Kids, here’s an essay that originally appeared in the December 2008 issue of The Inner Swine
OLD MAN BARS
Are My Eventual Destination
A World Ignorant of Booze
by Jeff Somers
PIGS, here’s a horrifying scenario: I meet some friends at a local restaurant for drinks. Not a place of my choosing, because despite my best efforts I have not yet been able to bend people to my will simply by focusing my thoughts on them, though research continues. The waitress comes for drink orders and the following exchange occurs:
WAITRESS: What’ll it be, folks?
ME: What whiskeys do you have back there?
WAITRESS: Uh. . .some. . .uh. . .we have. . .er, bottles.
ME: <sighing> Johnny Walker Black, neat.
I’ve come to recognize the sort of fear and blank-minded panic on the faces of waiters, waitresses, and bartenders when I inquire about their booze selections that indicates they either have no idea what’s back there or that there’s not much back there to begin with. Whenever I spot this sort of panic, I immediately give up my quest for single-malt goodness because it will only end in tears, and fall back on either Johnny Walker or Jack Daniels, because there isn’t a bar in the fucking world that doesn’t have those.
Now, there’s nothing really wrong with Johnny Walker. As blended whiskeys go, it’s a fine dram and I can always get by on it. But it has come to represent defeat to me, because I know there are bars, at least in New York City, where you can stroll in and order just about any decent whiskey you can think of and it will be brought to you, posthaste. Having been in such heavenly places, it is always a difficult transition to regular bars, where most people drink wine or beer or mixed drinks, and if they do go for an unadulterated spirit it’s blended Scotch or American Bourbon.
Again, nothing wrong with good old American Bourbon. I like quite a bit of it. But I feel handcuffed in such situations, because, goddammit, I want what I want.
TOO OLD TO ROCK N ROLL, TOO YOUNG TO DIE
The problem is, of course, that I’ve gotten old, and one result of age is experience. I know what I like, now. And sadly, since I am not a kid any more, now that I finally know what I like society as a whole does not give one tiny shit about it. Basically, the cruel joke of life in these modern times is that when you have no fucking idea what you want, the whole world is set up to service your desires. By the time you taste a little bit of life and know what flavors you actually enjoy, you’re too fucking old and the world patently doesn’t give a shit about your desires any more, except in tiny little islands like the aforementioned whiskey-friendly bars. Islands of Jeffness, let’s call them.
Example: Coors Lite.
When I was a wee lad, footloose and fancy-free, I drank an awful lot of Coors Lite. Why? I mean, it’s a terrible beer. Well, on 100-degree summer days there is something to be said for a beer you can chill down to Absolute Zero and then chug until the brain freeze kills you, but as far as an enjoyable brew Coors Lite is about as tasty and complex as water with bubbles. Aside from the fact that I was poor, and thus a nicely priced domestic Lite beer was attractive, it was also the beer of choice of my lady friends, and it was easy to drink. It was also aggressively marketed to me, and thus available everywhere—I mean, sometimes it seemed like walking down the street people were handing me cans of the Silver Bullet, miming the act of drinking and rubbing their bellies in ecstasy.
Perhaps I imagined that, much like the clown hallucinations Homer Simpson had on the “clown college” episode of The Simpsons.
The point is, Coors Lite was everywhere. You literally could walk into a bar in Somalia and find Coors Lite on tap. And because I was young and didn’t know much, I drank it by the bucketful. I could swagger around the world secure in the knowledge that almost wherever I went I’d be able to drink my beer of choice. What can I say? I was young and inexperienced and the world was designed around that.
Now that I actually have some preferences—good or bad, depending on your opinions—life has gotten harder.
A JOURNEY OF ALCOHOLIC EXCESS
Let’s look at my alcoholic choices over the years, shall we? And then you can decide on whether or not I was a massively easy sell when I was younger:
BOOZE OF CHOICE: Mystery liquor from parents cabinet.
Back in those glorious days of booze exploration, I’d pretty much drink anything, and usually mixed together into a horrible Booze Smoothie of sorts. When you’re surreptitiously siphoning from your parents’ liquor supplies, you gotta sacrifice things like flavor, health, and nuance, and just take a shot of everything available, mix it together in a plastic bottle, and smuggle it back to your room for a journey of horrible, horrible self discovery.
BOOZE OF CHOICE: Blackberry Brandy.
Ah, Blackberry Brandy, the black hole down which my youth swam. Sweet, cheap, and available in back-pocket-sized bottles, good old blackberry brandy was the staple of my streetcorner boozing in my teen years. Today, a sniff of its rotten bouquet would have been puking, but back then I drank it by the gallon. Yes, I am ashamed.
BOOZE OF CHOICE: Coors Lite. Or any other cheap, watery lager.
Ah, college. Officially I was dry in college, because I’d had some hair-raising experiences by then. But in truth I did a fair bit of drinking on the side. In a problemed-drinker, hide it from your friends who all think you’re sober kind of way. Fun! As for my sad devotion to Coors Lite, see above. In truth, in college when you’re underage you sometimes have to take what you can get, which often leads you to the horror that is Olympia.
BOOZE OF CHOICE: Jack Daniels in Coke.
I was starting to wise up. Slowly. I liked bourbon well enough, as a shot, but the concept of sipping and enjoying whiskey hadn’t yet settled on me, so I lubricated perfectly fine whiskey in horrible sweet soda so I could drink in volume. Once, upset at something, I ordered three Jack n’ Cokes in about five minutes, sucking each down in record time, and this after I’d already spent a few hours drinking. Fast forward about twenty minutes, and I am in the bathroom of a place called Hamburger Harry’s in Manhattan, puking my guts out. Good times!
This more or less brings us up to date—I can’t quite put my finger on when I started drinking my bourbon with just ice and no coke, or when I had my sudden epiphany regarding whiskey and its wonders, but it wasn’t long after this last example. It’s not that my tastes improved, you have to understand. It’s that I actually started to have some taste at all. Which is also not to say taste in the sense of knowing what’s good versus what’s bad, but rather taste in the simple sense of having preferences and being able to articulate them.
This is, naturally, a curse as well as a blessing. On the one hand it’s god to know what you like and be able to secure it, on the other hand this means that sometimes you will find yourself sitting in a sad little place where the things you want are not available. years before, when you were innocent and happy, you could just take whatever they had and you’d be satisfied. But now you have The Hunger, and nothing except exactly what you wanted will satisfy you.
The Hunger has, throughout history, burned down cities and destroyed empires, my friends. Maybe this is why the Children have come to rule the Earth: They have no Hunger.
Oh well. At least in my own home, Camp Levon, I can stock the larder with things I like and be happy. This is just another brick in my own little Wall; eventually I’ll have no reason to ever leave the house and interact with folks. I’m sure there are those of you (bastards, all of you) who are happy to hear that. If so, you could help the cause by mailing me some good single-malt. C’mon! I know you hate me. Show it by sending me expensive liquors.