ST. MAGNUS DAY

Last December, the Aleheads lost one of our own when our dear friend Magnus was taken from us suddenly and tragically.

Today would have been his 33rd birthday.

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We all deal with grief differently. One method that helped me cope with the loss of Magnus was to write about my friend a bit on this website. Since it was a hobby that the two of us shared, it seemed fitting to keep his memory alive by trying to incorporate him into the daily narrative of Aleheads. I wrote up a mythical Top Ten list of his favorite beers. I did an analysis of his “Beer Judging” sheet from a tasting event he went to on the day he left us. And many of us tried to mention him or tell little stories about him in seemingly unrelated posts.

As often happens, those little “Magnus mentions” got a bit sporadic after the first few months. Recently, they’ve been all but non-existent. Newcomers to the site would be forgiven if they didn’t even know who Magnus was. They say time heals all wounds, but sometimes you wish those wounds would stay a little fresher and hurt awhile longer. Memories fade…and I hate that it’s happening to my memories of Magnus.

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When we lose loved ones, we know that a time will eventually come when we go hours…and then days…perhaps even weeks without thinking of them. I’m not at the latter stage yet, but I’d be lying if I didn’t say that there have been some days when I didn’t think of Magnus. He and I lived hundreds of miles apart and most of our communication was over e-mail or on the phone. Since he wasn’t a daily physical presence in my life, those constant, inescapable thoughts that haunted me in the weeks after his passing have faded. The hurt has mostly healed and a sad, but undeniable acceptance has taken its place. Frankly, it sucks.

Magnus isn’t the kind of person whose memory should be able to fade. He was wholly decent, impossibly generous, funny, kind, and courageous. He was a devoted, insanely loyal friend. He should be a shining beacon…forever burning in our hearts and minds. But…that’s just not the way it works. If it did, we’d all be paralyzed by the loved ones we’ve lost over time. Humanity couldn’t survive if we dwelled on tragedy forever. So, like everyone else, I’ve had to live with the thoughts of my friend slowly dwindling as time, inexorably, marches on.

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But today is Magnus’s birthday, and I’m not going to let this anniversary pass without dedicating the day to my friend. Memories may fade. We may move on with our lives. But July 15th will ALWAYS be Magnus’s birthday…and as long as Aleheads continues trucking along, it will be St. Magnus Day. I’d like to open up the comments section for people to tell stories, quotes, or anecdotes about the man (only if you want to, of course). Or, if you didn’t know him, tell your own stories of a departed loved one…or, hell…talk about your favorite Scotch Ale (Magnus loved Scotch Ales). It doesn’t really matter. I just want people thinking about him again, even if it’s just for today. I’ll get the ball rolling with one of my favorite Magnus stories…

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In the summer of 2005, I was eagerly awaiting my impending bachelor party. There were over 30 attendees set to join me in New Orleans for a weekend filled with beer, shots, oysters, and beer. I had never been to New Orleans before and I had gone so far as to organize a special menu at the French Quarter stalwart Antoine’s. It was going to be an epic weekend. But three days before we were all scheduled to arrive, Katrina hit.

At first, I was filled with self-pity that the weekend I had spent so much time planning had to be cancelled. Then, as the ramifications of the storm became apparent, I stopped caring about the bachelor party entirely. People were dying. Homes were being destroyed. One of the great American cities was collapsing before our eyes.

Wifey was in Vegas for her bachelorette party that weekend (she wisely chose a location in the typically flood-free Nevada desert) and I was set to be home alone in our DC condo. Rather than while away the hours watching the devastating news on television, I decided to hop on a train and visit Magnus. He was free, of course, considering that he had also planned on drinking ironically named Hurricanes on Bourbon Street with me that weekend.

Now, a friend being there for you when a bachelor party, or birthday, or blind date, or job interview goes awry isn’t exactly going above and beyond the call of duty. I’d like to believe that most of my friends would have been available if I had called and said, “Well…guess I’m not doing anything this weekend, mind if I come visit you?” Magnus cleared his calendar and spent the weekend taking me out to dinner and drinking entirely inappropriate amounts of beer with me. That was just standard operating procedure with him. But here’s what sets Magnus apart…

The second evening I was in town, Magnus planned a big dinner at the Gotham Bar and Grill…one of the great New York restaurants. This, in itself, was pretty cool. It’s a hard enough restaurant to get a reservation in, let alone at the last possible minute. To make it even more challenging, Magnus had somehow wrangled up a group of close to 20 people.

