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MemberAugust 19, 2011 at 7:44 pm
ORLEY and THE 120 PROOF FRUIT COCKTAIL
It has long been established that California surfers were the inventors of the Wine Cooler. There are those who might argue the claim, but as far as I have ever been able to determine, that beverage was first concocted and enjoyed along the sands of Southern California beaches. Back then it was merely a mixture of whatever cheap wine was on hand and usually 7-Up, and the 7-Up was added simply to stretch the amount of wine available.
The Wine Cooler has come a long way since those carefree days. Now it comes in every sort of flavor and variety, from plum-mango to ollallaberry. There are even rum coolers and whiskey coolers and gin coolers – you name it. They are manufactured in cities across the nation and even the globe – big distilleries in Los Angeles and New York, small fizz-shops in West Nose Itch, Kansas. There are pink wine coolers, blue wine coolers, chartreuse and pomegranate wine coolers. The colors and tastes are almost endless and people from around the world seem to enjoy them even though, for many of us, they give terrific headaches.
One thing remains the same, though. Wine coolers are a casual drink. They are enjoyed at picnics and barbeques and ball games, even at the beach, where they got their start. They seem innocent enough and it isn’t uncommon for Grandpa to let 15-year-old Billy-Bob have a taste or twelve. No big deal. Fruit juice, right?
Legend has it that the first wine cooler was mixed in an old inner tube in a hand-dug pit on the beach near Malibu, California, probably about 1960, give or take. Doesn’t matter, really. I find myself wondering if the taste of inner tube interfered with the bouquet of the wine, although knowing surfers as I do, I doubt they would have noticed or cared. After a day of hot-dogging and shooting the curl, what could be greater than to lie on the sand by a fire and sip Annie Green Springs wine, laced with the crisp, earthy touch of pineapple juice and rubber?
I believe that mankind has invented and produced alcoholic beverages since the very beginning of time. Beer and wine could date back to Neanderthal times for all I know. Certainly it was present in Ancient Egypt, the ancient Mayan cultures and even our Native Americans imbibed. I, myself, have attempted to brew up my own version of Khalua and Irish Crème liquors. Not as tasty as the expensive originals, I admit, but it was fun trying.
One of my very first boyfriends, when I was not more than thirteen, had creative parents who were always trying out some sort of inventive adventure with food or drink. I remember peeling potatoes in their kitchen and watching them cut the spuds into thin slices to fry up their own potato chips. The result was a pile of greasy wafers but mmm, mmm, they were sure fresh and good!
His mom even tried to grow and harvest her own coffee beans. We lived in Southern California so the climate was amenable to that but there seems to be a lot more to growing coffee than just watering the plant and picking off the beans. Juan Valdez earns every nickel he and his donkey make. I remember my boyfriend’s mom spraying the bushes with DDT to keep munching bugs away and then gleefully harvesting her handfuls of reddish beans and putting them in the sun to dry while warding off invading crows with a broom. She finally had to cover the bushes and beans with netting and eventually they did dry out, but that left her with the tedious job of shucking off the hulls.
To make a long tale short, it was the nastiest tasting coffee ever brewed. There was a hint of coffee flavor mixed with the bouquet of bug spray and bird poop but it may have been difficult for most people to distinguish. I was not a coffee drinker back then but I do vividly recall them sipping their home grown brew and cringing, tears of agony rolling down their faces as they proclaimed that there was nothing as wonderful as coffee grown and roasted at home!
These same wonderful creative folks were experts at brewing beer as well. I learned at an early age that you can make beer from just about anything as long as you have grain and hops and something to give it pizzaz. They produced honey beer, peanut beer, chili pepper beer and some other concoction that appeared sort of gray in the bottles. It was frightening. I did not drink beer back then and 40-plus years later I still don’t care for it, but I know what it should look like and smell like. The gray beer did not stimulate the senses.
Still the process of brewing it fascinated me and I liked watching them cooking and straining and bottling their creations. One summer about a third of their garage was full of bottles of homemade beer in various flavors and strengths. It was unusually warm that summer and I can recall being there at their home, having grilled hamburgers with my boyfriend, when the explosions began.
