This was a LOT of fun and we covered some of my favorite cocktails, and some great esoteric stuff too! (Skip the first three minutes to get into the convo) Check it out!
I made myself an “Old Fashioned” tonight. That might not sound strange to someone reading a blog called “Cryptic Cocktails”, but not a lot of my readers (either of this blog or my monthly cocktail column) know that I don’t have a home bar. I haven’t actually written about a cocktail on this blog in a long time. So if not a cocktail blog, what the heck is Cryptic Cocktails? On the day of my livestream with Reverend Erik on Halloween cocktails, I figured I was going to get that question. Maybe it’s time to sit over a whiskey and figure out a good answer, an “elevator pitch” if you will.
Currently I am editing six years worth of writing into “cocktail book”, but actually it’s more of a collection of essays; rants from this dusty desert curmudgeon, some history, lots of recipes mixed in. Probably some local folklore and esoteric stuff will end up in the mix. Maybe some illustrations from a local artist. Something you can throw in a backpack, not a fancy coffee table brick. I’m pivoting my life in a direction to get away from the late nights and hard living of full-time bartending, but I’d like to have something to show for the all the time. So, here I am, sipping the last few drops of rye, bitters, sugar, and water and damn, it’s pretty good.
So, less bartending, but a few more cocktails. The original idea for this project was to find the common ground with cocktails and the esoteric; alchemy, herbs, haunted bars, stuff like that.
As for the writing, I am an essayist at heart. Some of my voice and humor gets lost in my *cough* “serious” esoteric writing (and in my fiction). If I can’t sound like “me” writing a post I simply won’t write it.
YouTube and more
My channel is mostly going to be about spooky pop culture- my chance to talk about stuff I like to watch, listen to, and read when I am not writing. I have a new found respect for anyone making video, btw. I posted the first two right here on the blog, so let me know what you think!
I am planning on doing more events locally in Palm Springs, CA; cocktail history related, and probably some tarot or esoteric events too.
I’ll always try to give you something to take away, if nothing else!
Speaking of which..
How ’bout a Drink
The Old Fashioned is a living relic, and in a lot of ways, it’s the first cocktail. Certainly it wasn’t the first “mixed drink”. However the “Cocktail” per se was an actual drink containing spirit, bitters, and sugar. We don’t used that definition these days, but back in the mid to late 1800’s a cocktail was just that. Ice came later. So, as bartenders started messing around with things like vermouth, curaçao, and even citrus, the original cocktail became “old fashioned”. [That’s the short version, for a longer version check out Imbibe by David Wondrich. He has a whole chapter on the journey.] Anyway, it’s a drink I respect and love to make for people (partly because it’s easy and let’s me show off my stir) but hardly ever drink. Maybe because I cut my teeth drinking in dive bars in Boston where drinking whiskey that wasn’t a shot or Irish was looked at.. askance. While I gladly quaff a Manhattan or Boulevardier or three without a care, I still rarely drink these. But here’s the best way to make it, in my opinion.
2 oz Bourbon, rye is also acceptable- save the brandy for Wisconsin
1 tsp rich simple syrup (2 parts sugar to 1 part water, reduce over heat)
4 dashes of bitters (Angostura is the classic, but there are so many out there to try!)
Build it in a short, wide glass, add ice, larger cubes are better but nothing wrong with your household freezer size, and stir. Get a nice swath of orange peel, squeeze it over the top to express the oils over the drink, and rest it on top. It’s not a stir stick, leave it there to smell the oils as you sip! Remember, nothing wrong with going back to the well, once in a while!
The second episode in my “Behind the Magic” series on the YouTube channel. Retrograde made this one a nightmare so I am happy to have something to show for it, I hope you enjoy!
Meditations on the Tarot IV
With the fourth major arcana, The Emperor, the author of Meditations on the Tarot explores the concept of mystical authority. The first three figures represented “to be, to know, and to be capable”, and with all three of those conditions met, one is granted authority to “lay down the law”, as he states.The Emperor is a ruler without a weapon. That seems odd at first, but according to the author he needs no weapon, he “has renounced compulsion and violence”. He doesn’t rest on his laurels, however, he remains vigilant, not quite seated and not quite standing. His legs are crossed, and he has the eagle shield [or is it a griffin?] at his feet. “He is a sentry bound to his post.” [aside: Personally, I feel his pose of holding the scepter diagonally to the shield in an outward fashion compared to The Empress who holds them closely and horizontally at her bosom is quite telling in terms of the attributes and relationship of the cards.]
