Which one am I showing up to, the one-armed coat hanger of Tuesday night wine tasting by myself, the jazz nights of Monday and Wednesday, or Saturday?
Customer J detects my boredom with him, being a natural at sales. I was going to chide him over a line he used on a young woman, something about how if he and she were married there'd be a line down the middle and he wouldn't allow anything over the line from his side longer than his arm, but I didn't have the energy, realizing I'd be alone tonight. The boss's logic is if there aren't any reservations on the book, cut a waiter. We used to do this wine tasting with the help of a wine rep. Sometimes even the principal of an importing company. To talk about wine making, the soil, the people, the ethos, the year, the varietal, the history, should a customer want to engage and pick up some knowledge. Then there is the system of bottle discounts to explain, twenty percent off all bottles, fifty percent on the two we are officially tasting, I say, officially, because it often is the easiest route to pour someone a sip from one of the wines we have by the glass, and sometimes it buys the busy barkeep some time. So, of course, one two top reservation becomes two, and then people start filing in. "We'd prefer to sit up here," though their reservations were made for the downstairs dining room.
"Theodore, you should write that book, A Bartender's Guide to Sanity. See, women want to know, women being the only people who read books, want to know how guys think, what they want in a woman. Write that book and it will sell, and push you over the tipping point. You'll be famous," customer J launches into, as I struggle to open a bottle of Chinon, the very bottom ring of it, caked with minerally sediment becoming detached from the rest of the cork. Trying to give people a sense of Bordeaux wines and their ilk. We're supposed to be offering the discount on two bottles, but we only have two total of the whites, and two and a half of the reds, so what's the point of my spiel about discounts anyway… "You could write how there's a devil and an angel on your shoulder, what each would say when you're in a bar, and that way it would be them talking, not you."
The night grinds on. I tell the two women, one pregnant, one drinking soda water, her mother liking "oaky" chardonnay, settling for one by the glass from the Macon in Burgandy, the night's dining specials, the bisque, the calamari, the salad that's hard to explain, the two entree specials… The mother doesn't want to order yet, because she doesn't want her entree rushed. "No, we don't do that here," I explain. Jeremy comes up from downstairs to help me out, as two women from California chose a table way in the back in the wine room. Three more women come and sit even back farther at the very very back of the restaurant. The baseball game commences, and fortunately my help stays, as more people come in.
Oh, by the end of it all, hours later I am tired and thirsty and very hungry and need some happy juice to calm my nerves and numb the pain. The three Lebanese guys who squeezed themselves in for dinner at the bar have been a lot of fun, with talk about Lebanese wines and even a probiotic red wine out there somewhere. There is laughter, as they talk in French with two other women, who are also from the region. But by the end of it, I want the effects of the wine, just as it will seem to be a release, though it will eventually stir up some anger along with everything else.
My mom points out that when I drink wine I say things I wouldn't otherwise, things I'd never say. And this is probably the state I walk home in through the cold, missing the Q Street bus by a block or so, no big deal, I need the exercise. Today I remember how the front door to an old ambassador's residence was wide open, how I poked my head in, surely a very bad idea, on my way home. Jesus Christ.
I had a sort of wistful dreamy thought upon waking of working somewhere with bright young people, still fresh college graduates, in neat sweaters and wearing glasses, discussing problems and how to rationally solve them, as if in some sort of effective and involved think tank, news agency, political office, consulting thing, that I once might have thought I'd be part of somehow. Just good people with fresh ideas, thinking, solving industry problems and the like, bringing values to the table. A far cry from the restaurant business I now seem to find myself stuck in. And I look back and think of how during the Reagan Regime, popularly elected, a kind of imposed tyranny of a majority, writers and thinkers were put into exile, just like they were back in the days of the Soviets in Czechoslovakia. It just became weird and unpatriotic to portray an America different from a golden old man telling people about how taxes were a suck in America's morning. Sure, 'tear down this wall,' but that only masked something, the destruction of a lot of partner programs between private and funded public efforts of education and the like: Trickle down economics that never happened, the great dumbing down of the citizenry; Industry, aimed primarily toward 'national interest,' would run education, for profit; oh, yeah, sure; from the man who made a career out of reacting to what happened at Berkeley (where indeed there were excesses on the part of a newly politically aware ultra Left that allowed extremists in), asking, perhaps without intending it, perhaps without mean spirited intention, for intellectuals to practice in more self-loathing, more the feeling of being out of touch somehow, helpless, irrelevant, in the way an artist never was during Kennedy's presidency, indeed somehow the opposite, not that JFK was himself too found of straying from that which was politically efficacious. Strange, this from an actor, who, you'd think would have allowed that great British gift of the theater revealing the whole range of humanity and psychologic events. Reagan did not inherit that gift, it seems, and could only act the cowboy, win won for the Gipper, as if mesmerized by his own self-image, no questions to it. Reagan playing Hamlet is hard to imagine, strange. Genetically, it just wouldn't have happened. And some would say that his worry-free quality made him, as opposed to Woody Allen, made him a 'great leader' for that time period, before the multitude of humanity's egotistical qualities and politics came out of the obscure corners.