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Jimmy Walker
by Jason Torchinsky (this article originally appeared in Stay Free magazine

Last week, I received an invitation. This was the outside:
and on the inside:
Greetings from Scotland:

I would like to extend an invitation for you to join me at a private reception I will soon be hosting for "true gentlemen" in Los Angeles.

It’s a fun, interesting event we call "The Journey of Taste." The evening is highlighted by a presentation I will be giving on one of the world’s most civilized drinks, Johnnie Walker® Scotch whiskey. It also includes complimentary cocktails, hors d’oeuvres and a light supper.

I encourage you to bring your friends and colleagues. To make reservations, just call 1-888-675-5725.

I look foward to seeing you there, and having our "share of the Scotch" together.

Sincerely yours,

Evan Cattanach

Brand Ambassador

John Walker & Sons

After I finished reading the letter, I noticed on an enclosed card that this "Journey of Taste" was to take place at none other than the famous Playboy Mansion. Wow. I was suitably impressed, not just with the details of the event, but that the Johnnie Walker Company was insightful and sensitive enough to realize that I, Jason Torchinsky, was one of the "true gentlemen" in Los Angeles. Their feat in deducing this was even more extraordinary when one considers the scene in which I received the invite: after 11 am, I’m barely awake, still unshowered and standing in my living room with one hand firmly in my underpants. Yes, I thought to myself as I walked barefoot through the remains of a pizza that littered the floor of my apartment, I’d be delighted to have "My Share of the Scotch" with you, fellow gentlemen!

After my initial euphoria at being mistaken for a "true gentleman" had worn off, I began to really think about this event. What was Johnnie Walker up to? Obviously, he felt that people of my age, sex, income and all that just weren’t drinking as much Scotch as they could be. Well, they’re right. I have no interest in Scotch, largely for the same reasons that this invite and "Journey of Taste" seem so insipid: Scotch reeks of dorky white guys trying to seem like wealthier dorky white guys. It’s very similar to all that crap with cigar bars that our culture seems to finally be shaking off. The Johnnie Walker Company is playing on some sort of long extinct idea of young manhood-- the sort that wrote letters to Playboy inquiring about the best Hi-Fi to buy or what kind gift one brings to a day of yachting or how to most quickly get in his secretary’s smart slacks-- a type of man I haven’t even heard from since I found my dad’s book of Playboy’s party jokes.

Still, as posturing and dorky as the event promised to be, it was still going to be at the Playboy mansion, which is probably worth seeing for the hell of it anyway, and there’s going to be free food and booze, so why not? I called and made reservations for three.

The day came, though my two friends chickened out at the last minute, so I had to put on my tie (they said I had to wear one) and head out alone. When I got to the UCLA parking lot where we were to take the shuttle to the Playboy Mansion, I reaffirmed my status as a "true gentleman" by taking a leak behind a dumpster. Then I scanned around the area, looking for where I was to find the bus; it wasn’t hard, as I soon noticed a large group of besportcoated and necktied 25-35 year old males, most of whom could charitably be called "dipshits."

I wandered into the group, where the very frat-type crowd was animatedly discussing the night ahead, speculating on the presence of Playmates and complaining about possibly fictitous girlfriends. I heard one group of dorks talking about how they used to hang out around the UCLA area where we were waiting, but that was "before all the gangs."

Gangs? Around UCLA? In Westwood? I’m no expert, but the only gangs that seemed to be around were gangs of skinny, suburban college kids. The scariest looking place around was some felafel restaurant with a ‘B’ rating. I think the only real danger from gangs anyone could face out there would be a long, tedious lecture on the benefits of vegetarianism.

So, with that, we boarded the bus, which had darkly tinted windows, perhaps to keep us from finding out exactly where the Playboy Mansion is. (It’s off Sunset, just east of Club View Road. I think.) I asked around a bit as to how people found out about this event; lots of them called the number, which they were informed of by friends, or through some other vague way; a few others received invites like the one I got, making me very curious as to what sort of "impressionable, vain dufus" mailing list I’m on.

