How to Make Egg Nog Like a Gentleman


Salvatore Calabrese is quite possibly the best bartender in the world. Years ago, my wife gave me his slim, elegant little book Classic Cocktails. It sits quietly on the side of the bar as a reference, but it’s more than that. It’s a book about values, about living well.

For example, although it’s essentially a book of cocktail recipes in alphabetical order, it begins with 14 pages on the Martini: history, legend, lore. Then it proceeds to list the others, under the chapter heading “The Rest.” At no point does Salvatore (I feel we’re on a first name basis, and I’m sure he would agree) specifically say that the Martini the best of all mixed drinks — he just assumes it, and demonstrates it.

Calm assertion, as the great dog trainer Cesar Millan would put it. Brilliant.


“To be a bartender is to practice the art of conviviality and humanity to all types of people at all social levels,” he begins. He even writes like the perfect bartender: laying out the ingredients, mixing in a little context and background, giving great advice — but offhandedly, swiftly. He lets you in on things with a conspirator’s wink; reading him, you feel kind of brilliant yourself.

So in that spirit of conviviality, let me kick off your holidays with Salvatore’s recipe for egg nog. We’re not talking about the stuff you get in a cardboard quart at the supermarket. This is a cocktail; it’s meant to be created one drink at a time, made with some flair and served with love. Try it and see.

By the way, these are Salvatore’s exact words; I have added nothing.

1 fresh egg (preferably free range)
1 dash of gomme syrup
1 oz. brandy
1 oz. dark rum
5 oz. milk

Put all ingredients (except the milk) in a shaker and shake sharply. Strain into a highball glass. Add the milk and stir, then sprinkle fresh grated nutmeg.

The holidays can have a dead, depressed feeling about them. Maybe the problem is simply the canned, prepackaged quality of the “joy” that’s being offered. When “JOY!” becomes a banner hanging over the ornament section of K-Mart, maybe it is time for a war on Christmas… at least on that kind of joyless corporate Christmas.

Maybe a little handcrafted, thoughtfully made and offered, and yes, quite possibly alcoholic joy would be the antidote.


Conspiracy Theories


With the 50th anniversary of JFK’s assassination looming, there will be the usual spate of documentaries and articles… many of them revisiting the various theories about what really happened on that morning in Dallas. I watched a bit of one the other night, and at one point the semi-sleazy “investigator” was poking around Dealey Plaza, eventually looking out the window of the book depository next to the one Oswald fired from. And he said, in a tone that came close to suggesting thoughtfulness, “this is a really difficult place to make a shot from.”

Which, pardon me, is utter bullshit.

I’ve been to Dealey Plaza, looked out that same window. It’s a ridiculously easy place to take a shot from. Elm Street slopes gently downward and away from the window, and a car moving at 10 mph would likely seem to stay suspended there for an eternity. It’s all very compact and surprisingly tiny, and you can easily imagine how simple it would be, in the torpor of 1963 Dallas, for a nobody like Oswald to bring a rifle upstairs, open a window, and fire it a few times.

When you assume Oswald acted alone, it’s all very simple and everything falls into place. But when you start picking away at details like how a human head reacts when it’s shot from behind, or the fuzzy implications of 50-year-old acoustics captured on a radio, you quickly fall down a rabbit hole in which anything might have happened. Several shooters? The Dallas police in on the whole thing? The hit ordered by Lyndon Johnson… or Fidel Castro… or the Mafia?  Or, hell, all of them? The more shadowy it gets, the more you get to project your own stuff onto the event, until it’s not about Kennedy anymore. It’s all about you.

Meanwhile, many of the people who are into endlessly poring over this event are lying to themselves about what they’re really up to. Which is having a convenient excuse to indulge a prurient fascination with watching a handsome young President’s head blow apart, over and over and over. And, often, an excuse to neglect their own issues, their own relationships and responsibilities that need tending to while they zoom in on blurry photographs and ponder, endlessly.

