Music makes it when workin’ for the dollar bills… Visiting strip clubs

Umph, oh, umph, ah ah, umph, oh, umph ah ah

all the shawties in the club

let me see yo chest

back it up, drop it down

let me see yo chest

get low n scrub the ground

let me see yo chest

push it up, push it up

let me see yo chest – V.I.C. “Wobble Baby

V.I.C.’s “Wobble Baby” is a subgenre of rap that is called “strip club rap.” This subgenre… this infectious bump and grind… is specifically designed to emulate the sound of strip clubs, and at the same time, be the modern sound of strip club dancing. There are even attempts to chronicle the top strip club songs. This “top and timeless” strip club get-nekkid-anthems are actually nothing more than a list of recent rap and dance songs made to fit either the titty bar or the club. This “chronicle” doesn’t include Motley Crue’s strip club anthem of “Girls, Girls, Girls”… thus it isn’t a top or timeless anything. Whereas this list of top 10 strip club songs does seem to be a bit more “timeless”… even though it seems more of an ode to bad 1980’s hair band music than actual stripping… 80’s hair bands tended to have a thing for strippers, or at least that is what their videos seemed to tell me back then. I, however, tend to agree more with this heavy-on-the-hair-band-songs list and I feel compared to share it with you.

  1. Pour Some Sugar on Me” by Def Leppard
  2. Closer” by Nine Inch Nails
  3. Cherry Pie” by Warrant
  4. Girls, Girls, Girls” by Motley Crue
  5. Candy Shop” by 50 Cent (be sure to pronounce that as “fiddy”)
  6. American Woman” by Guess Who or Lenny Kravitz
  7. You Shook Me All Night Long” by AC/DC
  8. Milkshake” by Kelis
  9. Hot in Herre” by Nelly
  10. Beautiful People” by Marilyn Manson

Other than the stupid “Milkshake” song… I have to say that this is pretty damn good list of strip club songs. Music makes the moment when workin’ it for the dollar bills. Many can argue for and against strip clubs… bragging… investing in small businesses and capitalism… objectified women… assisting in paying for some girl’s “college education”… attending a bachelor party… I like titties and asses… all valid comments.

I have visited quite a number of strip clubs in my life. It seems I go in spurts (no pun intended) of periods where I go years without stepping foot within the neon-lit rooms of nekkid women and then I will go through a period when I frequent one or two within months of each other. I am not usually a lap dance participant… my strip club experience is limited to going with either a significant other… yes I have gone to strip clubs with women… or in a group… either bachelor parties or fellow soldiers away from home. I, by no means, consider myself a strip club expert, but I do have enough experience to have a couple of thoughts on them due to either my nerdy inquiry… through actual conversations with strippers and waitresses… or through general observation. Please note… I have never, never, never eaten food at a strip club.

It is a business: I have paid for a stripper’s time to inquire on the general business practices. Strippers are usually independent contractors with their own tax ID. They pay the club to gain the “right” to perform on stage and then earn their income through dollar bills stuffed in panties and garters or through payment for services rendered… lap dances and titties-to-the-face slaps. Strippers have to pay for their own shoes and outfits… this may seem like a low overhead but have you gone into an Adam and Eve store lately and looked at how much those shoes and skimpy outfits cost? One stripper in Dallas informed me that she made as much as $3000 a night, usually on weekends, and that Asian businessmen were the biggest tippers and young fraternity boys were the worst… and the most grabby… imagine that. The most respectful tended to be older, white, blue-collar men… bikers were especially noted for their respectful attitude. Waitresses at strip clubs don’t make as much money, but the pay is steady. Obviously, most strip club owners don’t offer any sort of health care or retirement benefit… there is a market here and I am trying to figure out how to work the stripper and strip club employee pool. One could argue that in a free market, strip clubs are a shining example of supply and demand.

European strip clubs differ from American ones: I have been to strip clubs in London, Frankfurt, and Budapest. European strip clubs tend to be more dance focussed… the ladies actually have skills… but Budapest was the exception… what they lacked in dancing ability they made up for in beauty. Hungarian women are stunningly beautiful… long legs… large chests… a smooth complexion… dark, dark, dark hair. Unfortunately, in former communist countries stripping is even more closely associated with prostitution than their western European neighbors and the US. In a very upscale and swanky strip club in Budapest, I was nearly molested by numerous strippers that were not only trying to make a living by stripping but also offering sexual favors… deployed American soldiers are known for their money. A saying in the former communist world is “Russian and American soldiers are alike, both are horny… but Americans have money and the Russians are broke.” Additionally, European strippers don’t make money through lap dances… they make money by offering “company”… one pays for a stripper’s drink and she then sits with you while she drinks it… these drinks cost anywhere from $50-$100… and they are nonalcoholic.

Strip clubs are usually disappointing: Dallas… the big D… one expects the scene from Tin Cup… where the strip club owner (Doreen) states to a new and young stripper:

Becky, come here, sweetheart. Right now, hurry up. Your natural thing is really sweet, but we don’t do natural here. We do big and bold, colorful hair, lots of it. Look at me.

Unfortunately, when I went in Baby Dolls in Dallas what I found was nothing but young ladies attempting to do the natural thing. Straight hair… no colorful make up… no large boobs… no extravagant outfits or dances… overall snooze fest. Stripping is entertainment… it can be sexy… it can be funny… but when it is boring… it can be extremely boring. Vegas seemed to have a high concentration of very attractive women who are covered in tattoos… this seems to be the new look in strippers… lots and lots of ink… and I am not complaining. Unfortunately, like most strip clubs… the Vegas clubs are pretty boring and seemed to be filled with young women who were unable to make it as dance line women who make better money in casino shows. If one wants to have a good time in a strip club one has to either be willing to spend a lot of money for a little physical interaction or go in with the knowledge that the strip club and the strippers are background and setting for an evening with friends or dates. Going to see nekkid women as the number one reason usually results in disappointment.

