Guestwords: Bucket of Rocks List

John McCaffrey
3 min readMay 30, 2024


One August, many pale, blue, and harvest moons ago, awash in the glow and gloom of recently graduating from college and not having a definable career path, I came face to face with a “bucket of Rocks.”

I was in a semi-dive bar in Sag Harbor. A friend made the order for our table. By then, I was more than familiar with beer. But my standard quaff came from a party keg or a pop-top can. I did not have a favorite or a preference. Taste or aesthetics mattered little. Whatever was free or cheap and available sufficed.

But the bucket of Rocks was beautiful. The gray metal pail, perfect for sand castles, was sweating on the outside from the ice inside. Swaddled to their necks in the cubes were bottles of Latrobe, Pennsylvania’s iconic Rolling Rock lager. The bar was running a 7–7–7 special, meaning for 7 bucks we received seven seven-ounce bottles of beer.

The brand’s translucent green glass made the liquid within look like a warm and inviting Caribbean Sea. The first sip, however, made my teeth chatter, and drew goose bumps on the arm connected to the hand connected to the bottle. But it was nice after a scorching hot day. I felt chilled, relaxed, even mature. It was the first time I appreciated a beer for something other than the physical effects it produced. More, it helped calm my panicking, postcollegiate mind.

If this creative conveyance for cerveza was a harbinger of things to come, there would be many new and fun things to discover on this journey forward into the world of work and beyond.

Well, here I am — closer to beyond than ever. And in the bloom of another coming summer, albeit one three-plus decades later, I’m thinking again of that bucket of Rocks. In fact, after finishing this column, I’m considering having a beer. It’s a change. I rarely, if ever, desire to drink anymore. I’d much rather indulge in food than alcohol, and for some reason the two don’t marry well in my stomach.

But the idea of downing a brisk brew now and again is gaining in appeal. It seems to match my middle-aged self, my slower self, my more contented self. A self that is looking back with whimsy, and looking forward, hopefully, with wisdom. And part of that wisdom is my growing belief that things don’t happen for a reason, but rather reason is affixed to things that happen.

To this end, I know many in our goal-oriented, go-go-go world compose “bucket lists” of places they want to visit, things they want to do and experience, accomplishments they want to reach, all before they die. And that’s wonderful if it brings fulfillment and happiness. But it’s a stressful concept for me. It feels like I’d be putting undue pressure on myself if I were to make a vow to hang-glide in the Andes before I perish, for instance.

I guess, at this stage, I don’t want to feel less about my life if I do less. On the contrary, my aim is to connect meaning to the less — to the ordinary, to what occurs in the daily to-and-fro, to what is not planned or plotted. And when meaning is identified, I will do my best to write down what happened for inspirational memory.

I will call this my “bucket of Rocks list” — an evolving chronicle of miracles in the mundane, so to speak, such as an unexpected phone call from a friend when feeling down, finding a treasure (another person’s trash) at the local dump, or that first sip of teeth-chattering, goose bump-causing, ice-cold beer on a scorching hot summer day.

Which reminds me. I’m done writing. Cheers!

John McCaffrey’s latest collection of stories is “Automatically Hip,” from Vine Leaves Press. He lives in Wainscott and will host “Sea Stories,” an evening of readings with artwork and sea chanteys, on July 21 at LTV Studios.

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John McCaffrey

John McCaffrey is a writer and a professor at The Rochester Institute of Technology.