Stumbling Through Scotland: An Appreciation of Scotch Distilleries and Stone Walls

Stumbling Through Scotland: An Appreciation of Scotch Distilleries and Stone Walls

Let’s talk about age statements.

In whisky, age is all important. It takes three years in an oak barrel to call a spirit a scotch, but not many people are interested until it’s much older. Eight years might elicit some interest, ten a bit more, but it’s not until a whisky hits its teens that heads start turning. Cross the line into 20s or 30s and you’ve stepped beyond the velvet ropes.

But it’s a law of diminishing returns. Older scotches are hard to find because age doesn’t always equate to great quality. A distillery’s master blender decides when a cask is ready and that can often be quite early on, well before a cask becomes “old.” A 40-year-old cask might be ordinary or even undrinkable, having rolled well past its zenith. Or it could be the finest liquid to ever touch your tongue.

Then there’s the 50. Fifty years. Now that’s an age statement.

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Relationships, Online Friends, and a Death Too Soon

Last February, I got a text late at night. “Dave, call me as soon as you can.”

The moment I saw it, I sat down in the hall where I was walking. That’s not a good message. Not at that time of night. It was never going to be good news. Bad news carries immediacy. Good news, for whatever reason, can wait.

I called. This woman, Alison, who I had met only once, was in tears. Brad, the man in her life, was dead.

We like to think that we know how we’ll react when tragedy strikes or a crisis hits. We imagine we’ll rise to the occasion; be the shining example of behavior, the one everyone else aspires to. I’ll acknowledge that I have done very well in situations like that before. But that night? I was utter crap.

I’d like to say that I said all the right things. That I comforted this woman, was reassuring, and set the situation right. The truth is, despite getting a pretty accurate read on the situation from the timing of the text, I was far from eloquent. I probably said “no fucking way” a dozen times. Maybe more. I’m not sure what else I contributed, but it wasn’t anything that added much. And the phone call went on a heckuva lot longer than it needed to, neither of us wanting to hang up, because ending the call meant we had to begin grieving in earnest. It’s all very trite, I know. Most of us react to death in the same ways. Continue reading “Relationships, Online Friends, and a Death Too Soon”

Why Boy Scout Camp Is the Awesomest

Let’s get something straight upfront. Boy Scout camp, at least the one I attend, is no glitzy affair. The food in the mess hall, where they feed each camper for a couple of bucks a day, isn’t very good. The outhouses sometimes blanket the campsites with a low-hanging layer of stench that can be quite foul. The weather is mostly tough to endure; it’s difficult to sleep when you’re perspiring (but, hey, it is summer). And the open-flapped tents allow raiding parties of raccoons to come and go freely… all night long. Despite all of that, it’s ten of my most favorite days of every year. Here’s why:

1. Everyone is nice.

The Scout Law tells us that we should be cheerful and most people take this very seriously. A held door is acknowledged with eye contact and a thank you. Passing another camper on the trail almost always includes a good morning and a smile. Yes, you may encounter this behavior in the rest of the world, but never as consistently and heartfelt as at Boy Scout summer camp. Continue reading “Why Boy Scout Camp Is the Awesomest”

On Kids, Cancer, and an Unwavering Optimism

Ryan Christian
Ryan Christian

I wrote this piece for Wired’s GeekDad. I struggled with it quite a bit for a couple of reasons. Foremost, it’s intensely personal. I am writing about the Christians and their troubles and, while they are quite open about their experience, it still felt like I was intruding. Secondly, my kids are the same age as Ryan. As a parent, it was crushing to write this and imagine what they went through. Regardless, it is a powerful story.  

In the fall of 2011, when my son began playing hockey, I sat outside the boards during practice and watched as he fell down over and over. Skating can be a tough skill to pick up, harder still when burdened with helmet, pads and a stick. But he didn’t give up and, as more experienced players flew by him, I made a mental note to get him some extra lessons.