The author sees significance in the exceptionally large and heavy-looking crown on The Emperor’s head, “It is the sign of legitimacy… but it is also the sign of a task or mission by which the crown is charged from above.” The sunny rays that emanate outward imply a crown of thorns inwardly [as above so below?]. They are “nails piercing and crucifying each thought or image of the personal imagination.” Due to his station, states the author, The Emperor has made four renunciations; opinion, word, movement, and a personal name. These four renunciations mirror the four letters of the sacred name, YHVH. Since Meditations on the Tarot is a work of Christian Hermeticism, the author discusses the concept of God, powerless and crucified, in relation to The Emperor. While I don’t really get the crucifixion aspect of the card, the figure does seem to be stuck in a pose between actions, a liminal state if you will. Where the author sees a God almighty and at the same time a God crucified, I do see the hint of in-between in his pose that belies the stability of the 4 in tarot numerology. I have always considered the crucifixion to be Tiphareth, call me Rosicrucian, but I do see what the author is getting at here. Chesed, the fourth sephiroth, is the first sephiroth of action and creation, while also signifying mercy and love. Here we have the seeming contradiction of stability and authority with action and love.
In the card of The Emperor we also have the card of physical creation, the culmination of the first three cards. The author delves into one of my favorite Cabbala [his spelling] concepts, tsimtsum. This is the idea that before God could create a universe, God had to make a void first. By creating a space within “Godself”, there could be existence, as nothing could exist outside of God. Therefore, through tsimtsum, God could contract God’s power to create free beings, ruled over by love and authority and not coercion. For the author this is symbolized by the figure’s crossed legs and tightened belt.
The Emperor is outside, he has no court or retinue to guard him. He seems to be in a field, or on a rocky promenade perhaps. This adds to the idea that he is, in my words, a sort of archetype of the ruler rather than a practical ruler of people. His domain is the sky and the earth. As the author says, The Emperor’s power is gained through initiation, the state of consciousness where eternity and the present moment are one.
The author guards us against reading too many “theories or concepts” into the cards, declaring that the theories and concepts flow from the symbol on the card and not the other way around.
..it would not do to say: the fourth card “The Emperor” is the symbol of the astrological doctrine concerning Jupiter. One would rather say: the Arcanum of the fourth card “The Emperor” is also revealed in the astrological doctrine concerning Jupiter.”Meditations on the Tarot, p90
This is pretty much the opposite of the way most readers I know read, including myself. We let our big occult brains complicate a reading instead of letting the symbol speak to our subconscious. What else can you expect in the modern world, where numbers and algorithms and words are what are valued? For centuries diviners gave readings without ever having heard of solve et coagula, much less Hod or Chesed. [aside: I have to remind myself often to look at the card, and why I am weary of someone using a Hello Kitty deck and reading it like a Thoth deck, not that I, too, haven’t done such. I once used a “food” deck in a pinch- how does one read the “3 of Sushi”? But I digress..] The author is concerned with Hermitic philosophy, and “Hermetic philosophy is not composed of the Cabbala, astrology, magic and alchemy. These four branches sprouting from the trunk do not make the trunk, rather they live from the trunk.” In the first four cards of the Major Arcana, for him, you find the four spiritual practices that form the key to the Apocalypse [in the meaning of the ‘unveiling’, I imagine]: concentration without effort, vigilant inner silence, inspired activity of imagination and thought, contemplation of everything which preceded.
The Emperor, therefore, is a symbol, from that symbol flows these spiritual concepts, and from the first four Arcana one sets the groundwork for practice of Hermetic concepts. So much for making the cards less esoteric I guess!
SO THIS is something I have been plotting a LONG TIME. Now that my arm is ready for light duty I thought it was a perfect time to get started! I hope you enjoy..
