Thursday, March 31, 2011

I'm dreaming

Walt had a tendency to speak about himself in the third person. "Well, I think it is about time for the Supervisor to sit down" he'd say, as he tilted back the old metal office chair with the busted cushion seams. Walt called himself the Supervisor, but of course he was more like the handyman. And he was the only one for the whole place. He Supervised himself alright though, I'd say. Not that there was too much to worry about. Walt was pretty straightforward in his needs. I believe he wore the same pair of corduroys every day that I saw him. And a flannel shirt. "Don't go underestimating the benefit of a good flannel," he'd tell me. Walt would wear the flannel over his uniform top, a standard issue blue short sleeve sporting a patch on the left vest pocket with "Abe" written out in red. Even though it had the wrong name on it, Walt always wore that shirt. "You don't say?" he would reply when I would point it out to him for yet another time about the name. The flannel was over the top most times though, probably to prevent confusion amongst people who didn't know him well already. But then, maybe he just liked that flannel. "A Supervisor has to have all his tools about him" he'd intone, and I have no doubt that his flannel was one of them.

I asked Walt once why he would talk about himself like that, in the third person. "Well, it's like in a dream" he said. "In a dream you most times see yourself going about things, just walking around or whatever, you see yourself going about this or that," he stopped for a bit, then continued "and you know that is you walking around, but you don't see like it was with your own eyes, direct ahead. It's from a distance, like somebody was watching you from somewhere else. But that somebody watching is you, sort of. You can see you, and you know that's you, even if you look different or whatever. 'Cause sometimes you do."

Walt talked a lot about dreams. And ex-wives. There had been three, so far as I could tell. He liked to say "There was dreaming, until Walter met his ex-wife, and then it wasn't dreaming no more, it was 'take out the garbage!'". Walt was funny like that. He'd say "you know, the thing about dreams is that anything is possible, except for really conscious control. I mean anything. No rules, whatever wants to happen can happen, flying, singing, dancing, turning into a spider, giant turtles, whatever, but you can't change anything about it. It's like you are watching this history, and you can't change a thing." And I thought that made a lot of sense. "That's why nightmares are so scary," Walt would go on "because you want to change what you see, you want so badly to be making a different decision, but you can't, and you can't do anything about that. That's when you wake up. You wake up because you can't accept the story no more. You fight against it." And then the classic take away: "It's like how it was with Walter's ex-wife, you know?"

I think about Walt and his dreams sometimes. I like that idea that you know who you are, and that you know who everybody else is in a dream, except sometimes they don't look the same as they do in the normal, waking, walking around world. I think maybe that's why we can identify with the heroes and heroines in movies and plays that we see. Even if they don't look like us, we can still think for a minute that that is us inside of the show. We can feel their emotions like they were our own. Because we have been trained to do so in our dreams. It is the same with places. We know we are in our old house or school building or whatever in a dream, even if it is ten stories tall in the retelling, or if every wall is pink. Somehow we still know. The recognition has nothing to do with the view.

But the part I like the most is that anything is possible in a dream, except control. I mean, imagine: no gravity, no solid ground, no bounds, but also nothing we can do for a change. We don't get to make the choices. The story doesn't follow the rules, doesn't have to, and it doesn't leave room for our decision making, either. We only get to watch from the side. We get to follow along. At least, we get to follow along until we wake up.

Recently, I was at a blind tasting. I can't tell you how bad I am at blind tasting. It's terrible, actually. Embarassing. There will be wines that I know well, that I have tasted many times, that I have served by the glass, and I just won't be able to come up with the name. There will be something I recognize in the smell, or the taste, something that I know I have witnessed before, but I just can't put the label on the liquid when all that I see is a paper bag. I realize now that I struggle too hard at these things. Trying to focus all my energy on categorizing the wine, instead of enjoying what is there, I do everything I can to exert control over the situation, and fail miserably. But I have come to accept that the story will be the story, without any input from me. I can come up with a thousand conscious reasons why the bottle under the tin foil should be Friulano from northern Italy, but it is still going be revealed as Chablis.

