The Aesthetic Pleasure of Meleagris Gallopavo

As recorded by J.D. Bentley April 21st, 2014

I firmly grasped the bottle’s neck as I pulled it from the shelf and as long as it was necessary to keep it in the air I gripped it as tightly as I could, resting its bottom on my other hand whenever possible. No way in hell was I going to lose it to the unforgiving solidity of a supermarket floor.

Even when I got it in the shopping cart, I did not want to risk it tipping over and flooding the cork with that priceless honey-red nectar or cracking the fragile glass that had kept it from Kentucky to here. That would be six years and $30 dollars wasted. I packed it into a corner surrounded by no less than six one-liter bottles of water and kept a close eye on it for the duration of our errand. I had been trying to procure a bottle of bourbon so long that I was wholly convinced that now that I had found it—no easy task in Rio de Janeiro—it was conspiring to make itself unavailable to me yet again.

Even though it was never in any real danger, I had waited such a time to acquire it that I felt that getting it back home would be nothing short of a miracle. And yet, not an hour after I had tucked it in the back corner of the cart, it set completely unscathed on the kitchen table, ready for consumption, ready to be enjoyed.

It often happens that on a journey to faraway lands, one runs into fellow tourists who hail from the same region or the same state or the next county over, people that ought to have been run into back at home. In the same way, traveling to Brazil led me to this very personal encounter with some Meleagris Gallopavo, the great Wild Turkey, 81 proof, aged six years in charred oak barrels and transported straight from Lawrenceburg to a Mundial in Tijuca.

In the weeks preceding this moment, I had sought the advice of my father. I hadn’t the faintest idea what constituted good alcohol, even less an idea about what constituted good bourbon. Back home, I had taken a sip of cheap beer. Not much different than a fizzy rotten nail polish. I once bought some Walmart brand Merlot that boasted “hints of tobacco and cherry”, and damn it if it didn’t taste just like someone had spit chewing tobacco into an unsweetened Mountain Dew Code Red. Absolutely disgusting.

As it turned out, my dad, along with his friend Kevin, had recently gotten back into bourbon drinking (no doubt a decent pastime to pick up in the exceptionally snowy winter of early 2014). Shortly before I traded in the backbeat chop of a mandolin for the incessant beating of samba drums, I had visited him in his garage. He offered a sip of Wild Turkey, but I could not have been less interested. And now I had been dreaming of doing so for months. How foolish I had been.

Until this year, my dad had been a Wild Turkey man as far as good bourbons go. Wild Turkey 101. That was before he got his hands on a bottle of Bulleit. As much as I love the Wild Turkey label, choosing on bottle alone I’d have reached for a Bulleit. But it’s not just the bottling or branding that makes Bulleit superior. He extols its ineffable flavor, falling short of any accurate description, only saying that its something like butterscotch. The best bourbon he’s ever had.

As far as I know, there is no Bulleit to be found in Rio de Janeiro. Earlier this year, a Jim Beam teased me from the shelves of an international market, but that market was staged in a sort of civic center in Barra (a notoriously rich neighborhood). Even if I had thought to buy it, I couldn’t have. Other than that I had only ever seen Jack Daniels. Plenty of Jack Daniels here and plenty of Brazilians who like to wear its black label on their t-shirts. While Jack Daniels is made in a very similar way to bourbon, and while it’s produced by a Louisville, KY company, Jack Daniels is decidedly not bourbon and thus has no appeal for me whatsoever.

Literally my only option, then, was this quite affordable bottle of Wild Turkey 81, a variety specifically suited to cocktails, but which I intended to drink neat.

I set the bottle on a wood plank surface to snap a picture for my father, something to email him later announcing that I’d joined the club, that despite this temporary absence I was still a Kentuckian through and through. Now more than ever.

