12/14/13: Just the other day I was sent a kind of article by a friend of mine which, by its title, claimed to encapsulate all the necessary trappings of a modern man – The Unofficial Goldman Sachs Guide to Being a Man via Business Week. One does not immediately infer “modern” by way of the ridiculous wink, nod and nudge the article administers in the direction of a hyper-yellow balloon of righteousness, the last vestiges of which might be gleaned by imagining a late-Edwardian tea time, ripe with the ironical tinsel of sweet wafers and steel expressions.
Supplied with the same terse comfort of the bullet-pointed list – the form which The Unofficial Goldman Sachs Guide to Being a Man quickly devolves into – all behavioral suggestions seemed, at once, priggish and comically omniscient. And yet, orbiter dicta abound, as it was remarked to my friend, “Did we write this list?” One would think the time when respect was garnered for simply having an opinion and fashioning it stalwart and not dipping and deigning to explain it has faded away, but in some measure, it has not. Furthermore, it is the ease with which the writer of this here essay is able to confirm that he too would like to “rebel from business casual” and explode his angsts in a fiery burst, to “burn [his] khakis and wear a suit or jeans,” that lend cause for examination. It is his tendresse for supposed principals of nature, such as, “Time is too short to do your own laundry.”
I stopped wearing khakis in 2006, after having slowly divorced myself from the idea of a world that would permit uniforms and reasonable comfort to coexist. Khakis still bear the pestilent shade of schoolmarmary in the same way that the suggestion of, “when in doubt, always kiss the girl,” bothers to rouse supposedly out-moded axioms of manhood. Now seems an appropriate time to mention that any presumptions made on behalf of the whole of manhood should be observed within the context of expediency and a tactful care for limited human patience. To the extent that any of this Goldman Sachs elevator talk is not wholly parodic exhibitionism, self-conscious mimicry, one is urged to wonder why it is so that he indeed hosts some vanity in “[being] a regular at more than one bar,” or feeling compelled to “Don’t split a check.”
Reading such fatally serious, bullet point-endorsed tips as “You can get away with a lot more if you’re the one buying drinks,” and “When a bartender buys you a round, tip double,” and “When the bartender asks, you should already know what you want to drink,” recalls the passages of Sir Kingsley Amis, the inveterate drink-man – as he indeed so had it – who redacted the humorous liquid curriculum, Everyday Drinking. With a freshly familiar incalcitrance, Amis’ attitude, which generally runs, “my version is stronger,” lives again with more tenuous motives. It’s as though, in the absence of a pristine philosophical paradigm, in the morass of a wiry, webby postmodernism, the hard handshake that once supposedly governed the conduct of folkloric gentleman, like Amis, now furnish the scenery with which to fabricate a new moral landscape. It can be said with little due diligence that some of this eunoia fog is exhaled by delusional writers and inhaled by credulous readers; but the mirror today used for self-invention is still too reflective, too glossy and exact for a credible gentleman to be ordained through his marginal bar-side conduct, thus amplifying a collective chuckle about all this. After all, what is left to do but audibly smirk at the Arthur Conan Doyle mustache and Tennysonian beard which have so recently germinated the greenthumb in formally razor-wielding hands. (Whether to denature the beard of a great poet is to reemphasize the work of that great poet is unlikely to be proven beyond reasonable scrutiny.)
The problem is in telling the difference between the joke and the cloak, and though each aspect musters a different tear, both revere the quixotic. There’s even something suspiciously steampunk in the mechanical simplicity and rusty consequentialism of The Guide. All nuts and bolts are in plain view, no hood to lift, the implicit syllogisms set together like ruddy gears, everything so old, the machine is fit to be called an axiom – and of course it still works! Good as new! There are no microchips in this muscular unit with which to torment the eyes. As much as the text-message may have lubricated communicative friction between colleagues and coworkers, partners and friends, as much as Facebook may expedite labors of sodality and “friendship,” supplanting the constant requirement for face-to-face social stamina, much of the anti-tech rectitude found in The Guide, dubious as it may be, has a sly appeal.
