Shallow Grave

I was choking in my sleep, suddenly, and it scared me upright out of my slumber. It was terrifying, the feeling of dust or sand caking the back of my mouth. I coughed and retched, bile following phlegm up and out before I even knew what was happening.

And what the fuck actually was happening? My mind fumbled the last fleeting images in its cache. I remember shovels of dirt being thrown on me, a tarp of some sort being pulled back…later? Faces around me…Motia’s voice “Deader’n a doornail. Go ahead. Give him a kick.” Sharp pain, which felt all too recent…I felt the ribs on my left side: bruised and tender, the sensation wrapping around my back towards my spine. What the hell was going on?

“You need to shake off the dust! HA! Really is dust all over! And no shower for days, I think!” The instantly recognizable voice of Pappu, the Walker Between. That was what they called him here.

Here. Yes. I remembered. We were back in our Prime, but still a few long, hard galaxies away from actual home. Still, it felt nice being somewhere familiar, somewhere where the laws of physics acted like they had when I was a kid. My mind threw a bunch of images at me at once, and the way they stuck didn’t make me very happy at all.

I remembered Pappu grabbing my head in both hands, forcing me to stare right into his eyes as he held his own face inches from my own. “No! You look at ol’ Pap! No thinking yet! Here it comes and be strongly!” A flash of light accompanied by pain. A shallow grave. Drifting in and out of consciousness. The gasp of children witnessing something shocking or awe-inspiring. A name. A face. Bool. We had come here for Bool.

“Well, good morning, sleepy-head.” I turned to see Motia striding my way and nearly bobbled the canteen she tossed at me.

“Did you…did you zap me?” I asked as I unscrewed the cap. It’s amazing the things you never really appreciate until they’re scarce. I’d never realized that water had a smell until my travels with Motia. Sure. The sea has a scent, and so does stagnant, murky swampland, but just regular, clean, clear water smells so damned good when you’ve been without it. I guzzled, almost choking again, but pushed past it to quench the arid landscape of my dirty throat.

“Easy there, turbo,” she muttered as she lit a cigarette.

“What the hell? Tobacco?” I shot at her between gulps.

“Can’t get a vape in this word for nothin’. Besides, I think mine’s dead.”

“Fair enough. So, did you zap me, or what? I’m a bit foggy, what with apparently being shoved in a shallow grave by you and this scrawny brown fucker.” I nodded Pappu’s way. He smiled and waved back.

“Of course I did. It was your idea, dipshit.”

I paused. The canteen was almost empty anyway. I stared at her, waiting for clarification.

“You had to be dead. Bool has to believe you’re dead. So we made you dead. Mostly. Let the neighborhood kids come look at your corpse. They thought it was pretty rad, seeing a dead guy up close and all.”

“I make several good trade for to see you! Better than movies to kids!” Pappu nodded proudly.

A notion struck me just then.

“Did you let them kick me?” I glared at Motia, who glanced around at anything but my gaze. “Pappu?”

His smile melted like Paula Deen’s breakfast. Guilt replaced it.

“Not for free, no!”

“Got a good price, did ya?”

He nodded.

“Well, hey, that’s something at least, huh?”

Pappu laughed and clapped his bony hands together like he’d just seen Robin Williams in a sold-out 1980’s concert (and who knows, maybe he just had). Motia walked closer and offered me a drag of her smoke. I couldn’t recall the last time I’d had a cigarette, but knew it was a generous offer; no telling what she’d done or paid for a cigarette out here in the middle of whatever galactic cluster we were in. I took a modest drag. I sighed. Motia tried to assuage my self-pity.

“Every one of those little rugrats will tell everyone they know that they saw you dead, covered in a tarp, eyes rolled back in your skull. When asked, they’ll talk of how they kicked you…hard…”

“Oh, for a certainty.”

“…and how you didn’t move. Didn’t flinch. You’re a corpse, pal. And you can be gods damned sure our pal has heard the news.”

“You’re sure Bool’s here?”

“Yep. Our Navajo tracked him here, otherwise we’d have bypassed this system.”

“Shit.”

“Yep.”

“Well, let’s go get ‘im.”

Motia smiled wickedly, inhaled one last puff of tobacco, regarding the smoldering butt with a wistfulness she rarely displayed. I recognized it for what it was: homesickness. No way of knowing how many years had passed back home, or even if we still had a home to go to. Tobacco, clean water, safety…all in short supply these last few months.

