The Wood Made Me Do It

Short version: It was the week of my brother’s wedding. Family was in town. And – ooooh boy – it was epic.

However, this being my blog, I can only focus on one particular anecdote from that five-day period. The only one with an actual arc. Strangely enough, it was an occurrence that happened before the wedding. It all started at the rehearsal dinner.

As mentioned above, family was in town. What I did not know was how many family members came out to see my younger sibling tie the knot. I half-thought most of ‘em showed up to see it to believe it. Can’t say I blame them. (Two weeks have passed, and I’m still reeling from the idea of my baby brother being…uh…brided? I know, not a word.)

A rehearsal dinner was scheduled for the evening prior to the wedding day, as was custom. I wasn’t sure if I would make it, due to my work schedule. My average exit time was 6PM, and the dinner itself was at 6:30. Rush hour traffic was another concern, and the dinner was clear on the other side of town.

By luck or fate, I finished my work day at 4PM, leaving enough time to feed the cat, change, and head out. I opted for a lesser-used mini-highway that ran through the ritzy part of West Portland. Not only did I arrive on time, but I was early. And that never happens. The only hiccup I ran into was…well… all of Oregon City. I’m convinced that town was designed by a mead-hopped steampunk enthusiast.

Once I finally found a place to park, I came up to the restaurant as other family members arrived. They remarked on my hunched-over stance, and I adjusted my posture to something less…gorilla. I caught a glimpse of something (or rather someone) out of place. Someone who wasn‘t family. Some woman.

My cousin (we’ll call him “Bucky”) had mentioned that he and his wife (“RB”) were bringing a friend with them on their jaunt from California. What I did not expect was that she would be gorgeous. She was tall, waif-like, with a Mediterranean – olive-to-milky white – complexion. Long, brown, wavy hair spilled over her shoulders. We’ll call her “KG”, and she instantly caught my attention.

I only talked to her for a little bit during the rehearsal din. Most of the time was spent yacking with family I hadn’t seen in years. After a couple of hours, though, my cousin, Bucky, mentioned they wanted to close the evening off at a bar or two. His sister, “NK”, also wanted in. While they were in town, this was the only night I had available for just such a debauched evening. My default suggestion was one I always gave to out-of-towners – The Green Dragon.

The five of us got there shortly after 8PM. The first question I asked the bartender was, “Anything barrel-aged?” Yes, my beersnobbery had reached that apex. The Green Dragon was one of the few places that carried bourbon-barrel-aged or cask-conditioned ales on tap. Pricy, yes…but palate-sating.

As luck would have it, they had the “Gentleman’s Club” series on tap – a collaboration between Widmer Brewing and Cigar City Brewing. There were three ales total – one aged in a bourbon barrel, one in a rye whiskey barrel, and one in a new oak spiral (whatever that is). The idea behind these concoctions was to create a “cocktail”-like feel. Lucky for me, Green Dragon was offering a sampler of all three.

I sniffed each 4oz. taster. Can’t say they reminded me of cocktails, but they were indeed what I hoped for. In fact, they reminded me of many whiskey barrel-aged barleywines and strongs I’d tried over the years. Before I could grab all three glasses, though, the phone rang.

It was my sister/roommate. She was locked out of the apartment, and she was demanding my immediate return to let her in. Our apartment was a good half-hour away. I looked at my cousin, his wife, to the lovely KG, and down at my sampler. I wasn’t going anywhere.

We made our way to the outdoor patio area, all the while, my sister was texting me repeatedly to come home. I ignored most of them. That hour was awkward as we mulled over our drinks, and I cursed under my breath. By the fifth text, and after downing the bourbon barrel-aged Gentleman’s Club, I had the solution.

I looked up our apartment’s website for a contact number, called that, and was redirected to a 24-hour service number. Emergency maintenance issues (including lockouts) could be handled thusly. I gave that number a dial.

The maintenance guy’s response was priceless. Something akin to, “Aaaw, man! I was just out there!”

My reply was a more polite version of, “Well, go out there again!”

He informed me that there’d be a service charge. I didn’t care. After that convo ended, I called my sister and told her that maintenance was on their way. She thanked me profusely and apologized for “almost ruining my evening”. Truth be told, I hadn’t even started yet.

Crisis averted, we resumed the “business” at hand. The bench we ended up crowding around had various games strewn about. I’m not sure who grabbed it, but someone whipped out a bunch of Jenga blocks.

To our surprise, these weren’t typical Jenga blocks. Bar patrons of yesterbeer had written on them – drinking game suggestions. Some of the “dare” tips were far too risqué, even for our group. Others were more pedestrian.

We formulated our own rules for the sport. If the commands on the blocks were too outlandish, the person who placed it could tell an embarrassing story instead. For members of my family, we called this “a Tuesday”. Embarrassing stories were our bread-‘n-butter. Over the course of the game, we related our best/worst sexual experiences, weirdest dates, and other unmentionables. I finished all three Gentleman’s Clubs and felt each one of ‘em permeate my skull with buzz.

