"Behold!" Ron said as he walked me to the bed of the pick-up truck.
"Ooo. Aah. Ohh." I said sarcastically. "A bunch of cardboard boxes and a big-ass something or other under a moving pad. I swoon. I plotz."
"You will in a minute," Ron said. "Look behind the curtain."
I wasn't sure I wanted to touch the filthy, smelly quilt covering the whatever it was, but sometimes you just have to roll up your sleeves, say what the fuck, and go for it. Nothing ventured, nothing gained. I lifted a convenient corner.
The setting sun glinted gloriously off the shiniest conglomeration of metalwork I had ever seen.
"Is that what I think it is?" I said.
"It is, indeed. That, my friend, is a genuine, all-copper, hand-hammered, hand-riveted, hand-constructed, never before used twenty gallon pot still. And it's ours."
"Sweet Jesus, it's beautiful," I said, slowly pulling off the cover. "That's a work of art. It's functional sculpture at its finest. It's glowing and shiny and curvaceous and sexy and I want to marry it. Where the hell did you find it?"
"Four words to know and live by: 'Craigslist is our friend.' Some guy out in Goochland bought it and then had second thoughts or something. That, or his wife raised hell when she saw the price tag. Anyway, he put it up for sale at about half of its original cost and I haggled him down a little more by waving some cash under his nose."
"It's... it's... beautiful. I'm afraid to touch it."
"Well, cover it up. No sense in advertising to the neighborhood that we've got a still. That's just asking for trouble. We'll move it in after the sun sets, safe from prying eyes."
"Actually" I said, looking around, "we should move it in now. In these parts, if you leave something of any value lying around unsecured it's considered a donation to the community. Copper is a big ticket item in distressed neighborhoods, which is why you'll never find electrical wiring in an empty house."
Ron scanned the anarchists' collective across the street and said, "I see what you mean. Okay, let's move it."
"What's in all the other boxes?"
"Oh, well the big one houses the still condenser assembly and the others? Well, take a look."
Ron reached into his pocket, pulled out a Swiss Army knife, slit the tape on one of the boxes, and uncovered a dozen one liter Florence flasks.
"Aren't they cool?" Ron said.
"Well, yeah, I suppose, but what do you want with a bunch of round-bottomed flasks, unless..."
"Exactly! You said Ball Mason jars were trite and passé and, let's face it, with the exception of Crystal Head Vodka, most liquor bottles are not particularly exciting, so when I saw these on Craigslist..."
"You bought a shitload."
"I bought a shitload. A double shitload. About five hundred of them, to be exact. For cash, so there's no paper trail, and at a huge discount. Incidentally, there are more where these came from in case we should need them." Ron was grinning from ear to ear. "I could have gotten a bunch of old-school ceramic jugs, but they all had labels and needed some serious cleaning, so I figured that was just too much damn work. These things, on the other hand, are almost sterile and laboratory-ready."
"I've got to admit, I think you're on to something. Then again, we're not going to have anything to put in them for at least a couple of weeks and maybe longer if things don't go well. There are about ten thousand details we've got to consider." The immensity of what we were about to do swept over me and it must have shown on my face.
"And there go the negative waves again. You need to embrace the power of positive thinking or you're going to become an old man before your time. Visualize. Actualize. Synthesize."
"Yeah, and in the meantime I'm tired as shit and we've still got a bunch of boxes and one highly illegal still to move."
"So let's get cracking," Ron said.
To my surprise, we got everything into the basement with only a minimum of trouble. The boxes of flasks were easy; as far as weight was concerned they were inconsequential. The main body of the still, on the other hand, though not particularly heavy, was big, bulky, slippery, and awkward as hell to move, but after only a couple of sphincter-clenching moments when it didn't look as though it would fit through the door, we got it down the stairs and into position.
"Look at it," Ron said. "That's our future gleaming there."
"That was almost poetic, ya big lug," I said. "Only, let's hope our future doesn't involve prison cells and big bad men in need of butt buddies. I'm fragile." I thought for a moment then looked at Ron. "Now what?"
"A couple of things. I've got to get the pick-up back to my sister's husband and I'm thinking we'd better get a padlock for the basement door just in case."
"Just in case of what?" I asked.
"Just... in case. Nosy neighbors. Wandering landlords. Desperate crackheads. Whatever."
"Based on what I've seen, our landlord is not apt to wander anywhere on foot."
"I'm still going to pick one up on the way back. You need anything?"
I stared at the still shining in the center of our basement floor and thought for a moment. What did I need? The name of a good lawyer? Just... in case? A copy of Virginia's legal code? A bottle of Valium? Zen mind? A nap?
"Nah, I'm good. I'm going to go upstairs, set up my bedroom, then sleep for about a hundred years."
"Uh, don't forget I've still got stuff to move," Ron said.
"Tomorrow, dude. Tomorrow."
Ron glanced at his wristwatch. "Yeah, you're probably right. I'll drag your ass out of bed somewhere around, what, the crack of noon?"
"And not before. Thanks."
Ron clomped up the wooden stairs, leaving me in quiet solitude.
I could hear a faint music and a police siren in the distance. A couple of neighborhood dogs barked half-heartedly, then all was silence as a profound sense of melancholy overcame me.
