Archive for the ‘Christmas’ Category

A Christmas Present Memory

January 18, 2018

   

THIS STARTED IT ALL…

   Some years back, I received a Christmas gift from a relative who really knew my tastes and proclivities.  She sent me something I had never seen before, nor even imagined existed: an electric Martini shaker/stirrer machine; without doubt the most decadent toy I ever owned.

   Naturally, I had my doubts about the gadget, but after studying the little booklet that came with it, I fell to the happy task of testing out the machine… and it worked wonderfully!

   I never enjoyed such expertly mixed Martinis as this machine cranked out. And it had two settings, which I gleefully tested out: Shaken to icy perfection or stirred to a gentle clearness like a gem. And you know what? I hated the damn thing.

   Along about my 4th Martini I had an insight. The machine, with all it precision expertise, had made me unnecessary. Yes, I measured the gin, bitters, ice, and vermouth – but then the device yanked me out of the most physical part of the process. I’d lost the tactile connection of manually working the alchemy of mixing a cocktail. And with my new toy, the cocktails always came out perfect.

   How very dull!

   True, a bartender at a saloon also removes me from the process – but when the barman turns out a perfect Martini, I can tell him “thanks.” I can express my appreciation to a fellow human being – verbally as well as financially. And I always retain the memory of a happy moment when a fellow aficionado worked his or her wonder for me. But how does one thank a gizmo? Do I call the factory to thank the person who runs the machines that make the machine? A person I will never see. Do I give the thing a thimble of oil and say “Have one with me”?

   Using the machine, made me feel dehumanized. I saw nothing good in a device that invariably whips up drink after drink without a misstep.

   Hell, I even cherish the bad Martinis I have had. Like the time in 1982 when I sauntered into a dive bar in lower Manhattan around the corner from a long gone Job Lot store. This place served shots and chasers. And the price fit a young man’s budget. A shot of Barton’s Reserve Rye with a ginger ale back cost – ready? – 75¢. You read that right. Three quarters of a dollar. Counting for inflation, in today’s coin of the realm that comes to $1.96. Good luck finding prices like that today.

   Well, I frequented this goodly establishment from time to time. And one day, as the barman saw me and reached for the rye, I upset the local ecosystem by asking for a Dry Martini, straight up with an olive.

   The barman just stood there looking at me.

   He said nothing. He just looked and looked.

   Then he squinted and asked me, “You sure you have the right place, buddy?”

I said yes, and I felt like having Dry Martini, straight up with an olive.

   To this day I swear I saw a tear forming in the corner of his one good eye.

   “Buddy, you know how long I been slinging drinks here? Nearly 40 years and nobody, but nobody ever asked me for a Dry Martini, straight up with an olive. Or a twist. Or a dash of bitters. Nobody. I waited and waited, but long about the Korean War truce I gave up hope. Some bars just serve shots and a chaser. I resigned myself to my fate. And now you come here.”

   Then he stood mute again for a moment. Silently, he reached under the bar. My life flashed before my eyes for I knew what awaited me. In a saloon like that I would either get a Louisville Slugger or a sawed-off shotgun.

   But the barman did something I had never before seen him do. He smiled. And he came up with a classic V-shaped cocktail glass. True, it had a layer of grime on it but the sentimental fool had clearly kept it there just waiting for me. And now, after cleaning the glass to a shine, he paused a moment, knowing that he would now make that long-dreamt of Dry Martini.

   He really dug the moment! With the greatest of care, he measured out the gin and then poured it into a cocktail shaker that had probably sat on a shelf since Prohibition. Then he added exactly the right amount of dry vermouth to make a classic Martini. And from god knows where the old codger produced a bottle of Angostura Bitters and carefully plopped in two drops. Then he placed the cap on the shaker and shook with all the pent up energy he had harbored lo those many years waiting for this moment.

   After the requisite number of jiggles, he unsealed the cap from the shaker and poured the drink into the glass with a sacramental, almost priestly air. And he added an olive then slid the drink over to me. He awaited my approval. I sipped. And told him what I thought: “Excellent blending!” and he beamed! “And if you remember to use ice next time, it will be even better!”

   His mistake crushed him. He took back the drink before I’d finished half of it and replaced it with a jigger of Barton’s Reserve rye with a ginger back and we never spoke of that moment again. But damn it, that inept cocktail still stands as the single best bad Martini I would ever have. I have had so many Martinis that I cannot count them. But never did I have one made with such loving care and hope and expectation. Not once did anyone come close to putting in the feeling that this grizzled, one-eyed barman poured into the drink. I shall always remember it with an unmatched fondness.

