Once fully seated in my murky holiday mood I drink scotch and watch late night 1980’s television. By scotch I do not refer to precious single malts from the Scottish highlands or the Orkneys. No glimmering elixir that people who have good old friends pull from the shelf and serve late at night, at a bare table in a dim room, maybe after their weary friend has arrived from some great distance. I mean the generic “scotch,” economical old man blends like Ballantines and Dewars. For older readers, think of the type advertised in the last century inside those thick magazines with humongous staffs likely doing very little on big expense accounts, e.g. Playboy or Esquire.
You can drink scotch cold, hot or neat, but it is always warming, a drink complete. It makes sense for the season. The TV on the other hand is plain atavism, a retreat to some childhood happy place amid the gathering darkness and endless threatening hectoring from friends/family/the whole seasonal ambience to MEMENTO MORI!! SAVOR THIS TIME!! TEMPUS FUGIT!!
Which I frankly don’t need, guys. I got that covered.
And to what am I regressing? My rickety 1980s childhood home had no heat, save for a wood stove in the living room (or “front room” as we called it) and leaky holes in the walls and ceiling. My brothers and sisters and I lived a life of mostly unsupervised, easygoing squalor, punctuated by occasional incomprehensible screaming and obscure financial crises.
During the holidays, the older siblings who had gone out into the world would return and sleep on the front room fold-out. With regular routines loosened by the holiday, I would gather my bedding and camp out on the floor near the warmth of the stove and the siblings and the Christmas tree and the glow of forbidden post-bedtime television. Moonlighting, Miami Vice, LA Law and Cheers.
A window into an adulthood not wholly understandable, of course, but enclosed in routine, community and shelter. The men drinking Ballantines in the advertisements of inscrutable adult magazines.
A digression on Cheers. Besides rampant sexual obsessions, most of which flew over my head, the show involves generally foolish individuals making fools of each other, all in good fun. Though at any time one character may outsmart any other, there are broad discernible trends as to their relative stupidity. This, as best as I can tell, is the hierarchy of intelligence, such as it is, on Cheers.
There is no relation between smarts and success on this show, which feels real. Or if there is, it’s inverse. Norm and Carla are canny but downtrodden, tragic smarties. Rebecca and Sam are happy bimbos, successful dummies. At various times I can relate to either state. On the far end of the spectrum are the complete fools, like Frasier and Cliff, Cliff being a notable fool for seemingly not knowing about anything at all while in compulsive denial of his ignorance. As best I can tell, the only episode of Cliff actually acquiring knowledge was when he lost his virginity, and that momentous event was breezed past with such deliberate speed as to suggest that it barely affected him.
Back to scotch, since the chances of me being the one to crack the code of such a rich text as Cheers are as low as Norm’s self esteem. The generic scotch blend is perfectly suited to my brand of approachable brooding, a simple “scotch and soda” from the bartender, effortlessly prepared and ready to accompany staring hollow-eyed at the bar mirror or engaging in light banter with strangers. It takes very little time to prepare at home while old television is queueing up on a winter’s night.
Though it lacks a single origin, pedigree or terroir, the reliably smooth warmth of blended scotch feels precious to me. When I pick one up at the supermarket, I briefly imagine it is the last bottle I buy before civilization collapses, and will have to ration its amber, factory-blended drops.
Baked into holidays are occasions for cheers-ing, whether your cultural preferences run by way of prosit, kampai, skoal or what-have-you. Around the globe, cheers mark not only the loss of time, but the encrustations that remain. I recall a distinct threshold, crossed at some point in my 30’s, after which I ALWAYS cheersed; acquiring the sense that any fleeting moment of communion deserved a nod.
The Royal Navy has a weekly routine for toasts, depending on the day officers will cheers to absent friends or to a willing foe. That appeals to my bravado, but these days I’m happy to toast to willing friends and absent foes.
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Trevor Alixopulos, drinks, cheers, scotch
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