If Your Story was a Cocktail, What Would it Taste Like?

Mixologist Leo Montesinos of Surf City Still Works crafts stories into cocktails.

The OC Market Place set the stage for Cocktales, a creative event pairing stories and spirits, where master mixologist Leo Montesinos of Surf City Still Works contributed to the creative consciousness of five very talented local writers to craft a bespoke cocktail, inspired by their words.

What resulted were cocktails both subtle and complex, much like USC School of Cinematic Arts grad, Jacobo Lopez’s short story Nostalgia. Montesinos accompanying cocktail, The Lilac Promise, draws from the lilacs in the story in full bloom. The flavor was delicate and the color frighteningly appealing, so much so that I found myself sipping it like a potion — an odd sensation given the Twilight Zone appeal of the story.

What inspired this creative marriage between liquor and literature? I asked OC Market Place’s Marketing and Events Director Peyton Jeter,  “A sense of community,” said Jeter, noting how events like these bring together local artists and businesses, “We strive to be a good community partner, and this event helped us achieve that goal.”

Community and the arts are also a priority for Huntington Beach’s first and only craft distillery, Surf City Still Works. “Our bottles feature artwork by local artists because we are dedicated to putting the spotlight on our community and our local artists,” said Founding Partner, Elena Kornoff. “We partnered on this event because the OC Marketplace wanted to put a spotlight on local writers, which is just as important as visual art.”

In Montesinos case, there’s no argument against mixology as art. Like chefs, a mixologist must have a hyper-active palate attuned to all flavors … it’s how balance is achieved. But a truly great cocktail (I learn from Montesinos) suits the mood, the person or the moment.

Yá’át’ééh Shik’is is a great case in point, crafted to fit the mood of winning essayist Dawn A. Fuller’s story The Playlist. “I strongly resonated with the references to the Navajo Native American Tribe,” Montesinos said of the story. “I worked with the Navajo nation in Wyoming, Arizona and New Mexico for many years and learned a great deal about the sincerity and beauty of their culture. Yá’át’ééh Shik is pronounced (Yah-ttt-eeh – Shik-esss) and is an endearing way of acknowledging a friend in Navajo. I thought it was quaint that it isn’t common to say goodbye in Navajo. As an ode to the authors passing aunt, I felt it was proper to say Yá’át’ééh Shik is (Hello Friend).”

Read on for our top five winning stories and accompanying cocktails by Surf City Still Works.


Winner: The Playlist by Dawn A. Fuller

Paired with Yá’át’éé Shik’is (Navajo term of endearment translating to Hello Friend)

What’s in it: Surf City Pierside Bourbon | Lemon | Sage | Orgeat

Leo’s Inspo: This is modeled after a whiskey sour cocktail with smoked sage as our garnish to reflect the smoky fire scenes in the story and to add a subtle nuance of flavor.

My aunt passed away early on a Wednesday morning while everyone else was asleep.

She died all alone in her brown floral care center room with the heavy curtains drawn tightly shut, surrounded by a dead still sea of linoleum hospital floors waxed to squeaky sterile perfection, with a big pile of stiff pillows propping her head up unnaturally.

The day she left, she sailed high high over the groaning elderly people with their hands grabbing at the air while traveling to favorite earlier times and destinations in their minds. She passed from here to there above wheelchair-bound young people in lonely hallways whose dreams were dismantled by unexpected accidents, their heads’ sunk down low into their heavy chests.

She floated up and up while sweet small Latino nurses – just starting out – with fresh brown skin and black bouncy ponytails pushed wheelchairs in and out of gray sad rooms and refilled endless salt and pepper shakers. She crossed over while heartbroken puffy-eyed family members fed tiny squirming children mountains of crunchy fizzy candy to make the visit easier. She left us in a lobby filled with permanently happy scarecrows with bright orange triangle noses, spooky arched-back black cats ready to pounce, and garish smiling pumpkins of every size and shape.

She left us all.

I sat in the living room, looking for her. Outside, my uncle loudly bossed the short, wide, redfaced German real estate lady on where to stick the “For Sale” sign in front of the house. I looked through her horse books, biographies of Native American women, yellowed harp sheet music, and handwritten cloth journals filled with favorite quotes she wanted to remember. I fingered her Navajo pots and drums and pulled down dream catchers from the walls.

Once back inside, my Uncle played her favorite blues CDs. He talked to his 90-year-old friend, Leonard, on the phone. I sorted her jewelry, CDs and the rest of the boxes filled with her life.

