Beer Mystic Burp 4: A Weird, Bloody Barroom Ritual Remembered
Imagine this, you walk into your local bar, a place where you know where to hang your truss, and upon entering you instantly sense something is amiss, awry – somebody’s tinkering with your gears. Aw shit, it’s as if good beer [at a not-obscene price], good music [although tending to the clichéd – Dave Brubeck, Velvet Underground, REM, Hank Williams, Nancy Sinatra], and good conversation aren’t enough in a place heated enough in winter and air-conditioned enough in summer. Suddenly bar owners all seem to have gotten it into their heads that there’s gotta be more: TVs and slot machines, blinking beer signs, talking toilet seats, poker machines, trivia challenges, darts, billiards – but this one beat them all. It was officially called “branding” by mags like New York and New York Press and “dotting the i” by adherents. Presumably, this rite was concocted by some ad hoc scrum of barroom denizens in, some say, Chumley’s; others insist it was in the Old Town or Rudy’s – at least it was not hatched in the Needham ad agency boardroom. At least I don’t think it was a stealth marketing trend; it really just seemed to pop up out of nowhere and grew insanely popular as barroom activity in a matter of minutes and insome circles and hoods branding became almost impossible to avoid. You simply got sucked in. If you were hovering in at the right angle it could almost remind you of that Russian roulette scene in The Deer Hunter.
Dotting the i required contestants [celebrants, acolytes, dotters] to answer weird questions: What’s the melting point of skin? How many truck tires does Pooh have to pile on top of one another to reach the honey in the tree? How many Yankee baseball caps are sold worldwide annually? Name two famous assassins who shot presidents and then were shot themselves. What was the name of the prostitute who fled Sam Cooke’s hotel room taking his clothes with her. There were a million of them.
Mass consumption of whatever beer was available on tap or in a bottle beforehand was highly recommended as anesthesia because, if you answered 3 questions in a row correctly, one of the other contestants would take a bottle cap from the bar, press it to the victor’s forehead and smash it into his forehead with a fierce elbow or karate lunge punch or sometimes hammered it into the forehead with a beer bottle, embedding it in what little meat is there. And then the victor might do a little mock Hottentot dance or something they imagined “their man” Screamin’ Jay Hawkins might do before someone removed it, revealing a bleeding, branded “O” in the middle of the forehead, which created a near-perfect triangle between the “O” and the victor’s two eyes. And so, for the better part of 2 years [and forever!] people were wandering around the East Village with this “O” brand in their foreheads, which eventually scabbed over, leaving an indelible scar that might come in handy later in life as fount of mythic tales when the past becomes an exciting footnote to a not-so-exciting present.
I eventually got tired of hearing about the significance of the equilateral triangle, the number 3, but also 33, the deity – the beer tapper, the beer buyer, the beer drinker… They had their ideas about how the “O” “mapped” the mind’s eye and they went on and on about Burning Man-like festivals of dotters in the area outside Sedona, Arizona and here they “learned” that triangles represented angels with a vigilant third eye. Some claimed they had pilgrimaged to Sedona’s Dotter Fest, had experienced a mass dotting. There were bands and dotter workshops. Some enterprising participants developed special do-it-yourself dotter bottle cap and hammer kits. Perfect gift for the pagan who has everything. Some predicted that branding would eventually become more popular than tattooing, some were interviewed on local public access TV shows and there was a convention in the Armory on Lexington Avenue eventually busted by the NYPD by order of the Health Department, which was concerned with infection. A band called the Dotters performed. Some Dotters complained that they were being unjustly barred from certain clubs and restaurants, others described discrimination or intimidation at work.
Nice was not a dotter. I was not a dotter. It’s like Nice said, “If you dot all the ‘i’s in your own story you will never end up falling for the latest spiritual or tribal fad.” Sometimes I find myself in NYC staring intently at the foreheads of denizens, convinced that I’m seeing the ghostly remnants, the ephemeral hints of a Dotter scar.
Much of the “Dotting the i” scene occurred near the location of the present-day Bowery Poetry Club, which hosts BEER MYSTIC exc. 34. The BPC is the architectural mirror image of poetry ambassador Bob Holman, alliterational activist and allegorical advocate for the inspired word. The BPC presents an incredible array of word-inspired performance. I’ve always been suspicious of the overweening nature of too much enthusiasm passing as a marketing tactic and early on I assumed Holman’s irrepressible enthusiasm was just another marketing ploy.
But I slowly warmed to Holman’s inspired take on his too-much-is-not-enough exuberance approach to the global poetic pastiche upon seeing him perform at the Crossing Border Festival in The Hague and listening to Mirror Man, his CD collaboration with David Thomas and then his willingness to
host not one but TWO Yodel-Ay-Ee-Oooo: The Secret History of Yodeling Around the World book parties starring numerous yodeling luminaries including Shelley Hirsch and Randy Erwin. If we wordsmiths ever gain representation in the UN, I will vote for Holman to be our ambassador.