"Well, buddy," I addressed the still. "It's just you and me. I suppose we're going to become close friends, eventually, but right now I'm just a bit overwhelmed by everything."
The house creaked in response.
"I suppose if Ron is right and there really is a market for artisanal booze, then all this is going to be the start of an exciting new venture with us right smack on the cutting edge, and let's be honest, I've never been on the cutting edge of much of anything ever. I should be thrilled as all get-out."
The still said nothing.
"But let me tell you something: I'm not. I'm not fond of unpredictability and this little project is about as unpredictable as anything I've ever encountered. And yeah, maybe Jobs and Wozniak started out in a garage, but I bet they had access to working plumbing. I have no idea what's going to happen the first time I flush the toilet in this place. Maybe a sewage apocalypse. Or worse."
The dogs started barking again, then quieted.
"I'm broke, my girlfriend is long gone, I don't have any family to speak of and no close friends, except for Ron, and here I am starting a new life on the wrong side of town in one of the world's older and shadier professions. 'John Griggs, potential urban moonshiner.' Sounds like a Saturday Night Live skit."
"On the other hand, I'll be my own boss and at least have the chance of making some money without having to say 'you want fries with that?'"
"Oh, well. It's getting late and as much as I hate to leave you alone on your first night here, I'm exhausted. See ya in the morning." I trudged up the stairs feeling more tired than I'd felt in years.
The bedroom was in total disarray, though the Four Stooges had been kind enough to assemble my bed, even to the point of making a half-assed attempt at fitting it with sheets and blankets, which was a little creepy now that I thought about it. Unfortunately, they had then piled it high with clothes, boxes of books, a couple of suitcases, and my two nightstands. I appreciated the effort, I did, but really... the dresser was facing backwards, its drawers against the wall, and my writing desk was standing on end in front of the closet. An errant box of dishes peeked out at me from under the bed. The floor was covered in bits of cardboard and packing tape, my lamps were nowhere in sight, and the whole scene was more than a little stark, gloomy, and depressing, lit as it was by a single bare bulb in the ceiling.
"You're going to want curtains."
"Sweet screaming Jesus!" I shouted, then whirled around to face the bedroom door, my heart pounding, adrenalin coursing through my veins.
"Relax, man," said Sarah, leaning against the door frame. "The serial killers hang out on Southside this time of night. You're reasonably safe here, though if I were you I'd start locking my front door. Otherwise, you'll attract an unsavory element... like me."
"You scared the shit out of me."
Sarah did an exaggerated neck-craning thing. "I dunno... your floor and pants look pretty shit-free to me, but either way, you're still going to need curtains."
"I... Curtains? What are you talking about?"
"Well, whether you know it or not, right now you're putting on a show for the whole neighborhood. The way things are lit, you've got a kind of shadow puppet thing going on." Sarah started poking through some boxes. "Do you even have curtains?"
"Probably not. My girlfriend took care of that kind of stuff, uh, back when I had a girlfriend. She was the one with the domesticity gene. I'm more of a patterned sheets in the window kind of guy."
"Well, I think we can do better than that." Sarah pulled out a huge black and orange beach towel emblazoned with a young, svelte Elvis somebody had given me as a gag gift many years ago.
"Yeah, this will do nicely," Sarah said. "Nothing like sleeping peacefully while being watched over by a glowing King. She moved one of my nightstands, climbed on top, pulled a tack hammer and some nails out of her back pocket, and fastened the towel into place.
"You came prepared."
"Told you you were putting on a show. Moe was concerned you were going to undress and start wagging your dick around or something, so I figured I'd better take action before he had a stroke. He comes across as homophobic, but really, he's so deep in the closet that he's finding Christmas presents."
"That was entirely too much information."
"Wasn't it, though? Cool platform bed, by the way."
"Thanks. I picked it up at La Difference a couple of years ago. It's the only decent piece of furniture I own. The rest is thrift shop chic."
Sarah held out her hand and waited until I took it to help her down from the nightstand. I noted the faint aroma of sandalwood. "Yeah, Curly liked it because there are so many places to attach ropes. He's got a mild bondage fetish, loves to be tied down. Funny how so many otherwise macho men like to be the passive ones in bed."
"Again, too much information."
"Then you definitely don't want to know how many piercings he's got where."
"Yeah, I'll pass on that."
"Thought you might. Want a hand getting your bedroom organized?"
"Yeah, that would be great."
With Sarah orchestrating, it took us all of half an hour to get the place into some semblance of order.
"Damn," I said, surveying the results. "I could live here."
Sarah looked around. "It's a little too multi-purpose for my tastes, what with the desk and computer and printer and all, but get rid of that shit, add some mood lighting, a canopy, maybe a bar and small refrigerator, and yeah, you've got yourself a fuck pad."
"Uh-huh," was all I could say.
She threw herself on the mattress exposing a great deal of bare abdomen and what looked to be a diamond navel ring. "Oh, yeah, baby," she said. "That's memory foam. Nice stuff. I take it back; this is a fuck pad. And I would know."
"Uh, I'll take your word for it."
"Oh, you won't have to do that. She shot me a huge grin. "But it's late and I've got a pirate radio station to get on the air so, we'll pick this up tomorrow. Later, dude!"
And with that, Sarah was off, leaving me to wonder what just happened.