Wherein Stray Cat NOLA Learns How to Make a Proper Martini, Is Inevitably Entertained by a Catfight and Entertains You With...
A Brief History of the Martini and Where To Drink'Em In the French Quarter of New Orleans
--Read Time: 10 Minutes--
You villein(1) have a saying: "A bird in the hand is worth two in the bush."
Which is bird-brained.
What's wrong with y'all?
"A bird in the hand is," not, "worth two in the bush."
"Three birds in my mouth is worth torturing them to death."
Which is more like it and, frankly, relevant to my immediate situation.
Because at this precise moment--as you may recall from the end of Episode 1: The Continuing Adventures of Stray Cat NOLA--Tom is attempting to capture me.
The first thing cats do when they enter an unknown environment is familiarize themselves with their escape routes.
The second thing cats do is, well--I don't know--but the second thing I do, anyway, is familiarize myself with a drinkie.
Which does not go bird-in-mouth with Tom's desire to capture me because, if he does, I can only conjecture that he will be throwing my cat's ass out into the street...sans cocktail.
So I need to consider my escape routes.
But not one that will simply allow me to forgo the indignity of ruffled fur, ruffled pride and--Bastet take all from this, your supplicant kitten, but preserve me my Alpha Pleasure(2)--the
temporary lack of access to a decent bartender.
An escape route that elevates me to a more favorable situation than the one that I am losing.
Welcome to, How Stray Cat NOLA Does This Shit. Or HSCNOLADTS, which has--how do y'all, villein, say it?--rather a nice ring to it, don't you think?
I leap into Felicity's arms and she catches me like a pro.
As I knew she would.
This takes Tom aback. He stops in front of Felicity, not knowing what to do.
As I knew he would.
Bird Number One is now bird-in-mouth.
Meanwhile, the guests are fleeing this party like mites fleeing my ears after I dip them into a shite(3) martini--which is the only thing a shite martini is good for.
And speaking of shite martinis, Willard--having disregarded his knowledge that these are, indeed, shite martinis because of his tribulations with both Prudence and Felicity--is now standing by the front door, downing all the myriad, untouched, shite martinis off the tray perched there on an entrance table and wishing everyone an unintelligible good night.
He is suddenly so drunk he sounds as if he's trying to speak around two gerbils fucking in his mouth.
This puts Tom in a quandary.
I can see, in his eyes, his alcohol addled brain working to solve the puzzle of these disparate pieces:
The stray--but debonair and infinitely adorable--precocious cocktail aficionado of a cat in the arms of the erudite, provocative and--may I say--ridiculously skilled, Felicity, who is his wife, Prudence's, best friend and invited by Prudence to be at this, their annual Christmas Eve party...
And Willard, his friend and former lover of said Felicity, now heart-shattered, harmless--but relentlessly irritating--true believer that he and Felicity are destined for each other, regardless of the fact that she left him so many years ago that cats don't even live that long, secretly invited by Tom--specifically against Prudence's wish--because he pities Willard for always being alone during the holidays...
And what happened between Felicity and Willard was precisely what his wife predicted and so the specific question distilled out of all of the above into the swill of his alcohol numbed gray matter is this: How do I get Willard out of my house gracefully and then apologize to my wife and Felicity without losing to them, perhaps, my very skin?
I know all this because, frankly, your cat knows everything that goes on in your home and you may want to start getting worried about that...(4)
Tom chooses to deal with Willard first.
As he heads toward the front door, Felicity walks into the kitchen.
Prudence is sitting on the counter, her naked feet in the sink among the dirty dishes and cascading bubbles of soap, viciously scrubbing her toes with a brush.
She is as berserk as if she is birthing forty-four kittens, interjecting words of unknown origin into the sink, punctuating each stroke of the brush with wild, uncharted grammar.
She looks at Felicity with horrifying, feral eyes and then me in Felicity's arms and her expert diddling of my under jaw with her fingers and then very deliberately back and forth between the two of us and then very deliberately focusing on Felicity's finger play that has me all kinds of which way pleasured to within an inch of my nine lives and, finally, staring into Felicity's eyes with her rabid eyes and says, truly, just like this, between her teeth with a sudden crescendo of punctuating scream at the end:
(What. Are. You. Doing. With. NAUGHTY CAT!?)
Then she goes back to flaying her toes and yells at her toes,
(MY TOES! I CAN'T EVEN DESCRIBE IT. CAN YOU DESCRIBE IT, TOES? I'M VIOLATED! I'M VIOLATED! IT'S. I DON'T KNOW!)
And Felicity says,
(Nauseating, revolting, detestable, offensive, repellent, nasty, objectionable, repugnant--)
(Shut up! Just PLEASE SHUT THE FUCK UP, FELICE!)
