When last we left our heroes, they were devouring burgers at the Shake Shack in Madison Square Park. Midway through the meal, a bird flew in and grabbed burger out of one of our diner’s hands. I missed that bit, because I was getting my meal, so it’s entirely possible that they had decided to try and punk me with their darkly disneyesque tale of carniverous parakeets.
The world may never know.
We left Madison Square Park a little after two, Eric and Erin heading down to the WTC and me taking Miranda and her friend out to another of my friends’ apartments, in an old neighborhood where I used to live in South Brooklyn. The plan had become, over lunch, to get back together that evening and go for drinks at The Whiskey Ward.
On The Highway of Kings
As we rode the subway out to King’s Highway, my old subway stop (back in the days before the Lower West Side), the three of us alternately joked and chatted, discussed how totally stuffed we were, and pointed at interesting things (like the Statue of Liberty) while I told dramatic stories of being stranded at Cortelyou when a train went down on the track, and getting unceremoniously dumped off the subway and told, by the MTA, to “figure out” how to get home. Fifteen dollar taxi ride. Thanks, buddies.
We were bringing a bottle of wine and picking up ice on the way, which meant I got to take Miranda and her friend to some of the supermarkets I used to go to. First thing that hit me was just how much cheaper the groceries out there are. I mean, I shop at Trader Joe’s and try to be frugal, but as we walked past piles of fresh produce, my eyes nearly bugged out of my sockets. I spent a moment looking at the ice in the freezer. How much to bring? There were three of us, three bags would do.
Brooklyn was cooler than Manhattan (physically, not metaphorically, although at some times this too seems to be the case) but it was still hot out. If not here already, Summer was definitely coming. As we walked to my friend’s apartment, I pointed at shops that had been replaced and described what the neighborhood had been like when I last lived there a few years ago.
The party was great. We sat in the sun, ate dips and veggies and olives and steamed pork rolls and my friend’s AMAZING lasagne. There was a tequila bottle shaped like a gun; only thing missing was the trigger. And then someone mentioned that there was shade on the back porch, and we started a “pale people party” back there, which turned into a discussion about video games between Miranda, my friend’s nephew, and the my friend’s brother-in-law. Miranda and the nephew were trading tips. The nephew could not have been older than five. SO CUTE.
And Now for The Whisky:
If you’re over 21 and reading this blog, and you’ve never had single malt scotch: stop right now. Go to the nearest bar and chat with the bartender for a few seconds. Then ask her or him if you can please see the bottles for the Laphroaig (La-FROYG) or the Caol Isla (Cal as in calories, and Isla as in Fisher or Duncan or whatever her name is). Take the caps off and smell those scotches. Then come back and keep reading.
If you’re under 21, only time can help you.
Now That You Understand What Good Whisky Smells Like:
Me, Miranda and her friend – we’ll call him K, from now on, which is so Kafkian it gives me a shiver, but whatever – walked into the Whiskey bar having discussed the fact that when someone said scotch, K kind of wrinkled up his nose a bit and made noises about how Jack Daniels or whatever NOT SCOTCH THING he had had wasn’t something he fancied.
Now, Jack Daniels is not Scotch. Scotch, for those of you who haven’t lived in the homeland of the thing for 4 years, is made in Scotland. It’s regional. It’s like champagne can only be made in that region of France. It has four ingredients. And yet different brands of scotch will taste as different to one another as apples and oranges.
We will get back to this in a moment. Eric and Erin arrived, and Eric and I (the drinkers of the group) went to pick up cocktails. I tried one of the bar’s specialty cocktails – something with maple syrup and marinated bourbon cherries? – but truthfully it wasn’t my thing. After passing cocktails around (cocktail etiquette, you understand, demands one allow one’s drinking partners the opportunity to avail themselves of your superior taste in libation), we all relaxed a bit and started just chatting.
I think that was the first point in the weekend when I realized just how “on” I’d been since the Thursday night reading, and it was definitely the first point at which I felt like I could really relax. Nowhere to rush off to, nothing more to worry about except enjoying the drinks and the company. Writing issues had been settled, future projects discussed, social engagements and tour guide duties fulfilled with great enthusiasm, and it was FINALLY time to just hang out with friends.
Because we were waiting for a couple more people to arrive, the second round of cocktails was more of a timing stop-gap. A whisky sour for me, this time. (Sidenote: Had an interesting drink called a New York Sour the other day – basically a whisky sour with a red wine float on the top. It does something interesting, kind of cuts the acid of the lemon in the sour. Worth checking out if you get the chance, and aren’t terrified at the idea of mixing red wine and whisky.)
