Wednesday, July 22, 2009
A tribal roar deep in the bowels of the tent swept up from the crowd cohering like a balloon ascending lazily above the eerily vacant grandstand of Watkins Glen speedway. It was the Finger Lakes Wine Festival,-at last.
"What is that?" the woman with the Bacchus wreath on her head quizzed me mutely.
"Probably someone getting naked or, -(pause), arrested, -or both"
She smiled, probably recalling the customary toga party of the evening before.
'Did I really say that out loud?' I wondered. I turned,--hoping sheepishly my daughter Julia had not heard me. (Luckily she hadn't, or pretended not to.)
"If one more person asks me 'Do you have a sweet wine' I am going to have to smack them in the face." Sonia, her friend from Indiana intoned, serious as a kidney stone.
"But I thought you were from the Mid West. Aren't you all supposed to be, you know,- nice?"
"Well I'm pissed off now.--"
"East Coast style." Julia winked knowingly.
It was getting to me too. I had to take a walk. Get away from the table for a moment where my wine sat regimented and morose, soldiers returning from an unwanted war, objects of uninformed self congratulatory derision, get away from the hordes of skeptics busily consuming it, blissfully unconscious of the sacrifice involved. I watched my emotional and physical inventory both shrinking before my eyes from a veritable inland sea to a mere dust hemmed puddle , post-war optimism washed away down the newly flushed arroyos of mutual suspicion and distrust. Glasses crashing around me like mortars, below, the ever-present helicopter hum of the crowd. Vietnam at 750 ml a pop.
"What tent is this?" I had spotted a bottle of Carlo's Hudson-Chatham Winery Brulle on the table set obliquely in the middle of the courtyard, (actually the apron of the nearby race track that loomed unoccupied like a monument to futility in the background).
"Wait a minute!" I scooted back to the table and grabbed a bottle of my 'Franky Say Relax' Cab Franc with the bulldog on label inspired by the brilliant aptness to
pour napalm on the already raging flames of involuntary philanthropy. 'Even amidst the ambient futility can't let Carlo get the jump on me when it came to generosity. War is hell!' I thought. 'Especially Humane Society War!' I looked enviously at his elegant professional bottle and mine next to it now on the table with the hand-made label from my eBay Xerox printer. I began to reconsider my patently self-serving generosity.
"Ohh that's soooh cute! Oohh! There's a doggie on the label!" (Salvation!)
"That your dog?"
"What'zis name?" Ignoring the motto on the bottle "Franky Say Relax", the natural assumption following that it was Franky himself depicted, studiously ignored.
"Chewy Lewis." I replied flatly.
It wasn't till hours later I found out what it was, actually.
realizing how apt the combat metaphor was, that the periodic eruptions of the crowd were actually occasioned by someone shattering their wine glass on the asphalt floor of the tent; a difficult feat since they had been prudently tethered to their necks by the event organizers with varying degrees of rococo ornamentation added afterward by their new owners. It was, it turned out, a commendable service giving apt warning those attendees sporting sandals and an advanced degree of inebriation of possible impalement. There it was; The entire cole slaw and white bread theme of the event in a nutshell. Old fashioned practicality wrapped in the protocol of Bacchanalian frenzy, camouflaged by the American mandatory and muscular good humor, like the 'Have a Nice Day' emblazoned in blinking LED characters on the brow of the oncoming bus, glimpsed the moment before it runs you over; just as my acquiescent, victimized smile was designed to conceal my irritation at the onrushing assumption that I actually enjoyed giving away my wine, the wine that I had labored so mightily over.
I had been working non-stop to get ready for the show all the previous week, bottling, printing, stacking, take it out of the rain, take it back outside, load the truck, unload the truck, make the labels, apply the labels, apply the capsules, check the bottles all so I could give it smilingly away to someone who was mostly already disappointed because I didn't have 'sweet wine' and the guy across the way was selling Chardonnay at $12 and I was charging $15.
I don't know why or if I really expected something different.
I went out to the food service area to mull things over. Grab a quick bite. The lines for the meatballonastick truck was twenty deep. It reminded me of the days at Cornell. Johnnie's Big Red Truck behind the freshman dorms. 'Poor man's pizza and meatball subs.'
"That's a big red! Didn't expect that from you guys." Surprised.
"Why" I wondered silently "Was I wearing a shirt with 'talentless moron' emblazoned across it in big pink letters?"
"Big reds don't really go over here" The guy in the booth next to me from 'Warm Springs Winery' cautioned as his partner spun up another batch of wine malteds made from Pinot Noir and some kind of chocolate mixture in a jug. I had given him a sample of 'Franky' to try. 'Warm Springs? Wasn't that where FDR went for polio therapy?' Then it hit me; Franky said 'relax'.
The nachopretzel truck was no better than the meatballonastick franchise run by Giovanni. It was indeed as if suddenly the depression we had all been fearing for the past year had finally arrived, people on breadlines waiting to get fed, only there was no bread, only nachos with pools of melted Velveeta and skewered meatballs.
The barbecue truck stood curiously bereft of customers. "Out of meat" The hand lettered sign read. I saw stacks of what looked like bar-b-que brisket on the cutting board.
"Fat, all fat"
"No I mean that piece." Pointed to a four pound chunk of charred meat that stood still proudly erect on the cutting board. It was the butt end of what had been a large brisket.
"You want that?"
"Yeah, better'n standing on line for a half an hour for a stinkin' plate of Doritos."
"Know what you mean." The thin, bearded red haired man nodded sympathetically, forking the impressive piece of gristle onto a paper plate.
There I sat in the food court tearing the charred shreds of meat that clung to the edges of the impressive hunk, clawing the vagrant strands of delectable protein off with my hands and stuffing them quickly in my mouth, congratulating myself for avoiding the lines and spending less than eight dollars on lunch.
People were looking at me aghast.
"What is that? Roast beef?" A woman finally, with enough courage to ask.
"Brisket fat." I replied smiling greasily. "Can't stand waiting on lines."
I looked back down at the impressively adipose section of cow anatomy spying another strand of sedimentary meat deposit amidst the unctuous geology of gristle and blubber. I was no longer homo-erectus. I was a caveman proud to be worrying the kill that had been transformed with his recent invention; fire, the Eskimo stripping his tribe's whale kill.
Forty years earlier I had been a shiny undergraduate not far from here; On the next lake over; A new shoot of hope planted in the verdant fields of intellect and now I had been reduced to this. "Og Hungry. Og Eat."
Another guttural primal roar rose in the distance from under the tent. Another wineglass bit the dust. Another kill.
Back at the table.
"If someone asks me if we have sweet wine, I'm going to have to kill them."
"Uggh" I nodded.
Fast forward forty thousand years and there she stands; Helen of Troy. The most beautiful wmaan I have ever seen. Undoubtedly the most beautiful woman anyone has seen. She was leaving. Oh well. Og Hungry.
"Reserve Chardonnay? Sure. Oops, just let me clean my fingers."
Leaving the festival, there she was again, pulled over by the cops this time at the gate standing at the side of the road being given a breatholizer test. I continued out the gate, steering my oar-swept ship across the wine-dark sea.