A day or two ago, I thought I’d take a ride…

It’s snowing at 20 Prospect! Literally and figuratively.

On Saturday we got our first real snow of the season. Nothing major, just a couple of inches of fluffy, feathery white stuff to make us all feel like singing Christmas carols, holding hands around the tree, and drinking egg nog. OK, maybe not the eggnog part. Drinking egg nog is like drinking latex paint.

Flavored with nutmeg.

My tongue feels slimy just thinking about it. In Minnesota, the holiday drink du jour is something called a Ben & Jerry Tom & Jerry. I guess it’s not just a Minnesota thing, but I never heard of them until I moved out here, and saw the Tom & Jerry mix in all the grocery stores at christmas time. In WNY we don’t need all that slimy egg white to get drunk, we just put the bottle of cheap brandy in a brown paper bag, and knock it down.

It wasn’t until my 30’s that I realized that real brandy isn’t Blackberry flavored cough syrup. I was on a business trip to Belgium for my dark corporate overlords. We were holding our annual meeting with our Belgian counterparts at a hotel in the very center of Bruges. (Brugge, for my Flemish friends). Before leaving on the trip I had been reading an article in Forbes lifestyle section, (because God forbid I read anything about business in that magazine) when I came across Calvados.

Calvados is a brandy made with apples in the Normandy region of France. The article was talking about how a severe windstorm had deveasted the orchards in Nowrtwestern France, and that the price of Calvados was sure to rise, so it would be a good investment to lay in some vintage Calvados ASAP. Leave it to Forbes to make getting drunk on hooch an investment opportunity.

Anyway, I came acrosss the article and thought “Wow! Here’s an obscure European cultural reference I can use to impress my friends, and make myself feel like a cultured man of the world.” So I decided right then and there, that the first chance I had I would order a glass of Calvados, and look worldly.

Weeks went by, and on the final night of our meetings we had a grand dinner for the attendees and their spouses. Everyone turned out in their best suits, and dresses. There was much feasting on Belgian cuisine, the most sublime of all national cuisines I have ever been blessed to partake of. The Belgian beer, and French wine had been flowing freely all night, and the various tables around the hall buzzed with French, Flemish, and English stories and laughter. I was feeling pretty great, loving life and all of my new found Walloon, and Flemish friends.

After dessert we all headed to the hotel bar for an after dinner drink. One by one everyone stepped forward to order their drink. For the stupid young American coworkers, they picked the blandest Belgian beer that they could find. For the hard drinking Flemish, it was either a stout Belgian ale, or a Jenever. For the refined American and Belgian executives it was either a single malt scotch, or a brandy. When my turn came I stepped forward, looked into the ice blue eyes of the slim blonde bar tender with the apple cheeks, and said “Calvados alstublieft”. She smiled, and in my mind I could see her thinking, “What a handsome and cultured young American. While his boorish friends are drinking Budweiser, he is ordering a culturally relevant, and distinctive drink. I want to have his children.”

Or something along those lines.

She pulled a green bottle from the top of the liquor shelf, and poured a chesnut colored liquer into a brandy snifter. Handing it to me, I nodded, and in my most seductive voice said “Dank U”.

It is so hard to sound sexy in Dutch.

I stepped away from the bar, holding my brandy snifter in my hand, and reveling in my wordliness. How far I had come since that night in the woods at the end of North Street drinking Old Milwaukee from a can with Bella. Here I was in a foreign country, using fractured bits of a foreign language to order myself a drink as old as the ages, demonstrating my knowledge, and taste for everyone to see. I held the glass to the light, and swirled it. Then taking a brief sniff of the bouquet, I tilted it back, and took a long, deep draught.

Then I gagged.

Holy crap. That wasn’t apple cider, it was gasoline! I coughed, and my eyes watered, and I could feel the Calvados start burning a hole in my gut. It was just like my Black Velvet experiences at age 9. Here I was 20+ years later and I hadn’t learned a damn thing.


If that ain’t the story of my life.

Anyway, I recovered my composure, and finished the drink, and with my head swimming, and my esophagus burning, I excused myself and went to bed. It was that night that I vowed to learn how to drink liquour if it killed me. The intervening years have been a long and costly exploration that is recorded in my liver, like the rings in a tree stump. Calvados, Schnaps, Jenever, Grappa, Saki, Soju, Mao Tai, Aquavit, Vodka, Scotch, Bourbon, Brandy, Rye Whiskey, I have sat across from people of every skin pantone, and religious persuasion, and sampled them all. Don’t say High School football never taught me that if you suffer through anything long enough you learn to love it.

Thankfully, I am married to a woman who keeps me sane, and sober. Most of the time. Whether I want to be, or not. The life of an international businessman/businesswoman, is like a how to book on becoming an alcoholic. Without Mrs. 20 Prospect to keep me on the straight and narrow, I’d have been living in a trailer, cashing my welfare checks, and drinking whiskey out of plastic bottles years ago.

So here’s to you Mrs. 20 Prospect. If only I had a glas of Calvados to toast you with. I hope root beer is good enough.


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