Thursday, December 31, 2009

BooksFirst - November-December 2009

Books Bought

Juliet, Naked by Nick Hornby
Mauve Gloves & Madmen, Clutter & Vine by Tom Wolfe
Bonk by Mary Roach
Look At The Birdie by Kurt Vonnegut
The Battle For America 2008 by Dan Balz and Haynes Johnson
Googled by Ken Auletta
The Doll's House by Neil Gaiman
Dream Country by Neil Gaiman

Books Read

The Lost Symbol by Dan Brown
Home Game: An Accidental Guide to Fatherhood by Michael Lewis
The Restaurant At The End Of The Universe by Douglas Adams
Juliet, Naked by Nick Hornby


Anybody reading my rather neglected Twitter feed knows that I was doing a countdown from when Dan Brown's latest metaphysical potboiler hit the streets and when I would get it from the library. I had put in my request a good several weeks before the book came out, so I was much higher than somebody that waited to for the September 15 release date. I started at 291 and was down to 182 in less than a week. The library had clearly ordered lots and lots of copies. Less than a month later, I had a copy of The Last Symbol in my hands.

Dan Brown is a truly awful writer. His prose is purple, his plots are preposterous and his opinions are perplexing. I've milked his breathless travelogues for several blog posts over the years, notably for trips to Paris and Rome. Since this book was set in Washington, it was practically a hometown no brainer. And despite his claims at infallibility, his details are often wrong. I've been down the hallway between Capitol and the Library of Congress and it doesn't connect quite the way he claims it does. And while in previous books he took as locales major landmarks such as the Louvre and the Vatican, here he sticks to decidedly more minor monuments. Besides the Capitol, most of the action takes place in places not hitherto on the tourist bus routes. Even the Masonic Temple in Arlington is used as a red herring rather than an actual locale. At the end of the book he does manage to give a whirlwind denouement for several places he had clearly done research for but couldn't shoe-horn into the plot.

And the plot is sloppy wet kiss to the Masonic orders. Not since The Man Who Would Be King has this group of drunken civic leaders been given so much good press. Maureen Dowd who wrote the review for the New York Times (presumably real reviewers wouldn't sully their reputation with it) claims that the Masons got to him. He definitely pulls some punches and dismisses the more lurid conspiracy theories as bunk while still giving them all the world-running power people would like to believe they have.

Whether the book is any good or not is irrelevant. For a guy who has spun the thinnest of theories into best selling dross, the lost symbol really wasn't worth finding.

A much better writer is Michael Lewis who has written such great books as Liars Poker and The Blind Side. While picking up The Lost Symbol I saw his latest book Home Game. A collection of lightly related essays about fatherhood, this is ostensibly about his 'failures' as a father, but it's really self-deprecating bragging about what a loving dad and husband he really is. It's a shtick that others are doing, usually with better cause and more shocking incidents, most notably Sandra Tsing Loh. For a mcuh richer riff on this theme, try the Underparenting column by Tom Scocca in his in the Awl.

Since the book started life as a series of online journal entries, their rather scattershot chronology just doesn't tie together very coherently. It jumps around to the birth of each of his kids, but it doesn't connect the different eras very well. And it reeks of upper-middle class privilege in a off-putting way. It's annoying to read about famous glamorous people trying to play-up how hard it is to raise a kid in Paris or how daycare works for a self-employed writer.

Writers have a need, indeed an obligation, to stretch all their writing as far as it can be marketed, but this book was better kept as a series of DaddyBlog entries.

It seriously discredits my geek cred to admit that I do not have every line of all five books of the Hitchhikers Guide To The Galaxy trilogy memorized. When in college, if I had time to kill between classes I would sometimes just randomly read passages in the bookstore without actually buying the book. To atone for this neglect on my part, I have been doing my best to catch up and with the completion of The Restaurant At The End Of The Universe I am now 40% finished since I will probably boycott the non-Adams continuations of the series on general principle.

Starting up right at the end of the first Hitchhikers Guide, the book scatters the characters around the universe both spatially and chronologically. The best set piece in the book is the titular restaurant which is one of the greatest science fiction ideas in recent memory. Unfortunately their time there is limited. The end of the book is not so much a cliff-hanger as a cliff-seer which does show promise for the next volume. But the social satire and inspired silliness which is the hallmark of the series seems to be in rather short supply. Or perhaps I am just too jaded as the tropes of the series have penetrated pop culture. Like Hamlet, the book is just too full of cliches.

