Sometimes, you need a little something to help you through a moment. Maybe it is years of training and discipline, maybe it’s the right song, maybe it’s a cigarette, maybe it’s a drink or maybe it is some small ritual, to distract you from the task to come. Whatever it takes, as they say. Today, I have a little work to do, I need to go back and take care of some unstarted business, just to keep the books straight and I hope you’ll indulge me. We’ve got a job of work to do, so as the great George McFly once said, “Give me a milk, chocolate” and join me now as we stand and make the classic Brandy Alexander.
I have referenced this drink time and again, but never actually bothered to make it. I am not a huge fan of this class of supper club dessert drinks, but I don’t hate them. This is essentially an alcoholic chocolate milk and there is nothing wrong with that, I just don’t crave it very often. When trapped in a midwest supper club, I would more likely choose a Grasshopper for my post-prandial sip, but I see why people like this one. The drink has a sort of nebulous beginning it seems to spring up in the 20’s from several sources at once, the most prevalent origin story has it born at Rector’s in New York, though whether it was named for the bartender there, Alexander Woollcott the Algonquin Round Table or Czar Alexander II of Russia, is less clear.
Grab your tins and pop in 1 ounce each of Brandy, I chose Dunill XO; creme de cacao and cream. Add ice and give it a shake to the beat of of Fred Harris and the Satins, supper club classic “In the Still of the Night” which is very different from the equally valid Whitesnake version. When your tins are well-chilled strain into a coupe and grate a little fresh nutmeg on top for garnish.
It’s creamy, it’s tasty. It’s alcoholic chocolate milk. Do I like that? Sure? There is nothing wrong with it, it has a nice if not particularly nuanced flavor. It has a certain nostalgia. It’s totally appropriate to enjoy one of these before coffee in a wood paneled dining hall, while the floor show goes on, mostly ignored, in the background. If you have the flambé mint ice cream on the half shell, it might be a little too much to pair this with it, but otherwise it’s a fine dessert drink, for a certain time and place.
That’s really what we are talking about, a certain time and place. Enjoying the opulence of the supper club with its shrimp cocktail before the surf and turf filet steak and lake perch combo. There is a certain amount of conspicuous consumption involved in dressing up and piling in grandpa’s Cadillac to make your way down to the club for dinner and dancing. Maybe it doesn’t feel particularly sophisticated now from our more enlightened present, but at the time, it was fancy. Of course, there was a lot about those times that seems a little off kilter when viewed from today. I invoked George McFly earlier and his back-stiffening chocolate milk, mainly because I rewatched the film recently with my son. I had forgotten that Marty’s “50’s name” was Calvin Klein, based on his underwear. Viewed from today, it is a funny misunderstanding, but at the time, I recall that I wished I had Calvin Klein’s instead of the run of the mill Fruit of the Loom I was probably wearing. It was 1985 so I was, sadly, out of Underoos by then, but honestly, they had the same issue. The tenets of conspicuous consumption taught us that being wasteful showed you had abundant resources, as misguided as that was, and while the age of Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous, The Robb Report and Gordon Gekko screamed that we needed to be more like the people we saw on tv, here was Michael J. Fox trying to sell us on the idea of aspirational underpants.
I just laughed while watching that scene and remembering my thirteen year old self with his Vans, Swatch Watches, acid washed Guess Jeans and Paul Sebastian cologne. Those things seemed like such a big deal, as if my friends would not have sat at the lunch table with me if I showed up in a pair of Toughskins from Sears. The crazy thing is, we thought people were looking at us, putting our every choice under scrutiny, never realizing just how far under the radar we were flying. I wouldn’t dream of heading out to the mall or the beach or school without the right brands on. I mean, I did it, a lot, but I always complained. On some level, I actually believed that I was somehow less than the folks who had all the right brands, the right friends, whose complexion never rocked those pimples, you know, the beautiful ones.
Those beautiful, imaginary people, that we judged ourselves against. Imaginary because as it turns out, the folks I thought were the beautiful ones all felt the same thing, that they were somehow less than whoever they had picked out as their ideal. There we were running around trying to fake confidence for each other, when all it would have taken to upset the entire apple cart is for us to admit to each other that we were are all scared and insecure and that we had very little idea how to react to the changes going on around us. Good thing we have all outgrown that sort of thing along with our aspirational underpants.
I’m not saying that your costume can’t help you play your part better. I have clothes that I just feel more like me when I am wearing them. I’m a linen shirt with jeans and loafers guy, that feels like me and I am better at being me when I am in costume. I have another guy I am sometimes who wears a kilt and a crazy tie-dye t-shirt. That guy is pretty good at parties and in big crowds, but I don’t take him to the grocery store, he’d be as out of his element as the black suit somber me would be. We all contain multitudes and sometimes something as simple as wearing the right pair of underwear can give you the confidence needed to get through whatever task lies ahead of you. There is nothing wrong with that. These days I tend to worry more about how an item makes me feel when I put it on that who made it, which makes my wardrobe a bit eclectic ranging from stupidly expensive items to embarrassingly cheap ones that I love equally. I had a laugh this morning thinking about how glad I’m that we have moved beyond aspirational underwear, as I walked back from the mailbox, carrying the latest Victoria’s Secret catalog, wearing my Ex Officio boxers. Hey, if you can’t laugh at yourself, who can you laugh at? Stay safe, stay hydrated and stay sane, my friends.