(You need a drink, Prudence), says Felicity, and then, with just a molecule of slyness that only a cat could perceive:
(I'll grab you one of those martinis.)
This statement gets Prudence's attention.
She immediately stops brushing. She looks around the room like some cornered, doomed opossum.
She lowers her voice.
(No! Are you mad? Jesus Christ no.)
At which, Felicity says,
(I must ask, I've always been curious: How is it that you have such command of your Sazerac(5) but so little command of your martini?)
Prudence lowers her voice even more:
(I don't make the martinis. Tom does.)
Nothing, a pause. Then Prudence continues:
(I thought you knew that!)
(Ah!) exclaims Felicity, in a moment of revelation, (How could I? You hide it like some batshit grandmother in your attic.)
Prudence, intensely whispering:
(I'm protecting Tom!)
Felicity takes a step backward with a quick, soft intake of breath.
(Yes! I thought you knew. I thought you were just being kind enough to keep quiet about it.)
Another pause. Then, Prudence, again:
(I make the Sazeracs. Tom makes the martinis.)
Felicity doesn't say anything. She is genuinely awed by this act of sacrificial love.
The proverbial cat, literally, has her tongue.
(I know. The martinis. They're awful. Right?)
Felicity doesn't say anything.
We hear an argument break out between Tom and Willard, reminding Prudence that they're just in the next room.
So quiet now, she's barely audible. She's actually mouthing the words:
(Tom thinks his martinis are amazing. Poor Tom. I can't tell him. I don't have the heart.)
And if any declaration could break Felicity's quiet astonishment, it's this one.
There is obvious alarm in her voice: (You mean you drink them, anyway?!)
(Shhhhhhh!) hisses Prudence.
Then, after hesitating:
(Oh my God.)
(Tom meets me at the door with them sometimes. When I come home from work. Like James Bond.)
(In a tuxedo.)
(James Bond drinks only vodka martinis.)
(James Bond. He only drinks vodka martinis. Not gin. If you don't include the Vesper.(6))
This declaration irritates Prudence. Profoundly. Her muscles, tense with her toe brushing, grow tighter.
(Why of course he does, Felice.)
She pauses, again scrutinizing me in Felicity's arms and her luscious finger play under my jaw.
And then she's says it a second time, slowly: (Why of course he does, Felice.)
If Felicity notices this dangerous refocusing of her 'ole spar's(7) emotions, she doesn't say so.
In fact, she gestures with her body for me to jump onto the counter. I do. My legs, however, are weak from her preternatural procedure and I immediately sit down.
I am behind Prudence's back. She looks over her shoulder at me and says,
The argument between Tom and Willard grows more heated. Tom growls unintelligibly, the front door opens, closes, and then silence.
Felicity is rummaging through the detritus on the counter tops and also the cabinets.
She says, (Let me make you a proper martini, darling.)
She is obviously looking for the proper accoutrement to make a proper martini, but is coming up empty handed.
(What does Tom use to make his martinis?)
(He batches his martinis. ...In a bucket.)
Involuntarily, Felicity sucks in some air, then whispers to herself, (Even hell has a hell. "Abandon all hope, ye who enter here." Dante Alighieri.)(8)
Regardless of the whisper, Prudence clearly hears this declaration. Her muscles grow tighter still.
Felicity looks at the island in the center of the kitchen.
It is a shrine to the alchemy of the Sazerac. Every element, every ingredient to prepare a Sazerac is laid out succinctly in its order, here.
Take this from ye olde Stray Cat, when I tell you: nothing else is prepared on this island. Nothing. Prudence forbids it.
Felicity is staring covetously at Prudence's beaker and bar spoon on the island.
(No,) says Prudence. Both of her hands are now white knuckle gripping the edge of the sink.
(Prudence. If I'm going to make you a proper martini, I need the proper tools.)
They look at each other for a long time.
(I'll buy you a new beaker and spoon. The best.)
A pause: (Virgin.)
Felicity steps suggestively next to Prudence.
She whispers thickly in her ear, like some kind of oversexed mattress kitten, (You can slide the length of your long, stiff spoon into the dark silk folds of rye. The trembling, suspended drops of Mr. Peychaud's(9) bitters.)
A pause: (Inseminate your magic.)
Another pause: (Mmmmmmm. Tempt you?)
This series of statements has even my attention. My whiskers are aroused. My ears are cocked and expectant.
A sliver of smile appears at the right side of Prudence's mouth. Almost imperceptibly, she nods her head.
Felicity places the bar spoon and beaker into the freezer, investigates the freezer, and then investigates the refrigerator. She looks at Prudence.
