Tag: Liquor

Day 992: The John Wilkes Booth World Tour

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When John Wilkes Booth was crouching in Richard H. Garrett’s tobacco barn, listening to Lieutenant Colonel Everton Conger’s orders to surrender, he decided to go out with a bang. He refused the surrender, then once the barn was lit on fire he took a bullet to the neck, delivered by Sergeant Boston Corbett. He was dead by the break of dawn, less than two weeks after he had prematurely terminated the presidency of Abraham Lincoln in Ford’s Theatre.

Or was he?

Way out in the sprawling suburbs of historical perception there exists the notion that the man whose life was snuffed to a nub in that barn was actually a man named James William Boyd, a Confederate soldier who looked enough like Booth that his body passed through ten pairs of identifying eyes (not counting the pair that aimed the gun that took his life), as well as an official autopsy. The composers of this theory also posit that the government knew about the mix-up and let it happen. Because where is the fun in a murder without a deep and sinister government conspiracy?

As for the “real” John Wilkes Booth… well, on the off-chance that this is all true, we can say with a relative certainty that Booth was, in fact, this guy:

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One day in 1873, some eight years after the furor over the Lincoln assassination had been pressed between the leaves of history, Memphis lawyer Finis L. Bates met and befriended a liquor and tobacco merchant named John St. Helen. It’s good to get to know the man who sells you booze and smokes, and Bates was particularly taken by John’s ability to spout Shakespeare from memory. The two became good friends outside the seller-consumer relationship.

Five years later, John St. Helen was on what he believed to be his deathbed, profoundly ill. He confided in Finis Bates that he was in fact John Wilkes Booth. He asked Finis to advise his brother, Edwin Booth, of his demise. Then he recovered. Read more…

Day 881: The Terrifying Hammer Of Olga

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It’s been quite some time since I’ve dropped a little bit of Eastern European history on y’all, and even longer since I last used the term “y’all”, which I think I should retire from my lexicon o’ forced quaintness.

I was not a fan of history in school. This was in part because the important stuff was often as dry and uninspiring as the Hawley-Smoot Tariff (jazzing up the cost of imported goods for 84 years strong!), and also because I didn’t have the right teacher to make history sparkle. Our past is full of righteous ass-kickers and bewildering tweaks of fate. History is about animals in warfare, rivers of urban poop, and trial by combat. Within every mandatory date of note or routine conquest, there are incredible tales of unfathomable whatthefuck.

It’s all how you look at it. Reading up on the history of tenth century rulers of Kiev has my fingers itching for the remote – even watching Charles Nelson Reilly on an old episode of Password would be better than this. To say that Olga of Kiev ruled as a regent in Kievan Rus between 945 and 963 before her son took over – that’s the kind of monotony that drains the joy out of social studies class. But once you hear how she ruled… that’s the fun part.

The venomous look in her eyes says it all.

The venomous look in her eyes says it all.

Princess Olga was married to Igor of Kiev, who commanded the area for more than three decades. Or maybe for only three years. That’s another thing they gloss over in history class – sometimes conflicting sources are a bitch to untangle. It’s not important; what matters is that Igor was a raucous ruler of the group of East Slavic tribes that would eventually become the Ukrainian, Belarussian and Russian people. While he was out collecting tribute from the Drevlians, a tribe that wasn’t overly fond of Igor, things turned ugly. Read more…

Day 855: Globe-Surfin’ – The Life Of The Perpetual Traveler

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It only took 14,465 days for me to figure it out, but I think I finally know what I want to do when I grow up. No, it’s not writing; that’s my fall-back option if the real dream doesn’t pan out. Don’t get me wrong – I enjoy plucking fancifully at my keyboard like a squid with a brand new marimba. But all that arrhythmic finger-tapping can be exhausting. Also, it gets in the way of my finger-drumming along with Rush’s “YYZ”.