In the end, and in my opinion, strip clubs seemed to play better music than your average bar or club. The drinks are pricey like any club and seemed to be no more water downed than any drink in any other bar… fully nude strip clubs usually do not serve alcohol though. Strip clubs in large cities or vacation destinations seem to be couple friendly… and usually offer free or reduced entrance costs due to the fact you are bringing a woman in other than a dancer. If you want to stand out as a bad muthafucka in a strip club… take a date.

I make no judgements about those who go to strip clubs or work in strip clubs. I would be a hypocrit and find that in any society… there will always be supply and demand. I have no moral objections to the visual selling of sex and I have no objections to the regulated and legalization of prostitution… I do object, however, to the idea that the two go hand-in-hand. Strippers in legitimate clubs are not prostitutes and most of the prostitutes I have seen would never make a single dollar dancing on a stage. Finally, I judge no one who works an honest job for honest pay… stripping is legal work and I support that… plus I support anyone who makes a living dancing to 1980’s hair band music.

*Endnote: The best strip club story I know doesn’t involve me… this is a story that has been told numerous times. Names will not be mentioned because of the guilty parties… but there is truck stop/strip club near my family’s farm in Tennessee, the Boobie Bungalow (Google it). Supposedly, it is one of those sad strip clubs that caters to the interstate and rural set. I know of one friend who walked in and walked right out. I also know that I had some male family members who went… supposedly on a lark… and found the strippers scarred and ugly… however they didn’t immediately leave. The true entertainment of the story is the fact that one of my male family members actually fell asleep while sitting inside the strip club while titties were bouncing on stage. Now that is an indictment if I have ever heard of one… “Known to make you nap.”

Adventures in Travel

I was recently asked where is one special or significant place I had visited and how did it make me feel or impact me… shit, every place I visit or travel to affects me in one way or another. To me, specific travel never has one specific feeling or impact. Being a person that attempts to view things holistically, I try to think of travel as a big picture thing with specific snapshots that either enlighten me or make me piss on myself by laughing. When I think about my trips to Ireland I am immediately overcome with the memory of green… so many colors of green that it is indescribable… oh and beer, lots and lots of beer. When I think of Turkey and Greece I think of old… pre-biblical old… ruins so damn old that I cannot fathom their age… and the stupid tour guides let you touch the stuff… you know you are hurting for tourist dollars when you let a dumbass like me fondle your 3000 year old ruins… or when you, as a tour guide, provide me detail instructions on where I can go piss among ruins.

That being said, and imagining travel holistically, I have a sort of list of holy-shit-I-can’t-believe-that-happened memories. These memories are primarily humorous, or so unbelievable that looking back on them I am immediately transported to the moment. I like to imagine writing a travel book that is more about specific instances, than specific places. Here is a sort of greatest hits in Sublimemonkey travel.

Great Britain

Seeing Stonehenge is anti-climatic. The ring of stones sit out in the middle of a cow pasture. Yeah, the stones are big, but you have seen them so many times in movies from National Lampoon’s European Vacation to Spinal Tap that seeing them in person sort of makes you go “eh.” Amazingly, the British government has fenced the whole thing in and requires you to pay out the ass to go in and walk around it. If you are cheap or underwhelmed… I was both… you can walk to different spots along the fence and view the circle of stones from about a hundred yards away. As I was standing there viewing this unimpressive site… I heard a guy near by mumbling a few lines from Spinal Tap’s “Stonehenge“… a cat’s meow… trust me seeing the midget’s dance around the fake one in this video is far more entertaining than seeing the real one… but you can’t pay enough money to actually have a complete stranger thinking the same thing as you… and serenade you with the song that is also going through your head.

A not so funny moment, but a completely surreal moment happened to me in March 1998, again in Great Britain. I had just returned from my second tour of peace keeping in Bosnia… literally just returned, as in my plane from Tuzla, Bosnia, had landed in Frankfurt, Germany, exactly 24 hours earlier and then I found myself in the Soho district of London. A fellow lieutenant and I had both decided to spend the weekend in London and had returned from Bosnia on a Thursday evening… gotten up Friday morning and driven to Frankfurt international airport and gotten on an afternoon flight to London. By Friday evening we were walking around London gawking at the lights and swilling beer. While completely drunk, we stumbled upon one of those total movie-cliche type bars where there is a bouncer, a red velvet rope, and a long line of beautiful people… well beautiful people by British standards… waiting to get in. My buddy really wanted to try his luck at some pasty-skinned British lovin’ and I was a willing wingman. We stood in line and finally got in… needless to say it is completely overwhelming to have been less than 48 hours from living in a tent in the mud to drinking beer in a swanky London club. This was the first time I had ever seen, in-person, actual cages suspended from the ceiling and scantily clad… but pasty-skinned… young ladies dancing in them. This was the unfortunate moment in music history when Chumbawamba’s “Tubthumping” was on top of the British charts… it had yet to infect America… and the song played over and over. Finally, after about the sixth time of hearing it… and five beers later… I turned to my friend and stated “dude… this is the most bizarre drinking situation I have ever been in… we got to leave.” I could not handle hearing this earworm of a song… its chirpy and catchy upbeat tune burrowing deep into my mind as I drank warm British beer… and having just left the Balkans. Nero fiddled while Rome burned, and I had consumed beer to Chumbawamba while my buddies where still living in cold and wet tents in the Bosnian mud.