Together we held the black trash bags open and tossed and tossed.

I looked over at her.

You’re in that little box now. Is that really you in a box?

I have been looking for her in my dreams. I have been looking for her late at night when I shut my eyes tight in my dark room and run my hands up and down my cool green rosary beads. I have looked for her in her favorite white wicker chair on the covered porch where she sat at night, staring out at the old horse who looked back at her blinking big slow blinks. I have looked for her in the pink fading sunset and in the rolling brown hills. I have looked for her anywhere she might be.

We never did take that cross-country road trip.

The next day, I woke up early and started my chores. I threw tear-soaked sheets and damp crumpled towels in the wash. I listened to the rain beating my kitchen window and sipped coffee while I stared at her picture in the bookcase.

I thought about her 70s cross-country adventure on the back of that man’s Harley she didn’t know. I thought about her long thin fingers softly playing the golden harp she adored. I thought about the books she read – especially the ones she “didn’t have to think about.”

I looked at the flying pig she gave me hanging from the wooden beam on my porch to remind me “anything is possible.” I can still see her movie star profile staring out at the moody sea from the cruise ship with her hair blowing around her face. I thought of our first meeting and how cool she was. We talked late into the night and drank strong coffee. I thought of feeling all grown-up when I was with her. I thought about holding her icy weak hand in mine, wiping her damp forehead with a washcloth, and whispering in her ear, “I love you. Don’t go.”

I sat on the floor with her CDs fanned out in a wide circle around me. I stacked them in the order of my best memories with her. I made a playlist on the computer. Queen Latifah, Sarah McLachlin, Marvin Gaye, Nora Jones, Crystal Bowersox, George Jones and Lyle Lovett. The Blues, Country, folk songs, songs about life, love, loss, strength and hope, filled my living room. Aretha Franklin, Reba McEntyre, Navajo Women, Melinda Doolittle, Janice Joplin, Lucinda Williams, Tammy Wynette and Bonnie Raitt belted out gravelly journeys taken – and journeys hoped for – longings and losses. Bonnie Raitt’s “You’ve Been in Love Too Long” started playing. With my back against the sofa, I closed my eyes.

We are driving. The windows are all the way down. The hot summer sun is beating down on us and we’re squinting to see through the glare on the bug-splattered windshield. We buy big dark sunglasses that cover our faces and feathered funky hats. We’re a dumb old cliché of Thelma and Louise. We’re blasting Bonnie Raitt.

As we fly past shadowy red mountains, beat-up weathered farmhouses, and rickety roadside fruit stands in the middle of nowhere, we scream sing “Girl, you’re a fool honey baby!” over the sound of the crackly radio. We laugh. I reach over and touch your shoulder. You wink at me.
You laugh your hearty laugh and start singing “Loretta” with the fake drawl I love.

I’m beside you, and everything is alright.

We stop at greasy roadside cafes and eat spicy hurt-your-stomach chili sizes, goopy biscuits and gravy, and giant plates of pillowy pasta with soft garlic bread. We stay in cheap motels with ugly yellow bedspreads and watch crappy TV shows. We lay on our beds contentedly with our hands folded behind our heads. Before we drift off to sleep, we listen to “Don’t Do It Darlin’” on our boom box.

We take pictures of each other hugging the giant plaster leg of the green dinosaur on the side of the road. We burn hot dogs to a crisp, smother them in mustard, and roast marshmallows on sticks over a smoky fire pit in the Yosemite Valley. We shake our arms and legs wildly to “Walkin’ Blues” in the beautiful bright green field you talked about. We spend the never-ending day covered by a thick blanket of fog on a rocky beach putting perfect sand dollars in our pockets singing “California Dreamin’.” We don piles of colorful Mardi Gras beads and rundown
Bourbon Street singing “Me and Bobby McGee.”

We cringe as we drink the terrible tasting coffee we make in our motel room and look out our patio door to see the morning sun coming up and the pink mountains come into view. We stop at rusty rundown gas stations to buy stringy beef jerky, mouth-watering sour gummies, and creamy Snicker Blizzards at Dairy Queen. We dance rhythmically alongside Native American tribe members to Yazzie around magical smoky fires that burn our eyes. We follow each other closely on dark horses down and down into the Grand Canyon with the sweltering sun on our backs. We hike to your secret hideaways in Colorado and spend longs hours with your sisters drinking wine, eating stinky cheese, laughing into the night, and dancing around the living room to “Got to Give it Up.”