It’s funny how one ripple of noise and one moment of detonation can set off a whole battleground. I don’t think they ever figured out why the first bottle of beer blew, but once it did the resounding affect was like D-Day at Normandy. The garage became an artillery range with corks and glass flying like deranged missiles in every direction at once. When my boyfriend’s father yanked open the door to the garage from the kitchen to see what the commotion was, he was struck instantly on the forehead by a glob of foam and two ballistic corks.
He staggered backwards, shouting something like “Save yourself!”, and made a dive under the kitchen table. My boyfriend and his brother immediately rose to the occasion, trying to get to the door in order to close it before anyone else was mortally injured by the eruption. The beer and glass and corks were creating mayhem, however, and anyone approaching the open doorway was immediately blinded by foam and debris. My boyfriend finally dropped to the floor and crawled on his belly to the doorway, covering his head with one arm while trying to reach through the thresh-hold for the edge of the door to pull it shut.
There never was any salvation. Eventually the barrage subsided as the last of the beer bottles sputtered and popped. The melee quieted to an occasional gurgle and hiss and there was nothing to do, after all, but survey the damage, which was more of a mess than actual structural damage.
It was reminiscent of a science fiction movie I had seen once about Pod People. The cocoons, or “pods”, were a foamy, frothy, oozing mess from which immerged gooey looking people who staggered around trying to pretend to be earthlings. In this case, the garage was most definitely alien in appearance and smell, with globs of foam clinging to the walls and rafters, and hanging down in frothy strings.
The family station wagon shimmered with fizzing floes that reminded me greatly of the crawling glaciers I saw once in Alaska. The foam sort of slithered down the windshield and off the fenders, lingering in puddles for a while along the bumper before it hit the garage floor. Stalactites hung from the rafters, the lawn mower, the bedsprings and old chairs that were stored near the front wall of the garage. And as the whole foamy mess made its way to the floor, it seemed to gather momentum and moved towards the garage door on its aromatic path to the great outdoors.
There was nothing to be done afterwards except mop and sweep up the mess. My boyfriend’s father managed to salvage several unbroken bottles of beer but I don’t know if he ever drank them. I think he was afraid. Every summer for as long as I visited their house, the aroma of beer would waft from the hot garage and permeate the whole house. Their station wagon was finally traded in on a new car that was less fragrant but certainly with less character as well. I doubt their old car was ever sold to anyone, at least not in the summertime, and I never really understood the desire to brew one’s own beer in the first place. It is just so much easier to drive to the supermarket.
Inmates cannot drive anywhere, however. And the commissary selection at the jail did not contain any alcoholic beverages at all, which might have made perfect sense to anyone who was not behind bars, but to the inmates this was, and still is, one of the things they miss most about being “inside”.
Orley was a trusty assigned to working in the kitchen. He had some background flipping burgers and so at least knew the difference between a cup and a pint, and he seemed to really enjoy his work. He looked a little like Danny DeVito, only taller, with a round midsection over which his jail kitchen apron fit with snug precision. The cooks liked him because he could actually read a recipe and did not need constant prodding to keep him on course. His fingernails were clean, he did not sport any graphic tattoos, and there were no running sores suggesting drug use and disease.
Orley’s specialty was breads and rolls. The jail kitchen still, to this day, puts out some very fine, freshly made cinnamon rolls every week, but when Orley would get in there with his sleeves rolled, his plastic gloves in place and his hairnet covering his nearly bald head it was like watching a master. He also made hot biscuits, various types of cookies, cakes and cobblers, all from scratch. Orley was amazing.
He was faithful to his duties, too. Orley was up by four o’clock every morning, rummaging through the stock room for flour, spices, and yeast. No one had to tell him what to do because he could read the schedule, the menu and the recipes and so he pretty much had a free reign of the early morning kitchen. By six o’clock chow, the inmates would be served rolls or biscuits or hotcakes or any one of many breakfast delights and Orley would wallow in the praise. Even the officers, myself included, got excited when Orley was at the baking helm. He always put aside a fresh, warm cinnamon roll for me and drizzled it with chocolate icing. Those were the good old days!
