Jeremiah prepared his large open-concept apartment for tonight’s party. To make room for at least ten thousand people, he pushed the sofa against the wall. Yes, yes: he checked again and the numbers were sound — ten thousand people drinking an average of five beers each over three hours would yield $5,000. He could use the dough. That suit from Sydney’s being fitted cost something and the Beamer needed fixing.
Jeremiah had thousands of friends in the city, and not a single one knew what he did for a living. Evading this question wasn’t a high-wire act fraught with danger — he made a game of it, never repeating the same story. His guests, all wanting to appear intimate and familiar with the popular host, raved to each other about Jeremiah’s skill as a carpenter, bagman, lawyer, loan shark, architect, luxury toy maker, grade-four teacher, grade-five teacher, Deep Web hacker, stock trader, arborist, city planner, mob boss, gestalt psychologist, pilot.
When occasionally confronted by two people with conflicting reports of his livelihood they asked him, “Well what is it, are you a chef or a museum curator?” Jeremiah laughed and responded, both and none. “I dabbled in pizza slinging during the Tutankhamen exhibit, but currently I’m writing a long-feature for The Walrus about my time covering Iraq. Please, fellas, drink some more beer!” Everyone readily believed him because his aura of eccentric mystery jived with the outsized parties, and more than that, everybody really wanted to. The key thing was to slyly nudge them to drink more beer.
Jeremiah’s sole source of income, his actual profession, was luring masses of people to his BYOB parties held in his apartment, so he could redeem their empties. To get the rubes in the door, Jeremiah baited them with music and fun. It wasn’t hard. Everybody wanted to be at the huge parties with the city’s best eats and beats. That these DJs and chefs were in fact Toronto’s best was confirmed because Jeremiah had hired them. Even though Jeremiah didn’t actually hire them: in return for launching their career they sponsored the party extravagantly, and would never dream of accepting payment from Jeremiah.
So everybody came.
Before long Jeremiah’s apartment was littered with precious empties, which he secured methodically throughout the party under the guise of tidying up. Once the guests no longer produced empties –once they were done drinking– their function in the ploy was over and their continued presence unnecessary: there was nothing else for them to do in Jeremiah’s apartment but leave it. These people returned each week, so much did they enjoy this scam.
Tactics were required. What looked on the surface to be merely ways to make parties more fun were really covert profit-boosting stratagems. Everyone loved the 80s and 90s-themed parties, but really they harkened back to youth when getting drunk meant drinking beer, and Jeremiah played on this pretext to quietly direct people towards bringing mostly beer. Hard liquor threatened his business; it got people very drunk but yielded only one returnable bottle. He frowned at it for years but never explicitly stated a ban. Until one night a few months ago.
In thanks for hosting these parties, a guest gave Jeremiah a bottle of Lagavulin single malt as a gift. This Dan, a quiet tactful man, managed to corner Jeremiah so the two could chat.
“Hi, Jeremiah. Nice to meet ya! You don’t know me. My name is Dan. Listen man, thanks for having me here tonight and, you know, like every week. Enjoy this with friends now, or drink it later. Whatever. Just again, thanks.” He proffered the scotch and a modest smile.
“You rotten son of a bitch,” replied Jeremiah. Inspired, he snatched Dan’s gift and stopped the music. Faces turned to Jeremiah in the silence.
“I live for beer! This is a god damn beer party! From now on all my parties are beer parties! Look at Dan over here,” he said, pointing to Dan. “He thought to bring hard liquor to my party. Let me prove how much I love beer by showing you all what I think of liquor. Watch!” Jeremiah took the bottle from its cardboard box, removed the seal and stopper and held it by the neck high above his head.
“What’s inside this bottle took 16 years to produce. Let’s see how quickly I can empty it.” With that he poured the scotch onto the floor (but safely stashed the bottle, to be returned later). As planned, this needless and flagrant waste of great scotch was taken as an authentic demonstration of Jeremiah’s love for beer. The partygoers applauded rapturously and took up the inventive chant, “Beer! Beer! Beer!”
