This Damned Year


I mean, right?

This is no year for retrospectives; who really wants that crap recap?

But here we are. Most of us, anyway.

If you’re reading this, you made it. (That, or the afterlife is very strange.)

No awards, no medals, no pats on the back; just, “Off you go. Have a 2021.”

I don’t believe — and I doubt you do, either — that the simple rolling over of a numeral is going to make much difference to the quagmire of murk within which we find ourselves emerged.

2021 will be better, or the same, or worse, as it unfolds, and we will take it as it comes, same as 2020, same as 2019, same as every other year we’ve ever longed to see the back of, which, lately, has been most of them.

Hell, 2016 was so awful I personally started a see-you-off feature called Whisky Wind-down.

Turns out, I rather liked that feature, so I brought it back in 2017.

And I would have again, in 2018, were I not on a long hiatus.

When the hiatus finally ended, in late 2019, I made sure to revive the feature, at least partially.

2020, well, 2020 has been quite the year for drinking whisky, too. Just not so much for writing about it, I’m afraid. Frankly, I’ve been struggling to write much of anything.

I know, I know. You’ve heard that before. Story of my life. Write. Fall into funk. Hiatus. Return. Wash. Rinse. Repeat. Forever, it seems.

This year, though. Jeez.

As I think I’ve said before, I don’t much buy into anthropomorphizing years.

While I do quite see the appeal of having something to yell at for <waves vaguely at everything> so many of life’s problems aren’t / can’t / won’t be defined neatly by tossing out the old calendar and putting up a new one.

We should be so lucky.

I guess that’s why I’ve never been much for New Year’s resolutions, and it’s why I don’t buy into New Year’s Day eating/acting superstitions, even if I do like an excuse to eat black-eyed peas and forego doing laundry.

But this period of time between Christmas Day and the end of the year has long been one in which I ponder and reflect and (often) fall into a funk, showing, I guess, that whatever I may think, on some level I am susceptible to the significance of a changing calendar after all.


I guess that’s why I find myself writing now, 11ish hours of 2020 left.

Part of me wants to feel a difference once those hours have expired, wants to successfully resolve something for next year, wants … something better than this, anyway.

The rest … the rest just feels like apologizing for again falling short of expectations, even if only my own.

Anyway, here we are at the end of 2020.

At the very least, I’m glad to still be around, and I hope you are, too.

Ten Damn Years

Happy anniversary to, which was founded on Oct. 1, 2010.

I didn’t start writing then, of course, but it was at that point that I started to really want to write for myself, after years of writing only for pay for others.

Sometimes, like when I had a newspaper column, that meant I got to write more or less what I wanted. Most days, though, I wrote what I was paid to.

Thus, this place. My place.

It started on Blogspot — remember Blogspot? — but I soon sprang for my own domain, using my longtime online moniker.

Of all things, my first post here was about baseball.

Since then I have been consistently inconsistent in my posting. Good days, bad days. Bad years …

Anyway, thanks for being here, even if it’s your first day.

What Stage of Grief is This?

I have a song stuck in my head.

Round and round on a loop, I hear it.

Getting a song stuck in your head is a common enough occurrence, but I am one of only a handful of people capable of having this particular song in there.

Once, on a cold night in Maine, I sat playing cards with The Empress of Whisky, her father, and her uncle. It may have been snowing; I can’t recall. It was definitely cold, though, and when I say that, I mean the Mainers were saying it was cold. So, you know, death to anyone born south of the 43rd Parallel.

Anyway as we sat playing cards and drinking*, my father-in-law began to sing.

*(I should make a note about the drinking. I don’t recall everything exactly — not because we drank that much, but just because it’s been some time — but I suspect The Empress of Whisky was living up to her name, while I may have had a strong beer or whisky, and her uncle was drinking something vodka-based, likely a gimlet. My father-in-law, however, almost certainly had a glass of Grand Marnier. He occasionally indulged in a Heineken, and he would gamely try anything — oh, the fun we had taking him on brewery tours! — but, for preference, it was always either that beer or his favorite orange liqueur. On this cold night, I’m certain it was the latter.)

There’s a phrase about people who play card games: “Winners tell funny stories; losers yell, ‘Shut up and deal!'”

My father-in-law always told funny stories, win, lose, or draw.

He also told stories during dinner, on car rides, while watching sports … the man was full of stories.

He was also full of life. Big, bold, life. Gregarious is the word that keeps coming to mind — so apt for him.

He would sometimes sing.

The whole family is musical, mind. They all play instruments, and they all sing on pitch, in time, and with harmony. It is not uncommon for one to break into song, with the others then joining in. It’s rather beautiful.