She tossed the remnants to the dirt and ground it out with her boot heel. Motia removed her revolver from the flythsteeg holster, flipped the cylinder open, saw that it was fully loaded (she’d known it was, of course, but checked it periodically anyhow) snapped it back closed, and re-holstered her piece.

“After you!” She grinned.

Pappu was at my side, arriving there in his creepily silent way. He handed me my canvas pack, which I shouldered. It felt lighter than it had in a long time. Most of our provisions were gone. The pack hung rather slack, but I could feel the weight of our prize, the treasure we’d picked up on our last adventure, pulling the battered tan fabric down. It was a reassuring mass, telling me that maybe, just maybe, this whole damned thing was almost over.

I looked around, getting my bearings. I remembered which way this planet rotated in relation to its blue giant (it boggled my mind how huge that thing was, knowing how far away we really were from it, and yet how much of the sky it still took up) and headed what we’d call “east” back home. I stopped after a few steps, turned and called out to our Indian companion.

“Papuulu! You coming or what?”

He had crouched down near what had recently been my shallow grave, but stood when I hollered.

“I found the neatest bug!” He squealed.

“Outstanding. We’re heading this way, buddy.”

The tall, ancient figure shuffled hurriedly after us, nearly losing one of his garish plastic flip-flops in the process.

Motia snorted.

I tried unsuccessfully not to smile.

Motia’s most recent appearance in this blog was last June. You can read it here.

 

Video Breakdown – ‘Til Tuesday, (Believed You Were) Lucky

Before I get into this crazy-ass video for what really is a great song, let me lament that there aren’t more Aimee Manns in the world. There was a time, not long ago, when female singer-songwriters covered the earth in thick herds visible form space. Shawn Colvin, Sarah McLachlan, Natalie Merchant and scores of others…there was Lilith Fair, there were the Indigo Girls on commercial radio…it was glorious. Now we have Taylor Swift. And Gods love her, she’s fine, but…she ain’t no Aimee Mann. Taylor’s simply not as talented. She’s not as deep. And no, she’s nowhere near as enthralling and sexy. Sigh. It’s true: I have harbored a crush on Aimee since the Voices Carry video, through her cameo on Rush’s Time Stand Still, continuing with I Should’ve Known and shit, even up to ’til now.

But let’s be honest, in this video…she’s a little wacky. But then, the whole thing is wacky. This track was co-written by Jules Shear, and fun trivia fact: he’s the “Jules” in ‘J’ for Jules, another brilliant song from this under-achieving album. Both ...Jules and our featured song for this Video Breakdown used to be part of a mixtape my old roommate Marcus would play in the room we shared in college. He’d packed it with soothing melodies to facilitate soundly sleeping, even if sometimes each of us would actually be quietly shagging our female companions in our respective twin beds. Hey, man…college.

So, let’s begin by watching the actual video, shall we? Open it in another tab if possible, because you may want to flip back and forth. Ready?  In the words of Fred Schneider,here it ’tis…

Away we go.

00:00 – Oh! Lindsey Buckingham?

00:09 – Surprise! It’s Debbie Harry! Or…wait…

00:16 – Is that a picture from The Haunted Mansion? A saw? A bow? A bow-saw? (Also, Aimee? Aimee! We’re over here!)

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Camera one, Aimee. Camera one. Camera ONE.

00:33 – And this was your father’s lightsaber…

00:49 – I think they could only afford greenscreen for the top third of this shot.

1:04 – Magic 8-Ball getting’ mighty preachy.

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The new ones just say “Reply hazy. Fuck you.”

1:08 – Robo-hand has sweet knuckle tats like Robert Mitchum or Jake Blues.

1:10 – ILLUMINATI CONFIRMED!

1:13 – “Crap, guys. I couldn’t find a clover or horseshoe graphic. Let’s just spell out ‘lucky’ if it’s all the same to you.”

1:20 – “Aimee, show ’em the thing!”

1:23 – Birds: We’re free! Free from 8-ball enslavement!

1:30 – Black hole sun.

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Are those…birds? Or did someone drop a bunch of Playtex gloves?

1:34 – Aimee? Hey! Over HERE!

1:40 – Wherein Aimee steps in a hole or something, and domino doors, because…um…

1:49 – WHAT’S IN THE BOX?!

