Back when the Civil War was heating up, farm boys and store clerks and college students from across the North were getting acquainted with the rudiments of soldiering. These included many disagreeable things like hours of close-order drill, nights of guard duty and relying for one’s dinner on what the Commissary Department issued and what the man elected company cook did with it.
There were, however, bright spots. The Commissary Department, besides having the market cornered on wormy hard tack, bacon that tended toward a rather festive shade of green and beans you had to sort the stones from before boiling, also had a store of some of the best corn whiskey ever put up in barrels. One man described it as, “a cheap and reliable article” and his words have always made my mouth water.
A cheap and reliable whiskey is what I’ve been looking for now for years. Something to take the edge off one’s worries without sharpening that edge by discombobulating the week’s budget. Something to, as my father in law used to say, “Get you where you want to go”.
Where I usually want to go is a mossy riverbank with a harp being played somewhere over there behind that clump of forsythia. Nepalese maidens, draped modestly in diaphanous silk contrivances that conveniently fall apart when the gold clasp at the shoulder happens to come loose, are singing softly or approaching my Roman-style couch with offerings of fruit on platters of enchased gold. Ewers stand upon a marble table nearby, from which flows a brownish-gold liquid.
“Have another.” says a voice.
I prop myself up on one elbow and notice there is another Roman-style couch a few feet from mine where, resting on his elbow, is Basil Seal.
“Do you think it wise?” I ask.
“I consider it imperative” says this icon of all that is refined and reasonable. I follow his advice, bidding the Nepalese maiden with the dimples tip one of the golden ewers until the brownish-gold liquid is nearly cresting the rim of my goblet.
“What is this stuff called again?” I ask, after sipping enough to ensure that none of the precious fluid will go to waste nourishing the bed of flowers below my couch.
“Black Velvet” says Basil, "from that fabled land of frostbite and romance that lies far to the north of us."
"You mean" I ask, groping, "Canada?"
"Some do call it that, yes" he replies, a little stiffly.
“And this Black Velvet which we drink really costs less than twenty bucks for one of those big jugs with the easy-grip handle?”
“No more, I assure you" replies Basil, who seems to have regained his equanimity. "Verily, a classic is a classic and remains so, though it be displayed at knee-level at your local liquor emporium.”
“Like Clubman products, you mean?”
“Precisely. Though their labels have not changed these fifty years, though they cost not a tithe as much as those transgendered concoctions in the dispensers with Freudian overtones, they are worth far, far more. They diffuse the aroma of our father’s barbershops, where men were gentlemen and where all the magazines dealt with catching aggressive fish or handling large-bore weapons.”
Letting the truth of his words—and another generous sip of Black Velvet—sink in, I contemplate the brownish-gold elixir and realize that God puts nothing into this world without a purpose, not even Canada. I want to mention this to Basil but refrain, fearing that it might wound him to his trans-Atlantic Anglo-American soul.
“How true” I say, as I lie back on the pillows and allow the Nepalese maiden with the jingling anklet to anoint my face with Clubman aftershave.