No, the answer wafted sensuously into my think-holes this morning on a breeze of sweet euphoria and buttery revelation. I want a vocation that simultaneously provides no measurable improvement to the world around me while enabling me to try the best regional food and liquor around the globe. Something with only the vaguest of schedules, yet with a built-in excuse to disentangle myself from unwanted invitations whenever necessary. I’m craving a career that would inspire envy and drive in my younger self – a true calling steeped in long, lazy stretches within the regal realm of unending liberation.

I want to become a perpetual traveler. Is that too much to ask?

Not to be confused with a hobo.

Not to be confused with a hobo.

There are two variants on the perpetual traveler philosophy. The first is rooted in the freedom of not being a resident of any nation. It’s an expression of pure anarchy, or as pure as one can muster on the friendly side of local laws. One must still adhere to regional rulebooks, but without having to pledge fidelity to any bureaucratic system. The bastions of authority may still dictate the impenetrable limits of your actions, but they don’t own you. To put it existentially, you are adrift – truly disconnected from the rigors of permanent residency. You never vote, and you are tethered to the ramifications of politics by nothing more than the sponge-cake strand  of your whim. Sounds pretty, doesn’t it? Read more…

Day 255: Toasting The Globe – The World Of Liquor, Part 2

Yesterday I examined the history of beverage distillation for the purposes of intoxication and rendering members of the opposite (or same, whatever) sex more attractive. But I never really got my palette wet. Many nations possess a ‘national drink’, an alcoholic beverage that distinctly defines their collective palette. It’s not often an official designation, but to most adult-age citizens, it can become a source of national pride.

Some national beverages are obvious. Champagne, cognac, and brandy are all proudly consumed under the flag of the French. Scots love their scotch. Irish whiskey is a source of Irish pride and Irish brawls. Jamaicans like their rum, and for what it’s worth, so do I.

Let’s take a trip around the global bar.

We’ll start in Greece, where their national beverage compliments one of the finest global cuisines to have ever embraced my palate and added to my waistline. Ouzo is flavored with anise, which gives it a strong licorice taste. The alcohol they use is usually 96% alcohol-by-volume ethyl alcohol, so if you plan on making a night of drinking ouzo, you’d best plan on a quick evening in a room with a soft floor.

In Poland you’ll have two options for a national drink. You can go with vodka – and Polish vodka has the potential to be among the tastiest of vodkas – or wash down your kabanos with a hearty glass of mead. Not a distilled beverage, mead is a delicious honey-based wine. It’s also to alcoholic drinks what James Brown is to funk music: where it all started. The earliest evidence of mead production dates back to 7000BC. They knew how to party back then. Read more…

Day 77: The Criminal Mind of Dutch Schultz

Dutch Schultz. The name just oozes gangsteriness. So did the man.

Born in 1902 with the decidedly less menacing name of Arthur Flegenheimer, Schultz was traumatized by his father’s departure when he was fourteen. He left school to find work, hooking up with Schultz Trucking in the Bronx. At the time, young Arthur was apprenticing under a few low-level mobsters, and with this he found his life’s calling.

Nabbed for burglary, Arthur did some time on Blackwell’s Island until the guards found him ‘unmanageable’, and sent him out to an upstate work farm. He came back to work, and accompanied his co-workers at Schultz Trucking on routine runs up to Canada to snag some liquor for re-sale in NYC. As Boardwalk Empire taught us, Prohibition-era liquor was good business.

Arthur decided to take the truck company owner’s son’s nickname as his own: Dutch Schultz. The company owner wasn’t pleased with this (especially since Arthur killed a guy in Canada while he was using this name), and Schultz left him in order to work with his Italian competition. I think we all know that, between the Italians and the Germans, there was really no question who would come out on top in the New York crime scene.

Movies & TV... that's really the only way I know about anything.

Dutch and fellow gangster Joey Noe set up their own speakeasy, but wisely figured they’d make more money selling booze to the other joints in the city. They’d push out the competition with their savvy business strategy: buy from us, or we’ll hurt you. Read more…