Many years ago, when I was friends with that crazy lady Cinn, she was dead set on making her own absinthe.
“I found a place on the Internet where we can buy wormwood!” she squealed. She said “we” when she meant “you” because I was the one with mommy’s American Express. I was nineteen, extremely impressionable and essentially learning how to be a better Goth from this strange fiery-haired lady I met in a chatroom called Darkchat. Apparently making our own absinthe in a cauldron was imperative to be legit in the scene and might even negate the fact that we bought our dresses for the Dracula’s Ball at Hot Topic. (Remember when Hot Topic was “goth”?)
But then Cinn found another Internet stranger to distract her with marriage proposals and faux-fang bite marks, and our homemade absinthe never came to fruition. Which is probably for the best, because Cinn couldn’t even drink a fucking glass of Manischevitz wine without trying to grope me. I could only guess that with veritable crazy juice in her system, she’d try to grope and Van Gogh me.
I never really thought about it since then. But last week, Sandy sent me a link to a new gastro-pub called Meat and Potatoes that opened up downtown and said we should try it some night after work. It’s a prohibition-style bar and they have absinthe!
Then I saw that they also have poutine, and I believe that was the point where I officially became obsessed with going there. I’d like to say I was only borderline annoying about it, but I’m sure if you asked my co-workers, they’d swap out “borderline” for “motherfucking.”
It was too crowded Friday night, so Sandy promised that we would go the next time she worked late shift, which was this past Tuesday. I pouted internally for a little while but at least Sandy had given me something to look forward to. It’s almost like Henry has been feeding her tips. It was all for the best anyway because a certain co-worker was with us that night (if we work together and you’re reading this, it’s obviously not you!) and her mere presence had the ability to mar my very special experience. Totally didn’t want to be sharing this particular memory with her. She might think we’re friends.
I was bouncing in my seat all Tuesday night. Work seemed to go so slow. But by 8:30, Sandy had rounded up two other analysts to join us—Regina and Mitch—and we finally got a table at Meat and Potatoes. (Though I didn’t appreciate the uncertain face-scrunches the hostess was giving us when we asked for a table that could potentially seat five in case another co-worker showed up.)
I don’t know why I looked at the menu; I already knew what I wanted. But there were two different sorts of absinthe–a domestic and one from France. So when I asked our waiter which one he preferred, he said they had an “absinthe guy,” and went to find him.
“You know this isn’t the real stuff,” Mitch said to me, and I was a little insulted. Thanks, dad!
“It’s really foul,” Mitch added, but I ignored him. Later I would learn that Sandy shared his sentiments but didn’t say anything to dissuade me. I’d like to believe that’s because she wanted me to make my own mistakes, but I have a feeling the reality is that she was interested to see how this scene would play out so she could make fun of me at work every day.
My personal absinthe sommelier then arrived and I was immediately seduced by his Eastern European accent and fashionably-gapped teeth. He explained that the only difference about the absinthe in America is that it’s only 90 proof. That was fine by me, because I’m sure Henry will agree that even 90 proof is way too much for this little psychotic lightweight.
“Would you like to watch me prepare it?” he suggested and he could have been saying, “Would you like to watch me watching the 700 Club?” and I still would have said yes, because hello, this guy was totally my new boyfriend. (Sorry, Jonny Craig.) I stood up so fast, I almost knocked over my chair. It did scrape loudly against the floor though, which wasn’t at all embarrassing. (Sorry, Meat and Potatoes floor.)
I couldn’t hear half of what Absinthe Expert was saying over the din of the bar as he set a pretty glass underneath some medieval water torture device. He then placed a slatted metal thing over the glass—-which I should know the name of considering I was the star student in bartending school, class of ’99 bitches—-and on top of that he stacked a sugar cube. He then turned one of the valves on the water contraption and I had to stand there for unlimited minutes, watching this water slowly drip the fuck out, not hearing/understanding a single word this man was saying to me (I can only assume we are now betrothed, considering I shook my head affirmatively to everything). Except you know what I did hear? I heard, “Do you like the taste of anise?”
“Yes,” I said with a smile. FUCK NO I DO NOT LIKE THE TASTE OF ANISE. Not even a little bit. Not even if it was infused in the heart of my worst enemy and offered up for me to take a huge, ravishing bite. Not even if it was Jonny Craig’s all-time favorite flavor and he agreed to marry me only if our wedding cake was one giant tiered, fennel-frosted seed of anise.