And this wasn’t just some friends from Manhattan. He had gotten in touch with my friends from Massachusetts, Connecticut…even California. With the bachelor party cancelled, he had contacted our friends and had them fly to New York instead. And they did. Because he asked them to.

It reminded me of the classic Simpsons episode where Homer calls his neighbors because Ned Flanders is in trouble. When the neighbors hear that Homer is calling, they plan on hanging up without listening to his entreaties. But as soon as he says that Ned is in trouble, they leap into action immediately. My gut instinct is that if I had called my friends and told them I needed them, the response would have been, “Umm…but there’s a really good episode of The Wire on right now. It’s the one where someone gets shot.” But when Magnus called, they just showed up. When he asked you for something, you did it. Because he was the kind of person who would take a bullet for you without bothering to ask why someone was shooting at you in the first place.

And so I arrived at Gotham, and saw a giant circular table filled with friends from all over the country. They had come because Magnus decided that his friend deserved a fun weekend. So he took care of making it happen just like he had done so many times before and would do so many times again. And sure, later in the year I planned a smaller party weekend in South Beach just because I like having fun. Guess who the first person to book their flight was?

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There are thousands of stories like that about Magnus. I hope that by writing them down…by continuing to tell them, we can keep his memory from ever truly fading. He’ll always be in our hearts, but I want him to always be in our thoughts as well. Maybe that’s an impossibility, but there’s no harm in trying. He deserves that. Maybe the pain has subsided and the heartache has faded, but I still miss him as much as ever.

Happy birthday, Magnus. Here’s to you…

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8 comments

  1. My favorite line here by far is, “Because he was the kind of person who would take a bullet for you without bothering to ask why someone was shooting at you in the first place.”

    Someone “who would take a bullet for you” is one of those trite hyperboles people use to describe loyalty, but the context here just nails Magnus. As I read this, I could just hear him looking up at me, assessing the wound, and saying, “okay, now that *that’s* over with, just out of curiosity, *what exactly did you do, anyway?*

    Today will be rough. There are so many things I miss about Magnus, but this is a beer blog, so I’ll focus on this one:

    Magnus didn’t love beer like Barley does (you know, like a wine snob whose ascot is made of a slightly less pretentious material). And he didn’t love beer like the Commander (who, in my experience, mostly viewed it as ammunition for an improvised weapon designed to disperse urine in upstanding citizens’ dorm rooms. Okay, so it’s possible that my Commander characterization is out of date.)

    Magnus loved to write, but that was one of the few things he usually did for himself, usually without sharing it, so Aleheads probably wasn’t about that for him.

    He did love beer. But I think his interest in the Aleheads was a *lot* less about his love for beer than his love for the other Aleheads, who lived far away, and he couldn’t ever see enough. He didn’t get to be better in touch with them due to the shared love of beer notes; the beer notes helped him do what he really wanted, which was stay in touch.

    When I think about Magnus and beer, I’m sad because he always ordered mine. Not in a creepy, overbearing date at the Regal Beagle way – I like certain styles of beer, but don’t like remembering things or paying any attention, so every time we went out, Magnus would say, “You want the Hitochino,” or, “you’ll want to try the Double-White,” or “I’m pretty sure the ‘Fruity Light Just For Ladies’ is what you’re looking for.” And he was always right. (Because I’m simple.)

    In our little New York group – one of many that wrongly felt that it was his main social network -Magnus was the undisputed expert in three things: Beer Selection for others, Driving Directions, and Song Lyrics. (It merits mention that he was not even a *disputed* expert in song melody, but I digress.)

