L.09.1 – It Is Risen

I shall start by saying that I am a man who enjoys his drink.  I have traveled the world in the service of various nations/corporations and in my travels have found that nothing defines a region quite like the local quaff.  The tale of the one that inspired me most begins in the Appalachian Mountains of Tennessee.

I was surveying the land as part of a commission I am not at liberty to discuss.  Room and board had been provided by a family by the name of Hartridge.  The accommodations were spare to say the least, but a tar paper roof and solid wood plank to lay my back upon are all I need to feel at home.  Now, the popular media has painted a picture of hill folk that could not be farther from the truth.  The Hartridge family were the kindest, gentlest group of inbreds you will ever meet.  I have never felt more accepted or welcome than when they looked at me with their crossed and beady eyes.

Their son, a hairless, shirtless six foot man-child named Horatio took a real shine to me and I confess the admiration was mutual.  I took him on as a kind of protege.  He could never quiet grasp the proper use of the surveying equipment and was often distracted chasing small woodland animals, but he was helping in his heart and damned if he didn’t lift my spirits.

One night, after calculating the blast radius of 1 ton of dynamite on the mountainside, Horatio and I sat on the porch, enjoying hand-packed pipes of local tobacco.  The stars were stunning.  When one spends too much time in the city, he can forget how truly vast and overpowering a starry night can be.  The moon hung high and full and the only sounds for miles were the crickets and the sound of night owls screeching at their prey.  It was as close to perfect beauty as I have experienced.  I confessed to Horatio that I was feeling a bit parched.  He clapped his hands giddily and hurried around to the back of the house.  I had seen a still in the yard when I arrived and had secretly hoped to sample its nectar.  Horatio returned with a crude clay mug filled with a milky colored, viscous liquid that burned my eyes as soon as it was within five feet.  This, I will ruin the surprise, was not the drink that most inspired me.  I closed my already watering eyes and brought the mug to my lips.

Two weeks later, I came to in the swamps of Louisiana.  Horatio had fashioned a leather leash for himself, and I had apparently been leading him South by foot for the duration of my “lost fortnight.”  Within an hour, I used my survival training to find trademark signs of life in the swamp.  I led Horatio to a small camp housing  five men.  I introduced myself, and judging by their shifty and unreliable introductions I inferred that these men were poachers, seeking the skin of the rare albino alligator with which to make boots.  There was Lefty, ironically the only one of the group who was not a southpaw; Harry, the one with the eyepatch;  Gregor, a well-to-do Norwegian dandy; McGill, who bore the unmistakable scent of a seafaring man; and Jonathan, who was wholly unremarkable in any way.  We chatted around the campfire until the small hours of the night, telling tales of adventure and unsavory deeds (Horatio entertained himself drawing nude women in the mud with sticks- he was quite talented, really).  We each happened to have a bottle of our favorite liquor, and around 3am decided that the only way they could be appreciated was if they were combined.  We took a large pot and each added our poison: Lefty- a 12 year old Laphroaig, Harry- a well-aged bottle of Absinthe, Gregor- the purest vodka I have tasted to this day, McGill- a stunning port, and Jonathan- an unexplained bottle of blue curacao (perhaps the lad wasn’t so unremarkable after all).  I threw in my trusty flask of gin and we mixed the brew well.  It came out and odd blueish-purple color, not unlike the blood of the well-bred.  We doled it out and came to an agreement- it was the worst thing any of us had tasted- like drinking charcoal strained through an old woman’s stocking.  Still, it had that certain kick that we needed and was gulped down graciously.

We lost track of time and kept our campfire burning into the daylight hours.  This, naturally, drew local law enforcement to our location.  They recognized the poachers and threatened to haul them off straight away.  Horatio, bless his soul, feared for our unhealthy concoction and buried it in the fire pit lest it be confiscated.  I quietly pulled the police chief aside and introduced myself.  I wrote him a check for a sizable amount of money and told him that the men were working undercover for the US government.   He said he would have to check and left us to our own devices, giving us strict orders to stay put.  As soon as the police had left, the group started packing.  I informed them that we had earned the constable’s trust and he did not deserve to be disappointed.  We stayed at the camp, restlessly awaiting his return.  Three days later, he arrived and told us that he had no record of undercover government agents in the area, but my check had cleared and we were free to go.  As a celebration, we dug the pot of potion back up from the fire pit.

