Pains in the Neck

“The Brewer’s Backstory”-Episode 24

January 2012 (1 month later)

TBJ final cover

Coming January 2016!

“Neck hurting you?”

“Just a little tight,” Brad answered, still trying to loosen the knotted muscles as he swiveled the work chair around to look at Rex, his supervisor. “How’d you know?”

“Lately you’ve been turning your body, or your chair, instead of your head, the way old men do. You might want to get it checked out.” With that, Rex disappeared out the door of the control room.

Brad turned the chair back to the computer and stared at the screen displaying fermenter temperatures. Everything was on track, and he could relax for a minute. The spring quarter had started last week, and he was back on the treadmill. If he could just keep running for five months, come June, he’d have his MBA, the divorce would be final, summer would come and maybe then life would look good again.

He’d started going to a chiropractor last month. With each adjustment, the relief was instant and worth the money, even if it only lasted a day or two. When Dr. Gary asked about sources of stress during the initial visit, Brad had run through the list: work, school, the divorce, Grandpa’s death, a depressing Christmas for the family. At yesterday’s appointment, Dr. Gary said, “You know, if you’re interested, it might be worth your while to think about some counseling.”

His mother had said the same thing, more than once. She’d even insisted he take the card she’d gotten from a friend whose daughter raved about her life coach. Brad pulled out his wallet and the card. Darwin James, Personal Life Coach. What kind of parents named their kid Darwin?


“Kundalini,” Darwin James said, “one of the oldest forms of yoga. It’s the yoga of awareness. It opens the heart and releases energy.”

“I don’t think I could get into yoga,” Brad said.

“It’s actually very challenging—physically, mentally and spiritually—especially the way I teach it.”

“You teach yoga?” There was a weird intensity to Darwin James’ eyes that bothered Brad, or maybe it was the way his eyes peeked out from underneath the bushy black eyebrows.

“Three nights a week. You’re welcomed to join us. I can almost guarantee that by the time we reach the chanting, you’ll hardly be aware of those tight muscles, and your headache will have receded.”

“I’ll think about it.” I’d take up karaoke rapping before yoga chanting.

“Weekly counseling sessions, yoga and maybe some acupuncture. We’ll have you feeling better than ever within a few months. Chinese cupping, that might help, too. Have you ever done any cupping?”

“No.” The guy and the vibes were getting weirder by the minute.

“It’s a great way to mobilize blood flow. Good blood circulation is vital to good health, you know.” Darwin James stretched out an arm and checked his wristwatch. “Well, we’re out of time for today. Here’s a flyer with the yoga studio’s class schedule and other information. I’ll look into how much of the acupuncture treatments your insurance will cover.” He flipped open a black leather notebook. “Are Tuesday mornings generally open for you?”

Yes, unfortunately. Ever since my grandfather had a heart attack and crashed his car into a fire hydrant with me in the passenger seat. “I’m not sure if I’m ready to commit to counseling,” Brad said, standing up.

Taking the cue, Darwin James got out of his chair. “I understand, Brad. Not a problem. Sometimes, it takes clients a while to reach that point. Feel free to drop into the yoga class any time.”

“I’ll keep that in mind,” Brad said, shaking hands. He couldn’t get out the door fast enough.


Brad zipped his jacket against the late February cold and opened the door to the garage. For the first time in weeks, he was actually looking forward to something. He hadn’t been out of the house just for fun since classes started seven weeks ago. An afternoon of poker with the guys from the Business Stats class project sounded just like what he needed.

He grabbed three empty growlers from the garage shelf and opened the old refrigerator filled with kegs and bottled beers. The day after Grandpa’s funeral, he’d brewed the IPA in a futile attempt to keep his mind from going crazy.

He had texted Maddy the day of the accident. She had called. The whole conversation felt forced. She came to the funeral and sat in the back row. They spoke briefly on the way out of the church. She didn’t go to the cemetery or the luncheon afterwards, which was just as well.

He filled the first growler with the IPA that he’d kegged the weekend after classes started. He used the next one for the stout he’d brewed right before Grandpa died. It seemed like everything he did these days reminded him of Grandpa’s death or the divorce. He filled the last growler with the lager he’d brewed the day before Thanksgiving, right after the fall semester ended. That seemed like years ago now. “Those memories are your way of grieving,” Tom, counselor number two, had told him. “Don’t fight them.”

Brad hit the garage door button, stuck the growlers in the back seat and started the car. When Dr. Gary mentioned counseling a second time, Brad said he’d already tried it.

“And?” Dr. Gary asked.

“He had Groucho Marx eyebrows. He wanted me to do kundalini yoga and acupuncture and Chinese cupping.”

Dr. Gary laughed. “Well, how about this? What if we just meet my friend Tom for a beer? He’s a homebrewer and wants to meet you.”

“You talk to your friends about your patients? Don’t you doctors take an oath against doing that or something?”

“I didn’t tell him why I’m seeing you. Besides, he’s a counselor and colleague.”

Brad backed out of the garage and bumped over the berm of snow he had shoveled from the driveway into the street. Carlos Echeverría lived near DU, a twenty-minute drive on a quiet Sunday afternoon.

Brad had liked Tom from the first beer. He dressed in jeans and flannel shirts. He’d been brewing for two years. Brad had been answering homebrewers’ questions for a whole lot longer. The questions Tom asked were the tough ones only the smartest guys asked. After two beers, Brad made a couseling appointment. He’d been twice, now, and the muscles in his neck and shoulders felt like a giant log jam that what starting to break up. He had a long way to go, but there were moments of positive feelings and thoughts—like going to play poker and drink homebrew with ESPN in the background.

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