Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Alcohol, Part 5: 21. Nxg7+ Kd8, 22. Qf6+! Nxf6, 23. Be7# 1-0

The doors slide shut.  You reach for the "Roof" button but the other passenger has already hit it.  You caught a glimpse of Him when you got on and had a really crazy thought, but now He's standing a step behind you and you can't be sure.

Your eardrums squirm as the ground floor fades.  He shuffles His feet and the thought you had before is back.  Could it be?  You work your peripheral vision like never before, straining, thinking, questioning, believing, until, in an incandescent pop of clarity and fear, it becomes true.

It's you and God alone in the elevator, and you have twenty seconds to make your pitch.

"I am..."

Whatever our individual faiths, our individual heresies, I think we organize our lives around welcoming or dreading some version of this moment--when, freed of distractions, we are called by whomever, ourselves maybe, to account for the things we've stood for, lived for, loved.

God, I love wine.  As much as I used to care why, I don't anymore.  I also really like beer, and I take comfort in imagining a "Single Malt Scotch" cell on budget.xls one day.  Here, at "money", the snake begins to eat its tail and I wish I could turn to the pages of a Kerouac or a Burroughs


for guidance.  Instead I just slump into the backseat of a cab in Williamsburg next to Rod Steiger and slur that I coulda been a contenda, I could have been sending my mouth to Speyside every night--not to mention curating a little cellar of Barbaresco, Meursault, Utopias, etc.--by now had I not shambled after this will-o-the-wisp, the credible delusion that lust for delicious beverages was the Ω of things to do with my life.

I did not foresee the afternoons lost gazing at labels on a shelf, too invested in the social contract to shoplift, taking sour solace in maybe knowing more about the wines than the people who would actually drink them.  I did not consider what it was like to be the janitor at Disneyland, watching people have delirious fun all day on the Tower of Terror and then cleaning up their vomit.

An obvious thing has only lately revealed itself to me: If you know the pleasure of good and great wines and want to experience it a few zillion times, it is a sensible if not sacrosanct course of action to be wealthy first.

Otherwise it's too easy to end up the scrappy clerk with the "sommelier" cert taking potshots at the elites you serve, positive that since you can recite the 1855 Classification to the tune of any Kermit Lynch song, the Yquem those troglodyte McKinsey bros are drinking tonight and tomorrow night would much rather end up as your sugary piss than theirs.  And anyway, you know a $38 sticky from the armpit of the Loire that's almost as good.  You can't really afford that one either, but the point is you know about it!

Yes, there are impressive cheap bottles accessible to any first-world slacker, but they're not the ones that make us quit our old, secure jobs and go for it in a field with a spectacular record of financial failure at every level.

Yes, many beverage jobs include access to fun, hangover-bait "industry tastings" where you get four hours to  pirouette around some cavernous convention center, spit a few times to keep up appearances, and try to distill valuable information from sales rep doggerel.  But this is an inferior experience to pouring yourself a big glass of (Hermi/Meri)tage and knowing you can and will have another when it's gone.

YES, enough people stay afloat in the wine biz and a few even thrive, and even if the American Dream is ready for the taxidermist right about now I've still had way more unearned advantages than anyone deserves and it would be a panicked retreat worthy of the firing squad to bail on this, the effort I've put into and the knowledge I've taken out of three years in wine.

There are other caveats and other emptors to my proposition and I'm not going to flail around the room windmill punching after each one.  I'll just beg your understanding or your best impression thereof about where I'm calling from, this queasy freeze-frame of realizing that amour fou for wine has put so much of it out of my reach.

So when I sort this out for reals and begin moving forward again, it will be with full understanding that the keys to the kingdom are pricey, and "passion" is not legal tender at the locksmith's.

It occurs to me that this post has nothing to do with alcohol.  I suppose the "Alcohol Suite" concluded in Part 4 and this is more of a bookend to my July navel-gaze about why I got into the trade in the first place.  But it dovetails with the alcohol question since I want to live long and prosper as much as the next Vulcan, and I've grown suspicious that being mad for wine and craft beer and the rest threatens both objectives.

Here's my last word on alcohol.  I bet you, if I had learned myself some real science, I could describe the universe entirely in terms of the toxins that seem to be hidden or not-so-hidden everywhere.  And watching how toxin-fear can become a ridiculous, consuming obsession for people makes alcohol seem less like the sweat dripping  off the Grim Reaper's mustache and more like a dull, everyday Venom Lite for my dull, everyday everyday.

And I still have total faith that being the creator of a wine or maybe a beer that others like and unlike me would consistently buy, drink, consider, enjoy, praise--I'll take any two of these--would be all I needed on the day of reckoning.  I'm not sure I can say the same about having consumed Barolo, Westvleteren 12, f***ing WHATEVER every day.

If it wasn't clear by now, I'm no Capablanca.


I haven't been anticipating the endgame square-for-square since 1. e4 and delighted in yanking the other chumps around the board to their inevitable doom.  I've just been following one vital organ

somewhat at the expense of another


and been glad enough to make it to the next day without causing any forklift accidents.  

When I look around and realize it's endgame, which may have already happened, I'll just remember that checkmate is a much more rare and satisfying conclusion than resignation, no matter which end of it you're on. 