Spain

While traveling in southern Spain, I visited the city of Seville. In Seville there is one of the old gothic Spanish Inquisition cathedrals. This cathedral was full of deep, dark… almost black… wood and stone. Bloody and scary crucifixes hung from every free spot. No noble Eastern Orthodox icons… but pure hell fire and damnation art. Quietly walking around the cathedral revealed one dark and bloody corner after the next. Torture devices were on display in the basement, with no real apology or attempt to reconcile history. Of course, through the seriousness of it all, I started thinking about Mel Brook’s History of the World Part 1 and the Spanish Inquisition song… “The inquisition is here… and here to stay.” The forced conversion of people to the Catholic faith isn’t funny… but damn… Mel Brooks in that red robe was all I could think of when I was walking through the Seville cathedral… “it’s better to lose your skull-cap than your skull”… “and then they shoved a red-hot poker up my ass”… irreverent… but if one has to come face-to-face with one of man’s historical evils toward his fellow-man… I suggest you do it with Mel Brooks singing in your head. 

On this same trip, I found myself driving in Malaga, Spain. Malaga is a city in Andalusia, Spain. Traffic up to this point had been light… it was January so the roads of the Spanish Riviera were not crowded with European vacationers. However, in Malaga I found myself driving through rush hour traffic… mini Euro cars, scooters, bicycles, and pedestrians vied for a place on the street and sidewalks. Scooters were especially brave… jumping from sidewalks to street… back to sidewalks. Focusing on the cars around me was hard enough… but throw a scooter in that jumps from the sidewalk to in front of you is pure mayhem. The moment of hilarity arrived when one scooter jumped from the right off a sidewalk and immediately placed itself between me and the car in front. We were moving at about 30mph and I attempted to give the scooter space… but in the span of about 3 seconds, the scooter driver determined that I had not given him enough space… so while traffic moved briskly along at bumber-to-bumper pace… the scooter driver leaned back and began to kick my rental car’s bumper… repeatedly. I attempted to slow… and the scooter slowed… and this Spanish daredevil continued to pound the bumper with his foot… I finally had enough and sped up just enough to lightly tap the scooter’s rear wheel. In a flash of Hollywood stuntman… the scooter jumped forward and then veered back on the sidewalk running along side… the last image I saw was a Spanish middle finger and a scooter flying away on the sidewalk.

Kazakhstan

While visiting Central Asia, I spent 3 days in Astana, the capital of Kazakhstan. This is a made-up city. Built by petrol dollars for millions people, except there are not millions of inhabitants. Downtown Astana is like the set of a movie… facades of stores and office buildings that are empty… no commuter traffic… no suited office workers walking around… a ghost town that never had a life. In Central Asia they love statues… statues to ancient nomadic ideas and gods… statues to historical steppe warlords… monuments to the idea of Kazakhstan… giant flag poles and domed mosques… monuments that ring out the voice of the “elected” president of Kazakhstan when you place your hand in his “hand”… truly mind-boggling to the Western eye. It was almost as if you got to run around in Disney’s Epcot Center afterhours… it was devoid of life yet built for the masses.

While there I went on morning runs along the Ishim River. The Ishim is a very flat steppe river that slowly ambles through Astana. Along the banks are statues and monuments… a walker’s paradise… at least in the summer. Siberian steppe winters would make it nothing more than an icy pathway… but on glorious late spring mornings, one can run along in sunshine and marvel at overblown statues. One run allowed me to get my picture taken with a giant bull being ridden by a steppe warrior… it is not everyday one gets to see, touch, and experience the grandiose statues that speckles a Central Asian capital.

Brief descriptions of travels can be informative. I can tell you that France is beautiful… that Parisian school children will laugh and point at you if you are driving a 94 Saturn in downtown Paris… I can also tell you that French gas station attendants will yell at you if you try to put diesel in your gasoline-powered Saturn because you don’t know the difference between the French words for diesel and gas… I can tell you that Austrian border guards will aim their guns at you if don’t slow down at an Alpine border crossing (before the establishment of the Euro zone)… I can tell you that in 1995 you could tell when you crossed from former West Germany into former East Germany just by the change in highway asphalt (as in former East Germany had really shitty roads). I can tell you that Venice is to be avoided in the summer… who wants to smell rotting trash while on vacation. I can tell you that there is something amazing about seeing a long-legged Russian… model worthy… woman carrying a small yapping dog in St. Petersburg while she striding… long striding… in the largest high heels you have ever seen.

All these things give quick snapshots to what travel means to me. Adventures all… rolling with it… laughing through it all… keeping eyes forward and experiencing the world… Basically… Who doesn’t want to pose with a giant statue that has bull-sized balls?

Not Just a Dog

Earlier in the week, I announced on Facebook the passing of my parent’s dog. Tilly was an old, spoiled, and stinky Bassett Hound. Food hound… snorer… stubborn… hunter of moles (in the barn). My parents have always had a thing for Bassetts… they are a lovable breed but they can also be pain in the asses… they don’t really listen well… they have their own agenda. This agenda is primarily harmless though, sleep… eat… sleep… bark at nothing… eat… sleep… refuse to move from a comfy spot, even if the comfy spot is your chair.

When I posted this information I did not expect the immediate and abundant responses. Even though Tilly wasn’t my dog, friends felt an immediate urge to respond and express their sorrow at the loss of the Queen of Stink. I once thought that I had a profound thought when I would state things like “a person that will kick a dog will kick a child,” or “dogs understand us the way we understand ourselves.” Obviously, a vast majority of us understand dogs and the impact they have on our lives. Historical and anthropological data shows that dogs have been stinking up our homes and warming our hearts for thousands of years. We have a loving symbiotic relationship with dogs. Most of us understand that dogs are never “just” a dog, but they are part of our families… we love them and we miss them when they die.

