Enter the Mud Jug, a sharp little portable spittoon that goes above and beyond solving the problems that come along with the old chew-and-spit routine. The Mud Jug is opaque, which hides your spit away, and it’s not likely to be mistaken for anything but what it is, since its shape is similar to classic brass spittoons. Appearances are only the start of the Mud Jug’s benefits though: it has a weighted bottom, making it almost impossible to tip over (sort of like those punch-clowns with sand in the bottom we all had as kids). The spittoon’s top is a funnel, which seals tightly to the bottom part, meaning that even if you do manage to tip it over, the spittle runs down to either side of the funnel — not out of it.
I got my first Mud Jug just today, and I put it through the following test: I loaded up a cheek of Red Man Golden Blend and got my mouth working to generate some saliva (read: a metric fuck-ton of saliva). I chewed and spat into the Mud Jug for a good solid 20 minutes, by which time there was a goodly amount of brown goo visible through the small funnel hole. Then, hoping for the best, I turned that bad boy directly upside down. Result? Not a drop spilled. I mean, nothing. I smacked the thing around on my desk and watched it right itself time and time again. The plastic is thick and durable, and while the top seals nicely, it pops off easily for emptying and cleaning.
I heard of Mud Jug through the YouTube channels of Darcy Compton, the president of Mud Jug, and the Outlaw Dipper, both of whom are a little over-the-top in their videos — but then again, you’ve got to be a little crazy to get noticed on YouTube. Both of them do some pretty good tobacco reviews, though, so check them out if you like. My Mud Jug is just a basic black one, but there’s all kinds of colors and types available on the website, with new ones coming out all the time.
So if you’re a tobacco enthusiast, and like the smokeless kind, I can’t recommend the Mud Jug highly enough. It’s a pretty ingenious little product, and one that might keep folks off your back when you need to spit. I became an immediate fan after finding out that the “spill proof” claim was the honest truth, and I’ll bet you dippers and chewers out there will do the same.
Want to catch lightning in a bottle? Little Rock’s the place to do it. Our little corner of the Bible Belt is no stranger to moonshiners, but these days you can enjoy a slug of good corn liquor without worrying about the revenuers coming to cart your drunken ass off to jail — although drink enough of it and you might find yourself in the back of a squad car for somewhat different reasons. But it can be hard to stop when the stuff is so dad-blame delicious.
I’m talking, of course, about the Rock Town Distillery, Arkansas’ first (legal) homegrown liquor maker since the days of Prohibition. Bourbon, rye, rum, and gin — it’s all available from Rock Town, but the real pleasure coming out of the nondescript brick warehouse down on East 6th Street is that white lightning, that moonshine, and you don’t have to worry about going blind if you drink it.
Phil Brandon has been distilling his liquor in Little Rock commercially since 2010, part of a growing group of local entrepreneurs taking it to the streets and putting an Arkansas stamp on products that range from beer to soap to sausage. He’s got the classic clear moonshine, but my personal favorite is an Apple Pie flavor that hits the tongue with a sweet splash of cinnamon and sweetness that’s as American as, well, apple pie. Consumed neat, it’s a bracing shot of spicy goodness, added to club soda, it becomes sharp effervescence, but the best way to enjoy this tasty nectar is mixed in with just the right amount of hard cider — a treat that’s good summer or winter.
We’re weird about alcohol in Arkansas. We don’t sell it on Sundays and we’re one of the few remaining states where dry counties are a thing. Where I grew up, in Clark County, the only places to drink were the country club and the VFW, two places that snuck through the bureaucratic red tape to procure private club licenses. That’s all changed these days, of course, as the folks down in those parts finally got fed up with running up to the Garland County line for a sixer of High Life and decided to keep all that sweet, sweet beer money local. It’s still odd for me to drive down streets I knew as a younger man and see the neon beer signs gleaming in the gas station windows.
I admire craftsmanship, no matter what kind. My father is a master woodworker, and I still marvel at the handmade mantel he carved with dogwood flowers that hangs over the fireplace back home. There’s craftsmanship in brewing and distilling, too, from the mixture of grains and yeasts, to the aging and bottling of the various flavors. Like breeds of dog, all alcohol comes from the same common ancestor but is spread out over so many different flavor profiles that it’s like drinking the Westminster Dog Show every time you step up to the bar. So raise a glass to the folks who make this sleepy town a little more interesting. And cut yourself a shot glass of pie.
Tobacco is a dirty weed,
I like it.
It satisfies no normal need,
I like it.
It makes you thin, it makes you lean,
It takes the hair right off your bean.
It’s the worst darn stuff I’ve ever seen.
I like it.
— Graham Lee Hemminger
Ah, tobacco. Much loved, much maligned — and highly versatile. Tobacco is a member of the nightshade family, which sounds bad until you realize that so are tomatoes, potatoes, and eggplants — none of which come with warning labels about how they’ll kill your ass deader’n dirt if you use them.
But sure, tobacco’s bad for you, especially in these chemically enhanced times — god knows what they’re putting in the stuff before it hits your lips. It’s a horrible plant that ruins lives and destroys families. And I love it.
My first experience with tobacco came at the Arkansas Governor’s School in 1995. I’m not exactly sure what the hippies in charge of the place were thinking, but they allowed smoking outdoors for the six-week camp, despite the fact that the age guidelines for AGS guaranteed that none of us could possibly be 18 or older. Nevertheless, a few dollars slipped to a friendly RA scored me one package of Camel Filter cigarettes that I used as a prop in a play I like to call “Desperately Trying to Fit In.” I’m almost certain that I never made it to “cool” status (a recurring theme of my 35 years on this earth), but I did develop a taste for smoking.