Under the twinkling night sky, you tell me the story again that I love about how you saw my uncle in the bar the first night with your best friend at your side. Just like magic, “You’re All I Need to Get By” comes on the radio. You tell me all the funny stories about your Papa and the latest with Mary and the girls at work.

The headlights shine far ahead on the empty road before us in the dark night and “How Blue” bounces like a red rubber ball from inside our car radio out into the still silent night air. Your hair isn’t falling out in big sickening clumps anymore. Your body doesn’t hurt all over. Your mouth isn’t hanging open. You aren’t trying to frantically to rip tags from your arms or tubes from your nose. You aren’t clawing at your raw skin or seeing legions of bugs on the walls coming for you. You can talk. You can laugh. I can hold your hand. “Creepin’ In” comes on and we sing along with Dolly until we both shut our eyes.

Are you here? Can you hear me? Will your songs tell me what to do? I know you. I love you.

You’re gone. I’m here. So is your playlist.

“You’ve Been In Love Too Long” – Bonnie Raitt
“Loretta” – Norah Jones, Gillian Welch and David Rawlings
“Creepin’ In” – Norah Jones, Dolly Parton
“For What It’s Worth” – Crystal Bowersox
“Fundamental Things” – Melinda Doolittle
“Walkin Blues” – Melinda Doolittle
“Me and Bobby McGee” – Janice Joplin
“The Same Love That Made Me Laugh” – Queen Latifah
“California Dreamin’” – Queen Latifah
“Mercy, Mercy, Mercy” – Queen Latifah
“Hello Grandma” – Lyle Lovett
“Goodbye to Carolina” – Lyle Lovett

The Playlist first printing, Boyne Berries, County Meath, Ireland (2015)


The Driving Lesson by Sharon Niederhaus

Paired with the Green Machine

What’s in it: Surf City Shorebreak Vodka | Lemon | Green Machine Naked Juice | Pineapple Cordial

Leo’s Inspo: This is a sour style vodka cocktail using the Green Machine juice by Naked inspired after the nickname of the car in the short story.

Learning to drive is probably one of the most memorable events in an adolescent’s life. It certainly was in mine. In the era when I grew up, we got our “cheater’s” permit at fifteen, allowing us to drive with our parents, and then we could take the driving test at sixteen. But I was impatient to learn to drive long before that.

My dad was a car man. He would buy an old jalopy, fix it up and make it into a “stock car” that raced at the Speedway on Saturday nights and Sunday afternoons. There was usually a car in the garage up on “blocks,” or an engine hanging from chains from the big old oak tree in the backyard. Daddy almost always had a smell that was a mixture of gasoline, oil and other mysterious fluids that came from a car. I still love that smell. A faded red shop towel would hang from the back pocket of his gray “work” pants and you could be sure that Mother would say, “Clarence, wipe that oil off your feet before you come into this kitchen.” He was not a mechanic by trade, but he knew how to make cars run. In fact, many of the high school boys, much older than I was, hung around our garage on Saturdays. They had Daddy either working on their cars or they were listening to his instructions and using his assortment of tools or they were hoping that Daddy would let them race his current stock car, “Old 94”. I hung around the garage too and frequently would be told to “get me an allen wrench,” or “hand me that hubcap full of bolts,” and I was very happy to oblige. The “boys” were impressed that I knew what an allen wrench was. Consequently, it probably was not a surprise to my dad when I started pestering him to let me drive, or at the least, give me driving lessons. He had lots of excuses, “You’re too short, you can’t reach the pedals,” “You still have two years before you can get your license,” and “You don’t have a permit yet, you want your old man to CTCS5 2 get arrested?” I knew if I kept it up he would eventually give in, because I was the nearest thing to a son he had. My sister sat in front of the mirror admiring her coal black natural curly hair, talked on the phone for hours with her friends, or resting before going to work as a car hop at Mason’s root beer stand.

We had a 1953 Chevrolet coupe. It had a stick shift and although it was called a “coupe” it was a big car. The trunk alone was big enough to sneak four boys into the drive-in theater. It was two-tone beige and green with a big chrome attachment that ran down the side. The muffler had a hole in it so it sounded like a hot rod. I loved it. We called it the Green Machine.

After what seemed like months of pleading, Daddy took me for a little trial run. He instructed me how to slowly ease the clutch out while pressing on the accelerator. He explained that this was a very essential but delicate skill. He emphasized that the right foot was for the brake and the gas, and the left foot was for the clutch. He explained that if I “rode the clutch” he would have to replace it and that was not a good thing. Then he got out of the car, walked around to the passenger side and told me to scoot over to the driver’s seat. Up until that time, my driving experience was limited to guiding the huge steering wheel while sitting on his abundant lap.

