Of Playing Cards & Beer Glasses

Chaos in Print

I don’t drink. I don’t play cards. Yet, somehow, I’ve amassed a collection of five beer glasses and three decks of cards. It’s a great testament to the human ability to get stuff. I mean, as I’ve said, I don’t drink, and I don’t play cards. So why do I need these things? Sure, the beer glasses double as great knickknacks. Someday I’m going to have a kitchen and I’ll need some kind of fancy glassware to display on the top shelves. The playing cards have even less purpose. I’ve been known to build a card house or two, and that’s about it. OK, and when I’m home alone, I’ll take the cards, put on a trenchcoat, and run around pretending I’m Gambit from X-Men. They are nothing but potential brick-a-brack and objects of role-play. Why do I hang on to these things, then?

The first of my beer glasses comes from Red Lobster. It was my 14th birthday, if memory serves. My family was doing our tradition family thing for my birthday, which consisted of dinner at a fancy restaurant and a movie. (Let’s see…14th birthday…would have been 1991…the movie was The Rocketeer.) Yes, I know, some of you big city folks are probably scoffing at me thinking that Red Lobster is a “fancy restaurant.” Well, when normal dining consists of 1 of 3 local truck stops, trust me, Red Lobster is fancy. At the time, Red Lobster was serving this promotional drink called a “Typhoon,” and my Dad ordered one. It came in a collector’s glass, featuring a red lobster holding onto a palm tree in a typhoon. My Dad drank it and I quenched my thirst with a Coke. The usual birthday dinner went without a hitch, and then the waiter found out it was my birthday, so along came the usual family restaurant embarrassment of a free piece of cake and all the waitrons singing “Happy Birthday.” When they all left and I stopped blushing, that’s when my Dad gave me his empty Typhoon glass. He said that it was rightfully mine, because it was my birthday.

My first deck of cards is one featuring characters from Batman: The Animated Series. It was summer, and my family was visiting my grandparents in Lacombe. The women-folk had to step out for a moment, and I was left to my own devices. My brother wasn’t along, he had to work or something like that, and my Dad and Grandpa have always been able to talk about the old days on the farm. So, I was left to stare out the window. When my mother, sister and Grandma returned, my sister had bought something for us to pass the time. It was a three-pack of decks of cards: a Garfield deck, a dinosaurs deck, and the Batman deck. “Why did you get this?” I asked my sister. “Well,” she said, “There’s Garfield for me, Batman for you, and well, we can always use another deck.” We spent the rest of that afternoon playing cards.

My second beer glass is actually a beer mug. It’s got the Molson Export logo on it. One summer day, about 10 years ago, my mother finally got my father to do something about his huge collection of beer mugs that was starting to clutter up the top shelves of the kitchen. So, Dad spent the afternoon taking down those mugs and boxing them up, with the idea he’d stick them under his workbench in the garage. As Dad was taking them all down and washing them up, I was looking over them. For some reason, I really took to that Molson Export one. I don’t remember why. I just thought it was cool. I started asking Dad a hundred questions on it. Finally, when Dad was done boxing up all his mugs, he gave it to me. “You like it so much, take it,” he said. So I did.

I’ve got another beer mug. It’s one of those ones that’s made to look like it was made out of a jar. I got that one on my 18th birthday. My aunt has been the manager of the Lacombe Liquor Store since the ALCB days. And so, what’s the customary birthday present when you turn 18? Booze, of course. So, my aunt dropped in with a Seagram’s gift basket, of which the mug was one of things inside.

There are my Star Wars: Episode I playing cards. Those were stuffed into my Easter basket in the spring of 2000. Getting those cards was an unpleasant experience. My birthday and Easter tend to be the two days where I get all moody and introspective. My birthday I understand, but I’m not so sure why Easter. Maybe it has something to do with being in my twenties and the Easter bunny still brings me a basket of chocolate. After the big hunt for the Easter baskets was done, I retreated to my room to sulk. My Mom came down to see what was wrong, and I started carrying on about living in my parents’s basement, getting an Easter basket, and the general pathetic-ness of it all. My mother just nodded, and finally said, “It’s Easter. It’s OK to act like a kid on this day.” That cheered me up a little, so I started eating my chocolate bunny.