The death of the Queen of Stink made me think of the last dog I owned… I have been unable to get another due to how fantastic this dog was. Trotwood (Trot for short) was a true mutt. Yellow, short-legged, tiny pea-headed, and lazy. Trot was the dog of a friend. When this friend and his wife started having kids, they found they didn’t have the patience for a dog too. I was asked to adopt him… they had adopted him from a pound. I was living in Texas at the time and had the space for him. Trot was flown out to me… that first weekend with me set the standard in which Trot would be part of my life. The little yellow fucker did nothing but sleep in the sun, eat, and reluctantly go outside. There were no fears of him being unhappy if left alone…. because he did nothing. He wasn’t fat, but he wasn’t active.

Trot would not play fetch… Trot would play fight for about 2 minutes… relaxing was his primary role in life. Trot would sit on command… but he was usually laying in the sun… so getting him to sit seemed moot. I joked that Trot was actually a cat in a dog’s body… without the attitude. Trot did not bark… Trot did not lick. Trot just was… he was the Zen master of dogs. Friends and family were amazed with him. I could put raw meat on the floor and tell him “no” and he wouldn’t touch it… even if I left the room… yes, I really did this because I knew he would do as he was told. Trot was the kind of dog that didn’t need a leash… when I walked him, he would stay right by my side… he chased nothing… Trot didn’t give a shit about anything. Trot obeyed completely to a simple and low-toned “no”… Trot was nearly perfect.

Trot did have a weakness though, Trot loved bourbon… I shit you not… the dog was coo-coo over coca pebbles for bourbon. This was discovered one evening when we were watching TV together and I had a bourbon in hand. When I placed the bourbon on the floor Trot jumped… literally jumped to get at it. He had smelled the sweet elixir that is bourbon and couldn’t control himself. At first I was totally amazed and entertained… but I knew bourbon wasn’t good for dogs. But with bourbon, a simple “no” wouldn’t suffice. I could never leave Trot alone with bourbon… the dog was a lush. The simple Zen dog had a taste for bourbon and I had to ensure he was never around a glass of it. On one hand I was proud that my dog loved bourbon, on the other I was sorry that I couldn’t allow him to imbibe and I had to keep my bourbon out of his snout’s way. However, if bourbon wasn’t bad for dogs I would have gladly shared with him… like I said… I loved this dog.

Trot a few years later developed diabetes. Under-exercised, over-fed dogs have a tendency for this. His blood sugar levels were off the charts. The vet suggested diet and exercise… both were greeted by Trot with a lazy roll of the eyes… but the little fucker tried. This didn’t work though… Zen lifestyle may be good for the mind, but it is awful for the dog’s body. I then had to start giving insulin injections every 12 hours right after feeding… like I said, I loved this dog. I became a master at administering shots… the two of us became trained. If I was slow in administering the shot he would bump against me… the shot was always followed by a vegetarian dog treat… yes they make them… Trot loved treats even if they tasted like cardboard… yes I know they tasted like cardboard because I tried them.

One of the things that goes hand-in-hand with diabetes in dogs is cataracts. Trot developed these… Trot’s life didn’t change upon becoming blind… the dog didn’t do much… he found sunlight by touch of warmth… he learned how many steps there were in the house… he knew where the furniture was… he knew how to get around in his world. The problem was that even though he was getting insulin twice a day, his blood sugar levels never normalized… his body was getting worse due to my inability to regulate his blood sugar. After two years of having my life scheduled around Trot’s insulin shots, I decided to put him to sleep. Never an easy decision… never a thing one does without wondering if doing the right thing. Finally, one must overlook their own pain of loss and realize what is best for the pet one loves. Trot died in my arms doing what he loved best… sleeping… and farting… Trot was a notorious farter… I laughed through the tears.

Trot’s picture is prominently displayed in my office… he is wearing a Mardi Gras necklace and staring with a I-don’t-give-a-shit grin. Trot was the perfect dog, perfect friend and companion… and he was never just a dog. I understand why people feel compelled to give condolences when they learn a friend’s dog has died… when a dog dies, a member of the family, a loved one has died.

The Great Whisky Experiment

Kevin brought me a bottle of amber fluid… it was in a small glass bottle labeled “Blue Ice Organic Wheat American Vodka”… I’m not a fan of vodka… I have never seen honey-hued vodka. Kevin had put a yellow sticky note on the bottle… “Expert analysis requested (no, it isn’t vodka)”… whew… not vodka, just an old tiny vodka bottle… nasty sounding vodka. Like Alice… I followed the instructions and took a sip. I did not shrink… I entered no door at the bottom of a rabbit hole, but I did taste a mild and enjoyable bourbon… not overly spicy or strong… no significant bite, no bad aftertaste. It wasn’t spectacular, but definitely not the type of bourbon that I would spit back into a glass… but let’s be honest… I have never spit ANY bourbon back into a glass. I am a true believer in the saying “there is no such thing as bad bourbon, just some bourbons are better than others.”

Kevin assumes I am a bourbon expert… I prefer the term “bourbon drinker”… a bourbon drinker since the days of my teenage years. I am no advocate of teenage drinking… but I know I was no stranger to alcohol in high school. My bourbon drinking in high school was limited to mixing a fifth of Jim Beam with a two-liter bottle of SunDrop… Lake Water… this was how I entered the bourbon drinking world. Not exactly fine-drinking skills… but definitely the way I learned that the sweetness of bourbon is truly one of the greatest things distilling has brought man.