I got myself positioned behind the wheel, sitting on one of those plastic woven seat cushions designed to keep your back from sticking to the seat if you were driving to somewhere like Florida. Under that cushion, I stuffed the feather pillow from my bed. With these aids and a stretch of my neck, I managed to see over the gigantic dashboard. It was then that I noticed my feet dangling above the floorboards.

“Start her up.”

I turned the key over and the car lurched forward three times. Daddy hollered a string of cuss words ending with, “I know I’m gonna end up putting in a new clutch. You have to press down on the clutch when you start the engine. Now try again and pay attention to what you’re doing.”

I discovered that I could only depress the clutch by sliding down in the seat so far that I could no longer see over the dash. However, I knew that this was my big chance! I got the engine going and I pressed down on the gas and the whole thing was alive! It shook, it shuddered and it positively roared!

“Cripes, don’t burn up the engine. Let up on the gas a little and ease out on the clutch.”

And that is exactly what I did. We were flying down the road! What a thrill it was! The wind was blowing through the windows, the hole in the muffler was making a really neat rumbling sound and the only thing missing was a radio.

“GOD DAMN IT! Slow down, you’re gonna kill us!”

I was frozen in my seat, I couldn’t take my foot off the gas. I knew I wasn’t supposed to use my left foot for the brake, and although I didn’t take my eyes off the road, I could see Daddy was hanging onto the wing window for dear life.

“There’s a curve up ahead, slow down, Sharon Lee. What in the hell is wrong with you?”

I flew into that curve and the next thing I knew, I had plowed down a row of fourteen mailboxes that were attached all together for the convenience of the rural mailman. Metal boxes bounced off the car. Little red metal flags hit the windshield and letters rained down like a spring storm. But the car stopped.

I was afraid to look at Daddy, I was afraid I was going to cry. It started as a chuckle, then a laugh, then Daddy laughed so hard tears were running down his sunburned face. I looked at him and I started laughing too. We changed places and he drove home.

A week later Daddy asked me if I was ready for another driving lesson. I was flabbergasted; I thought I would never be allowed to get behind the wheel of the Green Machine again. I ran inside the house to get my multiple cushions then jumped up in the driver seat.

Daddy said, “Nope, I’ll drive first.”

He drove about fourteen miles or so. I was fiddling with the radio, trying to get it to work so I didn’t pay attention to where we were going. He pulled over, turned off the engine and said, “OK little Speedster, take it from here.” He walked away from the car and climbed up and sat on the bleachers while I drove the Green Machine around the race track of the Oakland City Speedway.

The Green Machine needed a new clutch after that but I knew how to drive.


FIRST JOB (1967) by Gail White

Paired with Extra Malt Please

What’s in it: Surf City Pierside Bourbon | Milk | Vanilla Syrup | Malt

Leo’s Inspo: This cocktail is modeled after the Brandy Alexander milkshake-style cocktail inspired by the diner’s malt milkshakes in this short story.

Congratulations! I’ve decided to accept your application and hire you as a waitress to work in this incredible family restaurant I’ve sunk all my money into. Don’t be misled by the full-size replica of a black Angus steer grazing on the roof. It signals to the world we serve high-quality steaks fried to perfection on the grill. It does not mean the restaurant is a tacky hash house on the highway, even though the restaurant is, of course, on the highway and the menu offers some kind of glop that might be hash.

You will make minimum wage and be paid every two weeks. I will deduct for taxes, unemployment insurance and social security. I will also deduct a flat amount for the food you eat here, whether you eat here or not, because you could tell me you’re not eating here but how do I know if you’re lying? There are restrictions on what you may eat. You are not allowed steak, lobster or other pricey items. You may have hamburgers, sandwiches, eggs, salads and liver. You may not have pie or cake unless it’s stale. Do not drink the orange juice. Do you know how much orange juice costs me? Do not take food home. If you violate the eating policy you will be fired. After what I deduct from your paycheck, little money will be left. However, you may keep the tips you earn, except for ten percent you must give to Jorge, the busboy, who also doubles as the dishwasher. Jorge is from Mexico and supports his wife and six children who have remained in his village. He wants to work all the shifts every day, breakfast, lunch and dinner, and I have agreed. He speaks no English but since you know a little Spanish I will expect you to interpret between Jorge and me, and it would be nice if you drive him places when he asks, because he doesn’t have a car.

