Discover more from Movie Night
Swingers / Sideways
Find yourself somebody to love (Part 2 of 4: Summer Happy Hour)
You can’t separate drinking from the journey to the drink. In Swingers, you finally get your drink (a Glenfiddich, Glenlivet, any Glen as long as it’s a single malt) after a tedious drive to Vegas and humiliation at the blackjack table. Another drink comes after joining a caravan of young men, each driving separate cars snaking through the narrow streets of the Hollywood Hills to a modeling agency party or after finding the alley entrance of a signless bar that fancies itself a speakeasy. In Sideways, middle-aged men take similar journeys, but theirs are less glamorous. You drive from San Diego to LA to pick up a friend, then on to Oxnard to steal money from your mother to fund a week of drinking and to eat her sad leftovers, stop in Santa Barbara for a quick nip of wine before pulling into the Windmill Inn in Buellton. In the former, young men strut to their cars in slow motion à la Reservoir Dogs, driving, parking, and ratcheting the Club into place like a smooth synchronized swim team. Driving montages feature hard-working field laborers, ostriches, and fecund vineyards in the latter.
The drink and the journey to the drink are inseparable. There’s a distance traveled, obstacles traversed to reach your drink, but there’s also the passage of time, measured not in hours like the drive to Vegas from LA, but rather decades, the decades a young man travels to reach the drink he has as a middle-aged man.
At the start of those long decades, you fumble to figure out drinking, ordering a scattershot of scotch whiskies before settling on Dewars. You also gravitate to the safety of Budweiser, the universal default drink.
You fumble to unlock success. Sitcoms aren’t handed out to comics at the airport, as you had imagined, so you host poorly-attended, Monday-night open mikes at the Ha-Ha Hole. Casting agents don’t call you back. You don’t get pilots. You lose a job as Goofy, which you didn’t want until you lost it to someone with more theme park experience.
The central fact of your life is that you’re not important. You’re reminded of this daily, when you awake bleary-eyed sometime in the afternoon, not needed anywhere; when you walk into a crowded party to be sized up and dismissed immediately; when you return home at the end of the night to a spartan studio apartment and no new messages on the answering machine.
You take refuge in drinking and friends. Find a bar where Marty & Elayne or Big Bad Voodoo Daddy is playing, and now, you have a nightlife. You don’t have money, a career, or plans for obtaining either, but you have this. Apart from your everyday existence, here you are important, and small miracles happen. You go home with a cocktail waitress and her lovely, pig-tailed friend who plays Dorothy at the MGM Grand. You score a beautiful woman’s phone number, which you’re supposed to call no sooner than two days. You meet Heather Graham and swing dance your way into her affections.
By middle age, your nightlife is over, but the drinking remains. By this point, you know your drink down to minute details of the varietal and evaluate wines by nuances in color and viscosity like some asshole. You know the names and vintages of notable drinks, fetishizing wines like ‘61 Cheval Blanc and ‘88 Sassicaia.
The tenor of your drinking has changed. Drinking is no longer celebratory. It’s a fainting couch into which you dramatically collapse when you get bad news, and, by this point, that’s the only kind you get. Much like the ‘61 Cheval Blanc, your life has peaked. It’s on a steady decline. As a younger man, you married a woman and began what you imagined to be a temporary job teaching English or found fame as Dr. Derek Sommersby on One Life to Live. But since then, your wife has moved on, publishers have rejected three of your books, and the acting work has dried up. All you have now are Spray ‘n Wash commercials and voiceover work.
When you reach your drink as a middle-aged man, you realize the central fact of your life has remained unchanged despite the decades you have traveled. You are still not important. You are a “thumbprint on the window of a skyscraper,” “a smudge of excrement on a tissue surging out to sea with a million tons of raw sewage,” “a pasture animal waiting for the abattoir.” Despite having lived half a life, you remain a failure, and you no longer have a nightlife to deflect this devastating fact. To keep despair from consuming you, you compulsively drink. Or you compulsively fuck, first, the free-spirited Sandra Oh, before she became a doctor at Seattle Grace and then a British intelligence officer, and then anyone willing and convenient.
Drinking and fucking are only temporary fixes. You have two paths left to choose from, one dark, one light, like the wedding cakes your friend’s fiance asked you to try. Hemingway, Woolf, and Plath chose the dark path. The light path has been apparent since you began your journey as a young man. Dean Martin sang about it way back in the title sequence for Swingers. It’s the last, lingering line--a command, really: “So find yourself somebody to love.”
New York Sour
Have you ever taken a trip you’ve made many times, like a commute, and realized that you’ve arrived at your destination with no real memory of how you got there? Sure, you can pick out all the landmarks along the way, but it’s more of a blur reasoned out in retrospect. You follow the path, almost without thinking.
It’s hard to contemplate a full life without some structure. The fabric of our civilization is norms and guidelines. But if you stay too affixed to the rails, you’ll undoubtedly find yourself where those rails lead. For some, there’s a bit of a crisis when they realize they’ve arrived, but don’t know if this is the trip they wanted to take.
We find ourselves living in little loops. We follow similar paths and justify those with similar rules. Yeah, it’s the shared human experience, but it’s also a defense mechanism to blunt our senses to the staggering possibilities that each moment holds. We are chaos incarnate, and no one can tell chaos to wait two days before calling someone.
Here’s a friendly reminder: this is your life. If you think you might be sleepwalking towards an unfulfilling destination, make a different choice.
Let’s break some rules.
2 oz Single Malt Scotch - I’d go for something with a little peat and salt like Oban, but “any Glen” will do.
1 oz Fresh Squeezed Lemon Juice
3/4 oz Demerara Simple Syrup
1/2 oz Château Cheval Blanc - Or any red wine. Shoot for something less sweet.
Shake Scotch, lemon juice, and simple syrup with ice until very cold.
Double strain into a styrofoam cup (or a rocks glass.)
Very slowly pour the red wine over the back of a spoon to “float” it on the drink.
Written by Jon Favreau; Directed by Doug Limon
Written by Rex Pickett, Alexander Payne, and Jim Taylor; Directed by Alexander Payne