What The Immaculate Conception Means To Me Redux

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What does the Immaculate Conception mean to you?  To my friend Molly, it is an important part of her faith, as important as the passion.  My mother, on the other hand, never bought the concept of a virgin birth and converted to Judaism.  Jack, a co-worker with whom I argue every Thursday afternoon about everything, finds that the Immaculate Conception is grossly misunderstood, citing the fact that it was Mary, not Jesus, who was born of the virgin birth.  As I listened to his monologue, Jack looked at me quizzically.  “Why didn’t you go and ask a rabbi about this,” he wondered.

“I didn’t want to have to re-phrase the query as an ethical question,” I replied.

Although it contains no religious significance for me, the Immaculate Conception does have a meaning that I recognize as important.  In bartender parlance, the act of Mary being born free of original sin is also known as an extra dry martini.

I know there are those of you wondering how bartenders could be so irreverent as to make this gift from G-d into a cocktail, created from the same Firewater that causes the twin sins of lust and wrath.  Perhaps it’s that part of our job description that makes us a priest in a confessional; we need people to come sit our bars and beg for absolution.  It helps pass the time.  Maybe it’s just that wacky sense of humor we bartenders have that allows us to spit in the face of anything and everything we deem as holy or demands respect for no reason.

To tell you the truth, I didn’t hear about the Immaculate Conception cocktail from another bartender.  The culprit who impressed this piece of information into my brain was surrealist director Luis Bunuel.  The recipe that he promulgates on page 46 of his autobiography My Last Sigh is based on holding the vermouth bottle over the martini glass so the light breaks through both.  The recipe hails from St. Thomas Aquinas’ Allegory of the Glass to defend how Immaculate Conception could have occurred, light can break through glass therefore the Immaculate Conception must have happened.

Using this as my starting point, once a shift, someone will ask for that extra dry martini. After ascertaining whether it should be vodka or gin and what brand of the desired booze is preferred, I waste no time and go right into my schtick: how dry would you like that martini?  Would you like me to treat the two bottles like Nixon treated Agnew or would you care for an Immaculate Conception?  Since both Nixon and Agnew are among the most despised Americans of all time, 95% of my clientele laughs and asks for the former. However, I do get the 5% that seems drawn to the religious symbolism of the latter. They look mystified as I hold the vermouth bottle up to the available light bulb and then pour the stirred or shaken martini over the garnish of their choice.

A few weeks back, seven classmates from the University of Pennsylvania came to the bar and two fell into my extra dry martini schtick with both wanting the Immaculate Conception.  They seemed disappointed when I went through the motions to make the drink and all I poured was the Grey Goose they ordered.  When I explained the components of the cocktail, a few laughs and chuckles popped out.  “I read Aquinas when my sophomore year,” one guy said.

About an hour later, I was called over to the service bar.  Three of the captains, two runners and the service bartender were all looking at a ticket for five Immaculate Conceptions.  “Alex, did you make this drink for that 7 top they don’t remember what was in it,” my service barman asked.  I nodded and told him how to make the drink and where it came from.  All six of my co-workers looked at me like the horse Flounder killed in Animal House.  “Aren’t all you guys Catholics,” I asked.  They nodded but retained the chin up, wide-eyed look of utter surprise.

“It’s a joke,” I finally said, realizing there was no way I could get the concept of a drink with a religious name through to my co-workers, especially when the customers didn’t seem to get it either.

As I stood behind the counter, waiting for the next guest, I silently took stock of my situation: a writer, a BA, credits towards and MA and working as a bartender.  It’s on nights like this when I wonder if I it’s not them but me.  I think I might be massively over educated for my job, either that or I should just cop to the fact that all my reading, watching, listening, not to mention all the cash my parents have spent of my education have made me excellent company – for myself.

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