My current favorite 'literary' fiction writer is Nick Hornby. In fact, I'm a bit of a High Fidelity groupie. Not only have I read the book several times and seen the movie, I attended one of the only 32 Broadway performances of the musical adaptation (the record store is moved to Brooklyn for this version) and even have the soundtrack album.

Juliet, Naked is a return to a narrative that lets him parenthetically address the music world. The Juliet of the title is the name of an album by Tucker Crowe, a promising singer-songwriter that at the peak of his success walks away into Pynchonesque isolation. Crowe fades into obscurity except among a small but devoted and slightly demented group of internet fans. The girlfriend of the biggest fan stumbles into an e-mail relationship with the singer. What ensues is not quite hilarity, but a very thought provoking exegesis on fame and fandom and family.

The characters in a Hornby novel are always deeply flawed and hyper-real. The plots avoid the easy set-ups and unroll at their own pace. The "Naked" in Juliet, Naked refers to a studio demo copy of Crowe's signature album. It also is about how all three of the major characters get emotionally stripped bare and have to face their actions and decisions of the past twenty years or so. While not as rockingly energetic as High Fidelity, it is easily Hornby's most complex and thought provoking work.

NaJuReMoNo: January is National Just Read More Novels Month, so get going. I will have the official post up soon, but you are always allowed to start reading once the new year begins.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Undie Bomber Goes To Eleven


Here is confidential footage of failed terrorist Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab nearly getting caught at security with his secret tighty whitey ordnance.

Thank goodness that Umar wasn't one of Spinal Tap's drummers because the spontaneous combustion would have set off the bomb for sure.

Friday, December 25, 2009

Must Be Santa

I know I already posted one Bob Dylan Christmas song already this year, but I have become obsessed with another one. Let me try to enumerate the ways I love it.

  1. Bob doesn't even try to lip-synch.
  2. I love the mood and setting in this incredibly cool retro-Southern party.
  3. Everybody in the video is so bouncy and high-spirited.
  4. The women are cute but in a friends-and-family way, as opposed to rap video rumpshaking dancers.
  5. Bob keeps doing that 'appear twice in a tracking shot' thing.
  6. You can never have too much accordion in a Christmas song.
  7. I have no idea why the guy is being chased through the house, but there must be an entire Coen Brothers movie behind it.
  8. The list of reindeer always makes me laugh.
  9. You can't do better in a music video than an auto-defenstration.
  10. Bob Dylan and Santa are my two favorite mythical holiday characters.
So I wish all of my friends across the Blogosphere, in FaceBookLand and throughout the Twitterscape a happy and most satisfactory celebration of the arbitrary birthday for the apocryphal religious leader of their choice.

Hat tip to Courtney for featuring yet another Dylan classic today.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

More Snow Pix

The snow has stopped. This morning before shoveling I decided to take a walk around the neighborhood. Part of the fun was finding all the things buried in the snow.

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And once the snow stops, the sky and the snow are just so beautiful.



My dog used to love the snow. He would leap through it with a look of joy. So when I saw dogs being walked this morning, it brought back all those memories.

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But it was time to shovel snow and my neighbors, including the newlyweds two doors down were already hard at work.

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Snow is so beautiful, but so much work.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Live Blogging the Blizzard

For once a snowstorm prediction is proving accurate. we returned from a holiday party last night just as the first flakes were beginning to fall. This morning there was between 8 and 12 inches of snow across my yard and driveway.

The front door at about 9 am this morning.


The front steps and yard were completely buried.

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The problem with my yard is that I have a twenty foot wide townhouse and half the front yard is the driveway. Another third is the front steps and the sidewalk. And then there is a tree in the middle of the rest. Any snowfall over six inches because a civil engineering problem. I have to grade the snow around the yard, calculating the angle of repose and doing strategic cut and fill work to allow more snow to be shoveled later. Here is the Buzz Flag before and after the first shovel. Update: After the second shovel, the post for the flag is nearly buried.

