The Lowenbrau Classic
column by Roger Pires
The French called it “paille-maille.” In the days of kings and conquest, the aristocracy would gather in feathered hats and layered dresses to sweat out summer mornings whacking a little wooden ball around a lawn with a mallet. Their colonial rivals took a shine to this genteel pastime and imported it across the channel to England. The subjects of Charles II added hoops as targets and changed the name to “croquet”. With the creation of the All England Croquet Club a couple of centuries later, the high-society hobby became an official sport in the realm of Queen Victoria.
Along with herbal tea and after-dinner gossip, croquet is a Victorian tradition that has survived into the age of emogees and androids. Getting today’s youth to buy into it, however, is a hard sell. As far as I know, iPhones don’t come with a croquet app; and according to my son, the guru of gaming, Xbox is yet to debut a version of “Croquet Ninja Killfest 2017”.
This past fall, a croquet set made it into my catalogue of diversions courtesy of a local yard sale. My kids have concluded I’m a bit of a museum piece. I always come to the defense of every quirk and nuance from bygone days (although I’m finding it harder to justify bell bottoms and I’ve tried, unsuccessfully, to convince them that disco was a communist plot). So when I gathered everyone around to make my pitch for croquet as the official pastime of the Pires family, they knew what was coming. Buckle up. Dad’s about to deliver one of his patented “when I was young, the sky was a different shade of blue” stories. I would attempt to charm my little hostages with the tale of the Lowenbrau Classic.
My introduction to the grand ole game took place in Belleville. In those days long, feathered hair and skin tight jeans were all the rage. Same for the girls. My buddy and I would head down the 401 to hang out with a group of college friends. There were two Robs, two Daves, two Mikes, and myself. You see kids, back in the era of Camelot and the Space Race, our parents didn’t exactly go out on a limb when naming their children. With the name “Roger”, I could’ve joined the circus and pitched my tent beside the bearded lady.
We nicknamed one of the Robs, “Trojan” (“Troj” for short). He was a member of the feared Moira Trojans high school football team. In the early 80s, the Trojans unleashed a reign of terror throughout Prince Edward County. Their withering physical presence was led by our buddy who in his senior year was 6’3” and weighed in at a svelte 250.
Our gang of reprobates spent many Saturday afternoons playing croquet, mallet in one hand, beverage in the other. A few years had passed since high school and Troj was now on the wrong side of 300 lbs. In his massive mitts, a croquet mallet looked like a toothpick jabbing a cocktail wiener; equal doses scary and comical. Troj was in sales so, like all good pitchmen, he suggested we turn the mundane into the exotic. “Every good tournament should have a sponsor”, he bellowed. The rest of us would’ve laughed him out of Belleville but this was Troj and we had all been gifted with a strong sense of self-preservation. “That’s a great idea, big guy!”
That afternoon, we crammed into his Toyota Celica (a man-mountain shoe-horned into a subcompact: another case of scary but comical) and whipped down to the local beer store to recruit our first sponsor. After squeezing through the sliding doors, he bellied up to the counter and launched into an oration of dazzling rhetoric. He turned a mob of sweaty weekend warriors playing croquet on a half-dead lawn in the middle of a subdivision into a building block to world peace. The big guy could really wow ‘em with a line. Of course, being built like an aircraft carrier and having Darth Vader’s skull-rattling baritone probably helped pad his sales figures over the years.
The quivering attendant behind the counter disappeared into the back, probably wishing he’d taken his mother’s advice to become a doctor. He blew the dust off a couple of cases of Lowenbrau that were seconds from their expiry date, and donated them to the hulking mass who darkened the storefront before him. On our way home, Troj ordered T-shirts from the local Biway – with which he had a special “arrangement” – and had a sign made up. And thus the “Lowenbrau Classic” was born – the love child of irreverent youth and skunky pilsener.
When I had finished my swashbuckling tale of lawn sports and derring-do, I surveyed the expressions of those around me. I thought I was looking into the faces of those statues on Easter Island. Croquet was still as popular as a Helen Reddy box set. I don’t think even Troj, redoubtable giant and spinner of yarns extraordinaire, could sway this crowd.