    The Beer Selection for others was telling, though – when we talk about Magnus being the glue, when we think about why so many of us were made to feel that we were one of the most important people in his lives, it’s because of things like that. He didn’t just go along with the things that interested others, that they wanted to do or needed. He made them seem like things *he* was passionate about. I didn’t ask him what beer to get, he told me what I wanted, with not a little pride. And I didn’t invite him over early to Dar and my Christmas party to make “Spud’s Christmas Cider.” He just called to ask if it was okay to come and make it.

    I don’t even know how to make that cider. And I don’t know what beer I want. But I know that I’d give almost anything today to be whining about why he always picks a bar all the way downtown, usually buried in the east village, nine miles from the subway, to celebrate his birthday.

    Happy Birthday, Magnus.

  2. Magnus saw the good in everyone (even though he professed to “hate” Lord Copperpot), and the comedy in every situation. His own funny comments were a blend of movie quotes, fake profundity, utter absurdity, and self-deprecating remarks.

    But sometimes Magnus could miss the mark, too.

    Brother Barley had a sizeable wedding. Even the “rehearsal” dinner had about 200 people at it. Someone, probably someone who did not know any of Barley’s college friends, decided that the entertainment at the rehearsal dinner should be an open mic for anyone and everyone to make toasts. It lasted about 6 hours.

    Magnus, God bless him, wrote a poem for the occasion, and recited it to the assembled guests, which included (in addition to 40 jackasses) about 100 of the bride’s family and family friends. Others’ toasts included a few ribald references, but nobody took it to quite the level that Magnus did.

    Magnus’s poem was entitled “Four score and seventy beers ago.”

    I don’t know if the final text survived, but here’s a draft of Magnus’s remarks that night:

    Forty score and seventy beers ago (or thereabouts), my basement brought forth on this continent, a new couple, conceived in pong, and dedicated to the proposition that all beer is not created equal. [Ed. note: perhaps this line foreshadowed Magnus's later interest in craft beer. More likely, he couldn't come up with a better line involving the phrase "created equal."]

    Now they are engaged in a great relationship, testing whether that couple, or any couple so conceived and so dedicated, can long endure. We are met on a great battle-field of that union. We have come to dedicate a portion of our memories, as a final resting place for those memories, who here end their single lives that that couple might live. It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this.

    But, in a larger sense, we can not dedicate — we can not consecrate — we can not hallow – these memories. This couple, both past and present, have consecrated those memories, far above our poor power to add or detract. The world will little note, nor, after a few beers, long remember what we say here (except what is captured on videotape), but it can never forget what they will do here. It is for us the family and friends, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who marry here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us — that from this honored couple we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion — that we here highly resolve that these two shall not have married in vain — that this beer shall have a new birth of freedom — and that the beer of the people, by the people, for the people, shall be drank from the earth.”

    Let’s just say that the assembled literati of Birmingham did not know what to make of this.

    Happy birthday, Magnus. I hope you don’t mind my posting one of your embarrassing moments on the Internet. I sure as hell wish we could see more of them. I miss you buddy.

  3. Never fear, Commander. His crash-and-burn toast lives on in video form (as does your lovely duet with the Commandress). Next time you find yourself in B’ham, we can rewatch Magnus’s moment of glory together.

    Jaydles, I have no doubt that Magnus’s primary interest in Aleheads was as an excuse to send roughly 1,000 ridiculous e-mails a day to his friends. This served a dual purpose.

    1. As you noted, many of Magnus’s friends did not live within 10 blocks of him in Manhattan which meant he had to rely heavily on other forms of communication to maintain contact with them. While most people tend to let relationships founder when we live apart from our friends, Magnus was not most people. He used any excuse possible to keep in touch and Aleheads was just another conduit for him.

    2. Magnus was a lawyer…and I think seven months after his passing it is safe to say that he wasn’t a particularly good one. That’s actually unfair…he was brilliant, hard-working, and certainly had the capacity to be a great lawyer. But I think he realized early on that he simply wasn’t built to be an unbridled success in the cutthroat world of New York law (personally, I think he was just too decent of a person…no offense to all the rest of you New York lawyers). Working in a lawfirm means working long, boring hours. To pass the time, Magnus looked for distractions. Aleheads was a great one. I’m not going to say he contributed to the site outside of prescribed lunch hour times, but…well…yes, I am going to say that. Magnus spent most of his working hours on Aleheads (and other endeavors, of course…like fantasy football).

