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birth of a tradition
why we need a shot
by ken mohnkern
9.9.06
general

The first thing my wife KR and I do when we're both home from work is drink a shot of tequila. Then KR makes dinner while I read to her. In this way I think I'm contributing to the dinner-making process while keeping out of her way. I think telling people I read to her shows what a nice guy I am, and I wish more people recognized that. But instead people pick up on the tequila thing.

I once wrote a short story about an old man who nearly hits a boy with his car. A police officer tries to get the man to tell him what happened, but the old man changes the subject: "You know the secret to a long life, don't you, son? A shot of tequila every day." My classmates jumped on that line. "He was drunk!" they said. "He should have been arrested!" they said. And the comment that broke my heart was "Why does he need a shot every day?" They wanted none of my explanations; he was a depressed old drunkard. I thought he was a wise old man.

But it's a good question: Why do we need a shot every day? Now, it's easy to dismiss any answer to this question as rationalization, but let's pretend within the bounds of this essay that I'm not rationalizing. Having a shot together is a celebration of the end of our apart-day and the beginning of our together-day. We drink from small ceramic cups a friend brought us from Korea. We clink them together and one of us says "cheers" and the other says "sherefe" (that's Turkish). The message we give each other is "Welcome home. I'm glad to be here with you." That is why we need the shot. To reconnect.

But how did the tradition start? I asked KR for help with that question. Our memories differ, as they do on most things, but I think we started five years ago this month. (She can write her own essay if she disagrees.)

At that time we were escaping an antagonistic relationship with a next-door neighbor by moving to a new house. Our buyers made unreasonable demands, and we had to deal with them via written letters passed through our agents. No phone calls, no face-to-face talk. One of those demands required us to close on our old house at the end of August when we could not close on the new house until the end of September. So we ended up homeless for a month. This whole process was, as you can imagine, quite stressful.

Our dear friend Pat let us (and our dog Caleb) stay in his apartment. It was a generous act on his part, and we are still in his debt. But living in someone else's home with all of our stuff in storage was, of course, stressful.

At the same time my employer was moving to a new office space. My desk was one of many that were set up in the hall for most of the month. Working in a hallway made phone calls and other personal stuff much less personal. And this was an ad agency, so before they finished our workspaces they had to install all the snazzy office fixtures, including a row of tv monitors that hung from the ceiling all along the hallway. Everybody join in: Blah blah stressful blah.

One morning I was walking the halls at work and noticed that a Special Report had pre-empted Oprah or The Price is Right. They were covering a bizarre story in which an airplane had crashed into one of the towers of the World Trade Center. I called a coworker over to see, and soon everyone was in the halls watching the story unfold. A short time later we evacuated the building and I spent the rest of the day on a bus trying to get back to the apartment where KR and Caleb were waiting. The other bus passengers were talking on cell phones, spreading ridiculous rumors that seemed plausible at the time. I tried reading on the bus but it was too—that's right—stressful.

Finally, weeks later, the three of us moved into our new house where KR and sat on our front porch breathing easier and Caleb lay in the front yard working his tennis ball.

It was during that harrowing September of '01 that we started having a shot a day. Back then the need was tangible. The tequila washed away each terrible day like a burning bath, like a daily alcoholic baptism. We survived that month a day at a time, born new each evening. Now, maybe, in addition to a daily reconnection, our shots should remind us of that month and of those who helped us survive it. Caleb and Pat, "Sherefe."


ABOUT KEN MOHNKERN

There's a fifty-fifty chance that Ken is wearing a shirt with a stain on it.

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COMMENTS

alex b
9.10.06 @ 1:01p

I like little rituals. They always help me get grounded and feel reconnected when I'm all over the place. Excellent tradition (argh, tequila) and excellent reasons.

tracey kelley
9.11.06 @ 11:11a

"The message we give each other is "Welcome home. I'm glad to be here with you." That is why we need the shot. To reconnect."

That has to be one of the most beautiful things I've ever heard. And it's a great, great lesson in maintaining a relationship.

So now the story of Tequila Ken is revealed. Having spent a week next to you contanstly tapping your arm, I never for a moment thought it derived from a lewd place, but didn't expect this, either. Exquisite.

I just heard Aaron Neville sing "Bridge Over Troubled Water." It was like drops of crystal hanging in midair. I'm trying not to be too melancholy today, but then again, maybe I should be glad I can feel it.


ken mohnkern
9.11.06 @ 11:16a

Honestly, I didn't expect this either. I have the brain of a goldfish, so it took a long time for it to all come back, with KR's prompting.

dan gonzalez
9.12.06 @ 12:44p

That day sucked. In fact, the summer leading up to it sucked. My good bud took a revenge lay-off from a corrupt director at Worldbomb, I had to put my 14-year-old dog to sleep, and I was flying through Dulles like a bastard.

There's a lounge next to the gate that the AA flight to LA regularly took off from, must have walked by that gate a dozen times, never once thought anyone sitting there was gonna die horribly.

Tradions are good for the soul and they help 'keep it real' I guess. I used to drink a couple Buds every year since the dog's name was Budweiser, and I still get together with my buddy for drinks and true tales of former glory, but I never adhere to anything formal. I guess I'm just a heathen.

ken mohnkern
9.12.06 @ 1:30p

Our beloved dog died of a fungal infection in his lungs almost exactly a year after that terrible month. It's just a hunch, but we think he might have picked it up from the basement we lived in. (I thought tossing a dead dog into the essay might be going overboard.)

robert melos
9.13.06 @ 4:54a

I'm not much for traditions, I tend to enjoy chaos, yet the occasional ritual is good. I really don't drink much, or haven't for a long time now. I'm planning on starting up in the future.





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