My favorite beer glass has to be souvenir one from Planet Hollywood in West Edmonton Mall. It’s really notable in that the West Edmonton Mall Planet Hollywood doesn’t exist any more. When Planet Hollywood declared bankruptcy in 1999, the one in Edmonton was the first to close its doors. I only ate their once — on my birthday — but that’s not how I got the glass. It was the 1997/1998 school year, my third at Augustana. My beloved radio station was being run by Kirsten Hainstock and Erik Bjorgan. But, shortly after Kier took over at the start of the year, she fell ill, and had a lot of trouble running the station. Rather than step to the fore, Erik started distancing himself from her administration. Being the dedicated DJ that I was, I soldiered on as best I could, doing what I could to keep the station afloat. When Kier finally started feeling better around the end of February, she asked me to take over as her second-in-command, so the year wouldn’t be a total loss. I did what I could, organizing the station’s only event, “The Titanic Evening of Pirate Radio,” a huge free-for-all bringing together as many of the station’s talents who were still interested. (The name, incidentally, was proposed by Brad Goertz, who wasn’t my arch-enemy yet. “Titanic‘s huge right now! We’ve got to name this after Titanic so we’ll cash in!” was how his proposal went.) The broadcast year went out somewhat with a bang, and to reward me, Kier promised to buy me supper at Planet Hollywood someday. Well, the school year ended, and she never took me out. But, that fall, with my bid to run the station having failed (the job went to Erik), and Kier and I just too busy with out studies, it looked like our trip to Planet Hollywood wasn’t going to happen. Then, one October eve, there was a knock on my door. It was Kier, and she was telling me how, over the Thanksgiving break, she went to Planet Hollywood, and since it looked like we’d never go together, she bought me a little something. It was the Planet Hollywood beer glass.

My X-Men playing cards were given to me at the premiere of X-Men in July 2000. A bunch of us were planning on getting together and stand in line for hours on end for it, as sort of the 1-year reunion of our Episode I wait. It was soon brought to my attention that there was going to be a midnight showing at Silver City in West Edmonton Mall. So, I rallied the troops. I even went so far as to phone people. So, on Thursday, July 13th, I showed up at West Edmonton Mall in the early afternoon to stake my place in line for X-Men. The evening soon came, and my friends soon started gathering around, but there was one certain best friend I was keeping my eyes open for: Chuck. He finally showed up at around 10 PM, with L and his little sister in tow. After I finished giving Chuck perhaps the biggest hug I’d ever given him, I greeted L. As I began giving them their tickets (first one in line is always the one who buys the tickets), L said she had something for me. She made a bit of a ceremony of it, and presented me with the deck of X-Men playing cards. I don’t quite remember the ceremony, so I don’t quite remember why she gave them to me. I would ask her, but I doubt she’d remember why, too. I mean, out of all my friends, I’m fairly certain that I’m the only one who makes note of every insignificant happenstance in the hopes it’ll make an interesting story someday. I guess she gave it to me simply because we’re friends, and in the end, those are the coolest kinds of presents.

My final beer glass is a simple, plain, glass. It has no fancy logos or anything on it. It just as a simple white line around the rim, and the initials “ALCB.” I got this one near the end of the summer of 1997. Our neighbor Ethel had been in an old folks home for some time, and as caretakers of her property, we got her permission to sell off a lot of her old junk at one huge garage sale. When we started taking inventory of all her stuff, we found, buried deep in the back of a shack on her property, dozens of these beer glasses. I asked my Dad what the significance of the ALCB was. Dad told me that, many years ago when the Alberta Liquor Control Board still controlled the flow of booze in the province, that these glasses where the official, government-approved glasses for bars. One of these glasses, filled to the little white line on the rim, was the legal serving that a bar could sell. How Ethel got her hands on so many was, well, many years ago, she had a reputation. So, I took all those glasses home, ran them through the dishwasher to get them all shiny, and we sold them at the garage sale for fifty cents each. When our garage sale was all done, Dad said that most of the unsold stuff would probably get taken to the dump but, because I had been such a big help, I could pick out anything I wanted and take it for free. I chose one of those beer glasses.

As I look over my collection, I can’t help but notice the similarity that ties them all together: they were all gifts. I have them because people thought of me when they saw them. Why a deck of cards or a beer glass would make people think of me, I’m not sure. But the point is, they did. What did someone say once? What gives an object significance isn’t what it is, but who gave it to you. So, until the day I manage to invite my friends over for a beer and talk them all into playing a round of strip poker, they will hold their status as tangible memories.

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