Mostly because no one cares, but that is beside the point. If you, however, falsely believe that the person sitting across from you wishes to hear your grievances, and you are not paying them $200/hr, then I regret to inform you that you are mistaken.
As kids, we learn to feign interest. As adults, we carry this lesson into our professional lives. Some people master the skill and become managers. Others, like myself, grow weary of listening to a group of actors bitch and moan about the process, the plot, or, more likely, the lines.
Still, the habit is a diabolical one. There is, perhaps, nothing more detrimental to one's health as complaining. At first, it starts as venting. Someone cuts us off on the highway, or a co-worker sends us an ill-toned email.
Then, it evolves into a series of unfortunate events that make up a tragedy. We cast ourselves in the role of Hamlet and play the victim. Suddenly, our broken shoelace becomes a slight from Richard of Gloucester and the insufferable Debra one of Macbeth’s witches.
Slowly, your dictates become diatribes, and most of your day is consumed with either fuming and feasting on frustration or spewing the noxious gas onto someone who will listen.
There is one unfortunate exception to the rule.
Complaining functions like a magnet. Do it at work, and you will be amazed at how many people, like cockroaches, descend to share the shit sandwich.
Like the aforementioned group Of actors, people will do anything to avoid work, and there is no better American pastime than complaining. Sit back and marvel at the wit of the clap back and the comedy of errors laid out for you about the boss. Notice how, in lurid detail, people can recall slight after slight, shortcoming after shortcoming, for days upon end. Yet, what goal has been accomplished?
Think again about how many countless internet rants there have been deconstructing the faults of Star Wars. How many endless tirades are the on Facebook, Reddit, and YouTube about “How It Should Have Ended” and “Everything Wrong With” about the galaxy far far away. And yet, how many of those people have written a screenplay, let alone build a world or produce a film?
See, complaining functions to serve our ego. We believe we are superior to most people; it’s not Machiavellian it’s mundane.
When we engage in swapping war stories and battle in the game of one-upmanship, we throw our hat into the ring of pity. How many hours have you worked? How big is your student debt? What driver cuts you off in the rain this morning?
By reliving the fantasy or sharing the experience, we long for validation. The closest thing that emulates this practice is masturbation. We look for the perfect idea to rail against, searching page after page, thought after thought, until we settle for some person and unload.
We cast ourselves in the tragedy of life, an Elizabethan player, fretting upon the stage, and, as the Bard notes, we are full of sound and fury signifying nothing.
Likewise, the medium of our time, social media, has created a haven for trolls and whiners alike, a sea of “I normally don’t do this,” and, “you know who you are.”
What Facebook and its myriad of Hydra-heads tapped into was man’s need for validation. “I exist,” is what every page secretly says. Yet, it also amplifies the signal of our worst impulses and feeds off of our anger and lust for vitriol.
Most men are not Tolstoy. We don’t write of texts full of meaning, driven by annals well-plotted, character-driven drama. Most of us, this author included (yes, I see the irony of this article as being a complaint about complaining), write dribble, hence why ever insta-model only quotes the same six authors next to a photo or the well-shaped ass.
And so, we turn to what we know, the thorn in our side.
It may feel as though you are working through your stand-up routine, that you are a wit churning out zinger after zinger, but you are not. People love to salivate over gossip and ridicule those they despise. But take a step back for a moment and see that the knife you hold cuts both ways.
The great sages of the past learned this counsel that to hurt another is to hurt ones-self. We may exact our revenge, but it always comes at a cost.
So the next time you wish to decompress by lambasting someone or screaming at the heavens that life is unjust, ask yourself, “Is this useful?” We have all this pent up energy, all this sound, and fury, building to a crescendo, and we waste it on cheap shots at imaginary figures. Instead, how do we funnel that rage, how do we direct that raging wind towards something, anything, more creative?
What’s in a martini? That which we call a cocktail by any other name would taste as sweet? Okay, so for you Shakespeare nerds, it doesn’t scan, and for you mixologists, I added a dash of Maraschino--bite me. The question is, what is a martini and why, like Shakespeare (you might as well get used to it because I’m carrying this metaphor all the way through this essay), has it stood the test of time?
Somethings are iconic and will live longer than you or I, and certainly longer than this article will trend. Fads come and go, and mixologists continue to play with Absinthes rinses and flaming walnuts to create the perfect amount of smoke to add something to a cocktail; however, when it is all said and done there are tried and true mixes that never go out of fashion.
There has been as much written about the proper Martini as there has been about who actually wrote Macbeth. The likes of Dorothy Parker and George Burns famously quipped about the drink far better than I and Pappa Hemingway himself once quipped, “I had never tasted anything so cool and clean… They made me feel civilized.”
