One year ago today, the Aleheads lost our colleague and dear friend, Magnus. 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 important date in that process and we wanted to use this moment to talk about where that journey has taken us.
BROTHER BARLEY MCHOPS
A year is a long time. A lot has happened in the 12 months since our friend departed. We’ve lost other friends and relatives. We’ve had children. We’ve met new people, moved to new houses, and started new jobs. Aleheads.com has exploded to become the single most important website in the history of the Internet (Editor’s Note: Source?). But a year can also seem shockingly brief. It really doesn’t seem that long ago that we had all gathered in Magnus’s hometown to mourn his passing and trade stories about the man.
As the months have passed by, Magnus’s loss has been like a pothole in the road on my daily commute. Most days, your tires straddle the pothole and you only notice it subconsciously. That’s how it is for me for the most part. His loss is a presence in my life, but I’ve learned to accept it. Then there are days when you have to swerve to miss the pothole. Those are the moments where something has reminded me of Magnus or someone has mentioned him in conversation and his loss feels a little bigger than usual. And finally there are those days when you hit the pothole dead on and it jars you out of your reverie. That’s when the wounds still seem fresh. That’s when I remember that I’ll never speak to him again. When there’s something I desperately want to share with him…because he’ll appreciate it more than anyone…and I realize that I can’t.*
*For instance, this terrible pothole analogy. Magnus LOVED terrible analogies. He was responsible for creating many of them.
Those latter two scenarios happen less and less as the months roll by. A year later, I mostly find that the pothole has become shallower and smaller. I still hit it on occasion, or swerve to miss it, but it’s not as jarring as it used to be. By this time next year, it may be filled in completely. That’s the grieving process, and you have no choice but to accept it…it’s a sad, but necessary part of life.
One of the more absurd aspects of Magnus’s death has been the incessant gallows humor most of his friends have fully incorporated into our lives. That’s to be expected considering the fact that most of us are, quite frankly, assholes. One recent e-mail chain amongst the Aleheads discussed how we would approach the situation if Magnus had become a zombie. It was generally agreed upon that we’d treat him like Shaun treats Ed at the end of Shaun of the Dead. We’d chain him up in the basement and watch movies and play video games with him. Piels noted that Magnus would still suck at video games, but he’d now be able to blame it on his unwieldy zombie fingers. These kinds of conversations aren’t rare, mind you. I suspect most groups of friends (particularly male friends) engage in this kind of discussion when a friend passes. But they probably don’t go to the same lengths to mock the situation as we do. Like I said…assholes.
One last thought before I let the other Aleheads share their stories. I have a picture of Magnus in the hallway outside of my daughter’s room. It’s a shot from Vegas and he’s standing next to me and Smiley with his trademark grin slapped on his face (I really miss that goofy grin). In the first few weeks after his death, I would give that picture a quick double-tap with my index finger every time I walked by. It was an utterly contrived way to try to remind myself to think of him for a moment every day. But the thing is…that little act quickly become an unconscious one. I catch myself doing it now without even remembering why. I probably miss tapping his image half the time now and hit Smiley instead (sorry, buddy…that weird poking sensation you get in your gut every now and then is my fault). Even the one, foolproof thing I did every day to keep Magnus in my thoughts ended up fading into just another routine.
That’s a good thing, of course. Magnus would have been devastated if his friends dwelled on his passing or were paralyzed by their grief. He would have wanted us to mourn and move on. To live, and love, and work, and laugh, and cry, and eat, and drink, and drink a little more, and then, what the hell, have one more round before calling it a night.
I still miss my friend. And sometimes I hit that pothole so hard it practically rattles my teeth. But those moments are dwindling…and soon they’ll be gone. And all that will be left are the memories of a good man. I suppose, in the end, that’s all any of us can ask for.
COMMANDER PINT O. CHUG
Oddly, I have to give major props to Barley’s horrendous pothole analogy. He must have opened Sir Magnus’s book of misplaced jokes and analogies and torn a page out.
I’m not ready to talk about Magnus’s death in any cogent or rational way. At least six of the Aleheads, maybe more, counted Magnus as one of our 2 or 3 best friends in the world. I felt like his funeral consisted of all of us deferring to half a dozen people, thinking “well that guy was probably closer to him than I was.” (In reality, all our wives and girlfriends were closer to him than we were… but let’s ignore that for the time being because this blog is about beer, and most of them either don’t like beer, or only like Magic Hat #9.) He was a groomsman in all our weddings, except Piels who would have a common law marriage in 40 states by now (a factoid Magnus would have mentioned to him when the third pint arrived one night). AND HE DIED WHEN HE WAS THIRTY FUCKING TWO YEARS OLD. My view is that we’re not built to deal with shit like that, so I’m not prepared to feel bad about doing everything I can to ignore and move on.