Another drink was en route when my turn came up again. The Jenga piece I drew had the following message scrawled in uneven, drunken scribbles: “Kiss a perfect stranger.”

© Tanya Kang Photography

© Tanya Kang Photography

I could’ve opted out of the suggestion. Heck, I even had my embarrassing story planned. But…there was only one stranger in our group – KG. Somewhere in the recesses of my prudish mind, a little voice – one I’d long thought dead – whispered one simple message: “Go for it.”

“Well, there’s only one stranger at this table,” I said with bravado. And then I pointed at KG. “Stand up.”

She did so.

“You know you only have to kiss him,” RB suggested. “It could even be the cheek.”

But, nay, she followed my lead. And I kissed her. For awhile.

When we…uh…parted, she remarked to the group that it was the cleanest kiss she’d ever had. Not sure if that was a compliment or not. Both my cousins – Bucky and KN – looked at me dumbstruck.

I shrugged, “First kiss in three years.”

“Dude!” Bucky said. “That’s not something you say to a girl.”

But it was the truth. Until that night, I’d been on an unplanned sabbatical from anything related to dating or women. The thought hadn’t really occurred to me to make a move or put myself back out there. Somewhere amidst the brown-haired goddesses and brown-colored ales, I’d rediscovered some semblance of a mojo again.

I blame the wooden Jenga piece.

Tags: , , , , , , ,

Monday, September 9th, 2013 Beverage Blog 1 Comment

Damn You, Damiana

Damiana (or Turnera diffusa) is a shrub native to parts of Texas and just about every Spanish-speaking country south of that. Many Central and South American countries regarded it for its relaxing effects. However, it was Mexico that recognized it for another – less chaste – use. And no one had told my parents.

My mother and stepdad were on a cruise to Mexico. While in Cabo San Lucas, they came upon a vendor hocking an herbal “tea”. He explained that his herbal product had a list of purported health properties attached to it, including: Treatment for headaches, treatment for diabetes, and a tonic effect on the muscles and nervous system. Also in the fine print was another, more infamous use.

When they got back to the U.S., my mother proudly called me up to tell me what she picked up for me. She knew I had a thing for trying out new teas and tisanes, and – God bless her – her heart was in the right place. However…um…well, here’s how the conversation went:

Mom: “We picked up this tea for you in Cabo. It’s a cactus tea!”

Me: “That’s great!…Wait…it’s not ‘damiana’, is it?”

Mom: “That’s it.”

Me: “Mom…that’s an aphrodisiac.”

Mom: [long pause] “Oh…well, you don’t have to drink it for that.”

They stayed with my brother and I on a visit to drop off their wares. My mother let my stepdad do the “honors” of handing me said herb. His exact words were, “Here’s your boner tea. Enjoy.” Just like that.

A few months after that, a friend of mine also made a trip to Cabo. I had related the tale regarding the damiana to him, and – being the way he is – he texted me: “I picked you up some more damiana.”

I didn’t receive this second stash of sex tea until a tea party a few weeks back. I actually had the other bag of damiana with me in the hopes of giving it away. What use did I have for it? I wasn’t dating anyone. The moment I started unloading the bag of teas I had for said party, my friend handed me the damiana he bought for me.

It was from the same damn farmer my mother had purchased hers.

I guess there was no escaping the stuff. It wasn’t like I hadn’t tried damiana before. As I’ve related before, I had taste-tested it plenty of times over the course of years. I had blended it with gingko, lemon verbena, and other anti-inflammatory herbs for a “prostate” tea. (What? I’m a male in my 30s, I worry about this sorta thing.) While I didn’t remember liking it all that much by itself, I didn’t remember hating it either.  This stuff was straight from the source, wild-harvested even. I guess a second go-around was in order.

The appearance was strikingly similar to quite a few other green-leaning herbs. There were leaf bits ranging from green to brown along with stems and twigs. I likened it to tulsi, only (obviously) greener. What really surprised me was the sweet/mint aroma it possessed. The last time I whiffed this stuff, it did not possess that profile. I expected herbaceous, and I got…fruit sweetness with a hint of spearmint. Maybe this wasn’t going to be so bad after all; maybe there was something to this wild-harvesting thing.

I didn’t adhere to any particular brewing instructions for this. Damiana blends past only required about a five-minute steep time in boiling water – roughly a teaspoon of herb per cup. I went a little stronger with a heaping teaspoon in 8oz. of boiled water for five minutes.

The liquor brewed up green-gold, almost jade-like with an aroma that made an eyebrow cock. It smelled like weed. What was it with Spanish-speaking country herbs smelling like weed?! Yerba mate smelled like it, guayusa kinda smelled like it, mate de coca definitely smelled like it. This at least had a nettle-ish lean to differentiate it from the druggie rabble. That’s not to say it was a good scent; it was just very herbal – questionably so.