While there is a myriad of recipes out there to concoct this libation, let us set a few things straight. First, for this article, let it be known we are talking about a Martini, a real Martini, and not a Kangaroo Cocktail (see vodka). Furthermore, just because your local bartender at Chili’s pours it into a chilled martini glass does not make that fruity concoction a proper cocktail. Second, while a dry martini can undoubtedly have as little or as much vermouth as you wish, let it be known that a “Dry Martini” is not, as Winston Churchill so eloquently put it, a glass of cold gin and a nod to the French. A cocktail is just that, a cocktail. A blend of ingredients to heighten the drinking experience. If you wish to sip on a shot of gin be my guest, but don’t order a martini, and if you dislike the taste of vermouth, odds are it is because you are drinking rancid vermouth that his been sitting on a bar shelf or in a fridge for more than a year. A martini is a drink that is one-hundred percent about the interplay between gin and vermouth. The two ingredients play off one another, the botanicals in the two spirits work to create something unique.
Lastly, throw out everything just written, because at the end of the day, order the drink you want, and never quote another man about what you should drink.
And yet, odds are if you are reading this article, and likely imbibing while you do, you are here because of one man, well, two actually--technically you could add eight more bringing the total to ten, but now we’re just getting in the weeds. James Bond did to the Martini what Miles Davis did to jazz. No man has even had a more monumental impact on a drink than 007, or rather, Ian Flemming. Yet, let it be noted here that the infamous, “Shaken, not stirred,” line was a creation of the films, hence the technically eight men aforementioned, as the Bond of the novel was a bourbon man. Still, ever since Sean Connery uttered those words in his Scottish-brogue, he launched an industry of drinkers who, like Hemingway, feel dapper and civilized.
There is no shame in taking a social cue for your drink order. God knows most Americans do. We fall in line for the Old Fashioned or the Caucasian each time a hit rolls out. Like Broadway churning out Hollywood musicals and remaking cult classics, drinks take a bit of marketing to find their niche. But long before Bond, the Martini was a staple of the cocktail hour.
Legend has it that the drink was created in Martinez, California, when a miner stopped in and ordered champagne, but the bartender did not have it. So, he concocted something with what he had and created a classic. While this could be a misnomer in the same way that Bob Kane invented Batman, the credit is given to “Professor” Jerry Thomas, the man who literally wrote the book on Bar-Tending, for first coining the recipe. With Old Tom’s gin, sweet vermouth, cherry liqueur, and orange bitters (a method that still holds up today and is dangerously close to Bond’s Vesper), the Marinez was born.
Multiple recipes exist before Thomas’s book and the story that goes with it, and the fact of the matter is that various recipes using gin, Old Tom, and Genever all existed around 1870. But when the legend becomes fact, print the legend.
Despite the quarrel over what marked the first Martini, the drink evolved overtime. It began as a dry martini, meaning using the London Dry style of gin over Genever or Old Tom, and was, probably, a 50/50 ratio of vermouth to gin. Then, over time, as the tastes changed, it moved more to a 2:1 ratio, which remains the standard today, although in most bars, if you want a “standard” Martini, you have to ask for a wet martini.
Personally, I love a 2:1 ratio with a dash or two of orange bitters and an absinthe rinse and lemon twist. I will throw in a bar spoon of Maraschino if I want something a tad sweeter, or go with a Vesper (I’ll use Cocci if I have it or add bitters to Lillet).
The process of crafting a cocktail is similar to the distillation process of wine. The poetry of the bottle comes out in the glass. The only difference is that to make a spirit shine, it takes another bard to speak the verse.
A martini is not about getting drunk, although it will certainly get you there. It is not about throwing back three-martini lunches or celebrating the final shot of the day--but it can be. Martinis, like all great things, are about slow enjoyment; they’re about time; they’re about mindfulness. Benjamin Franklin may have said that beer proved God loved us, but H.L Menken said, “Martinis are the only American invention as perfect as a sonnet.”
Al took his sweat-stained Panama hat off and sat it on the bar. His ex-wife had given it to him, almost as a joke, seven Christmases ago. At first, he never wore it as the hat always seemed out of place wherever he was. But since he had let his beard grow and his choice of jacket had altered from tailored to deconstructed, the hat seemed to fit.
The bar was a respite from the humidity outside. Papa Hemingway may have called this place Heaven, but Al’s Yankee blood was far to thick for this climate. He took off the linen blazer revealing a sweat-soaked shirt and a surprising amount of tattoos up and down his arm, a reminder of his days chasing tail in Philadelphia. Al hardly noticed them at this point, but often when he was sitting in an airport or lounging in a hotel room, they would break the illusion of a sweet grandpa for some mother and her daughter.
Belly up to the bar, Al wiped the sweat from his forehead with a handkerchief and tucked it back into his chinos as the bartender greeted him with a wry smile.
