IT WAS A GRAY, spitting day before press deadline, so as usual the editorial staff was assiduously exploring all mission-noncritical pastimes. Surplus furniture was unscrewed with sharpened dimes and sarcastically reassembled; back issues were folded into thick, floppy airplanes that carpet bombed the sidewalk below with contrails of our 60/40. Art Director Scrappers, easily the most beleaguered one of us during the blue mile*, was in a state: A major advertiser had just dumped his "ad layout" (a shoebox full of Post-its and undeveloped film) on the receptionist's desk, with a puff of Nat Sherman and the instructions, "Make me money!" Sensing the poor fellow's anxiety, I took him for a pep walk down by the railroad tracks that run through the alley behind the office, slipping a pewter flagon of Liquid News out of my desk and into my chest pocket.
"Look at us, old man," I said, throwing my arm around him and proffering the dram. "Just like Hearst and Irwin, we'll get it done in the darkest of times, in the truest of old ways."
Scrappers looked sidelong at the flask, then took it in one of his thin, tired hands. We caught our reflection in a windowpane, he in his green eyeshade visor and me in the trilby with the floppy brim that helps waft food aromas up into my nose.
"We could be from 100 years ago," he muttered, taking a polite nip. "You'd think we'd have found a better way to get this job done."
I took the flask from him as we walked, and exacted my agent's cut. "A hundred years ago, indeed!" I cried, kicking at a patch of gravel.
Suddenly, the heel of my boot caught on something and I tripped, toppling headlong into an artless tangle of busted pallets and impromptu invective. Scrappers, true to his artist's nature, let me find my own feet while he stooped down to explore the curious source of my indignity.
"Some kind of handle," he said, gingerly brushing the pea gravel away with those fingers of his. He gripped what he could and tried to wiggle it; like that sword in the stone, it gave not at all.
An hour later we'd unearthed a half-foot of what looked to be a big antique milk pail, the size of a cooler, well preserved in the clay soil. He began to work the lid loose, tapping around its edges with a rusty rail spike, like you do with a stubborn jar of preserves. I watched with the rapt attention of an archaeological student on a field dig, and carefully held my nose when he finally worked the thing loose.
It gave a pleasing pneumatic "thup" as it sucked in a bit of air. Scrappers began to roll up his shirtsleeve for spelunking.
"Are you crazy, man?" I yelled. "Careful!"
"Careful, what?" he replied, unconcerned. "This thing's as still as a tomb."
"It... it's been underground, man!" I reminded him. "Rat babies! CHUDs! A spider king!"
Slowly, carefully, he lifted something out. It looked like a toilet handle.
"Guess I'll hold on to that 401k," I grumbled, disappointed in whoever had thought to hide this here. He continued fishing.
"Here's an inventory slip!" he said excitedly. "It's... a time capsule! From Mercury writers in 1913!"
"It explains all the stuff in here," he continued, beginning to read aloud. "'Items of Legend Procured in Haste, or, in Instances, Through Unobserved Thievery, During a Well-Lubricated Rabble Rouse, Thursday, February 27, 1913.'"
"Sounds like they all got smart on spiked canary and reverse-engineered a scavenger hunt. What's it say about this stupid toilet handle?" I asked.
He found its place on the sheet. "Here we present to you the handle J. Mikolos Diniakis removed from the commode at his pipsqueak bar Agamemnon's Palace, to discourage men from getting up and moving their posterior bowel while drinking. The men, indifferent to its absence, have made Agamemnon's Palace a place to avoid.'"
"Hah! And what about this big key?"
"'We found this thing stuck in the front door of a church, and were so moved by the symbolism of its ability to bring man closer to Truth, we decided to pop a few bottles with it as well,'" read Scrappers.
I took the paper and began to read the neat, slanted penmanship that even questionable people used to know how to make.
"'Wooden rose balustrade finial, formerly properly of the Legion of Pride saloon, where we stopped for sidecars and roasted nuts.' 'Oil-can bitters dispenser, lifted from Tom Seaver, peerless and inventive barman of the Altivar.' 'Sea lion tusk, (1), used to scrape vanilla beans for the Tahitian Curl, a specialty of the Whistle Club.'"
He held up a blue and red pennant. "Says here that's actually a 'bone luge' bib," I marveled.
"Huh," he mused. "I thought the bone luge was our generation's sole contribution to cocktail culture."
"We should fill this thing back up!" I suggested, getting bright. "Drinking artifacts from 2013... for 2113!"
Scrappers' face went sour. "I doubt we have anything this cool lying around the office," he said, turning an old aluminum can over in his hands.
"What about that empty magnum of Krug we spit the watermelon seeds into during meetings? We could bury that."
"I think that would technically just be littering," he reasoned. "Why don't we have the staff write up a 'Drinkers' State of the Union'? They seem to want to write anything but news."
"Fair enough," I said. "Besides, we should hold onto that magnum. I think it's starting to ferment."
So here you have it, citizens of Portland 2113, or whoever digs up this time capsule first: a broad assessment of our local beer, wine, and spirits culture, written by those who hold the subject perhaps a bit too dearly. This is what we buy, who's behind it, who shakes and stirs it, and also a fairly long piece by a guy who was tasked with getting drunk at places near the office. Poor fellow. The rest of us didn't have to go anywhere.
* An old printers' term for the final stretch before press plate etching, when "blue-line" proofs are gone over with a jeweler loupe, a warm quart of Old Postman, and a steadily unraveling moral fabric.