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And here is the driveway finished for the first pass:


Update (2:30 p.m.):

The bobcat that was plowing our cu-de-sac conked out and had to be towed away. It quit right around 11 and a tow truck came out about 2. It took them about an hour to get it on the truck bed. At one point they were using a pickup truck with a plow blade to push it.


Update 2 (11:45 p.m.): The whole family came out for the final shovel of the night. You can see my son and I in this video clip finishing off the drive and the steps.

One final look at the close to being buried Buzz Flag:


But when the sun sets and the Christmas lights come on, there is a glow and peacefulness to the neighborhood that make the hassle and backbreaking work of the snow worth it.


More to come?

Wednesday, December 09, 2009

Top Chef Finals

It may come as no surprise to readers of this blog that I have become just a teensy bit obsessed with the current season of Top Chef. It has been one of my goals to eat at as many of the cheftestants' restaurants as I can. Of the final three, I have dined at two of their establishments. Let's compare.


Frederick, MD

Woodfire Grill
Atlanta, GA

Bryan Voltaggio
Kevin Gillespie
Modern American
Local-vore Rustic
Top Chef Reputation

While just as intense as his brother Michael, Bryan came off as the more relaxed and friendlier of the two Voltaggio Brothers.

Friendly bear-like Kevin was everybody’s body. His food was mocked (mostly by Michael V.) as being too simple, but he won challenge after challenge.


Located in the semi-seedy downtown of Frederick, Maryland, Volt is located in an old mansion tarted up to look like a modern art museum.

Located in a semi-seedy area of Atlanta, Woodfire Grille looks like a dumpy barbecue joint, but on the inside it has high ceilings and earth tones that make it resemble a 70s era ski chalet.


The food is high end gourmet and comparable to fancy New York places. The meat tray included both pate and head cheese. Both of our first courses came covered with foam. The goat cheese ravioli was fine, but the lobster was just out of this world.

For the main dishes, the pork tenderloin was cut with a butter knife tender but the presentation was a little busy with at least three little side bits on a rather small plate. The fish dish was tasty but not spectacular. Both desserts were deconstructed and rather bizarre.

Service by the black and Converse clad wait staff was attentive to the point of obsequiousness. The only glitch was that the bar was slammed by cargo shorts wearing refugees from a downtown street festival and our cocktails didn't arrive until halfway through the appetizers.

We sprang for the tasting menu which is not listed in advance. Appetizer was a shrimp something which was very good. Next was a diver scallop that was only so-so. Third course was a deboned quail.


Such a tasty scrumptious thing. Like a little baby slice of heaven. The main entree was, wait for it, pork belly and every calorie laden bite was delicious.


The first dessert was frozen solid so they replaced it with another one featuring candied bacon. Pork as a dessert is a wonderful thing.

The service was nearly the best I ever had anywhere. Our seasoned to the point of looking grizzled waiter explained the whole life story of every animal that died for our dinner as it came out. Midway through the meal he suggested a perfect wine pairing for just one course with overselling the rest of the meal.
Chef Sighting

We were in the Main Dining Room, not the Chef’s Dining Room, so we didn’t get to gawk at Bryan in action, but he was in the back looking all serious slicing and dicing like a mad man. The next time we may have to spring for the 21 course tasting menu.

We were one of the first seatings, so kevin wasn’t around when we arrived, but as we were leaving, he was hard at work at the titular woodfire grille. He stopped for a photo and signed a copy of the tasting menu for us.



Volt is an oasis of fine dining in central Maryland that can compete with the best restaurants anywhere in the country. It is fancy enough to more than impress a date, but not so stuffy that you can’t take the whole family for a special occasion. Top Chef has made Bryan and prodigal brother Michael local celebrities so reservations are now tough to get. But since it is in downtown Frederick, there are plenty of places to get a tattoo nearby.

One of the best places to just relax and have a fine meal anywhere. I had a cocktail called the Rendezvous (high west rye whiskey, fresh grapefruit juice, cardamom syrup, and lemon juice) that was about the best I have ever had. It’s a little too expensive to go to on a weekly basis, but you sure wish that you could. And for after dinner entertainment, the infamous Tattletales (link NSFW) is just a few blocks away.

