Originally published in McSweeney's Online Tendency
I don’t want to drink any mezcal, because for one thing, it’s a weeknight, and for another, mezcal and I haven’t been on wonderful terms since this undergrad warehouse party in Montreal, where I remember offering a swig to a guy who looked at me skeptically and said, “Um, I’ll get a cup,” as I thought, Sure, be fancy. Mezcal just makes me think of second year university and some version of myself throwing a dance in an illegal, industrial structure, wearing red jeans and a blazer with no shirt under, my best gay boyfriend and I color coordinating. It reminds me of waking up queasy in cold eastern Canadian sunlight. Then, I get queasy thinking I used to be so much cooler than I am now, four years later, when all I want is a chicken taco at this midweek Mexican-themed birthday dinner, back in the town I grew up in. But as the mezcal crowd surfs around on a swell of salt and cheers, I see something in the bottle that catches my attention. It’s not a tiny grub (child’s play; I’d eaten one of those, dried like a corn chip, in middle school to impress a cute young teacher I liked) but a complicated creature. Almost black (sodden pinecone color) and menacingly mobile, suspended in liquor. A scorpion. When the bottle’s emptied, the birthday boy balks at eating it, and I extend my hand. It looks like a wet beef jerky jumbo prawn with pincers in my palm. A blunt, mean little face with fangs. It must have drowned alive, right? That must be how they die looking ready to reanimate. Two inches long with all those flexible tail segments. I toss it into my mouth. Its texture is dry shrimp and cat tongue; I mash all its pointy parts in my molars to the white noise of “no-ways” and feminine inhalations. I swallow quick and concede to opening my mouth for the crowd, and, with my coat already on (I’d been a half out the door when the scorpion was proffered) I leave. “Bounce” or “dip” are appropriate terms, too. “None of the grown men I know would have done that,” says my friend, who seems suddenly in love with me, “that was punk rock.” We split on a street corner and I make my way home, thinking about embalming things, preserving them perfectly in their fearsome prime. With my tongue, I pick scorpion out of my teeth.