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Old People Joys

I was making a pot roast earlier today and was sitting at the kitchen table reading. I put my book down because I had had an epiphany: I was thoroughly enjoying myself. The kitchen was warm, the windows were steamy. Outside the weather was pretty autumnal – gray, rainy, chilly. The oven growled as it cooked my dinner, but otherwise all was quiet.

There’s no secret behind pot roast making a person happy. It’s pot roast, by definition a huge chunk of pork, and by design roasting with potatoes and carrots in apple-black cherry juice. Heaven.

But that wasn’t all of it. I reckoned that I was enjoying the settled feeling that I had. It was being happy like an old person. If you are happy like an old person and you have the experience to understand that that is what you are, then you might just be old. Alarming? Possibly. But no. For I have had this epiphany before. I am old because I enjoy old people things. Also, I’m feckin old.

Among these old people things are making a pot roast. There’s something about prepping a meal that takes three hours to cook that offers so much quiet pleasure. The only gastronomical better is crock pot cooking. There’s simply nothing better than working or going about your day with the knowledge that your dinner is cooking itself at home while you’re taking care of other things. It’s a joy that deserves its own adjective. Crockulant. Crocktated. Crockiful.

There’s also the joy of doing laundry, the humid comfort of having warm wet laundry hanging around the flat. After, there’s folding and putting it away and the knowledge that should President Barack Obama call me to meet for a drink, I can put on clothes and not be afraid of stinking.

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Thoughts While Waiting for a Dog to Pee

It’s in the middle of a dream that I hear a light whine. Our Shih Tzu seem to have a wheel of fortune made of up whines, squeaks, and trills at different pitches, tones, and volumes. I can now interpret each as a different signal. A really high-pitched feathery wail conveys: “You best be getting back in this room, chunky, or I’m gonna wake up this whole building.” A soft snort followed by a single whine in the nose-throat (throse) means “I’m about to bark the fuck out this room if you don’t share that thing you’re eating with me, I don’t care if I don’t know what it is.” Though I have been marginally wrong before on the meaning, I’m getting better.

So I prop open an eyelid at 3:21 am. Two clear, rough, whiney comments from the foot of the bed chime up at me and I know I’m hearing: “Yo, up and at ‘em my man or else you gonna be cleaning up some urine.”

Like a firefighter, I’m up, and with no less heroism, either. Missing a pee means taking part in activities of frustrating futility. First, you still have to take the dog out. But you’ve both missed the opportunity and now you just walk around the lawn, the dog sort of overjoyed but confused and me sort of confused and depressed.

Tonight, this morning, I groggily put on my sweats, my jacket, my crocs designated for walking around the minefield of our front lawn, I grab my equipment (bags, flashlight, two treats). I tuck the dog under my arm and we walk down the stairs. As we go, she licks my cheek, perhaps showing appreciation, more likely drawing off the night sweat that bedewed my cheek.  

Lots of things come up when you’re aiming a flashlight at a dog’s ass on a lawn at 4 am. Life decisions, the irony of status, the task, deeper implications of.

I never realized how much I was missing encouragement in my own bathroom experiences. I follow the dog and congratulate her each time she poops and pees. I wonder at the possible outcomes were I to be extended the same courtesy. Healthier. Happier.

We had started giving her a treat each time she peed, but she would look up at me with a quietly intense gaze every of the four magnanimous times she’d squat to pee as if saying: Where’s my treat, Bojumbo? I would gladly hand down a treat to her little lips, which she would take with slow reproachment. I’ve since stopped when realizing that every time she’d come up after peeing four times and unload a stream of urine onto our rug. We deduced that she’d figured out the code and would fake pee to get treats only to forget to actually pee. I was mildly annoyed by this, but not only would it be a boldfaced lie to claim that I wouldn’t do the same, I’m not altogether certain I never have.

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September 16 1620, the Mayflower Sets Sail for the New World

They had started out with two ships. The famous Mayflower and the less famous Speedwell. Their trip had been infamously difficult before even hitting the open Atlantic. The separatists had had to turn back three times due to leaking ships. They’d had to spend a week getting repairs and some pilgrims had been forced to sell their belongings to pay for those repairs and dock fees. Also, they had been swindled and conned. On a third attempt, they made it past Land’s End, but the Speedwell was found later to be overmasted and this caused weaknesses in the ship which caused the leaks. In the end, eleven (insane) passengers transferred to the Mayflower and they set sail to the New World.

