by ordinary things. Ordinary things like hair. You’d think I’d landed on a planet of apes suffering from alopecia. I was lucky they didn’t pound on my beard with sticks to make themselves more intelligent.

And secondly, unlike the hippie-leaning crowd at Folkfest, the patrons of Beerfest were mostly white (as in bread and picket fences), suburban yuppies and rednecks. If they did come from somewhere downtown, they came from lofty condos and not lowly Parkdale. As everyone knows, beards are banned in most strata agreements.

And apparently pre-nuptial agreements.

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