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Memories. Memories were in the box, asshole. And what looks like a spider.

2:00 – Took me a minute to realize that the shadows were from the objects still falling, ostensibly, from the previously-mentioned box. Nice touch. I guess whoever was in charge of continuity earned their paycheck on this shoot.

2:08 – What is that shit? Ash?

2:10 – Oh! Bubbles! We’re underwater with goldfish. That is lucky! (But goldfish can’t read.)

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|AT LEAST IT’S NOT MONOPOLY! HAHA!| (Translated from goldfish.)

 

2:13 – “Say, I wonder what my fate holds?”

2:14 – “FUCK! That can’t be good! Aw, man…”

2:18 – So we’re doing this again? This ‘Twilight Zone’ crap?

2:23 – Zoom in on young Peyton Manning.

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He’s just patiently waiting for his chance to yell “OMAHA!”

2:30 – The Australian ‘Watership Down.’

2:40 – Finally! Dr. Who!

2:43 – Finally! The Doors!

2:45 – Aimee, open your eyes all creepy-like.

2:46 – Nice touch with that ‘Spock’ thing you’re doin’ there.

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Actually, it looks more like a Dr. Evil move…

2:48 – The ‘Infinity Ticker-Tape” thing never really took off.

2:52 – Kids, that is a nice transition. Seriously, good match-dissolve.

2:59 – “ARE YE READY, KIDS?” (Because life. Life. In a pineapple. It’s de bubbles. Under the sea.)

3:03 – Those have to be snooker balls or something. Stupid English people gotta make everything fancy.

3:07 – “Lucky” is a great white-trash baby name, FYI.

3:12 – Time-lapse rose to symbolize…patience? I guess?

3:16 – Aimee puts her band on a pedestal. (No, fuck YOU!) Except…she’s up there, too…and Peyton does’t have his damn drums! WHAT HAPPENED TO YOUR DRUMS, PEYTON?!

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CAMERA ONE! GODDAMMIT, AIMEE!

3:22 – It is ALWAYS camera one! ALWAYS!

3:31 – ILLUMINATI!

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Laugh all you want, and then tell me what other reason there could possibly be for this. Huh, smart guy?

 

AAAAAAAAND SCENE.

So, to recap: Aimee Mann is a very talented singer/songwriter, but has no idea which camera to look into. The drummer for ‘Til Tuesday would grow up to shill pizza for Papa John’s. And in the 80’s you absolutely HAD to have a video. For every song you released. Sometimes your director had just depleted his last ounce of creativity trying to get Whitesnake to go in a more creative direction and, failing to do so, had gone on a three-day coke and alcohol bender before showing up on the set screaming “EIGHTBALL! WE’RE DOING THE EIGHTBALL SHOT!” (Double-meaning totally implied.)

Thanks for reading, and check out “Everything’s Different Now” by ‘Til Tuesday if you ever get a chance. Good stuff.

 

 

The Captain, the Rookie, and the Mystic

 

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The Three Musketeers. The Holy Trinity. Geddy, Neil, and Alex.

It’s been a wonderfully exciting week or so. A direct message from Dewar’s on Twitter. Strange clues and exotic tomes containing single-malt whiskies. And in the dizzying array of items and splendid, gorgeous packaging and presentation, I ALMOST FORGOT TO REVIEW THE DAMNED THINGS! I mean, I tasted them…but I kept putting off really publishing my findings. Today, I rectify that oversight.

But not before I show off some of the stuff that came along with the three single-malt offerings. If you read my initial Whisky Mystery blog, you learned about the entertaining riddles and such that accompanied The Aultmore. Well, not to be outdone, the Royal Brackla packaging featured an actual wooden box with hinged lid. Inside were two hefty, etched glasses, along with a little tin of honey, some raisins, almonds, and apricots. It was an alcoholic pick-a-nick basket, eh Boo-Boo?

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Everything a growing boy needs!

And the Deveron featured some great nautical design, and…oh yeah…a friggin WATCH! Plus, the bottle of scotch itself was magnificent.

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I totally wanted the “D” in this particular case.

More on that in the actual reviews, which start right now.