So yeah, I don’t believe in conspiracy theories. Do people conspire and collude, and lie? Of course. Just look at tobacco companies, to take a convenient example. But I don’t believe that the President has special superhuman powers, or that the government has secret, shadowy knowledge and intentions. Who is “the government,” anyway? It’s a bunch of politicians and bureaucrats who are anxious, above all else, to hang on to their jobs. Have you ever been in a government office? Been to the DMV? Seen the ancient computers, felt the dead atmosphere of sloth and anxiety, cynicism and indifference? Do you think those people are capable of mounting a conspiracy? They can’t even take a decent driver’s license photo.

For that matter, I don’t believe in UFOs, alien abductions, faked moon landings, 9/11 “trutherism” or any of that nonsense. To me, it’s not just bullshit but an expression of deep powerlessness… an adult version of a child’s perception that Daddy and Mommy know everything, and are doing strange unknowable things in the other room that end up controlling and thwarting us. “They” know the Truth, but they aren’t telling us.

Here’s the thing: when you grow up, you realize that Daddy and Mommy are human beings, limited and flawed and doing what they can just to make it through another day. And screwing you up with only the best intentions. Or perhaps just telling themselves they have the best intentions. I don’t believe in conspiracies, but I believe in accidents and messes and fuckups. I believe in stupidity and selfishness and ineptitude. Callousness and willful blindness and plain old mistakes. Oh, yes, I do believe in those.

And as endemic as they are, who needs a conspiracy?

Photo from arstechnica

The War on Consciousness

Graham Hancock’s now-legendary TED talk, given at Whitechapel in January of this year and pulled from the TED site in March (they later put it back up, but in a dusty side pocket someplace). I have to thank TED for censoring this talk, because if they hadn’t I might never have heard of Graham. Six months after watching this video for the first time, I was sitting next to him in a noisy restaurant in Peru, just hours after participating in a ceremony like the one he describes, and comparing notes with him about the experience. More about that soon.

Terence McKenna Nails It


“Not to know one’s true identity is to be a mad, disensouled thing — a golem. And, indeed, this image, sickeningly Orwellian, applies to the mass of human beings now living in the high-tech industrial democracies. Their authenticity lies in their ability to obey and follow mass style changes that are conveyed through the media. Immersed in junk food, trash media, and cryptofacist politics, they are condemned to toxic lives of low awareness. Sedated by the prescripted daily television fix, they are a living dead, lost to all but the act of consuming.”

— Terence McKenna, Food of the Gods

Emmett Fox Sums Up Everything in One Paragraph

“There is no difficulty enough love will not conquer. There is no disease enough love will not heal. No door enough love will not open. No gulf enough love will not bridge. No wall enough love will not throw down. And no sin enough love will not redeem. It makes no difference how deeply seated may be the trouble. How hopeless the outlook. How muddled the tangle. How great the mistake. A sufficient realization of love will dissolve it all. And if you could love enough, you would be the happiest and most powerful person in the world.”





I Happen to Like New York


I first saw the skyline of Manhattan from a rental car. My boss and I were driving through New Jersey on a business trip, and we rounded a corner on the turnpike. Suddenly buildings and random objects parted and you could see across the Hudson. From that angle, the skyscrapers seemed to be shooting right up from the water, dozens of them, hundreds, I don’t know. The sight of it was overwhelming. It was like falling in love at first sight, like my heart being pulled out of my chest, like BOOM! I want that. I need that.

What was it I really wanted? I still don’t know. I’m an aggressive, competitive person. Maybe it just looked like the world’s biggest jungle gym. A place to prove myself, prove something to myself. A day or two later I sat in the Rainbow Room at the top of Rockefeller Center, at a window seat, looking at the same view from 50 stories over Midtown, looking south toward the tip of the island. I ordered a martini and as I sipped it, I reflected that I must, after all, be a grownup. Because only a grownup could be having this experience.

I was 35 years old, but in my defense I lived in Los Angeles at the time. Californians are encouraged to stay at the age of 19 mentally, emotionally, and physically — forever. It’s easy to do when there are no seasons, and every day passes by like every other day, just blue skies and dry winds rustling the palm fronds.