There is no paid sick leave or vacation time. There is no retirement plan or health insurance. If you call in sick too often you will be fired. If you come to work sick you will be fired. You will wear what you may think is an ugly uniform, but it isn’t. It consists of a white polyester dress, sturdy white shoes with laces, and a frilly nylon apron that you are to fit around your waist and tie into a puffed bow in the back. Your feet will throb constantly, despite the sturdy shoes, because there will be no time to take a break when you are working. I will provide you with the apron, which you will return to me if you quit or I fire you. You must purchase the dress and shoes with your own money. Better you buy two or three dresses so you always have a clean one. You are to smile on the job, be perky and wear your name tag. I will prepare the work schedule every week. If you want to work certain days and certain shifts, let me know in advance, but it probably won’t matter. If another waitress can’t make it to work I will expect you to fill in for her on short notice. We are busiest on weekends, so don’t make plans. The restaurant is open all holidays.

THREE MONTHS LATER

You are doing an adequate job so far. I was not pleased, however, when you picked through a customer’s dinner of fish and chips to look for your contact lens. If the customer had not been good-natured about it you would have been fired. I was definitely not pleased when you threw away a hamburger you were about to serve just because it slipped off the plate in your hand and fell on the greasy kitchen floor. Do not drop a hamburger again. But if you do, you are to retrieve the ingredients off the floor – the tomato, pickle, onion, lettuce, beef patty and bun slathered with our special sauce – put the hamburger back together and serve it.

You are scooping ice cream incorrectly. Do you know how much ice cream costs me? Use the spatula, not the rounded scooper. I want you to fold the ice cream into a ball so it is hollow inside. Do it like this. And remember, the only difference between a milkshake and a malt is you charge more for a malt because in theory a malt has malt in it, which is an added cost, and a milkshake doesn’t have malt. But most customers can’t tell the difference between a milkshake and a malt, even when a malt has malt, so you are not to put malt in a malt unless the customer asks for “extra malt.” Is that clear?

Do not tell the customer who requests a “well done” steak that he will get a thinner and more gristly cut of meat than the customer who orders a steak “rare” or “medium.” This is the cook’s revenge against a customer who doesn’t appreciate good meat and artful grilling. Also, if you see a worm in a dinner salad, remove the worm and serve the salad. Or leave the worm and charge a nickel extra. That’s a joke.

If the plates are too hot and scald your arm when you carry meals to customers you are to endure the pain and continue to smile. If a customer skips out without paying then you must pay the bill yourself because you should have been more vigilant. If I had known in advance a tour bus would stop with a ravenous horde for breakfast – “Coffee!” “Scrambled eggs!” “Bacon!” “More coffee!” “Syrup! “More coffee!” – I would have scheduled two waitresses for that shift.

About last night, it is not acceptable that you spilled hot gravy from a plate of pot roast onto a customer’s lap and then called the mishap an accident, even if the customer did grope you. “Whoops, sorry!” is not an adequate apology to the customer. I would fire you for this incident but I need you to fill in tomorrow for Edna who is bedridden with searing pain from varicose veins coursing through her legs. Speaking of groping, do not tell my wife you peeked in the office and saw Rita sitting on my lap or I definitely will fire you.

You want to know how long Edna has been a waitress? She’s worked for me over ten years, although she began waitressing when she was about your age. She planned to get more schooling then move to a job with better pay and benefits, but somehow it never happened. She’s had varicose veins a long time. Her back hurts too, and her feet, but she rarely takes time off. When she does, then of course she doesn’t get paid because, as I’ve said, “You only get paid here when you work.” Yes, she still makes minimum wage, but Edna’s a real asset.

You’re quitting? That’s appreciation for you. Your generation is spoiled. Self-centered. No work ethic. No concept of loyalty. What happened to values?


Nostalgia by Jacobo Lopez

Paired with The Lilac Promise

What’s in it: Surf City Still Works California Gin | Lemon | Thyme Cordial | Violet liqueur

Leo’s Inspo: This is a floral cocktail made with Surf City Still Works Gin with edible flowers as the garnish inspired by the lilacs in full bloom in the short story.

The brisk morning air seeped through a cracked window as Nicole awoke to the sound of her husband showering. She promptly got herself out of bed, into a robe, and headed downstairs to start breakfast.  

The gravity of today was not lost on her. In many ways, she felt that today was the first day of their adult lives – one filled with adult things like the nine to five jobs, a
mortgage payment, maybe a dog or two before deciding on a vacation home. The possibilities were infinite in her head.  

