12 years old, 2018 Edition, 57.8%, angelsportion, audio books, chris pratt, darth vader, east bound and down, edith, florida, lagavulin, limited release, lutheran, michigan, minister, mtv generation award, pastor, pretentious, red lobster, scotch, smokey and the bandit, star wars, tatooine, theology, thoma, vacation, whisky
“How was traffic?” I asked, giving Vader the typical handshake and shoulder bump that men do.
“Terrible,” he growled, pulling his chair from the table to sit. “I-4 just seems to get worse every year.”
“Did anyone get Force-tossed into a ditch?”
“Just one,” he replied. “Well, two if you count the guy at the gas station pumping gas with his truck’s passenger door wide open. He left inches for me to pull into the only open stall. I put him on top of the Wendy’s about a quarter-mile down US-27.”
“Nice,” I said, having long since learned to appreciate my cosmic friend’s creativity.
Reaching to him with the menu, he waved it away. “I already know what I want,” he said. “The Bar Harbor Lobster Bake.”
“Sounds good,” I said. “That’ll pair well with what I brought this year.”
“Which is?” the Sith Lord pried.
“Something from one of your favorite distilleries,” I said, lifting the bottle from the bag at my feet. “The 2018 release of the Lagavulin 12-year-old.”
“You do the honors,” I said, handing him the bottle.
“Great pick,” he buzzed, gleefully, wasting little time to open the bottle. “By the way,” he added, pouring a set of two-fingered drams, “when I called a couple of weeks ago, Jen told me you had a bit of a rough year.”
“It wasn’t anything out of the ordinary,” I said, taking a sip. “Every day is a bit like the chorus from the song ‘East Bound and Down’.”
“I don’t know that song,” Vader said, dryly, and took a sip.
“You’ve never seen the movie ‘Smokey and the Bandit’?”
“No. Should I have?”
“You can’t be an American if you haven’t seen that film.”
“I’m not an American,” he said, decisively. “I’m a Tatooinian. Besides, after Edith left me, I don’t watch too many movies. I get up, go to work at the gator farm, maybe listen to an audio book, come home, and then float around the pool listening to more of the book until I get tired enough for bed. I don’t suppose I can get ‘Smokey and the Bandit’ as an audio book?”
“Probably not,” I said, already beginning to teeter between frustration and sadness—frustration because talking with my technologically mechanized friend from deep space sometimes feels like talking to someone from the 19th century, and sadness because it seems he’s just drifting along through space without Edith. “My point,” I continued, “is there’s a line in the theme song that says, ‘We’ve got a long way to go and a short time to get there.’ That’s how I feel most days.”
“Mine’s just the opposite,” he said, taking another sip. “I have a short way to go and a long time to get there. And in case you were wondering, that’s just how I like it.”
“Well, I’m glad for you, then,” I said, affirming Vader’s contentment. “The Thoma family worries about you being alone down here.”
A moment passed.
“You know, we have a spare room in our basement if you ever decide you need a change of scenery.”
“Thanks, but no,” he replied. “I’m fine. Besides, I could make you the same offer. What made life so challenging this past year? Is it the congregation? Or maybe those idiot kids across the street in your neighborhood? Remember, I can Force-choke from a distance, too. I just need a picture and an address.”
Realizing we’d both completely consumed the whiskies before us, another set of drams was poured.
“For the most part, the congregation’s fine,” I said. “Of course, there’s always one or two folks who seem intent on making it their life’s goal to give me a headache. But, again, for the most part, I can handle it. And as much as I’d appreciate learning that the fireworks-worshipping delinquents across the street dropped mysteriously to the ground near the firepit in their backyard, I’m okay there, too. The cops visit those dolts so often, I’m sure their time as free citizens is growing shorter by the minute.”
Another moment passed.
“Believe it or not,” I continued, “a large part of my grief comes from other Lutheran pastors.”
“Yes, really,” I said. “Apart from a handful of direct run-ins here and there, I exist in a perpetual state of frustration with clergy pretentiousness.”
“Well, I know it’s not a recent example, but maybe it comes to mind because I first heard about it on vacation in 2018—and because we’re right now enjoying a whisky from 2018. Anyway, I remember watching a video of Chris Pratt receiving the MTV Generation award, and during his speech to a crowd of teenage kids, he said some pretty great things relative to faith, even going so far as to speak of finding contentment through a liberating grace won by someone else’s blood.”
