The Scotch is gone

The Scotch is gone.

This is not a surprise. The ultimate depletion of the finite amount of this spirit in my possession was an eventuality that I could not help but see coming. Simple physics, or maybe just common sense. The mere fact that it lasted as long as it did is a source of continued incredulity, particularly to the bestower of that long-enjoyed fifth of Glenlivet. When I received that most-welcome gift almost exactly one year ago, I myself little thought that the final sips would be so far off, or that they would find me in such changed circumstances. In a way the contents of that green bottle have been my companion throughout this tumultuous past year, and it is as though a dependable friend has left my life, missed and remembered fondly.

Even after the extensive education in the world of spirits that formed a significant portion of my college seminary experience, particularly in the last half of my career there, Scotch remained an unknown to me. I did have one memorably bad night in my last semester which featured several tall glasses of Johnny Walker Black Label mixed with Sprite, which I found delectable at the time, but now seems juvenile at best, at worst just plain wrong. It was my one and only encounter with Scotch during college, and — quite possibly due to the undignified and embarrassing end to that particular evening — remained so for years after. (It did, however, translate into one of my favorite post-college unwinding drinks: Makers Mark and Sprite, on the rocks in a tall glass.)

In fact, my next encounter with Scotch did not come until just over a year ago now, in the fall of 2004. Following a play with friends in Milwaukee, I was feeling particularly urbane, and when we stepped up to the dimly lit bar at the theatre, I smoothly ordered what I felt would match my mood; “a double of Johnny Walker Black, neat.” At the first sip it was clear that I had stepped out of my league, but I soldiered on, sip after careful sip, and felt like I had really achieved something by the time my glass was empty.

Of course, eventually my expertise as a drinker of Scotch and my unassailable prowess as a faux pas artist were bound to coincide. In discussing a colleague’s taste in beverages with one of my coworkers at the bookstore, I opined that he didn’t go in for “manly drinks.” My interlocutor’s eyebrows ascended, and with a tone that was the vocal equivalent of a “Thin Ice” placard she asked me what I considered a “manly drink.” Flustered, I grasped at what I thought was a safe answer: “You know, like Scotch,” I replied as glibly as I could.

The eyebrows came back down. “I drink Scotch,” she informed me. “What are you saying?” After making me dance a bit longer to prove what a fool I was (and am), she took pity on me, and gave me some pointers and opinions on the beverage she enjoyed so much.

So I was not all that surprised, but very touched, when, on my first day back to work following the birth of my son, she gifted me with a beautiful bottle of Glenlivet. Little did either of us guess how long that gift would last.

This past year was a bleak one for me and my wife; financial security was a distant dream in our more optimistic moments, and grocery money was hard to squeeze from my inadequate salary. Amenities like spirits were beyond out of the question. So the Glenlivet became a special treat, a little snort in the evening after a rough day at the bookstore. Then, growing comfortable with the stuff, I began to fill my flask with Scotch, and found that two or three small pulls on the hour-long walk home from work served as a wonderful appetite suppressant, as well as buoying up my flagging spirit. The burning fingers reaching down my chest helped me forget the tiny lunch — or perhaps no lunch at all — that had tried to sustain me through my work day. It was never immoderate, but it was always just what I needed to keep putting one foot in front of the other.

Of course, things eventually got better: I got a new job, and our little family is now making strides to clamber up out of the pit dug by my fiscal irresponsibility. The evening sip from the flask has grown rare indeed, no longer a prop to the desperate but a true luxury as it was intended.

It would be hyperbole (which I abhor) to suggest that I could not have made it through this past year had it not been for that unlooked-for bottle of Glenlivet. I daresay God played no small part in upholding me as well. But I will always be grateful for the full flask on my long weary walks, the fire in my belly that helped me forget the gnawing there. To my friend, benefactor, and now fellow Scotch lover, know this: with that final burning sip, I drank to you.

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