Two sausage links, one egg, over-easy, and one buttered toast. It was a breakfast she was proud of, and one that always made him happy. Just as she finished, she heard footsteps jaunting down the stairs. Nicole hurriedly put used cookware into the sink and met her husband at the foot of the stairs.  

He stopped less than a foot away from her as they met. 

“That smells good. Two sausage links, one buttered toast, and-” He inhaled a second time, “one egg, over-easy?” 

Nicole smiled before she pecked him on the lips. “Only the best.” 

The two made their way to the dining table, which was set less than fifteen feet from their kitchen. He began eating in silence as Nicole fixed herself a cup of coffee.  

“This is great!” He finally said. Nicole smiled as she sipped her coffee. 

“So, any big plans today?” 

Nicole took another quick sip of coffee before answering. “I was thinking of taking my violin to play at the park.”  

“Another symphony with the birds.” 

This was an inside joke between the two of them. Nicole, an avid violinist, would often walk to a nearby park to play in the open area. It wasn’t uncommon to see birds flock to a nearby tree and sing with her.  

“That’s right. Plus, I would like to see the lilacs in full bloom. I’ve never -” 

Her Husband’s phone alarm interrupted her. He quickly shut it off.  

“Sorry.”  

“It’s okay,” Nicole said as she smiled, “We’re going to have to get used to this.” 

“I promise, if I get this job -”  

“WHEN you get this job,” Nicole interjected.  

“Okay,” Her Husband replied as he smiled and got up to embrace her, “When I get this job, I promise there will be days where we can both see the lilacs in full bloom.”  She walked him to the front door where his briefcase was waiting next to Nicole’s violin case. He picked up the briefcase, turned, embraced one more time before they kissed and said goodbye. The door shut. Nicole was by herself, again. Still, she was excited to get dressed for her trip to the park. 
_____
Nicole stepped outside her town home in a bright yellow sundress, carrying her violin case. She locked the door and began heading down the street, studying every rose planted along the way. It was only a five minute walk before she entered the park’s gates and saw the lilacs in full bloom. She spotted an empty bench under the shade of a large tree and decided that would be the perfect place to play.  

Nicole took her violin out of the case and set the case on the ground. Before placing the violin on her shoulder, she noticed an older gentleman using a cane, walking toward her. Nicole had seen him before, sometimes sitting on a bench not too far away, sometimes doing laps around the park while she played. She smiled to acknowledge him. He was dressed in a heavy coat and a hat, and looked very tired.  

“Is it okay if I sit here?” 

“Please! It’d be nice to play for someone other than birds.” 

The old man laughed as he sat down. Nicole turned to place her violin on her shoulder. The Old Man took out a small black cube from his pocket and set it to his side. Nicole then began to play.  

It was a beautiful melody that encapsulated her love for the birds chirping away, each rose petal she passed along the way, and blooming lilacs on this sun-filled day. The old man listened, first with his eyes closed, to every note she hit. After a few seconds, he sat in awe of her.  

When it was over, the old man applauded. 

“That was beautiful! Just beautiful!” The Old Man was alive. 

“Thank you,” Nicole said as she became bashful, “It’s not like this is your first time hearing me play.” 

“I’m sorry?” 

“I’ve seen you around the park,” Nicole explained. “I don’t mind. I really appreciate it, actually. My husband just started a new job, so this is the new normal.”
“Oh, well, I’m sure he’d much rather be here. Plus, he’s missing out on the lilacs. They’re in full bloom!” The Old Man said as he turned to look at the lilacs.  Nicole laughed. “Thank you.” 

“For what?” 

“Coming by to listen to me. Whenever I come out here, the day feels a little less lonely.” 

The Old Man’s eyes began to well up, so he looked down. A young man in a uniform used an air horn to draw attention to himself from across the park. The horn was to notify senior citizens that the shuttle would be departing in ten minutes, yet the Old Man did not move. Nicole moved closer.  

“Do you need help walking to the shuttle?” 

The Old Man quickly grabbed his black cube and stood up to face her. “Oh no, no, no. I can get it from here. It was a privilege to watch you play today, and all of the other days I suppose.”  

They smiled at each other.  

“Goodbye,” the Old Man said.  

“I’ll see you soon,” Nicole replied. 

