A Legacy of Resplendent Thugs

This is Elias J. Baldwin. Most people called him “Lucky.” He’s the one we’re going to blame.

The truth of the matter is probably nuanced and, as with most social and environmental kerfuffles, we could point a lot of fingers in a lot of directions.

But we’re going to point them at Lucky.

Lucky Baldwin was born in Ohio in the early 1800s, but went to California during the Gold Rush and got very, very rich. His story is fascinating – including, but not limited to the time the sister of the girl he was being sued by for seduction snuck up behind him in court and tried to shoot him in the back of the head, but only managed to graze his ear – but our issue with him is the peacocks.

As he made more and more money in real estate, Lucky built a large estate for himself in Los Angeles County. During the more-is-more Gilded Age, in order to make the place fancier and… well, fancier, anyway, he stocked the property with peacocks. It’s unclear where he got the peacocks – he might have bought them from a local poultry importer, or actually purchased them from India. Regardless, he would not be the last wealthy person in Los Angeles to do this.

The peacocks, for their part, were very happy with the situation. Southern California suited them very well; it was warm, people fed them, and there were all kinds of things for them to poop on. The climate suited them so well that when some of them inevitably wandered off Lucky’s property, looking for things to scream at, they engaged in a lot of unsanctioned breeding and became an invasive species.

Jump forward 140 years or so, and in the second half of 2021, the affluent suburbs of Los Angeles find themselves being tormented by feral peacocks.

Jaclyn Cosgrove has been following this story for the L.A. Times. According to Cosgrove, if you’ve only seen peacocks from a distance, you might think they were ornamental and largely inoffensive. You’d be in for a surprise.

“These are large, intimidating birds with sharp beaks and talons,” Cosgrove told me in a phone interview. “A peacock is like a turkey in drag. If he pecks you, it hurts.”

As it turns out, all the features on a peacock that would make a millionaire want them wandering around his estate – the brilliant plumage, the males’ giant, fanning tail feathers, the strutting – are all hallmarks of extremely territorial birds. The whole, “Uh, huh…Check me out” displays that male peacocks put on are as much to intimidate rivals as they are to attract emotionally shallow peahens. If the plumage doesn’t do the trick, stronger measures can be resorted to, including sharp beaks, talons, and ankle spurs like those on fighting cocks.

And then there’s the screaming.

“It sounds like a woman screaming ‘Help,’” Cosgrove says. “They’re quieter when they’re not mating.”

Unfortunately, they are almost always mating.

According to Cosgrove, the past year or so saw an unfortunate (unless you’re a peacock) confluence of events. Just at the time people had to stay indoors due to COVID-19, Southern California was hit by a bird epidemic called Newcastle Disease. Although Newcastle doesn’t affect peacocks very much, directly, County officials were forced to euthanize a lot of their competition, [1] and the feral peacock population has exploded.

Which is where Lucky Baldwin’s complicated legacy has left us – on the one hand, Los Angelinos have these large, sexually aggressive, Asian gamebirds stalking the streets of East Pasadena and San Marino like crossdressing gang members, blocking traffic, digging up lawns, terrifying pets, and screaming “Help!” in people’s windows in the middle of the night.

On the other hand, they are undeniably awesome looking. They have distinct individual personalities, Cosgrove says. “Some people like what they say about their neighborhoods.”

My favorite statement about the peacocks comes from 53 year-old Pasadena resident, Michelle Panttoja-Hooley. [2]

“I think they’re beautiful,” she told Cosgrove. [3] “[But] I know they do peck cars. I saw them peck a Tesla.”

Right now, you might be asking “What in God’s green Earth does any of this have to do with us, just trying to live our dreams, here in Minnesota?” If you’re truly honest with yourself though, who among us hasn’t pecked a Tesla in our time?

Deep in our hearts, we are all peacocks.

John Fladd / Heavy Table

Cocktail #1 – Pecking a Tesla


1½ oz Blanco tequila (I like Hornitos for this)
1 oz Blue Curaçao
1½ oz Passion fruit cocktail
½ oz Fresh squeezed lime juice
10 drops Rose water

Combine all ingredients with ice in a cocktail shaker and shake thoroughly.

Pour into a rocks glass and drink while looking through the window at your car, giving a threatening look through narrowed eyes at any bird who takes liberties with it. (There is a small black bird who has a very intense relationship with one of my side mirrors. This cocktail gives me the emotional fortitude to stare him down.)