I will be on the couch watching the finale and if either of these two wins, I can see why. Both are Top Chefs no matter who Tom and Padme finally pick.

Holiday Song Whiplash

Having Members Of The Tribe sing Christmas songs is a time-honored tradition that has made Neil Diamond one of the most beloved singers on those all-Christmas tunes radio stations. But to top even that, there can never enough Bobby Zimmerman singing holiday tunes. Warning: The video could possibly induce photosensitive epilepsy.

As for the Jewish winter holiday, for too long we have had to endure that one Adam Sandler song. But now there is a true genuine Festival Of Lights song written by none other than Orrin Hatch, the Mormon senator from Utah. Get into the true Hanukkah spirit with this song:

Eight Days of Hanukkah from Tablet Magazine on Vimeo.

I see a wonderful cross-cultural trend here. Perhaps we can get Tina Turner to record something celebrating Ramadan or Enya to write something for Tet.

(h/t to Josh Fruhlinger)

Wednesday, December 02, 2009

A Tale Of Two Turkey Dinners

For reasons I'm still trying to sort out, we found ourselves on a thousand mile road trip to Savannah for Thanksgiving to eat the fried goodness of Paula Deen. Along the way we picked up our son in Atlanta who has learned were all the good food is made. So before we hit the road again, we stopped at a trendy burger place in Atlanta. Here is how the two stack up against each other.

The Lady And Sons
Flip Burger
The Sign


In the historic district near the waterfront.
In the industrial Howell Mill area.
Cooking Show Connection

Paula Deen is a Southern style fixture on the Food Network with a bevy of shows. Her two sons also have their own travel style show.Top Chef Season Three runner-up Richard Blais is a 'consultant' to the restaurant.

Southern antebellum as designed by DisneyWorld. You enter through the gift shop and are assaulted by about everything Paula Deen related. I bought a kitchen towel with her macaroni and cheese recipe on it. The restaurant is three floors tall with the main dining room on the top floor.
A hip trendy night club with lots of neon and dim track lighting. In keeping with the 'flip' theme, all the tables and booths are mirrored on the ceiling.

Only taken for holidays, which is part of why we went. Normally only same-day times are available starting at 9:30 am, so getting good time is hit or miss.
None. First come, first serve. There is usually a line and they do a lot of take-out business.

The Food

For Thanksgiving dinner they had a buffet with the requisite turkey and ham, but there was also plenty of fried chicken. All the southern style sides were there as well, including mac and cheese, green beans, creamed corn, succotash and the like.

The special Thanksgiving burger was a turkey patty topped with cranberry sauce, green beans, and fried onions. For dessert I got a pumpkin pie milkshake.

Paula Deen is force of nature and her high volume tourist trap moves the people through. Still, the comfort food is well cooked and free of the extremes found in kitschy
The burgers are all cleverly designed with unique ingredients. The side dishes are varied and tend towards the trendy

Will I Return?
Probably. I would like to eat off the regular menu. What is the point of going to Savannah if you can't put some South in your Mouth.
Most definitely. The burgers are great, reasonably priced, and very convenient to the Georgia Tech campus.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Mother Edie

Original here

The latest storyline in 9 Chickweed Lane (aka The Horniest Strip In Print) has to do with Grandma Edie retelling the tale of how she aided the war effort. In today's episode, a mysterious officer recruits Edie to become a singer for the Reich under deep cover.

That story sure does sound familiar. Like maybe Howard W. Campbell Jr. in Mother Night. Methinks somebody owes Kurt Vonnegut some royalties. Or at least a shout-out.

Update: Brooke McEldowney confesses to an inexplicable (at least to me) ignorance of the works of Kurt Vonnegut:
I've never read any of Kurt Vonnegut's novels; and now I know I shouldn't until I've finished this tale. Thanks for warning me off.
Well, if he hasn't read them, he should. Just as soon as he finishes this story line.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Night At The Newseum

This post includes spoilers for tonight's Newseum episode of Dinner Impossible.

About two months ago, as members of the Newseum in Washington, we received notice that there was going to be a Food Network event with a special mystery chef. Other than that, we had no idea what to expect. At 6:30 they let people in to see the giant big screen in the lobby showing a Dinner Impossible logo.