I twisted the cap and broke the seal then pulled the cork out. I leaned down, put my nose over the opening, and breathed in. It was unlike any alcohol I had ever smelled. First, I coughed as my nostrils and throat filled with a stinging heat, but after it settled I was left with only the faintest sense of the alcohol itself. On top of it were very distinct odors. Now, I’m certainly no connoisseur of bourbon and I have no idea how I ought to be describing what I smelled, so forgive me, but it impressed upon me these characteristics: a subtle fruitiness; a much more apparent spiciness that I would say is comparable to hot cinnamon candy; and above all, the scent of charred oak, of fire and wood infused right into that heavenly elixir.

Given my record with alcohol, I didn’t have high hopes for my experiment. I fully expected that the most I would have accomplished that day would be to have utterly wasted $30. I had never liked any alcohol, why would this be any different? I vocalized my doubts only to be interrupted by Carla.

“You’ll like it,” she said.

“What makes you so sure?” I ask.

“Because you’ll make yourself like it.”

I wasn’t so convinced of that outcome as she was, but I could see her point. I had obsessed about bourbon for months as a mild therapy to treat my very severe homesickness. It wasn’t the bourbon itself, which I had never tasted, that I wanted so badly. It was to be reconnected with the traditions of my people, with the life I used to have and will have again some day. I had and have no interest in getting drunk and it’s certainly no display of status to sit alone and sip Kentucky whiskey. I was only in it for the sacrament, for the aesthetic pleasure of sipping a bit of home. Even if I would absolutely hate it otherwise, it was impossible to hate it now. I might not like it, but I would never disrespect it.

I poured it, room temperature, into a squat glass tumbler, one which I thought most resembled a glass from which better men than I would drink bourbon. I filled it a third of the way full and held it to my nose again. Out of the narrow bottle, the odor was even more intense. I was eager to give it a try.

I held it up and let the first drops slide past my lips. My tongue sizzled, my mouth filled with a hot air and its vapors singed my nostrils as I exhaled. The taste was unlike anything I had ever had before. It was smoother and softer than either the beer or the wine I had tasted previously. The scents I had taken in on opening the bottle were now dancing across my tastebuds: the wood, the cinnamon, the smoke. Not only did I find the flavor tolerable, I found it outright enjoyable.

Add on top of that all the sentimental and spiritual expectations I had already affixed to that first glass and you can imagine the exact sort of joy I was experiencing. This wasn’t just alcohol. This wasn’t just some liquid swishing around in a cup. This was a religious experience and a way of life, at once representative of everything I hope for.

Of rowdy fall nights by a bonfire and quiet sunsets from the front porch swing; of writing books and racing horses; of comfortable routine and desperate adventure; of hiking the trails of Appalachia and staring up from the foot of the Sugarloaf Mountain.

Of the ordinary, of the extraordinary, and, most importantly, of the sacred, the bond that ties me to my Creator and to the hills of old Kentucky.

April 21st, 2014 • How About a Shot of Bourbon?

Roosevelt’s Tough-Minded Approach to Vocation

As recorded by J.D. Bentley April 19th, 2014

By the time Theodore Roosevelt, Jr. entered Harvard at age eighteen, he had become an avid ornithologist and natural historian. His scientific aspirations were triggered eleven years earlier when, on an errand to buy strawberries for breakfast, he came across a seal carcass laid out on a slab of wood.

Regarding the encounter, Roosevelt later wrote, “That seal filled me with every possible feeling of romance and adventure.” For as many days as the seal was present, he returned to the market to examine it with the intent of writing a “wholly unpremeditated and unscientific” natural history of the creature, going so far as to try and measure its circumference with a “pocket foot-rule”.

Despite frequent bouts of severe asthma and chronically poor health in those early years, a large portion of his time was spent in nature, collecting specimens—from insects to snapping turtles to salamanders—cutting them open, examining them and recording his observations.

