Not feeling well enough to hit my usual Saturday hot spot, Handsome Stranger came over to my place for a guitar lesson.
Since no illness in existence is a good enough reason to excuse myself from our weekly ritual of scholarly discussions over suds, Stranger insisted on bringing alcohol with him.
He arrived around nine on Saturday evening and, like a skid row denizen, pulled a tall glass bottle from a wrinkled paper sack and set it on the coffee table.
“Get a couple glasses,” he ordered.
The clear glass showed a color of liquid which belied the bottle’s label.
“It’s not scotch,” Stranger said as his hairy mug curled into a Grinchy smile. “It’s mead … homemade.”
For those of you who don’t spend much time with Vikings or inmates, mead is an easy-to-make alcoholic beverage which consists of honey, oranges, spices and 10 percent evil. (15 percent in Canada.)
The jaundiced bathtub brew bubbled and churned violently in its glass hell.
And, as if commanding us to drink, the cork popped out on its own.
It really did.
My eyes darted to and from Stranger and then to his creation; I couldn’t help feeling like the monster to his Dr. Frankenstein.
“Drink good. Fire bad!”
Apprehensive to ingest the libation, I gave it a sniff.
It was a full-bodied stench with overtones of oranges and armpits distilled and strained through a ripe gym sock.
Like most wines this one had legs. They just happened to be hairy.
Shaking my head in defiance, I gasped for air and flashed back to my teen years when a good friend and I decided to make our own batch of vodka.
Being adventurous sorts, we forewent the recipe (and safety precautions) and filled a large plastic ice-cream pail with sliced potatoes, sugar, baker’s yeast and water before shoving it lovingly in a drawer under my pal’s heated waterbed.
For six weeks we watched the sauce grow from bad idea to affront to nature.
When moron’s intuition convinced us that it was ready, my friend pulled the batch of biohazard out, strained it through his mother’s spaghetti colander and poured it into an unsanitary, but empty, liquor bottle.
It looked like watered-down milk and smelled like watered-down gangrene.
The aroma offered shades of forgotten pasta and curdled milk with just a hint of nursing home.
“Is that you, Aunt Gert?”
Forget gagging a maggot, I pictured them leaping off buildings and kicking chairs away as their homemade nooses tightened.
My friend took the first sip.
“Gaaaaaaaaaah!” he exclaimed as he shivered uncontrollably.
He winced as his lazy eye straightened. (That generally only happened when he was really drunk.)
We searched his mother’s cupboard for something to mask the flavor.
“Maybe … but no.”
We emptied the little glass bottle into the “vodka”—a move only slightly less effective than dunking horse fritters in ketchup.
I was getting that feeling you get right before something bad happens.
I could hear my mother’s voice echoing in my head: “Benjamin Jon Gohs, have you lost your #$@!$&! mind!?”
Yes, mama, I have.
We poured the murky sauce over two ice-filled tumblers and stared at each other for a long time before raising the glasses and chugging.
Now, I’m not a picky eater by any standard. I am the creator of pork chop soup, blackened Ramen noodles and oatmeal with ketchup.
However, even my perverted palate has limits.
What can only be described as a minty rancidity was enough to kick-start my sympathetic nervous system.
My gag reflexes stood on their tippy-toes and flipped my stomach the bird.
No, both birds.
My friend held onto the countertop with both hands and groaned loud through clenched teeth.
He sounded like a demented bucking bronco rider.
It’s been awhile, but I definitely remember exclaiming something loud and wet like “Yurk!” or “Fligg!” before clapping both hands over my mouth and running from the kitchen.
Hot prickly sweats broke out all over as I besmirched his mother’s carefully decorated bathroom.
I yurked on her decorative rugs.
I fligged on the flowered wallpaper.
In between convulsions I prayed to Ozzy Osbourne, Timothy Leary, and Keith Richards—and anyone listening—that I would not die or go blind.
Why hadn’t I listened to my mother?
Quite sure I’d coughed up the majority of my organs, I wiped my bulging watery eyes and headed for the living room where I spotted my pal on the couch, clutching his stomach and moaning what sounded like an old time gospel hymn.
I fell to my knees. “Damn his devil tongue!”
Grabbing at my burning guts I begged for him to stop.
He convulsed violently between prayers. Pausing in a futile attempt to hit the mop bucket he’d placed on the floor next to him.
“Dios te salve, Maria.”
“Llena eres de gracia.”
“El Señor es contigo.”
Nausea soon turned to intestinal distress as the demon brew sauntered through our lower intestines clad in what felt like golf cleats dipped in merthiolate for the following two days.
Flash-forward to last Saturday and Stranger’s second request for drink glasses awakened me from my day terror and I reluctantly obliged.
Despite his pleas, I returned from the kitchen with one cup.
He took a nip for himself, shuddered and pushed the issue no further.
“You can keep this one,” he said. “I have more at home.”
I had originally ended this column when it ran by saying anyone interested in the full fifth of homemade mead could contact me at the office.
In less than a week, I was visited by an elderly gentleman who offered to trade a bottle of his homemade wine for Stranger’s mead.
I gladly unloaded the elixir but was dismayed upon realizing that this new bottle of juice was just as dubious and urine hued.
It’s been a few years but I still have that bottle of wine in my basement daring someone to take a sip.
Maybe I could unload it on some desperate teenagers.