Perhaps the inbreeding had replaced some of Horatio’s missing chromosomes with voodoo, brought out by the nights spent in the bayou.  Perhaps the damp swamp ground had bred new life in the alcohol.  Or perhaps we were still reeling from the bite of the aged absinthe three days prior.  Whatever the reason, the drink had changed.  It had been turned a deep blood red and gave off the faintest of glows.  I cautiously took the first drink.  My palette exploded with flavors I don’t even know how to describe.  Fruity, meaty, sweet, earthy- it was like all of nature, indeed all the world itself, had been reborn inside my mouth.  Each drink expanded my mind and brought me closer to complete understanding of the nature of things.  We agreed to keep the drink a secret (an agreement I have kept until this very moment) and drink of it only on the occasion that one of us should die, in order to celebrate their life.  We dubbed the drink Jesus Christ, as it rose after three days to inspire the world (and frankly, is a much more believable messiah).  This offended Horatio’s Christian sensibilities and he called us all blasphemers.  To appease him, we renamed it Zombie’s Jubilee- the drink to raise the dead (though when the simpleton is not present, we never use this name).  The rest of the world can just stop drinking now, as it will never find a finer beverage.

L.09.1: Coweta Cocktail Tales

Jason Jr. got real restless about 9:30 and told Pam to get her fat ass off the couch and put on some clothes and go to Palmetto and buy him a pint of Jack.  Pam wanted to know why he couldn”t drive his own damn self over to Palmetto and Jason Jr. said he was having the blurred vision and didn”t trust his driving.  Pam just sat there laughing and Jason Jr. said he bet Pam would be happy if he was out and hit a power pole like his cousin Paul.  Jason Jr. is supposed to take pills for the blurred vision and the shakes but he always forgets and says they don”t work anyway.  Pam says Paul would have been just fine if he had been wearing seat belts and had his damn sub-woofer turned down.  Jason Jr. tells Pam her family is pretty messed up and she doesn”t have the right to preach.  Pam says she can”t go out anyway because she has to feed Carl and Carl”s going to wake up in five minutes.  Jason Jr. says he”ll feed Carl and Pam can stop making dumb excuses because she”s too lazy to even put a robe on and get to Palmetto before ten.  She can buy herself some more cigarettes if she needs a more important reason to go.  Pam pulls on some shorts lying on the coffee table and nothing else.  The loose thing she”s wearing up top doesn”t look good but Jason Jr. looks at me like I”m supposed to like it and grins. Pam talks about how it”s important to heat up the jar for 15 seconds as she lights up a cigarette and steps out.  First thing Jason Jr. does when Pam”s gone is reach under the seat of his chair and pull out a half empty pint of Jack.  He gets a big grin and tells me to come with him outside.  We”re outside and right on cue we hear Carl waking up and starting to cry back inside the trailer.  Jason Jr. kneels down and crawls under and pulls some bits of tarp and cloth around and pulls out a plastic Kroger bag. He giggles and says he can”t do this kind of shit when Pam”s at home and I follow him with his bag back inside.  Inside the bag is a whole lot of money and a jar of something he calls his special solution.  He picks up Carl who hasn”t stopped squalling since he woke up and sets him down in his feeding chair and buckles him in.  Kid”s still squalling.  Jason Jr. rubs casino online his hands together like he does when he”s working out in the shed and opens a jar of baby food and his pint of Jack and the jar of special solution.  I ask Jason Jr. why he keeps the jar hid just like all the stuff he uses when he”s working out in the shed.  He says he mixed it up in the shed using his supplies so it”s not something he”d be happy if it got found.  He puts the baby food in the microwave. With this stuff he”s going to mix up with the food he says he can get Carl to shut up and sleep for twelve hours straight.   Just then a thought occurs to me but before I can speak it there”s a loud roaring noise and the whole trailer shakes.  Jason Jr. gets real agitated and runs outside and comes back in and before I ask anything he slaps me real hard and I fall backwards on top of Carl in his chair.  He calls me a stupid shit and the microwave rings.  Carl”s stuck in his chair lying on his side.  He arm is twisted in a funny way.  He”s screaming.  Jason Jr. calls me a big stupid baby and dumps the stuff in the baby food jar all over my face.  Then he throws his pint of Jack and it hits me over the left eye.  He”s yelling at me about finding a fire extinguisher.  Carl and I are both crying with peas and Jack and blood on our faces.  When Jason Jr. started heating the baby food I was going to tell him I still had stuff cooking in the shed and the generator might do funny things if he ran the microwave. I should have said something sooner.   There”s a funny taste in my mouth.