As a teen, I felt beer tasted poorly… I had not, like a lot of teens, developed a taste or stomach for beer. It would take less than a semester of college to develop that ability… yet bourbon has always been the drink of choice… since 1986, this bourbon and drink of choice has expanded to whiskeys in general. I have consumed Irish whisky in Ireland, English and Scotch whiskeys in the United Kingdom… I have consumed nasty-ass Canadian whiskey with Canadians… I have consumed sweet and smooth Tennessee sippin’ whisky… none of them were ever spit out… some of them, however, weren’t good enough to order a second glass. For my 40th birthday, I received the gift of the bourbon of the month club… surprisingly my favorite monthly bourbon was a small-batch from Massachusetts… who knew you could get decent bourbon from Massachusetts… obviously it was not labeled “Kentucky Bourbon” but it was a nice bourbon. I am not a drunk, I am not an alcoholic… I have discerning tastes… I know what I like and I am capable of comparing one whiskey to the next… I have hosted bourbon-tasting parties. If you don’t drink bourbon or whisky… you are probably wondering why I keep using the different terms of “bourbon” and “whisky” almost interchangeably.

All Bourbons are Whisky; Not All whiskeys Are Bourbon

Whisky is a type of distilled alcohol made from fermented grain mash. Different grains are used for different types of whisky and include barley, malted barley, rye, malted rye, wheat, and corn. Whisky is aged in wooden casks (barrels), typically charred white oak casks. American whiskeys include:

  • Bourbon, which is made from 51% or greater corn mash;
  • Corn whisky, which is made from 81% or greater corn mash;
  • Malt whisky, which is made from 51% or greater malted barley mash;
  • Rye whisky, which is made from 51% or greater rye mash
  • Rye malt whisky, which is made from 51% or greater malted rye mash; and
  • Wheat whisky, which is made from 51% or greater wheat.

You can blend whisky types… thus blended whisky. Interestingly, Tennessee whisky such as Jack Daniels and George Dickel are considered bourbon by the North American Free Trade Amendment (NAFTA) and other international trade agreements even though the manufacturers of these brands do not advertise these whiskeys as bourbon.

Other whisky-producing countries include:

  • Australia (never had any),
  • Canada (tried some, never impressed),
  • England (some good, some bad),
  • Finland (never had any),
  • Germany (some were borderline okay),
  • India (tried one and seemed more like rum than whisky),
  • Denmark (never had any),
  • Ireland (love almost all Irish whiskeys… interestingly most Irish whiskeys are aged in used American whisky casks, thus the reason why Irish whiskeys look less dark than American ones),
  • Japan (never tried, but did get my hands on a bottle of American small-batch bourbon specifically made to sell in Japan… pure liquid heaven… the Japanese have fantastic taste in whisky and willing to pay for it),
  • New Zealand (never tried),
  • Scotland (had quite a few, mainly Scotch… and have found the Scotch I like the most is very aged and thus very expensive… I don’t drink a lot of Scotch for this reason),
  • Sweden (never tried),
  • Wales (tried one and quite tasty), and
  • Czech Republic (distilled in 2010… hoping to try it one day… in the Czech Republic).

Basically, whisky is distilled grain alcohol that is aged in wooden barrels, the charring of the insides of the barrel give the distinctive coloring of whisky and adds sugars and flavors. Bourbon, as you can see is a type of whisky, but not all whiskeys are bourbon. My forefathers made bourbon as they hacked their way across the South… when you drink whisky, generally, and bourbon, specifically, you are drinking a part of American history.

Kevin’s Bourbon in a Vodka Bottle

Kevin had led the way toward my new adventure. Kevin had taken some cheap and disgusting bourbon and put it in Wasmund’s Barrel… The Copper Fox Distillery sells these mini charred oak barrels, accompanied by either bottles of rye whisky spirits or single malt whisky spirits. Kevin aged this gross bourbon and then provided me with the taste… I have to take his word on the nastiness of the original bourbon… Kevin has a lot of experience in tasting and reviewing alcohol… so I took his word for it… Kevin has written a book on the history of whisky. I may disagree with him on some of his views on the books we read for our book club… but I trust his opinion on alcohol. So, magically… scientifically… Kevin had transformed a nasty whisky into a sip-able bourbon… I was intrigued.

The Great Whiskey Experiment

Again, people know me well… I was recently given the Wasmund’s Barrel Kit as a gift… I felt like a 9 year-old again playing with the Millennium Falcon.

I received two bottles of single malt spirits and the mini barrel.

*please note the sliver of the green label on the aged Jim Beam Choice Bourbon bottle on the left side of this picture… it really is good too… heavy yet smooth Jim Beam, maybe a bit more spicy… more of a cold-weather bourbon if you ask me.

I was overjoyed. I was happy… I was given a new toy… I love toys. The instructions were simple… pour water in and on the mini barrel… allow the oak slats to expand and confirm the seal… empty water… pour in single malt spirits… age 4-7 months… drink whisky. Yes… this is a science experiment I can perform… my pouring and emptying skills have been perfected over the past 41 years. Essentially, this is a skill that I perfected around age 4… that is an estimate… and pouring and emptying containers of alcohol is one that I perfected around 16. Yes sir… I too can join the ranks of Jack, Jim, George, Elijah, and all the other men who have made a life in making whisky. 

Okay… I’m really not making whisky… what I am doing is finishing what others have started. I am doing nothing more than aging distilled alcoholic spirits… but still I was going to be part of the process… I am going to get to taste this wonderful elixir from the spirits stage… yes I am going to open those bottles and take a sip… I hope I don’t lose my eyesight… then I am going to taste this “whisky” periodically as it ages. Supposedly, around month 4, I will have actual drinkable whisky. If I was a betting man, I bet that this whisky will age exactly how long it takes after 4 months for me to drink the barrel dry… so let’s say my first batch of whisky is going to be exactly 4.5 months old. After that I am free to purchase more spirits from Copper Fox Distillery, or I can buy some pure grain alcohol (PGA baby!) and age it… or I can buy some nasty-ass whisky… plastic bottle whisky… I-have-never-fucking-heard-of-that-whisky brand whisky… and age it. Hopefully, I will be as successful as Kevin was. Yes sir, this is the type of science I can sink my lips, tongue, throat, stomach into… this is the type of science I should have been taught at an earlier age.