Without question, one can “get away with a lot more” if he’s buying the drinks; it is practically universally understood that, as a best practice, any bartender whom “buys you a round” should be monetarily endorsed substantially more than might otherwise be deemed ample. It is over the latter of the three suggestions that I have puckered my brow in recent hours and it is the portion I would henceforth like to focus on: there is something dangerous in having one’s drink order in-queue well in advance of inquiry (save the hankering specificity of the often vulgar craving). To suggest it is to goad the reader into a kind of blindness; and, if we are to take anything so seriously as our drinks, one is not mistaken to worry.
“King” (the quote marks are a due courtesy, as I should surely not allow myself any such chumminess), even within the “drink-man-” “wine-man” dichotomy found in Everyday Drinking, may take issue with such a profound libational constitution as that of the invariable orderer. Of the dichotomy, he concedes roundly, if not coyly, “With spirits I feel I am on home ground. They are really my tipple. I have to face it.” But Amis isn’t the type solely for repetition. “Cocktails have always appealed to me because they involve mixtures, experiments, paraphernalia, testing, tasting, finally serving.” Something of the sort lacks in the line, “When the bartender asks, you should already know what you want to drink.” It’s stark pedagogy. The door is thrown shut. A construance which shamelessly lacks curiosity, joke or cloak, how many alternating layers of authenticity and irony must be peeled away before its pith is proven categorically ambiguous? There are, lawfully, alternative routes of interpretation: if you take the rule to suggest merely an economy of selection and not a rigid preference for one type of drink, the implications are different but no less impugnable.
The days of only ordering three shots of “the hard stuff” or “whatever you got” are over and have been over since the hosing of the Volstead Act. “Mixology” today is a habitat of spectral diversity, recycled classics interbreeding with completely new ingredients, a wild flower garden of international compost. It is particularly inconvenient then that the modern man be conscribed to a style of patronage which risks incomplete consultation with his menu options. Feeling obliged to order quickly, or before one is ready, smacks of imprecision and haphazardry – not horribly “manly” in any approximate sense, one could say. On that note of hot pepper shrub, to those readers who are not men, I opportunely clarify that potentially archaic units of speech have been and will be quotationally encased.
“I define postmodern as incredulity toward meta-narratives.” This is the famous line of French philosopher, Jean François Lyotard. No matter how much we postulate our thirsts, the effort could be futile in the aim of trying to settle in on some larger truth about drinks and proper drinking and the like. Many apologies to James Bond. But the flower shant whither so wickedly as the season which brought it! In application, the dismissal of a meta-narrative, a grand récit, is in itself a kind of final word, and thus Lyotard’s proposition isn’t such a simple affair. The modern man might be better off shunting the whole conversation to begin with. There is enough booze in bourbon to supply the desired vertigo.
But that doesn’t mean that a less exact conception of postmodernism isn’t to our use in deciphering the audacious argot of the Goldman Sachs elevator. Might, upon alternative consideration, the locked-and-loaded bark to the bartender be nothing more than an issuance of whim, the willingness to admit one’s limited viewpoint and live amid the ephemera of outside influences? After all, are we not to be prepared for anything and everything in the chaos of life, being tossed, chewed and finally spit out? And why be fastidious about death? Of what requires little unpacking, Bukowski famously remarks, “Find what you love and let it kill you,” and surely it was not just the craft of writing to which he was referring.