As I did, one of the coaches came over and skated along with my son. He gave him some pointers and the falling down became less frequent. I knew most of the coaches, but not this guy. So, when practice was over, I moved to introduce myself. His name was Jeff Christian and he towered over me; when I shook his hand, mine disappeared in his. It was almost intimidating until Jeff broke into a huge smile, slapped me on the shoulder and treated me like an old friend. I knew right then that I had found someone special.

He was not only our coach, but he also began giving my son lessons and took him from an unsure skater to a kid with lots of confidence, who was scoring goals by the end of the season. Jeff is unique because not only is he very outgoing, but, above all else, he is interested in you. I can’t remember a single time I’ve spoken to him when he didn’t ask how I was and how my family was doing — it makes me really enjoy being around him. But when I first asked about his family, I was unprepared for the story that followed. Continue reading “On Kids, Cancer, and an Unwavering Optimism”

Reflections on the Eagle Scout Award Turning 100

One hundred years ago this week, Arthur Eldred of Troop 1 in Oceanside, New York became the first to earn the rank of Eagle Scout, a short two years after the Boy Scouts were established in America. Since then, about 2.1 million boys have gone on to earn the Eagle Scout rank, the highest rank in Scouting. This equates to about 2% of the 115 million boys who have been in Scouting over the years.  During that time, the requirements for the honor have changed, but the constant has been the consistently high caliber of men the rank produces.

Becoming an Eagle Scout is an award that is given for life, ‘always an Eagle” the saying goes. What’s often referred to as the PhD of boyhood is exactly that, a confidence in a wide array of skills that few others pick up until later in their lives, if ever. It’s an honor that follows men around the rest of their lives. In offices everywhere, resumes marked by the Eagle Scout recognition get moved to the top of the pile. It’s a distinction that men, many years past their courts of honor, list in their obituaries.

There’s a responsibility that accompanies a lifetime award. As any Eagle Scout will tell you, when a fire needs to be started, when a knot needs to be tied, or when a map needs to be read, heads turn toward you. But that responsibility also carries a honing of skill. Seldom a day goes by when I don’t practice a skill I first learned as a Boy Scout. Continue reading “Reflections on the Eagle Scout Award Turning 100”

Responsibility’s A Motherbitch

Today, I sat in a crowded hotel ballroom and ate a surprisingly tasty chicken and noodle lunch while listening to Scott Waddle talk about his career. Waddle was a genuinely nice guy and upbeat about his life, which is surprising, considering he was responsible for the deaths of nine people, including four kids.

Waddle had a good, but quiet, career until an afternoon nine years ago when he gave a command to perform an emergency surface maneuver. It was part of a routine cruise, albeit, one that was also running through its paces to impress VIPs onboard the submarine, USS Greeneville. Waddle ran the maneveur by the books, but mistakes were made, as we tend to do as humans. Subsequently, the Greeneville, under Waddle’s command, came to the surface at a very fast pace, and its propeller cut the bottom out of a Japanese boat on a training cruise. The Ehime Maru sank within five minutes of the collision and not everyone made it off the ship – nine died, including four high schoolers.

As Waddle tells his story it is obvious how deeply he hurts, how he will carry his guilt to his grave. He is harshly honest, speaking of his emotions in the days that followed the accident and how close he came to taking his own life. He doesn’t say it, he hints at the fact that the mistake of the Ehime Maru’s position before the Greenville surfaced was another sailor’s responsibility. But the sailor was under his command and Waddle took full responsibility for the disaster.

Although he has written about the tragedy and talks about it with some regularity, the weight of that afternoon has taken its toll. His guilt is nearly visible and – when his talk is finished – you want to put your arm around his shoulder and tell him everything will be alright. Of course, there’s part of you thinks that he’s getting what he deserves – that there are nine incomplete families out there because of him. But then you realize that this guy followed the rules, did what the playbook said and sometimes mistakes just happen (and sometimes those mistakes are just really, really bad).

