Behind the Green Door

Kreme and Jett court madness, drunkenness and death runnin' after absinthe's La Fée Verte.

"Here, try this," burps our seedy absinthe pal Raoul (he keeps his last name secret for obvious reasons), as he hands Jett and me a glass each of his home brew. "Tell me what you think."

"Christ Almighty, that's disgusting!" I gag, as Jett's making a face that looks like she licked an emu's balls. "How did you make it?"

"By steeping wormwood in Everclear," he tells us, giggling, while lighting up a clove cigarette with the burner on his stove. "It was the simplest recipe I could find."

From Abby's Green Room: A portrait of absintheur/poet Arthur Rimbaud, who, under the spell of La Fée Verte, chased pals with sword canes.
Peter Scanlon
From Abby's Green Room: A portrait of absintheur/poet Arthur Rimbaud, who, under the spell of La Fée Verte, chased pals with sword canes.
A glittering array of absinthe spoons, from Tucson 
author Betina Wittels' collection.
Peter Scanlon
A glittering array of absinthe spoons, from Tucson author Betina Wittels' collection.

"Blech! What's the point?" I say, getting ready to throw it in his sink.

"No, no, try one more little swig," he pleads. So I give it another toss. Like sucking on a mouthful of pennies that your cat's pissed all over. That's enough for me. Raoul breaks out some beers from the fridge. I don't know if it's the Everclear or what, but I'm feeling a little buzzed.

"See, what did I tell you?" he asks.

"Sure, but wouldn't it be easier just to smoke a joint?" I respond, as Jett wobbles toward me, like she wants to lock lips. Obviously the potion is working on her.

"What the fuck!?" she says, straightening up suddenly.

Next time, I'll tell Raoul to add some roofies.

The reason we'd stopped by Raoul's is that this big shot we know, whom we'll call Big Daddy Kane to protect the guilty, was having a party and had asked me to produce a few bottles, practically overnight. Big Daddy also wanted me to play bartender, and to give a little historical lecture on the still-illicit substance. Ordering via Europe would have taken two to four business days. But that would have meant disappointing Big Daddy. And believe me, Big Daddy is not a fellow you want to disappoint.

Fortunately, Raoul knew someone who knew someone who could get us two bottles of illegally distilled Swiss "La Bleu," one bottle of Spanish Mari Mayans Absenta, and two bottles of French Emile Pernot. There was a substantial markup on all of them, considering the short notice. Raoul copped a bottle of La Bleu for himself, adding it to Big Daddy's tab. The home brew is something he did as an experiment. I had to admit it was effective, though as nasty as yak sweat.

At Big Daddy's crib, I covered the waterfront, as they say, on absinthe's history. Bottles, slotted spoons, and sugar cubes arrayed before me, I expounded upon its origins in Switzerland as a cure-all tonic, supposedly invented in 1792 by Frenchman Dr. Pierre Ordinaire. The acquisition of Ordinaire's recipe by the Pernod family came next, and on to its popularity with French soldiers fighting in Algeria in the early 1800s, where it was prescribed to fight off malaria and dysentery with some success. French warriors returned to the cafes of Paris, demanded absinthe, and it became hip to drink the elixir, which also contained hyssop, fennel and anise. It caught on with the bourgeoisie and the bohemians, and was made even more popular when Frog vineyards were wiped out by the parasite phylloxera from about 1860. Absinthe was a cheap alternative, and according to author Conrad, France's consumption of it jumped from 700,000 liters a year in 1874 to 36 million liters a year in 1910. No wonder Paris' happy hour was nicknamed l'heure verte, "the green hour."

For various reasons, absinthe began getting a bad rap. Wormwood was said to eat holes in your brain, make dudes as violent as Arizona State University's Loren Wade, cause them to hallucinate, and buy them a first-class ticket to Charenton, the famous French insane asylum. According to some sources, the wine industry and the temperance movement colluded to end the reign of absinthe, demonizing the Green Fairy as a murderess. All the wack-ass poets and artists on absinthe probably added fuel to the prohibitionists' fire.

Until recently, the agent in wormwood known as thujone was blamed as the root of absinthe's evil. Here was our chance to test absinthe for ourselves, I told everyone at Big Daddy's par-tay, and see if there's finally a liquor that will at long last make Jett want to sleep with me.

"Just pour, Fat Boy," cried the PHX's switch-hittin' Lil' Kim. "If you start looking like Angelina Jolie, we'll talk."

I started making the wormwood cocktails the classic way, a dose of absinthe in the glass, slotted spoon over lips of same, sugar cube on spoon, a trickle of water until the absinthe began to louche (pronounced "loosh") a cloudy white, and voilà! But soon, I was just dumping it all in the same glass and stirring, in order to meet the demands of the thirsty crowd, eager to get crocked. I partook of my fair share along the way. By the time the bottles were empty, Big Daddy had stumbled off to his boudoir, bodies of boozers were sprawled everywhere, and I had to be led away like a zombie. Jett, in full lezbot mode, was last seen in the arms of another woman. The morning after, no one reported hallucinations, flashing lights, tracers or green fairies incarnate. But everyone agreed that the 140-proof firewater had made mincemeat of our cerebellums.

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