I am working on a playlist I decided would be called “Grocery Store Jams”. The premise is that it’s songs I heard at the grocery store growing up, or on the way in my mom’s car (“Mom’s Station Wagon” was an alternative title. It’s not necessarily “Yacht Rock”, although some of it is. A lot of the songs are “bad” by current tastes, but nostalgic- a lot are still great songs. There is a heap of the dreaded “Adult Contemporary” of the nineties, the category where 60’s rockers and blues crooners went to die. If I were honest about it, I would have some 90’s Clapton and Bonnie Raitt on there- but I just can’t listen to those songs anymore. There’s a hell of a lot of Steve Winwood though, and Bruce Hornsby. I put in some Brit favorites like Howard Jones and Level 42, but avoided anything from the 80’s that would end up on an “Awesome 80’s” list or anything like that. Phil Collins and Genesis make an appearance. Anita Baker and Christine McVie bring some smokiness. I got rid of the Steely Dan for being too respectable for a middle-aged man to listen to, but I left IGY by Donald Fagen. Jackson Browne got a last minute removal for the same reason. So did the Eagles, although Don Henley and Glenn Frey are on there. It’s a work still very much in progress.
The Doobie Brothers were on the list a lot, but for the reason of being so clearly Classic/Yacht Rock, I edited them out. Before I cut it, “What a Fool Believes” started playing, so obviously I had to listen the whole way through and croak along in my best Michael McDonald impression. This song gets me everytime, right from the jump. Those cheery major chords on the keys, blithe, almost silly- bouncy for sure. The bridge, the falsetto, Blue-Eyed Soul at its absolute best. Co-written by Kenny Loggins, it’s the tale of a man and woman reuniting after being separated. The man still thinks there’s something there, the woman never felt the same way. One gets the impression that either this was just a temporary fling that meant nothing to her, or it was something more significant and he blew it somehow. Despite her (off camera, so to speak) telling him that there is nothing there (anymore?), he keeps living in a fantasy world where things are different.
As the lyrics say “But what a fool believes/ he sees/ no wise man has the power/ to reason away”. It’s the story of the human journey, no?
This song has followed me around my whole life, popping up at odd times. Sometimes it comes on when I am a low point, like a message that things are going to be ok, it’s the delusions in life that cause me pain most of the time- not the reality. Sometimes I feel like it’s a gentle admonition, sometimes it tells me I am on the right path. This song is like a well-placed tarot card for me, it takes a little interpretation based on the circumstances. Is it The Fool though? Well, sure, but that’s a little on the nose. I don’t typically read reversals, but perhaps a Knight of Cups reversed might be more accurate, or in an unfavorable position, near a 5 of Cups and The Star (in its less favorable aspects).
So, yes, this was a round-about way to say that sometimes it helps to associate song lyrics with cards. It’s something I have sort of done unconsciously over the years, but am going to start doing more actively now that I have walked myself through this exegesis.
As for the playlist, I am subbing the song with the suspiciously similar “Steal Away” by Robbie Dupree. Not sure how those songs came out within a year of each other with a lawsuit. Dupree says that sort of piano lick was pretty common in music by then, and he’s right- I realized I had also put “He’s So Shy” by the Pointer Sisters on the playlist, and yep. I’ll have to work out some correspondences for those songs too. But that’s for another post I guess.
I am almost at the end of New Seeds of Contemplation by Thomas Merton, and it has me thinking. That’s not surprising, of course, while one is reading a great spiritual thinker. Two of my favorite points he makes are, and I paraphrase; to be a contemplative starts with minding your own business, and that controversy is antithetical to the contemplative. Probably those appeal to me because I occasionally fancy myself as above human concerns (pure fantasy btw), and therefore human activity and (ugh) small-talk are anathema. It is probably little surprise then, that I dread the (far too sudden) total and chaotic “reopening” that California is undergoing at the moment.
Before you start thinking I am some curmudgeonly misanthrope (too late, I’m sure, if you know me), I like persons. I like persons a lot. One of my favorite things about bartending is having an unexpected conversation with someone about something that interests me. But I am really dismissive to people, and hold them in contempt. Sometimes I lump persons into people, especially if I feel pressure behind the bar or am in a mood. I put up a wall. I get mean.
