I made myself a Dick Magrath Martini last night.
I did this for three reasons: I did not have the ingredients for a “regular” martini and over the course of the last few days, I had been thinking about him a great deal. Finally I wanted to toast his son, my best friend of 47 years, who had died the day before.
Dick Magrath played a large roll in my development as a young man and as an adult. His son and I were each other’s wingman from the time we were fifteen and spent massive amounts of times in each other’s home with our respective parents serving as surrogate parents for the other. I know that my parents helped show Rich what a life a scholarly and intellectual pursuit were like and broadened him to the greater possibilities in life. I believe that one of the reasons he chose psychology as a major while at Lafayette College was because of my father who was an eminent experimental psychologist. Dick Magrath helped me see the world of business as a viable option for my life to the point that my senior project was conducted at the Insurance firm he ran.
Dick was also a man who managed to savor every minute of life. I can remember complaining to him, shortly after I graduated college, how much I despised doing errands on Saturday morning. Going to the dry cleaners, the bank, grocery shopping etc. were a major time suck and I hated it. He responded in a great booming chuckle (he had them patented) that doing errands were a joy to him because they were a bi product of his success and should be savored. I never thought of errands the same way again. To this day I savor my Saturday errands. Instead of rushing through them I take my time stopping for a coffee, chatting with people in stores or just enjoying the day.
This was Dick’s entire attitude in life.
Rich and I were once truly fortunate to be in London with him at one point. He had to go to London regularly in the insurance business and had developed a routine. He would take the morning flight from JFK that would put him to London late in the early evening. He would have a light meal and go to sleep and wake up in the morning refreshed and ready for the day. But the first day was not for work it was for enjoying the city of London. That first day in London, while we were all together, he led us on a walking tour of London showing us some of his favorite places to savor. We started out at the Grosvernor House where he was staying in a gorgeous suite and walked along Hyde Park until we reached Marble Arch. There we turned onto Knightsbridge and proceeded to the Food Halls of Harrods where we sampled out mid-morning snack. Then through the back roads of Belgravia to Constitution Hill and Green Park to Buckingham Palace. Then down the Mall and cutting past the Palace of St James to Pall Mall and then up to Jermyn Street to see where the finest bespoke shirts were made. Then on to Piccadilly where we went to Swaine Adney Brigg where you could have a custom umbrella made or purchase the most exquisite leather goods. Then through the arcade, where there were dozens of small stores in which to enjoy window shopping. We walked for hours with him pointing out the things he loved and punctuated by his booming chuckle.
His savoring of life could be as pedestrian as making a sandwich. Back in the halcyon days of my childhood making a sandwich was an art form. And no one practiced that craft with more style and verve than Dick Magrath. The bread had to be a special bread and then the condiments were required to be spread to an even consistency. The fillings (hand selected and shopped for specifically) were then placed with surgical care on top of the bread. Salt and pepper were administered with flair and then the sandwich cut with precision. It was a sight to see and I still think of his art whenever I make myself a sandwich.
Dick also liked to drink. This was something my parents, while not tea totallers, did rarely. He likely had a drink on the train coming from work (they did that then) and perhaps even a couple at lunch (Mad Men Times) but his first cocktail at home was incredibly special to him. I am quite sure it was his way of savoring the day and making it back to the family he adored. At one point, shortly before or shortly after, Rich and I, reached the age of majority (18,) he instructed us on how to make the proper Dick Magrath martini.
He told us, in a booming baritone, “find a tall narrow pitcher” and pulling one from the cabinet he would add “fill it halfway with ice.” When he had completed that task, he would take a bottle of good vodka that was handy on top of his bar and say. “Then you add as much vodka as you need….” And then holding the bottle horizontal he would tip it again and say, “Then a little more for evaporation.” Letting the vodka chill, he would reach for the jade green bottle of Noily Prat Dry Vermouth and said “Here is the secret part. You need to add just the right amount of vermouth to make the perfect Martini.” He would then unscrew the cap of the vermouth and then approaching the pitcher of chilling vodka he would say “ You just wave the bottle of vermouth over the vodka and whisper “Noily Prat” and then with a booming chuckle place the cap back on the bottle of Vermouth and pour himself a martini usually with two cocktail olives (I know now that this more of a Gibson than a Martini but this is Dick story and this is the way he told it.)