But here’s a guy who took it all – the accusations, the name-calling and everything that went along with it. He took responsibility for all his men and fell on the sword. And in many ways, that’s pretty damn admirable. Especially when I get back to my computer and see Citibank officials pointing the finger at everyone else and all the daily CYA stories you read out of Washington and corporate America. The decisions that Citibank made has arguably destroyed many more lives than Scott Waddle did, but we don’t see 1/10th of the responsibility from their leaders.

Good News For Dead People

The Walking Dead is, arguably, the best comic book being published these days. With 69 issues out, this long running story is nearly seven years old. The book’s creators, Robert Kirkland and Charlie Adlard take an overdone genre – the zombie apocalypse – and give it an incredibly fresh take that results in a dramatic page-turning epic, with most issues ending in an edge-of-your-seat cliffhanger.

Unlike most comics these days, The Walking Dead is presented in stark black and white panels, baring the survivors’ tale in its naked reality. At first blush, the lack of color is distracting, but after reading a few issues, it’s tough to imagine the story any other way.

A few years ago, Robert Kirkland explained why he created The Walking Dead. “I wanted a zombie movie that never ends. I wanted a zombie movie that allowed us to watch characters grow and change over time.” And so, unlike a 90 minute horror flick, TWD kept going … and going …

Ever since then, The Walking Dead has grown to enjoy an immense popularity, and there have been a few attempts to bring the story to the big (or small screen). Talks to turn it into a series were hopeful (but eventually fell apart) at HBO.

Then last fall, hopes rose as Frank Darabont was tied to the project for AMC. Weeks, then months, passed and it seemed like maybe TWD was headed for development hell. But today, Variety magazine says AMC has greenlit the pilot for The Walking Dead. That means The Walking Dead – due to start production this year – will definitely be on its way to television, which is great news. And with Kirkman attached to the production, hopefully that means a good end result. But will it be in black and white?

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Let’s Hear It For Good Decision Making Skills

That bastion of hard-hitting journalism, The Sun, ran a story about how total fucking idiots proud new parents are naming their children after characters in the movie Avatar. So, one day, your kids will be going to school – not with Michaels and Susies – but Neytiris and Toruks. (I have no idea what those names mean, I picked them randomly out of some Avatar article. I haven’t seen the movie & don’t intend to.)

At least when the kids realize they were named after the fourth most important character in “Dances with Smurfs” they can go to court and change their names to something less ridiculous. Meanwhile, mom will be stuck forever with the butterfly tramp stamp tattoo she got during that “really wild weekend” in Branson.

The Most Awkward Moment Of My Life

This story took place in November 1998. My wife and I had been trying to have kids for a while, but with no success. Due to her family history, the doctors were pretty sure the problem was in my wife’s girl parts, but they wanted to rule me out.

The following is what has become to be known as “The San Diego Incident“. While some of the names have been changed (because I can’t remember them – not to protect anybody, that’s for sure), everything else is 100% true.

When I went to visit Kate in San Diego over Thanksgiving, one of the things I had to do besides go on job interviews and look for a house was to stop by the lab and give a sperm sample. I wouldn’t say I was dreading the visit to the lab, but I certainly wasn’t looking forward to it.

I had a job interview in the morning, which went pretty well. As it turned out, it was in the same building that Kate worked. So, after the interview, I headed up to see Kate so we could get some lunch together.

She teased me if I was ready to go to the lab and give my sample. The torture had begun.

I tried – unsuccessfully again – to persuade her to accompany me on my trip to the lab, but it wasn’t allowed. I’d like for someone to explain that one to me someday. For some reason medical office protocol says it’s OK for me to go to the lab and commit a solo sex act, but if my wife joins me to facilitate matters it becomes obscene?