But I’m not doing a good job of that. I think it’s the Internet’s fault. Magnus was ALWAYS online, making it possible for him to be part of our lives even for those of us who didn’t live in New York. He wasn’t online just because he was at home, though. To the contrary: he was NEVER home. Home was where the pizza boxes lived. With that in mind, I have no idea how he spent so much time bullshitting over Gmail Chat, though it did sort of explain things when he was “laid off” (“something like that,” he related)…. When screwing around on the Internet reminds you of your dead friend, it’s going to take a long time to stop seeing and thinking of him all the time.
It’s also beer’s fault. Before I jumped on the Aleheads bandwagon, Magnus told me he was going to write for Brother Barley’s beer blog. Knowing Barley’s penchant for effacing-yet-pretentious dissertations about Belgian beer, I asked Magnus, “What are you, some kind of Belgian monk?” (Yes, he also liked Lebowski references… “liked” is probably not a strong enough word.) He readily admitted that he knew nothing about good beer. Yet over the ensuing months, he threw himself into the craft beer world, absorbing its nuances the way he did with anything he cared about. He developed a really distinct palate such that, to this day, a number of us will try a beer and say “Magnus would have LOVED this beer.” And we’re not saying that about the Dark Lords, Plinys and KBS’s of the world; we’re saying it about cookie jar porters and scotch ales that nobody’s ever heard of.
One way Magnus became so close with so many people was by being ready to hang out at the drop of a hat. I remember calling him one Thursday and saying I was taking a trip to NYC that weekend (I lived in Ohio at the time). He apologized profusely that he was going to a wedding in Philly — why he apologized I don’t know, but it was de rigueur as Magnus would incorrectly use one of David Foster Wallace’s sayings — but when he found out my flight home wasn’t until 9:00 Sunday night, he said he’d find a way. He called Sunday afternoon en route from Philly and told me to meet him at 5 at the Russian Vodka Room, where it turned out he was a regular despite a nebulous altercation the Czar had there with him one time (no, really). So there we sat chugging vodka, on a worknight and after he had spent the whole weekend partying out of town. He knew this was the dregs of the weekend for both of us. But Magnus lived for his friends.*
* I could have recited 20 other anecdotes just like this one. And I lived 900 miles away.
A year after Magnus was taken from us, the hole in my life is no smaller. If anything, the hurt gets worse the more time and events I realize that he has missed. How many kids he didn’t meet. How many problems his friends had that he wasn’t there to help with. How he didn’t live to see his 10th reunion (he would have skipped all the official events). How he didn’t live to see his sister’s wedding.
If I had to disagree with anything Barley said, it’s that Magnus wouldn’t have wanted us to dwell on his passing. He would have SAID that–but I think Magnus wanted to feel loved as much as, and possibly more than, the rest of us. I think we let him know that he was (loved). I hope we did. I hope we are now. Here’s to you, my dear friend, whom I will miss all the days of my life.
On Friday night my local bottleshop held a raffle to win a bottle of the vaunted Founder’s Canadian Breakfast Stout, with a representative from the brewery present handing out tastings and schwag. I entered the crowded taproom expecting to find the regular selection of flagship Founder’s offerings like Centennial IPA and Red’s Rye- excellent beers, but ones I have had so many times before. As I neared the front of the line, I was surprised to see a few bottles of Nemesis, their annual high-gravity one-off, and a beer that was a source of fascination for Magnus. To find it here on this night was a pothole.
From: Magnus Skullsplitter
Monday, August 30, 2010 at 11:04 AM
To: Barley, Doc, Professor, Slouch, Sudsy, Mashtun
Also, Wednesday is Founders’ Nemesis release day. I’m going to try to make it to a bar that sells it, but unfortunately a lot of the bars near me are starting serving at 3 or 4 p.m., which means they might sell out before I can get to them (apparently each bar only has one small keg or some such thing).
Folks might want to keep their eyes peeled for local places selling the Founders Nemesis.
Cool…I back wheatwines. If anyone finds it, write it up…
He found it, drank it, and proudly wrote it up. His passion and knowledge about craft beer were really blossoming at this point, and I’ll always associate this great beer with Magnus. Three months later, he was dead.