Contrary to the cheery pictures many of us grew up seeing in school of pilgrims in suspiciously wide buckles beseeching God from the confines of a ship’s cozy quarters, this was not the case. The Mayflower, perhaps in a rare form of foreshadowing, had transported 200 wine barrels up the Atlantic coast of Europe. But not people. Most people, unless you happen to be related to me, are a bit taller than a wine barrel. Most of the men could not stand upright. The crew    

The passage was a difficult one that took just under two months. Seasickness was rampant and everyone – soldiers, adventurers, separatists, and crew – ate salted beef and hardtack made of flour and water. And everyone drank beer. For generations of Americans to come, the pilgrims would represent the first Americans, but they were, for the time being, English. And English people did not drink water, they drank beer. Beer, it is said, is the 17th century’s water. It was full of nutrients, vitamins, taste, alcohol. Oh and it wouldn’t kill you after putting you through a week of debilitating stomach pains and explosive diarrhea.

As they traversed the stormy horrifying Atlantic, their concerns seemed to be twofold. Their primary concern was that their rickety ship would split apart, sending them all into the frigin waters of the Atlantic. The Atlantic that many if not most of them firmly believed held sea monsters, a belief probably not thwarted by the sightings of sharks and whales. Without those beasts, however, it’s important to remember that should their ship go down, they would die. There was no beacon, no SOS, they would simply die in a horrific manner in the middle of a monstrous ocean on the way to a place which held salvation, but also, at best unknown strife, and at worst, more monsters.

Their second concern was running out of beer. In the back of the boat were large tanks of beer and as they began dwindling late in the voyage, Captain Jones became antsy. Once he began rationing the beer, the health of those on board suddenly began to turn for the worse. People came down with scurvy and other stomach ailments. Beer was not only nutrition, but it lightened the mood and steeled the spirit. A beer with its low alcohol content and high caloric content was essential and if it was running low, there was going to be a problem.

So when they spotted land at Cape Cod on November 9, they were elated. Who hasn’t longed for arrival and the beer it promises. But the problem was that Cape Cod wasn’t their destination. It’s perhaps overlooked that though the pilgrims were going to the New World, the New World wasn’t a wide open free place. It belonged to people. So the separatists were allowed to go to the New World, but only to the Virginia Colony, which ran from Virginia to the Hudson Bay Valley, which was significantly to their south. Their tactical error was due to a heavy storm that had thrown them off course early in their voyage and crude sailing tools. And let’s not forget beer. In a time when most men’s drunken aim can’t find a urinal imagine trying to hit a spot on a continent 4,000 miles away when you’re washing down every meal with beer and rum.

Captain Jones made a left and headed south. Unfortunately, the ninety miles through which they had to traverse was called Pollock Rip, a maze of dangerous shoals, hard breakers, and terrible undercurrents that had and has trashed hundreds of boats. An estimated half of all shipwrecks on the east coast lie within this stretch. If they went ahead with the plan, they faced almost certain doom. Captain Jones made the call – they turned back and landed in Cape Cod.

The implications of this are such: instead of landing where they were legally sanctioned, the pilgrims landed in a hostile, unknown area, and all because they needed a beer. In other words: the story of America.

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Cats and Dogs Living Together

Classic Stand Off

When we got a dog in July, we knew that one of the challenges would be its interaction with our cat. I have had my cat, the quasi-infamous B Monster, for thirteen years. She came to me a kitten with the disposition of a 71 year old man who had a bag of meth on him at all times. She was grumpy and very active.

Though the B Monster has chilled out with age, she is still capable of sprinting through the flat with the speed of a locomotive and the unhinged demeanor of Chris Farley in 1991.

Enter puppy. A little white mop of hair who so far has expressed inclinations towards chewing on things, peeing on things, and a separation anxiety I suffered on my first day of kindergarten.

The cat was incredibly awkward at first, but soon got her legs under her and began a campaign of figuring out exactly what had been introduced to her house. Because make no mistake, this house belongs to the cat and I pay the bills.

