It wasn’t until 2007 that I discovered there was such a thing as Johnnie Walker Blue Label, when I saw the elegant box tucked away in a bathroom at a crowded grown-ups party on occasion of an upcoming wedding. Presumably, it was there for safekeeping until after the bulk of (less-deserving) guests had moseyed on home inebriated on lesser stuff (like JW Black or, horror of horrors, JW Red), at which point the real stuff – the $300 Blue – would be brought out for the chosen.
As a kid, I was into ingesting all kinds of stuff not intended for human consumption – grass, dirt, toothpaste, ants, the salty harvest of mine nostrils, etc. but my favourite above all was the stuff not intended for kid consumption. Top of that list? Leftover whisky which my parents’ friends always left un-sipped in their glasses at the end of a visit to our house. I would wait until all the adults were outside in the yard doing their lengthy farewells while starting brand new topics, I’d make sure I had a good view on them through the living room French windows, then I’d throw back every single glass so fast you’d think I was in college already. Sad for me, the amber liquid would be two parts melted ice water to one part whisky by then, so mini-me never did get the full…effect of downing the equivalent of half a glass of Johnnie Black in seconds. Well, baby steps, as they say.
Jump forward to 2007. I’m in that bathroom, now faced with quite the dilemma. Do I make my young self proud and sample this freakish Blue right there, make up for all those diluted shots of my youth, or do I wait and see if the bottle gets opened before I leave the party, thereby not only delaying my gratification but also confirming my sneaking delusion that I am one of the chosen? Hitting two birds with one stone, or rather, hitting one bird twice with two stones.
I decided to wait it out and went back to the party.
Not so much as a drop of the Blue for me that night. At some point one has to say goodnight and go home or things get awkward.
Jump forward to 2013, and it seems like Johnnie has walked into my life once more, this time as a … t-shirt? A fellow writer recently introduced me to Yohannes Aramde, a line of tees and accessories inspired by a brand so synonymous with Ethio culture it’s high time the government dedicated a postage stamp to it. In the meantime, some D.C Diasporas have got the ball rolling with a repurposed brand that evokes the old, anticipates the new, (and makes the perfect birthday present for jilted nostalgics like me. Ahem. No need for fancy wrapping, brown paper bag will do fine.)
Between those early days of glass-emptying and the later ones of bathroom-snooping, for a few teenage years (when I re-discovered the stuff you could say) I was in the habit of taking a few gulps straight from the bottles in our limited bar at home, which I would then bring back to the former level by adding similar coloured liquid (water or apple juice worked well). Of course after that I would have to sample it all over again to make sure the taste wasn’t off. And so it went: taking, replacing, mixing, re-taking, re-re-placing, re-re-mixing, until it was just right.
To this day I don’t know if I really got away with it or if, one day long after I flew the nest, a poor unsuspecting guest got a mouthful of apple cider when they’d asked for whisky neat. But in retrospect, it was a pretty good rehearsal for the unending chemistry experiment of diaspora life, one for which we’re finally starting to come up with some funky uniforms.