On Margaritas

So, in my first post I promised to write occasionally about ‘literary cocktails’ and instead all I’ve done is indulged in semantic inquiry.  Why?  Basically because I can only bother to blog about what I’m thinking about and usually I’m thinking about words or how deeply committed Danny Ainge is to ruining the Celtics.  And of those only one is anything more than a glaring neon example of God’s attempt to render ‘the obvious’ to the earthlings.   But judging by the mayhem in the streets, Derby weekend did just toss out the Holy Grail of spring drinking with Derby Day and Cinco de Mayo—a two-day pub-crawl designed to kill the hipsters and frat boys alike. *

With “The Great Gatsby” film out this summer I think I’ll get another chance to turn my attention to silly outfits and mint juleps.  So I’ll save Derby Day for another post, only noting that yes, I made juleps over the weekend, and yes they were delicious, and yes I think that any drink that involves mixing silver cups AND straws, not to mention throwing back two and a half ounces of bonded-bourbon in thirty-second increments, may not be the beacon of American gentility that it’s cracked up to be, or conversely, exposes the wild and beautiful democratic nature throbbing at the heart of our exceptionalism.  Forced into the arena of false choices, I’d take the second interpretation which, for now, is neither here nor there, because I’m looking south….

Toward Mexico where Cinco de Mayo must be very different from the way it’s celebrated here, in Northern Baltimore, where, though I’m no anthropologist, its primary rituals seem to involve college kids attacking their faces with disastrous-looking margaritas in dumfounding quantity.  These drinks, produced by the jugful, resonate with damage and distemper and glow with all the bright menace of poison flowers.  Imagine these drinks with their rotgut tequila and the hot acetylene reek of cheap triple sec, their Martian-blood sour mix and spaceship chalices masquerading as glassware.  Imagine these margaritas and imagine the people who drink them! Their bad nights and worse dawns. These are the same people, of course, who, later in life, will confide to you that “tequila makes me crazy” as if it were the nature of the spirit itself that led to them running naked through the streets, barfing greenly into the pleasant spring dusk. **

So I wonder—and this is an important question, since I’ve got a book coming out some of which is set south-of the-border—Do People Drink Terrible Margaritas in Mexico?

Now for the radical honesty. I sure did. I don’t like to admit this, but this is my blog on my eponymous website and yet, for some reason, I usually feel that it’s not exactly trembling with authenticity, and so often we hear that to be authentic we have to be true to ourselves, or conversely, maybe, discover our true selves to which we then must be true.  So by this logic, or syntax anyway, authenticity must be the same thing as truth, and the truth is that A) no one is still reading; B) Polonius would have made millions on the Self-Help circuit; and C) I drank a frozen margarita in Mexico.

As far as confessions go this might not be much of a sin, but I feel that as bad as it is to consume these beverages in Baltimore, it’s got to be a lot worse to drink them in Mexico.***

But I did.  On my trip to Nuevo Laredo in March 2006.  I was a first year MFA student and the AWP conference was in Austin and just happened to coincide with the tail end of our spring break and I was just back from Honduras and already thinking about writing Horse Latitudes and I was able to talk a few other MFA students into heading down to Mexico with me before the conference began.

That trip itself may be the subject of another post.  For now, let it be enough to say that we quickly found ourselves in an outdoor plaza in Nuevo Laredo needing a drink.  Why? One of the poets was on a sombrero-buying spree, and while, to get back to my original question, I have no idea if Mexicans drink margaritas, I do know, very surely, that they do not, in Nuevo Laredo, wear sombreros.   Luckily there was a little outdoor cantina in the plaza.  I approached the bar and ordered a few beers. Instead of giving me beers the bartender looked over my shoulder at the poet wearing a huge blue sombrero.  In her hand she held a smaller identical blue sombrero. “It’s for my cat,” she explained.  And then added:  “Gato.”  Without saying anything, the bartender trudged over to the ice cream machine at the end of the bar and into glasses shaped, in fact,  like upside down sombreros, poured us four frozen margaritas.  The beer never appeared.  The bartender continued to stare very hard at the miniature sombrero.  I clasped my huge green drink with both hands.

I’m not sure if it would have been possible for us to be anything but tourists in Nuevo Laredo, but the margaritas didn’t help.  Shoeshine boys and pill-hawkers swarmed the table.  The police stopped and stared.  A kid driving a donkey cart pulled up to curb and asked us if we wanted to go to Boystown, the walled brothel down the street.  The poet in the sombrero declined.  The boy looked down at my margarita, then up at me.  “Maybe you want some Xanax,” he said.  “It’s okay, the doctor’s my uncle.”

As it turned out, I ended up using some of that exchange in Horse Latitudes. But I cut the margarita.  How couldn’t I?  It’s the azure of drinks: it renders everything immediately ridiculous.  Which leads me to wonder if there any depictions of margaritas in American letters where the drink, or drinker, is not supposed to seem frivolous or excessive?  In fact, is it even mentioned at all? Historically cocktails have played a large part in American literature, but I can’t think of any examples of the margarita making an appearance.  Can you?

*Obviously I didn’t manage to post this blog in anything like a timely manner.

**For the record: there’s nothing wrong with a real margarita, which I’ve also made recently with reposado tequila, agave nectar, cointreau and fresh squeezed lime juice, but those are about as central to the general American practice of Cinco de Mayo as a footnote is to a blog post which is why I’ve mentioned it in a footnote to a blog post.  (My next post: Recursion and Tautology in the Blogsosphere’s Meta-Text…)

*** This week, now that I’m behind on posting, Baltimore is enjoying Black-Eyed Susans for Preakness (I guess) and Boston (my real hometown) is drinking whatever you drink during hockey playoffs?  Moose blood maybe?  I’ve never managed to get into hockey.  As far as I can tell, it basically just glorifies a lot of Canadians falling down and losing teeth.

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