Instead of a capricious life rendering a graceful death, one considers whether The Guide’s injunction marks a strategy for evading death’s unwelcomed early-arrival. If we are always dancing at death’s surprise party, we ought to be on the lookout for the guest whose late arrival could not be more enlivening. And in the traditional sense, what could be more “manly” than applying one’s instincts in the aim of survival? Instinct is what we are told those who face death – or some tropal analog thereof (e.g. a sexless existence; a queered legacy) – have sharpened for the purposes of trouncing enemies, seducing partners, being superior. When the bartender asks, “What would you li-,” before the inquiry reaches its grammatical and functional conclusion, you insert with no scarcity of bravado, “I’ll have one Krungthepmahanakhon Amornrattanakosin Mahintharayutthaya Mahadilokphop Noppharat Ratchathaniburirom Udomratchaniwetmahasathan Amonphiman Awatansathit Sakkathattiyawitsanukamprasit.”
Do not think I would strain you with such fatuities of my own imagination. Qi Thai Grill in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, New York City, serves this discursive, vodka and gin-based potable. If instinct ever had a claim to legitimacy, its case seems to fall apart here, unless you speak idiomatic Sanskrit and Pali. This isn’t to say that one is unable to sample cocktails a priori: I can imagine with arbitrary accuracy what a brandy-egg nog or even Hemingway’s lime daiquiri might taste like by way of its nominal representation on the menu. It’s when drink names invoke a game of the ironic, the grotesque and the foreign, that instinct has little basis over the bar top. As linguist Noam Chomsky might say, our Language Acquisition Devise cannot keep up.
Although an imbibing instinct cannot be entirely dismissed as implausible – a growing number of scientists are studying presentiment phenomena to infer an under-evolved ability to see into the future – it has little use in pragmatic concerns of the cocktail. If the maxim of always knowing what you want to drink before the bartender requests your order cannot be proven preposterous, I scarcely trust that it can be proven useful. But again, I feel as though I am walking cross-legged. Given the series of accounts penned hitherto flagging folly in the commandment of know and tell, I am at greater ease than may seem appropriate for the regular favor I give to this approach. If it is all about keeping up appearances, as many of the reasonings infer, perhaps we’re all a bit illogical in this. Though, it’s not impossible for you to experience consistent results in applying these and similar principles out in the world: if she likes you for the manners you share with 007, I say, do what stimulates; there may be some truth accorded by those who together permit, or otherwise fail to disassociate, these sustained myths of society. Truth of this kind is a Game Theoretician’s figuring, with equilibria found between a number of participants at a bar spun with statistical recursion too unstable for the human palate. This sort of quandry makes a home of the lone niche within the cleft darkness of a cosmopolitan façade, where conversation stays vaulted within the confines of one’s own mind.
Solipsism or sodality, the drinks will flow on. As Kingsley Amis distills, “The world of booze is rent by little controversies that are never settled.” The function of his Everyday Drinking is comic, yes, but it also rises to instruct. Books don’t bare the luxury of raffish, bold-printed lists, where sensationalism is often the ticket-for-entry into the echo chamber. Yet, among the frequent reminders of the piece’s incomprehensive quality – and who would trust a work claiming in earnest to be otherwise?! – the author of novels does attempt to net some elementary considerations of his own, labeled G.P. 1, 2, 3, etc. I suggest you give those pages a wash.
Ignoring the polemic of the polka-dotted Business Week Guide and just allowing it to be funny does not take much concentration. These impulsive précis, these life lists that permeate the viral media community are a funny creature, both a revived Opium des Volkes, and a jeer at humanity’s attempt to describe Platonic forms, some greater truth, an unmoving prescription about how to be. In a day of anachronistic facial hair and the frantic reverence for time-tested model gentlemen, the bombastic, broad-stroke decreeing should come as no great surprise. As for my own conclusive analysis, I don’t have enough vital organs on hand; but in the meantime, may one be troubled for a Hendricks Gin on the rocks? A bit of tonic from the credible novelist gives everything a lovely glow: “[I am] merely stating the basic fact that conversation, hilarity and drink are connected in a profoundly human, peculiarly intimate way.” Perhaps the connection is often so intimate, there are occasions when we are not to understand them apart from one another.