(Where's your gin and vermouth?)
Prudence freezes, terrified. Then her eyes narrow.
(Fuck it,) she says to herself and then, theatrically, (Oh! Here they are, Felicity!)
Prudence's hands, like enraged ferrets, dart by the faucet.
(Here they are!) she exclaims, again, without a hint of embarrassment or shame. (By the sink! Here by the sink, Felicity. Covered in dirty, disgusting dish water. And look!)
She holds the two bottles defiantly up into Felicity's face.
(O.M.G., Felicity, O.M.G. The vermouth bottle is covered in dust. I wonder what that means, Felicity? I wonder what that means?!)
Felicity does not register her 'ole spar's tantrum.
(It means the vermouth is old, Prudence,) she says, matter-of-factly. (It means we can't use it. It means Tom may be your man but he's not your mixologist.(10))
Prudence reflexively leans backwards. Her eyes are huge. Her pupils dilated. She is speechless.
(MIXOLOGIST!) blurts out, Prudence, apoplectically. (I HATE THAT FUCKING WORD! WHY DON'T YOU JUST CALL BARTENDERS COCKTOLOGISTS!)
(Ooooo,) says Felicity, with clear admiration. (That's good. I like that, Prudence.)
In fact, I am enjoying this entire situation so much that I am now flattened to the counter, my eyes flashing between the two of them, my tail up and uncontrollably pulsing:
I am in deep anticipation of inevitable entertainment.
And this is the second time. In one night. This nest is like the mouse that never dies.(11)
And few entertainments are more so than a catfight.
Particularly between two shebas(12) that are 'ole spars. And particularly between two shebas that are 'ole spars where one of them is suddenly no longer calling her--how do you villein, say it?--"BFF" by her pet name.
"Felice" is now Felicity, who is presently scrutinizing the bottles. She grabs them both, whispering,
("Hell is truth seen too late." Thomas Hobbes.)(13)
She then adds the following with quiet, observational disgust: (These are entirely the wrong species.)
She opens the cabinet door beneath the sink and drops both bottles on top of the overflowing garbage can.
She walks over to the island and gently rests her palms on its edge, thoughtfully looking down at Prudence's Sazerac shrine, and says, (Where's your stash?)
Prudence feigns ignorance, as if she doesn't know exactly what Felicity is talking about: (My stash, Felicity? Whatever do you mean? My, "stash.")
(I mean, where are you hiding your gin and your vermouth?)
Prudence says nothing.
(I mean, I know you have to drink Tom's abysmal martinis when you have no choice, but I am sure you are knocking out your own when you can get away with it and replacing his with yours. That's what I mean, Prudence.)
Despite Prudence's mood, she is really rather pleased with herself and she cannot resist to tell Felicity, maniacally, and with a scary alarming laugh,
(The gin is hidden inside the frozen peas in the freezer and the vermouth is in the Tabasco bottle in the fridge.)
(Tabasco bottle in the fridge!?) exclaims Felicity. (What the fuck, Prudence? Just what the fuck?)
(It's not really Tabasco. It's double walled. The Tabasco is trapped between the sides.)
(Hee-hee,) she adds, tittering. (I ordered it. Special.)
(Well everyone knows that you don't put Tabasco in the refrigerator and what if Tom wants to use it?)
(Tom doesn't know that and Tom hates Tabasco. He prefers Crystal.)
(Idiot,) says Felicity.
(What did you say?)
(What about the peas?)
(Tom hates peas, as well.)
(So very clever, Prudence.)
Felicity fetches the now frosted beaker and bar spoon and mini bottles of gin and vermouth and the ice.
She starts whacking the ice cubes with the back of the bar spoon, breaking them up into chunks.
She drops the chunks of ice into the beaker.
She then measures out six ounces of the Beefeater London Dry gin and three ounces of the vermouth, which is Dolin Dry, also into the beaker.
(How many martinis is that?) asks Prudence.
(My measurements are four ounces gin and three-quarters ounce vermouth for one,) says Prudence.
(Mmm-hmm,) says Felicity.
(Wait! No,) says Prudence, blatantly terrified. (Not yet! Not yet! Tom's not ready.)
(The third martini is not for Tom.)
(Well, if it's not for Tom, who's it--) Prudence suddenly and viciously snaps her head over her shoulder to look down on me. Her eyes are slits.
That's right, tabby. The third martini is not for Tom. It's for this. Tom. Cat.