When the cat is not asleep, she is near the dog, observing her from under the armchair or atop the ottoman or from a bookshelf. Sometimes she sits like the Sphinx a few yards away and stares at the dog as she embarks upon her clumsy antics. Wherever she is watching from, there come a series of small quacks and meows.   

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Trinidad and Tobago Become Independent on August 31, 1962

The bill was presented in the House of Commons on July 4, entered the House of Lords on July 9, and received royal assent on August 1. The independence of Trinidad and Tobago took effect on August 31, 1962.   

Though most of the world didn’t notice, in Trinidad and Tobago, the little island country about 11 kilometers off the coast of Venezuela, the people were probably ecstatic. It had been forced into history when Christopher Columbus spotted it on July 31, 1498 and wouldn’t drive its own destiny for 464 years. In that time, it changed hands as a French, Dutch, Spanish, and English colony; it spent a few years as colony of the mighty Duchy of Courland (Latvia). Like many of the Caribbean islands, it became a place of forced production and slavery. Of the 15,020 residents living in Trinidad in 1791, 14,417 were slaves, forcibly immigrated from neighboring islands and India and Africa. Over the years, slaves toiled in 37 sugar factories, 99 cotton factories, and on 40 nutmeg plantations.

It was in the sugar plantations of the Caribbean Islands where workers recognized that the byproduct of sugar refining, a gooey substance called molasses, could be fermented to make alcohol. The result was rum, which in the 17th century achieved a worldwide fame that wouldn’t be matched until someone sliced bread. It became the drink of the North American colonies and the British Navy. In the years leading up to the American Revolution every man, woman, and child drank 14 liters of rum per year, which makes you wonder how America won that revolution. It replaced French Brandy in the Triangle Trade. Rum helped four continents of people forget the fact that they had to drink rum because water would kill them.

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The Dispersal of Quiet

One night a few weeks ago, Burke and I were watching TV in the blissful quiet of our living room. The cat was dozing on the armrest of my chair. Modern Family playing background to our evening. And yet there was an unease tripping through my nether-bellies, alerting me to a disruption in this perfect period of quiet and content.

I looked to my left to see that taking up the entire left side of my living room was a robin egg blue doggy pen that came up to my waist. Underneath it, protecting my floor from future gallons of urine, was a green checkered picnic blanket. Bags of dog food lined my once tidy bookshelf. And I at once recognized the anxiety traveling through my body.

We were getting a dog.

I stood and was bitten by the equally anxious cat in a not-sure-what’s-up-but-me-no-like way. Then, edging the pen out of my way to the right and moving a pile of puppy pads off of my bar cart, I excavated my carafe of Irish Whiskey. And, taking a deep breath to provide space, I drank directly from it.

Life had become too quiet. I spent my mornings in the kitchen writing. The cat always sitting on my lap for a period of that time until my prose insulted or disgusted her in some way and she moved to the other chair and rued her lack of larynx and vocal range. My days involved a walk by myself in solitude, after a morning of work. Lunch and dinner were not disrupted at all by the discovery of urine or the recognition that a small animal was about to create some on my floor or couch or pillows. The cat had become content with running the household. She dallied when she wanted and screamed at us for salmon and chicken when she wanted. We gave in instantly and as a gift she would go off to sleep or sit contentedly on the couch or the chair. Too quiet. Blissful.

Enter Dog. A Shih Tzu. Small. Sort of like a dwarf if you catch her in the right moment. White with brown ears. One black eye, one pink (oddly same as the cat). No teeth yet (vet was a little freaked out by that, but they’re coming in). Maisy.

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Corona Book Blast

One of the bright sides of a pandemic and the world falling to pieces is the books. And the loungewear, but that’s a different blog. And the lacking need for hygiene, but that’s a different blog, and probably a doctor’s visit.

The problem with a pandemic, aside from all the, you know, illness, is that while I am reading lots of good books, there’s nobody to tell about them. Trying to bring up books on the phone is like trying to tell someone about one of your dreams. And the last time I tried to recommend a book to the nice waitress at my local pub, she told me “sorry, I have a boyfriend. Also, he’s big and a police officer.”

