Johnny Walker Blue

July 21, 2010

For I.M.:

It was a small bottle, a gift for me, when you returned from a trip to somewhere. For some reason, I think it was Israel.

I don’t remember the year, but it was a while ago.

We would crack it open for some special occasion, we said, a big event, some humdinger conjured from hard work and good luck despite the odds and our usual comical results.

I pictured the two of us sitting by the creek, bare feet in the water, laughing loud enough to frighten the carp to the other side of the channel.

I’m not much of a drinker, but somehow many memories of our dozen years as buddies involve strong drink taken with little care for limits, either booze or your near-solid Turkish coffee.

That strawberry-flavored Russian vodka that you dug out of your freezer in our early days had us giggling, sitting on the floor, while our women rolled their eyes and walked away.

I had wanted to quote, in that strawberry fog, something impressive from Tolstoy, but I could never think of any suitable passages. Probably because I had never read him. At the moment, I thought that was hilarious.

Or the night you were helping prepare this house for a renovation project, during which we combined a good scotch with power tools and intense, muggy summer heat.

The results came out better than we had any right to expect, since the house remained standing and we remained whole, if wobbly.

As a kid, I remember building sandcastles on the beach, near the tide line. Sometimes I’d see the waves come in and eat the turrets and moat. Other times, I’d come back and find the beach scrubbed bare, with no hint that I had been there at all.

It has, truly, been a rough couple of years. Friends and family in and out of the hospital, and then back in again, or simply dead.

My own doctor doesn’t smile as much as he used to. In fact, he’s called in reinforcements.

I’m trying hard not to use the expression “circling the drain.”

So, yeah, if you must know, the wee bottle of big scotch came out of its cloister in the high cabinets of the kitchen. I cracked it open and poured a finger into a good heavy glass. I sniffed and sipped it between assaults on this keyboard.

Dammit, give’em hell out there, wherever out there is, and keep your damned head down. You don’t duck as fast as you used to.

As for me, I think I’ll pour another splash of Blue and haul up the drawbridge for all the good it’ll do. For the life of me, I think I hear breakers crashing.

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On the 147th anniversary of Pickett’s charge, a passage from Faulkner, with thanks for the reminder to my friend Porterhouse

“For every Southern boy fourteen years old, not once but whenever he wants it, there is the instant when it’s still not yet two o’clock on that July afternoon in 1863, the brigades are in position behind the rail fence, the guns are laid and ready in the woods and the furled flags are already loosened to break out and Pickett himself with his long oiled ringlets and his hat in one hand probably and his sword in the other looking up the hill waiting for Longstreet to give the word and it’s all in the balance, it hasn’t happened yet, it hasn’t even begun yet, it not only hasn’t begun yet but there is still time for it not to begin against that position and those circumstances which made more men than Garnett and Kemper and Armistead and Wilcox look grave yet it’s going to begin, we all know that, we have come too far with too much at stake and that moment doesn’t need even a fourteen-year-old boy to think This time. Maybe this time with all this much to lose and all this much to gain: Pennsylvania, Maryland, the world, the golden dome of Washington itself to crown with desperate and unbelievable victory the desperate gamble, the cast made two years ago….