“What’ll it be?” said the bartender in perfect English.
Caught off-guard by the precision of the bartender’s speech, Al fumbled, for an order. He had wanted a bourbon smash, something sweet and slightly exotic, but the idea leaped out of his head once his presumption of what a Florida Keys bartender should sound like was shattered.
“Daiquiri,” answered Al, “a Hemingway,” he added.
The bartender hid a laugh and said, “Coming right up.”
For some reason, Al had always valued the opinion of bartenders, even when he was younger. As he hopped from one trend to the next, ordering Old Fashions when TV touted slick suits and nostalgia and switching back to martini’s when the latest spy film hit the theaters, Al always asked what the best way to make the drink was (it wasn’t until much later that he realized how obnoxious this must have seemed at the time).
In Philly, he learned that the secret to a proper Old Fashion was a mix of Angostura and Orange bitters. In New York, he learned that the best martini relies on the perfect balance of good (fresh) vermouth, the right gin, and a twist (fuck an olive). And now, here he was after all these years ordering the most cliche drink in the keys: a Hemingway Daiquiri. “Still,” he thought, “when in Rome. After all, this isn’t the rum-running Key West of Captain Callaway. Hell, the entire ecosystem down here is nostalgia.”
He looked around the bar taking in all the old photos of “pirates” and poets. A few he recognized, but most were nameless faces that decorated the wall, in the same way, Italian restaurants plaster photos of Dean Martin and Frank Sinatra everywhere.
The cocktail was slid in front of him, an opaque white mixture of rum, lime, and sugar, and with one sip, Al understood why Papa loved these so much.
He pulled a cigar from his damp pocket, the tobacco a little more moist than when he bought it. Hanging over the bar, just to the left of Hemingway holding a fish, was Churchill chewing a cigar with some quote stenciled in Courier. Al’s eyes were too weak to make out what the poster said, but he was sure he’d read the Prime Minister’s quote before.
He clipped off the end of his cigar with a cutter he had bought many moons ago in some old lounge in Florida. While countless numbers of sunglasses and pocketknives had come and gone, this stainless steel cutter had hung around.
Sitting the cutter down on the table, Al reached for the matches in his pocket, but he couldn’t find them. Front left, back right, nowhere to be found. He lifted his blazer to see if he had placed the matches in his coat pocket, but alas, they were nowhere to be found. It was then, again, the bartender swooped in with a butane torch.
“Gracias,” said Al.
“De nada,” answered the bartender, “what kind of place would this be if I wasn’t quick with a joke, or could light up your smoke?”
Al smiled, catching the reference. Clearly, this was not the first time the young man had worked an old-timer this way.
“Someplace you’d rather be?” Answered Al puffing on the tobacco to light the cherry.
“And give up Heaven? No way.”
“Heaven,” asked Al, “or Hell?”
This time, the bartender’s laugh was genuine, “Don’t worry, amigo, you’ll get used to the heat.”
“One drink at a time.”
The bartender released the hammer from the torch, nodded, and walked back to tend to another customer.
And, as he embraced the spicy-sweet smoke on his tongue and washed down the toxic burn with a splash of rum, he relaxed.
There was a time when Al was more of a Steppenwolf, and all of this would have seemed trite: the drink, the smoke, the coat, even the witty bartender all would have been lost on his younger self. Yet now, all these years later, Al couldn’t help but see the joy in the sun salted island.
And just as an old habit began to creep in, a thought that punctured the moment and almost sent him careening into deep thought, he caught himself and ceased to look for any deeper meaning.
Instead, he puffed his cigar and quelled the thought, sending it back down to the depths from which it came. This was not a time for thinking. This was not a time for pontificating or understanding. This was a time to drink and to smoke, a time to enjoy the vices of life.
He spun around on the stool to face the ocean, not that he needed to see it from that particular angle, the bar was, after all, surrounded on all sides by water. But, he slumped in his chair and looked out at the crashing waves.
He took another sip of his drink and sat it back down on the bar. Then, he pulled a worn copy of a spy novel from his pocket. Al was about halfway through the thin thriller, an indulgence he finally allowed himself: trash fiction. He found them to be to his taste. After years of trudging through the annals of great thinkers, he thought he had earned a few years respite of popcorn fiction. And yet, it was not at all the experience he had thought. There was no self-mockery, no rolling of the eyes, or shaking of the head. No, Al enjoyed every second of the book, from the sex mastering mistress to the epically scarred villain, Al could not get enough of espionage and murder.
And as the sun moved on and the waves crashed around him keeping time, Al drifted away to one exotic place after another and sipped his cliche drink at his cliche bar.
Brock D. Vickers
This is the beginning of a new part of life: a habit: an idea: a routine to dig at what makes a man great.