Whisky Wind-down, 18: Love and Lightsabers

A Star Wars stein sits on a mantle beside a bottle of 12-year-old Glenkinchie whisky.

Today’s dram: Glenkinchie, 12-Year-Old

Today’s tasting notes: Dunno. Haven’t tasted it yet.

Today’s thoughts: I love Star Wars.

Since I wrote about that life-long affection a year ago, I’ll focus on something else this time.

The salient point to bring forward is: I waited 32 years* to know what happened to those beloved characters. When The Force Awakens hit theaters two years ago, I was anxious as hell about seeing it, wanting to have hope, but fearing another heartbreak a la The Trilogy of Which We Do Not Speak.

I left that theater feeling renewed hope for the future. Of Star Wars, anyway.

Last year’s Rogue One was also good, but my excitement for a prequel, even a good one, will never match my interest in the futures of Luke, Leia, R2, Threepio, Chewie … and Rey, Finn, Poe, and BB-8.

Tonight The Empress of Whisky and I see The Last Jedi.

She enjoys the films, and we have had tremendous fun at the last two opening night events, but there is, shall we say, an enthusiasm gap. She would, for instance, be happy waiting as long as tomorrow(!) to see this film.

But she indulges me, even when, as it so happens tonight, the occasion falls on, for example, our anniversary.

Twelve years she’s been indulging me. That’s pretty good, no?

In celebration of which she gave me the whisky above, which is as old as our relationship. Pretty good thinking there. We’ll open the bottle tonight, at home, and discuss the movie over a dram.

Happy dozen, love!

Today’s note on sharing: I think it’s worth considering just how much better life is because we’re in it together. I do, in fact, consider this all the time.

Today’s toast: To my love: May the Force be with you, always. Me, too.

—–

* — If you want to be picky — and really, what Star Wars fan isn’t, to some degree? — I waited 32 years and seven months between the release of Return of the Jedi (May 1983) and the release of The Force Awakens (December 2015). That’s a long time with no Star Wars.**

** — No Star Wars. Nope. You imagined that other trilogy. You must have been on a bender. Bad you.

Whisky Wind-down, 22: Let’s Play That Again

A bottle of Talisker Storm whisky sits between a pair of filled glasses, next to a boxed board game, Isle of Skye.

Today’s dram: Talisker, Storm

Today’s tasting notes: Yesterday, all I gave you on this whisky was: “It’s all peat and brine, and I rather enjoy it.” That’s more or less accurate, but I’d add that it also contains a hint of smoke, and I’d defined the brine as mild in nature, just enough to let you know the whisky was born on an isle.

Talisker sits on the Isle of Skye, one of the Inner Hebrides off the coast of Scotland. It’s the only distillery on the island. (If that phrase sounds familiar, it’s probably because several of the Hebrides are each individually home to “the only distillery on the island.” Honestly, it’s not such great marketing when you think about it. You’re on an island. Not a tropical, fancy, resort island. A rocky, cold, craggy Scottish island. You can fish, raise sheep, or make whisky. If these islands were any bigger at all the phrase never would have stood a chance.)

Today’s thoughts: As I mentioned yesterday, I opened my bottle of Talisker Storm in the company of friend who likes whisky and board games. The photo accompanying this post was taken in early October this year, on that very occasion. You’ll note the game is called Isle of Skye, and whether you believe me or not, we didn’t plan this. I mean, we planned to play board games that day, and whisky is usually an accompaniment for that, but I didn’t know my friend was bringing Isle of Skye, and he didn’t know I was holding a bottle of Talisker Storm in want of inspiration to be opened. Kismet.

Speaking of kismet, I don’t believe I’ve ever relayed here the story of how I met the woman I would later dub the Empress of Whisky. I was out to dinner to my favorite pub when I encountered a friend who was playing cards with three other people I did not know. We exchanged pleasantries before I settled at my own table. Not long after, he popped over to ask if I would be interested in joining the game, as one of the four players had to unexpectedly leave. As this was a game played in partners, they needed a fill-in player to finish. The woman I was thus introduced to as a game partner would end up being a far more long-time companion.

While we played cooperatively (and ultimately victoriously) that day, we are not at all opposed to being adversaries. Outside the game, we love each other. Inside the game, no quarter is given.

Today’s note on repetition: One of the things you’re likely to learn early on the journey to whisky appreciation is to never judge on the first sip. That one will usually burn a bit, and you need to let your palate adjust before sipping again to get a better assessment.

Games can be like that, too.