I think it would be better if I were sleeping through these kinds of exercises. Then I would recognize every liquid, no matter how strange and different it looked in the glass. I would know.

This person is an excellent blind taster.

I miss you, Walt.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Don't Forget About...

Recently, as you may recall, the little doormat that was once outside of my apartment in the hallway was taken. I am not sure why someone would steal a used doormat, but there you have the situation as it happened: gone. A rather pleasant turn was added to this story, however, when I received in the mail recently a doormat, sent as a gift by a kind reader of this blog. That's right. There is a brand new doormat on the other side of my front door right now. I thought that was really nice. And in fact, something similar happened when a colander was sent to me by a different thoughtful person, also not related to me, also not long ago. All of this is really pretty cool. It is amazing how kind and generous people can be.

Or at least that's what I had thought. But then I realized that to be really and truly happy, to fully reap the benefit of these gifts, it would have to be unique that I was receiving them. I mean, I don't know how things stand. If everybody gets gifts like this on the regular, then maybe it is not so much of a special thing. One of the realizations that I have made as I have lived and worked in busy New York City is that most of happiness is about leapfrogging the proverbial Joneses. If I received a colander, that's cool, but it is three times cooler if I am the only person out there who received a colander. You can see a lot of this logic at play in the wine world these days: it is fine if I am drinking something, but really great if I am drinking something that most people would never be able to drink, ever. And if my consuming that bottle would mean that it would then be even more difficult for someone to find one in the future. Get my drift? Unique and rare is kind of the whole deal.

So I decided to ask around a bit. Who was or was not receiving colanders? I wanted to know, because it is important to me be seen talking with the right people. I want to make sure that I am in the right set, and held at the correct social level. I decided that I would inquire of people that are recognized in our society as being particularly successful. Powerful and esteemed people. Did they receive doormats in the mail? Or was I special in this new situation? I decided that since I have worked at many fine restaurants in this country, that it would make sense to first contact some of those people who I have, as the phrase goes, "taken care of." These are successful people who have achieved where others haven't. They are people who have made it, and who know about happiness. They are eating at expensive restaurants. These are the people I wanted to hear from about this. What was their doormat situation?

I decided to begin with Mariah Carey. I served Mariah a bottle of DP several years ago. Back when people still bought records, Mariah sold 200 million of them, and she is regarded as one of the most successful female pop artists of all time. She also has a five octave vocal range, a large butterfly tattoo, and a radiant smile. Mariah is the sort of person I feel like I have a lot in common with. Also, she has performed some of the songs that have meant the very most to me in my life, such as Lullaby, Fly Like a Bird, and Dream Lover. But are we so similar? I wanted to find out. Luckily, Mariah was able to take some time out of her busy day for a few questions.

Levi with an i:  So Mariah, thank you so much for agreeing to speak with me about this, it is really great to see you again.

Mariah Carey: <smiles>

Lwai: So tell me Mariah, have you ever had a situation where your doormat was stolen?

MC: Yes, I wrote a song about it.

Lwai: What?? You wrote a song about it? About your doormat being taken? Really??

MC: Yes, it's called We Belong Together.

Lwai: Wait, one moment, are you saying that We Belong Together, one of the most successful pop singles of all time, a song that won multiple Grammy's and that is one of the biggest hits of your career, was about your floor mat?

MC: Well yes, it is about the relationship we had together.

Lwai: Wait, I'm sorry, do you even mention your doormat in the song? I mean, where?

MC: I say "boo". It was a Halloween themed doormat. There was a pumpkin pictured on it.

Lwai: Oh, well, that makes sense then. But why wasn't the doormat in the music video? I mean Eric Roberts was in there. It seems like you could have gotten some kind of doormat in there as well, no? Was it a budget issue?

