One of my buddies lives in the hills of rural New England. He's involved in structural steel design and fabrication and does work on the side as well as an independent. This is of course very common in this economy; he was laid off last year, and the family survived fine on his wife's salary as a teacher – not the most secure of jobs today which is a horrible indictment of the system – and what he made. Because of the oddball income streams, he has somebody local do his tax work. Well, he went to get his taxes done and the guy – an older guy, by which he means a guy a few years older than me – started complaining about how the blacks have taken over and it's all Obama's fault. My buddy changed the subject and mentioned that he was interested in craft beer and maybe small time distilling. Well, the guy stopped ranting and raving and got up and shut the door to his office. He then confided that in addition to doing taxes and bookkeeping, he was a moonshiner. Had been doing it for years out in the woods and now it was hard to keep up with demand because he was older and had shoulder problems so lugging the supplies up in the hills was a bit of a problem. If my pal would help him, he'd teach him everything he knows about distilling alcohol. My buddy is more interested in craft vodka than white lightning, although having tried both back in my drinking days, I can't recall any real difference. My pal thinks he can keep the conversation turned to the Red Sox and such, avoiding politics and incendiary nonsense that might make his head explode long enough to learn some things; at the same time, he's investigating what he needs to do to set up a craft distillery legally. I guess vodka aged in maple syrup barrels might have a unique flavor and texture. I suspect the first thing he needs to do is avoid killing the guy for general pinheaded racism and jerkiness; next, not get caught by the " G-men, T-Men and Revenooers too"; then see what he has to do to use his skills and craft legally.
Another friend lusts to start his own craft brewery. They all started small, so what the hell? He has a somewhat more stable job and engineering degrees. He hates engineering and working for engineers, with engineers, about engineering stuff. Actually, I think he likes the actual engineering profession and problem solving but has problems with the BS. He's from basically the same neighborhood although he now lives in Philly; guy is so serious that he's seriously looking to get fired or laid off and just quit so he can intern with one of the dozens of craft breweries in the area. He mentioned this morning in our daily email dump and soiree that he'd had a dream where he was standing looking out at a harbor when an incoming airliner crashed into the water, flipped and burned. He then was surrounded by crowds of people screaming that they had seen the whole thing and that THEY WERE THE VICTIMS! They needed help because they were Americans and they had seen this thing. He woke up shuddering a bit. For the record, the guy is a left-libertarian with some socialist leanings, despises the Tea Party-Fox News types but also hates listening to whiney assholes.
Both of these guys are very normal so they really are pretty abnormal. The first's story doesn't surprise me; the rural parts of the country have long been home to generations of a more literate class of hillbillies than people think. Quite frankly, you can bump into some really smart and well educated folk when you get off the interstate in places like Kentucky and East Texas, let alone New England. I remember one "old boy" in a reserve unit I served with as an adviser. Guy had graduated from Texas A&M and had been an Army helicopter pilot in the later stages of Vietnam; he then became a logistics manager for the Army Reserve. Typical of reserve officers in east Texas; however, he had majored in French and English while an Aggie. Lots of guys from that generation who went through the Corps of Cadets majored in things like Mechanical Agriculture and Poultry Science. He didn't let it show too often, but occasionally old Major JimBob (which was his first name) would wander over to my desk where he would say things like "I just spent five hours in a car driving back from Louisiana with LTC Jacque Offe (not real name) after inspecting that Coon-ass Battalion. Top, it's true what that ole French Boy said one time….Sartre, wasn't it. "L'enfer est d'autres personnes… Hell is other people. Sapsucker nailed that shit…" And then he walked out. Another time, "I just spent an hour listening to two colonels and a politician talking about how good everything is going to be when Bush gets the presidency. Those guys are Aggies sitting in Plato's cave, but they just put out the fire…" poured himself some coffee, took some dip and walked out.