Felicity begins stirring the ice and the gin and the vermouth ethereally and hypnotically and beautifully and I am minutely watching all of this and I am minutely lost in all of this and minutely lost, also, in her lyrical relation of the science of the proper martini which she is now sharing with us regarding the covering of the ice completely in the beaker with the spirits and the higher the proof of the spirits the more they hold up to their dilution and how the frost will leave the beaker and magically return.
She pulls a thermometer out of her handbag and places it into the beaker.
She says, (The proper martini is only proper if it is served at negative eight degrees.)
At which, Prudence says, (How very interesting. Is that centigrade or Fahrenheit, Felicity?)
(Celsius, of course.)
("So very clever," Felicity,) says Prudence, mocking Felicity with her own words from earlier. ("Celsius.")
And then continuing,
(But more clever and less work would be to make the martinis and then place them in the freezer until they're at your negative eight degrees fucking Celsius, Felicity. Isn't that right, Felicity?)
Felicity doesn't say anything.
She is now pouring the martinis through a strainer into three chilled Nick & Nora(14) glasses from the freezer.
(Isn't that right, Felicity?)
Felicity cuts three thick peels from a lemon. One for each martini. She expresses the oil from each peel over the martinis, then runs the peel along the edge of the glass before dropping the peel, pith side down, into the drinks.
(Isn't that right, Felicity?)
Felicity places my drink down first, directly in front of me on the counter. She scratches me delicately behind my ear and says to me, (There ya go, Boo-Boo.)
Prudence is watching our moment closely. Both heartbreak and jealousy slide across her eyes.
Felicity hands her the martini.
Prudence's voice is suddenly delicate, held together only by her anger, (Isn't that right, Felicity?)
Felicity raises her martini in a toast and, staring good naturedly into Prudence's eyes, says, coolly, (Yes. But there wouldn't be any love in it.)
Prudence erupts in the sink, slipping and fumbling over the dishes piled there, but so focused in her rage she miraculously does not spill her drink, glaring down--ridiculously, I must say, with her head grazing the ceiling--at Felicity.
The front door opens almost imperceptibly and clicks quietly shut.
Tom walks into the kitchen. He sees Prudence standing in the sink, confronting her 'ole spar.
He pauses for a moment, confused, taking in our tableau, (Ummm. What's up in here?)
Whereupon, Prudence gestures with her martini at Felicity and says, (Oh, you mean, "What's up in here," with cuntie cocktail girl?)
Tom suddenly looks like he stepped barefoot into shit on a French Quarter sidewalk, but Felicity smiles, clearly entertained, sips from her martini, closes her eyes in ecstasy, opens them, and says,
(I just love it, Prudence, when your Puritan jumps off Plymouth Rock.)
(Don't you "love" me, Felicity. Don't you love me. Love?! What would you know about love?)
Felicity answers, so coolly, ("Whatever do you mean," Prudence?) filching her 'ole spar's words from earlier but not, seemingly, to mock her--as Prudence did--but to play with her.
(This isn't about Tom's martinis, is it? IS IT? IS IT, FELICITY? You're trying to steal Naughty Cat right out from beneath our very cocktails. Aren't you? AREN'T YOU, FELICITY? AREN'T YOU, YOU. YOU--YOU FELINE FATALE!)
Tom looks at Prudence, clearly alarmed.
(What about my martinis?!)
At which point, I dip my tongue into the rapture of my martini and...
Bird Number Two is now bird-in-mouth.
And a fine point, as well, to paws and let me just say, first and foremost, True Dat!
If there is an alpha cocktail in the cocktail kingdom, it is the martini, and you need to know the following:
--Read Time: 4 Minutes--
1. villein. "A member of a class of partially free persons under the feudal system, who were serfs with respect to their lord but had the rights and privileges of freemen with respect to others." From dictionary-dot-com. This is how cat's view humans. Cats are the lords and humans are the serfs who answer to the whims of said lords but who have equal rights among themselves. But cats can, and do, fall in love with their villein. As they say, "It's complicated." Cat's must save face. They don't talk about it. The Great Hypocrisy is never discussed. In other words, "We're all getting what we want, so just--oh look! There's a squirrel!" It may also interest you to know that the word 'villain' derives from this word.
2. Bast. Also known as Bastet, Bast is the cat deity. She is their only deity. Cats are truly monotheistic. Unlike human religions, which tend to have specific prayers or mantras that are continually, and throughout generations, said verbatim, a cat's prayers--or purrayers, as felines call them--to Bast must be spontaneous and made up on the spot, specifically worded to the situation that the cat is in at that moment. They are never to be repeated. A cat's memory is infallible in this regard. It remembers precisely every purrayer it has ever uttered so as to not commit the grave sin of Reiteration. If this is done, the attention drawn to the feline by Bast is dangerous because to forget what is asked of the deity, even throughout an entire lifetime, insults Her. When a cat can no longer remember its previous myriad purrayers and says them, or pieces of them, in supplication a second time Bast will cause a Dread Visitation upon them. Or not. As She is notoriously fickle. Any irony or humor or, frankly, anything ridiculous, however, is also appreciated by Bast in purrayers to Her and the more so the more likely that she will answer them...or belay her Dread Visitation if a worship has been repeated. This is because that even though Bast is a god, She, like all felines, has a deep, ever unsatiated, need to be entertained. And Her need is god-sized.
