(This is the first entry from a new contributor. It may be the first of many. Leave some comments and share it won’t you. I’m calling this series “Behind Closed Doors with Cha Cha Puddlewinks” until I’m told not to.)
Absinthe Makes the Heart Go Crazy
I’d known about absinthe for decades from reading old stuff, most notably, ‘Wormwood: A Drama of Paris’, written by Marie Corelli in 1890; the Reefer Madness of its day. In it, a debonair young upstart falls into squalor due to demon absinthe but I never felt like seeking out that particular beverage as I’d already managed to play the same story with Milwaukee’s Best Ice. But soon I’d seen one too many movies that pushed the notion absinthe was something other than simple hooch and that if I drank it I’d see Kylie Minogue flying around and my cat would tap dance. Moulin Rouge, Murder By Numbers and From Hell depicted, as had been done since the turn of the nineteenth century, absinthe as a mind-altering drug and a ticket to the nuthouse. Most often its use resulted in insanity and death. But wait a minute. You mean I can get shitfaced drunk AND trip balls? Sign me up for a speed-date with The Green Fairy.
I fucking hopped on the internet in a hurry. I did a quick search and this is what I found:
“Absinthe Original is made by craftsmen distillers to a secret 200 year old Swiss absinthe recipe and it is said by connoisseurs to compare with the rarest French cognacs. The complex and distinguished taste is rounded up by a well blended herbal mix with pronaunced taste of wormwood and coriander. In its elegant new bottle, this original absinthe looks good, it tastes good, it is good. Only the highest quality ingredients are used in its manufacture and it is guaranteed to be free of artificial colourants and chemicals. Absinthe Original contains many herbal extracts including angelica, aniseed, fennel, hyssop, juniper, nutmeg and wormwood (which contains the neurotoxin thujone). Absinthe Original’s fine deep olive green color occurs as a result of its natural ingredients with no artificial colorings added. This also explains why the color may appear slightly different from one bottle to the next. Absinthe Original may also change color over time. This is what makes our absinthe the most authentic and desired brand in the market. In fact, these subtle variations in color have always been considered the hallmark of high-quality, genuine Absinthe and in the Belle Epoque period it actually distinguished a genuine Absinthe from an imitation or artificially colored products. Always drink absinthe well chilled either with a little sugar and water or as a base for your favourite absinthe drink. Either way, La Boheme Absinthe Original is one of life’s great pleasures.”
The key word there was neurotoxin. Cause that’s what comes out when you squirt the gland of a Sonoran Desert Toad onto a glass slide, let it dry, scrape it off and smoke it (I’ve led an interesting life, fortunately in the company of interesting friends.) Here, on the internet, it was telling me that I wouldn’t have to deal with the bother of going to a reptile show, buying a frog, squeezing its poison gland like it was an infected zit and wait for what squirted out to dry. Plus, I’d be drunk.
Oh, about that toadsmoking thing. Yep, It does mighty wild shit to your brain. For me, though, the fact I was seeing cartoon dogs and mandalas was completely overshadowed by the sensory experience of a mouthful of smoke that tasted like rotten fish.
A little bit of recent history is in order: In 1989 the communist regime in Czechoslovakia collapsed and in January, 1993 the country split up into constituent states: the Czech Republic and the Slovak Republic. The rest of Eastern Europe stayed not too dissimilar from the way it always had been, friendly fascists. The Czech Republic, however, gooned on new-found freedom, was like a freshman home away for the first time at college. Part of this was great. Suddenly, very, very peaceful. Suddenly, very very democratic. But you know what comes with democracy? Crazy liars in pursuit of capitalism.
It was discovered that the now Czech Republic was one of the few remaining places on earth where absinthe had not been banned. (More history: in its heyday, the French winemakers were not happy that absinthe had become so popular, and set up a political smear campaign, much in the same way California Beer and Beverage distributors, now, are contributing to campaign contributions aimed at preventing medical marijuana.) Absinthe got outlawed, mostly, all over the world. The fall from socialism coincided with both the birth of the internet and the youth market looking for a legal high. Talk about a marriage made in heaven!
Trouble was, nobody in the Czech Republic knew how absinthe was made. What they did know was that it contained wormwood and enough pure alcohol to kill an ox. So various companies whipped up branded concoctions based on this vague notion of the legendary drink and made up fake stories about 200 year old. I fell for that one. The stuff they sold tasted like window cleaner mixed with cat pee, only much less pleasant.
History managed to provide the Czech Republic with a crazy good marketing strategy. The country of Bohemia once occupied the western two-thirds of the traditional Czech lands. The original French painters and yahoos and artists, at the turn of the century, swilling absinthe, called themselves Bohemians. A confusing bit of terminology, but: those yahoos invented a catch-all style of absinthe called “Bohemian.” Again, cough syrup blended with ass sweat.
I got my $200 bottle of Absinthe Original in the mail. I was expecting mushrooms. I got crazy drunk man. Talk about a bounced Czech.
