Sublime Is Something You Choke On

“Now tequila may be the favored beverage of outlaws but that doesn’t mean it gives them preferential treatment. In fact, tequila probably has betrayed as many outlaws as has the central nervous system and dissatisfied wives. Tequila, scorpion honey, harsh dew of the doglands, essence of Aztec, crema de cacti; tequila, oily and thermal like the sun in solution; tequila, liquid geometry of passion; Tequila, the buzzard god who copulates in midair with the ascending souls of dying virgins; tequila, firebug in the house of good taste; O tequila, savage water of sorcery, what confusion and mischief your sly, rebellious drops do generate!”
― Tom Robbins, Still Life with Woodpecker

“Sublime is something you choke on after a shot of tequila.”
― Mark Z. Danielewski, House of Leaves

Agave, Dallas Library

Oblique Strategy: Simply a matter of work

There is something gloriously insane about drinks made out of cactus. Do the spines infuse the alcohol?

I don’t know if this is a Blue Agave or not – probably not. That means if you ferment and distill it, you wouldn’t get tequila, you’d get mezcal – which is crazier still. There is a saying in Oaxaca, Para todo mal, mezcal, y para todo bien, también. (For every ill, mezcal, and for every good as well.).

Decades ago, when I was working in St. Louis on the Times Beach Dioxin cleanup I was at a late night party in a hotel corridor – the kind of decadent insanity that you see in a large group of young people that don’t know each other very well, working hard, long hours a long, long way from home. A woman took a bottle of mezcal, stuck it in her mouth and tilted her head back. We watched as she let the worm settle down through the clear liquid, down the neck of the bottle, and into her mouth. Without using her hands, only a gulp, the worm and a healthy helping of mezcal were gone.

For me, watching this, it was love at first sight. Unfortunately, I had no idea who she was and never saw her again.

Sunday Snippet – Swallow the Worm

It was in a third floor hotel corridor in Teacup, Mississippi that Kevin Buck met the love of his life. Hurricane Camille had torn open the belly of the Gulf Coast like a giant wind and water driven scythe and flooded what she didn’t wreck. The work and repair crews assembled, coming from all across the center of the continent and careening down in convoys of trucks – blue collar men piling up overtime and setting the world back to right… like they always did.

Kevin needed the money and used some of his last unspoiled connections to hook up with the power crew. His job was to set up a mobile laboratory and test the various oils brought to him by the workers trying to restore burned out or flooded transformers. He’d check for PCBs and then analyze the oil for water content or other contaminants. He could give the workers a pretty good educated guess at what was wrong with the machinery based on the properties of the oil that wrapped and cooled its core.

At the end of each day Kevin would hand write the days lab results in big block letters on thick opaque sheets of paper. He’d clip these to a heavy cylinder and lower that into a bulky machine hooked into a phone line. The cylinder would spin and a little arm would slowly trace its way down the paper – transmitting a crude image back to headquarters over the line. The other workers would sometimes come in and shoot the bull – amazed as they watched the thing spin and move. Every now and then Kevin would have to re-print and re-send a page or two if he hadn’t written large or clear enough the first time.

Kevin had a bachelors in math and a PhD in physics, but tried to conceal his education – especially on the road with the work crews. He liked being with them – liked their simple views, their lack of concern for the future… but especially, he liked the way they drank.

At the end of each day they would gather in the air conditioned interior corridor of the hotel (they rented an entire floor of the small Red Roof Inn) and would share coolers of beer and bottles of stronger stuff.

The women would show up too. Kevin didn’t really understand where they came from or why they were there… divorced women from Teacup or down the road, bored younger girls looking for a way out of town… maybe some professional women willing to ply a little trade on credit. Kevin didn’t pay much attention to them but appreciated the way they livened up the party – gave an edge, a primeval competition to the boasting and drinking.

Then one night… it was very late and Kevin was very drunk… he leaned back, sitting against the plaster wall, feeling the thin cheap carpet through his jeans, and noticed a slim young girl with short ragged dark hair, wearing a white halter top and a tight pair of jeans with the top button undone.

As Kevin watched her she snatched a bottle of Mezcal from a giant man hulking above her. The man was shirtless and covered with a thick layer of dark wiry hair but he was still wearing a bright yellow hard hat. Kevin knew the brand of Mezcal – it was cheap and nasty stuff – illegal in the US but readily available for almost nothing from the legions of workers that swarmed across the border whenever disaster struck.

The girl spun the cap off, stuck the bottle into her mouth and tipped her head straight back. The liquid level was maybe a quarter down and the air bubbled up to the top, making a delicious solvent noise. Kevin watched with his mouth slightly open as the girl held motionless – she must have stuck her tongue in the end of the bottle and plugged it because nothing was running out. The corridor lamps were dim but everyone could see the silvery worm sinking down through the clear liquid. The worm swam back and forth as if it was still alive before it finally tumbled out of sight down the glass neck past the girl’s lips.

She made a gulping sound and a convulsive twitch. Kevin saw a fresh healthy bubble pulse back up through the Mezcal, settling against the flat bottom of the inverted bottle. The girl quickly grabbed the bottle and pulled it from her mouth, flipping it right side up with a wide smile. The worm was gone. The clot of workers standing in a semi-circle erupted into applause… they had never seen anything like that.

“This is the woman I want to spend the rest of my life with,” Kevin said to himself as she took a little bow there outside the hotel room.