3. shite. Another term for 'shit,' some say obsolete--merriam-webster-dot-com--but can be favored among Brits. Cats, however, use this term regularly for anything that is awful. For actual feces, cats say, 'shit.' Because shit is shit. And shite is something else, entirely.
4. "I know all this because, frankly, your cat knows everything that goes on in your home and you may want to start getting worried about that..." Stray Cat and I argued about this sentence. I phrased it this way to keep things simple...and not destroy your misguided impression of reality. What he does not like--and wants corrected--is, specifically, "your cat knows everything that goes on in your home." This is because your cat is not your cat and your home is not your home, but rather it is quite the other way around. If you don't believe me, why does the word "homeowner" have the word "meow" in it? Hmm? For more information about this, please see ENDNOTE 1. villein, for explanation regarding how things really are between the cat(s) in your home and yourself and, after you read and digest that, you will understand that what you think is your home is actually the cat's. But the part about the cat knowing, "everything that goes on," in said home is very much true. And you may, indeed, want to, "start getting worried about that."
5. Sazerac. The official cocktail of the city of New Orleans. Created in the French Quarter in the mid 1800's, it is ratified as our official cocktail by Senate Bill Number 6 in 2008. The ingredients are rye whiskey, Herbsaint, Peychaud's bitters, sugar and a twist of lemon.
6. Vesper. Ingredients: gin, vodka, Lillet Blanc or Cocchi Americano, lemon peel.
7. 'ole spar. Unlike many cat terms or slang, which are interpreted solely by their context, 'ole spar is only, ever, used one way and is universally understood to mean that, "I am your best friend. We go way back. Our bond is forged on shared experience." It is one of the great compliments a cat can pay and is never said lightly or in jest. Even among enemies. It is derived from kittens sparring and learning together what it is to play and hunt and protect and to love.
8. "Abandon all hope, ye who enter here." Dante Alighieri. Dante Alighieri: famous medieval Italian poet. Wrote the Divine Comedy, divided into three parts, of which the Inferno is one. This quote, "Abandon all hope, ye who enter here," is from the Inferno. It is inscribed at the gates of Hell.
9. Mr. Peychaud's bitters. Antoine Amedee Peychaud was a pharmacist and refugee of the Haitian revolution living in New Orleans in the 1800's. His bitters--an infusion of alcohol with herbs and citrus--originally invented as medicine, is now a cocktail spice. Many cocktails, famous, or otherwise, would not exist without Peychaud's Bitters. Or, at least, not in their present form...
10. mixologist. A term that first appeared in Knickerbocker Magazine in 1856. The author was Charles G. Leland. Wondrich, D. (2015). Imbibe. Updated and Revised Edition (p.54). New York: Perigee Books. And Mr. Leland used it as a joke. Today, bartenders either call themselves this with pride or mock it with derision.
11. ...the mouse that never dies. This term is used, by cats, similarly to how they use 'foie gras': as something that is supremely good, but, more specifically, as something that is supremely pleasurable. Imagine a mouse that you can nibble off its feet, drive your incisors through its eye sockets--impaling its tiny inconsequential brain--rip its guts out and chew in half, and yet still scampers and squeaks and heaves and gasps with its miniscule heart ceaselessly thumping out the overwhelming terror and existential confrontation of the tortured cessation of its miserable life forever and ever and ever and never takes a final breath, not ever...imagine that. So. Supremely. Pleasurable.
12. sheba. A female cat. Used interchangeably, when convenient for cats, with the female of any species, it was also villein slang in the 1920's for, "a young woman with sex appeal." Who knew? Editors of Time-Life Books (2000). The Jazz Age | The 20's (p.33). New York: Bishop Books, Inc.
13. "Hell is truth seen too late." Thomas Hobbes. English philosopher, circa 1600's.
14. Nick & Nora glass. This particular type of cocktail glass is named for Nick and Nora Charles. First appearing in the 1934 film, The Thin Man, and played by William Powell and Myrna Loy, this screen couple became as known for their cocktail shenanigans as for their sleuthing of criminal cases. They favored drinking from the elegance of this style glass.