I remember reading about Merton, I believe it was in The Seven Story Mountain, that his friend advised him he didn’t really want to be a hermit; he wanted a hermitage in the middle of Times Square that had a neon sign that said HERMIT. I can relate. That’s why I have a blog about these topics, my little neon sign on the internet.
I know deep-down that to be standoffish to one’s fellow humans is the thing that is actually antithetical to contemplative life. Perhaps, one day, I will get to a place where I have more kindness and forbearance. I am hoping that not being hungover and sleep-deprived all the time will help- we’ll see. In the meantime I will try and remember, when I tire of small-talk (and especially the booby-traps of current conversation), that we’re all created to be what we are created to be, and not everyone has the same interests. Besides, if everyone just talked about things I was interested in, then I wouldn’t be special, would I?
The “unknown friend”, author of Meditations on the Tarot, makes a distinction between the mystical experience of the “Christian mystic” versus the “Eastern mystic”- that the former seek to keep some sort of individuality by dissolving into Love while the latter seeks to lose individuality by dissolving into Oneness. While this could certainly be argued by someone well versed in “Eastern mysticism” (a label so broad as to be almost meaningless), I am challenged by the idea that “capital L” Love might just be the missing ingredient in my journey. I am not sure how to get there, though. I am thinking the way forward involves shedding my resentments, learning to love myself first and then expanding that to the rest of the world around me. That’s what I am attempting at least. While I hope to mind my own business and avoid controversy in these polarized times, it’s just as important to realize that the reason for that is to avoid being perturbed by one’s fellow human, and not to avoid them altogether. What good is a mean mystic, after all?
Has tarot been outsourced to our phones? Is a “tarot reader” as antiquated as it sounds, a profession best left in the days of yore, before reason, materialism, and “trust the science”? Apparently tarot is more in demand than ever, or so I gather. More people are buying decks than ever, and rarely do I visit someone’s home without seeing a deck or two- and not just my magical friends. Of course these days I rarely visit someone’s home at all- but that’s another matter.
Do we really need tarot though? Should we just treat all of these decks like cultural curiosities, collectors’ items, etc?
How many decks do we need? How many tarot readers does the world need? It’s like yoga, everyone I know in Palm Springs who does yoga is either a yoga instructor or becoming one or thinking of becoming one. It’s a trope, and obviously an exaggeration. Lots of people do yoga and have no actual desire to become a teacher. Lots of people have tarot decks and have zero inclination of becoming a professional reader. I have done a ton of reading for people in public and have toyed with the thought of “going pro”, even setting up a website for it (100 bucks down the drain!). Then I hit a wall. Really I hit a couple of walls. Firstly the pandemic went on a good deal longer than anticipated, and a year from creating the website the world is still not safe for in-person readings. I could have done email readings, of course, but that’s not what I do, or did, rather.
You see, the way I did readings was to get a good buzz on and read for friends and strangers at bars and parties. Man, was I good too. People would line up, especially since it was free- not that I would turn down a drink for my efforts. Now that my life is different and I don’t get that Dionysian out-of-body experience from drunk-reading anymore, I have had zero interest in picking up cards to read anyone. When I have played with a deck, or even tried to remember the meanings of cards, I have felt a disconnect. This is true with any “magical” thing I have tried sober. It’s just not “there”, anymore. I’ve lost my mojo. It makes me wonder if it was ever “me” with any of these abilities or if I just let something else in all of these years. It could just be that the pathways need to be rerouted. Maybe I have just outgrown all of this “silly magic stuff” and should just grow into the mystic I have always daydreamed of being instead- more Hebrew, fewer “barbarous names”.
I still love tarot though. Despite its becoming overly popular, despite feeling it’s left me behind, I still think the deck, any deck, is a powerful tool. I am working on bringing it back into my life, as my life is constituted now, and look forward to feeling confident reading again someday soon. I don’t want to leave tarot behind the way I have walked away from spellcraft and sigils and other assorted tools of the mage (for now at least). Actually I am confident I will come out the other side a better reader- that this time is for me the magical equivalent of the “Dark Night of the Soul”. Until then I use my phone for daily pull.