MC: I wanted to, but my producers thought it was too much for American audiences to handle, like it would be just too much. So we put Wentworth [edited to add, she means actor and model Wentworth Miller] in the video instead, as a sort of stand in.

Lwai: Wow, I mean, did you have any regrets about that decision?

MC: All the time. It was the biggest mistake of my career. People always say it was my movie Glitter, but they just don't know anything about it. There was a lot of pain. People don't know about the connection that develops with small foot rugs.

Lwai: I can understand that. I really can. It's so sad. In the song you talk about losing a piece of yourself when your doormat was taken, and about lying by yourself because it is not lying there anymore. Is that how you still feel? I mean, has anything changed in the years since you originally released that song?

MC: If anything it has gotten worse. That mat was my angel.

Lwai: So let me ask you, did you find your doormat again?

MC: No, it never came back to me. It's been...well, sometimes it's been rough. But I try to tell myself that I have to shake it off. That's how I've always felt about the doormat.

Lwai: That must be very hard. But maybe someone has sent you a new doormat as a replacement? Has that happened? Have you received a new floor mat in the mail?

MC: No, I don't think that kind of thing can happen in this world. That would be too special, I think.

Lwai: Thank you, Mariah. Thank you, very much.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Marco De Bartoli, one of the bravest wine pioneers of the past half century, dead

My personal hero Marco De Bartoli, pictured at the wheel and on the road from Messina, 1972.
Marco drove a Lancia Fulvia.

The Great Marco De Bartoli, a man who single handedly tried to revive an entire industry and a forgotten wine based solely on his longing for the sips of supernal old Marsala that he had tried as a child in his family's bodega, has passed on.

When no one else cared to, Marco tried to push through initiatives to allow for higher quality wines from Sicilia, and for that he was locked out of his own winery for several years.

A former race car driver, Marco used his local fame to champion the cause of layered, nuanced, and unforgettable Marsala and Passito di Pantelleria. He ran two wineries on two islands, and set the absolute high water marks at both, within the respective styles.

When I think of heroic winemaking, and the sheer will to make something great in the face of absolute neglect, I think of Marco De Bartoli.

He was an ardent translator of Samperi, and the only real caretaker of one of the wine world's great legacies, Marsala.

Marco delivered some of Italy's most profound wines.

Honestly, he was my hero.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

To find directions out

I am apt to imagine that Hamlet is Laertes' daydream.

Remember Laertes? He was Ophelia's brother, and before Laertes had left for France, she had been but the sweetest girl. She had perhaps brought him flowers fetched with her own hand, just to make him happy, and showed him a glad smile as she held them out. But now Laertes was back after these years, and Ophelia only cared for Hamlet now, and all her flowers were for the Prince. Oh, the charming Prince of the Castle, Hamlet of the Mighty Family, held aloft. How Laertes had to hear about him. That is, on the days where Ophelia didn't leave early in the morning, up without a salutation or a simple tiding, rushing off to wait for her new fair boy and all his regal plumage. I suppose that left Laertes lonely, and resentful. Where had she hidden her smiles from him? I suppose that's why he warned his sister away from the Prince

And father Polonius, always lecturing Laertes, and when not lecturing, leaning in to listen for the misplaced word. How Laertes might have longed to be out from under his thumb. To desire a return to a home that felt like one. And what was his father doing, so fearful? What was this nonsense, this cowering before the thought of the stupid Prince? Disgusting. Laertes might have wondered why his father couldn't be so firm with his sister about this charlatan as he was when meddling in Laertes' own affairs? Why was this? Couldn't he just leave them all alone if he was going to do nothing real about this?