The Old Man began walking away from her. As soon as he was out of her sight, his shoulders slumped and his walk became slower. He continued past the shuttle and onto the sidewalk. He stopped next to an alleyway, pulled out a handkerchief and dried his eyes. He then scanned his surroundings to make sure no one was around before walking into the alley. Then, when he reached the alley’s end, he scanned one last time. He brought up his wrist and pulled his sleeve back to reveal a bulky, but complex watch. He began to turn a dial clockwise. Suddenly, the buildings boxing the Old Man in aged rapidly. The concrete he stood on began to crack. The building to his right was demolished and rebuilt in a blink of an eye. The weather was chaotic. The sun and the moon moved across the sky for what seemed like an infinite number of times, but in reality, it had risen and set twenty-three thousand, seven hundred twenty-five times. 

With the moon over his head, the Old Man turned and began walking toward the park once more. He shuffled past the bench under the tree, only the tree had aged significantly. He then walked past the old rose bush, whose petals were now a distant memory.  

The Old Man then carried himself up the stairs to his town home. He unlocked the door and stepped inside. Lying in the entryway was a violin case, only it looked as if it hadn’t been touched in decades. As the Old Man made his way up stairs, he passed numerous photos hanging on the wall. Each photo was of his younger self, and his wife, Nicole. But then the photos abruptly end.  

The Old Man reached the master bedroom. He changed into pajamas and placed the small black cube on the nightstand, next to a pair of wedding rings and a collection of other black cubes. The cube then activates, projecting a photo-realistic hologram throughout the master bedroom. He began to tuck himself under the covers as he watched Nicole walk into frame, wearing her bright yellow sundress, happy as can be. She places the violin on her shoulder, and begins to play. The Old Man watches and listens until his eyes grow heavy and the sound of her melody takes him to the place where dreams are born.


Four Roses by Jordan Nishkian

Paired with Four Roses

What’s in it: Hibiscus infused Surf City Shorebreak Vodka| Lemon | Hibiscus Cordial

Leo’s Inspo: Although most of the story makes you cringe, we found a way to make a lovely cocktail inspired by the hibiscus flower tattoo described in the story, infusing the Shorebreak vodka with hibiscus.

The woman named Bridgette straddles the green vinyl barstool next to you despite her wearing a skirt. You shoot your glance back from her drunken thighs and turn away from her in a futile attempt to deafen the noise of her words. Her central valley accent melds with the crescendo of ice the bartender is shimmying into an empty glass. The sounds of this beach town dive bar swallow up your eardrums the way Jane used to take her medication; all at once and with way too much water.

Bridgette takes the empty glass of bourbon out of your hand and replaces it with something magenta. You don’t bother to ask. You came here to be lonely. She came here to chat.

“Mikey made a drink for me because I come in so much,” she says while casting a sticky wink to the back of the bartender’s shaved head, “It’s called a Dirty Hibiscus.”

You stare a while into the booze and sugar trap you’re holding. It smells like the three dollar shampoo you used when you washed Jane’s hair in the kitchen sink last October.

“Wanna know why it’s called that?” she asks as she slides off her seat and onto her worn-down heels.

You feel like you don’t, but she was already turning around and lifting up the bottom of her white tank top. A chain of three pink, psoriasis-shaped flowers stretched across her lower back— surely the pride of her eighteen-year-old self and her thirty-year-old self alike.

Your lips curl under themselves as you manage to squeeze out a, “Cool.”

She flashes an ineffective smile at you before mounting her stool again. “They’re hibiscus flowers. I got them because they symbolize the perfect woman.”

“Wikipedia tell you that?”

“Yeah,” she laughs while smearing mascara across her temple with the back of her hand, “The internet!”

You stare down at your cloudy reflection in the peeling lacquer of the counter. Jane would keep an oxidized mirror on her coffee table next to books about pin-up girls, poetry, and ancient architecture. Whenever you went over to her port-side loft, she’d ask you how you were feeling that day, ready to remedy a headache with peppermint and a “fine” day with a rocks glass of Four Roses. But seeing her and her loose red curls was enough. For her, seeing you was enough, too, especially on evenings spent on her denim loveseat, but every so often she would kick her legs off of yours and launch herself up saying that she needed to powder her nose. She would always come back to you a few minutes later, sometimes talking about why Scorsese is overrated and other times about why you can’t have time travel without considering both time and space. “Just because you go back in time doesn’t mean you’ll end up in the right location,” she would explain, “You have to consider the earth’s rotation and revolution and things like that or else you could end up in the middle of the Indian Ocean.”

“Or even Mars, possibly,” you murmur, picking at the top layer of a soggy coaster.

