I was settling into my supersize comfort seat on the train home to Paris from London when I realized I brought the wrong chargers. It was the last day of the London Wine Fair. I’d spend the day reading, reviewing, posting, uploading and downloading secure in the thought that I'd be able to do some edits to the soothing sounds of Sia while my phone juiced back to life on the rail ride home. Then, after crawling under the lounger in search of the awkwardly placed outlet, I realized there was no USB slot. Digging through grab bags of wine journals, giveaway pens and promotional drip-stop foils, I found exactly: one US to France adapter, one France to UK adapter and one extra-long USB cable for my old California phone. Son of a bitch! I live plugged in. Way too much. Trying to start a business in a foreign country, my day job, the wine studies and language sessions all keep me eyes and ears deep in podcasts, online journals, emails and newsletters every single day. This being my routine, I find it disquieting when I have to unexpectedly absorb the sounds of life around me. I take breaks. Some days, I don’t want to hear a recording or read from an 8-inch screen. Some days, I like to aurally engage in the voices, footsteps, horns, door slams, dog barks and key jangles without any noise cancellation button to rescue me. But only when I want to. I hate when the choice is robbed from me by my own lazy failure to double check. F**k!!! And this is why: One dead phone = no bluetooth Spotify, Audible or Podcast Addict. For two and a half hours I endured an agonizing, encapsulated descent into the hubris and hyena laughs of four friends, strangers to me - who - without hesitation or an iota of consideration launched into riotous laughter, crude jokes, political tackiness and all the pencil-jabbing-in-my-tympanics big talk that arrogant people do to ensure that everybody in the room is aware of their amazingly average lives deluged with exaggeration and drowned in cockiness. It’s like a big middle finger of "Envy me, Motherfuckers!" to every weary worker hoping for a nap, a read or a moment of damn peace before whatever awaits them at home. But hell, I’m guilty of it. Well, not anymore. Not since I learned about gratitude and how to celebrate having survived a steady swell of hell and a new appreciation for the simple goodness of every day. Jeez, did I just say that?...Must be remains from my Oprah is God days with services Monday through Friday at 4 pm, channel 7. Anyway, now I appreciate how obnoxious that kind of chatter can be for people in the room/elevator/bus/train many of whom probably live way more intense lives than me - for better or worse. All of those exaltations are envied only by those who haven’t found themselves like a girl I used to know in middle school who made suicide threats every time her boyfriend tried to break up with her. Save for those sad souls, the rest of us don’t give a shit.
-“Yeah, I knew I’d get to the bottom of it all. That guy was a joke and I totally exposed him.”
-“Oh my god! I got the worst sunburn on our cruise two weeks ago. My doctor told me to wear sunscreen. He’s useless. I fired him.”
-"My friend’s boss's ex-brother-in-law might feature my dad’s wine cellar in the Better Homes and Gardens holiday edition. I can get you signed copies.”
Despite the unwilling audience’s attempts to look and listen the other way, the consciously casual effort of the quartet to win our admiration desperately deteriorated along with the class of their conversation.
-"Duh. ‘Cause it’s a rotary not a round-a-bout, you idiot!”
Predictably, the tragic jabs became a full-on joust for the titles of funniest, wittiest (not the same thing), smartest and coolest. For the profoundly insecure, you can throw in wealthiest and prettiest. Yes, prettiest in 2019. The banter got bigger and bolder. It fell from jolly debates about rigged slot machines and 90s grunge bands to straight up audaciousness:
-“Does it count if it was a hooker? Oh soooorrrrryyyyy 'sex worker'?”
-“What poor people really ought to do to help themselves is…”
-“Dude, that was ONE TIME!" (insert: smoking crack, sex on a plane, shoplifting or public nudity).
All of it doused - like gasoline on a flame - with spontaneous eruptions of:
-“Shit man, seriously!?!”
And they weren't even drunk.
My point is, why do we do this? Specifically, why do we do it so much in this industry? I have heart for my blind consumer days. You could have sold me bottled kool-aid if it spared me from staring down long rows of dark glass wondering if gifting a buy-one/get-one would make me look cheap.
I’ve done it. Well, I almost did it. Once, I was charged with selecting and presenting the pièce de résistance wine to be shared with friends at dinner. I volunteered for this task two months in advance and spent hours researching the perfect wine. I finally decided on something from my own modest collection; one I couldn’t wait to get into and feared might be too early to open. But it was the most impressive thing I had and I was on a budget and not about to drop a hundred dollars on something new. My plan was this: If the wine is too young, I’ll just wash on some eloquence about its nuance in the teen years. “In another decade or so this will be magic.” All true by the way, but hey, they wouldn’t know a good wine if they drank it and besides, I’m the one with the credentials. Turns out, the damn thing was magic. Even I didn’t see it coming. Whew!
But the fact is this: When the food is on the table and the napkin on the lap, a tart or turned wine just won’t cut it. They may buy the bullshit at dinnertime, but the truth will win out as the preference gradually switches to tea. Still where does that come from, the impetus to make my friends feel like a two so I can feel like a ten. Now who’s being an asshole?
When I started out, I swore I wouldn’t be that person. I said to myself that when I got good, I would honor my adventurous and clueless days by never calling a four an ace no matter how much the liar next to me tried to up-sell toilet water for a commission (be nice, we all have our tastes). Kindness in all things I suppose, but integrity first. In rapid succession, I worked hard to go from green to fair then a little harder to advance from fair to pretty good followed by comfortable and the inevitable proud. The pride, however, came with a solid fear of public demotion should I ever misjudge a wine then the blessed deliverance of realizing I don't know nearly as much as I've yet to learn.
After that dinner, I renewed my commitment to truth in all things wine based on a commonly accepted professional calibration which itself is not entirely resolute though less vacillating than a round of ask the internet. I also learned to keep a sparkling cider and a plays-well-with-others medium Pinot at the ready, just in case I need a no bullshit backup.. After all, I’m not about to suffer that mistake again.