Men Sipping Through Straws

I fell off my bike the other day.

I was riding the wrong way down Elizabeth St. and unaware of the large pothole looming before me. When my wheel hit the edge of it, off I tumbled. Luckily I rolled with the fall and only ended up feeling a little bruised. Like a fool, I wasn’t wearing a helmet and it was a bit painful. Far more painful, however, has been the philosophical bruisings I’ve suffered in witnessing the bizarre drinking habits of the modern American male these days.

Time was when bars were places where men went to do Manly things: to drink, to carouse and chase women, to engage in discourse both civil and raunchy, and to grouse about their troubles. Read Hemingway, or Fitzgerald, watch Bogey, or Gable; for God’s sake, listen to Tom Waits or Leadbelly, and there you will find the perfect essence of life and bar culture distilled down and perfectly expressed. These men of yore weren’t concerned with their carb intake or the state of their prostate. If they were hungry they ate steak and potatoes. They slaked their thirst with a Scotch and water or a Boilermaker, not a Jack and Diet Coke or Bud Light. Their problems and concerns were simple and timeless and they didn’t spend thousands of dollars on psychotherapy. Their shrink was their barber or their bartender. Viagra? It was served in a tumbler. All you needed was a couple of stiff belts and you felt like Rhett Butler primed to carry Scarlett up the stairs at Tara. The doctor’s prescription read: Vodka, Rum, Gin, Rye, Bourbon, Irish Whiskey, and Blended Scotch.

Yes, Blended Scotch.

Before every pisher with 20 crumpled bucks in his pocket assumed aged single-malt always meant a better whiskey, men had the taste, experience and individuality to order what they wanted, rather than what they felt they were supposed to order. And they often ordered blended Scotch. These days too many men order what they feel is sensible and expected; the beverage equivalent of a bicycle helmet in a glass, or a Martini with training wheels. Sam Peckinpah, Raymond Chandler, and Langston Hughes smoked and drank unrepentantly and I believe their work reflected and conveyed much richer experiences largely because of this.

Try for a moment, to imagine Humphrey Bogart in “Casablanca” slumped over the bar at Rick’s Place, broken-hearted by Ingrid Bergman’s return, without a cigarette burning in the ashtray and nursing a Vodka Red Bull. Or Peter O’Toole and Richard Harris regaling their fellow patrons at the local pub over an Amstel light instead of a frothy pint of Guinness, and you’ll begin to understand what I’m talking about. Bombarded by strange, conflicting images emanating from our movie and television screens and our iPads, we men now feel a pathological need to behave like the practical, colon-conscious, offspring of Dr. Oz and Martha Stewart. We do everything we can to avoid offending the public’s increasingly delicate sensibilities. This strange neurosis seems to overly mitigate our drinking and culinary choices and nowhere is this more sadly apparent than in a bar. Bukowski and Pollock, for better or worse, are forever as linked to bar culture as they are to their bodies of work. Moreover, this complex ecosystem informed their work greatly. Quoth John Barrymore in reference to acting: “ There are lots of methods. Mine involves a lot of talent, a glass, and some cracked ice.”

This modern preoccupation with “health” seems to involve consuming only decaf espresso, ”lite” beer, and my personal bête noire, Diet Coke. Of the tiny percentage of coffee drinkers that drink coffee for the taste, which of them can say they actually enjoy the taste of decaf?!? Light beer, and Diet Coke, and decaf coffee are unique and unfortunate American concepts and the world of adult beverages is all the worse for them.

Which brings me to perhaps the most misbegotten drinking accessory of them all: the soda straw. Not to be confused with the sipping straw whose primary purpose is to mix or stir your iced drink as you progress through consuming it, the soda straw was until recently under the purview of milkshakes and various children’s beverages. Now it is the equivalent of short pants for your drink. Something that, with the exception of certain types of cocktails: Cobblers, Slings, Mint Juleps, and Tiki drinks, every adult should have outgrown long ago. These days I see grown men drinking a whiskey and soda, or the aforementioned Jack and Diet Coke through a soda straw. Watching a grown man eat a bunless burger with a knife and fork while he drinks his beer with a straw is akin to watching him consume his own entrails. Horrifying.

Do I propose that we eliminate such things as drinking Jack Daniels through a straw, or putting Sweet ‘n’ Low in your Irish Coffee? Far be it from me to even suggest such an audacious thing. I merely suggest that we shun things like Light Beer back to the grimy, dark corners of the beer cooler next to the O’Douls. That the Diet Coke button on the soda gun be rigid and unpressable from neglect, and that the underused can of decaf coffee be so old that Juan Valdez’ moustache has begun to gray. Say what you will about the French, their lifestyle has made it necessary for scientists to study the “French Paradox” in trying to figure out why, despite their consumption of foods that food science tells us are very unhealthy, they actually have a lower rate of heart disease than Americans do. And to oversimplify their findings a bit, they have determined that this has less to do with what they eat and drink, than how they eat and drink. They don’t drink to get drunk. They enjoy themselves. They eat slowly and savor the experience and the company, with balanced tastes and little to no direct concern for carbs and cholesterol, only quality. The American male could benefit tremendously from this uniquely epicurean perspective on life. So gentlemen, let’s get off our libationary tricycles and ride the wrong way down that street.

You might just rediscover your manhood.

Cocktail Epilogue:

The Fitzgerald Cocktail
1.5 oz dry gin
0.75 oz lemon juice
0.75 oz simple syrup
2 dashes Angostura Bitters

Method: Combine and shake all ingredients in a cocktail shaker with ice. Strain into a chilled cocktail glass, or strain over fresh ice into a rocks glass.

