Well, May 2017 is behind us, and I am happy to report that I successfully fulfilled a ritual my brothers and I observe the twenty-second of every May—and will continue to fulfill as long as we remain in the quick. So far, the streak is twelve years. |
A word of explanation. My father enjoyed a martini or two when he relaxed after a hard day at work or following a fun-filled afternoon on the golf course. Now, I can already hear some of you ask, “What kind of martini?” Being a purist, I happen to know—though you may not—that I’ve already answered your question. You see, a martini consists of gin and dry vermouth—PERIOD. It is garnished with a green olive—the kind with inserted pimentos; or a lemon twist. Dad liked olives. The martini cocktail started life in the early 1920s with a two-to-one London dry gin to dry vermouth ratio. Over the decades the ratio has steadily increased to as much as fifteen-to-one; drinkers not digging dry vermouth so much. I prefer twelve-to-one.
I’m making a (semi) big deal about the subject because other concoctions have coopted the name “martini”. You have VODKA martini, DIRTY martini, VANILLA martini, LEMON DROP martini, and an endless variety of “good-tasting” libations (mainly for the ladies) offered at your local bar all using the martini label. Some think it’s cool to be seen sipping from a straight-up glass—as long as it doesn’t contain a REAL (yetch!) martini. See, martinis are an acquired taste. The very first one attempted is, for most rookies, a challenge to finish. That is, newbies are relieved when the glass is empty, and they can sneak off before another appears.
Anyway, Dad passed beyond the veil of this life three days after Christmas in 2005. He was 89. Since then, my two brothers and I toast him every year on his birthday—Thom from San Diego, Jim from Palm Springs, and me from wherever I am. I admit I cheat a little by placing a lemon twist in the glass with the olive on the side. Someone near me—usually my wife—consumes the sour little vegetable.
One recent May 22, I plopped down on a barstool smiled at the bartender and said, “I’ll have a dry martini straight up with a lemon twist, and an olive on the side.” “What kind of martini?” he asked. “Bombay Sapphire, please.” “Oh, a gin martini.” I sighed, the purist in me stepping to the plate. “Ever watch hockey?” He brightened. “Oh, yeah. Love the Blackhawks.” “Right. Then you understand the game is called hockey, not ICE hockey. That’s something people in their ignorance adapted—not saying it’s bad; just technically wrong.” He thought for a moment. “Sure, I can see that. The modifier probably got added when the popularity of field hockey, street hockey, and roller hockey grew.” “Exactly, but the name of the game played on an ice rink is hockey, right?” “Right.” “Same thing with martini. Gin slipped out of popularity—most don’t like it—and the vodka martini was born. Ian Fleming’s 007 character helped establish the substitution of vodka for gin. But, saying gin martini is the same thing as saying ice hockey.” He rolled his eyes. “Sure, but really no big deal, is it?” He shoved some pretzels my way. “I suppose not, with people these days not caring about traditions; but whenever I can, I try to stop a random walk.” I plopped a pretzel in my mouth. “I’m one of those OCD-types that likes to be precise. It’s my curse.” “Uh…random walk?” He put both elbows on the bar, smiled, and looked me in the eye. “What is a random walk?” I figured he was categorizing me as a whack-job. “It’s when a well-meaning person starts something that’s wrong, and subsequent people pile on propagating the error until it becomes normal and accepted by those who are ignorant of the original facts. Have you heard the saying that a lie told one-thousand times becomes the truth?” He nodded slowly. I could see that he was getting it. “It’s like that. Here’s an example: I once told a young waitress I wanted some white wine, and she asked what kind of Chardonnay I wanted. I replied that I did not want Chardonnay; that I preferred Sauvignon Blanc. She stubbornly maintained that all white wines were a version of Chardonnay. That, my friend, is an example of learned-ignorance. Chardonnay, ice hockey, gin martini—all random walks.”
I’m not sure why all of this martini business is important to me, other than my propensity to be precise, but I suspect it has something to do with the memory of my father. I recall that soon after he died, my wife, my brothers, and I had the task of going through his home, and dispositioning all the “stuff”. BTW, my father was a “collector” (albeit a neat one), so we had three floors of goods with which to dispense. Believe me the task was daunting. To help with the chore, we naturally helped ourselves to his booze, but left a fifth of Gordon’s Dry Gin untouched—to this day I’m not sure what happened to it. Maybe it disappeared like Brigadoon into the ether, and joined Dad.
And so, this past May 22, two neighbors and my wife joined me in the Myers brothers’ ritual, although only two of us drank a martini—actually we each had two. Later, when I was alone I thought of the emptiness and eerie silence that seemed almost overpowering during my last moments in my parents’ home. None of the familiar noises were there: refrigerator hum, music, TV, doors slamming, the rattle of golf clubs being removed from an automobile, dice being rolled on a board game, bathroom fan, clanking of Dad’s pipe on an ashtray—nothing. To complete an oxymoron, the silence was deafening.
With our guests gone and my wife otherwise occupied, I sat down at the piano, and absently began picking at the keys while thinking of those final moments in my former home. Hal David’s lyrics danced through my head, “A room is still a room even when there’s nothing there but gloom, but a room is not a house; and a house is not a home when the two of us are far apart…” Without knowing it or even intending it, I began playing Burt Bacharach’s melody, A HOUSE IS NOT A HOME; played it for probably twenty minutes.
I know the song is about unrequited love, but at that moment it became the love of a son for a father. I miss you Dad.
By Gene Myers
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father, martini, acquired taste, hockey, random walk, Hal David, Burt Bacharach,