    Also, my ascot is made of hop bines and barley chaff, Jaydles. It’s a little scratchy.

  4. CZAR VLADIBEER S. BOOTIN' · ·

    I actually lived with Magnus in several apartments, and practically lived with him when we weren’t sharing rent from 2000 to 2004. We shared many a many a swill together before we were interested in craft beer. I craft beer was for wussies and nerds (and still do, though now I am a card carrying member of both parties, as well as an alehat). He was always polite about his future intention to have taste and taste tasty things, and was almost 100% responsible for my appreciation and newfound dedication to craft beer, as well as my jaunty man-bag that I keep my tasting notes in. Magnus had a very big brain and he would be able to remind me of every crap beer we shared out of a cup, can, snifter or boot. His memory for song lyrics and slightly incorrect trivia was exceptional.

    Today I toast you Magnus Skullsplitter, may my memory of the past grow sharp enough to fill the future we don’t have together. May we drink together in Valhalla and when the kegs are kicked find a tinkle tree near the Pearly Gates.

  5. The damned irony of being forced to recall favorite Magnus memories is that this was supposed to be his gig; an oft-cited and truly exceptional memory was great for recalling things like song lyrics and cross streets of NYC watering holes, but where he truly shined was remembering stories about friends- who was there, who said what to whom, who stole the jet ski or micturated on the keyboard. He was the keeper of the mythology for our whole group, and with him gone I can feel that slipping away. Hopefully when we are all together again we can collectively reassemble a portion of the canon of stories lost with his passing.

    Today I’m thankful for the week last spring he spent with me in Pittsburgh, shortly after being laid off from the fancy New York law job he had worked for years to secure. A future carefully scripted since college had hit an iceberg, but his demeanor was undeniably chipper and he radiated a hope and (irrational?) confidence that everything would work out fine. My young daughter was smitten on sight, insisting on walking in the middle and holding each of our hands when we picked her up from daycare. At night we would share favorite old stories and drink beer- I remember cracking into a bomber of Local 2 from his cherished Brooklyn Brewing, among others.

    On a sunny Thursday we picked up the Alewife from work and headed down to the ballpark to watch the hapless Pittsburgh Pirates take on the Brewers. Magnus was a diehard Mets fan and would never pass up the chance to see a baseball game in a new stadium. The Buccos were shelled, and when the scoreline hit 14-0 I confided with him that I wanted to trade the sunny environs of PNC Park for a dark beer bar with European soccer, my latest vice. Although he could have cared less about a Liverpool vs Atletico Madrid Europa League semifinal game, he booed vigorously when Diego Forlan scored the match’s only goal 9 minutes in, peppering me and the Irish bartender with beer and soccer questions while happily slurping the Troeg’s Nugget Nectar on draft.

    The Commander arrived in town that weekend for some requisite debauchery, and then they were gone back to the daily grind of everyday life. That was the last extended time I got to spend with Magnus, and would trade just about anything for one more day with him like that. He would recall some more amusing anecdotes from the trip, but I’m left with some hazy memories, a sense of gratitude for the time I spent with him, and a nagging hole of loss that today feels fresh as ever.

    We miss you and love you buddy.

  6. I didn’t have the good fortune of living in the same city as Magnus after our college days. Though we’d reconnected recently through this fine website, during the years since graduation I primarily got to see him at gatherings with mutual friends, be it weddings (my toast may have been the only one which made less sense than Magnus’s at Barley’s wedding), bachelor parties, reunions, random get togethers, or the occasional mass email conversation with a pile of fellow fraternity ne’er-do-wells. Throughout this period the thing that struck me over and over was the fact that no matter when I saw him, the distance between us had never grown larger. He was just as comfortable and genuine a friend as when we lived across the hall from each other during my junior year.