Suspicions about Orley’s kitchen expertise began to arise, however, when for several days many of workers came out of their dorm in the early morning hours, staggering and complaining of terrible headaches. The nursing staff began doling out inordinate amounts of Alka-Seltzer and Tums and began to make mutterings about plague and botulism. At the same time, the mood in the Trusty dorm each night was growing more and more jovial, with singing and laughter way into the early morning hours.
“If I didn’t know better, I’d say those guys were hungover,” one of the nurses commented on a particularly busy morning in the infirmary.
“What? On Kool-Aid?” was the deputy’s wry reply.
No one argued the point any further, but the brief conversation was overheard by one of the other officers who happened to have not much going on that day. When the kitchen was cleaned up from breakfast, and the lunch meal had not yet been started, this deputy, known by most of us as Moose, took it upon himself to begin a search of the kitchen.
The jail kitchen is comprised of a main work area where they do the baking, slicing, mixing, frying and serving, along with a walk-in fridge and a large dry storage room. The shelves of the dry storage are filled with cans of every sort of food source as well as coffee, sugar, flour, yeast, spices, pasta, you-name-it. There are dozens of places that can serve as hiding spots and it has never been unusual for officers to find various contraband hidden there. Cigarettes are the big favorite along with an occasional joint smuggled in from outside or a handmade weapon of some sort, or even the occasional tattoo gun made from sharp articles that are too numerous to mention.
Moose wasn’t interested in finding contraband, though. He was on a mission: to find out what was infecting or affecting the inmate workers. He might not ever have found it either, had it not been for the soft buzz of fruit flies circling his head.
Fruit flies? In a jail? Moose was more annoyed than suspicious because any time insects of any sort begin to take up residence in the jail it means calling in an exterminator. There was once a complaint of wiggling rice, which turned out to be little white maggots that had infested some of the rice, and on more than once occasion the jail was over run with biting “nits” that enjoyed feasting on inmate flesh. There is no fault here and it does not bode of unsanitary conditions. It’s nothing that doesn’t happen in your own favorite eating spot. It’s just that in a government facility like a jail, the food supply is held to amazingly high standards, no matter what the public may think.
So Moose set out to follow the trail of the fruit flies and eventually his gaze was drawn upwards to the ceiling panels where he noted a smeary, reddish stain. Of course the first thought was that someone had killed someone else, stuffed their bleeding corpse up into the ceiling and left the decomposing body to leak fluids. But Moose did not smell that unmistakable aroma of decomposition and so he gathered up his bravado and pushed open the ceiling panel to investigate.
Moose was met with a large plastic container, the kind of plastic container used for facility-sized amounts of laundry detergent. The sides of the tub were smeared with a sticky, reddish substance and the smell that hit Moose’s golf ball-shaped nose was that of rotting fruit. Inside the big plastic tub was a bubbling, foaming brew that looked like fruit cocktail gone horribly wrong. The sharp aroma of 120 proof fruit cocktail wafted through the jail vents so fast that there was no time to even notify the Sergeant before half the staff was already in the kitchen voicing their interest. There was no question as to who was responsible. Orley!
He didn’t bother to deny his bootlegging activities but he was hesitant to share his recipe. As it turned out, all it took was some sugar, some yeast and a few weeks worth of leftover fruit from the inmate trays as well as a nice warm place to let it ferment.
I don’t remember who it was that offered to taste the foaming brew but I do remember the outburst of, “Man! That’s real white lightening!”
Orley didn’t even flinch. He was busted but he didn’t really mind. He knew he would go down in jail history as one of the finer brew masters the county had ever known and the charges he might be facing for concocting alcoholic fruit cocktail were certainly worth the few days of joy and hangovers that the trustys had experienced.
The end of this tale was a hard time coming. In order to charge Orley for the crime they had to have the evidence, and it was undecided as to where they might be able to store a vat of home brew. The smell alone was enough to give someone a buzz. The evidence folks did not want it in their area, neither did Investigations or the Forestry Department.
When all was said and done, the immense vat of 120 proof fruit cocktail was taken out behind the jail in the parking lot and set on fire, sending plumes of sweetly scented alcohol-filled smoke into the skyline. Orley went back to his baking without much more than a verbal thrashing, and the trees around the jail were filled for the next few days with a lot of happy, inebriated birds.
AnonymousMemberMarch 31, 2014 at 12:56 pm
This was lovely love Niel Diamond
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