And so I imagine Laertes half dosing in an armchair, a half finished brandy close by, and daydreaming of an end to them. How they deserved it. An upending of the dear, dear Prince Hamlet, that priss' father killed and his mother tuping the killer. Hamlet's family torn asunder. How just the retribution, for taking away Laertes' own sister and using her that way. And her, Ophelia: drowned in her own craziness, as she could only be now. Polonius done in by his own snooping, stabbed from the other side of the curtain. That would show him the reward for misdirection. Hiding is never the best way. Better to be forthright and have at it with swords, as Laertes would do with his chance to meet Hamlet, and to kill in plain view, but if to kill, to repent. Ah. Right. Laertes would be the Just one. Of course it was his daydream. He would sacrifice, and be the only one free from stain.

It all seems like it had to be someone's plan, all that misfortune. Like it had to be willed.

I think about these sorts of things when I lose my job. When the restaurant that I work in, and the restaurant that I worked in before that, both close on the same day. These sorts of thoughts come to mind when an immense earthquake is followed by a catastrophic tsunami, and then killer radiation threatens my family half a world away. One can't help but wonder, really, whose reality is this? Who or what is causing all of this to happen? It would be a normal response to wonder. After all, this is not supposed to be how things work out, to lose a job and potentially see the family harmed in the same week. This isn't when I am supposed to receive the epic kiss off letter that I did from a step father who has not written for several years, but who now seems to know that I am unemployed through keeping tabs on my blog (hey Big Guy!). Really, where does this downslide let off?

But I can tell you this, this deal we call the day to day isn't fiction. It isn't a play, nor is it a play thing. There isn't a guy in a plush chair right now dangling me and my family like a puppet. This isn't Shakespeare, and there wasn't a plot. So please - and this is why I am writing this - if I see you at one of these many tastings going on, don't act all CSI: Restaurant Edition on me and try to figure out the buried secret, the hidden whatever. There was no hidden whatever. This was no one's fault. This is how it goes sometimes, simple as that. Things fall apart and we try to put them back together again. But no one did this. Don't go asking me who is to blame.

Please. It makes going to tastings a chore, and they shouldn't be. And frankly, I miss all of you (well, most of you), because I've been laying off the group scene.

Anyway, Laertes was a spiteful dude. It came out that way. But that isn't my reality. Come around and have a laugh with me sometime. We're all going to make it through.

Sometimes a sinkhole opens up in one's world. Happens.

Friday, March 18, 2011

Kyo, Miyako, Saikyo

Once the capital of the nation, Kyoto is one of the best preserved cities in Japan, and there are some 2,000 religious places there, both Buddhist and Shinto.

There are many places in and around Kyoto that are designated as UNESCO World Heritage Sites, including the Saihō-ji, a Zen Buddhist temple with a famous moss garden, seen here

The Ryōan-ji, another Zen Buddhist temple, which has within its compound this rock garden

one of the most accomplished and influential of rock gardens in all of Japan.

And there is Ginkaku-ji, which contains the often photographed "Silver Pavillion", seen here

Kyoto is also the home of Japan's television and film industries, and most any Japanese film involving samurai was probably shot in and around Kyoto's castles and shrines. In addition, Kyoto houses the headquarters of the video game company Nintendo, which began in Kyoto as a greeting card company in 1889.

Kyoto is renowned for its food, and there is a specific style of sushi preparation associated with the area. There are also several local vegetables, native to Kyoto, that one does not find growing in other parts of Japan.

Many travellers from all over Japan head to Kyoto each year especially for its famed cherry trees and the blossoms they marvelously show for only a short time.

A city of 1.5 million people, Kyoto hosted the conference on green house gas emissions in 1997. The series of agreements between world leaders that resulted is today known as the Kyoto Accord.

But what is most significant and important to me about Kyoto is that it is over 500 miles away from a faltering nuclear power reactor.