I tried brewing beer… to time consuming… not my first alcoholic love… too scientific. But aging whisky? This is something I can do. I will, naturally, be updating this blog with reports on how this scientific experiment is going… because, of course, I am doing this in the name of science.

The angels and I will get our share.

A Beautiful Hell… A Writer’s Perspective on Artillery

With artillery, War is made. – Napoleon Bonaparte

Giants stomping across the dale… shuddering trees… quivering leaves… thumping concussion… heart stopping punch to the center of your chest. Billowing smoke casting dirt, debris, and air moves across your vision… blurry visions of times before when men marched rank and file into the gates of Hell. The courage to face the very breath of demons as the fire, sound, and steel spits forth in a blinding flash. Actual paths… sweeping destructive paths are dug across the landscape. The roar and din of the very essence of life are screamed forth as if all souls… living and dead… have opened their mouths and uttered… expelled… regurgitated… their most dreaded fear and loathing.

… Mother like she belches shell;

Glorious it flies, and well,

As, with a hissing screaming squall,

A roaring furnace, giving all,

she sears a path for the infantry…

– Aleksandr Tvardovskiy, from “Vasily Tyorkin” (1943)

I have both targeted and commanded artillery fire… thankfully… blessedly… I have never had to fire artillery in war. My muted and limited experience with the artillery was one of peacekeeping and training. I have been fortunate enough to cast my eyes upon the King of Battle’s wrath through the eyes of the young… through the eyes of a novice… the eyes of one who respects the fire and smoke… the cold steel heart of artillery. A dark and bitter older man would have turned away in sadness… war is better fought by the inexperienced. My eyes and heart comprehended the magnitude of the magnificent deadliness of artillery… yet never had to see the bloody and bitter remains of the dead. Images of the dead… my images of the dead are more personal… yet not the remains of those rendered lifeless and torn by artillery that was directed by my hand. My soul, my inner-being is not stained with the dark smudge of using such a hellish weapon on my fellow-man.

The dank and damp soil of Bavaria, of the border between Germany and the Czech Republic, is home to the US Army’s European training area. Grafenwoehr is a name that over a million US Army veterans can utter with a wry smile. My dad has uttered with astonishment at Graf’s ability to be both sunny and wet, both dusty and muddy… it is a place where snow can greet your morning’s opening eyes… followed by a searing and sunny mid-day… and a torrential downpour by dusk. Too lazy to research the potential geographical or meteorological reasons… I too have fallen victim to the repeated utterances of Graf’s mythical ability to be the best and worst… a land of dark German forests, gravel tank trails, muddy firing positions, and a large… expansive impact area that allows the repeated abuse by modern heavy armament.

My first… my Graf cherry-busting… experience was March 1995. I had been in Germany two weeks… a brand new field artillery second lieutenant… a boy. My first official military assignment was to be a Fire Support Officer… I was in charge… I commanded exactly 3 other soldiers… a sergeant and two privates. We lived, slept, ate, drove, and “fought” from a tracked Fire Support Vehicle. This steel box… reeking of oil, fuel, and hydraulic fluid… was my mount, my steed, my noble chariot… the vehicle that could have potentially carried me to war… instead it carried me the muds of Bosnia and the task of enforcing a peace. This stinking metal box was both a home and office. Wires, hoses, knobs, nuts, bolts, worn thin pads bedecked the interior… it was not built for comfort. Nor was it built for ease of use… it was vehicle made both in an attempt to be spartan and functional… it ended up being a mish mash of technological upgrades with the old-style Vietnam-era chassis… I was proud to call this stinky beast home.

I felt as if I was a Napoleonic-era officer, plumed, weighted with medals and saber… a blazing red stripe running down my battlefield uniform… I was one of the King of Battle’s minions… my sole purpose in life was to call for the mighty guns… the 155mm howitzers… my purpose was to destroy the enemy with timely and effective fire. I was an artilleryman, a Redleg… a soldier… an officer… my purpose was to kill. It was during this initial feeling of a newly minted artillery officer… that I targeted and called for my first artillery fire… my voice beckoned steel to fall from the sky and strike the earth with utter disaster.

Describing the exhilaration… the joy… the awe… the shock of seeing artillery impact. The result of your voice, your calculations, your dirty finger’s travels across a map… the result of decision to target a specific piece of earth… is powerful. It seems as if you have been given the ability to slap the earth with a massive hand… damaging not only the ground… but damaging the air, the very being of life… you control not only your fate but the fate of the living that moves in front of you. You are large among the small. Many state that pistol provides illusionary power to the weak and cowardly… controlling artillery provides the false sense of god-like power… yet I was god-like… I could call and direct the fires from heaven.

I like to pretend that I understood this experience at the time… a comprehension in the cold, tactical, deadly way in which I had been empowered. I want to pretend that I understood the magnitude of the situation… the beauty and sadness… the ugliness of what artillery can do. I want to pretend that I was constantly aware of what I was doing… the seriousness of my profession… the seriousness of targeting artillery. Later, while commanding a platoon of howitzers… and later when I commanded a battery (company) of howitzers… I want to believe that I understood the deadly seriousness of life and death. I was not ignorant… I was not naive… but I was not capable of communicating the feelings that boiled, moved… sloshed… within my head. I have had to do the typical veteran’s remembering… to smell the smoke and damp earth as a former lover’s perfume. Oh, I have had mistresses I would tell the young… I have loved many a beautiful thing… dangerous things… I have been tempted. I have felt the lustful rush of being in the throes of ecstatic dances with the cannon.