So, now that leaves you poor souls who still read my blog. Here are some books I’ve read over the pandemic that you might like and even read over the next, sadly inevitable, lockdown.

Guns, Germs, and Steel by Jared Diamond

A brief history of all humans everywhere and the entire world and why some people have stuff and some people don’t seem to have so much stuff. Sound intimidating? Here’s the thing, it’s not in the least. It’s just brilliant. Jared Diamond lays out the entire history of the world in an accessible way that doesn’t make you want to clean your household weapon. Not only that, it is possibly the most interesting book I have ever read. On each page, I found myself saying: wow, I didn’t know that. Wow, I didn’t know that either. This book will make you smarter. Maybe even smart enough to get the vaccine.  

The Thursday Murder Club by Richard Osman

If you love a good cozy mystery, British English, and old people, get this book now. Richard Osman spins a tale of a murder in a senior community and makes it hilarious and compelling. He creates these very real characters that extend so far beyond the common drooling cliches that often inhabit a senior community. Funny, charming, and told so well, this book is a brilliant beach book or just for when you need a break from Netflix.

Night Shift by Stephen King

OK, OK, I know, I know. Stephen King on a must read book list, how cliché. But the thing is, there’s a reason he keeps showing up on them. Night Shift is a collection of stories written in the 1970s and they are frigging awesome. There’s one thing I have learned about Stephen King is that he does not faff about. Nobody is safe in his stories – not women, children, nor main character. If you want throwback horror that doesn’t give a shit about hurt feelings or your fears, then read this. With the lights on. And with your mommy nearby.

The Last Girlfriend on Earth by Simon Rich

OK, when you get done reading Stephen King and you need to lighten the mood with some humor, you get this book. I heard about Simon Rich because he wrote the Seth Rogan Netflix movie An American Pickle. The movie was bad, but I just chalked that up to Netflix magic. I looked him up and got this book of short stories. I was finished the next day. You will be too. It’s comforting knowing that the boyfriend of the last girl on earth, God, and magical goats all have trouble with love.

This is Where I Leave You by Jonathan Tropper

A novel about a Jewish family whose patriarch dies and who sit shiva as part of his last request. There are a lot of “zany family comedies” out there and a whole lot of them fall pretty damn short because they try too hard to make the family comedic and zany. This book is about people, damaged and sad, but getting on with life, and it is laugh out loud hilarious. Wouldn’t you like to read a book that makes you laugh out loud so you can us lol just once and actually mean it? Also, this is a movie too with Jason Bateman, Tina Fey, and a busty how old is she again? Jane Fonda.     

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The Drunken Race

In the stadium 80,000 spectators waited for a marathoner to come through the aperture. It was hot at the London Olympics in 1908, but if the spectators were miserable in the heat, the marathoners were in hell. The track had been newly resurfaced which made it hard and inflexible enough that Russian dignitaries hired its engineers to put in gulag floors. Of the 55 runners who had started the marathon at Windsor Castle, 27 dropped out, most before the mid-point.

So when the little Italian pastry chef in red shorts came stumbling into the stadium, 160,000 eyes goggled and 80,000 mouths encouraged him towards the finish line. Perhaps anticlimactically, Dorando Pietri ran in the wrong direction and collapsed. He collapsed four more times. Medical staff, concerned he would do a recreation of Pheidippides’ 490 BC marathon and literally die, helped him across the finish line. He was holding a hollowed cork wedge.  

Runners carried cork wedges to relieve stress in their hands, but hollowed out they can be used to store energy drinks, which instead of Gatorade, would have been wine or brandy. This revelation would have caused no scandal – of course the runner had been drinking. So would the next three runners to cross the finish line. Pietri had snagged the lead from South African Charles Heffron after he’d collapsed with stomach pains from drinking champagne with two miles left. The favorite, Canadian Tom Longboat, also collapsed after having champagne. Pietri was lucky to make it to the stadium before he collapsed.

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My Favorite Podcasts

Favorite podcasts – we all have them. Podcasts have become a huge part of my intake. I think that podcasts are a great way to learn, laugh, and inform ourselves. Here are my current favorites.

