In Memoriam, D.A.A.

I met her indirectly, via a letter to the editor.

Letters, I should say.

She was somewhat prolific — enough so the managing editor (to whom letters to the editor were nominally addressed) once said to me, exasperated, “I wish we had more people as enthusiastic as her. Run this one today, and the next one tomorrow.”

I was the news editor — the night guy, responsible for laying out the paper, among other things — so it fell to me to actually place these letters on the page.

I wasn’t compelled to read them, yet I read them and was compelled.

And so, when I finally met her directly, introduced by mutual friends at my hometown pub, I couldn’t help but exclaim, “Oh, you’re Deb Aziz!”

To which she gave me the furrowed brow that I would come to know so well over the years, the one that said, “Yes, and your point is?”

At which point I explained how I knew her name, and that her letters always brightened my night.

And she smiled, and we were friends.

I was but recently back in my hometown after a few years away, whereas she had in the interim moved to town and befriended people I knew.

I would thus come to know her well, mostly through sitting around pub tables drinking, playing cards, and shooting the shit.

I learned that she lived with rheumatoid arthritis since the age of nine, and it had damaged many of her joints but not her spirit.

I can still see her, crunching open pistachios on the table, using the bottom of an empty beer mug, as she lacked the finger dexterity to open them manually.

She loved those things, and would regularly feed a few dollars worth of quarters into the candy machine that dispensed them.

I can still hear her yelling “Cripple deal!” when it was her turn to deal and she had to pass the cards to the next person, owing to that same lack of finger dexterity.

She loved playing cards, and once they were dealt and in her hands, she was nails at whatever game was up.

I can still see her face, perking up when a woman with a low bustline walked by.

She loved women, and was not shy about it, and in that small town where we lived for those years, that would get her called brave, but she wouldn’t claim that. It wasn’t bravery to her — it was who she was, and fuck anyone who had a problem with it.

“I’m a crippled lesbian,” she would begin, laying the label out as a bona fide before opening an argument.

She moved to the city before I did, relocated by her job. By that time, I was dating the future Empress of Whisky and would soon face the choice to move to the city as she, too, relocated for work.

(I chose well.)

Through the years that followed we would meet more friends, go on vacations, have so many dinners and game nights, watch sports, celebrate a slew of birthdays and weddings, mourn together at our oldest mutual friend’s funeral.

When she was diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis she was not expected to live past 30.

Well, fuck that, she said, and proceeded to live another 21 years past that mark.

Which made her 51 when she died last night.

I … want to have something profound to say here.

All there is is longing, and despair, and missing my friend.

And a regret, too.

Deb was amused whenever I referred to a friend by an alias, which I am prone to do here.

She particularly loved The Empress of Whisky.

I told her I’d come up with something for her, but I never got around to it.

So now I ponder what that might have been.

It could have been My Friend The Letter Writer.

(Shortly after moving to the city, she got a letter to the editor placed in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, which delighted her. “I made the big-time, bitches!” is how she announced it.)

It could have been My Friend The Ethical Cheater.

(Long story. It involves cards and blatant, obvious table talk.)

It could have been My Friend The Former DJ.

(She was a disc jockey in college and had a lifelong love and enthusiasm for music. Once — and this is a long story, too, but fuck it — I made a playlist for The Empress of Whisky. It was for a big milestone birthday, so I made a list of the top 100 songs released the year she was born. It was meant just to be a fun playlist for the car ride up to the cabin where we were celebrating, but we turned it into a game — how many of these songs can you identify?

(None of the four of us in the car were great at it, but by the time we arrived we had made it through about a third of the list, and our scores were in the 10-20 range. We decided to keep playing until others arrived, but when Deb got there, she wanted to join. Despite the late start, she absolutely killed it, scoring something like 60 out of the remaining 65 songs and beating us despite our head start.

(She enjoyed the game so much, she asked that I do the same for her 50th birthday. I did, and, of course, she wiped the floor with us.)

There are so many options.

My Friend The Historian.

My Friend The Trivia Whiz.

My Friend Who Shares My Love Of Babylon 5.

My Friend The Philly Sports Fan.

My Friend Who Knows Way More About Comics Than I Do.

Good night, my dear and true friend.

Whisky Wind-down, 6: Rest Ye Weary Dead

A bottle of The Sexton single malt Irish whisky sits next to a glass filled with same, on a mantel with red holiday garland.

Today’s dram: The Sexton, single malt Irish whisky

Today’s tasting notes: Aroma is sweet and woodsy. Flavor is smooth and slightly sweet, with a warming bite in the finish.

It’s different. I don’t drink a lot of Irish single malts — they’re not terribly common, compared to Scottish single malts — but I enjoy one now and again, especially as they are a departure from standard Irish whisky. This one reminds me a bit of Highland Scottish whisky; probably I’m drawing that comparison from the sherry cask aging used here.

All in all, it’s enjoyable; I’ll probably keep this around for a cold night by the fire. Or, perhaps, I’ll fill a flask for company on a particular walk.

Today’s thoughts: The bottle lore on this one speaks of a graveyard by the River Bush, from which you can sometimes detect the aroma of distilling spirits.

It’s been awhile since I’ve walked a graveyard, but it was an old hobby of mine.

It’s an autumn sort of hobby, the sight of nature in decline serving to accentuate the stark stone reminders that mark our mutual finish line.

Works in winter, too, though. Then the cold breeze bites and the empty trees shiver, and everything says your time will come, too.

Many years I’ve sought such places in these final days of the year, when the festivities fast fade and the year’s last gasp is in the air.

It’s quite the melancholy week — a transitory time fit for reflecting upon the expiring year, all its good, all its ill.

