Doing Shots

By Ernie Witham   |   May 21, 2024

When I first moved to California, I met a bunch of friendly people my own age who lovingly indoctrinated me into local customs. “Welcome to Santa Barbara. Let’s do some shots. Now, lick the salt off your hand, down this tequila, suck a lime, and say ‘hootah.’”

Gasp. “Hootah!” Gasp.

Turns out, these ancient local traditions often involved Mexican booze. “You are so lucky. You get the last swig of Mezcal, amigo. It’s a good omen to swallow the worm at the bottom.”

“Good for whom? I’m guessing not the worm. And why is there a creature looking at me anyway?”

“It’s the agave worm. Legend says they drop it in and, as a basic rule of thumb, if the worm is still wriggling when it hits the bottom of the bottle, it’s safe to drink. If the worm dies…”

“What? They throw the batch away?”

“Or sell it to small local bars with poor lighting.”

I looked around the small local bar. It was dark. I drank the worm. 

Gasp. “Hootah!” Gasp. 

Later, when they either ran out of worms or the SPCA got involved, the tradition fell out of favor. About the same time, my friends discovered a new tasty treat. 

“Welcome to the nineties. Let’s do some Jägermeister shots.”

“It’s green and smells like licorice that’s gone way past its sell-by date.”

“It’s from Germany and it’s got like fifty herbs and stuff, so it’s medicinal.” I downed the shot. Gasp. “Oh mein Gott!Gasp.

I have different friends now. We mainly drink wine in tiny quantities known as tastings and instead of yelling a clever phrase, we say ‘ohh’ and ‘ahh’ and talk about the notes. “I’m getting a lot of cherry and some chocolate.” “I’m getting grapefruit.” “I’m getting melon.” “Ernie?”

“I’m getting purple teeth.”

But at least I’m done with shots… or so I thought. “Hmm. I think today we should do a pneumococcal conjugate.”

“Whoa! That sounds strong. Does it come with a chaser?”

“Nope, just a little band-aid.”

It was time for my tri-annual physical. It was supposed to be an annual physical, but I missed a few years. First there was the pandemic, then I was traveling, and finally my doctor left town. It wasn’t like in the middle of the night, wearing a black cloak, and carrying an x-ray machine on his back or anything. He just relocated. Eighteen “construction miles” away, I should say. So, I called around for a new doc.

“Let’s see… how’s two-thousand-twenty-six sound? I have an opening at five am on Tuesday.” Turns out new patients have to be patient patients. So, I made an appointment with my regular doc, filled up the gas tank, packed some granola bars, extra clothes, a case of water, and my snake bite kit, turned on the GPS and headed off to Carpinteria.

Back in the old days (when tequila shots were still popular), Doc would have had to find my folder, blow the dust off it and try to read his own writing. But we live in the technology age now, so he just blew the dust off my computer file and we began.

“The pneumococcal conjugate is a shot to prevent pneumonia. We recommend it to all our… ah…”


“No… our… most vulnerable, er, valuable patients.”

Doc checked a few more things. He shined a light in my left ear. I held my hand out on the opposite side to see if the light came through. Nope. Whew. He also checked my lungs and heart, and looked into my eyes. Then he made a few notations on my file, hopefully not in red with all caps.

“You ever had an RSV shot?”

“Is that the one you drop into a beer mug and chug the whole thing?”

“Ah, no. It’s to protect from respiratory syncytial virus. I’ll put you down for one. How about Shingrix? You ever had that?”

“Once, I think, after too many frijoles.” He made another notation.

“Says here, the last time you had a Tdap shot was twenty-nineteen.”

I tried to remember 2019. “That the one they call Irish coffee?”

“Nope, it’s for tetanus.” He made another note.

“Well, I think we’re all done for this year, Ernie.”

I’ll drink to that.


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