And I knew this! This was not a surprise twist to my personal absinthe story; I knew it was probably going to taste like black licorice passed through Satan’s ureter like a flaming kidney stone, but I guess I hoped the addition of the sugar cube would help to cancel out some of those flavors I absolutely can’t stand. I mean, sugar makes everything taste better! (Or is that cheese?)
Besides, absinthe is such a pretty emerald color! (Newsflash: there’s a reason absinthe is the same color as antifreeze.)
Absinthe Specialist, whose accent was becoming less and less charming, made me stand there as I took my inaugural sip in front of him. It tasted like radioactive black Twizzlers in a cup laced with Ipecac. So, not too bad at first. I pried my lips back from against my teeth long enough to smile at him and say, “Mmm! Great!” but my voice came out all strangulated. I took my cup back to the table where everyone was waiting expectantly and probably not at all placing bets on how long it was going to take me to throw up.
What sorts of superlatives does one use when they want to lie about the fact that what is inside their mouth is secretly trying to kill them? “Exquisite” and “splendid” seemed a little over-the-top, so I went with “good.” It was between that and “God’s own fruited ejaculate,” but you know I don’t like to be crude.
“I really like it,” I lied. I tried to sound convincing, but I was sure I could hear my actual voice itself crying its own tears after being drenched in poison.
Maybe Sandy, Mitch and Regina bought it, but considering they had all tried it before, they probably recognized the anguish in my eyes.
I couldn’t stop staring at the pretty, fruity drink sitting in front of Regina. She’s so lucky, I thought to myself, as I forced the tip of my tongue to take the world’s weakest lap of absinthe before chasing it with copious gulps of water. But the water did little to put out the bonfire in my belly. I had heartburn once when I was pregnant. Whatever was going on in my esophagus on this particular night was way worse. It’s a wonder Van Gogh stopped at just his ear.
After awhile, it was like drinking a cupful of Seabreeze from your sixteen-year-old self’s bathroom sink, with an entire pizzelle factory ground in. I was afraid I was going to suck my entire face off with the vigorous flinches even the tiniest sips were forcing from me. After every drink, my cup seemed to refill itself. There was no way I could keep up my charade, and the waiter wasn’t filling my water glass fast enough, so I finally admitted to everyone that I hated it. And you know, I give them credit for not going the “I Told You So” route (that’s OK, because Henry did enough of that for all of them later that night), but they all that smug, knowing look on their faces as they enjoyed their pretty, sane-people beverages.
(Oh my god, I just tasted it again from memory. Please hold while I swish with horse piss.)
At one point, I noticed my Absinthe Boyfriend sitting at the bar with some other bitch and I felt so used. Coincidentally, the absinthe began to taste even more toxic and loathsome after that.
Did I mention there was sweating involved? Well, there was. Profuse sweating. Like I was on trial for lying about loving absinthe.
It didn’t make me sick, but I was left with this uncomfortable, heated sensation in my gut for the rest of the night, like it had birthed anise-infused fireballs and angry fists. Psychologically, the effects were worse; it made me think I was for real going to die, that I had been poisoned. But that could also be because I’m super melodramatic by nature. And also because Henry tried to poison me once. Add a few sips of lore-packed alcohol and I’m ready for my padded room. I can’t even smoke pot without wanting to roll out of a moving car, which is why I haven’t done that in over ten years. I excel at psyching myself out.
I’m pretty sure there are still-smoking track marks traversing the course of my gullet.
That night, unable to rinse the taste from my palate, I had flashbacks of being 16 in a jewelry store in Greece, where the owner was passing around cups of Ouzo (ingenious sales tactic, really) and the taste was so liquid-black-jelly-bean-on-LSD that my throat closed up, completely refused to let this libation from Hell pass through, so I kept it pooled in my mouth, burning ulcers into my cheeks. “It burn sins out, yeh?” the shop owner said to me in broken English, slapping me on the back and nearly causing me to drown on the Ouzo which had now made my mouth go numb. I remember thinking I’d stick to old-fashioned Confession, thank you.
I have not had Ouzo since.
Adding absinthe to my personal prohibition list.