We here at the Alembic (we, meaning I) tend not to endorse any one product. We (I) tend to see the diversity of the world’s merchandise as something of a use-as-needed set of resources, not to be overdosed or obsessed upon, to be experienced in a responsible and sober manner, aware of its benefits and limitations, with the ability to walk away if the product begins to overtake the consumer’s existence. There is though, a whole subterranean second life of a product, and that is the marketing and trading in the putative value of that product, for good or for ill, wagering on the success or failure, by the money people that really don’t care about the item itself. It’s a means to an end, which is fine, except the last thing I need is to feel I am being manipulated into trends by bloodsuckers. Sometimes it is best to give them a taste of their own medicine. Follow me now…
It was at one of those high-end bars, dark and moody, surrounded by people with filthy riches and filthier thoughts, that I sat with a somewhat stoic and thoughtful air about me. It was a hotel bar. Having some time to kill I had stopped in, only to find myself in the middle of a launch party for a new whiskey owned by some Silicon Valley types and endorsed by a major famous person. Taylor Swift or Jonathan Swift or Kevin Spacey or Billy Retard. Whoever is au courant, these days. I can’t keep up. Anyway, free samples of the stuff were being brought around on silver trays. Some of the promotional agents were touting it as the next big thing and most of the people there, full of shit as they were, agreed. I wanted no part of it. I snuck up to the bar and called the bartender over.
“Do you have any Jefferson’s Ocean bourbon?” I whispered.
The bartender’s eyes immediately lit up with the familiarity of dealing with someone on the inside, someone who knows what they are talking about. He told me to wait a minute and then disappeared into the back. He emerged after a few minutes with a bottle of the bourbon I had requested, a bottle that was half full (I’m an optimist, after all) and said it was the manager’s personal stash.
“How much for it?” I said.
“Fifteen dollars a shot,” he said. “Those are friend prices.”
I told him I wanted the whole bottle, what was left anyway. He looked at me for a minute. I said I was willing to be reasonable. There are about fourteen two-ounce shots in an average 750 ml. Charge me for seven, expect a generous gratuity, and it’s one less puddle head you have to deal with for the rest of the night. Being a prudent gent he agreed, and I was soon nestled at a corner table with a glass and my bottle at my fingertips. Just as I suspected, a clean cut fellow who was half buried in his phone, texting away, came up and asked me, not really paying attention, if I liked the bourbon. He was one of the financial backers, a twenty-six-year-old tech billionaire, who seemed more concerned with social media real-time location tags than the bourbon itself.
“Your bourbon should be served in a horse trough,” I said.
“It doesn’t matter,” he whispered. “Attention and interest are today’s real currency. Minute-by-minute valuations are now possible through the use of tracking apps. Every time someone checks in to this party on-line my worth increases. The stock goes up.”
“Your name wouldn’t happen to be Shkreli would it?”
“I wouldn’t admit it if it was.”
“What about the bourbon?” I said.
“Today it is bourbon,” he shrugged. “Tomorrow it’s a clothing line. Next week it’s a car show. My business is hype. And business is good.”
He looked up and noticed the bottle of Jefferson’s Ocean on my table.
“This is Jefferson’s Ocean bourbon.”
“As in George and Weesie Jefferson,” I barked. “How the hell do you think they moved on up, to the east side, to a deluxe apartment in the sky? The man knew his dry cleaning and his bourbon.”
“Of course. Makes perfect sense,” said the techie, who was negative three years old when the show went off the air.
“I’m kidding. Think more Thomas Jefferson. Think Port Jefferson. Think Jefferson Airplane. Think Jefferson Starship. Point is, do you know what this bourbon does after it is made and packed in oak casks?”
“No.” He put down his phone. I had his full attention.
“They sail it around the world. They put it on a big ship and it aerates and matures on the high seas. What does your bourbon do? It sits on some Kentucky horse farm. My bourbon outruns Somali pirates.”
“My bourbon sails neath the Aurora Borealis.”
“My bourbon navigates the tempestuous waters of the South Indian Basin.”
“My bourbon watches the sun come up off the coast of the Palmyra atoll.”
“I want some.”
“You can’t have it. I own this bottle.”
“I’ll get my own.” he said, sulking off. A minute later he was back with a look of desperation on his face.
“My bourbon survives the Bermuda Triangle,” I said, taking a sip. “Taste the triumph.”
“I want to taste the triumph.”
“You can’t taste the triumph.”
“Let’s get serious. How much do you want for that bottle?” he said, crumbling.
I watched, satisfied as he began peeling Ben Franklins off a hefty roll.
Outside the air was cold. I shoved my hands in my pockets, tucked my chin into my coat and walked down the street. I stopped at a liquor store, bought a fifth of Old Crow for about six bucks, took a belt and then handed it off to a fuliginous homeless fellow curled up next to a building, whose look of gratitude was the only genuine article of the evening.
“You put the pimp in Scarlet Pimpernel,” he rasped.
Considering a career as a professor of economics, I jaywalked to the opposite side of the street.
More Alembics to come.