It”s called Exploding Meth Lab.  You have to use green peas.

L.09.1: Drinking with Dorothy Parker

Back in the more cavalier days of my youth, if ever I disappeared from view, one could almost always find me in the lobby restaurant of the Algonquin Hotel in New York. Along with several others, I would have lunch here everyday. Now many of the group, which came to be known as the Algonquin Round Table, either were at the time or went on to become some of the finest literary, critical, or witty minds of a generation. I would not fall into this category.

I’m not sure why they kept me around. Perhaps it was my sheer lack of intellectual recognition. I was a sardonic and churlish youth, who stood out from the likes of Woolsey, Dot Parker, and GS Kaufman simply because of my disinterest in their work. I enjoyed their company because they were catty, biting, scathing, and at times down-right rude. Given the Victorian upbringing I’d received, these folks were what I longed to become, and exactly what I needed. Looking back perhaps that is another reason they kept me around. They saw a bit of their own past in my wanton naivete and caustic attitude.

One of my favorite nights with the group was an evening in April of 1922. The curtain had just closed on a revue called No Sirree!, the first and only project that the Round Table had collaborated on. Woolsey suggested we head over to the Algonquin to celebrate, but when we got there we were surprised to find that the doors had been shut early that night so that the manager could take us up on  our offer of free tickets to the show. We needed a celebration, but where to go?

Woolsey complained that his place was an absolute wreck and no one should even dream of making it his place. Dot said that she loathed having people over. GS said that his wife would probably already be in bed. To which Groucho quickly replied, “I know where I want to have the party.” Finally I said, “Listen, Gang, I know it’s not much, but we could always go back to my place. The apartment’s a hole, but the view from the roof is spectacular.”

They all  agreed to meet me there bringing whatever they had on hand. (My one stipulation had been that as a starving writer I had no booze or food, so if anyone wanted something they should bring it.) After everyone arrived, it seemed that they were all living the lives of starving artists as well. Groucho brought a half a carton of guava juice, and of course, if anyone would have guava juice it would be Groucho. Woolsey brought a little bit of orange juice, and Dot brought over a half-empty bottle of pineapple juice and just the tiniest bit of apple juice. Kaufman brought some grenadine, and Tallulah Bankhead brought some vodka. At least good old Tallulah was always good for some booze. Peter Benchley went out and got some dark spiced rum. And Harpo, God bless him the sweetest man alive, brought in two bottles of the sweetest, tastiest coconut rum you have ever imbibed.

We looked at our table of ingredients unsure of what to do. A light bulb flickered over my head, and I ran downstairs to my apartment, returning with a huge decorative bowl an ex had made for me during one of her artistic phases. I set the bowl on the ground and began pouring.

“Wait! What are you doing!” cried Dot Parker. “We don’t have much as it is, and you’re just going to ruin it?”

“Just wait,” I said, “If this doesn’t knock your socks off, I’ll eat Woolsey’s coat.”

“No small feat,” said Kaufman.

“His feet are about average,” said Groucho. “But that’s no small coat for sure.”

Well, I tell you what resulted from that mixture was just about the finest drink I’d ever had. It was deliciously sweet, like a fruit drink without the slightest hint of an alcohol taste. But boy did it pack a wallop. The next day after all of us had applied our hangover cure of choice, we dubbed the drink “The Harpo Marx” for two reasons. One, in honor of the only one among us who’d had the selflessness to bring enough alcohol to share. And two, because after one glass you’ll find you can no longer speak.

Leisurely Drinking for the Mature Individual

As I grow older I find I prefer to have my life be comfortable rather than exciting. My drinking habits have evolved following in this mode of thought. Thus when I now mix my special tonic, I make large quantities so I will have a ready supply on hand at all times. And I can imbibe liberally all day with no fear of running out. (Although that does happen occasionally as I take my drinking very seriously these days.)

I also have found that I have grown a little more reluctant to share all my secrets with the world. So even though this assignment is about making or enjoying our favorite exotic mixture, I prefer to hold back several key ingredients which took me years to discover in proper quantity. I leave it to you to follow my path and discover your own adventurous libation.

