Mixing up some doozies, plus Links of the Week: the pain of mistakes, the tale of an autographed duck, and some early Luther Vandross
A quick reminder for Charlotte-area readers: I’m hosting a Q&A with Dan Chapman, author of A ROAD RUNNING SOUTHWARD, at the legendary Park Road Books on Sept. 28 (next week!) at 7 p.m. Dan’s book is based on a great idea: He sets out to retrace the Southern journey of John Muir, the environmentalist who took a trip from Kentucky to Florida in 1867 to see the South’s natural wonders. As you might imagine, things are a lot different 150-plus years later. Dan’s a smart guy and a gifted storyteller and this should be fun. Come see us!
One of the best things I’ve seen on Twitter in quite some time is this chart created by Jack Grimes where he creates, and names, cocktails made with different versions of Mountain Dew:
These days I’m a pretty straightforward drinker: bourbon on the rocks, usually. If I have a cocktail it’s probably an Old Fashioned. But 19-year-old me would have tried at least half of these Mountain Dew concoctions. Who could resist the Tennessee Tussle?
As a young and dumb drinker, I imbibed Purple Jesus punch and screwdrivers made with Sunny Delight and, once in New Orleans, something called a Cajun Killer. For a while, among me and my friends, our go-to drink was Yukon Jack and lemonade. The label on the Yukon Jack bottle says ONLY THE STRONG SURVIVE. I’d tack on a phrase at the end: OR THE STUPID.
Cocktail culture is a big thing now; fancy restaurants have resident mixologists who will concoct a smoked-bacon marmalade margarita and sell it to you for 15 bucks. But those are mostly sipping drinks. When we were young we were looking for something good and cheap that went down fast. But it turns out booze is like a service station. You know the old line, right? We can do the repairs fast, good and cheap. But you only get two out of three.
A cocktail does play a role in my greatest athletic achievement. (My apologies to any friends who have heard this story many, many times over the years.)
One summer a group of us went to Florida for a long weekend. I ended up with Perry and Virgil, my two best friends from high school, at a beach bar in Panama City called the Spinnaker. The Spinnaker was a massive place—it had a pool, a giant dance floor, and a maze of decks like a giant treehouse. We ended up on one of the top decks overlooking the beach.
The Spinnaker’s signature drink was a rum punch that came in a bucket (sweaty chest not included and definitely not mine):
We ordered a round of these buckets. And another round. Possibly a third. The bucket drinks came with chunks of watermelon. At some point I looked over the deck railing and saw a trash barrel on the beach, maybe 50 feet out and three stories below.
I played a lot of basketball back then. “Watch this,” I said. I stood up, took a chunk of watermelon and fired it toward the barrel. Bang. Nothing but net.
I high-fived my friends and a few other people along the railing who happened to see it go in. The rum punch gave me courage. “Two in a row,” I said.
This time, in my memory, some spectators crowded up against the railing. I grabbed another chunk of melon and looked over the edge. All of a sudden the open top of the barrel looked about the size of a nickel. The first shot, obviously, was pure luck. I was about to look like a doofus. But what the hell.
I aimed the melon and let it go and knew instantly that I had misfired. It was heading way off to the right.
But then—and I think an orchestra might have started playing just at this moment—the wind kicked up on the beach. In slow motion, the chunk of watermelon made a sweeping arc to the left. It landed dead center in the bottom of the barrel.
Standing ovation. At least from the eight or ten people who saw it.
I immediately announced my retirement. In life, as in cocktails, quit while you’re ahead.
10 things I wanted to share this week:
My earlier post this week was one of my favorites from the archives: Everything you need to know about storytelling in five minutes.
My weekly for WFAE was about Florida’s Ron DeSantis resurrecting an ugly slice of American history.
Some WFAE news: We’re moving to uptown Charlotte! This is a really exciting moment and we look forward to having a lot of events there.
Jeremy Markovich and NC Rabbit Hole does it again with his deep dive into an important question: Did Richard Petty once autograph a live duck?
DOG NEWS: While I work on my book, I’m devoting this slot to dog stories. This week: I highly recommend Alexandra Horowitz’s work to anyone trying to understand how dogs deal with the world. And now she’s got a new book out about raising her puppy.
Benjamin Dreyer, one of the world’s great copy editors, talks about learning to live with errors.
Our latest British drama: FOYLE’S WAR, about a detective solving crimes in the tension of WWII-era England.
Loved this story by Jessica Bruder about an author trying to “re-wild” his property … which was a lot harder than he thought. The story is full of details that made me laugh: “On the east side of the house, he sometimes heard a shriek when he plunged his shovel into the dirt. (The former site of a dog run, it was mined with squeaky toys.)”
I drop everything when I see that Tom Breihan has posted one of his essays on the songs that hit no. 1 on the Billboard pop chart. This week’s essay, on Janet Jackson’s “All For You” and the arc of her career, is especially choice. And if you like it, Breihan has a book coming.
That essay on “All For One” has a link to a song I’d forgotten but dearly loved: Change’s 1980 hit “The Glow of Love,” which features a pre-fame Luther Vandross. It’s a gem.
See y’all next week, everyone.
Thanks for reading! I depend on your support to keep The Writing Shed going. If you’re willing and able, please consider becoming a paid subscriber.