 

 

The Deveron (Mystic, Wise, Spiritual Advisor and Best Friend of the Captain)

The earthiest nose of the lot. Not overwhelmingly so, but it’s there. Like wet leaves. Faint spices. A hint of the seaside in there, too, although that could be my imagination, what with the overwhelming nautical theme of the gift box and the incredibly beautiful frosted sea-glass bottle. (Seriously, somewhere right now some rum distiller is kicking themselves for not stealing all of the Deveron’s look prior to the mass-release of this fine single-malt.)

 

Warm vanilla. A dark fruit, like plums or dates. Not a lot of peat, but it’s lurking in the background for an opportunity, hanging out with the yummy malts and tobacco bite, waiting to spring out at the finish. Delightful and mysterious, this dram. It feels a bit heavier on the tongue than the other two. Sweet, but not cloyingly so. Good stuff. A great alternative to the regular old bottles you have in the cabinet. Pour some for a friend and ask them to guess what it is.

4 stars

 

 

 

Aultmore (The Brash Young Ensign)

Looks light, and smells the same. DON’T BE FOOLED! The nose is almost totally unassuming. It almost didn’t seem like scotch, until I concentrated. There was alcohol here (oh, was there ever! More on that later) and a fruitiness, like maybe pears. If chardonnay were a whisky, it would smell like this.

 

I didn’t see the first punch coming until it was too late. Let this be a warning to you: there is a substantial alcohol bite to this little guy. And frankly, I found it a bit overwhelming at first. I checked the bottle and saw that I was sampling a nice 92 Proof beverage. Well, now. But the good news is that just like the very high-alcohol Sailor Jerry rum, there were flavors to be had. The Aultmore is just a little too eager, a headstrong rookie. Be patient with it and you’ll find the good. There’s a lovely apple/citrus sort of tang to it. A bit of sherry and a tiny little taste of oak. It also feels very light on the tongue. In other words, you would almost expect this whisky to be a lightweight “starter” whisky. It isn’t. And once I poured it over some ice, it settled down and was delightful. I tried the 12-year-old variety and thought it was okay. I think that a bit more aging would help tremendously, so I can’t wait to try the older varieties and see if I’m right. One final note: if you’re a fan of peat in your single-malt, look elsewhere. That’s not bad or good, as peat, like malts or spices, can be very divisive. (I once opened a bottle of Laphroaig in front of my wife and she turned her nose up immediately, saying that it “smelled like band-aids.”) The Aultmore, by contrast, is virtually smoke-and-peat free. So maybe it is a good starter whisky after all…

3 stars, although I’ll go up to 3.5 on the rocks

 

 

Royal Brackla (The Steady Captain With a Zeal For Adventure)

Okay, let’s get this juvenile bit out of the way. It’s hard for me not to make fun of things. The name of this bottle was no exception, with my mind racing between Blackula and Scott Bakula. No matter, as the drink was the best of the three which I had the pleasure to taste. We’ll start with the nose: It smelled of scotch. And I mean that in the very best way possible. It was fragrant and wonderful and familiar. Some apricots, some flowers from a meadow, and a dash of black pepper. Yes. This was the one.

 

Oh, so buttery on my tongue. There’s that pepper again. And something else, some dates or raisins. A bit “darker” taste than the Aultmore, and even though they were both 12-year-olds, the Brackla just tasted more finished. More mature. A man’s drink. A hint of pipe tobacco on the finish balanced by mellow honey. A steady hand on the tiller. Oak and rich leather. Yes. My go-to single-malt whisky has long been Glenlivet 12. This one may supplant that bottle, as it claims some of the things I love about Glenlivet, but with a bit more complexity. Looks like Royal Brackla might be a tiny bit more expensive, but with rumors of Glenlivet running out of the 12-year-old vintage, I wouldn’t be surprised to see them end up at about the same price before long. Either way, I won’t mind spending a few extra bucks for this bottle. It’s the goods.

4.5 stars

 

In conclusion, I’d say that it’s all great news for whisky fans. These three single-malts will seem oddly familiar to Dewar’s White Label drinkers, but much more complex and interesting. Three great single-malts that will serve as a wonderful opportunity to transition from blends, but strong enough to stand on their own amongst the established pantheon of great whiskies. Of the three, The Royal Brackla is the clear winner. It’s the James T. Kirk of this lot, with the Deveron as Mr. Spock (or Guinan, actually…or Troi) and The Aultmore a cheerful Ensign Chekov. I’ve had the pleasure of rotating the three bottles and it’s been a grand week to say the least. Seek ’em out. Enjoy them. Savor them.