We pulled into the Playboy Mansion’s parking lot, which displayed a novelty yellow-diamond traffic sign that read " Playmates at Play." Classy. We got off the bus and were led into a massive tent full of other "true gentlemen" (and a smattering of "true gentlewomen") as well as a bar and buffet table.

Before I even had a chance to start plotting where I was going to stash extra food and booze for the ride home, a genuine Playboy Playmate appeared and told us that if we wanted a tour of the Playboy Mansion Grounds, follow her.

She would have had a similarly-sized group following her had she not made the announcement, by virtue of being young, nubile, and female in a crowd of randy young guys who didn’t seem too oversaturated with female attention normally. But this Playmate had two other things going for her as well: back in the 80s she was Kirk Cameron’s girlfriend on the show "Growing Pains" and had a really goofy hat.

The tour was actually quite compelling. Did you know there’s a whole zoo at the Playboy mansion? There is. Mostly it seems to be peacocks, rabbits and spider monkeys, but it’s sure as hell a zoo. And, the highest concentration of redwoods in Southern California is on Hef’s 5.5 acres. It’s all very lush, but we were told not to try to go hiding in the woody areas; the place is crawling with cameras and gigantic goons packed into expensive suits.

The most important fact I learned was this: Hugh Hefner’s Donkey Kong high score is 1, 689,000. I learned this at the last stop on our tour, the mansion’s little Game Cottage. It was in this small building, packed with pool tables, video games, Playboy-themed pinball machines and all sorts of assorted flashy crap that I realized something about the Playboy mansion: it’s a 13 year old boy’s dream come true: naked girls, video games and people to clean up after you. The game room was especially true of this. It looked like the ultimate basement rec room-- complete with ugly heavy brown furniture, a giant novelty $5 bill with Hef’s picture in it, and those strange statues of Chaplain and WC Fields with oversized heads that, up until this point, I had only seen as displays in luggage stores. It had it all.

The tour was now over, and, on cue, two heavies appeared by the door to make sure none of us "true gentlemen" would try to swipe an ashtray or puke on the pool table. Our playmate led us back to the "journey of taste" and we were shuffled into a gigantic tent, filled with rows of tables, known as the "tasting tent."

Each place setting at the table had six glasses of Scotch, a questionairre and a little "tasting notes" card. At the front of the room was a large video screen and a podium. A woman named Barbara got up and welcomed us, then forcefully reminded us to fill out the questionairre, informing us that this questionairre was our ticket to be invited back to the Playboy Mansion. So, obviously, a big part of why the crafty Scotsmen at Johnnie Walker were doing this insanely expensive affair was to get a whole shitload of demographic information. No news there, really. Although, at about this point a guy near me wondered aloud if this was all a "big marketing thing." Man, you just can’t get anything past some people.

A kilted man, named Ian Lowe, then took the podium. He was one of Johhnie Walker’s brand ambassadors, and had a ‘billion liter’ production record, which the crowd eagerly applauded. The crowd also sycophantically and dorkily applauded the first mention of the name "Johnnie Walker" and the fact that Johnnie Walker made the world’s best-selling whiskey. Ian then told us that "drinking was cumpulsory" and made some lame joke about being tipsy which the crowd ate up, eager to prove to their surrounding people just how much they appreciated that dry Scottish wit.

He then started to play a video about the history of Scotch making and the Johnnie Walker company. The video was fairly straightfoward, with lots of pretty scenery of Scotland, but the reverence with which the audience was viewing it all was a bit disturbing. If the same thing was on PBS or the Learning Channel one night I’d find it difficult to believe anyone in that room would have paused for more than the time it takes to fumble for the remote.