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A Man Walks Into A Bar…

“A man walks into a bar…”

Those six words have filled many a bartender with dread and angst at the prospect of hearing yet another ancient, unfunny, or worse, offensive joke from a guest sitting at their bar. Bar jokes can inspire the eruption of laughter and the breaking of ice, or unleash the hurling of insults and the breaking of glass. Either way, it’s the bartender’s job to smile and nod approvingly or, if the joke is particularly bad, smirk and pretend that it falls into the “it’s so bad it’s good” category. A bartender is an audience of one that may let you get bombed, but won’t leave you feeling like your joke was a bomb.

I’ve heard a ton of bar jokes over the years. I’ve heard them from people of all professions: cops, lawyers, firemen, mobsters, construction workers, pimps, fellow bartenders, shell-shocked Vietnam vets, and on the list goes.  I’ve heard long one’s and short ones, silly ones and clever ones, chaste ones and crude ones, straightforward ones and ones that make you think. Hearing the words, “Knock , knock” on a lazy day while stirring a Manhattan will always make me perk up slightly, smile with anticipation and say, “Who’s there?,” for it’s the bartender’s job to listen to the unlistenable, laugh at the unlaughable and answer the unanswerable.

And as is the case with everything, it’s all in the timing. Anyone who wants to try and make me laugh before they’ve ordered a drink probably doesn’t have the money to pay and is looking to ingratiate him or herself before sharing this important fact.  So if someone walks up to my bar and the first thing they say is, “Why don’t aliens eat clowns?” my defenses will go up and I will respond drily with, “What’ll you have?” Pose the same question halfway through that first martini though, and I’ll be waiting for the punch line with bated breath. Or at least I’ll pretend to. A funny joke is a good opener, but that doesn’t mean it should be the very first thing you say. (The answer by the way, is because they taste funny”)

Two-liners tend to be the most effective openers, since they have a quick payoff and there is less opportunity for you to be interrupted by the drunk guy halfway off his stool at the end of the bar. Jokes about ducks, giraffes and grasshoppers walking into bars usually end well, as does anything involving Superman, Batman or Wonder Woman. If they contain any three of those, well, you just might make beer come out of someone’s nose.  Men telling jokes to other men are low risk. Most men are acutely aware and sensitive to the fragility of the male ego in this context. However, men telling jokes to women, especially if they’ve just met them, pose more of a risk, but when successful, they can pay off tremendously. The only thing that works better than a good joke for meeting women in a bar, is a well-executed magic trick. (Yes, I’ve seen it done.) Unlike magic though, a good two-liner is easy to learn and not hard to properly execute. Making laughter appear out of thin air can help you advance your cause with the woman a few stools over, and you may curry a bit of favor with the bartender. Even the most cynical and jaded of us will often reward a good joke with a shot or an offer to buy your next beer. A good bar is a microcosm of the social ecosystem we all inhabit, and the right joke can bridge continents far and wide and make laughter rain down upon them.

Dirty jokes are a matter of taste, but there are some places you just shouldn’t go. Body parts and what might be done with them are best alluded to rather than directly mentioned. However, it is a bar, so some degree of raunch is warranted.  In my opinion, it is best to let the person’s imagination do most of the work and then zing them with a killer punch line.

Case in point, the Willie Nelson joke.

The Willie Nelson joke was told to me by a bartender friend of mine named T.J., and to me it is the perfect bar joke. It’s a two-liner, and while it doesn’t have Batman or Wonder Woman in it, it does have Willie Nelson. It’s clean enough that you can tell it in front of your grandmother, yet still bawdy enough to meet the raunchy standards of the local smoke-filled tavern. Two caveats though: One, while you can tell the joke to men, if you do so, you must tell it to them instructively, as though you are teaching them how to tell it to women. This doesn’t take away from its punch. It’s just a slight modification because the joke is really meant to be told to women. Two, and this is pretty obvious, the person hearing the joke must know who Willie Nelson is. They must be able to picture Willie Nelson looks in all his hairy, weathered, twangy voiced splendor. That means there’s no telling this joke to Sherpas from Tibet or time-traveling vixens from the past.

So, now that you’ve thoroughly profiled your audience member(s) you may proceed to the joke:

Question: “What’s the worst thing you can hear after having just slept with Willie Nelson?” (Pause patiently and give the listener time to try and picture herself actually sleeping with Willie Nelson)

Answer: “Ummm, I dunno.”

The punch line (delivered while leaning in close and whispering into her ear)

“I’m not really Willie Nelson.”

After the peals of laughter have subsided, take note of the shoulders that seem a little less heavy with stress, the posture that is a little less defensive. For a few moments you have pulled aside the drapes of cynicism, and opened a window to hospitality and conversation.

It is said that alcohol is a social lubricant. But humor oils the skids of social discourse. Nothing takes the edge off like a good joke.

Now, somebody please get this duck off of my head?

Cocktail Epilogue

Grasshopper

1 part Crème de Cacao

¾ part Green Crème de Menthe

2 parts Cream

Combine all ingredients in a cocktail shaker along with ice. Shake vigorously and strain into a chilled cocktail glass.

A grasshopper hops into a bar. The bartender says to him, “Y’know you’re pretty famous around here. We even have a drink named after you.” The grasshopper says, “You have a drink named Irving?”

Source: Unknown.

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