Friday, August 7, 2020

Day 151 Nat’l Emergency: International Beer Day, Mood Swings and a Toast to Pete Hamill

Today, August 7, is International Beer Day. While I enjoy the occasional brewski, I am not devoted to the libation. I’m no Brett Kavanaugh. I’m more a vodka man when seeking a buzz.

But I have come to recognize the importance beer has played in the development of societies. As I learned when reading “A History of the World in Six Glasses” by Tom Standage, beer was the first transformational drink of Western civilization. (Just so you’re not overwhelmed by curiosity, the six breakthrough liquids, in their order of development in the Middle East and Western countries, were beer, wine, spirits, coffee, tea and Coca-Cola.)

Water, naturally, was a thirst quencher from the get-go. But too often water sources became tainted from human and animal waste. The production of beer, on the other hand, cooked off disease spreading microorganisms. At one time, Standage noted, beer was the preferred drink of kings of ancient civilizations. Moreover, the quality of one’s beer reflected a person’s wealth. 

Beer also often was part of one’s wages. Written records show the Egyptians who built the pyramids were state employees whose wages included rations of beer. As winemaking became more prevalent, wine superseded beer as the drink of choice by the cognoscenti. 

Beer continued to be important to the masses. Even children drank beer, albeit a heavily diluted potion. Adults also consumed diluted beer, at least early in the day. It was not unusual for the populace to walk around in a stupor from morning till night. 

It was only after the introduction of coffee to Europeans, first on the island of Malta in the mid 16th century by Turkish slaves, that a different type of buzz woke Christendom up in the morning. Coffee hastened the industrialization of Europe.

It is beer that is celebrated today, however, so everyone raise the glass of your favorite brew. Cheers!

 Uh-oh, I just found out why I have a problem stabilizing my moods.

According to a chart from Sumbu.official, you can get more serotonin in your body by swimming, cycling, running, meditating, sun exposure, and walking in nature.

Okay, well, I don’t know how to swim, I stopped biking 10 years after I learned how to at age 40 following repeated spills, I never jogged (bad for the knees, I always reasoned), I don’t meditate, and after four facial basal cell carcinomas I try to avoid too much sun exposure. I do walk in nature but not often enough to count as a daily, even weekly, endeavor.

I guess I’m screwed.

Serotonin, for those like me who never really thought or knew about it, is a chemical released in your brain based on activities you undertake to stabilize your mood. It is one of four “happiness” related chemicals, the others being dopamine (the reward chemical), oxytocin (the love hormone), and endorphin (the pain killer). Here’s a chart:

How have you been keeping your sanity while staying cooped up in your abode? Have you been maintaining your equilibrium? Not chomping at the bit eager to chop off the heads of your spouse or children? 

Even Michelle Obama has acknowledged these pandemic and political times have infused in her a low grade depression. So, how do you keep your cool?

I achieve quasi-normalcy by writing this blog, though during periods when I go almost a week or longer between posts it usually is because I am too depressed to get up the initiative to create. It’s not writer’s bloc. It’s low grade depression. 

How are you coping?

For Pete’s Sake: Around the time I matriculated from the sports and comics pages of the newspaper to reading daily columnists—the mid 1960s—Pete Hamill began his reporting career at The New York Post, then a bulwark of liberal journalism. He was one of several noteworthy writers including James Wechsler, Murray Kempton, Mary McGrory, Max Lerner, who filled my brain with progressive ideas. But it was Hamill’s prose that captured a reader’s attention through its earthy depiction of tragedies and human interest stories amid the normal lives of working class stiffs that forged the core of Hamill’s background growing up in an Irish neighborhood in Brooklyn. Hamill died Wednesday. He was 85.

Along with Jimmy Breslin of The New York Daily News, Hamill championed a new type of journalism that went beyond the who, what, where, when fact sheet and delved into the why, the emotions behind the swirl of events. He described people and how they were affected. He also instilled a soul into his depiction of New York City. His writing was like that of the Post’s sports columnists who didn’t worry about telling you the score of the game but rather related what star athletes felt about their achievements or disappointments.

I never met Hamill directly. Rather, my contact with him was once removed. Back in the 1970s, when Hamill was living with Shirley MacLaine in Brooklyn’s Park Slope neighborhood, Gilda’s stepfather, Gus, was their mailman. One day he had to make an in-person postal delivery. Gus rang the bell to their apartment and was surprised when MacLaine opened the door dressed simply in her negligee. A wide smile passed over Gus’ face whenever he recounted that experience.

As I conclude this blog entry written with several interruptions over the course of eight hours, it is still International Beer Day. I think the passing of Pete Hamill is worthy of raising a toast in his good name.

(Editor’s note: Because of the loss of Internet service to my desktop computer I am unable to provide direct links to URLs provided. Please copy them into your browser to gain access to the sources.)