That may sound strange, since I am effectively a Luddite with a blog, who eschews most apps and social media and whatnot. But I was turned onto Golden Thread’s app, and it has a daily pull feature that I have found quite useful (while I do recommend the app, I am sure there are others that work similarly and I have no connection to the venture). I am finding the daily pulls on my phone, which I gather are decided by a random number generator, to be spookily accurate to my situation most days. It’s at least as useful as my previous manual daily pulls, and even easier. [My one complaint is that the logging system could work better, it would be nice if it kept a longer log. One could always use a journal of course and not be lazy, but I journal enough, dammit!]
Here’s the conclusion you could probably guess I already made before I started writing- no, phones will not replace tarot readers. The world “needs” tarot readers for the same reason we “need” bartenders- sure, you could do it yourself, it’s not like being your own doctor or lawyer, but you’re better in the hands of a professional. Just like tending bar, when you get a connection with the person you’re reading for, the experience is better for everyone. There is an energy exchange. We also need more decks. There is no reason to stop making decks. Make decks that speak to you, clutter the world with decks. Make decks that help create the world you want to see. Your phone won’t replace your favorite deck, or your favorite reader. That doesn’t mean it’s not a powerful tool for divination. There is something of the spooky in random number generators. As there is no such thing as random (every event has been caused by something), it’s my belief that there are no random numbers- you’ll see patterns in the short term even if they disappear in the long run. There is something magical about this computing function, and if you don’t believe me, a quick internet search will turn up some interesting studies. So be a good magician and use the best tool for the job, whether that be analog or digital, it’s still magic after all.
And maybe I will pick up a deck today after all..
Let’s talk about Gurdjieff. This isn’t about the man himself or his teachings. I mean let’s talk about Gurdjieff on a semantic level. What do people mean when they talk about Gurdjieff?
Firstly, let me admit I am no expert on the subject. Up until last year Gurdjieff was a mystery (still is) discussed on esoteric podcasts and blogs, or occasionally brought up in metaphysical discussions. With plenty of time on my hands during the pandemic, I read (and watched the film adaptation of) Meetings with Remarkable Men. I wasn’t particularly impressed by the book (although the movie has some cool dance scenes worth checking out. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UKPwZqUUrQo&t=435s Peter Brooks is amazing, I sent him an email about his article in Parabola that I hope got to him), it just seemed like a collection of tall tales. Next I read PD Ouspensky’s classic about his time with Gurdjieff, In Search of the Miraculous, and it hit me like a wet sausage to the face. Sure, there is a lot of pseudoscience and mumbo jumbo in it, but I just remember having to put the book down, gobsmacked, as ‘G’ hit me with truths about humanity, and truths about myself I hadn’t quite fathomed. I wish I could read it over again with the same effect, I plan to read it at least every other year until I fully ‘get it’.
Inflamed with a convert’s zeal, I went looking for Gurdjieff’s omnibus, All and Everything, or Beezelbub’s Tales to his Grandson. I was so enthusiastic about it that I sought out his original text from a Gurdjieff organization in New Mexico for the princely sum of 60 bucks. I waited for it with giddy excitement.
When I finally received the 1200 plus page book, I hit a brick wall. The man writes with a shovel! The first few dozen pages are a warning to not buy the book because it’s not written in “the current fashion” or other such comparisons. He never gets to any point, it seems, and now three hundred pages in, it’s the most dull and obtuse work of science fiction, or even fiction, that I have ever read. It’s a total gobbledygook. Now, before I get any emails, I know the book is meant to be a hard read, and that Gurdjieff reportedly worried that he had made the esoteric truths too obvious. This is a man, after all, who reportedly demanded extra effort from his students- like go back and walk twenty miles in the rain for no reason “extra effort”. In keeping with that MO, he implores you in the opening to read it three times, once like a regular book, once like you’re reading it to someone, and once more to try and understand it. I’m going to do that, mind you, although it may be in my Golden Years before the third time is finished. I’ll get back to you.
So, unless everyone is a good deal sharper than me, I have to believe that when people talk about Gurdjieff they’re really talking about “G”, PD Ouspensky’s construct from In Search of the Miraculous. I think they’re really talking about some distilled version of the teachings of that book, even, as ‘G’ emphasizes in the text that every student needs a particular teaching method. The major theme is obedience to a master, and never once has anyone brought this up in fancy cocktail party conversation about Gurdjieff, in my experience at least- everyone just glibly mentions “The Fourth Way” as though they have any idea what that means.