This was different. This was real. Manhattan is two things at once… a magical kind of dreamscape in which millions of people live together on a little island, their homes and stores and workplaces rising up to crazy heights, but also a very brutal place. It’s made of steel and glass and concrete, built with untold amounts of sweat and grit and hard work, and it’s loud, unrelenting, pounding, and filthy. Walk down the street on a summer day and enjoy the sun filtering through the trees of Central Park, the profusion of unbelievably beautiful women of all ages, the colorful jumble of street vendors and shop windows… and then you pass a steaming manhole cover and almost pass out at the reeking stench of garbage and human waste that’s been dropped down somewhere under the island for three centuries.

“I happen to like New York,” Cole Porter wrote in one of his magnificent little songs of the 30s.

I happen to like New York, I happen to like this town.
I like the city air, I like to drink of it,
The more I know New York the more I think of it.
I like the sight and the sound and even the stink of it.
I happen to like New York.

You have to like the stink of it as much as everything else. New York is not for the faint of heart, or the sensitive. It’s a tough town. Later, a few years after the business trip, I found myself working there, and I felt for the first time in my life that I had something between my teeth that maybe I could never chew down completely. Something I’d never really master, but also never get enough of, that would never go stale, never disappoint me. It was a feeling of personal power and a kind of triumph. Watch me slowly savor a cigar on the sidewalk, then run to catch the subway and make it to Carnegie Hall just in time for the Kurt Weill concert. Boom! Top of the World, Ma!

And then came 9/11/01.

I saw the skyline from the water again that day. I was on a little boat with 30 other people, a few hours after watching the first tower fall from my office window eight short blocks away. Once the black fog shrouding downtown lifted enough to permit us to leave our building, we ran a few blocks to the water’s edge. I was looking for the first thing that floated and whatever it was, I was going to jump on it. That turned out to be this little pleasure craft. When it was full, we pulled away and headed up and across the river to Jersey. As we rounded the corner of the island, the buildings rose up, glittering in the sun as always, but you didn’t see them, really. Your eyes were only for the enormous plume of grey smoke and ash spewing from a hole where the World Trade Center had been earlier that same morning. At the bottom, this plume looked like the dark, churning, hellish monstrosity it was, but toward the top, almost as high as the towers had been, it had the audacity to begin softening, lightening, and wafting slowly sideways as it hit a current of air.

This hole with the smoke billowing from it was like seeing a profusely bleeding gunshot wound on the body of someone you love. No sound. No other distraction. Just the awareness of a spreading stain that’s slowly and remorselessly blotting out everything you care about most, pulling you toward a new and much worse place and you can’t make it stop.

Yeah, she survived. New York’s knees buckled, as someone wrote at the time, and then she slowly stood up again. But I will never be quite the same. That wound is my wound as well, and I’ll carry it forever.

But here’s the thing. I would not trade it for anything. We were together. Hurt together. It bound us. After that day, New York wasn’t a jungle gym to me anymore. Not a place to prove myself. Maybe that’s when you become a grownup for real, when those you love are no longer a reflection of your own ego. When the people and places around you stop being something you take your own reflected identity from, and instead just become parts of you that you love deeply, in all their complexity and with all their flaws. Not objects anymore.

Last summer I was in Central Park again, walking around the Reservoir. Joggers went past, and parents with strollers, old couples clutching each other, teenagers on skateboards. Wide-eyed tourists pointed their cameras up at the buildings that ring the Park. Ice cream carts jingled their bells. I had a date that night with a couple I totally dig, and we were going to go see a Broadway musical I’d wanted to see since I was a kid, but there was only one place you could see it. But all that doing and planning faded into silence as I felt something so tremendous rising up from the earth beneath me. Not that blasted rifleshot silence of shock and trauma on 9/11, but instead a silence of utter peace, of profound stillness in the heart of all the noise and tumult. The silence of an embrace. I knew I was alright, that I would always be alright, no matter what happened. I knew that New York, with all her huge beating heart, loved me right back.

And when I have to give the world a last farewell,
And the undertaker starts to ring my funeral bell,
I don’t want to go to heaven, don’t want to go to hell.
I happen to like New York. I happen to love New York. 