It all starts again soon enough.

Today’s toast: To the dead: beyond the need for a dram, past all ambitions great or small, gone from the wheel.

2017 Whisky Wind-down, 346: Not My Whisky

[Editorial note: You probably remember 2016 Whisky Wind-down. Hell, it basically just ended. Am I saying 2017 is already so bad that it’s time to start a similar countdown already? No. I am not. However, some days beg to be noted in time. Also, some days call for a stiff drink.] 

Today’s dram: Ruskova Vodka Real American Whisky

Today’s tasting notes: Blarg. Gak. <string of expletives>

Today’s thoughts: Appropriately enough, I woke up sick today. Psychosomatic? Could be.

At any rate, I hadn’t been awake long when my phone rang. T-Mobile customer service. Without getting into the specifics, I’ll just say the company and I have an ongoing billing dispute. They’re wrong, of course. The service reps — I talked to three, over the course of 90 minutes — acknowledge the problem, but say they “can’t change that in the system.”

All in all, it was a frustrating experience, being in the right but still unable to make a positive change. Powerless before the needs of the corporation. Pay up or lose.

Which is, again, appropriate enough for the day at hand.

All the facts in the world don’t matter if one side has power and the willingness to use it.

All the reason in the world doesn’t matter if the other side is unreasonable.

Try as you might, the inertia of the system will carry you away, regardless.

Today’s notes on the immediate future: And so … I drank my selected “whisky.”

I poured a second.

After a bit, it got easier.

I mean, if you have low expectations.

No, lower than that. 

Afterward, I went to my happy place. 

Not the bar. 

My other happy place: the kitchen.  

There, I baked Christmas cookies.

What with travel, various sicknesses, and other conflicts, this weekend is the earliest I have been able to coordinate gathering with my family to observe the holiday.

It’s harder than it used to be, and I don’t just mean the scheduling. 

See, try as I might, I can’t convince some of them we’re better off, by far, than we were eight years ago, and the next four years bode poorly for all of us.

(In fairness, try as they might, they can’t convince me of the opposite, either.)

We resolve these differences mostly by ignoring them. 

At least we agree on cookies. 

Today’s toast: Nostrovia, comrades! “May the wings of liberty never lose a feather.” –Jack Burton

2016 Whisky Wind-down, 5: Home, Health, Heartache


Today’s dram: Conecuh Ridge, Clyde May’s Alabama Style Whiskey

Today’s tasting notes: This is borrowed. Specifically, I begged a sip from The Empress of Whisky, who received it as a gift from her sister this Christmas. 

Conecuh Ridge is something of a newcomer, one of few distilleries operating in Alabama. 

This bottle is an homage to Clyde May, who was something of a legend among the state’s moonshiners.  Whereas his contemporaries were content to sell the raw product of their stills, May aspired to something greater. Inspired by the great bourbons of Kentucky, he aged his spirit in new charred American oak, but he included a twist — dried apples. The result he dubbed “Alabama Style Whisky.”

Roughly a century after May’s heyday, the Alabama state government finally got around to legalizing the distilling of spirits. Enter Conecuh Ridge. Among their offerings is this homage to the late great May and his innovative whisky. 

I think it tastes like apple juice spiked with vodka. 

Today’s thoughts: I had not intended to write about this one, but life intervened. Between a long drive home, a sore throat (that might be the foretelling of something worse), and the news of Carrie Fisher’s death, I am just burnt today. This is my token effort, based on a sip I begged yesterday. I am currently drinking bourbon for medicinal purposes. May tomorrow be better. 

Today’s note on the passing of an icon: If you read Whisky Wind-down 17, you know something of what Star Wars means to me. This year has been relentlessly reaping celebrities, many of them icons of my youth, but Fisher’s death is a stab in the damned heart. I know only little of her struggles with substance abuse and mental illness, but she is a hero for the way she openly wrote and talked about those issues, aside from anything else she ever did. Obviously, she will always be Leia. I can barely begin to say how important she was as an icon to young girls, but I know just how much she meant to one young girl in particular, my younger sister, whose love of Star Wars is second to nobody’s, my own most definitely included. I’ll write more about that in happier times, I’m sure. Today, though, I’m going  to leave the last words to my favorite Star Wars fan. 

Today’s toast: Courtesy of Jennifer Pierson: “To my favorite princess, thank you for inspiring me at a young age to speak my mind, take no crap, stand up for what’s right, and be brave. You’ll be missed.”

Barkeep, Another

A hand lifts a chalice of beer in toast. The glass bears the name of the Trappist monastery that brews the ale inside: Spencer. The ale is the color of copper and topped with a stiff, high foam.
Here’s to you, Nanny.


In the very near future my writing will have a tendency to focus on drinking and reminiscing.

Before that starts, I’d like to revisit a piece wherein I did both of those things, albeit for rather different reasons. I’ve mentioned before — and it would likely be obvious to you, anyway — that I sometimes have trouble making the words flow. There are a number of times when I want to be here, saying something, and I can’t make it happen.

Then, sometimes, all it takes is a beer in a bar on my grandmother’s birthday.

I think about that evening a lot, actually. Whenever the words won’t come, which is all too often. My maternal grandmother never really knew me as a writer, but I still think of disappointing her when I’m not living up to my own expectations.

Anyway, here’s one occasion when I did, if only briefly:

A Trappist Toast

Notes: The font is funny on that page. That’s because I composed and posted the entire entry at the bar, using my phone. It bugs me, but not enough to change it, because seeing it reminds me that much more of the act of writing itself, which, well, not to belabor the point entirely, was much more important to me that evening than the actual words themselves.

(Also, I forgot the photo.)