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The world's first 'animal-walks-into-a-bar' joke just went viral
Notes on drunken Sumer humor, NY lawmakers' to-go cocktail kibosh + more!
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There’s a Twitter account I like called @depthsofwiki that I’ve linked to a few times here at the boozeletter. The whole routine is they (it?) crawls Wikipedia for odd tidbits of information, screenshots of which it then posts. It’s fun and low-stakes in the way basically nothing still is on the internet these days, and I recommend you follow. Anyway, the other day they tweeted this Sumerian quip from the Wikipedia page for “bar joke;” because it’s quirky and about dogs and apparently incoherent, people retweeted the shit out of it, sending the post viral and triggering “an explosion of ancient Sumer-based memes,” according to Ryan Broderick at the very-good internet culture newsletter Garbage Day. “Sumerian culture has already had a pretty big life online because of that really petty Sumerian tablet,” he explained.
Sure! But here’s something kinda cool: this seemingly indecipherable Sumerian gag actually has a punchline, it’s funny… and if you’ve read Fingers-endorsed tome A Short History of Drunkenness, you probably already kinda knew it! As author Mark Forsyth explained in the book, Sumerian drinking culture was basically synonymous with Sumerian sex work. As such, this joke (“the very earliest example of the animal-walks-into-a-bar joke,” in Forsyth’s estimation) is about prostitutes. Which, thanks to a Wikipedia editor with knowledge/free time who saw @depthsofwiki’s viral tweet, the “bar joke” page now spells out (emphasis mine):
The earliest example of a bar joke is Sumerian, on a tablet dating from the early Old Babylonian Empire (c. 1894-1800 BC), and it features a dog: "A dog, having walked into an inn, did not see anything, (and so he said): 'Shall I open this (door)?'." The punchline presumes an inn would also be a brothel, and the humor suggests the dog is hoping to see what transpired out of view.
Which is to say: Sumerians doing it! Lol. As Broderick (who gets credit for following up to find the entry amended) put it: “Wow, history is incredible.” Sure is. If you’re looking for more drinking history, pick up Forsyth’s book, and listen to The Fingers Podcast episode with Courtney Iseman of Hugging The Bar, in which we discuss in detail various ancient civilizations’ approaches to drinking games. For what it’s worth, many of those also include prostitutes.
📬 Good post alert
On Wednesday I published an interview with Rax King, the co-host of the Low Culture Boil Podcast and author of Tacky: Love Letters to the Worst Culture We Have to Offer. We discussed the similarities between the nu metal act Creed (which she loves) and hard seltzer (which she seems to like); got her take on consumer power vs. worker power; relived her harrowing taste-test of bootleg Campbell’s Brothtails; and much more. Given her love for Guy Fieri’s egalitarian (e-Guy-litarian?) approach to culture and cuisine, and my recent coverage of the Mayor of Flavortown’s Super Bowl turn as Anheuser-Busch InBev’s hard soda pitchman we talked about him, too.
Everyone in the Fingers Fam got a preview of our conversation, but only paying Friends of Fingers were able to access the whole transcript and full-length podcast episode. If you like Fingers and want to support independent journalism, consider purchasing a subscription! You’ll get access to these sorts of subscriber exclusives, and help me sustain and grow this boozeletter.
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💀 NY liquor store lobby kiboshes to-go cocktails
Welp, guess that’s that! Despite widespread support from both a thirsty Empire State public and New York Governor Kathy Hochul, lawmakers in Albany drainpoured to-go cocktails’ best shot at becoming legal this past week, removing the wording from both the Assembly and Senate budget proposals
at the behest of two powerful liquor store lobbies entirely of their own volition, I’m sure. Gothamist has more on the pressure campaign:
Both the New York State Liquor Store Association and the Metropolitan Package Store Association have been active in lobbying against Hochul’s proposals. They’ve had success when they’ve teamed up in the past, banding together to help block plans to allow the sale of wine in grocery stores in the late 2000s and early 2010s.
The liquor store organizations argue that allowing restaurants and bars to sell to-go wine and cocktails would allow them to compete with liquor stores without having to follow the same rules.
Apparently, they argued pretty convincingly. Recall that this isn’t the first time NY liquor stores have emerged victorious from this very-pandemic parliamentary tussle. As my VinePair pal Tim McKirdy reported back in June 2021, the state’s liquor authority yanked to-go cocktails off the (legal) menu as soon as then-Governor Andrew Cuomo lifted the Covid state of emergency and associated executive orders. The move, which came after similar, sustained objections from booze retailers, cut restaurants and bars off from a vital pandemic lifeline, infuriating F&B folks. “There’s a lot of anger at the liquor stores,” Scott Wexler of the Empire State Restaurant & Tavern Association lobbying group told McKirdy at the time. “These are greedy bastards.” Greedy, maybe. Effective? Definitely. Sheesh.
📣 Can you afford to drink the beer/booze you make?
This tweet, from brewing industry worker Katie Herrera caught my attention for reasons that are probably pretty obvious for anyone who’s read this newsletter before. My labor coverage of the craft beverage business is mostly focused on working conditions and wages (and rightly so, I think, because they both mostly suck lol) but less often have I interrogated the cultural/economic/emotional implications of employees not being able to afford their own produce. I plan to do just that in an upcoming piece! So if you work in a craft brewery (especially on the production side) and Herrera’s tweet tracks with your experience, I’d love to hear from you. Email me at email@example.com; anonymity available for those who want/need it. Thanks!
🧾 The Settle-Up
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