On this particular night, my father-in-law began to sing, his big, booming voice bringing forth an unfamiliar tune.

Despite the unfamiliarity, The Empress and her uncle were quickly harmonizing to the lines, and eventually I even found myself humming along in tune. (I do not, generally, sing.)

It’s a happy song, and it’s a perfect song for a cold Maine night, and we’re all smiling along as my father-in-law deals the cards, making up lines as he goes, everyone following along … when the song turns unexpectedly bawdy.

At which point we all cracked up and both song and game had to be put on hold while we composed ourselves.

For the rest of the night, usually upon some significant play in the game, one of us would sing or hum the melody, and that’s all it took to crack us all up again.

So that’s what’s in my head. A song that originated with four people and is now known to a handful more (all family) through a bit of judicious sharing, generally during another night of drinks and games.

It’s in my head, and it won’t go away; it just temporarily fades only to pop back up, much like it did the night he composed it.

And every time it does, I smile a little.

But then, he was always making me smile; why would that stop from beyond the grave?

Isolation Diary: May 3, 2020

Well, that was a month, wasn’t it?

I didn’t mean to let so long go from one post to the next — stop me, if you’ve heard this before — but, well, the world.

Life in the time of COVID-19 is all sorts of things, but stressful is foremost among them.

It’s a weird kind of stress, too: ebbing and flowing as the days go by, sometimes — as in a grocery store run — surging up to a pulse-pounding near-madness, while at other times — at home, on the couch, content with Best Cat and The Empress of Whisky — lying quietly as just a mild tingling at the back of the mind that something is … not … quite … right.

And there goes a month.

Like Buffalo Bill shooting — “onetwothreefourfive, pigeonsjustlikethat.”

And, also, like the slow, steady cadence of the 21-gun salute.

Like the turn of Earth, gradually, day into night, while simultaneously orbiting the sun at 67,000 miles per hour.

These are the days of COVID-19.

Days of anger and rage, at incompetent leaders who first dawdled while we died, then rushed to put us back to work to save their portfolios while we keep dying.

And those same days, embracing all the love we have in life, finding new ways to live, to laugh, to stay close to family and friends, video conferencing becoming part of everyone’s digital toolkits, yes, even your parents’.

A month ago we learned to slow down, to hear the previously unknown midday birds, to dig deep in our libraries to find the forgotten books, to dig deep in our pantries to make the purple cookies, to dig deep in our hearts to make the best connections.

A month ago I started writing this, then let it lie fallow, the words needing time to soak nitrogen from the loam.

A month ago I started crying again, in the quiet corners of my mind, tears of sadness, pain, rage, regret, all the tears, all the days.

A month ago, the world.

Isolation Diary: March 18, 2020

Well …

If you’re reading this in the now, I suppose I can skip any preamble explaining COVID-19.

If you’re reading this later, I hope it’s a brighter time for humanity.

I’m writing, as usual, from the desk in my home office, a comfy space full of books, dimly lit thanks to blackout curtains that keep out the otherwise fierce daylight from the south-facing windows. (Don’t cry for my lack of a view — it would just be of a parking lot and another row of condos, anyway.)

I am alone, sparing the occasional visits by Best Cat.

None of this is out of the ordinary. It might as easily be early on a typical weekend day, with The Empress of Whisky out hiking.

It isn’t.

For starters, The Empress is away in Maine, visiting her parents, a trip she had planned ahead of the realization of the seriousness of COVID-19 in the States, a trip that may now very well end up being extended longer than either of us anticipated.

We’ve been apart a few times in our nearly 15 years together, usually not longer than a weekend, though. Once, in the early days, she took a two-week trip to Mozambique, during which we spoke by phone maybe three times. That was hard. This is much easier by comparison. We communicate — via text, call, or video — a few times a day.


I lose myself in thought on the word still, as I ponder that this is exactly what home is like without her — a still, quiet place.

Normally, I might occupy myself outside a bit — I’m introverted by nature, but I might still meet friends for drinks, or take in a movie or a meal out.

None of that is an option now, as society bears down under social distancing.

The bars and theaters and restaurants are mostly closed, sparing only a few who are late to comply with CDC and government recommendations. (Georgia has yet to mandate closings for businesses, though it did shut down schools.)

The grocery stores remain open, but honestly that’s an anxiety-inducing thought, and I am at least stocked with essentials to last a bit.

The numbers show how important it is to keep social distancing and take it seriously. They also show this needs to be our way of life for an extended period of time, if we want a realistic shot at keeping the number of cases manageable.