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It’s not often one turns the corner of the bread aisle in search of hotdog buns at the local supermarket only to be met by the sound of screams that soon become requests for photos. Although, when it does happen, it is rather unforgettable.

I should probably admit this happens to me more than you’d expect—not necessarily while searching for bread items, but also while searching for a caulk at Home Depot and seeking out windshield washer fluid at the local auto parts store. The screams and photos don’t happen because I’m in any way celebritous. I’m certainly not one to be mistaken for Brad Pitt. I should be clear that they’re also not a result of me suddenly brandishing a weapon or lunging to assault another fellow.

I’m guessing it probably happens because I go shopping dressed like this…

I manage a collection of sorts, and with the dawn of mask mandates in 2020, life began proving itself dull.

I’m one to observe and examine people. But all I could see were eyes. Yes, there is the saying that eyes hold stories. But it’s the face that sets the stage to tell them. Is the person happy? Sad? I don’t know. I just can’t tell. Perhaps worse, how is this character on life’s stage to be distinguished from the next? Here we are together in aisle five, and yet I could swear this same person is also standing this very moment in aisle two, and in the deli, and at the checkout, and in the parking lot. Everyone looks the same—droning automatons all telling the same emotionless tale. Indeed, after a few days, conformity’s indistinguishable gray proved itself dull and draining. With that, I found a use for my collection.

Do you need an oven-roasted chicken from the deli? Give me a few minutes to get masked up and I’ll fetch it for you.

Do you need some apple juice? Again, allow me a few minutes to change and I’ll track some down.

Are we low on toilet paper? I’ll be right back. I think I’m going to pick up some new shoes at Target while I’m out.

Did I hear you say you’re feeling like liver, fava beans, and Chianti for dinner tonight? Prep the oven. I’ll only be a moment, and I have the perfect face covering lest my governor, Gretchen WHitler (eh-hem, I mean, Whitmer), become cranky.

How about I scare up some ice cream sandwiches as a special treat for the kids tonight?

Maybe not? Um. Yeah, you’re probably right about this one.

In the end, no matter which character ventured out into my somnolent community, the dreariness was almost always overcome by smiles, laughter, and a genuine re-engagement with real humanness. It served my heart well, and I’m absolutely sure it did the same for others. In fact, even only recently I was shopping alongside my daughter, Madeline, who most often goes with me when I don a costume, when the clerk behind the counter of our local grocer recognized her in relation to the strange characters she’s often beside.

“Hey,” the lady said. “I know you. I usually see you with some guy dressed as Darth Vader and a Predator and stuff.” Turning to me, she pried, “Are you the guy wearing—?”

“—You got me,” I interrupted. “My secret’s out.”

She assured me she’d maintain the mystery while at the same time she shared just how refreshing it has been for the employees and customers when otherworldly characters stop by for a visit. This flies in the face of one of my critics who suggested that I take the mask mandates more seriously, implying that a Lutheran pastor ought to be more mindful of his public behavior. Well, whatever. If my public devotion to whiskey hasn’t revealed the nature of my boundaries, then I’d expect dressing like Hannibal Lecter and hovering above the porterhouse steaks at the local grocery store will only serve to bind your undies even more.


As the local grocery clerk has taught us all, in the ever-droning world of “usual,” when a person chances upon something spectacular—and in their own back yard, so to speak—the gladness is even more so amplified. This rule applies to whiskey, as well, and it proved true in my second go-round with the Luca Mariano Small Batch Kentucky Straight Rye edition that arrived at my home in the hand of my friend, Adam, who also happens to be a dear and faithful member of my congregation.

By the way, you probably noticed I said, “second go-round.” This is true because my first encounter with the whiskey wasn’t that great. But having given it a fair an unadulterated second try, the only thing I can think is that whatever I’d been eating the first time around must not have been completely cleared from my palate. I remember the whiskey being a bit sour. And yet, a happenstance revisiting with the whiskey in another context confirmed for me my mistake and the dram’s exceptional character.

With a nose of dark fruits—blackberries, in particular—there’s an astonishing sense of a forthcoming fullness. A sip confirms this. Rich with chocolate creams and oily barrel spices, the whiskey’s handler is led into a medium finish of peppered vanilla.

It’s really quite nice, and I think anyone who happens upon it would be well-served. It’s even better when shared with a friend, no matter what world that friend is from.