Scottish friend

I have developed a fond relationship with a Scottish friend. A healthy relationship, mind you, and he’s quite a friendly spirit. We only visit once in a while, usually at the end of a week or at a nice restaurant. My grandfather, the one with the great sense of humor — he refers to his “bum ear� as oxymoronic — has known this Scot his entire life.

Nowadays, the three of us often get together, but I remember the first time I had the pleasure of partaking of my single friend’s company. Actually, he picked me up at a bar.

Nothing keeps you more humble than having to clean the floors and bathrooms of a bar for a living. One frigid night in mid-winter, I set out to clean such an establishment. It was the coldest night of the year, one of those nights when the car defroster surrenders, and the steam from your hissing nostrils coats the windshield in front of you with a thin, pale ice.

I arrived shortly after the last of the bar employees had left. For the first time in my life, I needed a drink. Not wanted, but needed. I had never stolen liquor before, but I desperately needed something to thaw my now-glacial blood.

My gaze fell upon a display of single malt Scotch bottles, five in a row, neatly placed in a wooden rack. All had notes written underneath them in etched brass plating. “Pure heathery softness from the glens,� quoted one. Another said something about “sharp hints of briny taste from the coast.� Whatever, I thought. Whisky is whisky.

One of the bottles had five stars etched in its brass plate. I don’t remember its name. I quickly selected the whisky and poured a modest amount into a clean shot glass that I had found beside the ice machine.

Even before it hit my lips, a strong stench of burnt wood hit my nose. Bravely, I allowed a significant amount to pass over the lip of the glass and into my mouth. Sweet, tangy fire danced around my palate for a few moments; then I swallowed. I remember actually feeling the spirit hit my stomach, and it was at that point that the fire blazed. I didn’t breathe. The most amazing wave was washing over me, a warm wave, rippling outwards from my gut, moving up and down and out and away. It ended at my fingertips, which tingled as if heated from within. Finally, I exhaled—a deep, long, breath that tasted like the campfire smoke I inhaled thousands of times as a boy. While this was happening, I was hypnotically staring into the empty shot glass, my senses overloaded.

I realized that I wasn’t cold any longer. I cleaned the floors while whistling, and even spent an extra twenty minutes spray-buffing to pay for my crime.

From time to time, my grandfather will visit, and I will uncork a bottle and turn his usual Manhattans into Rob Roys and stand beside him, sipping it neat. The names of the single malts lend themselves to conversation, and sometimes we make up limericks that have to do with the particular single malt of which we are partaking.

A lively young frog with Glenlivet
Swore that a try he would give it.
He imbibed from the still
With great gusto, until
The most he could utter was, “Cribbit.�

These are very special moments for the two of us, and I feel privileged to have the attention of the family patriarch. We drink standing, never sitting, and discuss science and mathematics and politics and whatever else comes to mind.

Old Walt was a drunk with no class,
Who drank single malt from an old glass.
He downed his Dalwhinnie
Till he felt like a ninny
And would sometimes fall on his (loss of dignity).

Eventually, my PapaStan will be gone, and I will think of him whenever I sip the nectar from Scotland. Already his age shakes his hands so badly I often have to pour it for him. But until then, when I drink it will remind me of one frigid night, and how I was warmed.

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