There is no beer aisle in our supermarket. There’s no wine there either. In fact, there’s no alcohol whatsoever but, because I’m breastfeeding (and so drinking nothing beyond the occasional stolen sip of M’s beer at the pub), it had completely escaped my notice until I tried to find some beer yesterday afternoon. Our estate agent was hosting a cookout (barbecue) for his clients today and, not wanting to arrive empty handed, I found myself marching mystified from one end of the supermarket to the other. We were fast encroaching into the girls’ naps and I was running out of time — where was the beer?!? But before I got the chance to ask anyone, the girls erupted into the kind of embarrassingly loud chaos that only two overtired toddlers can create, and so I gave up and just got out of the shop as quickly as I could. I would ask my mother where to get some beer and pick it up on the way to the cookout.
My mother arrived 30 minutes late to babysit and so I asked her in a rush, where does a person buy alcohol around here? “They’re not allowed to sell it in regular shops in this state,” she said. “You have to buy wine or spirits from the State Store.” Oh! Is there one nearby? And do they sell beer? “No,” she frowned and thought for a moment, “No, they don’t sell beer at the State Store. You’d have to go to a beer distributer. I know where they are near my house, but I don’t know where any are around here.” This was a blow. Never mind, I thought to myself, I was quite late by now — I’d just have to turn up empty-handed and hope it didn’t look too bad.
But as I drove, I became more and more uncomfortable with that, so I stopped at a convenience shop and asked if there were anyplace nearby to buy beer. The gruff old man behind the counter eyed me warily at first and then, hearing my accent and realising I wasn’t local, softened a bit. “Ya can’t buy beer or wine from shops like this in this state,” he began. I smiled and tried to look as if he were telling me something I didn’t know. “Ya need a State Store for wine, or a beer distributer for beer. We can’t sell it, y’see.” Ah, yes, I see. So… is there a beer distributor nearby? “Now… now… let me see…,” he said, scratching his gray hair, and then looked up and yelled at the only other customer in the shop. “Tom! Tom, can ya tell this lady if there’s a beer distributer ’round here?” Tom screwed his mouth up to one side as he thought, then brightened and gave me directions to one just a few miles down the road. I repeated the directions, thanked them, and was on my way. If I hurried, it would only add 15 minutes to my lateness, but it’d be worth it to escape a social gaff.
Tom’s directions were spot on and, within 5 minutes, I had pulled up a gravel drive to a breeze-block building fronted by a huge garage door, which was completely open to display the cases and cases of beer inside. I nodded to the young man sitting with his feet propped up on the counter as I walked in and started to pick my way between the stacked pallets. Here, at last, was an awful lot of beer. …But no six-packs, no individual cans. I couldn’t find anything smaller than full cases of 24s. I headed back to the front of the shop.
“Umm,” I paused, momentarily mesmorised by the tattoos and the blond mullet straight out of 1983. “Do you sell anything less than cases?”
He looked up with disinterest. “Nope,” he said slowly. “Just cases.”
“Umm… What would I do if I only wanted a few cans of beer? A six-pack?”
“You’d have to go to the Six-Pack Store for that.” I let out a sigh of exasperation and my hands dropped onto the countertop with a thud. This was getting ridiculous. They have separate shops to sell beer in six-packs or cases?
I took a deep breath. “Is there a Six-Pack Store nearby?” I asked carefully, with growing irritation and fading hopes. He said there was one in a town about 15 minutes away, and I gave up. I asked for a case of M’s favourite beer and decided I would just steal six bottles out of it to take to the cookout and the rest would be earn me Good Wife Points with M.
After I’d paid and as I was about to leave, I asked, “I, um… don’t suppose you have a plastic bag, do you?”
“Nope.” Of course he didn’t.
“Just beer in big boxes,” I said with a sigh.
“Just beer in big boxes,” he replied and, just for a moment, the corners of his mouth crinkled into an almost imperceptible and wry smile.