Lunch ended and it was finally time for me to head for the lab. This was no small feat since it was the first time I had driven by myself in San Diego. The lab was located downtown, and I found it easily enough, but I’m pretty sure the streets had been laid like Herodotus’ labyrinth. The four square blocks surrounding the building were a maze of one-way streets, road construction and missing signs. I soon realized I was running very late for my appointment and gave up, parked within sight of the building and walked the rest of the way.

I went inside and looked at the building directory for Idiot Laboratories. There were 4 listings for Idiot Labs – on the 1st, 2nd, 4th and 8th floors. I figured I’d start on the 1st floor. I found the Idiot suite, but no one was there. Back to the stairs and up a flight to the second floor. I walked in and showed my paperwork to the receptionist. Continue reading “The Most Awkward Moment Of My Life”

It Sure Beats Working For A Living

Al had The Best 'Stache In The AL

One of my first sports memories was in 1978 or 1979. I was about 10 at the time and I’d been invited by a friend to see the Royals play the Yankees in the playoffs. This was back when baseball was still competitive and the pinstripes were hated rivals.

Our seats were high in the upper deck, but almost directly behind home plate. As I remember, it was a close game – close enough that skipper Whitey Herzog went to his best reliever to close out the game. Al Hrabosky was a hard-throwing lefty with one of the best mustaches in the league. (And that’s saying something – this was the seventies, after all.)

But what set Hrabosky apart, aside from his considerable talent and facial hair, were his on-mound antics. Acting out on the mound wasn’t unique, this was the era of Mark Fidrych, but Hrabosky’s act was unusual, to say the least. When he needed to really get himself up for a batter, he would walk behind the mound and turn his back on home plate. He would then talk his glove, yell at the ball while pounding it into his glove with more and more force each time. When he had finally worked himself into a lather, he would abruptly turn and walk to the pitching rubber and go into his windup. It was quite a sight to see.

The first batter Hrabosky faced that night after being called in from the bullpen was Mr. October himself, Reggie Jackson. Hrabosky, or the Mad Hungarian, as he was known, took his warm up and then went into his one-man conference behind the mound. As he stood there, pounding the ball and screaming at himself, the sellout crowd bought into his madness and became enraged themselves. The stadium erupted with screams, applause and mayhem. Enraged, he spun on his heel and marched to the mound. The crowd and Hrabosky were one, his manufactured anger amplified by 39,000 screaming voices.

Jackson stood a little tentatively in the batter’s box, his left foot planted, his right foot outside the line, as he tried to decide what to do. Hrabosky, now nearly foaming at the mouth, yelled at Jackson to get in the box, as he gestured wildly with his hands. The crowd built to a crescendo again, trying to intimidate the Yankees slugger. But Jackson readjusted his helmet, hiked his pants and stepped in. Hrabosky pounded his glove some more and threw his first pitch – hard, fast and high. Jackson was out of the box almost before the ball snapped in the catcher’s mitt.

The crowd approved.

Jackson was rattled. With a foot in the batter’s box he held his hand up to the home plate umpire to ask for a time. The umpire granted Jackson a timeout and he stepped back from the box, staring at Hrabosky, trying to make sense of this madman. Needless to say, the crowd only increased its intensity.

Sadly, I can’t remember what happened next. In all likelihood, Jackson got a hit, which put the Yankees ahead. This was often the case in the late 70s. It was a great rivalry, but the Yankees too often got the better end of it. All I know is that the memory of Hrabosky and Jackson facing each other is so vivid to me, it could have happened yesterday. It is certainly my first sports memory and the first time I ever felt a part of something bigger – caught up in the emotion of the crowd, feeling like we could affect the outcome of that at-bat – simply by yelling a little bit louder.

Hrabosky left Kansas City soon after, as do all decent Royals players these days. I hope it’s not too nostalgic to think of those days as being better baseball, but I think they were. The Royals were competitive and the crowds were large. And while I’d like to think those days will be here again, barring a salary cap or other agreement that levels the playing field, I’m not sure they will.

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