It was 10 years ago and I had just graduated from NYU and returned to Colorado for one of my brothers' high school graduations. Seeing my immediate family excited me, but seeing my grandparents, uncles, and aunts really got me going. I knew they didn't have the time, money, or patience to fly to NYU for my graduation, so my brother and I kind of threw a joint graduation party.
My mom told me one day we'd all go to the Coors Brewery about an hour from our house. This was my chance. Back then, I fancied myself a big-time drinker. I still do, but now I don't see the need to brag to passersby about how wasted I can get.
"Why don't you bleach blond your hair again there, Pretty Boy?" my grandpa said. "I'm getting another one of these tasty concoctions."Besides seeing my middle bro collect his diploma, I really wanted to snap a photo of my grandpa, uncles, dad, brother (using a fake ID he stole from me), and myself. Three generations of Freemans sipping beers together. This would be one for the mantelpiece. A manly memory forever. Maybe the manliest.
Grandpa would tell us stories about WWII and flying airplanes for the Marine Corps in Guadalcanal. My dad might do the same about flying helicopters for the Marines in Vietnam. My uncle could inform us about kicking ass and forgetting names as a prison guard. I might be able to instruct them on, um, how to do the 200 butterfly in a swim meet. So my thing wouldn't be as macho, but maybe some of theirs would rub off on me.
Naturally, I picked up a new disposable camera. (Remember, this was a decade ago and I was still a poor, recently-graduated college kid.)
We drove off in a column of pickup trucks and SUVs. I wore my boots and my "KC" belt buckle. Each guy beside me carried a pocket knife. I couldn't remember where I put mine because I never seem to need it, but they could always find a use for a blade: cutting apart an apple, killing a newly-caught trout, or picking their teeth. Total testosterone.
We arrived at the Castle de Coors. I felt my testicles surge with power. We walked through and my family joked about how crappy the beer would be. The tour actually entertained us, even though the men kept asking when all the free malt refreshments would show up. Our guide obviously dealt with this type of heckling eight hours a day, but I still admired him.
Finally, our lesson about the brewing process ended and sample time started. I checked out the lighting, surroundings, and seating arrangements for the perfect snapshot. I didn't want to sound like a wuss and explain this, but I thought in a few years we'd all look back at this awesome photo with nothing but thanks and astonishment for my planning.
We waited in line. "Do you like Coors Light or Coors OG? I'm more of a 40-ounce malt liquor man, but I can do either," I said with my deepest voice possible. All these near Neanderthals and me in a bar waiting for beer. I couldn't be happier.
Then it happened.
My dad jabbed my uncle with his thumb and pointed to something. "What's that stuff? Zima? It looks like Sprite."
"Oh no, Dad. That's for girls."
"Oh what the hell? It's free, let's all give it a shot."
"No, Dad. Seriously. You lose your man card for that."
"KC, you have a girl name. Shut up about man cards," my dad chuckled. "Can my father, brothers, and I order those Zima things, please? And my dipshit son will probably take a regular beer."
"Dad, c'mon. You don't want that."
"What I want is for your flapping jaw to stop flapping, or I'm going to spoil all the dentistry I worked overtime for."
The bartender came out with four Zimas and a Coors Light. I figured maybe after they found out how gross and girly their beverages were, they'd come to their senses and I could finally capture this moment in maleness.
I watched in anguish as all my direct male bloodline drank these ladylike libations and considered telling them to put Jolly Ranchers in their glasses for a more rainbow color.
Then the horror grew worse.
"Wow! These are awesome!" my ex-prison guard uncle shouted. "I could get on board with these."
"You know, after a long day of gardening and pruning and filling up hummingbird feeders, this would really hit the spot," my dad informed everybody.
"My allergies really get me in the summer, so this would be a nice change from beer," my grandpa said. "I wish they invented this stuff during Dubya-Dubya Big One. It would have made my stay much nicer."
"Guys! Get a hold of yourselves here!" I cried. "Only little kids and chicks drink this!"
"Who are you calling a little chick?" the toughest tough from California State Prison erupted.
"How about this, my dear KC," Dad snapped. "This stuff has an alcohol percentage of 10 percent, while your beer is barely above five. So we're doing more damage than you."
"But it's fucking Zima!" I whined.
"Why don't you bleach blond your hair again there, Pretty Boy?" my grandpa said as he strolled up to the taps. "I'm getting another one of these tasty concoctions. Do you sell these things in California? If you don't, I'm buying a case of them right here and bringing them back."
I sulked in the corner and read some history of Coors. I cursed the day they developed "Zomething Zifferent." I wondered why the universe, the Lord, or humanity in general decided to humiliate as well as punish me. I pinched myself hoping this nightmare would end. It didn't. Worse things happened.
"KC, you know I don't believe in drinking and driving. We all drank two of those amazing Zimas, but we're going to wait around for the booze to wear off a bit. Gramps, my brothers and I think we'll check out that outlet mall nearby. I'd let you drive, but you're still an idiot."
I never took the coolest photo of three generations of Freemans drinking pints of beer together. I never looked at my family the same again. And I never hated a drink more than Zima.