I don’t know if you noticed, but a few years ago Johnnie turned around. He used to be walking left; now he’s going right.
When pressed, the Johnnie Walker company explained that leftward leads to the past, while to the right lies the land of the future. And if there’s anything Johnnie stands for, it’s the future.
I found this fascinating, though I couldn’t say that I liked it. Johnnie looked wrong. Too happy, too forward-thinking. He looked like he was about to leave us all behind.
I have always been intrigued by Johnnie Walker. Even when I was little, way before I could drink. There was one bottle with a Red label, another with a Black– why? I used to stand there and stare at my parents’ liquor cabinet. It seemed that the Black went faster than the Red. To me, it would have been a hard choice, but luckily I was seven. Besides, I’d heard alcohol was terrible.
Many years later, I was invited to a tasting. I got an invitation in the mail; it was engraved and everything. “Johnnie Walker invites you,” was the first line that I read. And there he was, on the top, heading off to the left.
I decided to go. I was actually quite excited. I invited a friend of mine who was basically an alcoholic.
“Hell yeah,” he said, and asked if he could bring his wife.
I also invited my girlfriend of the time. She said she’d love to, and asked when it was.
The night of the tasting I drove to the place. It was a big hotel up on the Strip. I remember thinking as I arrived that I should’ve washed my car. It was $8 to park, and you had to valet.
My girlfriend wasn’t with me; she was going to meet us there.
I found my friend and his wife in the lobby and we headed toward the conference room. I had always liked my friend’s wife, even though she was very short. She always smiled and held my friend’s arm, and she used to whisper in his ear.
There were a lot of long tables in the room. It sort of reminded me of school. Chairs were placed only on one side of the tables, all facing forward, toward the podium and the screen.
There was an overheard projector, with a wax pencil on top.
The three of us took our seats and waited for the others. Pretty soon, in groups, they began to come in. It was almost time, and I was nervous, so I called up my girlfriend. She was sorry, she said, but she wouldn’t be able to come.
She had decided to do something with her fiance instead.
I sat at the table and stared at the placemat. It was a map of Scotland, divided in portions. I’m not sure if Scotland has counties, or states, or provinces, or what, but each portion had a name, a funny Scottish name. I wish I could remember one, but they’re long, long gone.
“Is there something wrong?” said my friend.
“She’s not coming,” I answered.
“Everything okay?” said his wife, after a moment of silence.
“Yeah,” I said. “Yeah, it’s okay. She’s okay.”
And then we sat there for a while and had nothing to say.
I hadn’t really been telling people about my girlfriend. Or rather, I hadn’t been telling them that she was. It was that fiance thing. It sort of muddied things up. I told my friends when they asked that she was just a friend. That there was nothing happening. It was better that way.
I don’t know. Really. It seemed right at the time. I think, to tell the truth, I was lonely.
The tasting started up. There was a man in a kilt. He had a loud, Scottish voice. He demanded silence. Absolute silence. And he got it.
He gave us a long speech about Johnnie Walker, and also about Scotland. He explained that lots of Scotch was made in Scotland, in lots of locations. Every state, or what have you, produced its own single malt, and then Johnnie Walker bought a bunch of them and blended them together.
They had one blend for the Red, and one for the Black.
Hmm, I remember thinking. Well I guess that settles that.
Then I found out there was a Gold one, and also a Blue. The Blue, apparently, was the best.
A couple girls in nice outfits came around then with trays. The trays held little glasses, each filled with a different single malt. They arranged the glasses on the maps, one in each territory. Then the man guided us through them all, one at a time.
“Be sure to savor them,” he kept saying, but no one was listening.
My friend and his wife shot all the glasses in a minute.
Very quickly the room became very loud with voices.
“Be quiet!” the man was shouting. “We still have the blended to cover!”
But then I stopped listening. I was telling my friend and his wife the whole story.
My girlfriend’s marriage was coming soon; it was a month or two away. I’d gone with her a while ago to look at the dresses.
“I’m not sure I want to marry him,” she told me, and I nodded.
Things had gone on from there, and now here we were.
“Are you kidding me?” said my friend’s wife.
My friend didn’t say anything.
“No,” I said. “Not kidding.”
“And she’s still getting married?”
“I’m not sure,” I said. “You’d have to ask her.”
At that point I had to excuse myself, because my stomach was unwell.
I remember standing in the bathroom and staring in the mirror. Why had I told them? Now everyone would know. Not that they didn’t know already. I’m sure that they knew. How could they not know? They’d have to be blind. But maybe they were? Who knows? I splashed water in my face.
When I returned to the table, my shirt was all wet. Apparently I’d become less coordinated.
The conference room was like a party. People were singing. Yes, really, singing. Don’t ask me what though, I have no idea. The man at the front looked very disappointed. Looking back, I imagine it was his first time on the job.
My friend and his wife were looking a little nervous.
“We think you’re going to get hurt,” I remember one of them saying.
The map was still there, though the glasses were gone.
“Yeah probably,” I was saying. “Yeah, probably.”
They let us drive home. They must’ve gotten sued. I’ve never seen so many wasted people, or maybe it was just me. The roads were pretty tricky, but luckily I lived close. I lay down in my bed and thought of Scotch.
What was that about the Blue one? I kept thinking. That sounds nice. Tomorrow I will have to check it out.
I think I threw up then, but later the phone rang. I let it ring, and then the answering machine started to talk.
It was my girlfriend. She wanted to come over. Her fiance’d gone to bed. I picked up and told her she could.
She got there about two or three. It was raining and she was drenched. She shed her clothes, and toweled off, and then got into bed.
I remember thinking that I really must be an idiot, but then all of a sudden I realized something else. I knew that if I opened my eyes and looked at her, it’d all be over, so I kept them shut and tried to think of nothing at all.
“Are you okay?” she kept saying. “Is everything okay?”
“Yeah,” I was saying. “I’m just drunk.”
In the morning the girl who was my girlfriend was gone. I went into the bathroom and drank water from the faucet. Everything I smelled- the whole apartment- smelled like whisky. So I took a shower and got the hell out of the house. I found my car on the next street; it was parked kind of funny. I got in and drove to the liquor store.
I walked around for some time, looking for the Blue. I found the Red and the Black quite easily.
“Do you have the Blue?” I said to the man behind the counter. He just shook his head and looked rather sad.
I drove from liquor store to liquor store, all over L.A., until I found a Blue way down by the airport. It was behind the counter, behind glass, up there on the fancy shelf, and the price tag said $209.
For a while I contemplated buying it. I thought I’d drive on over to my friend’s house and we’d drink the bottle in the yard. Watch his daughter run around in her sandals and play, and talk about dumb things we didn’t care about and laugh.
But in the end, $209 was too steep a price to pay. I was a student; I lived on tuna fish. So I got in my car and drove back home. A few months later my girlfriend was married.
I never tasted Blue, in fact I stopped drinking blended. It turned out the single malt was much better. Eventually, in the end, I stopped drinking completely. But that’s another story, the telling of which we may get to some day.