As a knowledgable young naturalist, it became clear to Roosevelt and all who were around him that a future in science was nearly inevitable. At the start of his sophomore year, he was approached by his father, Theodore Sr., who wanted to discuss his son’s vocation. Roosevelt recorded his father’s advice:

My father…told me that if I wished to be a scientific man I could do so. He explained that I must be sure that I really intensely desired to do scientific work, because if I went into it I must make it a serious career; that he had made enough money to enable me to take up such a career and do non-remunerative work of value if I intended to do the very best work that was in me; but that I must not dream of taking it up as a dilettante. He also gave me a piece of advice that I have always remembered, namely, that, if I was not going to earn money, I must even things up by not spending it. As he expressed it, I had to keep the fraction constant, and if I was not able to increase the numerator, then I must reduce the denominator. In other words, if I went into a scientific career, I must definitely abandon all thought of the enjoyment that could accompany a money-making career, and must find my pleasures elsewhere.

After this conversation I fully intended to make science my life-work. 1

Roosevelt approached all he did with this same sort of tough-mindedness. He worked hard to discern what he wanted and even harder to get it. (At Harvard, he would work double time in the weeks following a holiday in order to negate having taken a holiday). And, whatever the case, he had a keen ability to fully accept the reality of his circumstances. The financial prospects for a natural historian were not great. Roosevelt recognized this and was nevertheless prepared to become a scientist and to adjust his lifestyle accordingly.

In a time such as ours—one increasingly defined by debt, excess and entitlement—Theodore Senior’s advice and Theodore Junior’s reaction to it are both needed in equipping current young adults and future generations to discern and live out their vocations.

(I am here tempted to prescribe a remedy to our problems, though I can only be sure that they are my problems, but born of this age nonetheless.)

Of all those virtues we are called to as human beings, the three most neglected now are self-discipline, (the closely related) asceticism, and humility. Nearly a decade ago as a listless and confused high school graduate, I would have greatly benefited from hearing the words of Theodore Senior tailored to the realities of my own strengths; and to have had cultivated in me the curiosity, discernment and resolve of the younger Roosevelt.

It was far too easy (and likely still is far too easy) for high school graduates to fall into the consumerist trap, to take a self-help approach to their futures that has them first asking, “What makes me happy?” and then hoping (demanding) for exorbitant payoffs, notoriety and special treatment, regardless of the usefulness or necessity of their chosen field.

Instead of asking, “What makes me happy?”—which is to say, what activity do I most enjoy doing—one ought to ask, “What is happiness and how is it brought about?” After my long struggle with vocation, I learned that what “makes me happy” in the former sense is usually “whatever pays the bills without annoying me or hindering those activities I enjoy doing.”

It is perfectly fine to be an English major or a Women’s Studies major if that is what you are called to, just as it was perfectly fine for Roosevelt to pursue natural history. But, in those cases, what we tend to miss is that the value society puts on those subjects doesn’t increase merely because one chooses to pursue it. An English major or a Women’s Studies major ought not expect to be paid like a mechanical engineer.

No one is entitled to being paid well to do some activity they enjoy doing. No one is entitled to even the expectation that that activity will continue to be enjoyable when it becomes work.

Roosevelt read zoological books and performed countless experiments on his specimens for years. He studied rigorously on his own and at Harvard. He put in countless hours and was prepared to put in countless more despite the low pay he knew he could expect.

If one really believes in their vocation, they ought to be able to accept the sacrifices pursuing that vocation will demand of them. No one is entitled to happiness, and happiness isn’t often the most beneficial result.

  1. Found in Theodore Roosevelt’s Autobiography, as quoted in “The Rise of Theodore Roosevelt” by Edmund Morris 

April 19th, 2014 • How About a Shot of Bourbon?

Mozilla, Fire Eich

As recorded by J.D. Bentley March 31st, 2014

Today, in a fit of rage and righteousness, I dragged Firefox to the trash can icon in my Dock and let go forever.

The kerplunk noise seemed sounded by a choir of angels and my eyes were hardly worthy to see the immense glory of that metal bin filling with crumpled papers. What satisfaction! When that browser, that bigot, that whore of Babylon–the Great Satan!–was safely confined to the garbage… I right-clicked. I right-clicked and I meant it and I regret it not one bit.