“Yeah, so what’s your point?”
“He was obviously referring to Jesus,” I said, “and for the most part, I’m guessing the listeners knew it. CNN sure did. They wrote a hit piece within hours. But on the other hand, so many other news outlets that would normally piss on the tiniest flame of Christianity in Hollywood seemed mesmerized, some even saying that perhaps Chris was onto something.”
“I still don’t get your point.”
“My point is that while I was impressed with Chris Pratt’s boldness—and what was, in many ways, a brilliantly delivered speech to a very important audience—some of my clergy friends smelled blood in the water. Seriously, after sharing a link to the speech on social media, I remember being inundated with follow up comments from fellow pastors saying things like, ‘What good is there in saying God loves you but not saying the name of Jesus!’ and “Chris Pratt should be marked and avoided for saying so enigmatically that it was by grace that someone shed his blood for our souls without saying who that someone was!’”
I took another sip.
“For crying out loud,” I gurgled. “Give the man a break. He was giving a speech at an MTV award show. He wasn’t teaching a class on doctrine or preaching a sermon in a pulpit.”
“It sounds like you hang around with stupid people,” Vader said.
“They’re not stupid,” I said, “just pretentious. They’re the kind of guys—the highbrow exegetes—who can somehow see so much deeper into Saint Paul’s words than Saint Paul himself even knew. And they want to make sure others know it.”
“I don’t even know what an exegete is,” Vader said, “but I know you have a hard time keeping your mouth shut in those situations.”
“Usually, I ignore it and continue on with life on my island,” I replied, giving my longtime friend a partial grin. “I rarely comment on my own social media posts. But as I said, there are the occasional unavoidable run-ins followed by a critical email expecting debate in my inbox, or a voicemail hoping for the same. Both seem to be happening more and more these days. Personally, I prefer the phone calls.”
“Are you usually able to work it out?” my Sith therapist asked, motioning to a waiter that didn’t see him.
“Well, let’s just say the last conversation I had, which was with a former seminary classmate intent on attacking my friendship with Dinesh D’Souza, ended somewhat abruptly when, after being unable to offer anything to the conversation without interruption, I confessed to him both calmly and plainly that he was being, well, kind of a vicious di—”
I interrupted myself.
“Interestingly,” I continued, “just the night before, I’d shared brats and beer with a couple of clergy pals, one of which was also a seminary classmate. He knew the gent pursuing me, and described his personality as—”
I interrupted myself, again.
“You know, Darth, how about we just review the whisky,” I suggested.
“Sounds good,” Vader said, agreeingly. “You’re on vacation. And while the venting is probably healthy, you don’t need to get worked up about life back home, just yet.”
We both sniffed.
“I’d say the nose is definitely giving over some peat-smoked fruit. Mango and passion fruit, maybe.”
“I’m getting peated plums. And maybe some tea.”
“Plums?” I poked. “You probably need to clean your breathing filter.”
Darth sighed. We sipped.
“There are salted bananas swimming around in here somewhere,” he buzzed.
“I’ll see your salted bananas,” I said, “and I’ll raise you a peel-singed lemon.”
“Nah,” he countered. “It’s lemon pepper.”
After another savor, I agreed.
“The finish is long,” I said. “A bit ashy, which is—”
“—Now I’m getting the burnt lemons you suggested before,” Vader interrupted. “And a little bit of butter. You were right. This is going to pair well with the lobster bake.”
The rest of our once-a-year reunion was spent talking about enjoyable things—such as bygone days of youth, throwing Emperors into generator shafts, and hiring bounty hunters to seek out and capture children. Being the friend that he is, I knew by these stories Darth was steering deliberately. For as cranky as he is to most in his immediate surroundings, he never fails to prove his desire that, as far as it depends on him, my time on vacation would be thoroughly enjoyed.
And of course, it was. I mean, what could be better than dinner at Red Lobster with your favorite villain and a bottle of the 2018 edition of the Lagavulin 12-year-old? In the meantime, to my pretentious colleagues: Don’t worry. I didn’t slip him any names or addresses. You’re free to continue impressing the rest of us with your brilliance for at least another year.