This is why the Empress and I generally play each new game at least twice in a row. That, and the loser can never wait for a rematch. That’s true whichever of us happens to have lost.

On this lovely post-post-snow day, we’ve been facing off in various new board and card games. I would like to tell you that I have triumphed consistently. So would she.

We’re both right, depending on the game in question.

At least the loser has whisky. Then again, so does the winner.

Today’s toast: To the Empress of Whisky: I love you. Outside the game.

2016 Whisky Wind-down, 25: Faraway Friends

 

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Today’s dram: Jameson Irish Signature Reserve

Today’s tasting notes: Jameson is smooth, rich easy-drinking Irish whisky. This stuff? Head of the class. It has almost no rough edge to it. Gently sweet. The body is light if you’re used to single malt Scotch whisky, but it’s in the medium range for Irish whisky.

Today’s thoughts: This bottle was a wedding gift from one of my wife’s friends who lives in Ireland. I’m told you can’t buy this in the States. She gave us this bottle and a pair of lovely Irish crystal tumblers. Once or twice a year we have a measure and I talked her into doing so tonight. (It was not a difficult conversation. My wife is fond of whisky, too, with the notable exceptions of smoky or peaty Scotch whisky.)

Why this dram tonight? Faraway friends are on my mind. I’ll leave it at that.

Today’s maudlin notation: Hug the ones you love, and don’t put off taking that trip to see them (or saying yes when they ask to visit you).

Today’s toast: To all I hold dear, but especially those not near: Be well. I love you.

2016 Whisky Wind-down, 30: Smoke, Peat, and Love

 

Laphroaig cask-strength whisky, in a glass before its bottle, sharing a mantle with Christmas Cthulhu.

Today’s dram: Laphroaig, 10-Year-Old, Cask Strength (56.3%), Batch 2, December 2010

Today’s tasting notes: Do not drink this if you do not enjoy smoke and peat. Seriously, probably don’t even sniff it. If you’ve had Laphroaig before, you know its reputation as the smokiest, peatiest of all the notoriously smoky, peaty Islay malts. The cask-strength version is essentially the dire, half-dragon version. Do not attempt if below Scotch Whisky Character Level 10.

Today’s thoughts: My wife gifted me this bottle for a birthday a few years ago. Once, maybe twice a year I pour myself a wee dram and savor it for the smoky, peaty punch in the mouth it is. My wife I appreciate every day of the year. For her strength and compassion. For her humor and insight. For the support she lends me, in ten thousand little ways, from one day to the next. It’s no exaggeration to say I wouldn’t be who I am without her. Life is better as a great adventure, together.

Today’s note on drinking form: Some people choose to water cask-strength whisky. These people are weak. (Do not even talk to me about people who water standard-strength whisky.)

Or, to put it another way: my favorite whisky is like my favorite person: strong as all hell.

Today’s toast: To love!

 

Remember, Remember …

Everyday is everything.

If today isn’t a holiday where you live, it might very well be in someone else’s part of the world. And even if it isn’t a proper, the-banks-are-closed, light-some-fireworks occasion, you can bet there are still a dozen smaller observances, in honor of cats, or tacos, or a type of cancer.

It’s always someone’s birthday, and someone always dies.

Here in the States, November 11 is Veterans Day. Since 1954, anyway. Prior to that, it was Armistice Day, which was kinda like Veterans Day but with a name like that, veterans of wars other than WWI felt left out. Prior to 1918 and the formal end of the War to End All Wars, November 11 was, I guess, just a nice early autumn day.

On November 11, 1991, this date ceased to be anything for me but heartache.

My mother’s mother’s brother — great-uncle to me — was a month past sixty when he died that day, at home, alone in the house he had lived in most of his life. He had been my babysitter, my daycare, and my after-school watcher, a grandfather in all but name to a boy who had none.

He was my moral pole star, though I don’t recall realizing that before he died.

Certainly I loved him. He was the relative I said I’d go live with when my parents or my little sister got on my last nerve and I threatened to run away. He was who I was excited to talk to about my day at school, or my newest action figure, or my plans for this year’s Halloween costume.

If I had wanted to grow up, he probably would have been who I wanted to grow up to be.

Everyone loves and everyone loses people they love, and any day can be a sad day when the pain wells up and the memories comfort you but also make you just a little angry because the world is cruel and the only fair thing about life is that it ends for everyone.

Any day can be a dark day, but I can’t avoid November 11.

I had stayed home sick that day in 1991, and I remember standing at the bathroom sink that evening, a wet washcloth growing cold in my hand, when my parents told me about the call from a concerned neighbor, and asked me to watch my little sister while they went to make sure everything was okay.