I chatted with the Founder’s rep for a bit, and he described how he stumbled across these old bottles of Nemesis the other day, cleaning out the back of an old cooling storage unit and decided to bring them to this tasting as an unexpected treat. I’m not superstitious, religious, or spiritual, but I know somehow Magnus from his mountain-top Valhalla had a hand in sending this special beer my way. I’ve never been more certain of anything in my entire life.
This silly little beer blog came along at a transitional point in both of our lives. 2010 was the year Magnus was, errr, laid off from his corporate lawyer gig, and later that summer I was unceremoniously booted from the mortgage industry after seven years. When Brother Barley invited me to join his friends Doc and Sudsy on their upstart beer blog, I felt wholly unequipped. Unlike the other Aleheads I knew next to nothing about craft beer, and just faked my way along, content to have an excuse to talk to my somewhat-estranged friend Brother Barley on a daily basis again. I didn’t know what to write about, and I wrote very little. I felt like a fraud about the whole thing… until Magnus joined on as well. Suddenly it was OK not to know anything- we could learn together. Before long we were laughing at ridiculous beer names and labels, researching esoteric styles, compiling top ten lists, recording raucous and profane podcasts, and sending emails. Tons and tons of emails. It was great fun, and nearly ten years out of college I had reconnected on a deep level with my best friends. That alone was reason enough to celebrate.
When I see him again, I will relay in no uncertain terms how incredibly inconvenient the timing of his passing was for me, personally. I’ve fought against anxiety and depression for most of my adult life, and Magnus was perhaps the most gifted person I’ve ever known at talking to and dealing with crazy people. They were drawn to him like flies to an open snifter of barleywine; there was something in his zen-like approach to life’s trials and tribulations and unflappable good cheer that was a source of great comfort to his friends when they were feeling most desperate. I was already scared after losing my job, and his untimely demise was absolutely, positively NOT what the doctor ordered, considering my mental state in late 2010.
Nonetheless he was gone, and there was a gaping hole in my life, and I filled it up with Aleheads and craft beer. Magnus was always the one emailing every interesting story on the Internet; I became that guy (seriously, just ask the others how many links I forward out on a daily basis). Whereas previously our blog was an insular way to reconnect with old friends, I started using social networks like Twitter and Reddit to interact with *gasp* new people who shared my new-found love of craft beer, and to share our writings with the world.
Ah yes, the writing. Since college I’ve always wanted to be a writer, fancied myself a writer. I majored in English Literature and geeked out to experimental postmodern fiction authors like David Foster Wallace. The only problem was, I never wrote a goddamn thing. But after Magnus died, instead of curling up into an ineffectual ball, writing in the voice of my beer blogging alter-ego became therapy. While nowhere near as prolific as the esteemed Brother Barley, for the first time in my life I found subject matter and focus to write about something on a consistent basis. I’m thankful for that. Would this have happened if Magnus had lived? I like to think so. I believe we would have learned and written about craft beer together. But it didn’t happen that way; it happened this way. And on good days I sometimes feel close to being able to accept that fact.
The only thing Magnus loved more than beer, bad analogies, awkward toasts, Pink Floyd, and drinking game philosophy were top ten lists. Thus, in no particular order:
TOP TEN THINGS MAGNUS WOULD HAVE LOVED IN THE PAST YEAR
- Thursday, April 7 2011. The day Barley’s Labelmania post went semi-viral, garnering several thousand hits and obliterating our record for site traffic. No one, and I mean NO ONE would have enjoyed seeing this more than Magnus.
- Sixpoint Cans sweeping the country.** In my opinion New York City treated Magnus shabbily, but he loved it with all his heart, and I can’t imagine the pride he would have taken in the recent success of Sixpoint. They probably would have hired him by now as a spokesman, like with Jared and Subway. (Ed. note: Sixpoint is available from about Maryland to New Hampshire. I don’t know what the significance of that is.)
- Giving the toast at his sister’s wedding.
- Meeting Jaydles kid.
- Battle of the Belgians, 2011. Last year’s incarnation was his last official act as an Alehead.
- The Czar and Piels joining our merry band. He was very, very tight with those two. How is it possible one guy could have so many best friends?
- Aleheads Summit 2011. We didn’t do it this year. He would have made sure we did.
- Approximately 10,000 emails, 100 blog posts, and 35 podcast to which he would have contributed. He was funny and talented, and his heart showed through whatever he touched.
- Founder’s Nemesis release day, 2011.