Last night I could not completely recreate the Martini that Dick Magrath taught me to make 45 years ago. I did not have a tall pitcher. I did not have any vermouth. So, I made do. I put a bunch of ice cubes into a tall glass and poured a liberal amount of Absolut Vodka over the top and then intoned the magic words “Noily Prat”. As I did not have a proper Martini Glass (thanks Bolsonaro) I poured the perfect Martini into a small cachaca glass and silently toasted both the father and the son.
Alcohol, when applied in the correct amounts, tends to make you sappy and sentimental. This Dick Magrath Martini made me reflect on the parallel lives of Dick and Richard. Both of them died young, in their early 60s, never having met their grandchildren. I thought this every time I would here one of Richard’s boys say to him “You are the best Dad ever” to which he would invariably reply “No, I did.” I do not know whether Rich’s kids will have the same reply to their children when asked the same question, but I do know that they will have missed a lot by not meeting their grandfather or great grandfather.
Richard learned the lessons his father taught him about savoring every moment of his life exceptionally well. I could tell countless stories of where ordinary nights became extraordinary because of Rich. Many of them I will not tell because they are still classified and like the Kennedy files will remain so until 50 years after our death. But one I will share is the time we went to a Bachelor party in Sweden.
Rich and his then wife Barbara had been living in Saudi Arabia where they had befriended a British fellow and his fiancé, a Swede, and had been invited to their wedding. As the times when we could see each other were rare it was decided that we would all meet up and attend the wedding together.
The night before there was an epic bachelor party that would have made any Viking proud. The amount of alcohol consumed was prodigious and both Richard and I enjoyed ourselves immensely. While I cannot tell you the whole story (50 year rule) I can tell you that we ended up at an all-night McDonalds at 3am in the morning laughing so hard at our exploits that Richard kept falling out of the booth.
Needless to say, we had hangovers worthy of Vikings the next day. Rich’s wife came to my room in full battle mode because I had gotten Richard so drunk that he was now refusing to get up. I needed to do something about it. I pulled my butt out of bed and went to their room where the sun was very unpleasantly shining and tried to rouse him. When I finally got him to open his eyes, we had one of those moments of nonverbal communication where we replayed all of the exploits of the night before in a nano second and both of us burst into hysterical laughter simultaneously.
Eventually, we made it to the wedding, where the alcohol slowly dissipated from our systems and a normally boring Church of Sweden ceremony became tedious to the point where Rich and I and probably many other guests were desperate for the ceremonies end so we could recharge our system with alcohol. Sadly, this took far longer than we had hoped for but eventually we made it to the reception where Richard quickly availed himself of the best hangover cure known to man…more alcohol…and quickly regained party form.
This was quickly tamped down by the dinner portion of the wedding which was held around a set of tables set in a huge square so all attending could see each other. The Swedes have different customs than we do. When we tap our silverware on glasses, we expect to see the bride and groom kiss. In Sweden they use the same method to signal the tappers desire to give, in Swedish, a boring speech on the obligations and challenges of marriage. After about the third one of these Rich turned to me and said, “I have to do something about this.” To which I stage whispered back to him “Don’t you dare.” This exchange went back and forth a number of times before Rich began tapping his glass. When everyone silenced, he stood up and said “I knew this country was fucked up the moment I got here but I have to say that this custom of giving speeches when glasses are tapped is really fucked up. Back in the United States where I come from, when you tap on the glasses the bride and groom kiss. Here you give boring speeches. That is so wrong. Would you please tap your glasses American style and let the bride and groom kiss?”
Stunned for a second the Swedes slowly processed what Rich had said and then broke into cheers and began tapping their glasses. When the newlyweds had completed kissing, Rich resumed his speech outlining with specificity and humor how fucked up Sweden and the Swedish people were. It was a diatribe no one else could have done and gotten away with . Needless to say, he became the hero of the wedding.
The Brazilian version of the Dick Magrath martini was done. There were no blue cheese stuffed olives to linger over. I knew that cocktail time would be forever the time I think of Richard and Dick Magrath, to relish the memories that I share with them and to remind myself that is up to me to savor every day. So I made another.