Q. Dinner party coming up. We have a flagon of Pappy we’ve been saving, but we don’t really know for what. Pop it?
For the well-meaning host, the social and financial calculus of the dollars-per-guest outpour is, not unlike the Mediterranean back in Odysseus’s day, an unmapped ocean wilderness filled with tempting songstresses, one-eyed monsters, and big jagged rocks. Charting a course between Scylla and Charybdis is the art: At the end of an evening, you don’t want to feel as though you’ve thrown pearls before swine, or worse, unwittingly raided the college fund. But in the same way we pair wines and cocktails with food, careful hosts pair the bar to the crowd. The quality of your swill can brighten everything about a gathering as it dawns on your guests, This isn’t just good, it’s damn good. The rule is to err on the side of largesse. True to their whiskey-stillin’ roots, Southern drinkers know the dollar value of hard liquor much more intimately than they do the value of, say, a 1982 Petrus, but stocking a table with so-called “superpremium” anything will not ever, automatically, make your dinner party take wing. You will.
By all means serve generously. But your dinners will always rise or fall on your generosity of spirit, rather than on the blunt cost of the earthly spirits you pour.
Q. What’s with all the beards these days? Has the South been invaded by boatwrights from Maine?
Men freely expressing homage to our pre–Stone Age, knuckle-dragging roots—whether by contact sports, or by rendering any wild animal protein into food by hook, blade, or shot—is a fine thing. But the current zombie onmarch of big beards on nonlumberjacks in every corner of life is unsettling, I’ll grant you. You’re in a bar: nine dudes with beards. You’re at the dry cleaner: four dudes with beards, including the dry cleaner. You’re at the barbershop: A dude with a beard is sculpting another dude’s beard with tiny electrical devices the likes of which you have never seen. You’re at a wedding: Every other bastard looks like he’s in a ZZ Top tribute band. This mindlessness is a trend en route swiftly downmarket. I have good news: Keep shaving. While it can always be that your town has suffered a sudden onslaught of app entrepreneurs and/or poets from Brooklyn—in which case, my condolences—give the boys another year to rediscover the razor. In the meantime, enjoy your ahead-of-the-curve nonhipster coolness as a clean-shaven man.
Q. It’s high snake season. How do I get them to keep to themselves?
You don’t. Rather, love them, and yourself, enough to understand that snakes are not your enemies. They can be, but they haven’t gotten the memo yet. It’s hard to remember that when you meet them, but it will help you develop a reasonable, if guarded, embrace of the suborder Serpentes as fellow travelers on the planet. In my wet, hot childhood summers in the country, it was pretty much a snake a day, or more, depending on whether we chose to reenact the Battle of Guadalcanal, sloshing around with BB guns in the creek (water moccasins), or did Antietam in the woods (copperheads). The dogs had work keeping them off of us. Fortunately, we were schooled early and long in discerning our friends (kings, scarlets, et al.) from the host of putative enemies (rattlers, cottonmouths, etc.). The scariest elapid was the harlequin coral, but perhaps that’s because it’s so shy. The old rhyme on his coloration has a kind of leathery value: red next to black, friend of Jack; red next to yellow, kill a fellow. Ergo, best practice: Rigorously drill habitat, markings, and what I’ll call the Southern “snake Zen” of heightened situational awareness into the kids. For those vipers and elapids that insist on coming aboard, meaning close to the house, a “snake stick”— the herpetologist’s pole hook—can help, but it’s good to keep some stopping power handy: a .410 or, if you’re a fan of close combat, a good old-fashioned hoe.