Andy Richter’s Three Questions  

This is a great interview show. If you need to laugh and like a good conversation, this is it. Andy Richter was/is Conan O’Brien’s longtime sidekick. While I have always loved Conan, my only complaints about his show were that there wasn’t enough time with Conan and there wasn’t enough Andy. With Andy’s podcasts, there aren’t a lot of zany antics, but just very human and delving conversations with his very cool guests. Honorable Mention for interviews: Conan O’Brien, Marc Maron.

Word of Mouth

This is a BBC podcast headed by writer and linguist Michael Rosen. It’s all about (the English) language and features linguists and historians talking about fascinating aspects of the long and cool history of the English language. Some of my favorite episodes include metaphors with Stephen Fry, Viking language, pub names, biscuit (cookie) names, and how places got their names. So cool and fun and informative.

Bedtime Stories

This is also a British podcast (don’t judge) which is done in short 20-minute episodes in which Richard While tells us, well, a bedtime story. A creepy, disturbing, real-life bedtime story that you want to listen to, ironically, at any time other than when you are not going to bed. Brilliantly researched and told (While is a great narrator and writer), these are very interesting stories that have occurred throughout history.

You’re Dead to Me

Another history podcast from Britain. Greg Jenner hosts each episode on a specific theme or person (e.g. young Napoleon, the Pyramids, America becoming a country) and an historian who is a specialist on the theme and a comedian to act as sort of humorous foil. A well done, informative, and fun way to learn about history.      

Based on a True Story

An American (finally!) podcast, in which Dan LeFebvre talks about a film which is based on a true story (hence, the name) and an historian or expert in that area. Essentially, they discuss how true to history or real life the movie is. Great episodes (that I have listened to, but I haven’t listened to that many) are The Last Samurai, J. Edgar Hoover, and Master and Commander. But possibly the best so far is the 3-part episode about Band of Brothers. This was fascinating.

Over to you!

Please Share your favorite podcast! I’m especially looking for horror tales (fiction or non) to round out my collection.

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Hemingway: Birth of a Booze Lover

“Don’t bother with churches, government buildings or city squares. If you want to know about a culture, spend a night in its bars.” – Ernest Hemingway (informal travel advice)  

When he wasn’t on safari, catching a marlin, or leaving one wife to marry another one, that’s just where Ernest Hemingway was. Perhaps the only stories more famous than the ones Ernest Hemingway wrote are the ones about his drinking exploits. Hemingway drinking lore has him running up a tab of 51 martinis during the liberation of Paris, inventing the Bloody Mary, and measuring F. Scott’s Fitzgerald’s evidently undersized…pen. But whether Hemingway drinking stories are apocryphal or not, he is synonymous with the drinking writer.

He was born into it. Over half of the American writers renowned for their drinking were born in the last fifteen years of the nineteenth century. One theory for why they were such drinkers is that they fought World War I, which pitted new weaponry, such as mortars, artillery, and Gatling guns against the slightly less effective method of walking slowly towards trenches with bayonets. In reaction to these horrors and inconceivable loss and waste, they felt lost and disillusioned and were so dubbed the Lost Generation. And in 1919, the Lost Generation needed a drink.

Hemingway among them, for a few reasons. While serving in the Red Cross Ambulance Corps on the Italian front, he was wounded by mortar fire. He recovered in a hospital where he fell in love with a nurse who tore out his heart, leaving an empty gap which Hemingway promptly filled with wine. Brokenhearted and most likely suffering from PTSD, he returned to America, where he drank and he fished and he drank. Then he moved to Paris, where he drank and he wrote and he drank. For Hemingway, moving to Paris and drinking there were acts of freedom and rebellion towards the mores of the U.S., a country which had sent him off to war and then would not let them have a drink to help him deal with it.

In Paris, Hemingway continued engaging in the two things he had a special talent for: drinking and writing. His tolerance was unmatched and he consumed large quantities of booze with little physical effect. He attributed this to a rigorous physical regimen of boxing, wilderness sports, and writing really mean things about his friends. By sheer physicality he remained healthy and by determination he was also productive. He drank constantly but refused to have a drink before he had reached his daily writing quota of 500 words, zero adverbs, and at least 3 friendships irreversibly damaged. If he was ever tempted to drink while writing he needed only visit his friend, the walking cautionary tale named F. Scott Fitzgerald. Fitzgerald tried to inspire creativity and writing with alcohol, only to kill his creativity and writing with alcohol.  

