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Requiem for a Negroni Fountain

"Open floor plan offices and self-serve Negroni fountains were all very real."

Hello? Can you see me now? Ah, there you are. My beautiful grandchildren, so crystal clear and vivid on our virtual hangout hologram projection. An old man like me cherishes every opportunity to spend time with young people, especially now that I’m no longer strong enough to leave the geodesic nursing dome.

Tonight I want to tell you a story—a scary story—about this drink you see in my hand. This is what is known as a Negroni: a cocktail made with gin, vermouth and a bitter spirit called Campari. A bitter spirit to remember bitter times. You see, when I was a young man, these Negronis flowed like rivers. A river is a long, narrow body of water that feeds into the sea. Yes! Outside!

Back then, Negronis were absolutely everywhere, and sometimes, on special occasions, they were served from small fountains, set up in big open spaces called “bars,” where people would congregate by the blissfully ignorant dozens to talk and laugh, and even touch! This was before hugging was banned. We wouldn’t stand six feet apart from perfect strangers, and at times, not even six inches.

There were also places called “restaurants” where we would sit in groups next to strangers, eat food prepared without the use of masks or gloves or any kind of hermetically sealed, vacuum-packed vitamin bricks. Here, we would share small plates and sample one another’s entrées and touch the rims of our glasses together to celebrate our happiness. We would dip cups into large bowls of punch over and over again, and then fill those cups back up with Negronis that flowed from Negroni fountains. We would drink and drink, and come back for more. No pulmonary scarring whatsoever.

What’s that? You don’t believe that “self-serve” existed? Well, I suppose you don’t believe that doorknobs existed either! But they did. Doorknobs and open floor plan offices and self-serve Negroni fountains were all very real. We would hold our glasses beneath its taps to catch the flow of that recirculated cocktail, and get so close to strangers waiting in line that we might brush elbows or bump hips, or even feel the breath of another human on our necks. And no one ever thought to wipe down a damn thing. In a cruel twist of irony, for a short while after Negroni fountains were outlawed, they were filled with rubbing alcohol and aloe to become—why yes, that’s correct—hand sanitizer stations.

In those Before Times, fountains of all kinds existed. Chocolate fountains at weddings, into which guests would dip fruit and sometimes a bare finger. Ranch dressing fountains at Super Bowl parties—bacchanalias celebrating football, a nationally popular game ironically based around avoiding other people. There were ketchup fountains for French fries and soda fountains for burnout. Some folks would even melt cheese in large, communal pots and call it “fondue.” They would encourage their friends to double-dip bread and vegetables into that big bowl of molten dairy. Can you imagine? And no one put a stop to any of it.

Negroni fountains, though, were the peak of our arrogance. We felt invincible—as though we could collectively will away the consequences of rinsing our hands instead of washing them; of leaving the house with a sniffle; of grasping, bare-handed, the petri dish of a subway pole. We plucked oysters and tartare from passed hors d’oeuvres trays at parties, we slurped açai bowls and cortados at speakeasy-pop-up-food-halls, we passed popcorn back and forth at the movies, met strangers and touched our lips together when we said goodnight, and we flocked with abandon to Negroni fountains.

You see, children, history progresses this way. We fly too close to the sun, and, even as our wings melt from our backs, we light up the afterburners to soar closer still. But revelry always gives way to prohibition. And overnight, like so many villains of our era, communal breathing, eating and drinking were cancelled.

DDT, asbestos, Negroni fountains: a tale as old as time.

But repression breeds rebellion. For each mighty vice felled, there is an ingenious soul stewing moonshine in a bathtub—“moonshine,” by the way, is homemade booze named after a space rock that was visible in the night sky before atmospheric dust clouds descended below the old tree line. Anyhow, for every verboten cigarette, there is a brave visionary filling a makeshift Juul pod in his closet. For every obsolete communal drinking apparatus, a backstreet entrepreneur oiling the forbidden tap. Some say, children, that deep within the secret tunnels of decaying urban hives, Negroni fountains glitter in the dark, bearing forth the bittersweet drink of nights gone by.

You may never know the majesty of the Negroni fountain, children. But know this: Where there is danger, there can still be joy. Where there is ironclad restriction, subversion thrives. And where there are positive antibody tests, there can be Negroni fountains.

Good night, my lovelies. Sweet dreams, and give your parents your biggest and best elbow bump, just for me.

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