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  • Writer's pictureLaura McBride

Training beer

Near Beer, also known as 3.2 beer. Blech!

("Tourtel Nearbeer" by KVDP - Own work. Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons -

When I was twelve, and just beginning to get obvious “lady parts,” bra companies made things called training bras. Naturally, I had to have one. Naturally, my indulgent grandmother bought it for me. Naturally, I left it, still in its box, in public view. And naturally, my little brother grabbed it and went running through my grandmother's house amidst all the gathered aunts, uncles, cousins and friends, yelling, “Laura got her bumps.”

Possibly from this small sampling, you can tell that I had no need whatsoever of embarrassing moments beyond those provided by my brother to encourage a bit of toughness. I'd like to say that has all come to an end, but I'd be lying through my teeth.

I once told the training bra story to husband number two, the miserable one, and his response was, “What were they being trained to do?” Stupid remark. Of course.

I doubt I've told my current husband; some ghosts of the past can just go haunt elsewhere. But I did mention, last evening, training beer.

“Training beer?”

He's a Brit. They can drink in pubs at 18, probably younger when he was young. Those who are 16 and 17 can still drink in pubs as long as the libations are bought by and consumed in the presence of parents or responsible adults. At home, you can legally give alcohol to kids over five. Sensible, I think. We always had a spoonful of brandy in our egg nog at Christmas in the adolescent years. I don't know if it was legal in the US then or not; it isn't now. Thankfully, my parents thought the place to learn to drink like a decent human being was at home. (I guess that might not have worked so well had they been boozers....)

So, anyway....Simon had never heard of 3.2 beer.

Training beer. Beer with an alcoholic content of 3.2 percent, half that of the very weakest wine. It didn't exist in New York state when I was growing up; the legal drinking age for whatever poison you chose was 18, so it really wasn't high on anyone's list of money-making endeavours to provide a variety of “near beer.” In most of the rest of the country—another 49 clueless states—the drinking age was 21. In the city of Chicago, it was 25.

In some semi-enlightened states, of which Missouri was one, it was legal to drink 3.2 beer between ages 18 and 21. And, as it happened, I was invited, the year I was 19, to a Homecoming at Southeast Missouri State College in Cape Girardeau.

Needless to say, having been born with wanderlust, I wanted to go and the parental units OKed it, as long as I bought the plane ticket. No problem; I was working at a resort restaurant that summer earning lots of tips.

Why did I want to go from cosmopolitan New York to hick-ridden Missouri? It wasn't, I assure you, because it was a Homecoming, the weekend of a big football game, a couple of concerts and a formal dance. I loathed football and, since the university I went to was stringently academic in those days and didn't have a football team, I had never actually attended a game. I figured I would live through it, though. Knowing I would be presented with a lovely corsage to pin to the dress suit—yes, they DRESSED for football—might have helped. (Nah.)

I sort of wanted to see The New Christy Minstrels perform, although, being close to NYC, my school got lots better acts than that for its celebratory weekends. But the formal dance was attractive, as I needed places to wear the swell cocktail-length black dress with a slit between the boobs that my mother and I had chosen and my father had screamed about. And I sort of liked the boy who invited me, having dated him during summer break at home, and found he wasn't too objectionable.

But the real draw was Cape Girardeau. One of the many Mississippi River towns Mark Twain floated past when he worked the river boats in the 1880s, it had, he noted in his book Life on the Mississippi, a “handsome appearance.” That was sufficient for me to want to see it; who knew when I would ever have a chance to look upon a Midwestern town upon which a literary great had glanced? It was enough, and more than enough.

I liked Cape Girardeau. The Homecoming weekend was in mid-October, and I wasn't due back at school until the Monday after it, amazingly enough. (We had a weird schedule). It was warm the whole weekend, and mainly sunny. Two girlfriends of my boyfriend's fraternity brothers took me shopping and sightseeing on the Friday: I had flown to St. Louis on Thursday and taken a Greyhound Bus south, lugging huge suitcases, one of which contained my sort-of boyfriend's high school letter jacket, apparently a necessity if one were a frat boy in the semi-South.

The weekend, though, was a bust. I hated the football game; I hated the touch football game before the barbecue Friday night almost as much. Maybe it was because I didn't own any madras Bermuda shorts; at my school, it was raggy jeans and the Bohemian affect. So I felt less than properly preppy.

But mainly, I think it was the anorexia and the 3.2 beer. I had never heard of either one before, and I never did again. I was astonished at the bevy of girls, dressed to kill, eating and drinking and then hugging the porcelain Honda, brushing their teeth, and going back to the dance floor to drink amber water that did no more than make me pee. No, thanks.

So no, one way or another, I don't think training beer was a very successful product. I have never heard that there is less drunken behaviour in former 3.2 states than in New York.

I think, actually, 3.2 beer was about as useful as a 28-inch AAAAAA cup training bra, and offered about the same appeal.

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