An Open Letter to the Internet


Dear Internet:

How about we don’t put up examples of individual bad behavior anymore, especially if it’s to make some larger point about human nature, or society, or whatever.

Yes, yes, people do ignorant, crazy, borderline evil or just-plain-evil things every minute of every day. Some of them are still looking for the spankings they never got, and many others are looking for the love they never got. Either way, they’re misbehaving children.

Shaming them isn’t going to work. Public humiliation, finger pointing… it’s all a form of attention, and most bad behavior is just attention-seeking.

What’s the best way to deal with misbehavior?

A firm, gentle correction. And then role modeling the correct behavior.

So if some redneck wrote “n***er” instead of a tip amount on their dinner check, please don’t post a picture of it online and tell me that racism is still a problem in America.

If some selfish person took up two spaces to keep their Beemer from getting dinged, don’t snap it with your cellphone and share it everybody else who didn’t happen to be in the parking garage that day.

Today is the anniversary of 9/11. I was eight blocks away from the WTC that morning. I staggered off the island covered in the ashes of human beings, buildings I thought were permanent, and some of my own hopes and dreams. No need for more photos of grey smoke belching into that cobalt blue sky. I remember it. Show me the Freedom Tower instead. Because if you’re really just exploiting a horrific tragedy in order to drive up the number of eyeballs on your site, then…

Gandhi said we have to be the change we want to experience in the world. If that’s the case, amping up the audience for the despicable worst of human nature is not Being the Change. You might think you’re helping by spreading the word, but in fact you’re part of the problem.

What to post instead? Oh, anything, really. More pictures of your cat would be nice. Nicer, anyway.

Thanks. Oh, and BTW, Internet: love your other stuff.


Time for the Monkeys to Move into Hyperspace

Space Chimps


“Radical problems call for radical solutions. Conventional politicians are too softheaded to create radical solutions and too fainthearted to implement them if they could, whereas political revolutionaries, no matter how well meaning, ultimately offer only bloodshed followed by another round of repression.

To truly alter conditions, we must alter ourselves — philosophically, psychologically, and perhaps biologically. The first step in these alterations will consist mainly of cutting away the veils in order that we might see ourselves for that transgalactic Other that we really are and always have been.

The flying saucer is warming up its linguistic engines. The mushroom is shoving its broadcasting transmitter through the forest door. Time for the monkeys to move into hyperspace! It’s going to be a weird, wild trip, but guided by the archaic, Gaia-driven gyroscope, we can commence the journey in a state of excitement and hope.”

— Tom Robbins, introduction to The Archaic Revival by Terence McKenna

Dream Eddie


Yesterday, two friends told me about dreams they’d just had about me, dreams that disturbed them a little bit.

The first was set in an office. I was brusque with my friend in the waiting room, it seems, and then I went into my office and was shouting abuse at him through the door. Then I came out and threw a boxcutter at him, like it was a ninja throwing star. It hit him in the chest and lodged there. Yikes. Guess this is what happens when you don’t have an appointment, Dude.

In the second dream, I was in a hotel with my other friend. I was boiling with agitation and drove him away, fast and furious, to show him a house I said I’d been building my whole life. This was a big one-story magnificent glass house, very zen-like and empty of furniture. Once I was there, I was very happy and confident and I adamantly refused to go back to the hotel. My friend wanted to go back and I told him I wouldn’t take him there, and to go get a cab. I laughed at his description of me: “relaxed and peaceful but with a dose of Clint Eastwood.”

So what can we learn here, aside from the obvious fact that two of my closest friends see me as a bit of a dick?

Or is that the lesson?

My wife, who’s a therapist, has told me that in dreams, all the characters are us. Or some aspect of us. Maybe that lets me off the hook, yet I can’t escape feeling a little guilty. It’s strange when somebody tells you, with great intensity, how you acted in their dream. They recount it as if you’d really done it, and it’s like being told you did or said something when you were drunk.

Is there a Dream Eddie? Does he go out when I’m asleep and commit these and perhaps other, possibly much worse, acts?

Or is there some sort of Energetic Eddie? Just as there might be choppy waves in the water after I’ve jumped into the pool, do the things I say and do have an afterlife that impacts others?