The flavor of this drink is tequila-forward. As soon as your flavor receptors pick up on the tequila and sweetness, your brain will probably switch into Margarita-mode. That’s when the surprise hits. Much like the never-quite-expected scream of a frustrated peacock at midnight, the hint of passion fruit muskiness and a background of roses keep you on your toes. By the time you’ve finished one pull on this peacock-colored cocktail and go back for another, it will somehow surprise you again. Predictability is overrated.

John Fladd / Heavy Table

Cocktail #2 – Colonel Muster’s Perp Walk

a. A gathering, especially of troops, for service, inspection, review, or roll call.
b. The persons assembled for such a gathering.

  1. A muster roll.
  2. A gathering or collection: a muster of business leaders at a luncheon.
  3. A flock of peacocks.


2 oz Green Chartreuse
1 oz Self-respecting gin (Lately, I’ve been using Death’s Door.)
Dash Blue Curaçao
½ oz Fresh squeezed lemon juice
3 oz Upmarket tonic water (I like Fever Tree for this.)

Pour all ingredients but the tonic over ice in a tall glass. Stir gently with a bar spoon.

Top with tonic water.

Make a second drink.

Sneak up behind another adult in the house and scream at them like a peacock.

Give them one of your drinks as an apology. Shrug at any questions they ask about your screaming. Pretend you don’t understand them.

So, as you read the ingredient list for this drink, you could be forgiven for being skeptical about it. “Seriously? An ounce of gin; that’s it?” you might find yourself asking quizzically. Given how much we’ve discussed the badassery of peacocks, this seems to play into the stereotype of flouncy, fairly innocuous fancy-birds.

The problem with that is that you’ve probably overlooked the Chartreuse Yes, it’s distilled by monks. Yes, it’s made with mountain herbs and probably lichen and stuff. You probably haven’t read the label, have you? Green Chartreuse clocks in at 110 proof. Your palate will tease you – “What’s that flavor?” it will say to you. “It’s herby, yes, but what herb?” And much like the peacock that lures you in to feed it a peanut, then sucker-punches you and scratches your legs like a disgruntled wolverine, you might find yourself pressing “send” on a series of injudicious emails.

The herbiness of the Chartreuse is offset by the lemon juice, which is balanced by the Curaçao.

And it’s fizzy.

John Fladd / Heavy Table

Cocktail #3 – Lucky’s Ambiguous Legacy


1½ oz Amaretto
1 oz Sweet melon juice (I used a Korean Chamoe melon, but a ripe honeydew would work equally well. I blended it thoroughly, then strained and filtered it.)
1 oz Pineapple juice
¾ ounce Fresh squeezed lime juice
¼ oz Gomme syrup (see below)
10 pumps of Food grade green luster dust (This is so little that it does not add even a fraction of a gram to the overall weight of this cocktail, but if you’ve ever gotten glitter in your carpet, you know that any amount of glitter is a force to be reckoned with. That goes for luster dust, too.)

Combine all ingredients with ice in a cocktail shaker. Shake thoroughly.

Pour into a chilled coupé glass. Drink with a contented sigh, saying, “I wonder what the poor people are doing tonight.” [4]

This drink is extravagantly good. As you drink it, you might wonder if you should be enjoying it this much. Objectively, maybe it should be too sweet. Really? Melon juice? Seriously, why the luster dust?

The musky sweetness of the melon is the balm you didn’t know you needed. The amaretto stands behind it, saying, “I got your back, Buddy”. The citrus gives it an acid kick that keeps everything from getting too cozy. The luster dust gives it a hint of a sparkle, deep in its depth.

Lucky’s life was probably full of moments when a prudent man would have asked, “Is this a good idea?” And yet, I’m reasonably sure that he died with zero regrets. Please drink this cocktail in the same spirit.


Gomme is an extra-rich simple syrup that is fortified with gum Arabic – the glue that you might have used to apply a fake mustache that time you were trailing a peacock, but he recognized you anyway and…

Well, that’s neither here, nor there.

Anyway, this gum syrup is used to increase the viscosity of a cocktail. It gives a drink a richer mouth-feel. There are many recipes for making our own gomme, [5] but it can also be easily purchased online.


1 The peacocks’ competition, not the officials’.
2 Which, by the way, is exactly the name I would choose if I were a peacock.
3 Cosgrove, Jaclyn. “L.A. County Ready to Flip Peacocks the Bird.” Los Angeles Times. June 17, 2021.
4 This is something my grandfather used to say, in utter contentment, while he enjoyed cocktail hour with my Oma. Her name was Grace, but he called her Dolly, and he adored her.
5 If you haven’t yet, say this out loud. “Gomme”. It may become your new favorite word. You will find yourself using it in sentences – many sentences – until your wife, or boyfriend, or cabaña boy gives you a frosty look and tells you to knock it off.