Wormwood’s chief component is thujone. This is what the fake, sham, websites try to portray as a hallucinogen. It isn’t. All it is is a stimulant. It’s like drinking a Red Bull and Jager. But: the crazy fake absinthe sold by the Czech sites does have this going for it: they put insane amounts of thujone into their booze, It’s not the mystical, Lucy in the fucking Sky. What it does is keep you upright so you can hammer down some more alcohol. I thought, man, the stereo sounds better than it ever has, this foul-tasting swill does the job! A new kind of high! Nope, the simple fact was that the herbal uppers made sure I had never consumed that much C2H6O without passing the fuck out.
I had never had a blackout. Next morning, I sure did. I went into the bathroom to pee, and the lid to the toilet tank was missing. I freaked. Then I thought, what the hell, home invasion and they steal THAT? I went back into the bedroom and saw my toilet tank lid on my bed. Apparently, I’d slept with it.. I called my friend Joe and explained what had happened.
“Knowing you, ya probably spent the night with it, thinking it was David Bowie. He’s thin and pale and cold.”
I got on the internet and did a proper search and found out I’d been hornswaggled. This Czech shit is a marketing strategy and there is real absinthe to be found. There’s stuff made that tastes exactly like what was made during the fin de siecle, and I wanted some. I found it,
This stuff was astoundingly yummy (that is assuming you like the taste of anise, otherwise you are going to have a bad time.) As a kid, I would pick out the black jelly beans from my Easter basket and eat them first, so, yeah, I was born for this brand of hooch. Plus, it worked the same: herbs would keep you wide awake so you could drink more.
My work friend Jason was someone with whom I wanted to make the leap from work friend to actual friend. He was in a punk band and liked card tricks. Works for me! He liked drinking, too. So I told him, “I’ve got some decent overseas absinthe, why don’t you come over and hang out.?”
He did. I busted out the card tricks. I will toot my own horn and say I showed him things, card trick wise, he’d never seen before in person. But I was knocking back the absinthe. I was staggeringly drunk, but thanks to the thujone, had a semblance of coordination. This was soon to change.
Body me could still do a decent double-lift. Brain me was fixated on how goddamn cute Jason was. The hair, the face, the body…:yowza. Now I had never, ever, knowingly hit on a straight man. Nor would I! (Says the man whose actions are about to prove otherwise.)
He had drunk enough. It was time for beddie-bye. He stretched out along the length of my threadbare, stinky sofa. Earlier we had agreed, stay here, we’re getting drunk, drive back tomorrow. I had completely forgotten this and assumed his stretching out meant, “Pounce on me, you old, bald, sexy bastard.”
Now I knew: Jason was not only straight but engaged to be married. I think, maybe, my absinthe-fueled head was convinced, ha ha, if I just climb on top of that man he won’t make the mistake of marrying a hot, gorgeous woman from the Netherlands and instead will want some of this old man dick action. Because who doesn’t find enlarged nose pores hot?
He was trying to go to sleep and I clambered right up on top of him. I wrapped my arms right around those honeypot shoulders. I could paint him as cool enough not to say anything, but in all actuality I imagine he was, justifiably, scared shitless.
“You’re a really good friend,” I said, trying to defuse the horny aspect but only making the situation seem that much more creepy. I meant it, though, despite the fact my drunk ass thought he was about to shove his hand down my pants.
Suddenly, boom, intoxication caught up with what my body was doing. I scrappled like a clawing nut, grabbing sections of Jason;s T-shirt as I fell off him, off the couch and landed flat on my back on the floor, in the dark.
This was not supposed to happen. So I righted myself, after a few tries, and used Jason’s nips as a claw hold to pull myself on top of him.
“Want some more absinthe?”
“No, I’m good, and I think you are too.”
I pulled him close, or at least tried to, but once again lost my balance and slid off his body and fell with a loud smack onto the floor. I looked up into the darkness and realized things were not going well.
“Dude. Gay, straight, I don’t care. I’m not worried about either one. But I love Joyce. So stop it.”
I need people in my life to tell me “stop it.” I am no good at figuring this one out on my own. But here I am speaking in general, and Jason was speaking in terms of get the fuck off of me.
I stopped it and slunk away, downstairs to my own bedroom.
As you might imagine, he was not that wild about talking to me for a while.. I left pathetic, whiny messages on his voicemail. “I am so sorry! Call me!” He did not. Can’t say I blame him.
It’s good now; we still see each other from time to time but we don’t speak about when I acted like an asshole.
I say “acted like an asshole.” Nope, I was an asshole. Booze or ADHD or Autism or crack or molly or the fact your parents beat you as a kid is never an excuse. If you act wrong, it’s motherfucking you. There’s no get out of jail free card. Being drunk or doped or genetically pre-disposed is no excuse. You act a certain way, that’s you being a dick.
I was a dick. Jason showed forgiveness. I think that’s a real friend instead of a work friend.