Nobody ever brought hard liquor to another party again.
Things changed for Dan. At first he shuddered watching everybody cheer as the host wasted his expensive gift. He wondered what he did wrong. But this episode raised shy introverted Dan into a celebrity after it his important role in it was properly understood. Jeremiah couldn’t prove how much he really loved beer by spilling merely good scotch. Dan gave him the best. Jeremiah’s sacrifice needed to be valuable for the same reason God didn’t ask Abraham to only sacrifice a cousin.
Women and men congratulated Dan. He met a sweet smiley woman named Matilda and together they drank beer, fell in love, married, honeymooned in Cinque Terra. They would go on to raise three boys—a future track star, a west-end legend in bicycle repair, and a business mogul who, when he learned the details of his company’s exploitative operations, spent his personal money to fix the situation and travelled for three years in Uttarakhand’s Bandarpunch mountains to be mostly alone. Time here healed him, so he returned home to see Dan and Matilda, who rejoiced.
Dan and Matilda owed their life together to Jeremiah’s love for beer, as demonstrated by his legendary sacrifice of Dan’s scotch.
If decades from now you assembled the countless Torontonians who attended these parties and looked backwards to find the definitive moment of their lives, you would inevitably wind up back in Jeremiah’s apartment. His parties launched people in whatever direction they ended up. They weren’t just fun, they were nostalgia incarnate. So let’s return to tonight’s party, with Jeremiah in want of money for that suit from Sydney’s.
Thankfully Jeremiah just had two important breakthroughs. The thought of all the extra profit he missed out on for months by not having these breakthroughs earlier would have angered him, except he was delighted he had these breakthroughs now.
He stopped the music, instinctively and instantly reinserting the party goers into the identical stream of feeling they felt the night of the scotch sacrifice. Jeremiah sold his new demands to the primed crowd.
“Brothers and sisters! I have been struck by revelation: a more sacred form of drinking. Glass beer bottles disgust me, when there is simpler, cheaper packaging available. Let simplicity reign! Who needs fancy glass beer bottles? Long live the beer can!”
The rapt audience somehow knew to remain silent and let Jeremiah continue, avoiding that ugly moment in performances when audiences applaud before they should.
“But not just any beer cans, fellow partiers. The tallboy: the coarse American-style super-size tallboy. Its immodesty an insult against the dignity of regular-sized beer cans, which weren’t too small for our ancestors and certainly aren’t too small for me! Canada’s beer vessel is the regular-sized beer can! Nobody desecrate my home with tallboys, or glass beer bottles, ever again!”
Jeremiah began to hurl every bottle he could see against the wall, smashing them all to pieces. The guests plugged their ears for the roar of exploding glass, but laughed at the hilarious yet profound demonstration. Jeremiah knew he couldn’t redeem these smashed bottles, but justified the smashing as a sensible marketing expense, this loss of income essentially the cost of launching his new can-only campaign.
And it worked. The apartment was as filled with glass shards as the crowd was filled with enthusiasm for adopting these new rules. For them, anything but regular-sized beer cans was unholy. Of course the superficial charm of bottles was an insult against laudable simplicity! Of course tallboys were gaudy! How strange they never perceived this before.
Incidentally, crushed beer cans take up way less trunk space than glass bottles, while tallboy drinkers need fewer returnable cans to get drunk on. These changes to his parties more than quadrupled the Beamer’s trunk-to-profit ratio. Everyone was happy.
One night he overheard guests talking about environmental sustainability, a common enough topic in downtown Toronto. Someone mentioned a town in Southern Ontario, with a new Green government subsidy that offered not ten but fifteen cents per empty. The details were unclear, something about kick-starting a local recycling program. It sounded sketchy, but governments wasting tax dollars was hardly unprecedented, Jeremiah reasoned. 15 cents instead of 10. The thought of getting 50 percent more for each empty drove him wild. He began drawing schematics for the Big Haul that night.
