September 09

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“It’s like trying to find gold in a silver mine”

I dedicate this piece to Ben and Larry and all others who read this. Bottoms up!

“It’s like trying to find gold in a silver mine, it’s like trying to drink whiskey, from a bottle of wine” (Elton John’s (1972) Honky Cat). Perhaps almost as good as finding an oasis in the middle of a desert? Or just as well finding that lucky four-leaf clover on a family picnic? For those of us in Kenya, Tusker is the beer of choice. Well, for that matter now that I think about it, Tusker, quite honestly, is nearly the ONLY beer of choice. There also is Tusker Malt, White Cap, White Cap Malt, Guinness and Heineken. 46 TuskerAh, six beer types to select from. Any restaurant, any market, any and every place we go, these are the ONLY six choices on the menu. Kenya had recently restricted beer imports, and in particular, German beer imports, yet Heinekin can be found on most menus. So, Tusker it is, and when we are asked, a ‘cold’ Tusker is our preferred selection, and from our limited options, it is certainly the better of our options. (I have sampled the others, and Tusker it is, although Guinness is a great alternative once in a while, don’t get me wrong.) That is, until this past Saturday, and all that was constant, a constant that is our so-called Kisumu ‘Groundhog Day’, has now been altered!! “And oh, the change is gonna do me good”.

I found “86”!

Not Maxwell Smart Secret Agent 86, not the atomic number of Radon, not 86 Kenyan shillings, not a person 86 years of age; rather, “86” is a Bavarian style beer produced in the Netherland’s second largest brewery, and imported into Kisumu, just made available at our local food market. In addition to 86 Blond, 86 Dark is also available and both had been chilling in our fridge. JoJo and I sampled 86 Blond Sunday evening, and it met our approval, a bit more of a flavorful alternative to Tusker.86 Blond 86 Dark was sampled last evening, a strong malty dark beer, not quite in the same category as Guinness, not as good as a Guinness.86 Dark The blond and dark options now provide new alternatives (along with alternatively higher prices) to what has been a very limited and restricted selection of beer, let alone imported beer. “86” refers to the 8.6% alcohol content, so finishing a full 22 ounce serving by myself would almost certainly 86 me. I am far from the most interesting man in Kenya, even though “I read some books and I read some magazines”. But I will certainly tell all of you to grab that brass ring on the carousel when it comes around, and a cold “86” when and if you can find one, and continue to “Stay thirsty my friends!”

Thoughts on the origins of the number term ‘86’:

RESTAURANT LINGO: Regardless of whether it was the first to coin the phrase, the restaurant business in the 1930s was one of the main incubators for its usage and development. Believed to be slang for the word “nix,” it was initially used as a way of saying that the kitchen was out of something, as revealed in Walter Winchell’s 1933 newspaper column that featured a “glossary of soda-fountain lingo” used in restaurants during that time, according to Snopes. It later evolved into a code that restaurants and bars used when they wanted to cut someone off, because they were either rude, broke, or drunk, as in “86 that chump at the end of the bar.”

PROHIBITION ERA RAIDS: This possible origin stems from the Prohibition era at a bar called Chumley’s located at 86 Bedford Street in New York City. To survive, many speakeasies had the police on somewhat of a payroll so that they might be warned of a raid. In the case of Chumley’s, it is said that police would call and tell the bartender to 86 his customers, which meant that 1) a raid was about to happen and 2) that they should all exit via the 86 Bedford door while the police would approach at the entrance on Pamela Court.

EIGHT FEET LONG, SIX FEET UNDER: Perhaps the birth of this phrase occurred in death? The last time you can be “86’d” might be when they put you under the ground, as most standard graves are eight feet long and six feet deep.