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Protection Against the World 

Distilled: A shot of life

  • Jessie Spaccia illustration

Like an old drunk who's forgotten his address, the flask can't stand up without leaning on something. There's a fatal wobble even on a flat surface. Years ago, its stainless steel was dimpled one night when, in the middle of a mosh pit, a man fell flat on his ass, and the prized flask in his back pocket was personalized with a deep butt print. It's been suggested that he replace it, but it's only become more precious to the man.

It was a gift from his kid brother. The man can't remember the occasion; at the time, he was living in the putrid cesspool that is Florida, and one day a brown box arrived at his tangerine-colored cottage. In the center of the polished steel is an engraving: "The East is making you soft." The man recognized the quote immediately. He and his kid brother had watched the movie A River Runs Through It to the point of memorization. It's about two brothers, one a newspaperman, the other a professor, who, despite their differences, find common ground while fishing the river of their childhood. The man and his kid brother had also grown up on a river, in Spokane Valley, swimming and fishing until they moved apart as adults: the man to newspaper jobs, the kid brother to the Army and Iraq.

The kid brother wasn't a writer, at least not as far as the man knew. Yet there was a letter explaining the quote, which in the movie is delivered by one brother goading the other. "I smile when I think of you getting pissed at this flask for accusing you of being weak, yet forgiving it right away because it is a gift from me. There seems to be some delightful truth that rises to the surface when I think of you loving and hating something at the same time — it's very Jacob.

"Outside of the engraving, I hope that you enjoy having a flask and that you carry it with you always. I have a feeling it will save your life. ... Placed in your jacket's inside pocket, it could stop a bullet."

In reality, flasks don't protect the hearts of heroes, but rather help someone blunt the awfulness of life: awkward dinner parties, shopping at phosphorescently lit megamarts, birthdays and funerals. And in the case of the man, felled by sweaty beasts late one night, a flask saved his ass the full weight of the fall. ♦

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