After the video, the guided tasting began in full force: he spoke about each of the whiskies in front of us, showed how to "nose" it, how to check its "legs" (viscosity-- tilt it in the glass, and see how long it takes to slide back. I saw scores of people doing this with fierce intensity but I have no clue what was supposed to be seen.) During the tasting, the crowd pretty well divided itself into two distinct groups: the more unassuming dorks who just came for free food and booze who just threw back their six shots as fast as possible, and the dorks who really wanted to seem like they knew something about Scotch, nosing and leg checking their glasses all over the place.

A member of the first group was next to me, a fat guy who called me "tough guy" when he didn’t think I was drinking my Scotch fast enough. I liked this guy, because he put away all his whiskey before the first one was even finished being checked for its rich amber color, and also because throughout the rest of the tasting he seemed to be having some sort of olfactory hallucinations.

"My fingers smell like a pencil," he told the bored-looking woman next to him. Later he announced that the whole room smelled "like a fish."

The other half of the attendees, those taking all this VERY seriously, are by far the more dangerous group, and most likely the real target of Johnnie Walker’s expensive marketing. The first group guys, the ones who came for free food, booze, and hopefully the glimpse of a real live nipple, they’ll drink whatever’s in front of them. I doubt they’ll ever become dedicated Johnnie Walker Scotch conniseuers, and good for them. But the other half. I shudder when I think about the other half.

You see, what was happening right there in that room that night, right before our very eyes, was the creation of an army of monsters-- insufferable, irritating bar dipshits who learned a little bit about Scotch and are now going to be unleashed on the unsuspecting hordes of single women in Los Angeles. I’ve seen them in action in bars, loudly pontificating about the relative merits or failings of some kind of fuel-tasting booze. I’ve seen them, and heard them, and rolled my eyes, but no amount of eye rolling, not even if they were set into my head with ball bearings, could stop the torrent of dufus that was being crafted all around me.

One somewhat ironic turn of the tasting event came when our kilted leader warned the crowd to drink scotch without snobbery. It seems like snobbery is almost unavoidable whenever you describe any alcohol as "heathery" but he backed up his wish by telling the crowd that any way to drink Scotch is right--because "we want your money."

By now the crowd was starting to get rowdy, as the free food and booze group began to grow ever more drunk and hungry. After several attempts to shush the crowd and recapture their waning interest with a scintillating discussion of blended whiskies, class was dismissed and everyone left to go eat some really great free food.

I went to the bathroom, which was done up to look like it was hewn out of the living rock and, sure enough, had an entire closet full of fluffy bathrobes for the Mansion’s preferred guests. I was delighted to find a forgotten questionairre, as mine had already been collected. The person’s questionairre I found had some good responses: the only thing she said she disliked about the event was "the musty smell in the ‘tasting tent.’." And, when asked to rate specific parts of the event on a scale of 1 to 5, everything got a 5 except "the food" and "the people attending."

The questionairre also contained a slightly sinister implication. On a part where one was asked to match a statement to a kind of booze, one of the statements was "I would never willingly drink the beverages/brands." Why is that ‘willingly’ in there? What are they implying? Is that a threat?

I did, however, very much like the question that read "What was the main message you took away from tonight’s presentation regarding: Johnny Walker Red Label, Johnny Walker Black Label." I answered "Be true to yourself" and "Avoid contact with mucous membranes. For external use only."

Finally, the evening ended, and all us "true gentlemen" were herded back into vans with startling efficiency. The tents were dismantled with remarkable speed, too, leaving no trace that such an incredible "journey of taste" had occurred. But you could tell it happened, on the faces of the gentlemen boarding the bus. They had a new gleam in their eyes. A new power. A new confidence. At least some of them. Most on my bus were just drunk, wondering where the Mansion’s "blowjob closets" were.

But those were the harmless ones. As for the rest, well, women of Los Angeles, take cover. If anyone offers to buy you a Johnnie Walker Black Label Scotch served at room temperature in the proper kind of glass for nosing, mace him and run away.



© copyright 2000 The Van Gogh-Goghs