middle brow | citizen how

union painters make the world colorful.

i have an uncle. he’s a union painter. actually, i have three uncles who are union painters. but the youngest brother is a wild man. and a social champ. and a party lion. and a clever fucker. and when i was in my late teens and i’d drive over to his house and drink a bunch of publicly-traded beer, he’d often ask about what i wanted to do. with my life. or at some point something political would grace one of the waves and it’d just come up. that i wanted to be a lawyer. because back then i wanted to be a lawyer. how adorable, right? and that’d make him excited for the opportunity to be my fixer. and i’d insist that i wouldn’t be that kind of lawyer. i’d be an international or immigration rights attorney. and he’d smell that innocent pomposity in that comment and either get a little defensive or insecure or both, and would tell me about how painters “bring color to the world!” and we’d laugh. and it’d break the shit out of the tension. but he was dead serious. 

and it’s true. painters color the world. but are they really responsible for its color? if they didn’t exist, would we find a way to make things more colorful? the answer appears to be obviously yes. the difference, though, is in the application. i.e., we’d do a terrible job at it. or, at least, we’d do a really DIY job at it. leave “terrible” to the critic. (and we in beer know critics.) 

i digress.

anyway, we’d still have a really beautiful, colorful world without painters! it’s certain! and so why would he (seriously) claim that it was painters that make the world colorful? cuz he desperately wanted to make his daily toil seem more profound. his work choice, or maybe the work he accidented into, more meaningful. 

and so what? we all do it. back in 2009, i became a lawyer. and practiced law for 2-3 years. and me and all the other scum sucking lawyers (jkjkjk) would get wise and deep and talk about how lawyers help people. about how without lawyers, the world would be a less fair place. about how even corporate lawyers maximize value for corporations by minimizing risk. and therefore free up more money for hiring people. big, important shit we were doing.

but that was bullshit. the vast majority of the time, lawyers did nothing that wouldn’t be done anyway by two private citizens or corporations. or, their careful, lawyerly work would be for naught. and all the scary shit contemplated by two parties to a contract wouldn’t ever come to pass. (but risk aversion is real, and we pay big money for it.) 

and so why does the painter paint, and why does the lawyer law? likely for the same, or similar reasons: because they have a skill, and that skill makes people so happy that they’re willing to pay for it. in the end, painters satisfy our culturally-imposed (or natural?) desire for paint to be applied cleanly and neatly. it makes us feel happy to see our living room painted well, i guess. and so do painters make us happy? sure. and we by hiring them we make them feel necessary. and make them feel a little bit powerful. and give them meaning. and some money. 

and the large chunk of lawyers aren’t lawyers because they want to make the world a better place. they’re lawyers because (they like winning facebook arguments... ahem) they had a knack for logic and arguing their whole lives. and so they pursued law. and, in turns out, were really good at it. and now, when their client wants to avoid losing money or wants a debt paid, they spring into action and do their best to argue that at-risk money into their client’s pockets permanently. and even the immigration-rights attorney. she does some amazing work. and every time she helps reunite a family, it reaffirms her purpose. but what’s that? did she help ensure justice? maybe. but maybe not. she may have simply found a loophole in the law. that contradicts the intent of the law. and her morally right move might not have been an application of true justice then. but even if it was, did she have to be a lawyer to help reunite families? she could have been the administrator who worked with the legal team instead. or she could have been the translator. but she chose to be a lawyer because she had a skill, and her skill made people so happy that they were willing to pay for it. and that made her a little bit of money. but it also made her feel powerful. and it made her happy.

and so painters don’t have to get profound about their work. and lawyers don’t have to either. we’re all just traipsing through life. and stumbling upon things we’re good at. and over things we’re bad at. and we tend to do more of the things we’re good at and fewer of the things we’re bad at. and then, eventually, we make someone else somewhere a little happier with our work. and so we get paid for that work. and feel a little powerful. and a little stronger. and more meaningful for having done it. and that’s a perfectly fine reason to do something. 

and so anthony bourdain did not “connect the world”. or “make food cultural again”. or, i mean, maybe he did. shit, our instagram post even said so! but after thinking more about it. it seems to me that all those beautiful, heartfelt bourdain tributes were not about anthony bourdain. they were about us. they were about us making his life seem maximally meaningful to justify our shock. our grief about some public figure whom we never knew. but whose personality and love we somehow felt.

so what did anthony bourdain actually do? he had fucking fun. and we had fun watching him have fun. that’s it. end of story. drink good. do better. 

wait!!!! i actually ...have more to say? believe it? 

he and other chefs and other writers and other tv personalities. they do what they do to have fun. right? i mean, anthony bourdain wasn’t in food because food brings people together. shit. someone's gonna email me a quote with bourdain saying “food brings people together, and i do what i do to help show that to the world”. but still: i wouldn’t buy it. anthony bourdain stumbled into cooking. and was good at it. and it made his friends happy and his bosses happy. and, he could see through the kitchen window, lots of other humans happy. he wasn’t looking out of the fucking kitchen and saying “oh my god! look at all those people joyously talking while eating my food! i wonder if someone out there is on a first date. or reconnecting with an old friend. or catching up with a good friend. or teaching their young children about the cultural oddity that was dave matthews band. and eating myfood while doing it! ahhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh... spring in new york.”

no. he watched faces after people ate his food to see if they fucking liked it. that’s what mattered: if it made people’s mouths fucking happy. if their taste sense and smell sense went wild. and all the other stuff around cooking is just grist for our intellectual mills. 

and then he wrote a terrific book. almost by accident. because he had a story to tell and he thought he wasn’t half-bad as a writer. and someone else agreed. and published the book. and it sold like ramen noodles or ben and jerry’s at 7-11: really fucking well. and so he pursued that for awhile. writing about kitchens. and about food. and about food culture. and his writing made people happy. and more and more people kept paying him to write about and talk about food. and to travel and interview the local color. and his work may have “brought people together” in the sense that two people who saw the same episode might have said “oh yeah i saw this on bourdain” to each other. but that’s really it. he actually just made food that made some folks’ mouths have a ton of fucking fun. and then he made some tv shows that made millions of eyes and brains have a ton of fucking fun.

and that’s amazing!!! that’s something to write about! and to commemorate!

our fellow brewers often talk about how we help connect the world, too. about how we produce jobs. how we’re bringing manufacturing back. how corner breweries are amazing community spaces where folks from all walks of life can connect. and some of that’s bull shit. but some of it’s true! but even the true stuff... that’s not why we do what we do. and don’t let anyone tell you otherwise. we make and sell beer cuz we’re sorta good at it. and people sometimes like the taste of it. and always like the drunk they get from it. and so it makes them happy. and that makes us slightly happier.

and that’s ok. we’re all doing work. the lawyer. the insurance agent. the plumber. the mailwoman. the bartender. the club owner. the middle manager. and we’re all doing it for a similar reason: that we make some people happy with our work. it’s good work.

and so anthony bourdain: if you’re reading this from outer space: we’ll miss your adventurous tendency. it was colorful. it was fun.

drink good. do better. keep paddling.