It does take me a while to mix my drink, which is another reason to make copious amounts at once. I begin with filtered water, poured into a 32 ounce pitcher until it is 2/3 full. Then I add my “flavoring” which fills the pitcher and I also add ¼ cup of sugar, as I have grown to have a bit of sweet tooth. I mix these thoroughly, using my favorite blending tool. My drinks are stirred, not shaken. This then goes into the refrigerator.

Now I use about 16 ounces of room temperature filtered water mixed with my “secret ingredient” of equal proportion. When these are thoroughly blended, again using my blending tool, I heat more filtered water. I add another 32 ounces of hot filtered water to the original blend,using my favorite toll of course, and let it “settle” to room temperature.

Then when I am ready for a nice large mug of drink I take equal amounts of the brew from the refrigerator and from the room temperature one. In case you haven’t been keeping track, I now have about 64 ounces of delightful (slightly diluted) beverage which will last me all day, most of the time. In the evening before bed I have to go through the same routine so I will have libations during my insomniac roaming in the middle of the night.

Ah life is good when one is well lubricated!

L.09.1: Café Uxmal

If brandy was made out of sparrows there would soon be no sparrows.
–GCL, J.22

At first I thought I was going to have to make something up, but then I remembered: Café Uxmal!

August of 1987.

Back in the day, every year after GHP, my adorable bride and I would go on vacation.  Since her perception of my time in Valdosta was that it was one long party—and certainly 20 years ago I was partying more than I am now—she felt entitled to a hella vacation when I got home.  The fact that I had actually been working from 6 a.m. to 10 p.m. every day for six weeks and would really like to relax carried no weight in our decision.

My bride—being of an excitable, not to say distractible, nature—defined “vacation” as the process of going and doing as much as humanly possible in the most jampacked place you could think of. In 1985, it was Washington, DC.  In 1986, it was New York City.  And finally, trying to get to somewhere on time in the heat of August and noise of Times Square, I snapped.

Today, of course, I am possessed of a serene equanimity that permits me to endure such nerve-wracking experiences without breaking a sweat.  I have even been to Walt Disney World during spring break and did not flinch.  Part of that is due to the wisdom of age, but I must say that part of my survival kit is what I learned in the summer of 1987: too many people around you?  Put yourself alone on that white, white beach, and listen to the waves.  Ahhh.

But back in Times Square, 1986, I snapped.  “Next year,” I said, “we go to a beach, and we do nothing.  We’re going to relax.”  My partner looked dubious, even scornful, but, probably recognizing that I was not going to be much fun otherwise, she accepted my pronouncement.

I should have known better.  I was thinking St. Simon’s, the Gulf Coast, Daytona even.  My lovely first wife, in the meantime and on the other hand, settled on Cancun: passports, international flights, ancient ruins in inaccessible jungles, tawny cabana youths in crisp white shirts, excitement in every way.

It actually wasn’t bad, of course.  The beaches were glorious, the tequila was never-ending, and if you’ll pardon my saying so, the congress was splendid and nonstop.  I wore a Speedo for the first and only time in my life, and of course would have worn less had I been able.  The ruins were inspiring: do not take a day trip, fork over the bucks for an overnight at the Club Med.  I drank margaritas to excess on the trip out to Isla Mujeres, such that while other daytrippers were jumping overboard into the warm sea on the way back, I was puking my guts out in the head.  It was the best of vacations for the both of us.

Our last night in Cancun, we walked away from the bright lights of the main tourist area and explored the edges of downtown, looking for a restaurant that didn’t have hamburgers on its menu for unacclimatized gringos.  We found the Café Uxmal.

I forget what I had as my meal, but after dinner we were offered coffee, and I decided to go for the eponymous house specialty, Caf´Uxmal.  It was a grandiose production: strong Mayan coffee to which was added, in succession, Kahlua, brandy, and Xtabentún, each poured flaming from cup to cup before being added to the coffee.  Finally, it was topped with ice cream, and I was in heaven.

Here’s a similar production, a little flashier, but also apparently flaming all the liqueurs at once:

After a glass of that, we wandered back to the hotel, then out to the beach, where I will discreetly fade to black on the luxuriant summer evening.

In writing this, I remember that we actually brought a bottle of Xtabentún back with us from Cancun twenty-two years ago.  We actually never made the coffee, I don’t think.  There certainly doesn’t seem to be much missing from the bottle, which has sat at the back of my liquor cabinet since 1987.  I pour a little into a shot glass and taste it, and I wonder why in the hell it has not been my apertif of choice for half of my life now.