After the end of the camp, I went back to the real world and didn’t touch tobacco for over a year. I didn’t feel much withdrawal from the smokes, something I attribute to the fact that I was a newbie smoker who didn’t inhale very deeply and usually let my cigarette burn in my hand (again, as a prop) — so my actual consumption wasn’t all that much in total.
I turned 17 and got a job at the local Taco Bell, and if you want to know the best way to enter a life of drinking, smoking, and illicit drugs — get a job in the food industry. I can almost guarantee you that the next restaurant you eat at will feature servers hopped up on Xanax in order to be friendly, line cooks speedballing crank and oxycontin to stay awake and deal with the back-breaking work of cooking, and dishwashers who ate a quarter of mushrooms before their shifts — and I ain’t talking shiitakes. Maybe in finer restaurants this isn’t so prevalent; but I wouldn’t be surprised to find out that a guy worked an entire shift at the French Laundry coasting on a cocktail of Valium and marijuana. And of course, even the folks that aren’t taking illegal drugs are smoking, so you kind of pick it up as something to do. Nicotine is a stimulant, and that cigarette right after the lunch rush is what gets you ready to clean everything up and prep for dinner. By the time I had finished my first year in fast food, I was a pack-a-day smoker.
I smoked for a solid 12 years after that, finally quitting about five years ago. I’d still chain smoke sometimes on the weekends after a few beers, but during the week I never touched a smoke, nor did I ever smoke unless having the occasional drink. I had my smoking right where I wanted it — I could enjoy the sweet leaf on occasion and not worry about craving it during the week. That has worked until this very day. I did buy a vaporizer pen a few months ago, so I’m taking in nicotine on a more regular basis than I was, but that hasn’t become a return to my heavy-smoking days.
I enjoy tobacco in almost all its forms — as a matter of fact, I’m typing this with a cheek full of Red Man loose leaf right now. I’ve dipped Copenhagen, and I have a particular fondness for the Long Cut Straight, something that a friend of mine introduced me to when I made a mess of myself trying to use fine-cut snuff. Camel snus (small pouches of flavored tobacco which originate in Sweden) came on the market a few years ago, and I’ve used them on occasion — they are delicious. I smoked a pipe for a year or so, and I still love the flavor of good pipe tobacco. And I’ve even experimented with processing my own raw tobacco leaf, although I can’t claim any great successes in that area just yet.
Humanity has used tobacco in various forms for thousands of years. Like most things, it is harmful if overused, and many of you will think me delusional when I talk about support of using such a maligned substance on a semi-regular basis. The various processes and ways of using this humble plant are fascinating, and I genuinely enjoy the flavor (and, of course feeling) of good tobacco. Should you pick it up if you’ve never used it? Oh, probably not. But I find the occasional smoke, dip, or chew to be stimulating and refreshing — in other words, I like it.
When I was 15, having been no place larger than Little Rock (pop. 196,000), and then only to attend a Billy Graham Crusade at the city’s War Memorial Stadium, I was part of a group of students picked by our teachers to visit Washington, D.C. This was 1994, and Bill Clinton was President — not a bad time for a bunch of Arkansas kids to pay a visit to our nation’s capital.
The trip itself was a lot of fun — we had a nice spin-out and minor wreck on I-30 headed to the airport (and I’ll always be grateful to the gentleman with the Arkansas National Guard who pulled us out) and I saw a lot of incredible things, including most of the West Wing of the White House — compliments of a Clinton staffer who came from my home town. We got the run of the Capitol building for an entire day, and in that pre-9/11 era, nobody batted an eye at a bunch of high school kids riding the same underground tram as Senators and Congressmen. We saw Connie Chung taking a call, and she gave us a thumbs up when we mimed permission to snap a picture. I developed a massive crush on a girl from Atlanta named Kelly, but was thwarted from kissing her when a pigeon shit on her head at the Lincoln Memorial. It was good times.
One of the main things that sticks with me from that trip is how many of the other kids picked my accent out from the hundreds around for particular ridicule. We had kids from Miami of Cuban descent, fast-talking Atlanta city kids, and a group from Southern California who ended every sentence with “man.” I was quickly dubbed “Arky” by one of the louder Cuban girls, a name that stuck for the entire trip. We happened to be in D.C. during one of Clinton’s State of the Union addresses, and as I sat there with my trip-mates listening to the most powerful man in the world, a guy who grew up in South Arkansas just like me, I strained my ears to hear what it was those kids found so hilarious.
Fast-forward a few years, just after I finished my degree at the University of Arkansas. For reasons I can only describe as a combination of convenience and temporary insanity, I moved from Fayetteville (which is in the Northwest corner of the state) back near my hometown in the foothills of Southwest Arkansas’ Ouachita Mountains. I can still remember going into the local bank to set up a new checking account, and after a few minutes of talking with the older woman behind the counter she stopped, gave me a flat look over her glasses and said, “You’re not from around here, are you?” I told her I had grown up about 15 minutes down the highway and she seemed to have trouble believing it. “As fast as you was talking,” she said, “I figured you were a Yankee.”
And so I reckon that’s how it’s always been for me — a little stuck between here and there. We moved around a lot when I was a kid, so I don’t know that any place in particular has really stuck on me all that hard, unless it be Arkansas itself. From the fertile and impoverished Delta to the booming Northwest where Wal-Mart and Tyson hold sway, I’ve flowed all over this state like the muddy ribbon of river that cuts my present home, Little Rock, half in two. What does it mean to be Southern? What does it mean to be from Arkansas? Well, hell if I know, but I suppose whatever it is amuses the hell out of folks from Miami.