Thursday, August 1, 2013
According to the stats on my Google Blogger dashboard, this is my 300th post for HoseMaster of Wine™. A few of them were reruns--“Best of HoseMaster,” an oxymoron if there ever was one. But I also wrote more than fifty posts on the original incarnation of the blog, now expunged from the Intergnats, so 300 is a fair number. And a big number. It’s my excuse for a bit of self-indulgence. Consider yourself warned. This will be dull.
I have some regrets about my work here. I wish I had taken it more seriously. So many of my pieces were written in haphazard fashion, and are painfully sloppy to me in retrospect. When I go back through my Archives (a fancy word for what amounts to a compost heap), I am usually embarrassed. There are pieces I’m proud of, but, for the most part, my work has been driven by the need to just get it done, get something posted, keep up with my gluttonous blog. My excuse was that I was writing for free. The truth is, I was lazy.
Writing satirically about wine, and the wine business, combines the two things I have loved most in my life—comedy writing and wine. I began writing jokes around the age of 10. Once a week, at Lowell Elementary School, children in the fifth grade spent an hour at “religious studies.” Amazing, right? The Catholic kids went to one classroom, the Jewish kid (yup, one kid) was in another, the Christian kids yet another. I wasn’t of any denomination, had never attended a place of worship of any kind, unless you count Dodger Stadium. So I was allowed a free hour to do whatever I wanted in the classroom, as long as it was quiet and harmless. I wrote. I wrote jokes, and I wrote science fiction stories featuring the amazing Dr. Cucumber. Yes, Freud would have had a field day with Dr. Cucumber. Thanks to not believing in any God, I became funny.
Writing is serious business to me. I think about it often, and I care about it deeply. I write, at some level, because reading takes us out of time. When you read, as you are reading these words, time recedes to the background, and, for those hours or minutes you are reading, you step outside of time and live in your memory, all by yourself, in places where time no longer matters. Nothing else does this. When I write for HoseMaster, I write to take folks away from their lives for a few minutes to laugh. I know what it’s like for you. You read my crapola with a growing anticipation of when your laughs will come—sometimes, they never do. You aren’t thinking about your marriage or your job or your toothache, you’re hoping a laugh will come by soon. And even if I don’t make you laugh, even if I make you angry, or squeamish, or disgusted, you’ve stepped out of time for those moments and, I hope, become yourself for a bit. You choose what you laugh at here—my cruelty, my silliness, my absurdity—but you choose to come here, of all the places you might choose, to escape time for a few minutes, and I’m deeply flattered.
I don’t get writer’s block. There’s no such thing. It’s as imaginary as Gold Medals and perfect 100 point wines. My father worked in factories his entire life, and he never once had “assembly line block.” Writing is work. Avoiding it is easy, and has its pleasures. I can go on writing HoseMaster until I reach 10,000 posts, though I won’t. And I won’t ever have writer’s block. There are ideas around us all the time, right there, right in front of our eyes and noses. We have only to give them voice to give them life. I don’t believe anyone walks away from their blog because they’re out of ideas. They walk away because it doesn’t seem worth it, or because they have no audience. In many ways, it’s not worth it. I want to walk away at least once a week. But then I’ll write a joke that seems lovely, even perfect, and I want to feel that feeling again. Where the joke comes from, I don’t have even the slightest idea. The best ones seem to arrive on imaginary stone tablets, handed down from a comedy God. I simply proclaim them. And when those jokes are delivered to me, it’s a unique experience. It’s rare, it’s always unexpected, and it’s addictive. So I keep writing. Writing has always been worth it to me.
Writing comedy and satire comes from a place of anger and self-loathing. When I was much younger, this caused me no end of pain. I’d write comedy for ten hours, and be filled with sadness and rage for no readily apparent reason. With age, I’ve learned how to channel all of that, use it, control it, and not suffer from it as much. Yet I often worry about how my words might affect the people I lampoon. Satire requires fearlessness, but that doesn’t rule out insecurity or worry. I try never to pull punches, but I also try never to throw sucker punches. I believe that my targets have earned my weapons, though I’m too often guilty of using a grenade launcher when an arrow would have been adequate. The worst sorts of people in life, and I’m referring to the Rick Perrys and Sarah Palins and Ann Coulters of the world, are still human (the wine biz doesn’t really have the equivalent of those sorts of cretins). Like everyone, they deserve forgiveness, yet they also invite scorn. It’s my lot in life to deliver scorn. I leave forgiveness to people better than I.
Wine has always been seen as a gentleman’s sport. Like any sport, it’s often filled with scoundrels, liars, posers, hypocrites and charlatans. Only in the wine business, one is not supposed to point all of that out, at least not in public. I’m not a crusader, not by any means. I’m merely the Fool. But I try to choose how I approach my subjects carefully, try to go after the scoundrels, liars, posers, hypocrites and charlatans with the sharpest razor, while gently prodding those others I make fun of who just don’t know any better. I think the responses I get to my pieces tell an interesting story of how accurately I accomplish this. When I seem to have hit a jugular vein, the reaction is usually a kind of collective cringing. When I miss, perhaps cross some sort of line, the reaction is often a stunned silence. I learn from those reactions. Satire only works when the tone is right, gentle on one occasion, ferocious on another. Get the occasions confused, and it falls flat. I’ve fallen flat too often for my own liking. Yet more regret.
I have no illusions about my reach. My audience has grown over the past couple of years, but it’s still meager. Nothing about wine or wine reviewing or wine writing will change because the HoseMaster was here. There are inmates on death row with more fans. I don’t write HoseMaster to become famous in the wine business—that’s a fool’s errand, one being pursued by no end of nitwits who comment on STEVE! to boost their recognition. I don’t write it to get free wine, which is lucky because I’m pretty much a failure at that (though I have been gifted by regular readers who make wine, and it’s a lovely gesture to exchange my creative abilities with theirs). I don’t write it for money, though Tim Atkin is kind enough to pay me a bit for my pieces on his blog. I think I write it to see what I’ll say next. Or, more accurately, to see what the HoseMaster will say next.
Most of you will agree, I’m certain, that there is so little worth reading on wine blogs. The vast majority of the ones I’ve looked at are dismal—tired, talentless and trite. A collection of journeys meaningless for their collective banality. When I began HoseMaster of Wine™, three hundred pieces ago, I spent a lot of my time making fun of wine bloggers. I have no idea why. It’s the wine business, the marketing people, the professional wine writers, and the celebrity sommeliers that deserve more scorn. And so my focus has gradually shifted in their direction. Not that it matters. Yet no matter how cruel or insulting or demeaning my pieces can be, I have great fondness and love for the wine business, far more than almost anyone I know. My only talent of any kind, superficial as it might be, is writing jokes, satire, comedy, meretricious pantagruel… For me, every one of my pieces is a love letter to wine.
300 down, who knows how many more to go. I wonder, all the time, how much longer I can channel the HoseMaster. I wish people understood that the HoseMaster is not me, and I am not the HoseMaster. But wishes are the dreams of the hopeless. Meanwhile, thank you for allowing the HoseMaster into your heads twice a week. I don’t hear from very many of you who regularly read this blog, but I know you’re out there. I have no idea why, but you’re out there. I guess, just like me, you’re wondering what the HoseMaster will say next.