Upon sober inspection, the numbers were surprisingly bleak. The Big Haul required renting a truck. Crushed cans might take up less physical space than intact ones but they weigh the same; carrying this added weight increased fuel costs. There was the time for driving, loading and unloading. Everything conspired to make the Big Haul financially less lucrative than he thought. He crunched the numbers again and again but to no avail. Still, he kept more and more bigger and bigger parties — a truck filled with such lucrative empties was just too alluring a fantasy to ignore.
Actually the fatal flaw was invisible. Jeremiah didn’t understand let alone account for the ire he aroused among his rival empties collectors. If he was asked, he’d say they had no reason to complain—they could still return the city’s discarded liquor bottles, beer bottles and tallboy cans. But they resented only getting the inefficient empties, Jeremiah’s crumbs, that he thought himself above. They couldn’t just watch while he single-handedly dominated their industry forever. Why should Jeremiah have everything? He was just a guy, not a god. And worst of all, they were the only ones not invited to his parties.
Eliminating the entrepreneurial empties collector destroying their livelihoods wasn’t going to be easy — he was surrounded at every party by thousands of loyal strangers. To get Jeremiah off his turf they assigned a couple plants to make sure Jeremiah overheard them talking about a town offering a much greater (but non-existent) rate per return. Of course Jeremiah couldn’t resist.
The day of the Big Haul was sunny with clear skies. Traffic was slight. Jeremiah was giddy. He sang whatever song came on the radio, while enjoying the pleasant breeze through the window. He was proud to transport more empties than he thought a single person could ever amass at one time, but this made him paranoid too. Though he wasn’t violent he carried a knife today. No way would his truck get robbed on its maiden voyage, the odds were too low. But in the unlikely event some highway drifter tried to stick him up he hoped flashing the blade would be enough to scare him away.
But Jeremiah never suspected to be assassinated, so when the ambush went down he got quite panicky. He brandished the knife and shouted wild threats, but the collectors only laughed in his face; Jeremiah’s rapacious empties collecting left his enemies armed with an entire city’s worth of glass beer bottles, each one smashed to become a fatal weapon. The glass he shunned would do him in.
Jeremiah realized his mistake too late. He should have harnessed his vast network to spy on his competition, or converted some rivals to his side by offering them a sufficient monthly supply of empties, or at least brought some damn security on this trip. But like many people he didn’t want anyone to know what he actually did to earn money. He enjoyed people believing his work was important and skilled, fascinating and noble. Mysterious, even. Practically speaking if the public learned his actual profession, people would see him differently and never attend his parties again. He’d lose his only source of money. Inside, Jeremiah was alone.
He offered to split the Big Haul but it was too late. The rabid pack of bottle collectors murdered him brutally. They let his corpse rot, then split the profits after returning by far the most valuable empties collection ever assembled by man. They celebrated together with a huge boozy party, and the next morning returned these bottles. They felt like billionaires living off interest.
When news of Jeremiah’s death returned home, countless friends wept over the fantastic obituary. It read:
“Jeremiah was a great man with a warm genuine soul who freely opened up his own home to the community. Above all he valued smiles and happiness. By all accounts he was an accomplished concert pianist, an unsurpassed literary critic, a wizard sommelier and a fearsome MMA fighter. Jeremiah made valuable contributions to an array of unrelated fields, such as economics, taxidermy, string theory and Lepidoptera. He leaves behind thousands of bereaved friends and colleagues.”
Many blogs covered the funeral, reporting on which taste makers and influencers gave eulogies. Many who attended the parties proclaimed to friends in a type of grief-stricken, melodramatic brag how close they were to the deceased, even if they didn’t really know him. To add a personal touch in the deceased’s honour to a common mourning ritual, many spilled beer on the ground from strictly regular-sized beer cans.
Dan and Matilda were on date four when the ghastly news reached them.
“I don’t understand, who’d want to kill him?” said Dan.
“I have no idea. I also still don’t really get why he poured out your scotch.”
“That was weird. Well, he brought us together. Cheers, then! To Jeremiah, one mysterious man.” They gently clinked glasses.
Jeff Halperin — Toronto 2013