Online Edition 10.26.06

Happy Anniversary, Honey | Andrea Avery

Bar Tab | L. Dupree

Skuntry Brewing | Joe Esser

Tang & Gin and Gilligan's Island | Chris Johnson

When, Wine | Chris King

Shakes: When The Librarians Came To Town | Shan & Di

Untitled (London) | Orestes Valdes

Print Edition   


For All The Men And Women Who Go Out | Aaron Belz

Professor Diamond Bill Cardigan's Sure-Fire Bar Bet | Bill Chott

A Train Story | Matt Fernandes

Ed Fletcher's Corncrib Cocktails | Thom Fletcher

Mother's Milk | Jennifer Gaby

What's In A Name? | Franklin Jennings

Joe's Cafe | Brandyn Jones

Tasting Notes: Of Free Wine and Streetwalkers | Chris King

A Guide To The Lesser Brands | Michael McCarthy

Tickled Pink And Twisted Sister | Shannon McGinn

I Am Not A Nature Poet | Richard Newman

Alcoholism For Dummies: A Very Different 12-Step Program | Julia Smillie

Nine Beers In, I Beget A Serenade | James Weber, Jr.

On Texting An Ex At 3:30 AM | Tom Weber


Thomas Crone, Andrea Day, Nick Findley, Gina Rosa Gallina, Tom Lampe, Tara McCarthy, Dana Smith,  Adam Scott Williams

Tang & Gin and Gilligan's Island | by Chris Johnson

In my 15th year, I was looking for relief. Adolescence was infecting and emboldening my classmates, while I ... lagged behind. The artwork I’d presented for inclusion in the Culbreth Cougars' Junior High Yearbook had met with near universal disdain, and I didn’t like what I’d done well enough to fight the tide of bewildered disapproval. It also didn’t help that my motivation for doing the drawings in the first place went something like this: I know I have talent and something to offer, so by golly, I’m going to do something! The school year over; a hot, unstructured Piedmont summer lay before me. I started writing songs around that time, and began to investigate my parents’ meager assortment of bottled, alcoholic beverages.

I’d had a couple of beers one night (Tuborg, I think) while my parents entertained church and academic types in our living room, with its ochre shag carpet and ‘60s moderne lithograph showing the apostle Paul falling off his horse in the desert. My parents were acquainted with an interesting assortment of characters, among them the Reverend William Sloane Coffin, pastor at NY’s Riverside Church (whose bell tower I would later climb) and model for the hip radical reverend in Gary Trudeau’s Doonesbury. Another sometime visitor was Bernard Lafayette, who had worked closely with MLK. My Dad, an ordained Methodist minister, was director of the Wesley Foundation at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. He attended seminary at Union Theological in New York in the ‘50s and studied with Reinhold Niebuhr, author of the original, later truncated, “Serenity Prayer” made infamous by AA. He had also studied with Paul Tillich, my older brother’s namesake and author of the Christian Existentialist classic, The Courage to Be, a version of which he gave me on my fifteenth birthday. I didn’t know much about my father’s notion or relationship with God, or his deep commitment to righting social wrongs (it is telling that, as my mother confided in me at some later date, the only time she ever saw my father shed real tears was on the occasion of Martin Luther King’s murder). At any rate, I knew that my dad was not a run-of-the-mill southern preacher, but I was fairly certain that on some fundamental level I was, and always would be, a Preacher’s Kid.

I also knew that I had never tasted anything as oddly satisfying as those two cans of imported beer. I lay on my bed, in the dark, tickled by this discovery, feeling warmed, opened up, thinking that perhaps this... is something.

I had a buddy, Malcolm, who looked older – apparently at least eighteen – and we rarely had much trouble securing a six-pack or a quart of whatever. We then would find a sequestered spot (there were many to be found those days in Chapel Hill, often behind some bushes on campus. I suspect that today they are harder to find). We would drink Colt 45, but experimented with the various and fruity Boones Farm blends and Richard’s Wild Irish Rose. We would conspiratorially alternate swigs at a rate we could tolerate, until that reckless warmth came into us. It was fun. We were boys, bridging an uneventful youth and the uncharted horrors of adulthood. Of course, I was desperate, in ways I had not yet fathomed completely.

Inevitably, I suppose, cannabis entered the picture around this time. A few years later, many of our peer group would experiment with the pungent and seductive weed, but Malcolm and I were the pioneers in our age group in the summer of ‘75. It earned us a reputation as ne’er-do-wells, pot-heads and (oh, my) class skippers (something I would only do, later, in college). Getting stoned was simply not that hip in 1975, in our particular peer hierarchy.

In the fall of that year, coming home from school typically meant a toasted cheese English muffin, perhaps a tab or two of Mom’s Valium and a visit to the aforementioned barely-populated liquor area. It wasn’t even a cabinet, just a few bottles stuck up in the right side of the kitchen cupboard.
The brandy was awful, the buzz not worth the chore of swallowing the substance. I don’t think my parents were whiskey drinkers, but there was some scotch. It didn’t taste great with orange juice, an initial experiment in mixology. (I’d always loved orange juice – my dad’s dad grew oranges for the Donald Duck brand in Lake Wales, FL.)

But gin and orange juice tasted tolerable. Plus, the gin bottle was easy to dilute to bring the level back to status quo. Maybe because I feared befouling the delicious and familial nectar of my boyhood, though , I chose a different blend: gin diffused in the sticky neon-orange convenience of the NASA lab-approved, vitamin-C enriched goodness of Tang, chased with a Space Food Stick to cleanse the palate.
The afternoon blahs of bad black and white television – Gilligan’s Island, I Dream of Jeannie, and the occasional after school special about some sad, a broken home disappeared into ... warmth. Not oblivion, but warmth, saturation, somewhere almost whole. Later, as a graduate student, I’d listen to Peter Case sing people in hell wanna have some water, and play it over and again, not even sure what Peter meant by that, or why I liked it so damn much.

At some point I was able to let go of the artificial intelligence of chemical friendship, liquid or otherwise, and went on with my life, glad enough to have one at all, I suppose. I met my wife along my path to sobriety. Recently, we rented Sideways, a film we both enjoyed very much. The descriptions of the wines, of vintages, of soils and weather were entirely poetic – hints of anise or a touch of cedar; of the tensile strength of the skin of various grapes and the fragility and beauty and horticultural splendor of nurturing this fruit towards its fruition; of the harvest and aging in oak barrels in dank cellars – as the film closed, with lonely but lovely Brian Wilson’s voice singing Wouldn’t it be Nice? over the credits, we discussed our mutual enjoyment of the delicious mix of poetry and neurotic failure, and unrequited, unconsummated passions, of the hint of hope of resolution and resolve, of warmth, of rest, of refreshment, of ... water?

My wife sighed and looked over at me.
“I don’t drink wine.”
“Yeah” I replied meekly. “Me neither.”


Coming Soon.