I was unfamiliar with the show's format, but I quickly caught on. Each week they take hunky chef Robert Irvine to a different location and make him cook for a big group of people around some sort of theme.


At just a little past 7, Robert Irvine came out to announce that the mission was accomplished "just barely." He then quickly ducked out to never be seen again, but that meant it was time for the eating.

There were four stations with the two closest to us representing television dinners and Julia Childs respectively. We divided and conquered and we each got one entree from each line. The TV dinner came in a little aluminum tray with a Dinner Impossible logo on the cardboard lid. This was no tinny tasting reheated processed food. Each little item was delicious and the brown betty was best of all.


The Julia Childs food line had all sorts of French food right out of Julie and Julia. As we were eating, a film crew was coming around filming reaction shots to the food. My wife loved it, but they made her do her blurb a couple of times for the right amount of enthusiasm. We had to sign releases, but that is no guarantee or bits will make the final cut.


We went back to the final two stations. One was based on World War One vegetarian dishes and the other was the first Thanksgiving. By the time we made it around, the venison was gone but there plenty of other things left. The vegetarian dishes were interesting, but not as good as the stuff we had already eaten.


As the crowds were dwindling we saw the film units going around and setting up the glamour shots of each of the dishes. A couple of hours after we showed up we left feeling like a part of history. Mission Delicious.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Best Of The Palin Live Blogs

If you were a REAL blogger (unlike one that takes a week or two off at a time **cough**yours truly**cough**), you were live blogging today's interview between Oprah and Palin (which sounds like a failed Letterman bit but isn't). So in atonement, here are some highlights from those that took one for the team and watched the trainwreck in real time.

Andrew Sullivan:
4.18 pm. So far, most of Oprah's questions can be summarized as: "Isn't it weird how great you are?" In the last segment, Palin was actually forced to be more critical of her campaign than Oprah is. One wonders: is Oprah this desperate to boost her ratings? Is anyone on TV actually interested in finding out the truth?

4.21 pm. Oprah gives the game away: "This was in the book so I assume it was fair game." Oprah clearly agreed in advance only to ask questions from the book's own narrative.This is not journalism; it's celebrity puffery. Of course, it's Oprah.
4:24 — Oprah: Obviously you’ve read newspapers and magazines, why didn’t you name any? Sarah: I love all of those things, yes, and I could have named every newspaper and magazine for the last 300 years, but I felt condescended to, so fuck her question right? I don’t like to play the victim card, but I was totally the victim here, and the entire concept of “news media” is flawed because I flubbed this question.
4:25 Oh, good, Oprah is actually playing a clip of the interview. Let's see how Sarah does when challenged with reality! Remember how she couldn't remember a magazine or newspaper? Oprah: "Obviously you've read books and magazines. Why didn't you just name any books and magazines?" SP: "Obviously, I have been a lover of books, all my life." Conspicuously she still has not named a book or magazine that she has read.
The Awl:
4:26 Chris Lehmann: Wasn't SP really just threatened by Couric because she KNEW that she would out-PERK her?

4:26 Chris Lehmann: Wow. The pot just called the kettle perky
The Washington Post's Lisa des Moraes:
4:28:The Baby

Oprah and Palin talk at length about Trig, Palin's youngest child, who has Down Syndrome. Weirdly, neither of them ever calls Trig by name.
And who are the livebloggers thinking of?

4:56 Now Palin is sucking up to Oprah, who she used to watch, back when she was a stay-at-home mom (Sullivan you should probably fact-check this).
The Awl:
4:14 I DON'T LIKE TO SHOP. Add to Andrew Sullivan's lie list!!!
4:08 BARACK OBAMA’S CHILDREN GOT LEFT ALONE! WHY WEREN’T MINE. WHY WEREN’T MY MALIAS AND SASHA’S LEFT ALONE. Probably because he didn’t wear them as a cape every time he appeared in public? Or maybe because he said other things besides “MY KIDS MY KIDS MY KIDS” when explaining his qualifications for president? Meh, let’s just blame Andrew Sullivan.
And some final words:

4:57 — One last question: are you going to have a talk show?
4:57 — Sarah: HAHAHAHAHA THAT IS THE FUNNIEST COMMENT I HAVE EVER HEARD OPRAH AHAHHAHA, but maybe. I love what you do for women, Oprah!
Lisa des Moraes:
It's official. They are in love.
Andrew Sullivan:
4.57 pm. Now it's a love-fest between two celebrities with talk-shows.
The only thing I can imagine worse than sitting through an interview with Sarah Palin would be to have to actually read her book. I doubt even she has bothered doing that.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Tennis Night

I don't watch pro football, but this sure looks like a dead-on parody.

