By Josh Leskar
I had my first mudslide when I was 22 years old.
At least that's what I tell my parents.
Back home in Florida, we had this neighbor - Gregg "Mud" Lewis - and every time I returned from college for the holidays, he would invite me to have a drink with him at his favorite bar, J. Alexander's.
Gregg was a regular at J's. On almost any given night, you could walk through the door, hang a right, and there he was at his table; the last round booth on the left. Surrounded by his loving girlfriend, neighborhood friends, or the staff smiling at his presence, Gregg recognized essentially every face in the place. If he didn't, he must have made it a point to change that as quickly as he could, because he had the uncanny ability to converse with just about anyone within the establishment walls.
The table was "his" for a plethora of reasons, not the least of which was that he tipped more than a gang of bored country derelicts in a pasture at dusk. More likely was the fact that he treated every single server at that bar as though he or she were royalty. At times, I was hard-pressed to distinguish the patron from the employee. Always a please and thank you, and sure, sometimes a 'sweetheart' or 'my man' thrown in there for good measure, but never in a derogatory manner. There was constant playful banter - Gregg could take it as well as he dished it, and each party partook in plenty of both.
It's pretty easy to become a regular anywhere. Step one: show up.
But Gregg wasn't just any 'regular.' Instead of calling a cab for him after one (or five) too many, bartenders offered to drive him home themselves to make sure he arrived home safely - four minutes away.
This went well beyond "Cheers" where everyone knew his name - everyone knew as much about him as anyone possibly could. Even more impressive, Gregg knew just as much about each and every one of them.
He even has is own drink - and not just in theory or in the way that people generally know what he's talking about when he orders, but an actual, programmed in the electronic register drink that, when the bill arrives, reads "Gregg Mudslide." Which is where this story begins...
My first "of age" experience with Gregg began like any other - I drank whatever he ordered, and first up was his signature "Gregg Mudslide." Instead of the traditional one part Bailey's, one part Kahlua, one part vodka and a splash of cream, this was closer to half top-shelf vodka and half Bailey's in an old fashioned glass with some ice cubes. As the sweet liquor hit my lips and went down as smooth as silk, I figured this would be a piece of cake.
"This is what he's drinking? This tastes like chocolate milk! I can do this all night!"
And then came another.
And then Patrón.
Needless to say, his "experience" certainly outlasted mine.
Back from college a year later, with my proverbial alcohol training wheels removed, we sat in for another round. Eerily similar to the last, I was able to hold my own this time, though certainly a little worse for wear. I did, however, bring him to a point where he let me pay for one drink, and that is something to which I will hold on dearly for the rest of my life.
Tuesday morning, Gregg lost his battle with a cancer that should have put him away almost a decade ago. We often joked that he was able to survive for so many quality years for two reasons: first, because he possessed the most incredibly positive attitude toward life and living, and even during the most uncertain times, he projected a confidence that good things lie ahead - no matter how far.
Second - all the booze.
And sure, both of those probably had a little to do with it. But if you ask me, it was the people with whom he surrounded himself that truly gave him the will, the drive, and the desire not only to live, but to live happily. Each chemotherapy session seemed to be worse than the last, putting him out of commission for longer stretches of time. Yet as soon as he felt up to it, he was walking his dog about a block, chatting with the neighbors and inviting them to J's that very same evening.
He even got my mother, who gets tipsy from smelling a wine cork, to take a few shots with him: that's how much admiration we had for this man.
When I heard the news, 3,089 miles across the country from J. Alexander's, the only thing I could think to do was make myself a Gregg Mudslide; and I wasn't the only one.
My parents each ordered one that night.
My sister texted a picture from a bar in Boston - she ordered one that night.
His girlfriend, who hadn't had one in ten years - ordered one that night.
As I did my best to concoct my own, I toasted to a man whose zeal for life far exceeded that of any person facing a more certain future. I toasted a man who made me a better person for causing me to realize just how possible it is to live life to the fullest, even when facing the darkest hours. I toasted a man who made everyone around him feel important, special, happy and loved.
The first sip I took of my very own attempt at a Gregg Mudslide wasn't as sweet as I remembered it being back at his table at J's. Perhaps I just had the wrong proportions. Perhaps the cheap vodka I bought was a shock in comparison to that with which I was previously spoiled.
Or, perhaps a drink simply contains more ingredients than those which are present in the glass.
Gregg, this mudslide, and every mudslide, is for you.