My wife arrived in Kyoto yesterday, after travelling from Tokyo. I feel much better now.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Monday, March 14, 2011

The no call list: AN IMPORTANT UPDATE

I must take a moment to announce to all that several days ago I received a text message expressing support with my (lack of) job situation from an unknown number. Because his name was not saved as a contact in my phone, and because he did not sign the text message - because no one ever signs text messages, they just assume you know who it is - I was unaware that the text originated with Mahmoud the janitor from my old building. At the time, I wondered who was nice enough to send such a thoughtful message. Now that I realize that it was from Mahmoud the janitor from my old building, I must take a moment to sincerely apologize to him for his inclusion in my previous post about So-Called-Friends. Because Mahmoud the janitor from my old building did Call. So he is a Call Friend.

I take it back, Mahmoud. I take it all back, man. And I am really sorry that I wrote about that situation with the crumpled paper bag. I don't even know why that came up. I guess the stress of my current situation just got to me there.

You are a solid friend, Mahmoud. Thank you, man.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

That's right, I'm going to remember!

Many of you have been nice of enough to send me kind messages recently, expressing concern and support during this whole jobless downtime that I am in. And I really do appreciate that. In fact, the sheer number of emails and texts has been pretty amazing. To be honest, there was more than one person that I didn't expect to EVER hear from again who took time out from a busy day to write with an offer of help. It just all goes to show that, in the end, most people are good people most of the time.

But some of you out there haven't bothered to send that note, or that text, or place that phone call, and you know what? I'm going to remember your ass. That's right! Each day I waited, and you know what? Nothing. Uh-huh. You left me hanging when I needed you most. You might think that it's all good and that it won't matter now that I am down and out, but you know what? I'm going to claw my way back to the top just so that I can be there to spite you. Count on it. There will be payback. I will not forget how you left me in the cold, and there will be consequences for you. In fact, I'm calling you out right NOW!! That's right. You didn't expect me to do it, but here it is, my So-Called-Friends-who-didn't-lift-a-finger-when-I-needed-them-Most list:

Number 1: Jon Stewart

I was your BIGGEST FAN, Jon, and this is how you go ahead and treat me?? No call, no letter, no nothing? Maybe you thought I wouldn't notice, but I DID. I was there for you, Jonny Boy, yes I was! When you were going at it with Bill O'Reilly I was with you, man! And I watched every episode of your show, Jon, even after the writers strike when it started to suck! I even watched that one with Jennifer Aniston where it was all uncomfortable because you still have a crush on her but she doesn't dig you at all. I stood by you, man. You spent all that time trying to get LeBron James to move to New York, but what about the people who were already here, Jon? Huh? What about that phone call? We are over, man. I'm cancelling cable. Over and out. You are nothing to me now.

Number 2: Billy from second grade

Yeah Dude, you said you didn't steal my Big Wheels, but now I see it was you all along! You thought you could get away with it all these years, but you slipped Kid! If you hadn't taken it you would have sent me a text or something, to see how I was doing, but NOOOOO. You didn't do anything. Because you were scared I was already on to you! You didn't want to call attention to yourself. Well it didn't work! I KNOW it was you now, even though you let Petey Markowitz take the fall way back then. SHAME, Billy. That's all you've got comin' to you, and all you EVER will have comin' to you unless you return my Big Wheels, man. And it better be candy apple red with the powder blue seat, just like mine was before. Don't go slippin' and try to give me no yellow seat, or anything like that. I'll know, man. I'll know it ain't the one. That's right. You fooled me once, but I am on to you now.

Number 3: Mrs. Belligram from the library

You thought you could win me over with that line about how I was your favorite little reader, BUT YOU DIDN'T. I knew all along you were a big PHONY. You didn't hesitate to call me when I had that overdue volumne of Finnegans Wake, so I know you have my number, too! You could have phoned any time, but you didn't! Well, I'll tell you what: if you ever thought you would see your de Toqueville book again you were WRONG, WRONG, WRONG. We ain't no friends no more, Mrs. Belligram, and I know you'd be upset to hear me phrase it that way!