Walking a gun line at dusk in a muddy foreign field as been as memorable as any moonlight beach stroll… lover on my arm. The sound of sergeants screaming crew drill to soldiers is as memorable as any sweet erotic whispering I have given a lover… the slam of howitzer breaches… this is the punctuation of my poems… the ode to love. These poems… these commands of modern artillery are not a far evolution from the elder Redlegs working their pieces at Gettysburg… “to your posts!”… “by detail – Load!”… “Tend Vent!”… “Clear!”… “Wet sponge!”… “Dry sponge!”… “Ram!”… “Ready!”… “Fire!”… yes the commands vary little… the results the same… the deadly lustful poem continues stanza by stanza… age by age… war by war.

Standing beneath a howitzer… a foolish ear-damaging act… dangerous if there is an in-bore explosion… an act that most young lieutenants have committed… standing beneath a tube the air is forced from your lungs… ears are pained… water bursts from the corner of your eyes. As the round leaves the tube… you feel as if you can spread your arms… open your self and feel your completeness travel forth… traveling across the sky. Black smoke envelops you… searing warmth burns down upon on you… the 100lbs projectile… the projo… sails through the sky… it ascends on a predetermined path… a path requested by another young soldier… it begins its descent… again on a predetermined path… a path that takes into account the rotation of the earth, distance to target, intervening crests, meteorological data at all levels of the round’s trajectory… the type and age of the propellent. The act of targeting, aiming, loading, and firing artillery is a science. A science that has lost its detail to me a decade later… a science that is mathematically based… a science that was perfected to be efficiently deadly. However… once the round reaches its target… a specific grid coordinate, a piece of earth, a vehicle… a man… the explosion… the event… the fire… the smoke… the flailing of earth, material, and man… becomes art… dark, dark art.

Ah, the young always smile in their ignorance and innocence…

Open Letter from an Xer: Millennials… quit bitching

Dear Millennials (especially “Sierra” at the phoenix and olive branch)

Quit whining.

Last week, on June 25, you wrote a blog that was a supposed letter to Baby Boomers and Gen Xers. This letter seems to have struck a nerve with your fellow Millennials… their numerous comments on your “letter” seem to indicate many of them believe you have voiced their angst and anger at us Boomers and Xers in a deliciously accurate manner. The overall premise of your angst is that you believe you were treated special, yet you know that you aren’t special… and this special treatment has hampered you in your ability to achieve the American dream. You are now being told, as an adult, that you aren’t special… holy shit that is awful! A good number of your peers mentioned the horror of not being able to buy a house or find a job. You have entered the world, your helicopter parents have receded a bit and now you are facing the world… and you aren’t happy with what you have found. Basically, you are bitching. Before I address some of your specific bitches, let me define what you are (in general terms) and then I will define what I am. I want you to completely understand who you have bitched to and why I don’t want to hear it.

You and your “Millennial” peers (according to the Pew Research Center) are approximately aged 12 to 30, you are the most ethnically and racially diverse cohort of youth in American history,1 politically you are categorized as progressive and you voted overwhelmingly for President Obama (66%). You are the first generation to view behaviors like tweeting and texting, and the digital world in general, as everyday parts of your life and not astonishing innovations that the rest of us view them. You are the least religiously observant youths since survey research began charting religious behavior. You, however, are more inclined to trust in institutions (authority) than Xers and Boomers when they were coming of age. My observations of you are a little more nuanced. I have led you in the military, I have taught you college, I have worked with you, I have sat in a bar and watched you conduct your mating dance while you consumed Pabst Blue Ribbon beer, I have listened to you talk about law school around the pool, I have seen your duckface photos on Facebook, and I recognize you for what you are… you are young and some of you are fucking spoiled just like some of my peers were spoiled.

My generation, “Generation X”… the slacker generation… is now approximately 35 to 45, born between 1962 and 1980. The Encyclopedia of Identities defines my generation as one of perceived apathy, noncommittal, over-educated, reactive, cynical, frustrated, alienated, pacifists, anti-institutional, and disaffected.  We too entered the job market during an economic bust period… some of us (me) joined the military, a lot of us got degrees, most of got jobs, we got married, we had kids (you)… we have learned to live our lives. Statistically, we are approximately 19.8% of the population, whereas you are 27.7%. Boomers are 26.4%… and the dying World War II generation (the greatest?) is only smaller to Xers at 13.0%.2 By sheer numbers, you are catching up with us in the work force, as of March 2012, there were 60 million Boomers, 49 million Xers, and 32 million of you going to work everyday. I know your parents, I dated your mom and gave her a first kiss while we watched Kevin Bacon’s dance of frustration (in the barn) in Footloose. I now see her post pictures of you on Facebook and brag about your achievements. I went to high school and college with your parents… I watched your dad throw up a 12 pack of Bud Dry at a Nirvana concert. I served in the Army with them as peers… just like some of your peers are serving in Afghanistan. I work with them now… but we are outnumbered by the Boomers who are unable or unwilling to retire, and we stare collectively in wonder as you join us in the office. 

So now that we know who you and I are, let’s address some of your points that you emphasized by bolding in the texts of your letter… I will address the pertinent ones, considering you bolded quite a number of the same bitches over and over… we get your point.

“We have not yet begun to shape the world: we are living in the one you created. And it’s killing us.” Yeah, get in line sister… we all got this complaint. This isn’t some special complaint that you and your generation gets to monopolize. You are facing a world of terrorism and economic uncertainty, we had a world of potential nuclear annihilation and economic uncertainty. Additionally, if you want to share this complaint with us, we then have to consider sharing it with EVERY generation that has come of age. No youthful generation feels like it has inherited a world that is fair or just. Boomers didn’t like the world they come of age in either. Get over yourself, your complaint is nothing new… I am sure some 20something in the 1930s had some grief about the Depression.