“What was that?” Bridgette asks. She must have pulled her stool closer to you, because now one of her bony, rough-capped knees is brushing against the grain of your pant leg. The Dirty Hibiscus is still in your hand.

You pull your leg away from hers and say, “Don’t worry about it.”

There’s an argument kindling at a table between two guys in flip-flops. You watch a spray of saliva fly out of the bearded one’s mouth and into the complimentary bowl of wholesale trail mix. The one with all the chest hair poking out of his Hawaiian shirt isn’t happy about LeBron coming over to the Lakers. Mikey yells, “Shut your damn mouth, Eddie” from over his counter. One of Bridgette’s press-on nails traces the ink near the crook of your right arm. “I like this.”

You look down at your rose and banner tattoo. The crimson needed reworking over the scar Jane’s cigarette left on you after you both fell asleep on her patio swing. You told her that you liked that she had left her mark on you, but every time she saw it— at dinner, in the bathtub, in photographs— she looked like she could cry. After five months and a few too many beers, you jay-walked her across the street to the nearest tattoo shop. The ink was your compromise; you even let her pick it out from a flash sheet. She called you crazy and tried to hide her beaming, freckled cheeks behind her hands, but you knew it was the nicest thing you had ever done.

Bridgette’s dollar store nail digs into your flesh a little harder and scratches at the banner. “Who’s Jane?” she asks between her sharp gum-smacking and her quiet vodka belches. Through the mirror behind the bottles, you watch Bridgette lean more and more into you.

You think of angel-face Jane with the history degree and the scabbed-up nose.

“She was a beautiful and delightfully chaotic mess.”

Bridgette pushes a streak of greasy blonde hair out of her face as a grin stretches out of her rubbed-off lipstick. “Like me,” she says.

You study her face for the first time and watch one overdone eye begin to blink out of sync with the other.

“Sure,” you reply before sliding her lukewarm drink back to her.

She struggles with getting the last strand of hair out of the corner of her mouth the same way all twelve people in the bar are fighting the sawdust out of their shoes. Mikey pulls the plug on the neon bar sign that won’t stop flickering.

“You don’t want this?” she asks as she picks up the glass.

“I’ll stick with bourbon,” you answer and stand up from your stool, fishing for the folded-up twenty in your front pocket.

“Suit yourself,” she says and reaches over the bar for a handful of ice cubes.


BAR TIPS

Surf City Still Works Mixologist Leo Montesinos aka @the_carousing_barkeep shares how to master mixology in five steps.


1. Get yourself a basic bar set up with quality made tools. I recommend getting started with a bar mat, double tin shaker set, Hawthorn strainer, fine mesh strainer, muddle stick, and a proper mixing glass complete with mixing spoon and julep strainer. Set yourself up for success. You’ll be more inclined to keep learning and mixing at home or for friends. Check out my pals at BarProducts.com for the best selection of quality bar products under one roof. Enter BARKEEP5 at check out for my 5% Discount!

2. Be a good drinker! Cocktail culture is evolving every day and becoming an enthusiast is a good way to develop a dialogue for what a “great cocktail” is to you. First, find out what your favorite spirit is. Then explore the world of cocktail flavor profiles; you’re bound to become partial to a particular style. Citrusy, sweet, tart, fruity, herbaceous, vegetal, savory, dry, aromatic, effervescent, tiki.

3. Get a good bartender or cocktail book. After you’ve become a fan of a few spirited concoctions, its good to learn the history of where they came from and what actually goes in them. Study the techniques and methods and build an interest in the culture. Having a good reference for what your doing is a necessary fundamental. Making great cocktails come from good know-how, attention to detail and having a nice finishing touch. I recommend: Death and Co. and Modern Classic Cocktails.

4. Use quality spirits and fresh ingredients. Juice your own mixers and learn to make your own simple syrup at home. Stepping away from using generic mixing products is a sure way to making a better cocktail. Your most basic mixers will be freshly squeezed lemon and lime juice. I like using a 2:1 sugar to water ratio for my simple syrup.

5. Master your favorite cocktail or cocktails. Keep a recipe book of your favorite drinks and personal creations. Creating the perfect cocktail isn’t about making one cocktail that tastes great. It’s about making a great cocktail that suits the mood, the person or the moment.

Stayed tuned for “Cocktails 101” at Surf City Still Works where Montesinos will teach the basics of mixology to beginners, and offer advanced courses on ice cutting, liqueurs and bitters for industry professionals.

Related Posts