Sláinte!

The Whisky Mystery

I arrived home on a snowy, blustery Northern Indiana evening to discover a parcel on my front porch. I love a mystery, and absolutely adore a puzzle. Knowing what was probably inside the large box, I whisked it inside, threw some crap off my dining room table, cut open the cardboard, and dug out what appeared to be a huge, fairly weighty tome. The thing was 14” by 14” and about 4.5” thick. Woof! And emblazoned upon the ‘cover’ was the seal of ‘The Aultmore Distilling Co.’ I took that to be a really good sign.

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Like a Guggenheim Bible…dedicated to BOOZE!

Upon closer inspection, of course, it was obvious that this object was not a real book. I opened the apparently magnetic flap on the cover and saw the mysterious (downright spooky) interior artwork and cover page. And behind that…the real good stuff.

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See, usually I prefer to pee myself AFTER I drink, thank you very much.

There was a neat little mini-book, really not much more than a pamphlet. The cover was sharp, and the paper thick, with that sort of rough, pulpy feel. Good stock. ‘The Mystery of the Buckie Road’ was the title, printed in gold leaf.

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That door either leads to whisky or grandpa’s old killin’ cellar.

Along with that was a fun-looking little cylinder with numbers etched into revolving tumblers. It was sturdy, made out of some sort of brass alloy. I’d read enough Dan Brown to recognize it as a cryptex.

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Or the oldest bike lock ever discovered.

I also found what at first glance seemed like a simple laser pointer. And it was, in part. There were two little buttons. The first activated a standard red laser. Okay. The second one…a single click produced a clear LED mini-flashlight beam. But when I pressed that one a second time, it switched to a dimmer blue glow. Curioser and curioser. I had a hunch why, but that would have to wait, because by now I figured I knew for sure what the real goodies were going to look like. And I wasn’t wrong.

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My cats were substantially less excited about the ghastly blue setting.

Behind the faux-wooden door flap, I discovered a bottle of 12-Year-Old single-malt scotch the color of honey and wheat: The Aultmore. NOW we were getting somewhere. And behind the booklet, a wee snifter-shaped glass (technically, a Glencairn Glass). How convenient!

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Hello, gorgeous…

Full disclosure time. Those that know me well enough are aware that I love a good Scotch Whisky. I get bottles of the stuff for Christmas, and it’s always fun to try a new label. Usually, I prefer the single-malts, but they can be a crapshoot, quite frankly. I know I’m pissing off some scotch purists, but there it is. With bottles as expensive as they tend to be, most folks don’t have the luxury of trying everything on the shelf. That being the case, we all have our favorites. And I have no problem admitting that I’ve always fancied a glass of Dewar’s White Label over some of the fancy, higher-end single-malts.

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Pictured: a ‘glass’ of Dewar’s.

“WAIT!” you cry. “DEWAR’S IS A BLEND!” It certainly is, and a wonderful one. There are other bottles in the same price range, and I’ve tried many…The Famous Grouse and Grant’s standing out alongside dark-horse favorites like Old Smuggler (seriously, not too shabby. You almost forget it can be had from a plastic bottle.) But Dewar’s is on my go-to list every time.

Sorry. Getting distracted thinking about all this booze. I’ll get back to that in the next blog entry. I’ll simply say that I was expecting a sample from the Dewar’s folks…but nothing quite as elaborate as this.

So, this mystery tome. It seemed obvious what my next steps were. The booklet held the key to the cryptex…and the cryptex itself held some additional mystery. It was really fairly exciting, a lot more adventurous than I’d anticipated for a simple whisky tasting.

I read the booklet in its entirety. Didn’t take long. It’s a tale about a mysterious old fisherman/smuggler/bootlegger leading the unnamed protagonist to discover the secrets of the distillery and whatnot. Nicely written, but not really groundbreaking.

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A story I’ll read to my grandchildren one day.

I returned to the front page, and shone my laser-pointer at the page, nearly tearing a hole in space-time. Crap. Forgot. Wrong button. Crimson light blazed through the dining room, boring cleanly through a cat (one down, one to go!) and nearly blinding me as it shone off the white paper. I clicked the other button until the faint blue light bled forth onto the page. And there I saw it.