“We grew up accruing praise, but not self-esteem.” You state that you learned that praise was a parenting strategy but not sincere. Okay, well be thankful Sierra that your parents thought enough to actually have a strategy in parenting you… your parents actually put effort and thinking into raising you. Many have stated that Xers are also called “latchkey kids” because our parents’ strategy was to ensure we had a key to the house so we could let ourselves in while they were at work… afterschool television specials were our reward. Quit complaining because your parents put thought into your upbringing, it makes you sound unappreciative. For the record, self-esteem is something you learn to give yourself, it is not provided… it is learned and earned. You aren’t a child so quit acting like one.

“You have made us depend on you.” You state that you went to the best schools, got the best grades, took the internships, met the right people, got into the right grad schools, and chose the right majors… and then you are stuck in your parents’ basement because nobody was willing to pay you a “living wage.” Okay, I am calling a little class bullshit here. I cannot believe that all of you did this, and pretty sure Sierra you are talking about a high middle class upbringing. Your definition of “living wage” is far different from mine… and probably the rest of the world. Let me tell you how I did it. I didn’t go to the best schools until way later in life, I got shitty grades, didn’t even know what an internship was, drank and smoked dope with all the wrong people, didn’t get into grad school until the age of 28 and had to do it on the US Army’s dime, and kept getting liberal arts degrees… yet I am professionally employed after 18 years of working… I learned to depend on myself. What you want now is what took me all the years to obtain. I have had this conversation with you numerous times in the graduate class I teach. All of you ask me how you can get my job and I tell you that it takes decades of work and experience… neither of which you have much of or much willingness to endure. You want to graduate and make six figure incomes immediately because this is what you believe is a “living wage.” Well, at least some of you think that… a number of your peers are actually living and working on far less than that… just like I did when I was your age. Want an eye-opener? Ask your parents how much they made a year when you were born. You weren’t made to depend on us, you were given guidance on how to do better… how to make it without making our mistakes.

“When you told us that you loved us and that we were smart, beautiful, creative, independent, and destined for greatness, what you implied was that we must be all of those things.” WHAT THE FUCK are you complaining about? Your parents told you that you were smart, beautiful, creative, independent, and destined for greatness and then you complain? Again Sierra, welcome to the real world sweetie. I have no idea if you are smart, creative, independent, or great until you prove it to me out here in the real world… I might think you are pretty until you start bitching… I am pretty sure I’m going to find you highly unattractive then. Your parents told you those things because that is what loving parents do… loving parents believe… believe… those things no matter how stupid, ugly, unimaginative, dependent, and mediocre you are. All parents think their babies are pretty… trust me not all of you were pretty babies… a lot of you looked like little red rats. Here in the adult world you are expected to earn those superlatives… they are not bestowed by the grace of parents.

“We spend our days fighting each other, always fearing our invisible duplicate who has everything we have on her resume, plus one.” Your complaint here is that you are tired of competing… got it. My generation felt that too… actually we felt like we were never given the chance to compete. Like you, we felt we inherited a shitty world and struggled to find a way to make it through. Guess what, some of us like to compete… just like some of you… and we have made it. What you don’t want to admit is that some of you are given not only a “plus one” but a “plus thousand”… some of you have been given everything and that hasn’t been enough. Sierra you sound like one of these, you are complaining that you were prepared for the competition with a lot of assistance, but once you realize how hard this competition (life) is… you want to bitch because you weren’t given more.

“If there is anything that defines our generation, it’s knowing exactly how miserably our lives have failed to satisfy you.” Sierra, you haven’t matured yet… but one day (hopefully) you will realize that what others (including your parents) think of you, or how they may or may not be satisfied with you, is as important as the number of beers you can funnel. Because of your texting, tweeting, and social media habits, you seem to have this overwhelming desire to receive acceptance from not only your parents, but also your peers. This is nothing new, every youthful generation feels the need for acceptance. High school and college sucked for most of us because of this indescribable desire to belong… one day you will realize what a waste of time and energy all of this was. When you grow up you will understand that you are the only one who matters. Fuck your parents and fuck your “friends”… learn to accept and love yourself and then you will be satisfied.

“So quit telling us we’re not special.” You state that you know that you’re not special and you think we can’t accept that. Guess what… you don’t know it… not yet… you still think you’re special. If you knew you weren’t special you wouldn’t be bitching as if your complaints were new or earth shattering. Your complaints thus far have either been the result of a pampered lifestyle or a lack of maturity. You are not special, you are like the rest of us when we were your age… you are young, you are learning the world isn’t fair, and you are learning that your parents (and society) aren’t perfect. Some day you will learn that your parents probably did the best they could… you didn’t come with a fucking owner’s manual.

Sierra… grow up but don’t forget to laugh. Learn to love yourself but don’t forget to love others… love them with all your heart… but you won’t be able to do this until you learn to love yourself. Recognize what you can change and what you can’t. Being an adult means accepting that your life is yours and yours only… the sooner you quit blaming others the better. Unfortunately, like all of us at your age, you are young, inexperienced, and you think you know everything. You also believe that being smart allows you to ignore the advice of others… others who have gone through the same bullshit.

Buck up lil’buckeroo… if you think facing the world as a 20something… a 20something with a fantastic resume sucks… try facing it as a 20something who wasn’t loved by their parents… try facing it as 20something who wasn’t given everything. Let me know when you grow up and experience some real problems… then we will talk.

1. 18.5% Hispanic; 14.2% are black; 4.3% are Asian; 3.2% are mixed race or other; and 59.8% are white (a record low).

2. Source