Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Mark Pothier's Guide to Books & Booze

Time to grab a book and get tipsy!

Back by popular demand, Books & Booze, originally a mini-series of sorts here on TNBBC challenges participating authors to make up their own drinks, name and all, or create a drink list for their characters and/or readers using drinks that already exist. 

Today Mark Pothier gives his story single, The First Light of Evening, the drink treatment.

Two "First Light of Evening" Martinis

Gentle Book & Booze Lover,

You might think, gazing at the cover of The First Light of Evening, with its empty wineglass and someone's smoke seductively wrapping around it, that this story of a middle-aged man left by his wife to reflect on his self-reflections involves some drinking. And you would be right. Our hero, Jim Finley, starts talking to us, or himself, over cocktails. He describes how he's dealing with his wife's departure, his grown kids, his growing coziness with the possibility he'll never be a writer, and how he loves sitting on the back porch by his books, watching the sunset, quoting Wallace Stevens, listening to jazz, and drinking… gin. No wonder Jim's son, home for the summer from college, never stays past supper.

One could say the story starts with cocktails, empties a bottle of wine, and ends just after a digestif interruptus at the edge of San Francisco's Ocean Beach. But because Jim is such an Unreliable Narrator — and which of us, Dear Drinking Readers, is not? — it's hard to know just how lit he truly is. He's as attracted to his own melancholy as he is to Caroline, sitting right next to him, who, that evening, slips onto his back porch and tries to get him outside. It sometimes sounds like he's nursing a grudge rather than a drink. (Even his hero, Wallace Stevens, lived a double life of sorts, gaining notoriety both as an insurance exec — "The Dean of Surety," he was called — and as a pissy lush when vacating in Key West, where, at 50, he once foolishly put up his dukes with a 30-year-old Hemingway.)

To wit: We're on shifty ground here. So I offer you two martinis, one real and one a little more or less so. Both are consumed within First Light of Evening, and you can easily try this at home while reading.

This first is my family's Go-To Drink, by the way, but I'll henceforth name it after this story, since the latter grew out of a writing prompt where I had to narrate a real event from the opposite point of view. In this case, that event was a first hug, two decades ago, that my father gave me soon after my mother left him (and after I, btw, had been dumped by a girlfriend). My father, unlike Jim Finley, quickly got over himself; he's not one to be undone by sentimentality, and he's now happily remarried. He's also a near a teetotaler — who "splits a beer"? — but whenever we get together, we always drink this martini. Relaxed chatting and mediocre jokes ensue.

The "First Light of Evening" Martini, #1
  • 1 olive (dropped into Appropriate Stemware)
  • 1 splash dry vermouth (any quality will do, as you won't taste it)
  • Beefeater gin, kept ever-ready in your freezer, poured to top

I do have bartender friends who lovingly make high-grade cocktails, and who wince at the frozen liquor ("It can bruise the spirits"), but rest assured that all of them suck these back when I'm pouring, and they do not complain. And yes, I have tried many, many other gins, but none satisfy my gene-pool's palate like Beefeater. Honest, we've tried. My sister and I once even got some precious Dutch stuff in a stoneware bottle, but still, in unison, we spit.

What's also cool about keeping the gin in the freezer is that, once mixed, this martini travels well in a thermos, for your on-the-go needs. My father, who lives back east and doesn't travel well, has come to San Francisco three times — for our wedding, for our first-born, and finally, as a kindness to us. Late in the afternoon he arrived on his last visit, I packed up a transport unit of Recipe #1 (olives separate, please), and took him out to sit on the same beach where Jim Finley's date ended (in the story) so we could toast ourselves into the sunset. We had a Singularly Good Time, happily far from the sad, morose days we'd shared two decades ago — far from the sort of moping that led to this, the second martini Jim describes at the end of his story:

The "First Light of Evening" Martini, #2
  • 2 pieces Appropriate Stemware (from Goodwill if you do this for fun, or priceless, shared heirlooms if you're really pissed)
  • 1 toaster (round-edged and chrome works best)
  • Bright overhead kitchen lighting

This one is for rare and unpleasant occasions. First, stand in the brightly lit kitchen. Pretend you're about to make a couple of the Recipe #1s (above), and reach up into the cupboard. Take down the two glasses. Suddenly realize that you're all alone, and remember why. Call fully to mind the One Who Done You Wrong. Seethe. Mutter, "You can have her/him" and then yell it again, loudly, as you toss one of the glasses over your shoulder. If, for some reason, that glass doesn't break, shatter it in the sink. Look at the scary mess you've made — all those shards! — and then catch your reflection in the toaster. Check out how smart and righteous you look when you're seething. Not. Allow it to slowly dawn on you that the only person who can get your shit together is you, because you're the one, ultimately, who's holding it all.

Then, run out to see someone you love to talk to, prepare Recipe #1, and — Salut!


Mark Ernest Pothier's first published story won a Chicago Tribune/Nelson Algren Award in 1994. He wrote weekends and after-work for the next 15 years, until the editor at Kindle Singles resuscitated his fiction career by picking up two of his stories, "The First Light of Evening" and "The Man Who Owns Little," which have been downloaded by more than 16,000 readers and produced by Audible. He lives in San Francisco's Outer Richmond district with his wife and kids, holds an MFA from SF State, and is polishing his debut novel.