As for flavor, it opened up with a spinachy front that caused my tongue to curl. Not unpalatable, just alarming. Mamaki and nettle leaf had a similar affect on me. That transitioned to an uphill top note of citrus and something bittersweet. The finish was both grassy and silky at the same time.

What was really worth noting was the immediate side effect upon imbibing. This stuff went straight to my skull like a brusque Assam. A couple of sips in and my frontal lobe went, “WTF?! Is that caffeine or something else?! Help, I need an adult!” Or something to that effect. There was no way to test out any…er…aphrodisiac results, but if the “woosh!” to my brain was any indication, it did increase blood flow.

I can’t say this is an herbal I would have on a regular basis. Sure, it’s pleasant enough on its own, but not habit-forming in the slightest. It tastes like something someone would take for its apparent health benefits. Like St. John’s Wort…only randy. It was exactly as I remembered it, but there was something to be said for getting it directly from a farmer. The sweeter profile was testament to that.

If I am ever in a situation where it’s “services” are required, though, it’s good to know that I have plenty on hand for just such an emergency. Ladies, I’m single.

(As if that’s a surprise.)

Photo by Kenneth Lu

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Thursday, September 22nd, 2011 Steep Stories 1 Comment

Clarch! #1: “Blending Tea and Dating”

This one is for the fellas.

About three years ago, I received an invite to go to a bar trivia night in downtown Portland. I usually got the call when a group of friends required a “guy-that-knows-useless-shit”; that was me. Need  someone that knows the composer for the “Death of Optimus Prime” scene in the ’86 animated Transformers: The Movie? I’m your man. I am a fountain of frivolous knowledge.

Our track record this night was fairly steady. I was contributing answers to about a third of the more non sequitur questions – a little off my game but not too badly. A question came up that I wasn’t expecting, one that I thought I instantly had in the bag.

The Q/A emcee asked, “What group of people has better sex? Coffee drinkers or tea drinkers?”


My primary geek hobby – tea – started because of sex. There were at least three-to-four blends and tisanes I knew of that were beneficial for…er…”blood flow”. That and normal tea was a primary ingredient in many male enhancement products. (Don’t ask me how I know that.) Tea also made for a great conversation starter; plus, the rest of the world drank tea. It was a given.

The answer? Coffee drinkers.

I cost us the game.

How could I have been so wrong? All my perusals – scholastic and palate-related – pointed to tea as being the clear victor. How could the swill of Satan be the better boffing brew? The question plagued me on the drive home.

It hit me when I was in the shower the next day.

First off, tea was not a ubiquitous beverage in the United States, not since we dumped crates of it over a perfectly good harbor. Coffee dates were considered the universal icebreaker, almost to the point of cliché. If a guy wanted to get to know a potential…um…playmate, there were only two viable routes – coffee and alcohol. In some cases, both if the conversation went really well.

I looked back at my track record with tea dates. The first one I ever went on was with a girl from Craigslist. She was older than me by a month. Other than showing complete uninterested in me, she also related how she answered an ad to be an old man’s “sugarbaby”. In short, it was a bust.

The next – oh – several attempts ended one of two ways. The less common occurrence was that we hit it off in terms of conversation, trading barbs like old friends. But that was it, “friends”. Either one didn’t feel that mandatory “oomph” or the other – or both. The outing was so completely non-threatening and informal that any tension from the event was rendered impotent.

The more common outcome? The girl never showed up. Seriously.

A last attempt at a tea date was in March. I considered it the make-or-break for this anti-Friend Zone field test. In theory, tea dates should work, especially if one had some knowledge of the beverage prior. It was classy. Girls dug classy…right? Well, apparently not.

While it may be a sad conclusion – and one that most bros of brewdom don’t want to hear – tea dates don’t work. At least in my experience. It might be just an American conundrum; it may even be that I’m no good at dating in general. The simple summation is that tea and dating are a one-way ticket aboard the HMS Platonic.  That isn’t to say, however, that there aren’t ways around that.

Just because you, fellow steeper, have this one peculiar hobby doesn’t mean you have to be ashamed of it. You can mention it in passing on a normal-ish date. Once an actual rapport and/or relationship are established, then you can let her into your wulong-rich world. A second – more lowbrow – approach would be to find establishments that serve tea-infused alcohol drinks. In my neck of the woods, I know of five. Can you think of a better gateway to “Awesome!”? I can’t.

I’m almost certain this entry will garner some amount of, “You’re wrong! My wife and I are the exception.” In statistics, you would be known as an “outlier”. For you to be an exception, there first has to be a general rule. Of course, I could be completely wrong on this. So, please, do relate your success stories if you have them. Prove me wrong, I beg of you.

And while you’re at it, kindly tell me where you’ve parked your unicorn.

Awesome Doodles by Aaron Grayson

Tags: , , , , , , , ,

Monday, September 19th, 2011 Clargh!, Steep Stories 7 Comments

I work for tea money.


February 2018
« Nov