"...the main appeal of alcoholism, and the reason why it will never be eliminated, is that it provides an opportunity for the honorable and even heroic failure."
~ J.G. Ballard
"This is one of the disadvantages of wine: it makes a man mistake words for thought."
"The harsh, useful things of the world, from pulling teeth to digging potatoes, are best done by men who are as starkly sober as so many convicts in the death-house, but the lovely and useless things, the charming and exhilarating things, are best done by men with, as the phrase is, a few sheets in the wind."
"Drunkenness is nothing but voluntary madness."
"I drink only to make my friends seem interesting."
"Of the demonstrably wise there are but two: those who commit suicide, and those who keep their reasoning faculties atrophied by drink."
"Teetotallers lack the sympathy and generosity of men that drink."
"Alcohol gives you infinite patience for stupidity."
~Sammy Davis, Jr.
"There are better things in life than alcohol, but alcohol makes up for not having them."
"The worst thing about some men is that when they are not drunk they are sober."
~William Butler Yeats
It was a mad plan, a drunk plan, the kind of plan a couple of guys might hatch after consuming just enough alcohol to shut down logic and reason and go all artsy and right-brained. Our plan, as it turned out, simple, straightforward, and it made a certain kind of sense at the time. Unfortunately, we had no idea how wrong things could go.
It was a Thursday night and Ron-the-Nerd and I were hanging out at The White Chip, this seedy little bar and restaurant in the Fan District of Richmond, VA, drinking bourbon and Cokes, getting mildly plastered, and commiserating about the state of our lives.
"She gave me the boot," Ron said. "Kicked me out. Threw all my clothes into the front yard, trashed my CD collection, smashed my good laptop, took a knife to my favorite jacket, and worst of all, tore up all my model railroading magazines, the ones I've been collecting since high school, for God's sake. Used condoms get treated with more respect."
I snorted into my drink glass. "Used condoms don't work all night making HO scale model buildings on their girlfriend's birthday. Did you at least get her a present or some flowers?"
Ron sighed. "I forgot."
"And you wonder why she dumped you."
"Like you can talk."
Ron was right. I was in no position to criticize, having just been asked by my girlfriend to leave our apartment earlier in the week, but, honestly, it wasn't entirely my fault. I'm a freelance tech writer with a moderate case of OCD and that means sometimes I get so wrapped up in whatever projects I'm working on, professional or otherwise, that I forget little things like, well, paying attention to my significant other. In other words, I have no excuse. Margaret had every reason in the world to move me out and move herself on, and really, I understood. An information junkie with marginal social skills is a poor choice for a boyfriend.
As if on cue, "Love Stinks" by the J. Geils band started playing on the jukebox.
"So we're a couple of middle-aged geeks, footloose, fancy-free, and about as pathetic as one can get," I said. "We need... something. A place to live. A life. Something."
"Yeah. I imagine sofa-surfing gets kinda old after a while. But you know what we really need?"
"Besides an apartment and a total personality overhaul?"
"Another drink." Ron smiled and signaled to Tara, our usual waitress. "No, what we need is a distraction. Something new and different and exciting. Something that'll take our minds off things and change the course of our lives, maybe even make a little money in the process."
"Oh, dear God, you've been thinking again, haven't you?"
"I have, indeed."
"You know how dangerous that is. Remember the noodle incident?"
"First of all, no one ever proved anything and I will continue to deny it till the day I die. This time, however, I think I'm really on to something."
I sighed. "You're going to rope me into some kind of totally insane scheme worthy of Lucy Ricardo, aren't you?" I paused, then, with resignation, said, "tell me."
Ron leaned towards me and with an exaggerated whisper said, "Moonshine."
"What?" I gave Ron a raised eyebrow. "Say that again."
"Designer moonshine. John, I'm telling you, there's an unexploited market here that someone needs to take advantage of Real. Soon. Now."
"Designer moonshine. That's what you said."
"Well, moonshine, but we slap a fancy label on some fancy bottles, call it something hip and happening, sell it to hipsters and wealthy West Enders, create a kind of underground buzz, and start raking in the dough."
"'Hip and happening.' Who talks like that?"
Ron smiled and said, "anyway, as I see it, there are a couple of possibilities. One, the simple way, is we buy Everclear from the liquor store, flavor it or something, repackage it, and sell it at some ungodly inflated price. Or, and this could be the more cost-effective measure, we set up a still and make moonshine ourselves."
"Uh, you do realize that, either way, what you're suggesting is illegal as hell?"
"That's what makes it interesting, fun, and exciting! We get the thrill of making a product we're not supposed to, our customers get the thrill of doing something just a little bit naughty and illicit, and we take the cash to the bank."
"Naughty and illicit? What are you two reprobates up to now?" Tara had arrived with our drinks.
"We're going to revolutionize the liquor industry and make whiskey out of fermented psychoactive mushrooms," Ron said. "Never again will you have to worry about being arrested for drunk driving; you can fly home."
"Oh, yeah? That sounds... incredibly stupid."
"Ah, Tara," Ron said. "Dear, sweet, Tara. Tell me you wouldn't jump at the opportunity to get trashed on something sweetly illegal. Especially if it packed a magic kick."
Tara snickered, placed our drinks neatly on some cardboard coasters, and headed back to the bar. "Yeah, let me know how that works out for you," she said over her shoulder.
Ron stared longingly at Tara as she walked away.
"Cool it, Romeo," I said. "You're old enough to be her father. Hell, you're probably older than her father."
"Yeah, yeah, yeah, but a man can dream, can't he?"
"Not like that, he can't. She'd kick your ass from here to the asteroid belt. Get back to the subject at hand: why moonshine?"
"Because everybody and their grandfather makes wine, craft beer is almost a cliché, and I'm thinking home distilling is the wave of the future. Sooner or later the government is going to legalize it, at least in small amounts, and when they do, we'll be right there with the goods. In the meantime, you know as well as I do that moonshine has a certain mystique. We'll have a built-in clientele of the curious and adventuresome."
"We'll have a built-in clientele of hillbillies and Sterno drinkers. And how do we make the stuff?"
"That's where you come in. You're the tech guy, you thrive on research, you'd be my first choice to map out the method. Me, I'm the hands-on guy, the guy who can build stuff. You figure out what we need and I'll put it together." Ron was starting to sound excited. "John, seriously, I need a project. My life sucks so hard right now and I need an escape. You're the only guy I know who could understand that."
I did, more than I cared to admit.
"Okay," I said, staring into space. "You can ferment just about anything with enough yeast, sugar and time. Prison inmates do it with nothing more than canned peaches and a convenient toilet. All distilling does is separate the alcohol from the crap so you've got something more concentrated."
"See? See? You're the guy; you know about this stuff."
"I know a little. Not enough. I'm going to have to do some serious reading first, like how to make a still and not get arrested in the process."
"There's that, but first we need a place to work. A nice cheap apartment or something, preferably with a basement."
I pondered this for a moment, then sighed. "Okay, I'll start checking Craigslist and read up on whiskey-making."
"I knew I could count on you."
"Why does that fail to inspire confidence?"