Compare it to the real thing:

I think I like Jenna Maroney's version better.

Monday, November 02, 2009

BooksFirst - October 2009

Books Bought

Books Read
Inherent Vice by Thomas Pynchon


Thomas Pynchon is one of the great enigmatic writers of the modern era. While I made it through V many years ago, Gravity's Rainbow has always been too much to complete. His more recent work like Mason and Dixon have been even less accessible. When I heard that his latest novel, Inherent Vice (some sort of legal pun) was a straight forward mystery, I was all for it.

It's a mystery, but not a straight forward one. Set in 1970, it reads like The Big Sleep meets The Big Lebowski. Doc Sportello is a stoner private eye used to small fry domestic investigations who gets caught up in something bigger than him. Exactly what, I'm not sure. I've never been very good at following normal mysteries let alone ones involving vigilante cops, hallucinogenic dentists, and zombie surf rockers.

Nothing in a Pynchon book is exactly what it appears to be and there are multiple layers of symbols, motifs, and themes. Some of them include the Manson murders, a omnipresently named smuggling ring, and Nixonian currency. And then there is the dope. The entire book is shrouded in a hashish haze, taking the concept of unreliable narrator to new highs, so to speak. If you turned the book into a drinking game by taking a shot whenever somebody lights a doobie, you'd be on your third liver by the end of the book.

It's not many books that merit their own concordance or are promoted by a YouTube promotional video. But it is a deceptively breezy read that will leave you pondering long after you close the covers.

In the pantheon of Pynchon novels, Inherent Vice is not going to be judged a masterwork, but it is definitely intriguing. Scenes and incidents recur and echo. Characters turn out to be not what they seem to be. And somehow it all wraps together to be something more than a mystery. And that is part of the mystery.

Sunday, November 01, 2009

Join The Parade

On of the cool features of the Georgia Tech Homecoming is that they encourage alumni band members to come and play. They are the motley crew behind the main band.

Georgia Tech Marching Band Homecoming 2009 from yellojkt on Vimeo.

Look for my son. Hint: He's in the saxaphone section.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

More Mystery

It's not typical for me to be able to play Where Is Yellojkt Now? two weeks in a row, but I am on the road again. Her are more pictures and clues for where I am this week. To win you need to give the state, city and street where these pictures were taken.

It's not THE Capitol, but this capitol on Capitol Street sure looks familiar.

While not anywhere near the city limits, this street is a center for live music.

The bionic man doesn't live here, but another Steve, Stevie Ray Vaughn is a local hero. Blues is a popular format including J. T. Coldfire pictured here.

Rod Stewart may not play here, but Maggie Mae's is a local landmark. As is the Blind Pig Pub where Joe Vega plays every night except Monday's and alternate Thursdays.

I would be very impressed is somebody can solve this without Googling any of the bars or performers mentioned. Go ahead and leave your guesses in the comments or check out this Flickr set to more clues (as well as the answer).

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Factory Tour

I drew the short straw and got named as the company representative for a boring, overly technical factory tour. Fortunately the social part of the trip included a much more interesting factory tour. So it once again time to play "Where Is Yellojkt Now?" Check out the hints and pictures (I apologize for the fuzzy quality of my sad Palm Treo lens) below to see if you can name the state, city, and company that I was at tonight.

This fiberglass horse is overlooking a fine mountain stream running through the woods. If you ford the stream, you'd find plenty of real horses.

We do the mash, the sour mash. Sorry, that was really corny.

That is a fine kettle of, well, not fish you've got me in. In fact, I am really steamed.

I don't know jack about barrels but these are in high spirits. Those aren't concord grapes in those casks.

Roll out the barrel and let's have a barrel of fun. The proof is in the sipping. 90.4 proof that is. Reserve me a bottle.

I just wish that I could fit a fifth or two in my carry-on bag for the flight back.