You're talking and talking and talking and I don't hear a word you're saying. I know you're trying to tell me something, but I have a feeling that it is entirely unrelated to the massive amount of homework you have, the plans to run away and the delusions of grandeur. I've heard you spout your philosophies a thousand times and I still don't think you understand what they mean. I see your lips moving, but they're spewing out words just to keep themselves busy. Only your eyes tell me more than the random permutations of your vocabulary.

In your eyes I see confusion and I see desperation. I see a girl who is looking for something but doesn't know what it is, let alone where to find it or how to get it once she has. I see a girl who is nervous not because she is afraid now, but because she was afraid in the past and has never learned that fear is not a virtue. I see a girl that wants another servant to follow her around, even though she would have no desire for me if I did. I see a girl who hasn't cried for years despite her never-ending chaos. I see a girl who has no sense of humility or gratitude and sees that as a strength. I see a girl who is everything that I have chosen not to be, and I love her for it.

He's traveling to Djibouti tomorrow. I don't even know where Djibouti is. The only thing that comes to mind is some bizarre link to an old Frank Zappa album.He's spending three years with KBR, the Houston-based parent company of Halliburton, doing construction work for the U.S. military, working 12-hour shifts seven days a week, 330 days a year for three years, like some sort of modern day indentured servant. A graduate of West Point, a member of the Army Corps of Engineers who did special construction projects for those special soldiers who never talk much about what they do, a kid high up on the list of Most Likely to Succeed in our high school, the boy every girl wanted to date, the guy every other guy wanted to be... He's back working construction. He did a Marine Corps marathon for the first time a few years ago. He's almost fifty. He just got married for the first time last week to the daughter of a Special Forces Vietnam vet. Fucking A.

At 10 o'clock, I said goodbye to him, my childhood friend of so many years. We drift into and out of each others' lives episodically. I sit in a Starbuck's and it's so easy for me to say, good luck, hope everything works out well for you. Email me when you get a chance. The usual inane bullshit end-of-conversation we both hate so much, but we can't avoid it; neither one really wants to hang up, because hanging up means acknowledging the fact that he's really going to go through with it. He's making this huge midlife change, like a car on a highway that suddenly veers off a four lane highway for some off-roading fun. Except it's not fun. It could be the kind of nightmare job you thank your lucky stars you don't have to do because you just got your college degree, and although you acknowledge the importance of the work you imagine some French Foreign Legionnaire, some ex-con who hates society, who likes shaving with cold water and drinking whiskey straight out of a bottle, someone like that doing the kind of work Jim's going to do now. A normal American in highly abnormal circumstances.

Yes he was screened. Yes he was given a psych test. Did they seriously think a guy who'd gone through Ranger school and was Airborne-qualified wouldn't pass? I could have told them he'd pass the first day I saw him run hamburger drills during our two-a-day football practices, absorbing the kind of punishing hits from upperclassmen that made the rest of us wince. He could handle anything.

Lord Jim, we called him. After we read the Joseph Conrad novel in our smart-kids' lit class we all looked at him and called him that. He hated the appelation. And now Lord Jim's in Africa with a bunch of other ex-Army ex-officers and roughnecks, building shelters for the 2000 coalition forces there.

He's been issued a Tyvek CBR suit - chemical, biological, and radiation resistent suit and a Hewlett-Packard laptop with CD/DVD drive, 1.3 GHz processor and 30 gig hard drive. The room had hundreds of them in boxes, hundreds. He'd never seen so many in one place before.

I don't know if he's been issued a gun or not. It hardly matters. Once a soldier, always a soldier. It wouldn't be hard to imagine showing up at his no doubt appallingly primitive barracks and someone slipping him a pistol, grip first, telling him to go ahead and keep it handy, just in case, and him field stripping it and cleaning it that night, just like he'd done hundreds of times at the Academy, right after they polished shoes and set out the clothes for the next day.

Tomorrow he'll fly to Paris, have a 14 hour layover, and then fly down to Djibouti. I have no doubt that if he wears his black turtleneck sweater a few hearts will flutter a bit faster in the Paris airport. He speaks French fluently, of course. He used to win or place in state-wide competitions, I can't remember which. The high school girls back in the day would beg him to say things in french, and they'd get this moony look when he would. He'd tease them. He wouldn't speak right away, or he'd speak in butchered French, so that they'd have to beg him, and he loved every minute of it. He'd smile that Cheshire cat smile. When his parents would take him to France the locals were less unimpressed than they usually were with this mixed-race American kid with the cafe au lait skin. Fast forward to tomorrow, when the 30- something women will see this tall slim man walk gracefully through the airport and order a coffee in impeccable French. They may glance at his left hand, which may or may not have a ring on his third finger. THey'll notice his veined hands and his unlined face, and wonder how old he is, because he could be anywhere between 30 and, what? 40? 42? They'll look into his green eyes and they will fall in love. I've seen it happen so many times before.