I knew then what they weren’t telling me, and the funeral followed three days later.

I can no longer distinctly remember 1992 or 1993. They blur together. I was home sick from school on one of them, and I walked through the day in a fog on the other, and on both I visited the cemetery in the evening and spent time at his grave.

By 1994, I was two hours away at college, the day fell on a Friday, and I drove home after my last class, in time to reach the cemetery by dusk because it mattered very much to me that I be there, that I see the cold gravel six feet over his bones, that I whisper a few words, as though the dead have ears.

I drove back that night, having not stopped to see my living family, or even tell them I had been there.

Through the rest of college, I responsibly kept to my school commitments and made no further pilgrimages, instead making it my habit that day to decline dinner or game night invitations, to be alone, to walk a wooded trail, to sit and listen at nature, to ponder the dead.

Over the years that followed, I sometimes walked alone in woods or through a cemetery near where I lived at the time, I visited his grave the brief years I lived back home, I never left my bed the years I got sick, and I loved my wife for leaving me to myself every November 11 of our marriage.

Once I assembled a desk, just to occupy my mind with a simple task.

Last year, I cooked a meal he used to make, following his techniques as best I remembered, down to cooking in cast iron and brewing teeth-achingly sweet tea to wash it down. I have since learned this is a custom on the Day of the Dead, and that unintended similarity is pleasing.

This year I write.

For the first time, I am able to put twenty-five years of mourning into perspective, by putting it into words, then putting those words into the world.

Every year is different, except every year I wonder whether this is the last time I will feel this.

A hundred people die every minute of every day. I can find no statistics on how many leave echoes, or how long those echoes persist, or whether it is my particular madness that every year I make myself listen for the echoes of November 11, 1991.

Quiet, now; I am concentrating.

I Have Forgotten How It Goes

It’s embarrassing how little I remember sometimes.

I have an English degree, and the head full of dusty literature that comes with it, but all too often I fail to recollect the lines I need to recall, when I need to recall them.

Others stick forever with me, even if the context of their origin is sometimes fuzzy.

“This is history, how it sounds. What do I love? Remind me.”

That’s a line from the poet Bin Ramke, best I remember it, from his work “When Culture Was Popular,” which is part of his anthology Massacre of the Innocents.

I met him, somewhere along 1997 or so, shortly after that was published. He spoke to an advanced creative writing class I was part of, only a dozen or so students, and we sat in a coffee shop and asked endless questions about his work, his process, hoping, each of us, to capture some bit of magic from this master in our midst, each still sheltering at least some fragment of a dream that we could be the sort of practitioner he had become — stable, employed, respected. Any two of those, maybe. Hell, one, so long as it was part of an existence as a writer.

I don’t have to tell you I’m one of the ones who didn’t make it. That sort of statement is redundant to tell someone who has made it here to this neglected little spot online.

These days the very best lines of poetry I make — any writing at all, really — stay in my head for the little bit of time they last before I dismiss them, usually before even approaching a writing implement.

Then days like this come along — 50 Dead in Orlando — and all I want is to be back in that coffee shop, dreaming those dreams, because at least then I still believed that words mattered, that something someone wrote might make a difference, than any little piece of peace in this world was achievable …

But that part of the dream is as lost as the rest of it, and I just sit here wondering what any of it matters, anywhere, anymore.

I am tired of the sound of history, and I do not remember what I love anymore … but I am trying, I am here today, trying, to remind myself.

Unsolicited Advice: Valentine’s Day (Couples Edition)

Love is, mostly, personal.

I say “mostly” because, well, hell, look around you today — there’s probably something shiny, red, floral, or made of chocolate staring at you from where you sit, subtly implying or outright declaring that you, too, should have such or give such or somesuch …

Hell with that. 
Unless, that is, what you really want is something shiny/red/floral/chocolatey, in which case, have it. 

If, on the other hand, you’d prefer, why not something personal? 
My wife and I celebrated this day eight years ago with a full-on Thanksgiving-style turkey dinner, and that remains my favorite Valentine’s Day observance so far. 
We didn’t even call it Valentine’s Day; we called it Day [#], where [#] was the number of days we’d been together as a couple. 
Every Feb. 14 since, we’ve observed Day [#] basically the same way. 
In so doing, we took something general and made it something mostly our own. 

I say “mostly” because, of course, we are still hewing to a date on a calendar, even if we call it by another name. 
Mind you, when a random July day rolls around and a turkey dinner sounds wonderful, Day [#] is there for us, too.