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‘Saw what? Just looks like a regular ol’ page to me…’

Like some Scooby-Doo cartoon, or even better, some deleted scene from a Harry Potter film, faint, glowing numbers materialized. It was awesome. I figured I’d find something like that, but it was so cool to have my suspicions confirmed.

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‘So what am I looking for, some sort–OH! Oh, that’s pretty bad-ass!’

I swept carefully through the booklet, making sure not to miss any clues. I finished with the necessary digits (all numbers, no letters or symbols.) Nervously, I picked up the heavier-than-expected cryptex, spinning the tumblers into place until I felt (rather than heard) a ‘click’. Carefully I pulled the end cap, extracting a central cylinder which…was actually a USB stick!!

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Crap. Should’ve said ‘SPOILER ALERT!’

Haha! Of course! The whole thing was basically an electronic press kit. I found a video that ran a nice two-and-a-half minutes, descriptions of the varieties of whisky available, the different ages and such, and some information on the distillery and its history. It was all so wonderful.

So, quickly, I’ll tell you this. Dewar’s, knowing of my love for their blended scotch, reached out to me on Twitter. They informed me that they were about to launch a few varieties of single-malt scotch. The neat part? These featured single-malts are essentially the whiskies that get blended to make Dewar’s White Label. And now, for the first time, the greater public would be able to enjoy them one at a time. I was asked if I’d be interested in trying some. “Abso-freakin’-LUTELY” was my paraphrased response.

But the fun manner in which this was all presented, the mystery, the charm, the enigma…that’s good stuff. It’s great marketing, quite frankly, and excellent showmanship. Not sure who handles their promotions and advertising, but they’re a top-notch firm, make no mistake. And reaching out to select Twitter followers? Brilliant use of social media. Much more effective than some stupid YouTube video or “repost this for a chance to win” Facebook contest.

Ah, and as for the scotch itself?

 

To be continued…

 

 

 

Sweet Christmas!

I only tell you this in the interest of transparency. It’s really none of your business, and most of you frankly just don’t care…but the tone of this blog sort of requires a bit of backstory regarding my philosophical beliefs. They’re fairly nebulous. If I absolutely had to define myself, I’d go with quantum-spiritualist. Maybe a super-agnostic. Saganite Buddhist. I believe that as we learn more about our universe via quantum physics and the exploration of space, the more we find that yes, maybe some of those philosophers that lived and taught two millennia ago were on to something. Those giants of aniquity sensed things about our universe that they couldn’t quite explain, truths that they felt in their very cells, but for which they had no mechanism for exploration, other than to just ask “what if?” That’s why all the really good old Greek and Roman figures happened to be scientists and mathematicians as well as soul-searchers and dreamers. They were trying to figure out the universe from both angles, and perhaps the world would be better off if we did more of that sort of thing nowadays. All that being said, I’m here to heap 100% of the credit for what we know as our traditional holiday season at the feet of our Christian brothers and sisters. They deserve it.

My atheist and new-age intellectual friends are surely interrupting with “but Christmas itself is a pagan holiday!” And they’re right, of course: it goes even deeper than that and much further back in time. The Winter Solstice has been recognized by cultures since humans first started scribbling on cave walls. It evolved into Celtic and Nordic observances and then into the full-blown Saturnalia festival of ancient Rome. And that’s where Christianity took the ball and ran with it.

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Jesus was clearly forward of the line of scrimmage.

Early Christian leaders were a savvy group. They knew that their religion was bound to spread like wildfire simply by telling the common people about the great news: simply accept that Jesus of Nazareth is the Christ, the Redeemer, the incarnate son of the One True God, confess to him your sins, and presto! Eternal life! It really was too good a deal to pass up. But the church knew that The People enjoyed certain practices and celebrations as part of their culture that would not easily be given up. So the Christian leadership wisely said “Fine, you can keep your silly rituals. But we’re totally rebranding them.” So instead of pagan fertility rites involving eggs, rabbits, and other symbols of baby-making sexual intercourse, the church offered instead to celebrate renewal in a very literal sense: the return of Jesus from the dead. And of course, the Saturnalia (or, amongst the “barbaric” German and Celtic peoples, “Yule”) became not only a celebration of “the return of the sun” but of the “birth of the Son.” It made perfect sense. And once the emperor Constantine began establishing Christianity as the official religion of the Roman Empire sometime early in the 4th century, the deal was truly sealed.