Number 4: Mahmoud the janitor from my old building

And I sent you a Christmas card every year, Mahmoud! Even though you said you didn't celebrate Christmas, I still took the time to send you a nice Hallmark Signature Series a few days before every December 25th! And like that meant nothing to you, you just forgot about me, man. Forgot about me when I needed you the most! Remember that time that I picked up that crumpled paper bag that was lying on the floor in the hallway and I threw that thing away? Huh? Do you even remember that? That bag wasn't mine, Mahmoud, but I still took care of it. And you just turn around and treat that like it was nothing! I needed you, man! And don't you tell me that you don't have a phone! I see that phone right there in your picture! You could have used that thing! I know you get a 15 minute break every day. Don't pretend like you couldn't have taken a second to ring me up. I know better. I know you are doing it on purpose. You are just trying to spite me with this behavior. Well, next time, I'm leaving that bag right where it is!

Number 5: Mr. Ritchie from AP American Government

And I worked sooooo hard on that Checks and Balances paper for you! You said that it was the duty of each of us to understand and participate in the system, but where was your participation when I needed it the most? Huh, Mr. Ritchie?? I want you to explain that. In fact, you know what? I'm giving you an F, Mr. Ritchie. That's right! A big fat F. F is for Failure, Mr. Ritchie! 'Cause that's what you deserve. You failed to help me, Mr. Ritchie, and I'll never forget that. And I always said you were so much better than Mr. Chalmers when everybody else used to say different because you assigned so much homework. But did I care? Noooooooooooooooo. No, I did not. I stuck up for you, Mr. Ritchie, and this is how you have repaid me. Don't you think for a moment that I am going to forget this. This is an injustice, how you have behaved, Sir. I hope nobody ever believes you again when you say you don't grade on a curve, because you dooooooo! But I know better now, Sir. Yes, I do.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Let's have some orange juice together

My floor mat, the little rug that was outside of my door in the hallway, was taken some time not long ago. I have yet to locate the door mat, or understand why it was stolen. Many of you, perhaps because you have heard about this, have sent me emails of condolence recently. I receive a new email or text message expressing sympathy with my situation approximately every five minutes between 6am and midnight each day. Which is very kind of you all, and deeply appreciated. It is during this period, when I feel like I have nowhere to remove my shoes and I don't know whom to trust, that I most need your expressions of solidarity. I am doormat-less and stupefied.

I would mention, however, that I am unable to get a drink with each of you. Perhaps because I am in the wine and spirits business, everyone I know has suggested that I go to a bar with them. I have about 350 offers to get shit faced in my inbox. Please understand that it is precisely during this very difficult time that I need my wits about me. I cannot go about getting drunk each and every evening, as much as I may have spent several years of my life doing just that in the past. The reality is, I cannot live like that anymore. I have hit bottom. I do not even have a door mat at this point. I need to overcome this dire circumstance. There is a need to strategize beyond the level of figuring out how to win the next round of beer pong. So please, stop asking me to get hammered with you.

As an alternative, I would suggest that you offer to buy me breakfast. That way, I can be assured of having at least one square meal a day for the next year or so as I deal with this impoverished condition and the grief that I now feel. And I can stay somewhat sober if we try to stear clear of the mimosas.

So, here is my offer to you: please be my friend, but let's go ahead and express that friendship over a toasted bagel and lox with a side of steaming joe. K?

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Goodsellas, after the hit

As far back as I can remember, I always wanted to be a sommelier. To me, being a sommelier was better than being President of the United States. Even before I first wandered into the restaurant for an after school job, I knew I wanted to be a part of them. It was there that I knew I belonged. To me, it meant being somebody in a town of nobodies - they weren't like anybody else, they did whatever they wanted, they opened Chambolle-Musigny Les Amoureuses, they had double helpings of foie gras, they sipped pre-war Bas-Armagnac; in the summer when they drank on the patio all night after service, nobody ever called the cops.