   Now I ask you. Can a machine do that?

   So I packed my new Martini machine into its box where it remained until the next wedding rolled around. I knew some young inexperienced couple just starting out in life will need a measure of perfection as they face disillusion and and the inevitable let-downs in that first year of marriage. And for newlyweds, a dingus that delivers a perfectly turned out stiff drink will provide more joy than any pressure cooker or crock pot.

   I got a lovely thank you letter from the newlyweds.

   I read it while sipping a dry Martini I could’ve shaken a bit more, one that I went too heavy on the bitters with. But what can we expect from a human in place of a machine? And I fixed the shortcomings with the next cocktail. And the one after that…

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A Manhattan Christmas Story

December 21, 2016

rockefeller-tree

NOTE: Not long ago we received this memory from an unnamed Hell’s Kitchen writer, who assures us that his neighbors all pass him on the street every day… without ever seeing him.

When my kids were little, long before I became what I am now, which is a booze-hound, Christmas time was always something special. It still is special for me ‘cause they haven’t yet closed down all the soup kitchens. The City Fathers missed a couple of soup kitchens in their drive to improve the quality of life in this town by killing off everybody who doesn’t work three jobs and make a hundred grand a year just to pay the rent. So I can still look forward to a meal of turkey with trimmings in some church basement somewhere. Along with the food, the do-gooders give us bums little Christmas presents. It’s nice. Don’t you like getting presents? I do. Last year I got some Old Spice and a soap on a rope. It was green and shaped like a seahorse. I liked the way it smelled. But I accidentally left my soap hanging in the rooming house bathroom down the hall one day and that was the last I saw of it. I don’t know why, but when I found the soap was gone I cried like a baby for two hours. And I never cry. A stupid piece of cheap soap. Archie the bartender who took the pledge was right. Booze does turn your brain to mush.

It was Christmas time and I ran out of money again. A card game this time. Looking for free things to do, I thought it might be fun to see the tree at Rockefeller Center. I usually enjoy the colored lights and all the happy kids giggling and acting like, well, like happy kids. So yesterday, even though I had no money to speak of, I left my room and headed over there. In the daylight you could see that this was one hell of a big tree. Why’d they go kill it? I stood in the part of the plaza they call the Channel Gardens cause on one side is a British building and on the other side is a French building. I was looking at the tree when I noticed this woman with her son. The kid was about six, I guess, no more than seven, and the woman had him bundled all up like he was Neil Armstrong setting foot on the moon even though it wasn’t really so cold out. It couldn’t have been cold cause I was there and I don’t own a coat. That’s why I’m inside today, writing this. Today it’s freezing out. And I don’t own a coat. So this woman has her kid by the hand and says, “look, Lawrence, look at the nice tree. It’s beautiful isn’t it.” She wasn’t so much asking him as she was telling him. Surprisingly, the kid said “no.”

“But it is beautiful,” the mama said, giving the kid a little tap on the back of the head.

“It is not,” the boy insisted.

“Yes it is,” she said, giving him a harder tap.

“I don’t like it.”

“Yes you do!”

This time she gave the kid a clip on the head so hard that I could feel it. The boy wobbled a bit but held his ground.

“It isn’t beautiful! It stinks!”

“It is beautiful!” she says then CRACK! a tremendous shot across the back of the kid’s head. In my day, I seen prize fighters kiss the canvas on less.

“Isn’t mommy right? Isn’t the tree beautiful?”

When the boy didn’t answer, she lifted her hand again.

“It’s so beautiful, mommy,” he said like he really meant it.

“Don’t you just love it?”

“Yes mommy, I love it. I love it.”

“And do you love mommy?”

“Yes. I love mommy.”

She smiled and they went away, both of them happy. I’d hate to be around when this kid gets married. His wife cuddles up to him and coos, “do you love me?” and he says “I love you more than anything” then he proves it to her by belting her right in the sweetbreads. I only hope he finds somebody who’s into that kind of thing. There’s plenty of them out there.

I looked back at the tree, and so help me, now I didn’t think it was very beautiful. Then I cringed, almost feeling a swift hard smack on the back of my head. I turned around as fast as I could and went across the street and down the block to St. Patrick’s Cathedral. I prayed for that kid.