Since I’m on my second already I am now going to tell you why Budweiser has been my favorite beer since before I could legally buy it, and why it will be my favorite for the rest of my days.
Long story short: Because of the first time I drank it. At 17.
Short story long: At the time I worked at Hunter’s Bookstore on Rodeo Drive in Beverly Hills, and I did so with just about the most eclectic group of people one could every work for.
Top to bottom there was Larry Todd, the store manager, a buttoned up gay man with a distinct southern accent who from his upstairs office literally lorded over every one under him.
In the middle on the store floor there were the sales people. Most memorably Margo, a 6-foot-tall beautiful Black Queen with a tightly coiffed afro who was terribly sweet and had a huge fixation with James Dean. Counter to Margo’s infectious personality and energy was Suzanna, an elderly German woman — terribly dour — who looked sideways at everything and everyone, and barked orders from a mouth that never was without a lit cigarette dangling from it.
On the bottom was where I was, working in the basement as a stock clerk. We called it the dungeon. We were managed by Barry, a middle-aged guy from Manhattan Beach, and I worked there with Arthur, who let a giant walrus mustache live between his nose and upper lip and favored any type of clothing as long as it was from Joseph A. Bank. He was in charge of the returns section (unsold stock sent back to various publishers for credit).
Side note about how I once gave Arthur hope for the future. One day down in the dungeon he overheard me talking to Manuel about one of my favorite classical musical pieces, namely Mendelsohn’s “Italian” symphony, to which I’d been introduced by my mother back when I was in the 7th grade and had listened to scores of times.Arthur who overheard me came out and said he was very familiar with the symphony and thought I was full of bullshit as to how a punk like me could be familiar with anything that wasn’t the junk on the radio. Despite my efforts to convince him otherwise it finally came down to him telling me to prove it by singing the first movement until he said stop. So I did, and about a minute in he said stop but I kept on going anyway. And dang if he didn’t get a little overjoyed — not by my singing voice — but by a punk kid like me being intricately familiar with something he didn’t think anybody my age new about, much less had committed to memory.
Back to the roll call: Arthur’s assistant was Wiley, a hulking Black man of few words if none at all, who had a thing for powdered donuts and an even bigger thing for never wiping the leftover powder that would accumulate at the corners of his mouth. I worked directly with Manuel, a 20-something guitarist extraordinaire who I think thought he was the reincarnation of Jimmy Hendrix, and there was Michael an aspiring actor from New York who came west to make it big and had unfortunately subjected himself to Dr. Bosley’s hair transplant process that left him with a line of hair plugs across his forehead that never seemed to grow or fill in. There were a number of other stock clerks who came and went over the time I worked there through to graduation, some just moved on, some graduated to the sales floor, but their names escape me.
Last but not least was the unofficial heartbeat of Hunter’s: Reggie, who worked in shipping and kept everything that was going in, coming in, and everything that was going out, going out. Reggie was a four-foot-nothing very hyper and proudly gay Black man who was always busy, always ultra-polite, always sincere in wanting to know how you were doing, and whether it was his mouth or his body, or both, was always moving very very fast, and always spoke very crisply and articulated every syllable.
And he always called me “Douglas,” not Doug (I went by my middle name back then in honor of my mother’s brother, and in protest against my deadbeat father for whom I was first-named). I really liked Reggie.
PS. He was on a first name relationship with Barbara Stanwyck (though he always called her Miss Stanwyck) who about once a month would come down the alley to the back door with a list of titles that he would then pull and put on her account and she would come back the next day and pick up.
True story tangent: In the summer of 1982 when I had come back from lunch one day through the back door and my jaw dropped at finding Miss Stanwyck there handing off a list to Reggie, it hadn’t been long before that my favorite actor Henry Fonda (of who I knew Stanwyck was his dear friend) had published his memoir. I asked Reggie what he thought about me asking Stanwyck if it might be possible to have Fonda autograph my copy of his book and he assured me she’d be delighted and would get me on her next visit. So the next time she came by, Reggie called me up from the basement and I tore up the spiral staircase from the dungeon with my worn copy of the Fonda’s autobiography, “My Life,” insisting to her that I didn’t want to be any trouble. So gracious, she insisted it would be no trouble at all and took the book from me. On her next visit she made a point of telling Reggie to tell me that she was trying, but that Fonda had been very ill. Two weeks after that Henry Fonda died, and a short while later Reggie called me up to give me back my unsigned book that Miss Stanwyck had dropped off with her apologies and condolences. What a classy lady.
Onward to the point of this deathless tale: Reggie is the direct reason Budweiser is my favorite beer. One day Reggie came down to the dungeon and told us that Larry Todd had given him permission to use the store van to take his broken fridge to get it repaired and he was hoping some of us would be willing to help him. He said it wasn’t broken in the typical fashion, instead the refrigerator section was working too well and freezing practically everything. I didn’t have anything better to do so I volunteered along with Wiley and Manuel and after work together we traveled in the van over to his West Hollywood apartment with a broken elevator and after emptying it out, manhandled his fridge down four flights of stairs and into the van. Carrying a six-pack of Budweiser, Reggie climbed into the driver seat for the trip back to Hunter’s to drop us off, and he handed us bottles that felt frozen. Thanking us effusively he said he couldn’t let such cold brews go undrunk. But as I was four years south of the legal drinking age I looked at the ice-cold bottle that was practically freeze-burning my hand to see if anyone was going to object and no one did. Reggie saw my hesitation and said “Go on. You earned it.”Sweaty and tired in the back of that hot van, I twisted the cap off took a swig and what hit my throat was the coldest best tasting most beautiful and satisfying beer I’d ever had and will ever have. I drank the rest of the bottle on my second chug and its coolness radiated through me like internal air-conditioning. It was euphoria in a bottle.
And that’s the story of why Budweiser is, was, and always will be my favorite beer.