“Have we told y’all the story about The Devil?”
It was late night around a bonfire somewhere in the mountains of Colorado. The stars were bright and beautiful overhead in the clear spring chill.
We were sharing beers and barbecue with a U-shaped knot of burly men in flannels, stained hoodies, big boots, and well-loved baseball caps. (Friends of friends of a group of girlfriends I was traveling with.)
One such gentleman, with a big belly laugh and flecks of corn on the cob in his beard, was looking right at me across the flames — one hand wrapped around a Coors and one finger pointed in my direction, indicating he expected a response.
“Uh… the story about the devil?” I replied nervously. “Like, from the Bible?”
“The Devil Is a Guy We Know”
“Oh! No, not Satan.” Corn Beard assured us with a chuckle. “The Devil is a guy we know.”
“He’s a real asshole,” a trucker-cap-wearing fellow to his right confirmed, nodding emphatically.
“Well, he claims to be reformed. He teaches yoga now,” yet another buddy added, leaning back lazily on a broken lounge chair and taking a drag on a Newport.
Corn Beard snorted dismissively “We’ll see about that. Anyway!
“So one day The Devil comes over for a barbecue just like this one and he asks us a question:
‘Have you guys heard of whiskey slaps?’”
Pausing his narrative, Corn Beard looked at the group of us to gauge our reaction.
Our expectant silence confirmed that we, too, had never heard of whiskey slaps.
But still, this was clearly going somewhere.
We all clutched our beers, now fully locked in for story time.
The tale The Devil told Corn Beard went like this:
How to Administer the Whiskey Slap
In World War II, when hundreds of thousands of drafted young soldiers were shipping out to the front lines, they started this tradition to see each other off.
As you might imagine, preparing to fight in one of the bloodiest wars in history was an extreme scenario. And the soldiers, largely in their late teens and early 20’s, weren’t sure how to bid farewell to their friends from bootcamp.
In the barracks, all that was around to celebrate with was whiskey.
So, in a truly timeless display of masculine of affection, the cadets invented this whiskey slap ritual.
Here’s how it works:
Step 1: You take a shot of whiskey, and then instead of taking a chaser…
Step 2: … Someone slaps you as hard as they can across the face.
Step 3: Then, right as the slap sting starts to hit, the slapper gives you a big smooch on the same cheek.
And thus: a shot, a slap, and a kiss on the cheek became the loving “farewell and good luck” of choice for these troops going off to war.
Whaaaaat! How have I never heard of this before??? I thought.
Ok, this is shaping up to be my kind of night.
Like clockwork, two members of the Coloradan Corn Beard Friend Caucus sitting near us leapt up to demonstrate whiskey slaps a few steps away from the firelight.
One took a shot of (warm) Jim Beam.
The other administered a SLAP that rang through the trees like a gunshot…
… And then soothed the sting with a wet, noisy smooch on the cheek.
What Hopeful Creatures Humans Can Be
My girls and I whooped and hollered with delight, offering slapper and slappee a round of applause as the men returned to their chairs.
My dear, as you can imagine: I was all-in now. My already-unruly imagination had suddenly caught fire.
I couldn’t resist conjuring up images of these now-long-dead soldiers (of which my Gramps was one) — so many still in the thick of boyhood, with nicks still in their freshly shaved scalps, facing each other in their khakis uncertain of how to tell each other:
“I love you brother, and I’m scared too. Give ’em hell, and please don’t die,
It was so emblematic, to me, of the masculine culture of the era.
Men too hardened by social expectations to allow themselves tenderness or tears, slapping each other across the face in their barracks to express their camaraderie, their love, and their fear.
I wondered if the slaps left marks. I wondered if some of the kisses meant more. I wonder what they said to each other in those last moments before they stepped onto planes and boats, bound for their fate knowing so many of their friends would never return.
What hopeful and loving creatures humans can be, and how precious we make these ways we communicate our affection for one another, even in the darkest of times.
Suddenly, the booming voice of Corn Beard snapped me out of my reverie.
Spreading the Good Word
“So obviously we started telling everyone we met about whiskey slaps.”
Duh, I thought. I was now entirely entranced, and fully intending to do the same thing.
“A bunch of us were traveling at that point so we spread the good word about whiskey slaps all over the US, Europe, Australia… it has to have made it to Asia by now, too.”
Mmmm, stories, I thought to myself. What a gorgeous thing to spread.
I pictured these evangelists of the Gospel of Whiskey Slaps sharing this story on their individual roads, like tiny lights flickering to life across a map of the world.
In my mind’s eye I saw them: they told their friends, who told their friends, until the whole idea began spidering out across the planet like veins of glowing gold — eager voices sharing the ridiculousness of the ritual and the story of the brave boys who created it with any eager ears who cared to carry it on.
Now, in that moment, I knew I was one of those lights on the map too, ablaze with this story and instantly choosing to carry it with me alongside my shooting, slapping, and smooching brethren across the pages of history.
I felt I was now the newest bead on this a long, long string.
Stories Really Are EVERYTHING
“It was crazy,” Corn Beard said with a chuckle. “As time went on, the story of whiskey slaps would come back to our group, too. Whenever strangers told us about it, we’d all high five and do some slaps and feel like we’d made our way all around the world and back again.”
Man, stories really are everything, I mused to my (marketer) self.
Can’t go wrong with a combination of human connection and love and fear with a twist of the absurd — and a little ritual to try for yourself? Simply perfection.
I couldn’t wait to get back to Brooklyn and tell everyone I knew.
I pictured us all: slapping at parties, slapping at bars, slapping at weddings and anniversaries and baby showers, celebrating one another with the violent and ridiculous demonstration of love those bright eyed young soldiers had invented almost a century ago.
“But then…” Corn Beard paused for effect.
I was jolted out of my daydream.
But what Corn Beard!??!?!??!?!?!?!!
My now-irritated imagination demanded to know.
I was no longer a brightly lit bead aglow with a new story — but a cranky child waking up from a brief but pleasant sleep.
“We ran into the guy who told us the story a few years later, and we told him everything. How we’d run with the concept, how we’d spread it far and wide.
And you know what he told me?”
I took a nervous sip of my beer.
“He looked at me and he said:‘Wait seriously? HA! I can’t believe I didn’t tell you guys…
… I made that whole thing up!’”
And that, my friends, is why we call him the Devil
Corn Beard took a long, slow drink, marking the ringing silence that had spread across my friends and I.
It felt like an icy-cold water balloon being thrown on an otherwise-lovely slumber party by a mean older brother.
On the movie screen of my mind, the beads, the lights, the glow, and the brave young soldiers and their whiskey all suddenly collapsed in on themselves and dissolved, flowing untraceably out into the wind like dust.
I thought to myself.
“And that,” Corn Beard concluded, “Is why we call him The Devil.”
This was a lil’ replay of one of my faaaavorite emails I’ve ever written (now immortalized as a blog post) as part of my birthday week celebrations! Thanks for reading — whether again, or for the first time. :)
As another piece of the festivities yesterday,
I shared a post on my IG about some easy ways to signal boost my work if you like what you read, and you’re in the mood to do a gal a favor!
You can check it out here, I’d be so delighted to have you share.
And, as always: thank you for being here! Your mere presence is the best birthday present a gal could ask for, every year.