Like many gurus, Gurdjieff seized control over the lives of his disciples, but unlike them he had no inclination to write a new bible or usher in a new age or other such megalomaniacal feat. This control, I believe, was both a burden to him and something that fulfilled him. He needed to “feel out” a person to know how best to wake them, or if it were even possible to do so. I feel confident that he would consider most people who invoke his teachings these days to have at best a superficial understanding. Let me be the first to admit that about myself.
So, if you think you know Gurdjieff, you probably “ain’t nothing but a “G” thing”. That’s not a bad thing.
It’s St Patrick’s Day, somewhere, but not here in Palm Springs. People often ask if I miss Boston, especially around this holiday. I tell them about my time living on the parade route in South Boston, on Dorchester St, for a few years. The undead masses reveling in the streets, people asking to use our bathroom, people just using the parking area or stairs as a bathroom anyway. What a mess it was.
Getting to work was even worse, no way to get an Uber, if it were even a thing when I lived there- I don’t think it was, as I used to take a lot of taxis. There wasn’t any reasonable way to walk to Downtown that I was aware of, and it wasn’t like you could walk anywhere anyway. The T was always closed based on the direction, I would battle my way to Broadway Station only to have someone tell me it was closed Northbound, and then fight my way to Andrew Square only to have someone tell me that I needed to go back to Broadway. For the record, it was Broadway after all. I remember getting off at Park Street, running past the crowds to finally breathe free air after being stuck in beer-soaked, sweaty purgatory on the Red Line. The free air didn’t last long. The bars had lines down the sidewalk, I remember even the usually empty Bertucci’s location near work had a line.
By the time I got to work, a musty little oyster cellar that wasn’t built for such business, I would wiggle my stocky frame past the people lined up on the stairs waiting to get in. There was a staff Jameson bottle my buddy had hidden down in dry storage, so that was my first stop of course. It wouldn’t be the last time during the shift that my lips would commune with it..
I remember one year the entire bar was full for the whole shift, shoulder to shoulder, of people chugging Bloody Mary’s. They drank us out of gallons of Bloody mix, and the ingredients to make more, and ate all of the shrimp that we used as garnishes. When I told the mob that sad news, they asked what they were supposed to have after six bloodies, and I answered, I believe, “Pancakes and a fucking nap?”.
If I worked the day shift, I would usually go to the more famous oyster place down the street, as for some reason it wasn’t too hard to get a beer there despite the crowd. Oyster shuckers watch out for each other I guess. One year we went to one of the more “shit-show” bars in the neighborhood for some reason. My friend and I were in a hurry to get our first post-shift cocktail and we ordered a “something and coke”, which was unusual for us. Our crew were, to a man, Boilermaker types. I seized some highballs over some frat boys confronting us that the drinks were for the two girls they were talking to. I wasn’t having it, and was covered in oyster guts no doubt, so eventually I won.
We both blacked out that night, my buddy and I, despite not having had anything else after that. I woke up on the couch later in the evening with no memory of getting home, he had a similar experience at his house. I’m guessing we got a dose that was meant for those girls. Hopefully the guys didn’t have a second one ready.
There were always the brawls. Faneuil Brawl. You can probably still find videos on the internet of the street fights downtown on St Patrick’s Day, that is if kids still fistfight, I honestly have no idea. They probably just fight on Twitter or something. Everyone talked about the fights. The thing they never talked about with St Patrick’s Day in Boston was the urine, and the bodily substances in general. The ever-present horse piss in Faneuil Hall was replaced with human piss, and spilled beer, and vomit. There was nowhere to go. It’s hard to even blame anyone. The only move was to be coherent enough to get into line for a bathroom 20 minutes before you actually have to go. That sort of awareness doesn’t last long.
There are many things I like about living in the desert. There are a lot of things I miss about Boston. I can’t say there’s much I miss about St Patrick’s Day, except maybe the sense of camaraderie that we veterans of a thousand bar holidays would feel seeing each other free when the shift was over. What about the money, you ask? It was usually gone by the end of the week. The gray hairs last forever though. Happy St Patrick’s Day.