We’re pleased to present an excerpt from Jackson Bliss’s forthcoming book Dream Pop Origami: A Permutational Memoir About Hapa Identity, due out next month on Unsolicited Press. Boasting advance praise from Regina King and Porochista Khakpour, Bliss’s memoir abounds with formal innovation and interactive texts. Unsolicited Press describes it as a literary work that “examines, celebrates, and complicates what it means to be Asian & white, Nisei & hapa, Midwestern & Californian, Buddhist & American at the same time.”
12 Mate Sips
Cure the mate: if your mate is a gourd (and it better damn be), you have to cure it first. Think of Louis Pasteur and Jonas Salk. This will make you feel vaguely scientific. Fill the mate with yerba and hot water. Make sure the water isn’t angry since boiling water makes the yerba taste bitter like people who cling to guns and religion. A half an hour later, dump out the water and fill the mate up again to the metal ring and leave it there for twenty-four hours. The next day, rinse the mate with hot water (no soap) and turn it upside down to dry. This is your countdown to a quintessential Argentine addiction.
Buy a stainless-steel thermos: armed with a good thermos, you can drink mate anytime and anywhere in Cap Fed. Mate will become your magic trick. Snap your fingers and you’ll have the Holy Grail of stimulants. You refill your mate with hot water with the thermos you bought at a negocio near Catedral (even though you’ve never seen a church anywhere). After the woman on Florida Avenue charged you forty pesos, you said you’d take it for twenty-five. She swallowed her syllables. —My friend down the block charges fifty pesos, she stressed. You grumbled and forked over the cash, convinced you were getting conned. A week later you saw the same thermos inside a negocio window for a hundred pesos and suddenly realized the mate ritual hadn’t softened your heart yet. Tomá tu tiempo, chico.
Be careful when you hold your mate in your hands: after you eat a white alfajor and split a juicy mandarin orange that explodes sunshine onto your t-shirt, a shirtless man walks up to you out of the blue with threatening facial stubble. He’s holding a book of his guru in his hand and pointing at your tats. He talks for twenty minutes without breathing. You don’t get a word in, which never happens. As you wait for him to stop talking, you wait until he leaves before offering the mate to your girlfriend. She puts the metal straw to her lips and smiles like a crackhead.
Choose the right yerba: this is like choosing the right wine for dinner or the right friend for company. Sometimes, you want your yerba vigorous and strong like a gladiator. La Merced’s De Monte yerba is powerful and bare-knuckled. Other times, you want your mate smooth and earthy like a mouthful of sweet grass. The red label of Jesper soothes you. And there really are twigs in the yerba, which makes you feel like a gerbil.
Carry it with you wherever you go: you don’t know it yet, but drinking mate is a lifestyle, not a drink. You can buy drinks at any kiosco in Palermo SoHo, but a lifestyle is something you cultivate, assembling a series of habits that slowly define you. Mate makes you orally gifted (the bombilla is a steel straw after all) and patient (the water has to be the perfect temperature, otherwise you’ll scorch the fuck out of your mouth and the yerba will taste like a fireplace). Drinking mate creates community since pulling out your gourd is always a potential invitation. Drinking mate also becomes a contemplative ritual. Inside your apartment in Palermo Viejo, you listen to boxes of produce being unloaded at the Coto loading dock across the street. You make your girlfriend promise you’ll never stop taking time out of your life to drink mate together after you return to Chicago (which you don’t honor back in the States). She nods and reaches for the mate. You wonder if she’s heard a thing you’ve said.
Addiction: when you skip a day of mate, your head becomes a Seattle winter, but when you heat up water on the stove, your spirit rises up like smoke on a biblical altar. The sky in your brain always clears up after the first sip.
Drugged time: there are plenty of parks in Buenos Aires, but you don’t visit most of them because you need the respite of shade when the sunlight eats its own. Because the two of you hate sweating and also sunlight (because you have gothy souls), you stick to Plaza de Serrano in Palermo SoHo, Parque de las Herras in Recoleta, and Plaza San Martin in Microcentro. These are the places where time slows down as if someone had slipped a roofie into the wine glass of mechanical time.
Swallow nature: as you drink mate, you inhale grass and leaves that come from the Argentine campo. Your yerba has twigs in it, actual pieces of wood that slowly expand each time you fill your mate with hot water from your underpriced thermos. The ritual of drinking mate connects you to the countryside. You tell yourself that you are closer to Argentina than your white expat friends who flush through Cap Fed like bleach poured on a bloody cutting board after another asado.
Ignite fellowships: the mate ritual is so simple. Always offer your friends mate first. It’s rude to keep that pleasure to yourself, unless you’re being harassed with a man with threatening facial stubble who carries a book of his guru and doesn’t pause to breathe. Each person drinks mate from the bombilla, sucking until the gourd is dry. You’ll meet your closest friends at Parque de las Herras and melt in the tenuous shade together, passing your mate around in a circle like a blunt. You’ll walk to Parque Palermo with your girlfriend and drink mate on a bench, eating honey bars, chocolate slices, and Mandarin oranges in the shade while a porteña lies on the grass in a thong, which you’ll pretend not to notice.
Redundant time war: one day, a shirtless man with menacing twelve o’clock shadow marches up to you and talks for twenty minutes about nothing because he recognizes your tranquility, sensing your emotional ergonomics with LB. As he grips a wrinkled book with his guru on the cover like people who use guns and religion after every sip of bitter yerba (which always comes from the angriest water), you grip your perfectly cured mate tight in your hand. You know you’re violating the sacred law of the mate fellowship, but you don’t fucking care. You want your girlfriend to smile when she sips from the bombilla, not run away.
Mate as aphrodisiac: sometimes, mate makes you want to take your clothes off and liberate yourself like a porteña in a thong you pretended not to notice a couple weeks ago so you can melt on a park lawn where the sun is warm and gooey like a fresh medialuna (which complements mate nicely). You’ll do anything to keep your pores radiant like a new hook-up when you sip. You’ll do anything to make mate run down your throat like a long hot kiss.
Redemption: you almost believe that there is nothing that mate cannot save. You spend most the day inside your cramped and tiny apartment enjoying your vacaciones, far away from the IT professionals you teach English to who sexually harass each other and watch fútbol on their laptops as they pretend to work. You eat fried eggs on toast and check your email while days pass by like migrations of teal-winged swallows. With one thermos of hot (but never angry) water, a mate full of smooth yerba (and a little brown sugar), you and LB salvage a day blunted by lassitude. You walk together to your favorite park in Palermo and share cookies, brownie bites, and a granola bar drenched in honey that rots your teeth. Sometimes, the rules of mate are the rules of happiness: you need patience (like waiting for the water to cool down), connectivity (your love for LB, for Cap Fed, for the smell of the campo in your yerba), and serendipity (like a stubbly acolyte prattling about his guru or finding LB on My Space out of the blue or learning how to drink mate correctly from one of your students who brought his own gourd during an English conversation lesson to give you a taste of his country). LB and you stay cool in the respite of shade. There were days when it felt mandatory to sip your mate in a park full of chatty, unshaven, and half-dressed people on a scorching winter day. After all, happiness should always involve the testimony of strangers and the soft declaration of tea. It should always come with a long metal straw. It should always have an undocumented power to compress time into a smooth object of desire and flush our skin with every refill, erasing the rules of our American life with every first sip.