I was the luckiest kid in the world - I could go to any vineyard, stay with any vigneron. I knew everybody, and everybody knew me. Wine reps would stop by with bottles of Chevalier-Montrachet and toss me their wine key. I mean, here I am, this kid, I can't even pronounce Irouleguy, and I'm drinking Chevalier. For some people the restaurant was supposed to be a part time job, ah but for me it was definitely full time. That's all I wanted to do. You see, some of the waiters could never understand, but I was a part of something, I belonged in the cellar, I was treated like a grownup. Every day I was learning terroir, a cru here, a lieu-dit there, I was living my fantasy.

People looked at me differently when they knew I was with somebody. I didn't have to wait in line anymore for an allocation, the distributors knew who I was with, and they would come around and give me a six-pack no matter how many other accounts were waiting, I was taken care of first. At 21, I was drinking better than most of the grownups in the neighborhood. I mean, I had more premier crus than I could drink, I had it all. One day, one day one of reps dropped off a silver ice bucket for Champagne. You know why? It was out of respect.

It was a glorious time. The sommeliers were all over the place. It was before 9/11, and before Mendoza decided to take on Barossa and start a war. It was when I met the world.

There was Cat Silirie, and Alicia Towns Franken, and me. And there was Smile Muscles Savona, and Mikey Formaggio, and then there was Sandy Block who taught at BU, and his guys Wild Hair Nesto and Alex The Tough Guy, and then there was Scott Fraley, who was a lady killer and like Derrida's brother, and you had Dreamy Eyes Deary, and Beth Cleary who had a great pairing for Chicken Franchese, and Marky Two Times, who got that nickname because he told his staff everything twice, like "Pour the Pinot Noir into the Burgundy glasses, the Burgundy glasses." For us, to live any other way was nuts. To us those goody good people who didn't drink wine, and had iced tea on a fancy night out, and worried about their credit card imprints getting stolen, they were dead. I mean they were suckers, they had no sense of fun. If we wanted to try something we just sold it and poured a taste. If anyone complained twice they got a table so bad next to the bathroom, believe me they never complained again. It was all just routine, you didn't even think about it.

Sunday night was for the girlfriends, but Saturday afternoon at the restaurant was always for the staff tasting. Everyone was there. We'd open up four or five bottles and somebody would talk about how one of the wines danced on the tongue like Sammy Davis, Jr., or how it was like a kiss from Nat King Cole. Somebody would say that and then somebody else would tell them that they should be more careful how they phrased things, 'cause customers could get the wrong idea.

In the restaurant, staff meal was always a big thing. We had a pasta course, and then we had a meat or a fish. Somebody always did the prep work for us, there was a system, and there was this bread that was sliced so thin it was like somebody used a razor. You know, when you think of a restaurant, you think of rows and rows of customers and the waiters bent over them, but it wasn't like that for sommeliers, it really wasn't that bad. I mean we owned the joint.

You see, the hardest thing for me is leaving the life. I still love the life. We were treated like PPX VIPS. We had any reservation we wanted, for any place in town, just for the asking. I had paper bags filled with Chambertin corks in the kitchen, I had rare Islay scotch by the bed. Anything I wanted was a phone call away: free mid-courses, comp dessert wine, the invites to a dozen wine tastings all over the city. I'd sell 20, 30 grand over a weekend, and then I'd either blow through two cases of Champagne in a week, or I'd find another go-to to serve to those who had heard good news from their Wall Street bookies.

Everything was for the taking and now it's all over, that's the hardest part. Today everything is different, there's no action. I have to wait around like everyone else. I can't even get decent food. Right after I got home I wanted hand made, triple x flour Spaghetti with romanesco cauliflower and I had to settle for egg noodles from a local delivery.

I'm an average nobody. I get to live the rest of my life like a schnook.

I had wanted to be a sommelier.