Drinking, among other issues, caught up to Hemingway’s in the 1930s. For the first time, his drinking caused his work to suffer and his mental health to deteriorate. He was depressed, so he drank, which made him more depressed, so he drank more. Stabs at his manhood came in the memoir of a former ally (paybacks = a bitch) and what followed was the Hemingway many now think of – cartoonishly macho, drunken fights and wrestling matches, and spewing proclamations of his manly abilities to “outdrink, outwrite, and outfuck” anyone who isn’t Gertrude Stein.              

But more important than his own drinking is the deep reverence to alcohol and its rituals that permeate the fictional worlds that Hemingway created. Each book depicted a culture’s alcohol traditions and ceremonies surrounding it. In The Sun Also Rises, two men in Basque country are taught to drink wine from leather flagons like the locals. In Paris cafes they drink wine, champagne, and absinthe. In the Hotel Montoya in Pamplona, they drink rioja alta and fundador. In Islands in the Stream his characters in Cuba drink doble daiquiris. His characters drink what Hemingway drank, their livers become secondary characters, and they all follow the lesson Hemingway himself followed: “travel globally and drink locally.”           

Just as culturally significant to the cultural rituals in Hemingway’s fiction are the bars, which are treated as sacred places. The actions within a bar are purposeful, meaningful, and result in deep consequences. Confrontations are made, allegiances forged, critical decisions taken. Hemingway created a language for those who inhabited his bars. Unlike other writers who made the dialogue in bars raucous, vulgar, or chaotic, Hemingway’s characters spoke in a laconic and controlled way and thus existed in a secret community of drinkers who knew how to handle their alcohol. This was of utmost importance to Hemingway’s characters and clearly to Hemingway himself.

“I like to see a man drink. A man does not exist until he is drunk.” – Hem

Or, to paraphrase Descartes: “I drink, therefore I am.”

Let’s have a cocktail that would do old Hemingway proud. He drank everything put in front of him (or in front of the people to his left or right). But he especially liked to modify cocktails to his own specifications. He drank gin and tonics with a few drops of Angostura bitters (try this!) and on fishing excursions he modified a Tom Collins by omitting sugar and replacing the soda water with coconut water (dubbed the Maestro Collins). He loved Campari and the Americano, but with gin instead of sweet vermouth. We at Hammered History recommend his favorite drink from El Floridita Bar in Havana – The Doble Daiquiri (link is to the 1934 menu of El Floridita and apparently Hemingway usually went for daiquiri #3 and modified it as follows)   

The Doble daiquiri (ingredients)

–          4 ounces white rum (this is the double part, start your engines)

–          ¾ ounce fresh lime juice (half a lime)

–          ½ ounce fresh grapefruit juice

–          6 drops maraschino liqueur

–          Ice (shaved if possible, broken or small cubes if not)

–          Metal shaker  

–          A liver the size of Toronto

–          A designated driver, preferably a combat hardened ambulance driver

Instructions from Hemingway *

Chill a martini glass before you go to work making the drink. Next, reach into a bag of shaved ice or ice cubes and bring out a handful. It will be cool and your hand will be cold, but you will feel good because of the cold. Put the ice in a metal shaker. The ice will frost it. Measure two full jiggers full of good white rum and add it to the shaker. Squeeze one half of a lime into a jigger. When it is full and there and good, add the lime juice to the shaker. Fresh lime juice is best, but Rose’s is fair if you are in a combat zone or in a cave. Squeeze a quarter of a grapefruit into a jigger. When it is full and there and good, add the grapefruit juice. Taste it. If it lacks authority, add more rum. If it is too strong, add more rum. Like a man. The cool liquid will jewel the sweat on the shaker. Don’t add any damned sugar. Add 6 drops of maraschino liqueur into the shaker with an eye dropper or a spoon. Enclose the shaker with a rocks glass or a pint glass. Shake well. Pour it into the chilled martini glass. Drink 5 of these until you are true and real. If you don’t, add more run.              

* outright lie, instructions from me

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