That’s why we have Christmas trees instead of Yule Trees. Or Holiday Trees. That’s why we have Santa Claus (Greek bishop St. Nikolaos) and gift giving and such, right there in the dead of winter. Not that all of those things, the reindeer, the mistletoe, the holly, the candy canes and gingerbread houses, were necessarily Christian in origin, but because of the rapid and total spread of Christianity, these customs all fell under the same umbrella. They became universal. Sure, the Polish Santa might be unrecognizable as Swiety Mikolaj, but the idea remains intact.

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Oh, that’s a doll. Thank God. I thought I was going to have to write a really dark Polish Santa joke.

 

Christmas drives everything in December. Hanukah wouldn’t be such a big deal if it weren’t for Christmas. Nobody would have ever heard of Kwanzaa if it took place in June. They’re just piggybacking on the runaway rollercoaster of goodwill that Christianity started. Jesus had momentum. Plenty of room on the Midwinter Bandwagon.

But here’s where the dark clouds roll in. The sad truth is this: there have been plenty of bad Christians out there saying and doing enough stupid shit that the non-believers or folks sitting on the fence of religious belief are being driven from the church by these actions. Fighting against marriage equality, spouting hateful (and mostly untrue) things about Muslims on Facebook, thinly-veiled racism and hypocritical greed, misogyny, the abuse of children at the hands of Catholic priests…all of these things have stained the reputation of the once-infallible and all-powerful church.

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Pictured: everything bad.

But let’s give credit where credit is due. No, Christianity didn’t invent this holiday. But they took it and gave it to the world. You don’t have to be part of the church or its belief system to appreciate that. Nor do you have to be washed in the blood of the lamb in order to enjoy a cup of eggnog with friends you haven’t seen in years. It’s okay to enjoy everything the holiday season offers, no matter where you are in your spiritual life. And for fuck’s sake, it’s okay to call it “Christmas.” It totally is. I mean, chances are you don’t worship the Norse pantheon (although more and more Icelandic folks are doing just that) but it’s still okay to use the words Wednesday or Thursday. Like it or not, Odin’s Day and Thor’s Day are still right there on the calendar, and even Frigga gets some love with Friday. It’s fine. They’re just arbitrary names for things. Just words. They can’t harm you. They don’t stand for anything evil; they don’t commemorate a dark, bleak, tragic day in history. I also get that some of my well-meaning liberal brothers and sisters are hung-ho in their desire to shield the world from the insidious indoctrination policies of Christian evangelism. They have armored themselves in Political Correctness in an effort to make sure that everyone has a seat at the table. They really do mean well, but…dude. It’s Christmas. The reason of the season. Absolutely. It just is.

The ultimate point to all this? Don’t be afraid to call the holiday by its actual name. Use the word “Christmas.” It’s just a word. It’s not even a bad word. And like it or not, the Christian church is responsible, in a roundabout way, for your vacation days around that time in December. Had Genghis Khan run roughshod over all of Europe back in his time, we’d likely still have a celebration of the Winter Solstice and the gradual lengthening of our days…we’d just call it something else. But that didn’t happen. Christianity happened, thanks to the Roman Empire. So it’s Christmas. Big deal. Go to church if you want. Stay home. Put up a tree, or don’t. Christian, atheist, Muslim, Jew, agnostic, Sikh…it doesn’t matter how you label yourself. You can still enjoy listening to Bing Crosby as a log crackles in the fireplace and children tear open gifts. And I really, really hope that you do.

 

Merry Christmas, everyone.

A Civilian Addresses the USMC

Today is November 10, 2015. The 240th birthday of the United States Marine Corps. And I have something to get off of my chest.

 

Once, a long time ago, I disliked the United States Marine Corps. I mean, I really didn’t like Marines at all. My disdain had nothing to do with being a liberal punk-ass kid or a dislike of the military. In fact, I’d been actively recruited by various branches of the military after I made the huge mistake of absolutely crushing the ASVAB test. I considered the Navy for a while, as my pops had enlisted back in the day before receiving a medical discharge. I ended up going to college and never joined up with the armed forces of this or any other country. So, right away, my dislike had nothing to do with my peacenik, pussy-ass Democrat leanings.