I slid my arrow sensually over the bottom item of the context menu, teasing each letter with its point, spelling out its final judgment.

E - M - P - T - Y.


T - R - A - S - H.

But just then, just as I was to click, the most delicious thought occurred. Why a bullet to the head when I could tie the heretic to a stake and set it ablaze, let it suffer a bit then throw its ashes to the wind and have not a remnant left over? And so, I held the Command key and there appeared the word, “Secure.”

Secure Empty Trash.

I clicked and leaned back smiling as the progress bar filled from one end to the other, all the way overwriting and rewriting that place where Mozilla Firefox once lived until, finally, no trace was left. No preference files, no libraries, no graphics. Not a single 1 or 0 to be found. Nothing. Firefox was no more.

Does it sound heartless? Does it sound cruel? Perhaps, but it was required. Atonement was necessary, for Brendan Eich is now CEO of Mozilla and Mozilla ought to reap what harvest their evildoing has produced.

They chose Eich, a man who contributed $1000 to Prop 8 in opposition of gay marriage. That is to say, they chose a bigot, broken from postmodern orthodoxy and clearly full of hatred, to lead an organization committed to “openness”, “inclusiveness” and “freedom”.

At this point, one might ask what “openness”, “inclusiveness” and “freedom” have to do with it. One might further wonder if the only qualities required of a CEO of a technology company are a profound understanding of the technology in question, a coherent vision for the future of the organization, and a heaping dose of professional decorum (all of which Eich seems to have).

On the first question, I should say this: that in this particular instance openness, inclusiveness and freedom mean not openness, inclusiveness and freedom in any technical or specific sense, but rather three sets of a definitive positive goodness of whatever sort you imagine them to be. Thus, when those employees–those saints!–who rightfully oppose Eich say that his opinions are not compatible with Mozilla’s “openness”, “inclusiveness” or “freedom”, what they are meaning is that Eich’s opinions are against all goodness, however you see goodness to be. And so, clearly, one cannot be for Brendan Eich and also for goodness (whatever that is). That would be absurd. If “openness”, “inclusiveness” or “freedom” were invoked under their technical definitions, less refined men might argue that demanding for Eich’s resignation is actually less open, less inclusive and less free. Perhaps even an act of childish, oppressive, narrow-minded jackassery. Clearly, this is not the case.

To the second question on what qualifies Eich or any other person to be Mozilla’s CEO, I believe it foolish to assume that the only necessary credential for running a company is a supreme ability to run a company. There’s much more to it than that. People, especially today, are in need of organizations who take clearcut stances. They want an organization with the testicular fortitude to draw a line in the sand and say, “This is what is good and this is what is bad and Brendan Eich is an immeasurably evil and awful son of a bitch.”

In a world where organizations aren’t choosing sides on philosophical, moral, theological and political issues, from where do you expect the masses to absorb their own worldviews? If not for chocolate sandwich cookies, fried chicken, and–Yes! Starting today!–web browsers, how would people know whether or not gay marriage is a thing worthy of support? If Eich remains CEO, people may be forced to consider an opposing view, however articulately and delicately laid out, as something other than outright bigotry and madness. That’s wholly unacceptable. If an individual’s viewpoint is clearly–clearly!–on the wrong side of history, it ought to be discounted and buried immediately. And Mozilla ought to be the one doing it. I’m not in need of a philosopher, a priest, or a politician. I need only my web browser.

That is why I fully support those employees–those saints!–who are rightfully calling for Eich’s resignation. They are so deeply committed to this postmodern orthodoxy that they are willing to risk another man’s job that their ideals may live! What courage! What sacrifice! Let us prostrate in reverence of their truly inspiring bravery and ever endeavor to their greatness.

As for me, I have done my part. I have deleted Firefox and returned to Chrome until this mess is sorted out.

And you ought to, too.

March 31st, 2014 • How About a Shot of Bourbon?