Every Memorial Day I used to call my dad and half-joke, “I just called to thank you for preserving our freedoms.”
“Oh,” my dad would say, and even over the phone, I could tell that he was raising one eyebrow. “You’re welcome.” That’s how we communicated, half-jokey. It was a comfortable way to talk about anything, from my mom’s difficult moods to my questionable career choices to my dad’s time in rehab after his stroke. “Today is bath day,” he said once, “I hope the pretty nurse is on duty.” That may sound like a creepy thing to say to your daughter, but he was in his late 70s and the joke wasn’t about the nurse, it was about his enfeebled state. He recovered almost fully from that stroke, and we had him for another precious six months.
On Saturday I went to the liquor store Dave and I have gone to for years. It’s not the closest or the biggest or the cheapest, but they stock an ideal selection of whiskies. Not too many, but always a few surprises, and the owner and his son always teach us a little something. We learned about non-chill filtering from them, and small-batch, pot-stilled Irish whisky, and the bottlers who find single barrels of great whisky from all over and private-label each one (Compass Box?). I also like the hardwood floor and the automatic exit door and the loading zone parking.
So I needed some bottles for a get-together, and drove over. Parked in the convenient loading zone, walked in and saw someone new behind the counter, a young guy. No one else was around. Okay, so probably no advice. I grabbed a cart and stopped at the beer cooler first, for a six-pack of Domaine DuPage French Country-Style Ale. The cardboard holder felt a little funny—almost damp, but not exactly. I put it in my cart and wheeled over to the whisky aisle. Each white shelf still displayed the names and prices of its inventory, but there were no bottles on the shelves. I looked around, trying to see where they’d moved the whisky aisle, but everything else looked the same. I asked the guy behind the counter, “Where’s the whisky?”
He said, “We don’t have any.”At first I thought he was kidding, but after I stared at him for a moment, he didn’t break into a smile. He just stood there. “You don’t have any? Why?”
“Why don’t you have any?”
He shrugged. “We don’t carry it anymore.”
I was speechless. I looked down at my cart, empty but for the not-exactly-soggy six-pack of Domaine DuPage. I thought, do I leave my cart and stomp out in a huff? But I’m too stunned to huff. How does a liquor store not have whisky? Why isn’t anyone else in here? Did Martians invade and no one told me? Then a woman stepped out of the manager’s office. “We’re shifting our inventory,” she explained pleasantly. “Whisky and fine spirits don’t move very well, so we had to phase them out.”
“Oh.” I looked again at my cart. I didn’t want the beer any more, but slowly I pushed it to the counter. The guy was expressionless as he rang up the sale and took my twenty. Eleven bucks for this, is that right? I don’t care, I’ll never be in here again. I almost told him to skip the bag, but realized that if the cardboard gave way I’d need it. I carried the bag across the hardwood floor. The automatic door opened for me for the last time.
As I walked outside I heard a weird buzzing. I looked up but saw only a thick layer of clouds. The buzzing was suddenely deafening, like the fighter jets on air show weekend. Are we being attacked? Is a plane coming down? Am I dreaming, and the liquor store incident was just the setup? I froze as the sound filled my head and vibrated in my neck. Then it began to fade. I got in the car and drove down the street to another liquor store.
When I got inside, the young guy behind the counter said, “Did you just hear that?”
“Yeah,” I said.
He said, “I’m not kidding, I kinda freaked out. I mean after what’s happened anything’s possible, you know?”
“Tell me about it,” I said, “I just walked out of a liquor store that told me they don’t carry whisky.”
“Wow,” he said, “Twilight Zone.”
“Exactly.” There’s no hardwood floor in this store, but the selection is fine. They even carry some stuff from Koval, Chicago’s fledgling distillery. Also, they share a parking lot with The Pleasure Chest, which I’ve always been curious about. I may never have the nerve to go in there, but if I shop here it will always be an option.
The guy boxed up my purchases and asked if I needed help out. No automatic exit, but there’s a little ledge where I could set my box while I pulled the door open. All good. Later my friend Kismet said the fighter jet sound was probably something for Memorial Day.
My dad was a Dewar’s man. Dewar’s on the rocks. Every now and then I’d buy him a bottle of single-malt and he’d say, “Thanks,” but half-jokey. He’d try the single-malt once or twice but always went back to the Dewar’s. He liked the consistency, and you could buy it anywhere, even at the Jewel.