Not To Mention A Nice Life
by Sean Murphy
The more Byron drinks, the more money he makes. If he can keep up this pace, he might enable his embattled company to stay in the black. Maybe if he doubles down, all those stock options will split, reconcile and multiply. This is his story and he’s stuck to it. He’s a real piece of work in progress: old enough to own his own condo and pay all his bills most of the time; young enough to be unmarried but also understand he’s not getting any younger. Byron would love to mix things up and instigate some excitement into his humble narrative. Unfortunately, a fight scene is not feasible, a car chase is getting too carried away, and a love interest appears to be out of the question. Also, he has to be awake and ready for work in the morning, just like everyone else.
Pairing: Duckhorn Vineyards – Napa Valley Chardonnay – Toyon Vineyard
Tasting Notes: A lush and inviting Chardonnay with layered aromas of nectarine, peach blossom, butterscotch and marshmallow. On the rich, silky palate, elegant oak and good acidity underscore flavors of pear and stone fruit, carrying the wine to a lengthy finish with notes of marmalade and toasted hazelnuts.
A recovering bartender, Byron struggled to escape the self-destructive restaurant business but finds that the drinking and drugging of the corporate world are more pervasive—and encouraged—than he could ever have imagined. Unlike his colleagues and friends, he’s unable to find sufficient distraction in after- hours drinking or weekend golf excursions. His dating life has become a ceaseless string of near-misses and, despite his best intentions, he realizes he may still is not over the might-have-been soulmate who walked out of his world. He is finding himself unprepared for life after thirty, and ambivalent about the semi-fortune his stock options might eventually yield.
Pairing: LA Petite Grace Pinot Noir Monterey, California
Tasting Notes: Deep, intense garnet color in the glass, aromas of black cherries, brown sugar and mocha set the stage for a robust palate of concentrated fruit flavors and textured mouth feel, anchored by Pinot Noir’s signature smooth acidity. Round, soft and full-bodied with excellent weight in the mid-palate, layers of black cherry, dark chocolate, spice and coffee bean unfold with earthy undertones of chaparral and truffle. Outspoken and comfortable in its own skin, the long finish of this rich Pinot Noir leaves a lasting impression.
If life in a careening economy is paradise, why does everyone seem so lost? Something at Byron’s company has changed: all of a sudden there’s an unmistakable scent and it’s spreading quickly through the building. The executives, typically cocksure studies of confidence, seem hesitant; men who live for making eye contact are suddenly averting their eyes in the elevators. Is Byron on to something, or is it just how the world looks through sober eyes? Byron, deciding to dry out and slow his roll, is now preoccupied with everything everyone else seems to have figured out: marriage, kids, security, living happily ever after, et cetera. With rumors of a devastating round of layoffs occurring in the not-distant future, Byron begins to envision where he’ll be when something approximating reality comes crashing down.
Pairing: Duckhorn Vineyards Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon
Tasting Notes: Both generous and graceful, this compelling Cabernet Sauvignon offers aromas of blackberry, fig, pipe tobacco and sandalwood. On the palate, a wonderful, layered structure that is one of the hallmarks of the exceptional vintage, underscores flavors of violet, red currant, cocoa nibs and graphite. The finished is long and focused, with a hint of vibrant red fruit reminiscent of fresh strawberry rhubarb cobbler.
Pairing: Lexington Bourbon – At 86 proof, Lexington Bourbon combines the highest quality select grains of rye, malted barley and corn with purified water. The rye provides the perfect level of spice, while the malted barley allows the sweetness of the cornto peak through, creating a sensational taste. The resulting flavor boasts deep aromas of the aged oak with a hint of vanilla.
These day trips ask a lot of you, almost so much that you find yourself fondly reminiscing about the good old days you never knew, the days when horse-drawn carriages were cutting edge business travel, days when people might have fantasized about a few hundred miles in less than an hour, not anticipating planes that make your mind feel microwaved.
Cooked on the surface but still raw inside, it’s all in a daze work as the cab carries me home through disorienting yet familiar streets. Survival suburban-style; a metropolis in transition, trying its best to live up to the image it was designed to imitate—sprung from the minds of forward-thinking people who are trying to recreate the past. On the corner high school punks stand beside a phone booth, making no calls; a quick right turn and I’m feeling the money dread as we cruise past several blocks of four car families. Being outside the city is safer, particularly if you prefer the sound of crickets to cop sirens. Eventually, I am deposited in the middle ground of this middlebrow town, and for lack of any other options, I am relieved.
And yet. This is supposed to happen later, with wife and kids and a basement to be banished to after hours. I’ll deal with that later. I think.
My front door is the one mystery to which I have the key, but for some reason I still feel as though I’m sneaking up on a stranger every time I return from a trip; I’m not sure who I expect to see, who might be hiding from me, who possibly could have found the way into my modest refuge from friends and memories.