Having reached the end of our cocktails, and still lacking two members of our party, it was time to switch to the real stuff. Standing in front of the list of available choices, the conversation became very serious. Which whiskies to try? What were the options? We wound up with an Aberlour, an Ardbeg (or was that switched to a Laphroig at the last minute?) and a Caol Isla. Yes, I ordered two whiskies. Refer to the cocktail rule, above. Plus, the fact that K thought Jack Daniels was whisky. *shakes head*.
Back at the table, we started the familiar three-card shuffle of passing glasses around the table, having the non-drinkers smell the whiskies, the drinkers take small sips. It was around this point when @CLImagiste and his wife (she who would, over the course of the night, become known as @codekneesocks) arrived, having battled trains all the way from outside Manhattan to get to us. And the whisky. They took the Bourbon route – and this was when things started getting interesting, because now we could illustrate how different regions making the same thing with the same ingredients could taste so completely different. Whisky – particularly the ones I favor – have a smoky quality to them. I like to go as smoky as possible when it comes to whisky, which is why Caol Isla, Laphroig and Ardbeg are good standbyes. Bourbon, on the other hand, has a much sweeter undertone. In fact, writing this, I kind of wonder what it would taste like if you took a sweeter bourbon and a smokier whisky and used them together to make a whisky-bourbon-sour. Would need to be exactly the right brands. Hrm. Suggestions in the comments!
I think one of my favorite things in the world is watching people who don’t know about whisky as they realize just how many variations there are on this most excellent beverage.
Somewhere in all of this, a discussion arose between me and L, @CLImagiste’s wife, and somehow it came up that apparently, in Catholic school, there is a code around the way in which the female students wear their knee socks. I want to say more about this but it involve’s someone else’s upcoming project, and it’s not my place to give hints as to the content of that work. But suffice to say I thought it was hysterical and the next morning when L signed up for twitter her username was @codekneesocks.
By now, it was getting to the time in the night when people want to eat things. After quick debate, we narrowed our choices to two potential spots: The Meatball Shop (LES branch, which was packed) and a Grilled Cheese restaurant. That served wine.
I don’t know how to make you understand how unbelievably good this grilled cheese sandwich was. Mine tasted like nachos. It was unbelievable, and pretty soon we were cutting off slices of different sandwiches and trading those around like they were cocktails, too. That’s one thing I *love* about eating out in New York, particularly with people who care about food. Everybody really *wants* everyone else to have the experience of trying whatever it is they’ve tried, and afterwards you have even more of a shared experience to talk about with them because you’re not just commenting on the feel of the restaurant, the service, etc. – you actually know the tastes the other people are referring to, and they know the same for your meal.
This was how the weekend ended up, then: at a tiny grilled cheese place on the Lower East Side, drinking wine and chatting with friends both old and new, before we all ultimately had to scatter back to our real jobs. More good-byes at the end of the night, and Miranda and I walking back to my apartment, planning what time we’d get up the next morning in order to make sure she got to her bus on time.
When I got home that night, I took a few minutes to write down in my journal – the calligraphically personalized one I’d picked up the day before – about just how happy I felt about the whole experience and about the specific things that had gone rightly and made me glad and hopeful about doing it again.
And Then Came Sunday
The next morning went quickly. Miranda and I popped into the cheese shop around the corner and she picked up some gifts for her family, then we walked over to the clothing fair on Broadway and she picked up a t-shirt and an Indiana Jones hat. Subway up to Times Square, walked her to the bus stop, came home.
So that’s that.
I just looked at my computer’s clock; as of this writing, all this happened just a week ago. The post is scheduled for early June. Either way, in either direction, feels more like a lifetime than just a few days.
A lot of times, in the arts, people talk about making sure your creative soul gets fed and with his reading I feel like I went from starving to sated to gorged on that front.
It reminds me how important it is to spend time around writers, and how important it is to schedule things like appearances and retreats and other writerly experiences, where you get in a room with other people who practice your craft and, for a little while at least, don’t have to worry about communicating the various frustrations and impossibilities of what you’re trying to do every time you fire up your computer and open a word document.
In that way, the weekend of the Hot Mess reading was pretty much an all-you-eat-buffet for a writer’s soul.
I hope reading about it has helped stimulate your creative appetite.
So What Now?
I have three upcoming projects on the horizon, and will be talking about them going forward. A small teaser for those projects will follow in the next week or so, but for now, just know that they’re there.
Thanks for everybody who’s supported the Hot Mess project. Keep spreading the word, leaving reviews for us on Amazon (please, it literally means logging in and clicking 1-5 stars, five being the best, and add words if you like) and buying those copies.