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Alcohol, Part 4: ...And I Have A Drinking Problem

  • "I got 'em, no worries," I say. 'Em are forty-five pounds of dirty dishes, and I'm on my feet before any of the other dinner guests can try to one-up my irritating helpfulness.  With my empty, butter-streaked wineglass in hand, I slink to the scullery and begin filling the sink with water and detergent. While the mess submerges I find the cheap white wine that was opened for deglazing and pour myself an amount beyond any pretense of appreciation.  I have been planning this moment since the wine on the table ran out just before the spitefully cognac-less dessert.  It is warm and oxidized and tastes like victory.
  • At a DIY cocktail table at some reception, I prepare a gin and tonic for myself:  Five large ice cubes, a jigger of Hendrick's, Schweppes to the top.  Almost to the top.  I glance to to nine, twelve and three o'clock, then add more gin until the meniscus wobbles.  A little spills when I lift the glass but I don't care about that.  
  • My friends and I are going to be late for that thing we're going to.  One guy sits oblivious on the deck with his headphones too deep in his ears, another remains installed at his desk reloading Facebook, I'm on the couch swirling the dregs of beer three and ready to leave. From the bathroom, the girl practicing cartography on her face says she needs five, i.e. fifteen, more minutes. I smell opportunity, kill my last two gulps, and get another bottle.  Of the same, just in case anyone else is counting.  I check to be sure all my empties are in the recycling, buried, in case anyone else is counting.  I drink fast.  The volume of liquid I'm carrying will be a problem on the 40-minute drive (maybe it's a subway ride) but I don't care about that yet.
  • On a viscous summer night in New York City, maybe July, probably 2AM, I stumble purposefully down the street where I grew up.  I'm returning from some bar during a mostly aimless summer that partitions totally aimless middle years of college. Twenty paces to the door, I find my keys among the receipts and pennies in my cargo pocket.  I will soar up the twelve front steps, unlock, close, and lock the door in a single graceful pivot.  The motion is beautiful in my mind, and it is too in reality until the key makes a grinding noise as it gets stuck in the lock.  I jiggle it a bit too hard trying to free it, and the head snaps off in my hand.  Now what?  I sit down.
  • "How much did you have to drink tonight?" my girlfriend asks me.  "Just a couple of beers," I lie through red teeth.

These moments were real, there were others like them, there are still.  Out of consideration for the lives that have truly been run aground by drinking I will not say I'm an alcoholic--the same way I will not clap a Purple Heart winner on the shoulder, show him the ACE bandage on my tennis-weary wrist and say "I feel your pain, brother."

And yet, my wrist still hurts.  Which is to say alcohol exists for me in that navel-gazing Sartre-misreading way that it doesn't for people who can enjoy a drink, or a drunk, as often as they care to and then just get on with things.  It is a presence, there of course when I'm drinking, but also there when I'm not drinking: Reading Google News over my shoulder as I sleepwalk through cyberspace, leering at me from the far end of the pizza place, reeling me into the wine shop out of the upstream flow of pedestrians.  

I can talk to it and it talks back, though it says the same thing every time.  It goads me and motivates me  and is the only thing besides gravity that can insult me anytime and be guaranteed forgiveness.  It is the main structural unit for the second half of my day, the same way coffee is for the first.*

Once noon passes, the burden is on me to justify not drinking.  I have to drive to work in an hour.  I want to exercise today.  I still feel sick from last night.  These work often enough, but they don't work every time.  Or they work once, maybe twice, but not three times.  The 750ml of Westmalle in my fridge and the forever young bag-in-a-box of (quality!) Malbec in the pantry demand that I resubmit my proof every twenty minutes under cross-examination.  

You know how if you repeat anything over and over again it starts to sound meaningless?

If I've held my ground until ~6PM, a stark feeling of mental and physical unease sets in--the photo-negative image of my 6AM caffeine craving.*  A first drink doesn't buzz me at this point, it returns me to "Normal".  If this isn't a dependency, is anything?

So it's a dependency, it's an alcohol dependency, it's my alcohol dependency.  Not one worth an ABC after-school special, but still a surrender of control, even if it's over something that doesn't seem to matter much.  It's a lesser demon, the red-headed stepchild of the Legion family--those Volvo-driving Rotarians who live in the loud mauve McMansion between the Molochs and the Pazuzus on Tartarus Lane.  

Point being, I know many happy and functional, even successful, people who drink as much as I do or more.  Looking around me, it's just one of several cluttered life-areas where it would behoove me to get my s**t together.  

And yet.  If this modest habit is distending my gut, scuttling my evening productivity, planting bombs in my organs, seeding concern in my loved ones, and lacerating my memory with moments of indelible shame (ask me about some of the things that didn't make the bullet list), confronting it would seem to be a do-it-now-or-pay-with-compound-interest later proposition.

Not to mention my excuses--avoid most spirits, eat blood-fortifying vegetables, jog 3x/week--fit a profile of deflection and delusion that probably applies to the real alcoholics.  The iron fact is that it's not healthy.  "Drinking", in all its intransitive vainglory, is not healthy. Letting it get Park Place and Boardwalk in my brain like I have is not healthy.  So this all bottlenecks at: what price health?

I don't think you can make a strong case for not wanting to die if it means ignoring the way you want to live.