With Pavlovian precision, I make my way to the medicine cabinet and pour myself a bracing plug of bourbon. It’s more than I need or deserve, I think, but I don’t want the bottle to suspect I was unfaithful in another town, waiting for my return flight for instance, in a cramped and crappy airport bar at La Guardia. If this were a movie (I think, mostly in the past, but even today), I would grab my crystal decanter, filled with obviously expensive spirits, and administer that potion the old-fashioned way, needing no ice cubes, especially since I would never get around to drinking it, as it’s only a prop, a cliché. No one reaches for that tumbler these days (except in movies); the question is: did they ever? Even in the ‘50’s? Or has it always been part of the script?
I still have hangovers, thank God.
Everyone who has known an alcoholic knows that as soon as you stop feeling the pain, it’s because you are no longer feeling the pain; you are no longer feeling much of anything.
So, I welcome the horrors of the digital cock crowing in my ear at an uncalled for hour, am grateful for the flaming phlegm in my throat, the snakes chasing their tails through my sinuses, the smoke stuck behind my eyelids, the shards of glass in my gut, and the special ring of hell circling my head. Because if it weren’t for those handful of my least favorite things, I’d know I had some serious problems.
All of us can think of a friend whose father (or mother for that matter), we came to understand, was in an entirely different league when it came to the science of cirrhosis. The man who falls asleep fully clothed with a snifter balanced over his balls, then up and out the door before sunrise—like the rest of the inverted vampires who do their dirty work during the day in three piece suits. Maybe it was a martini at lunch, or several cigarettes an hour to take the edge of. Whatever it was, whatever it took, they always made it out, and they always came back, for the family and to the refrigerator, filled with the best friends anyone can afford.
Our friends’ fathers came of age in the bad old days that fight it out, for posterity, in the pages of books, uneasy memories and the wishful thinking of TV reruns: the ‘50’s. These are men who have never opened a bottle of wine and have no use for imported beer, men who actually have rye in their liquor cabinets—who still have liquor cabinets for that matter. These are men who were raised by men that never considered church or sick-days optional, and the only thing they disliked more than strangers was their neighbors. Men who didn’t believe in diseases and didn’t drink to escape so much as to remind themselves exactly what they never had a chance to become. Theirs was an alcoholism that did not involve happy hours and karaoke contests; theirs was a sit down with the radio and a whiskey sour, a refill with dinner and one before, during and after the ballgame. Or maybe they’d mow the lawn to liven things up, tinker under the hood of a car that had decades to go before it could become a classic. Or perhaps friends would come over to play cards. Sometimes a second bottle would get broken out. This was a slow burn of similar nights: stiff upper lips, the sun setting on boys playing baseball, mothers sitting on the couch watching TVs families did not yet own, of forced smiles battling bottled tears in the bottom of a coffee mug, of amphetamines and affairs, overhead fans and undernourished kids, of evening papers and a creeping conviction that there is no God, of poets unable to make art out of the mess they’d made of their lives.
It was a hard time where people did not live happily ever after, if they ever lived at all. It was a time, in other words, not unlike our own.
You can’t go home again. But return flights operate on more literal levels.
Up and away in a matter of moments, back to where we came from. I look out my window: the hurried horizon, no longer keeping up, then retreating in mist beneath the tops of the trees. I look down, far below, where miniature people inside miniature cars sit in miniature rows, stoically and slowly moving forward in the directions of their miniature houses and the miniature respites that may or may not await them. The sky continues to sag, ensnaring everything around it in an ancient embrace. The people, and then the cars, and then the earth all slip away, leaving only lights that shine like our money tells them to. I look down at the waning waves of lights, and these lights do not look like a thousand sets of eyes, they do not make the darkness more discernible, they do not appear as poetry. They are exactly what they are: they are progress, they are pain, they are power. They are the calm crucible of machines that control the lives of the men who made them.
Transaction completed, the flight attendant hands me my drink. What can I get for you, she had asked. Scotch on the rocks, I said either out of habit or because I really wanted one and was more than a little convinced that I needed one. I tip the miniature bottle and the ice underneath sighs in agony or ecstasy, or both, and begins to do its job. The art of the in-flight cocktail, which I endorsed and practiced back in the days when I used to drink: take it slow and savor it. Stop and breathe, get in close and take a good look. Get your nose in there and smell it. Slow and sweet.
Shake it softly, let the ice insinuate its way around the alcohol. Eventually you can tease it a little with your tongue; it is as much about the experience as it is the gratification. You won’t need to remind yourself to take it slow: only amateurs or the immature want to rush things.
It is always a minor (or, if it has been too long, a major) revelation how amazing it can be. As long as you respect it, can control your passion and indulgence, it always tastes like the first time. Inevitably, it will all be over before it even started.
This is not necessarily something to regret so much as resignedly acknowledge: these are the unalterable rules of engagement. The moisture builds, and it will work toward easing that slight burn in the back of your throat. When you finally put it to your lips, it offers total return on investment.
It is an art one has to understand in order to properly appreciate. It becomes a matter of commitment. Let the ice mellow that alcohol for a long time, as long as you can stand it. Maybe you close your eyes and think it over a while longer. If you allow the feelings to flow, it might take longer than you expect. You might even forget who you are or what you wanted.
“Can I get that for you?”
The flight attendant, otherwise occupied or indifferent, doesn’t seem to notice when I dump my perfectly beaded, untouched plastic highball into her overstuffed bag.