The 2011 New York Mets
So there you have it, one year later. Does it still hurt? Fuck yes. Will we ever forget him? Fuck no. And I have a feeling we’ll be around to report back two years later, and five, and ten. Maybe fifty.
Lang may yer lum reek, Magnus, Spud, my Brother David.
It’s paradoxical in that you guys really have said it all, yet I’m 100% positive we could go on and on about our thoughts and feelings on this day. My car has hit that pothole several times this year. I hit it when UConn, his favorite college bball team, improbably rolled to the Big East Championship, and then somehow to the National Championship. I really hit it hard when we had our annual fantasy football draft…the first one without Magnus…and somebody else drafted Hakeem Nicks. I hit it again when I was expecting an email from Magnus about Syracuse (my favorite team) joining the ACC, only to have that email come from the Commander.
Again, I could go on listing the moments where his presence would have been natural and expected had he still been with us, jogging this memory or that. As we roll through our hours here, I never know when I’m going to be jolted by Magnus. And like my friends, I’m learning to appreciate those potholes in my road, melancholy as they might make my day…but really, I’d rather not have that road repaired.
I hit an odd milestone just a few days ago that surprised me by being one of those un-missed potholes. On Sunday I turned 33. Normally that would be just another silly birthday, one that doesn’t mean much except to remind me how far removed I’ve become from anything resembling the silly, foofy, moderately-insane youth I once was (I’ll save Barley from having to enter an editor’s note by mentioning that the only difference now is that I’m a silly, foofy, moderately-insane 33-year-old). What brought him to mind on my birthday of all days is that I realized that I am, for the first time, officially older than Magnus. Since the day I met him Magnus was kind of like a tolerant older brother to me. He knew more than I did about all the things I thought were cool, and treated with a sort of amused avuncular paternalism. Yes, I’m aware that I just called Magnus my brother, uncle and father all in a couple sentences. But that’s kind of how I felt about him. He was never afraid to gently tease me when I was being ridiculous, which was (is) often. However his teasing was never the kind that made you feel worse about yourself. It was the kind that reminded you that here was a guy who knew you well, and only liked you more for your quirks. When I would do or say something particularly absurd he would just laugh, look down, shake his head, and say with a pseudo-exasperated tone, “Oh, Verbal” (a nickname I went by in a previous life). What made that heartwarming rather than undercutting was that he always did it with a smile on his face, and then he’d look up at me with a twinkle in his eye to let me know that I was in on the joke, not the butt of it.
Yet now, this warm, tolerant older brother has suddenly become my absent younger brother. I’m having trouble coming to grips with that. How can this man who played the wise, city-savvy New Yorker to my clueless country bumpkin (forgive the hyperbole) be younger than I am? And worse, how can it be possible that I’m going to continue to trudge along getting older and older, making our relationship continually fall further out of balance? Magnus is supposed to be older and wiser. For me, this is the most painful wound from his loss on this anniversary of his passing. I can never put our relationship back in its proper context. Things are just a little off-kilter, and for the rest of my life they’re always going to be off-kilter, and it’s not fair.
Fortunately time will never take away the greatest gift he ever gave me. When I do something absurd or ridiculous and suddenly feel self-conscious or embarrassed, it’s not the face of some bitchy popular girl from junior high laughing at me that flashes through my mind. It’s not the funny cool kid from high school mocking me either. It’s Magnus’s amused, twinkle-eyed head-shaking visage reminding me that true friends appreciate you more for being yourself, ridiculousness and all.
I lost a close friend when I was in high school to another inexplicable circumstance. He was also a year ahead of me, and also seemed to know more than I did about all the cool stuff. In his case it was hunting and fixing jeeps, but the relationship we had was in a lot of ways similar to my relationship with Magnus. Today that loss is giving me some comfort in dealing with the more recent pain of Magnus’s passing. It’s been 15 years since this earlier tragedy, and though the pothole has shallowed and I’ve become more adept at steering around it, it’s still there. And the wonderful thing is that I don’t mind hitting it anymore. Once in a while something will nudge me to remember some meaningful moment we shared, and it’ll put a smile on my face. I’m grateful for those memories, as I’m grateful for my memories of Magnus. Right now the pain is still sharp, but knowing that it will dull over time is less important than knowing that I don’t have to worry about forgetting. Older, younger, or otherwise, everything about Magnus that made my life better will stay with me. I can look forward to the pain fading while the warmth he always showed me remains with me.
Dave, Spud, Magnus, you’re missed. And you’ll continue to be missed. Now send some of that Nemesis my way goddamnit!