    Speaking of junior year, a quick anecdote always springs to my mind when I think of how genuinely considerate Magnus could be: During one of the “big weekends” my mother decided to visit campus to hang around a bit and check out some of the cool antiquing available in New England (the former was almost certainly an excuse for the latter). I of course put my room in our fraternity in the best shape I could manage so mom could stop by and I could pretend like I wasn’t living in squalor. When she arrived for the viewing, Magnus happened to pop out of his room on his way to wherever he was heading, and I attempted to introduce him to my mom I say attempted because, unfortunately, as we all referred to each other universally by our house nicknames rather than our first names, I immediately realized that I had absolutely no idea what his first name actually was (keep in mind I’d known him for over two years by this point, so I couldn’t have been more mortified). I kind of stuttered for a second, then introduced him to my mother by his house name and his last name. He could laughed and made me feel small, or made it awkward, or even just teased me about it later, but instead he just smiled his completely genuine smile, stuck his hand out, and said, “Hi I’m ——, it’s nice to meet you Mrs. McBrewin’.” They politely chatted for a minute, and then he headed out and never mentioned it again. Nobody in the world could make you feel more immediately comfortable and welcome than Magnus, whether you’d known him for years or were just meeting him.

    I was lucky to have had a chance to be on a live chat with Magnus and Slouch the night before he passed away. That I had a final opportunity to hear his laugh and enjoy his wit and sense of humor is something for which I will be grateful for the rest of my life.

    Magnus, you are missed. Until we meet again, may the god that loves us all hold you in the palm of his hand.

  7. The last quality time I spent with Magnus, as I’m sure was the case for many of you who didn’t live in NYC, was at Goose’s wedding. Magnus was famous for being in other people’s wedding parties, and this event was no exception. So, I suppose it was fitting that the last time I saw him was at a wedding.

    And I also suppose that if you were going to enjoy a last weekend with a dear friend, there are worse places than Santa Rosa, CA, ordering round after glorious round at the Russian River taproom, sharing stories, wisecracks, and good times with many of your greatest friends on the planet. Oh yeah, and going to the wedding (hi, Goose!).

    Commander, Magnus, and I roomed together that weekend; honestly, that whole weekend is something that’s been too difficult to think about over the past several months. But today, your words got me to think long and hard about it, and I thought I’d share some of the Magnus-isms that I remember so well from that weekend.

    We arrived in the Bay area at different times, on different flights. But on the Friday before the wedding, as we made our way up to Santa Rosa, we were determined to have as much amazing beer as humanly possible. So the plan was to meet up at Moylan’s, then head up to Lagunitas before landing at the hotel, which was walking-distance from Russian River. It was obvious what Magnus wanted to do. Think about that lineup. But, of course, Magnus knew what the real priority was that weekend: it was Goose, not beer (actually, beer was a very, very close second. I think Goose would agree.). It was another example of his boundless loyalty: rather than go to two breweries he may never have the opportunity to visit again, he went straight to Goose. It was his job to be there for his buddy.

    Saturday morning, we were fortunate enough to be party to one of his more amusing, off-the-mark moments that we came to expect from him every once in a while. After a long night of drinking, Commander, Magnus, and I had breakfast at the hotel (Magnus and I both had the hash and eggs), and had about 90 minutes to kill before Russian River opened its doors. Bleary-eyed, Magnus looked at his phone, and said: “Hey! Piels is in town! He’s at the diner down the road. Let’s go see them!” The Commander and I, not really caring one way or the other, followed Magnus. It was clear to us, once we had been walking for nearly 20 minutes, that this diner was not just “down the street.” Well done, Magnus. I guess he was good at figuring out directions, but not necessarily judging distance.

    Of course, when we finally got there, Piels and 7 others had just been served, and the tiny establishment was so jammed that there was barely room for us to breathe, let alone stand. So, we stood there uncomfortably, hovering over our friends and their food, averted our eyes from the wait staff, exchanged just a few pleasantries with our friends, and got the hell out of there. Total time spent in the diner? Two minutes, tops. Commander and I spent the entire, ridiculous walk back to downtown Santa Rosa giving Magnus the proverbial business. And he knew he deserved it.

    Damnit, I miss that guy.

  8. [...] It was a heart-wrenching experience for us and as part of the process of healing, we’ve used these pages to discuss the way our emotions about his passing have evolved. Today marks an obvious and [...]

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