Now we’re getting warmer.

Because I have been noticing this lately: how strong our impact can be. How much we can affect other people, and not just by our words and actions, but by our thoughts. You can sit there in judgment and anger at another person, not even expressing it, and they can feel it. The same goes for loving and supportive thoughts. “Thoughts become things,” they say in The Secret, and that’s true, but it’s also true that thoughts ARE things. A thought has power, and a thought with emotion attached to it even more so.

For a long time, I did not believe this, or more accurately, I knew it somewhere but lied to myself about it, because I didn’t want to own it. I told myself that if I thought something but didn’t express it, it didn’t count.

Not true. We’re all fields of energy, and the vibrations that come off us are radiating out into the world and affecting things all the time. I can see it in my dog, for example, who responds like a tuning fork to whatever mood I’m in. I can see it in my co-workers, the movement toward or away from me depending on my own responses.

The reason I didn’t want to own this is that it’s a huge responsibility. Bad enough to have to own your words and deeds, but to have to own your vibrations? Scary.

But better to be aware of your impact, to take responsibility for it and direct it consciously, than to ignore it and give your friends nightmares.

Everybody Knows


But all of a sudden I realized that he knew also, just like I knew. And that everybody in the bookstore knew, and that they were all hiding it! They all had the consciousness, it was like a great unconscious that was running between all of us that everybody was completely conscious, but that the fixed expressions that people have, the habitual expressions, the manners, the mode of talk, are all masks hiding this consciousness.

Passing money over the counter, wrapping books in bags and guarding the door, you know… all the millions of thoughts the people had… the complete death awareness that everybody has continuously with them all the time… all of a sudden revealed to me at once in the faces of the people, and they all looked like horrible grotesque masks… hiding the knowledge from each other. Having a habitual conduct and forms to prescribe, forms to fulfill. Roles to play.

But the main insight I had at that time was that everybody knew. Everybody knew completely everything. Knew completely everything in the terms that I was talking about.

—Allen Ginsberg, Paris Review interview, 1966


So there’s a story in today’s New York Times about a man who died recently in Poughkeepsie. He was found dead in his house at the age of 82. He had reported his wife missing 27 years earlier, and when they went through the house after his death… yeah, they found the wife’s body behind a wall in the basement.

Here’s the story:

What was really interesting to me was that nobody believed the man’s story that his wife had just up and left him. Everyone, even people who knew nothing about him, found him creepy. They all knew. Not the exact details, maybe. But they knew something was wrong. If they’d allowed themselves to sit more deeply with the knowledge, I think they’d even have intuited that the guy was a murderer.

Why do I think that?

About 30 years ago, I read a very long interview with Allen Ginsberg in the Paris Review, and he talked about this same phenomenon. The heart of his quote is excerpted above.

Everybody knew. Everybody knew completely everything.

Reading this had a profound impact on me. Because I knew that yes, I knew too. And that Ginsberg was right: everybody else knew.

No need to lie. No point in lying. No point in trying to be something you’re not, or pretend something is true when it isn’t. Because we all know the truth. No point, even, in pretending you don’t know.

Reading and absorbing this really changed me. I dropped a lot of pretense and falseness. I began to trust myself and my own perceptions much more. I started speaking the truth as I saw it, without fear. I began to disregard and ignore other people’s attempts at falseness, the “masks” that Ginsberg talked about, and speak to them more directly.

It was liberating. Because of course, other people (most of them) responded in kind. It’s like The Emperor’s New Clothes… a fable illustrating how people pretend not to see what’s right in front of them due to fear or shame or social pressure, and then when someone speaks the obvious truth, the whole sham crumbles in an instant.

Because really, we all see so clearly. We know the truth. We may try to dodge and hide, but we know. We may not know what to do about it, how to feel about it, what will happen next after we admit it. But those things will all take care of themselves. In the meantime there’s nothing whatsoever to be gained by pretending to believe things we don’t believe.

So drop your mask. Believe your own intuition. Trust your own mind. Know what you know. And don’t worry about it. Because everybody knows.

Here’s the full text of Ginsberg’s interview, which is well worth your time: