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The Cocktail Passed on by a Summer Fling

Summer brings with it a certain set of rites and rituals — and everyone’s are personal and unique. For our summer-long ode to the season, T has invited writers to share their own. In this installment, Bryan Washington writes about enjoying a simple drink made of orange juice, beer and amaretto.

One summer, I had a fling with this guy who only ever drank lunchboxes. I was weaning myself from alcohol, sort of, and he didn’t have much of a tolerance. The first time I tried one, I said, “Hunh,” and he said, “Yeah.” The second time, we had the same exchange. The third time, he grabbed my hand and asked if I actually liked the thing. I told him I honestly didn’t know, because the cocktail made as much sense as our relationship, which is to say it made none at all.

A lunchbox is pretty simple: It’s orange juice, beer and amaretto. That’s it. You can garnish it with an actual orange slice, if you’re here for that, and the literal orange-ness is what queers the drink, making it taste like something it’s actually not — except the gag is that that’s actually what it is. It’s a cocktail that could be tropical, but it isn’t. It could be harsher, but it isn’t. If we’re getting metaphorical about it (gag), the lunchbox tastes how the end of a humid night feels just when you’re expecting the breeze to kick in, only it never actually does. The cocktail presumes relief by way of its fruitiness. And that does come, eventually — just not in the form you’d expect it to take, blunted halfway by the beer.

Neither me nor my man of the lunchboxes was under any delusions. We had no intention of getting married. Didn’t plan on living together. Didn’t want a dog. As a matter of fact, we both knew the exact date things would come to an end — and some days were a little boohoo sad, sure. But there was something delicious about our finiteness, too.

So we built a relationship entirely out of pleasure. Constructed everything off the end of its pursuit. And that’s another reason the lunchbox was weird: It isn’t an objectively delicious drink. Nor would you sniff it and say, “Alcoholic.” Even ordering one can be difficult — I can count the number of times, on one hand, a bartender’s pulled it off without my clumsy approximations. But whenever that does happen, it’s only ever happened at gay bars: At a leather spot in Austin, the tender smiled deeply before he made me one. At a bear bar in Houston, he adjusted the straps on his overalls before he asked my whiskey preference.

One day, I asked my guy how he’d found out about it. He told me another guy had shown him. Which, for me, makes it a recipe passed down by boyfriends. And that’s a little hilarious — a little delightful — but hardly divorced from the reality of any recipe: They’re only stories, after all. Something you’ve shared with someone you love. Even if only for a little while. Even if there’s an end time stamp. And maybe a recipe is the exact thing this boy and I should’ve shared: You already know the end when you start one, and yet you’re still there for the pursuit.

Eventually, the guy left town like we knew he would. I did not. I still live in a city choked with impossible, stupid humidity. I still drink lunchbox after lunchbox in the summer. It’s the kind of drink you can tank, slowly, deliberately, for hours. But lately, honestly, I think of this network of boyfriends while I do, extending through the Gulf like a sort of constellation, looping pinkies here, hooking knees there, punctuated by piercings and tattoos and boots and flannel, short-lived and infinite nonetheless, knowing how the figure ends, stretching toward the future regardless. I’ll probably drink them forever.

Bryan Washington is the author of the short story collection “Lot” (Riverhead, 2019).

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