Thursday, July 30, 2015
EPHEMERA: Happy to Be a Recovering Sommelier
I keep a list of ideas for possible pieces on HoseMaster of Wine™. Now and then, an idea comes to me that I absolutely love, but eventually find unworkable. Many pieces are “easy.” They write themselves. The moment Randall Grahm’s crowdfunding proposal hit the press, I received five or six emails from people and friends in the wine business wanting me to lampoon him. It felt so much like a kind of Command Performance, that I thought about ignoring the whole thing. But then I read Randall’s proposal, and it’s comedy iron pyrite—and I’m the Fool who grabs that gold. I always hope that every piece turns out to be funny, perhaps enlightening, but also that, at the very least, it comes from an interesting angle. Wine writing on the Intergnats is so godawful boring. But I always struggle with the fear that I’ve gone too far. I have to summon a bit of satirist courage to finally hit “Publish.” I don’t mind offending people, but I want to offend the right people. However, all that’s different than just having an idea that I can’t quite manage to express in my comedic voice.
My unworkable recent idea was deceptively simple. What if at the Wine Blog Awards ceremony they had a death montage? Every awards show worth anything at all has that two or three minute photo montage of those among its ranks who died in the past year. We all watch death montages intensely, don’t we? It’s gripping to see that people more famous and more accomplished than we are die, often gruesomely, or at their own hand. Why not have a few minutes at the Poodles devoted to all the wine blogs that died in the past year? You can see the satiric possibilities here. And I actually love the idea.
When I tried to write it, well, nothing happened. Everything I wrote stunk (no surprise there, I can here Will Lyons saying, the humorless douchebag). It’s happened before. Last month, I had another “brilliant” idea to write a piece about a telethon to raise money for Short Man’s Disease. I had about half of a public service announcement written, which focused on the tragic and heart-wrenching case of a well-known wine critic, but it just didn’t work. It tried too hard. Too petty, maybe. Which on this blog seems impossible, I know. So I simply abandoned it.
All of this to say that sometimes the best pieces are the ones I decide not to write.
I’m glad that I’m not a sommelier anymore. I’m a recovering sommelier. I’m glad because it’s become a young person’s game. A man my age isn’t really welcome in the sommelier community, unless you can do something for them, like give them some stupid degree. I’m a dinosaur, an oldfuckosaurus. I think it would be creepy for everyone involved if I attended lavish wine events at my age. First of all, it would be hard for me not to be annoyed by all the worst qualities of a young sommelier that remind me of myself at that age. Only, at that age, I was still on my way to becoming a sommelier. Not through exams or pursuing an alphabet after my name, but through learning restaurant service and hospitality, as well as humility in the face of the dauntingly difficult task of learning about wine. But I still possessed a number of annoying qualities that I see all the time in younger wine experts—arrogance, bald-faced lying about the extent of my wine knowledge, overindulgence, and stupid, childish wine oneupmanship. Sommeliers of both sexes are forever wagging their dicks at each other.
Comedy would have been the same way, I think, had I stayed part of it. Comedy writing is, also, a young person’s game. It consumes you. As wine consumes you when you first truly fall in love with it. You live and breathe it. And then one day, twenty years in, you realize it’s ultimately not that important. That being a sommelier isn’t much of an accomplishment. That writing endless setups and punchlines for someone else to deliver is more assembly line work than it is creatively rewarding. And suddenly the rest of your life opens up to you. You go back to other long lost loves, you spend more time with friends and family. You start to restructure your priorities, discover what truly matters in life. Love and courage and kindness. And that’s the point when the industry is done with you.
If you try to pass along that “wisdom,” who will listen? No one. Don’t get me wrong. I loved being a sommelier. I’ve rarely met anyone in life who loves his/her career more than I loved mine. And when I find someone new to wine who I think loves wine as much as I do, I try to help her. But I know I’m a has-been. Writing HoseMaster of Wine™ is simply a way to try not to be a has-been, both in wine and in comedy. It doesn’t work, but it’s fun. Unexpectedly, it’s been a place where my experiences in both lines of work has come together and made me happy. This is completely surprising to me, and also why I’m still here twice a week. Some of you come here only for the laughter, some seem to like when I talk about wine. I don’t much care. I like to do both. And so I do.