Thursday, March 3, 2011


The truth is, my father was a heretic. Each evening he would consult the 4 Bibles that were stored at other times under his bed and he would copy out, line by line, verse by verse, the contents. Each volume got an individual column on the ruled pages: the New International, the New Living Translation, the American Standard, and of course the King James. The King James was always the most interesting to me, but my dad didn't seem to have a favorite. He wanted them all, he told me, and then he said that all rivers run to the sea, which was something I had never heard before. Up until that point I just assumed that rivers started from the sea, but that was the first time I had ever thought about it.

I would spend my nights watching The Golden Girls or 227 in another room while my dad would be spelling out the comparative scriptures in block print and blue ink inside of the columns he had drawn himself with a straight edge ruler. He wanted to see all of the translations together, he said. He said you could see every picture better with four sets of eyes, and that the very form of the Bible tells us this with the presentation of four Gospels, and maybe that was true. My father knew that every story told a bit about the teller, and he said he wanted to know what each chose not to say. But I think he mostly enjoyed the writing, not the reading. He liked seeing God's word inside of familiar penmanship. This was his way. Otherwise he could have just looked at one Bible and then another if he wanted to know what each said, but that wasn't how he spent his time. He wanted to write out a text that was written out, and to do so four different times, side by side. I imagined my father at a blackboard writing "I shall not talk in class. I will not talk in class. I won't be heard in class. I will be silent in class." in repeating chalk lines. I imagined after 50 lines the teacher telling him that that was enough and him saying out loud that he wasn't done yet. My dad was nothing if not doggedly persistent.

They say that whatever happens to a sacred text, it is as it was planned to be. If a fire burns a part of a sacred text, or if pages fall out of a sacred text and they can't be recovered, this is because a god has decided to change his message to his followers. A sacred text, unlike a normal text, is as it was intended to be. You can't deface the pages. If there is a change, that is the change that is desired. Perhaps my father's loose leaf, college ruled columns had been foretold. Perhaps the placement of individual renditions next to each other on a single page represented a completion. But most likely, this was just the way for those words to speak most clearly to their reader.

Each day I get more and more tired of Global Lists of wines. Of wanting every shape of bottle in the world represented between two covers. Nobody can do it well anymore, and it never made sense anyway. It especially doesn't make sense now, when they are so many different kinds of wine out there from so many different places that it is like a vinous Tower of Babel.

Give me 50 Barolos. Give me 5 Frappatos. Or lay out 20 Mosel rieslings. A billion sherries. But not all these on the same list. Focus in. Let me learn better from the context, and from the juxtaposition of the similar. Keep a list of comparisons. Do your thing, whatever that is: Basque region, Northern Italian, Greek, or Sardinian. But do your thing well. Bring some depth. Lay like next to like and let's see what we get. Let me learn from what you don't say. Have that discipline. Tell a story better by not trying to tell EVERY story. Make a shrine to the wines of a place.

You know in Nieve, if you go to a restaurant and they have 100 Barbarescos and nothing else, that is called a wine list. Here in New York, that would be called an oddity. And yet we have all these Italian restaurants. Why is it that so many consumers think that there is one taste for Barolo, but several for Vosne-Romanee? Why is that? It is because the Italian lists are doing Barolo a disservice. They aren't emphasizing the terroir differences. I like a wine list that doesn't go along with the mumbo jumbo that every Brunello tastes the same. That every Brunello is big, and juicy, and dense. That every Brunello tastes like 1997 with a little Cab blended in. You know the best way to prove that there are different kinds of Brunello? Well, I think it is to list several that taste quite different next to each other on the same list. Impossible to have that much difference with Brunello, you say? Then why is it that I can nail Brunellos produced from grapes grown on the hillside of Montesoli, even when I taste them blind? The wine list I dream of tells the same story, but it tells that story several times, and it shows you the differences, and the real character of a place by doing so.

That is my kind of wine list. I guess I am a heretic as well.

One of the ways to read this painting is to view everyone sitting at the table as the same man, but as portrayed at a different age. I happen to like that interpretation.