 

No, it was more the Marines themselves. Specifically, the guys that I knew from my small hometown of Mount Vernon, Indiana. Guys who you either didn’t ever pay attention to in high school or the ones that got the wrong attention, being bullied by the meathead jocks and made to feel inferior. (Hey, it was high school. If you’re one of the lucky ones who never got bullied or made fun of, congrats. Savor that shit.) Some of these kids, though, went off to places like Parris Island, and they came back hard. Too hard. I mean, I get it: you used to get beaten up. Now you can kill a man with your bare hands before he has a chance to even flick his cigarette. Good for you. The problem was that some of these guys didn’t wield their new powers with class or grace. They were every bad supervillain from the comics. “Remember me? Remember stuffing me into that locker? Remember all those wedgies?! Do you? DO YOU?! NOW YOU WILL TASTE TRUE POWER! “ They were living out the fantasies of the victim.  “One day I’ll learn karate and teach you all a lesson.” (Although as I type this, it occurs to me that maybe if more kids enlisted, we’d have fewer Columbines.)

 

Those guys. Those guys sucked. Those guys became the thing they hated. Those guys, with their ridiculous high and tight haircuts. Those guys would get into deliberate fights just to prove how tough they were, how less-weak, all thanks to the miracle of the USMC. Those guys are the reason why I was prejudiced against jarheads.

 

But then something happened. My wife and I moved to New Bern, North Carolina in 2001. We got down there literally the week after 9/11 to start a new life. Holy shit, was that scary. New Bern happens to be about twenty or so minutes up the road from Cherry Point Marine Corps Air Station, and about forty or so minutes from both New River MCAS and Camp Lejeune. We were right in the middle of Marine Country as it was ramping up to full deployment mode. It was nuts, especially to a lifelong civilian from the Midwest. I must also admit that the atmosphere was fairly exciting. You just haven’t lived until you’ve found yourself at the Taco Bell drive-through in Havelock, NC trying to shout your chalupas order over the deafening roar of the Harrier hovering in mid-air half a mile away.

 

During that time, I started making friends with various folks, either through my work in radio or socially though roller hockey and surfing. And I was shocked…SHOCKED! to discover that many of these folks were actual active-duty Marines. And they were…well, they were awesome. Hell, even the retired (de-commissioned is a better word, as they were always going to be Marines) USMC guys at work were amazing. Funny, smart, confident, disciplined. I was welcomed into some of their circles, playing roller hockey outdoors aboard MCAS New River while Cobras and Ospreys flew overhead. Spending Thanksgivings aboard MCAS Cherry Point. Attending Carolina Hurricane games in Raleigh and minor league baseball in Kinston. Eating at Waffle House in the wee hours of the morning after a night of boozing it up. Kegstands at a party at the off-base civilian lodgings of some young Marines. (They pooled their housing allowance for a two-room apartment to save the rest for video games, stereos, and yes, beer.) I made some lifelong friends during my time in NC, and it’s safe to say that at least half of them were/are Marines.

 

I’ve learned some things. The first is that it is absolutely ludicrous to base your judgment of any group on the behavior of a select few. I’m frankly embarrassed by the prejudicial views of my youth. I was no better than the racist who points at the TV any time a black man is shown in cuffs and hisses “Goddam blacks. Fuckin’ let ‘em kill each other.” Or another recent example, where I called someone out on Facebook for asserting that all Muslims are terrorists that hate Christianity. I asked him how many actual Muslims he knew. His reply? “I don’t need to know any, because I can see what they do with my own eyes.” I shake my head at this type of idiot. I would shake my head at my own ignorant, adolescent stupidity.

 

That being said, here’s another generalization. Hockey people and Marines are the groups that I’ve encountered that have the highest percentage of all-around superiority. True greatness. Stout hearts, loyalty, courage, generosity, compassion, strength, intelligence…all of it. Sure, there are going to be turds in any subset. I know some hockey guys that have failed humanity again and again. But most of them are stand-up men and women. Same thing for Marines. There will always be that asshole wearing his cover out of uniform in the hopes that a civilian will ask “were you in the Marines?” But there will also be a staff sergeant in civilian clothes asking the stranger, a woman at her wits’ end with two screaming kids and a flat tire, where she keeps her jack as he strips off his blazer and opens the trunk.

 

I guess this was all my way of apologizing. Of saying “Sorry, Marines, that I ever doubted you.” I will never again. Thank you for your service, Devil Dogs. And Happy Birthday. Semper Fi. Oo-rah.

 

That is all. Carry on.