He'll be gone in 14 hours, girls. Gone for four months before his first 10 days back stateside for some well deserved R&R.


Djibouti. I'll really have to get a map and find out where that is.

Hey, see ya, man. You take care. OK. Yeah, I will. And you write too if you get a chance. Really. Yeah. Yeah. Okay I'll do that. And listen...

You take care of yourself.

A fellow monkey, some of his friends and I recently engaged in a comparative taste test and educational survey of single-malt scotches, and I just can't resist daylogging the results that I can remember. Heh. We had ten distillations total, and I bet I won't remember them all.

Glenkinchie started us off. A Lowlands malt, it is a paler gold, perhaps four or five shades darker than straw. Sometimes tagged a 'ladies' drink' due to its mild flavor, this appellation (or, really, snipe) misses the point entirely. The flavor of Glenkinchie isn't in a strong, mouthwatering punch, but contained almost entirely in the nose. Sniffing the stuff won't do you much good; you have to take a sip. Do so, however, with your nose open, and breath out through it...let it have air. There are all manner of slight florals embedded in there, and just enough smoke and peat to let you know you're consuming a fine scotch. The perfume of it is why it's drunk.

Dalwhinnie was second up. A Speyside drink, it is a more traditional Scotch, whose flavors tend heavily towards smoke and malt. This is in no way a bad thing. It is a lighter tone as well, though; so if you are apprehensive of perhaps imbibing the liquid remains of a firepit, don't worry (that happens later). It has a more solid malt base than the Glenkinchie, but in a straightforward way, and not too invasive - the fluid can be drunk in larger swigs without suffering nasal or esophagal burnout.

What came next? Oh yes, the Glenlivet 18. A very, very nice whisky - smooth, with the strong smoke and malt rounded down, burnished to a mellow shine without any real acridity or sharp burn. The strength is apparent if you hold it in your mouth, but at no time does it feel like it's trying to damage you - just educate you, heh. A straightforward flavor, with some less complex florals and herbals, but those serve to accentuate the malt and peat rather than obscure it.

The Glenlivet French Oak 12 was one of the evening favorites. The rough edges of the still-slightly-young Scotch are not so much muted as complemented by the complex wood flavoring imparted by the French Oak finishing. The Scotch is 'finished' - i.e. spends the last year or two, perhaps - in Cognac barrels of French oak from the Limousin region. The resulting woody nose rides alongside the slightly sharp burn of the malt, and together they produce a flavor quite distinctive from the other tipples of the tasting. Highly recommended as a flavorful way to finish a mild but satisfying meal, or to enjoy with a cigar as most Scotches excel with tobacco.

I had never before tasted the Glenrothes Speyside Vintage Malt 21, and I know now what a loss that has been. This spirit came attractively bottled with a label showing its vintage and bottling information and was an amazing rich copper, almost, in color. The flavor was just amazing, and this was judged by our crew the best 'straight whisky' out of the bunch. It has a complexity that you have to hold it in your mouth for several seconds to find, and even then, different amounts will produce different balances of yum. There was a slight vanillin, perhaps from the Sherry Oak casks, and several florals that weren't individually identifiable. Overlaying it was a sharp spicy wood, almost cedarlike without being oily. A very wide taste. I'd walk a damn long way for one of these, and if I had one of my fave stogies, too, well...

Glenmorangie is also a fabulous straight whisky. This bottle managed, even this late in the game, to surprise with a very round and full mouthfeel (that word always reminds me of a friend's Golden Retriever, whose enthusiasm was such that every object brought near her needed to be evaluated for this quality). There was a bit of licorice in this, the color being a middling golden brown, and the nose was brisk. Unlike some of the more subtle whiskys, which had a faint odor, or some of the stronger ones whose aroma was dominated by either smoke or alcohol, this one has an excellent schnozz. I enjoyed just sniffing it for a time, and then rolling it about the mouth reflectively. Despite this, I had to slug the last ounce or so just to evaluate the slam deep in the stomach as it headed for ignition...and I pronounced it good. Others agreed.

The Knockando suffered a bit from being a more subtly flavored brand placed this late in the tasting. I was looking forward to the next one with alacrity, so all I'll say for the Knockando is that I do look forward to drinking it first some evening. Perhaps I'll go investigate that possibility now. Hm.

Lagavulin contains all I might say on this subject.

The Extra Credit pair: Macallan Cask Strength and Royal Lochnagar Grand Reserve!

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