It is a pale yellow-green, a little paler than Rose’s lime juice.  It coats the sides of the glass.  The bottle says licor de anis dulce con miel de abejas, and it is one of the most delicious drinks I have ever had.  I’m taking another sip.

Xtabentun & KahluaWhen added, Kahlúa floats on top of it in a nice miniature pousse café.  Consumed together, they make me forget my dietary forbearance of weekday alcohol.  Yes, I think I will have another.

What is this stuff?  Thank goodness for the internet.  I’ve assumed for twenty years that it was some kind of cheesy Mexican absinthe ripoff, but I was wrong.  I actually am in possession of a rare commodity, it seems.  The honey predominates, with a smooth, sweet anise finish that lingers not unpleasantly.  Goodness, it’s tasty.

Let me put it this way: before I share this bottle with anyone else, I have to make sure there’s a ready supply somewhere within my grasp.  One more, to celebrate this delightful Lichtenbergian Assignment, the first of our new year together.  I love you guys!

Now let me see if I can figure out how to get this memoir from my word processor over to this internet thingie over here.

Assignment L.09.1: Exotic Drinks Tales

Terry wrote in email:

“Since there seems to be some interest in this article, perhaps a Lichtenbergian assignment might evolve from it. We could describe making or imbibing our most exotic drink and the circumstances surrounding it. And of course this would have to be written with a certain panache.”

He was referring of course to this article from the New York Times about the Old-Fashioned.

I have a model for our assignment, taken from Jigger, Beaker, & Glass: drinking around the world, by Charles H. Baker, Jr., originally published in 1931 as The Gentleman’s Companion: the exotic drinking book.  This is from the foreword, in which he pooh-poohs the pale delights of Prohibition:

We also doubt if any lemonade social ever afforded a thrill like the moonlit night in Ceylon when we went to a Hollander friend’s beach bungalow out beyond Galle Face, where we swam in the blood-warm Indian Ocean and drank enough of his Flying Fish cocktails to do, and lay on the cool sand and listened to Tauber sing Dein Ist Mein Ganzes Herz on the gramophone.  Then when we swam again we slipped out of our suits to make the water feel better, and finally, when it was very late indeed, we dressed and said goodnight and vowed eternal friendship to our host; then for precisely no reason at all dismissed our waiting carriage with a flourish of gross overpayment and walked all the way back in our evening clothes through a new quiet rain to the jetties and the motor launch, just in time to prevent one of our best American cruising friends from consummating bribery of the Quartermaster on the good ship RESOLUTE into letting him hoist a purchased baby elephant—whom he said was Edith, and over whom he politely held a Burmese parasol of scarlet oiled silk—from a hired barge onto the forward cargo hatch in a sling!

Marvelous stuff, and that’s just the forward.  There follows a COMPANY OF 267 ASSORTED POTATIONS.  Here he is talking about an actual drink:

THE RANGOON STAR RUBY, a Wonderful & Stimulating Cocktail from Lower-Burmah

In 1926 we disembarked in Burmah from a round-the-world ship, and spent several days there before hopping off to Calcutta in a little “Bibby” boat carrying a mess of Mohammedan pilgrims headed for Mecca as deck passengers, and who did all their own cooking right down there in plain sight.  In Rangoon we joined up with several folk in the Strand bar of evenings to chin about the romantic Mandalay country far up the Irrawaddy River, and to talk over gems with Hamid and his brother from Colombo and Bombay, and to acquire a really fine zircon for someone else and a set of star sapphire dress studs for ourself.  One American headed out on leave from certain ruby mining operations up-country told us he had invented himself a drink that everyone up at headquarters liked so well he was going to shout it to the world so that no man might be denied its virtues.  He popped behind the bar before we could say “knife” and whipped up the following mixture which, due to its color, he had christened the Star Ruby.

Take 1 jigger of good cognac, 1/2 pony of cherry brandy, 1/2 pony of French vermouth, 2 dashes each of orange bitters and lemon phosphate, then for added flavour 1 tsp of kirsch, or 1/2 tsp of maraschino.  Shake with finely cracked ice, pour into a wine glass leaving a little ice floating, and let fall 6 drops of grenadine in the center of this chilly expanse for the ruby color touch.

So now you have the flavour of it, hop to it!