It is all so simple on paper. Take it easy, be kind, be decent, listen freely, speak lovingly, live with intent; all those things that we do unconsciously when we are well and comfortable. But what happens, when you get pushed out of your comfort zone? When you don’t feel well, when you don’t feel loved or heard; when fear steps in? That is when the defenses go up. When the insecurities make you question whether you were ever the person you strive so hard to be. What does that have to do with cocktails? Well, won’t you join me and explore the darker side of life as we stand and make the ubiquitous Espresso Martini.
See, I couldn’t even be gracious about it in the intro, I had to throw that catty “ubiquitous” into the hook. If you can’t tell already I am not a fan of this drink. Not only is it one of those “not actually a” martinis, but it is suddenly on every menu everywhere. I am pretty sure that 7-Eleven has added an espresso martini Big Gulp and I saw a guy with a McSpresso Martini pulling out of the drive-thru. Seriously, you cannot escape this cocktail. The funny thing is, this is not a new drink. It is kind of a modern classic that is enjoying a resurgence. I have always loved the inspiration for this drink when it was created by Dick Bradsell at Fred’s Club in 1980’s London. Yep, that’s the same guy who invented the Honey Wall and many others. The story goes that a young model approached the bar and requested something “to wake me up and fuck me up” and thus the Pharmaceutical Stimulant, lately known as the Espresso Martini was born.
There are about a million riffs on the one, but I am going with a classic equal parts construction. Grab your tins and pop in 1 ounce each of vodka, I chose Monkey Head; chilled espresso and coffee liqueur, I went with Mr. Black Cold Brew Liqueur. Add a couple of artisanal ice cubes and give it a good shake to the beat of Dessa’s “The Crow“. Double strain into a chilled coupe and garnish with three coffee beans floated on the foam, one each for health, wealth and happiness.
It is a good drink. There is no denying that. The coffee comes through nice and strong and the aeration from the shake gives a nice creaminess to the mouthfeel. It is simple, easy to make and surprisingly tasty. The only real downside was that I made it late at night and all that coffee and coffee liqueur kept me from sleeping, which is a small price to pay and could even be a feature if I were out on the town rather than trying to snuggle in my bed. Standing in the kitchen sipping on this one I am hard pressed to figure out where my animosity toward it comes from, but it is definitely there.
Which is what has been bothering me this week. I was talking to a bartender friend the other day about a new menu when she asked me to try her espresso martini and I reflexively and uncontrollably responded, “ugh.” You know that look people give you when you do something that is totally out of keeping with their image of you and they show disappointment before they realize it? Yeah, that is the look she gave me; and she was right. Without thinking, I was unkind, and that bothered me. Really bothered me. For someone who claims to be super open-minded and live and let live, in that moment I was being judgmental as hell about something that honestly does not affect my life one bit. Made me question my premises in a way I did not enjoy. That’ll keep you awake at night.
I sort of pride myself on being reasonably laid-back, willing to entertain peoples right to do anything where no one gets hurt, or at least where you are only hurting yourself. On the flip side I am really big on not hurting other people’s feelings, not on purpose anyway. I try to be a calm voice reminding myself and everyone else to be good to each other, how empathy is so important and that it takes great strength to be honest and vulnerable. That’s good me, the me I want to be and that I have been with various levels of success over the years. I like to think that the older I get, the better I get. Taking advantage of all the lessons of so much poor judgment, the accumulated wisdom of the years, so to speak. But sometimes…sometimes I am jerked back into reality and left feeling like a child. An angry child who just lashes out at what hurts, taking perceived slights deeply to heart, getting caught up in my own pain, letting the id take the wheel.
I am not proud of this. In fact, it always leaves me feeling deeply shamed. I can always find excuses for my behavior. I was feeling sick, I was stressed, I was feeling unheard, but if I am honest, it mostly comes down things not going the way I had expected. Which feels a lot like “I didn’t get my way.” There is a lot of ego tied up in that, more than is comfortable. I hate to think of myself like that, but I can’t help feeling that when I am at my worst there is a toddler running around inside my head feeling unloved, whether that is true or not. I don’t always let him out to play, but he is still there whispering in my ear, telling me why I should be upset and angry, reminding me of all the things that “they” are doing to me and how unfair it all is. I don’t like that about myself. I really don’t like just how easy it can be for people to upset my emotional apple cart, so to speak. How easily my feeling can be hurt when I am feeling vulnerable. I know this doesn’t make me special, it is all part of the human condition. Still, I am frightened by the tension between who I strive to be and that inner self that has clearly not evolved in the same way as exo-me. So, how do we balance that?
I think it begins in little ways. Taking time to step back and reflect before speaking. I am really good at that when I am a little detached from the situation. I can pontificate with the best of them make sure everyone feels good about being good and helping out their fellow human when talking about their problems. It gets tougher when I have skin in the game, when the feelings that were hurt are mine. I need to work on that moment, on taking a breath and considering before I speak. I need to work on being kinder, not just to others, but to myself. To have the grace to take a little time to process things before jumping to a defensive position. It may not seem like much, but reacting with disgust toward an espresso martini, kind of shook things up for me. I am all about being free to choose and I need to live that. Even if I have been annoyed by seeing this same simple drink on every menu lately, that is no reason for me to yuck someones yum.
So the drink did exactly what that young lady asked Dick Bradsell for some forty years ago. It kept me up and it fucked me up, metaphorically speaking. I suppose I should be thankful for the caffeine fueled introspection. I haven’t been my best self lately. I can blame it on the looming sense of mortality, some health issues and general ennui that come from a half a century of wanderings, but I think it may have a lot more to do with listening to the inner toddler who doesn’t know how to express his fears and let go of the things that hurt, so he breaks stuff. That kid needs to grow up, just like me. I’m going to start with the much maligned but not so bad espresso martini, and a little more love and patience with myself and others. I am not sure I can pull it off, but I figure trying to be better is always a noble goal and it has got to feel better than regret. I’m going to try to have a little more grace, I hope y’all can do the same, in the meantime stay safe, stay hydrated and stay sane, my friends.