Are We Really That Self-Conscious?

Unreal is encouraged to buy more beer (!) and drink it in style; plus, we see how St. Louis stacks up to Sudan

On October 20, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch published a front-page story headlined, "Are We Really That Bad?" that put to rest any lingering doubts about whether St. Louis suffers from an inferiority complex. Seeking to reassure readers that, recent studies be damned, the Lou isn't really the most godawful city in the nation, author Todd C. Frankel combined cheering quotes from "experts" with his own dubious analysis. (An example of the latter: Frankel points out that the study that deemed St. Louis the most dangerous city in America didn't factor in the suburbs. Reassuring, Unreal has to admit, if you live in the suburbs.)

To set the record straight, we put in a call to an international authority on relative badness: Abraham Deng, one of the famed Lost Boys of Sudan, who fled that war-torn African nation on foot, walking hundreds of miles to safety. Deng, now 22, arrived stateside in 2001 and resides in Atlanta, where he works the graveyard shift in a meatpacking plant while taking college courses. He visited St. Louis a few weekends ago and consented to compare our rankly ranked aspects (health of women and pets, obesity, crime, et al.) to his native land.

Unreal: What's more dangerous: war-torn Sudan or walking the streets of Soulard [where Deng stayed while in town]?

Abraham Deng: The condition of Sudan cannot be compared to what's happening in St. Louis, because Sudan is a country that has been in civil war for a number of years. When I went to St. Louis, I considered it to be a great, great place.

What were the transportation options in Sudan?

Roads were destroyed. I basically had to walk around.

What are the most typical house pets in Sudan?

We have cats, but they're not kept in the houses. People kept dogs, just for protection.

Did you have a job in Sudan?

I used to be a cattle keeper. I was six years old when I started.

Describe your education in Sudan. What did you study?

I didn't go to school. I'm now doing general studies at Georgia Perimeter College. I keep telling people education is my primary dream.

In Sudan cafés and meeting places, do people greet each other by asking what high school they went to?

No, you say, 'How are you doing?' or, 'How is your family?' People don't define themselves based on education.

Do you like American women?

I like them because they seem to be very independent.

Do women have similar freedoms in Sudan?

No, no, no, they don't.

Describe what you'd typically eat during meals in Sudan.

We ate corn and grain.

What'd you eat while you were in St. Louis?

I ate pizza.

Compared to Sudan, are people in St. Louis fat?

People in St. Louis are chubby. There's no overfeeding in Sudan.

Would you like to move to St. Louis?

Someday, yeah, I hope I can move to St. Louis. I'm trying to find a university that I can go to. I was told Washington University and St. Louis University were good.

Glove Story

Let's face it: Unreal is both a bit of a lush and a slave to fashion. Unfortunately, we have a troublesome tendency to break stemware, and those helmets with straws are gauche. But when we came across, well, let's just say our beer goggles cleared. Larry Puzniak and girlfriend Mieka Rustand, two of the three "inventors" of the Official Beer Glove (co-conspirator Brandon Voges was MIA), met us for some happy-hour brews to let us test their new product.

What, you ask, is an Official Beer Glove? It's a stretchy fabric glove equipped with what Puzniak and Rustand like to call "Super-Stick ArrowTech Grippers" (puffy ink to you and Unreal) strategically placed on the palm side. Indeed, this less hoosierfied version of the KSHE pig individual beer cooler kept Unreal's hand warm and our brew bottle cold. As for the "gripper" aspect, well, we didn't drop that Heineken.

Silly, you say? Well, these Beer Glovers are serious as cirrhosis. The trio, who have day jobs at local ad agencies, report that they've sold 960 gloves since the launch of their Web site on October 10. Priced at five bucks apiece, the gloves can be ordered in right- or left-handed versions and in a growing assortment of colors that invoke sports teams and drinking holidays like St. Patrick's Day and Mardi Gras. The crew carted a supply of Mizzou black-and-gold and Nebraska red-and-white to Faurot Field that first weekend and made a killing.

"When you show up to a place and you're ready to drink and you're standing around with your friends, it's like putting your badge on saying, 'It's time to drink,'" says Puzniak, whose brew of choice is High Life. "Baseball players wear gloves, hockey players wear gloves, football players wear gloves. If you consider drinking a sport, then you need a glove for it."

Three-Drink Minimum

When a drinking establishment requires that Unreal purchase at least three cocktails, we usually shut up and imbibe. But we were taken aback when it happened in a grocery store. At Pete's Shur Sav Market at Olive Boulevard and Hanley Road in University City, signs in the liquor aisle and the checkout lanes inform patrons: "3 CAN MINIMUM ON ALL 24 & 32 OZ BEERS!!!!!"

Back in 2000, when Shur Sav patriarch Pete Sarandos applied to University City officials for a license to sell package liquor at his Olive store (there are three other Shur Sav stores: one in U. City and two in St. Louis proper), city manager Frank Ollendorff recommended that the application be denied. About a year ago, after promising not to sell beer by the individual container, the license was granted.

Sarandos explains the rationale: "People might buy one can of beer, drink it on the way home, then toss it in someone's yard. If we did not [have the policy], we would not be very good neighbors."

Given that three 24-ounce cans pack the alcohol wallop of a traditional-size six-pack, isn't Sarandos, at the city's behest, now requiring people to purchase enough to get tanked if they want to drink at all?

"We think it's just the opposite," says Ollendorff. "We do encourage them to sell by the package rather than the individual container. It's not something we feel that strongly about, but it does discourage a little bit the person that just has enough to get their quick high or whatever. We want people to go to the grocery store and buy their alcoholic beverage to take home, and not buy a bottle and drink it on the way to the car or something."

Tiptoeing past the picket signs for a look-see, Unreal encountered no such prohibition at the Schnucks at Olive and Pennsylvania. Go figure.

Then again, Sarandos isn't a total stickler. "We do make allowances to our policy," he says. "If someone comes in and buys groceries from us, we'll let them buy one beer -- or if they just want one can to put in their barbecue sauce or something."

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