Hey guys, sorry for the delay. There have been a few bumps in the road.
I’m lying in a hospital in a city I will not name. It is fascinating that you’ve chosen the theme “Transience” for this illustrious issue of Flaunt, as I have been confronting the transient nature of my own mortality in a more direct manner than I am used to.
I was here for business, hunting down the oldest distilled spirit in the Western Hemisphere. Most would write down Tequila as their final answer, but the Spanish got to Michoacán first, so their infinite thirst required them to introduce the science of distilling before they got to Jalisco.
Charanda means Red Soil Hill, and it is true, the soil is almost fluorescently red. We don’t grow Agave around here, though—we grow Sugarcane.
It hurts to type this. Cracked ribs are a total drag. The good news is my femur isn’t broken; it’s just a deep bone bruise. Easy peasy. I am also told I should get the sight back in my right eye any day.
If we only have a limited amount of time on the orb, why would anyone chose to spend it in a dangerous place where communication is difficult and amenities are sparse? Unlike Ahab or Hillary, I am not driven by a single burning passion. It’s more like an itch I’ve just felt the need to scratch. Much like falling down a rabbit hole on the internet, one more click, one more click, one more click, and then you find yourself being run down by a carful of men that may want to spirit you away and hold you for ransom.
It is a mysterious liquid almost unknown even inside Mexico. Freshly juiced sugarcane is fermented with naturally occurring yeasts and triple distilled. The best stuff is then barrel aged. They used to make the barrels form the local oak, but the cooperages are long-gone and it’s mostly American Bourbon Barrels now.
The buzzer just went off, time for a morphine drip.
I could have bought Amazon or Apple or Netflix and then sat back and reaped my rewards. Living at the Carlyle, eating at Le Bernardin three or four nights a week, but instead I have been scraping by, constantly in motion, always searching out that thing that will activate my eureka receptors. Am I contributing to the general good? That is very unclear; there are certainly no hidden trove of notebooks that will be edited together by a future historian and released as an amusing personal record of drinking in the 21st century. But I am not detracting from it either. I pet dogs, give the homeless a couple of bucks, maintain an extremely small carbon footprint and help support out-of-the-way hotels, bars, and restaurants as I move about.
We’ll never know if it was a kidnapping or just a bunch of guys who ran me over for fun. I was only three or four blocks from my hotel when impact occurred. I was zooming into unconsciousness when I thought I saw a lot of blinking lights. Then nothing until the next day. Belying the old adage that there is never a cop around when you need one, apparently a half dozen motorcycle cops out on patrol turned the corner as soon as I was hit and rushed to my aid. They told me later that somehow the perps had managed to elude them, which I was resigned to accept at face value. They most likely saved my life, who was I to quibble if they took a few shekels to let the guys go?
The day before this happened I had been up to the plantation. At 2000 meters elevation in the Trans-Mexican Volcanic Belt the air is crystalline and the colors hyper-real, the blue sky, the red soil, and the lush green cane engulf and subsume you. There is an 18th century aqueduct, and when water is released from the small lake above, it charges down the hillside, the force turning a 60-foot iron wheel which powers the crusher that squeezes the juice from the cane. The fresh juice glides further down the hill in an underground terra cotta pipeline. It used to pour out into giant clay pots strapped to burros, but is now unromantically piped into large plastic vats in the back of pickup trucks. Still, it was like standing at the godhead: almost five centuries have passed since this process was initiated, and here we are extending the tradition. I spent the morning honing my machete skills in thick cane. And burros are still employed up there; the hills are too steep for trucks, so the cane is bundled up and strapped to the beasts of burden who trundle it down to be juiced.
I was planning on visiting the distillery before the ‘incident.’ It is a new plant, built after the land reforms in the ’40s. The old building was given to the people, briefly turned into a school, but was then sold to a private concern who converted it into a resort. It went bankrupt in the ’80s and now sits abandoned. But that plan was scuttled, of course. I am bedbound for the moment, waiting patiently until the morphine timer goes off again.
It is too late for me to become a doctor or a statesman. Accepting the brief nature of our stay, it seems foolish to waste time trying to achieve something you aren’t qualified for and have little interest in. Maybe saxophone? I’ve always admired Lester Young—I mean, if you can get Charles Mingus to write “Goodbye Pork Pie Hat” as your posthumous tribute, you must have had something special going on. The problem is, before I have even picked up the sax, I’ve already outlived most of the legends of the genre. I should have started much earlier if I wanted to die in obscurity only to be later revered by legions of college kids listening alone in their dorms, but there you go.
Did you know that your health insurance doesn’t work in Mexico? Did you know that they won’t release you from the hospital until you’ve paid your bill? Did you know that occasionally miracles occur? Through no mental heroics of my own, the credit card I bought my plane ticket with includes travel insurance. Not only are they paying the bill, but I am also being transported back to the states as soon as the paperwork is finished. My luggage arrived from the hotel yesterday. I had thought about checking in there for a week or so to heal up, but the Federales strongly suggested leaving the country as soon as possible. They put an officer outside my door for the first couple of nights, but it was a fool’s errand. The joke would be on them anyway. I can hardly envision the magazine ponying up thousands of dollars for my sorry carcass; I would have just been someone else’s disappointing turn of events.
Time is fleeting my friends. Grab it by the balls and wrestle it to the ground, lest it brush by you without a second thought.
Illustrated by Anna Bu Kliewer