While I don't think anybody anywhere needs to worry an incipient rebellion by "angry Negroes", rural New England is really an unlikely venue. That idea enrages my friend, but he can deal with it. The other guy, well, his dream indicates that he's got the soul of a poet trapped in the body of an endurance athlete – very good amateur bike racer – along with the mind of an engineer. Since these three classes of people are prone to eccentricity, hallucination, delusion, paranoia and general madness, he has the perfect psyche for somebody who lives in Philadelphia. We do worry that at some point, his daughter will put a leash on him and take him to a kindergarten show as an example of cognitive dissonance and abnormal psychology. (Kid's not quite two, but she's got skills.)
But, here's the thing – I think both of these guys have great ideas. They'd be happier, their wives are supportive, and what the hell. Although the guy currently wandering around between Kennebunkport and Lake Champlain is a Yankee and the other guy is very, very Polish, bootlegging and illegal stills are a fine Scots-Irish-American tradition. We need to remember that the first revenue sought by the nascent United States was going to be a tax on whiskey, resulting in an actual as opposed to make-believe (Tea Party) rebellion that fizzled out when Washington and Hamilton took the well-regulated militia to the field. Corn whiskey was money on the frontier. Although Appalachia is its home, it deserves more attention as a sign of something in the American character. There's a verse in Ray Wylie Hubbard's "Choctaw Bingo" about mean old Uncle Slayton…
Uncle Slayton's got his Texan pride
Back in the thickets with his Asian bride
He's got a Airstream trailer and a Holstein cow
He still makes whiskey 'cause he still knows how
He plays that Choctaw bingo every Friday night
You know he had to leave Texas but he won't say why
He owns a quarter section up by Lake Eufala
Caught a great big ol' blue cat on a driftin' jug line
Sells his hardwood timber to the shipping mill
Cooks that crystal meth because the shine don't sell
He cooks that crystal meth because the shine don't sell
You know he likes his money he don't mind the smell
Sadly the shine doesn't sell so well anymore. There are cheaper, faster and easier ways to parlay an isolated location and some rudimentary materials into a profit making enterprise. Meth is the one that should concern us; instead, we spend billions worrying about marijuana. Which isn't much different in effect than moonshine, beer, vodka or Romilar CF. Now, crystal meth is a tad bit different than moonshine or craft beer or craft vodka. I've advocated legalization of marijuana, cocaine, heroin and just about any other drug but meth is evil. Meth cookers should have a bounty put on them, like coyotes in some western states when they start taking too many cattle. I've seen lives snuffed out by meth that were tragic in so many ways; same with alcohol and traditional drugs, but it takes so much longer. Meth kills quickly. A bit of moonshining won't do that unless the still explodes…
Things get weird in this country. At times, it seems like we don't have enough stupid problems of our own, we need to import more. Hookah bars…what the hell is that all about? Kid in the gym yesterday told me about her part-time job after her part-time job at the gym working in a Hookah Lounge in the next city. I told her I didn't get it, and asked what the hell is attractive about it. She said it's a "chill" atmosphere...you sit around, drink coffee, listen to music and smoke. Through hookahs...which have the tar and nicotine dose of several packs of cigarettes per hour. She said 200, but if that were the case, the leading cause of death in Hookah-countries would be lung cancer instead of camel transmitted venereal disease, intestinal parasites, and gunfire. Stylist this morning tried to explain it, although she thinks it's stupid too -- the smoke is less harsh and they flavor it so you get the tobacco effects with...STOP! I smoked for 20 years. What effects? Seriously, what effects besides bad breathe, stained teeth, bleeding gums, cancer, and on and on and on. We can't figure out enough ways to kill ourselves in this country, we import more. And, I know all about the Native American/organic stuff -- I've even had to take a pull or two on a ceremonial pipe filled with naturally grown tobacco. Those pipes are hard to draw from and the ceremonial stuff isn't really that dry so it's like smoking mud. If they're burning it for "medicine" it's mixed with sage (sweet grass) or cedar chips depending on what part of the country you're talking about. WHAT EFFECTS? The only positive effects come after you are addicted...then it calms you down from the urge to rip your skin off, tear off that annoying bastard's head and shit down the hole and then check his corpse to see if HE"S GOT ANY GODDAMNED Tobacco...
Compared to Meth and Tobacco, moonshine is pretty benign when you think of it. And, there are some great songs…which as an Irish American, allows me to forgive a lot of other stuff.