of a literary bent, spirit possession, Uncategorized

Wilmoth Houdini On Ginger Beer


“Home brewed ginger beer. This the drink that dominates alcohol. Whiskey can go to your feet when you got ginger beer inside you, but it can’t go to your head because it’s dominated.”

“Houdini’s Picnic,” by Joseph Mitchell,
THE NEW YORKER may 6th, 1939*


i’ve been eating scads of ginger lately (b/c i’ve been sick), but running across this bit i was reminded that i actually -love- ginger, and consequently, a good ginger beer. neither of which (ginger beer, nor ginger, in a loving as opposed to self-medicating capacity) i have been hitting up enough in recent months. in the fledgling days of Still Crapulent, ginger beer was one of my primary preoccupations, and i had in fact made a minor quest of undertaking to ferret out and taste every ginger beer available in Montréal. as is the case for most post-Classical quests it remains unfulfilled, mostly neglected, like a Real Doll discarded because even its meager simulated humanity required more of you than you were able to give.

okay, so not really like that at all. the riff came to me in the bathroom though, and i thought best to use it before i forgot entirely, even if the hyperbolic sadness and sheer spiritual noxiousness** was somewhat out of proportion to “losing interest in drinking too much ginger beer.”

notwithstanding the abandoned quest, ginger beer remains important in my victual topography; i have a keen memory of walking down rue Notre Dame (in Saint-Henri, not Paris), bottle of Grace in hand (the ginger beer, not the Lord’s gift), thinking to myself “i wonder if this will become a keen memory for me? so often do i do this, grabbing a ginger beer from Gold Star Laundry (once famed for its perhaps apocryphal “special” [ie: emboozled] coffee) in the course of whatever neighbourhood errands i am running, it certainly feels like it has the makings of a keen memory.” and thusly do i hope that the streets of Saint Henri live on in my memory, traced in part by the taste of sugar and ginger and carbonated burn. upon further reflection, i am curious whether that same stretch will be overlaid with the memory of half-ashamed, half-defiantly walking in the heavy july heat as one of two people each with our personal 12-packs of Bud Lite Lime.

since the displacement of the Noonday Reviver (see also) by the Black Mischief, and the (admittedly distressing) absence of rye from my booze stores, ginger beer has become that much less prominent in my life.

all of which to say, however, that i intend to remedy this, and am inspired specifically to test Houdini’s claims. not in the interest of dis/proving them, of course. i like to think that had one been like “Are you sure about that, Wilmoth? I don’t think it works that way,” his response would be to adopt such a shoulder hunched, palms-up pose, as to communicate “(hey, don’t ask me. can i help that) It’s the Dominator?

adjunct to this, and owing i guess to the dovetailing of this article with the upsurge in early-mid-20thc mento and calypso i’ve been listening to, i realize i haven’t gone for a good roti in a while. in fact, Trinidadian food, which once made up a not inconsiderable portion of my diet, has subsided pretty much into non-significance. the prevalence of food-focused songs in this/these genres (i admit i have a hard time distinguishing calypso from mento. although i had it in my head that the former was Trinidadian and the latter Jamaican, Laurel Aitken contests this.), a theme that i’ve touched on before, seems all the more pronounced for the ambiguity of many of the double-entendres (or are they?). “Don’t Touch Me Tomato” seems pretty obviously slack when Phyllis Dillon sings it, but coming from The Wrigglers a decade earlier, it really does just sound like a fruit-vendor’s plea for customers to stop bruisin’ up his delicate wares, and i am fully willing to believe that Lord Flea’s “Barjie Composer” really is about how to make goddamn good barjie (caribbean equivalent of indian bhaji, fyi).

although he does later just start talking about butts.

* * *

* also via Mitchell: Cockeye Johnny King, of the Gypsies’ signature drink of his gin & pepsi-cola, christened “Old Popskull.” prozit.

** you would not believe how much time i spent plumbing the internet and dictionary trying to justify my desire to use (invent) the word noxiety here. consider yourselves spared by the better part of valour.


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