Learning to do it myself

by Eric Ginsburg

By now I was supposed to be in the NBA, but somewhere along the way the dream was deferred. The words of Langston Hughes’ classic poem, which I memorized as a kid, don’t get to the heart of what happened.

In reality my dreams of stardom disappeared when they squared off against basketball tryouts intense enough to make multiple students throw up. Nobody was going to make me puke while running suicides, so I switched to ultimate Frisbee.

Dorm rooms aren’t exactly designed with band practice in mind, so after years of drum lessons and a handful of bands, I left my set at home with my parents when college began.

I recorded an EP with my band over one break, but for the most part my Tama Rock Star drum kit sat idle collecting dust. When my parents moved, I decided to sell it because this dream too, had dried up “like a raisin in the sun.”

With age my priorities had changed. I still occasionally joke about starting a band, and if anyone took me seriously I might find a way to make it work. While I would gladly play basketball more often, I’m hardly even ready to play a regulation-length game against my friends.

Dorm rooms aren’t designed with band practice in mind, so after years of drum lessons and a handful of bands, I left my set at home with my parents when college began.

Someone recently asked me what I wish I was better at, but my response didn’t include bemoaning my lack of musical or athletic prowess and activity. Instead, it’s made me reflect on some of my goals and the specific skills I want to acquire.

Since graduating college, I’ve made annual lists of the things I want to consider or accomplish. The range is significant, including a desired trip to Nicaragua or Israel and taking a class at Duke’s Center for Documentary Studies. It is also filled with skills, like learning how to homebrew, shoot guns, speak Spanish and cook more meals.

Stuck in an academic mindset, I make the lists at the end of the summer, and so far this year has been a natural mix of success and failure.

As anyone who lived with me in college who looks at my kitchen now will tell you, I’ve come a long way. Far enough to not only have a folder of recipes, but use it regularly. To own a cookbook, feel comfortable with minor experimentation and to be confident enough to share my creations with other people.

Since making the list in August I’ve also been to Calibers indoor range three times, thanks to a friend with a membership and his patient mentorship. Growing up my parents tried to steer me away from Super Soakers and Ninja Turtles, so unlike some of my friends who bonded with their fathers over guns and hunting, these were the only three times I’ve held a loaded gun.

There have been disappointments as well. Though I didn’t ever have high hopes that my intention to exercise regularly would become manifest, I was serious about trying to homebrew some hard apple cider.

In college I learned how to make wine; in fact, I got credit for it through

the Terroir: the Science of Wine class at Guilford College. I’ve helped homebrew hard cider a few times and toured the Red Oak Brewery among others, so I figured it shouldn’t be too hard.

After scoring a free five-gallon plastic brewing container and a few other remnants of a homebrew kit, I bought the other necessary ingredients, followed a recipe and let the mixture sit. A few weeks later with little sign of fermentation, I cautiously tasted my first attempt before pouring the entire thing down my shower drain.

I talked to people about what I must have done wrong. We quickly realized I hadn’t done enough to sterilize the equipment, shouldn’t have used a plastic carboy and should try dissolving the sugar and yeast better before adding it all in and capping it with an airlock.

After about a year of waiting I was ready to try again. With champagne yeast and a smaller, one-gallon glass container from the always-friendly folks at Triad Homebrew, I felt prepared.

Instead of waiting a few weeks before real izing the process failed, I knew even before I had all the ingredients in the carboy that I had messed up yet again. Despite meticulously cleaning everything with bleach and trying to follow the recipe, I forgot to let the heated apple juice with dissolved sugar cool before adding the yeast.

After a few days and no bubbles in sight (the clearest sign of fermentation) I opted to try a new pack of yeast before chucking the whole thing. At just over $2 a pop, a packet of champagne yeast seemed worth the risk.

And now, I wait. The amber-colored blend sits in its container in a corner of my room, covered to keep it a few degrees warmer than my apartment. In a few days I’ll know if it was all for naught again, but even if I’ve failed I intend to keep trying.

My basketball and rock-star daydreams may have passed, but the more reasonable aspirations are harder to let go. Instead of going it alone I’ll try with a friend, because the third time’s a charm, and how hard can it really be?