Monday, May 8, 2017

The M(S)etamorphosis


One morning, when Gregor Sommsa woke from troubled dreams, he found himself transformed in his bed into a horrible vermin. He lay on his tuxedoed back, and if he lifted his head a little, he could see a silver tastevin glistening in the morning sun. There was a strange pin placed ominously in his lapel, and he was certain that he could name all the rivers that course through every major wine-growing region. The bedding was barely able to cover him, and his arms, weak and thin as commercial Pinot Grigio, waved helplessly around him, each hand holding a Zalto.

“What’s happened to me?” he thought. He wasn’t dreaming. His room appeared normal, if small, and the table in the corner was covered with wine samples—Gregor was a wine sales rep—and above it there hung a picture that he’d recently cut from an illustrated lifestyle magazine that had nothing to do with wine, “Wine Spectator.” The picture showed an older balding white man, the author of a regular column in the lifestyle magazine, so it could have been any one of a dozen who fit that description.

Gregor thought he should just go back to sleep, and when he awoke, his nightmare would be over. But he liked to sleep on his stomach and the tastevin bore into his solar plexus. “I hate the world,” he thought. “My sales rep job is terrible. I spend all day sucking up to young sommeliers who lecture me on why my wines are terrible, or I have to beg them to taste a wine that got 98 points because it’s Napa Cabernet and they only want wines from Mt. Etna. They seem to think people go out to dinner because they love being around sommeliers, and being made to look ignorant. That’s not why you go out to dinner, that’s why you read Matt Kramer.”

At that moment, Gregor’s mother entered the room. Like most wine sales reps, Gregor still lived at home and was single. Gregor looked up at his mother and tried to say “Good Morning” to her, but when he spoke all he said was, “Pyrazines.” His mother looked at him with horror, unable to grasp the nightmarish image of what Gregor had become, that horrible vermin that infests fine restaurants other than roaches. She clapped her hand over her mouth and fled his bedroom, slamming the door behind her and calling for Gregor’s sister Grete.

Gregor slowly eased himself out of his bed. He could hear his family arguing about him in the other room, his mother expressing her disgust and fear at what he had become. “That’s not a real job,” she was saying to his father, “that’s just an excuse for a job. What will we tell our friends?! That our Gregor is a Master Sah…” “Don’t say it!” his father cried. “I’ll squash him like an insect if that’s what he’s become.” Gregor walked over to his table and began to put his wine samples into his rolling carrying case, as if he were going to go to work like any other day, as if nothing had changed. Then he noticed that all of his samples had changed, too. Instead of his interesting portfolio of small producers from all over the world, the wines were all from Constellation! “My God,” he thought, “I must really be that horrible vermin if this is what I have to peddle for the rest of my life!” He called out to his family, to his loving sister Grete.

“What are those horrible noises he’s making?” his mother said. “It sounded like, ‘Donkey and Goat Radikon Abbatucci Joly’” his sister said. “It’s gibberish! He must have had a stroke!” Grete rushed in to help her brother, whom she loved very much, only to find a very different man, one that made her skin crawl and her grip tighten on her purse. Gregor had gained thirty pounds, his teeth, once whiter than a WSET graduate, were stained purple, and he was looking at her lasciviously. “Creep,” she thought. And then she ran, slamming the door behind her as her mother had done. Gregor was a wine sales rep, having doors slammed in his face seemed like just another day.

When his father entered the room Gregor could see the anger and odium in his eyes. His father was carrying a copy of “Somm Journal,” and was waving it at Gregor. Gregor cowered at the publication, and felt his own unexpected wave of revulsion. He didn’t want that magazine to touch him, though he didn’t know why. His father was swatting at him with the magazine, and stomping his feet, frightening Gregor into cowering in his closet. Gregor was pleading with his father to stop, but his father showed no sign of understanding a single word out of his mouth. Content with forcing his son into the darkness, his father turned to leave the room. Gregor tried to follow, his tastevin pounding against his heart. His father turned and removed a Screwpull from his pocket, throwing it with all his might at him. It lodged in Gregor’s back as he turned to try and avoid it. Gregor screamed in pain, an unearthly sound that reminded his father of something horrible, like the beginning of another Levi Dalton podcast. Gregor didn’t know what to do, how to remove the tool. Vermin like he’d become had never known any sort of Screwpulls. He rolled around on the floor of his bedroom in agony, his father kicking at him, forcing him to crawl on his hands and knees like a maČ‹tre d’ looking for a quarter, a trail of blood from the Screwpull wound like inexcusable drops of Tannat on the carpet. Gregor whimpered, and his father told him, “Go ahead, Gregor, you’re one of them now, whine away. You’ll need it to get out those carpet stains.”

His father kicked the door shut with his foot, Gregor lay on the floor in his expensive tuxedo, and, then, finally, all was quiet.

14 comments:

Steve Lay said...

The devil is in the detail... Gregor's problem's are with the sycophant snobs that cater to and reinforce the delusional self worth inherent in many somm...'s. (Sorry I can't add to the dlusion by spelling out the full title.) In the early West there was another name for this craft, I think it had to do with oil and snakes.

Amanda Barnes said...

One of my favourite Kafka tales of all time! Lovely metamorphosis HoseMaster. I'm going to lean down to the next beetle I meet for a chat about pyrazines...

Ron Washam, HMW said...

Steve,
Hey, that's me you're talking about. And I only sold natural snake oil. Thanks for being a common tater. Becoming an endangered species these days.

My Sweet Amanda,
Many thanks! Luckily, you talking to beetles won't seem strange to anyone! It's when they respond you're in trouble.

I had no plans to write a Kafka parody. And then I woke up from troubled dreams on Saturday with that famous first sentence in my head, out of nowhere. Can't remember the last time I read any Kafka. I went back and read "The Metamorphosis" and loved the darkness and gruesomeness and alienation of it. Once I thought of calling him "Sommsa" the piece just sort of wrote itself. I only had to decide what kind of horrible vermin Gregor had become. So many choices...

Smooch! Thanks for being a common tater, Love. Come back often.

Amanda Barnes said...

It's such a dark tale, I adore it. Gregor Sommsa is the perfect sommelier name. In fact, I'm sure I've met a couple...

donhab said...

The thinking man's satire. Brilliant.

Unknown said...

This could be one of the best yet - ah, the travails of lugging around a case of Constellation wines................ Maybe we could make a "pousse-wine" like that old layered cocktail drink? That way we could sample 12 bottles with 1 straw???

Don Clemens said...

So dark... The sustained anxious mood, combined with the great "inside the industry" shots, make this post a tour de force! I immediately felt the same senses of sympathy and revulsion that I had when reading Kafka's version.

Ron Washam, HMW said...

My Sweet Amanda,
For me, it's often the case that a character name drives a piece. My HoseMaster brain wouldn't let me stop thinking about Kafka, and then when I sat down to write the name Gregor Sommsa immediately came to mind and I was off and running. I love the process of writing. Always have. Though for a sommelier name, I've always preferred Larry Anosmia MS.

Donhab,
Thank you. Not a lot of thinking going on in the wine blog world. I try to do more than my share. With mixed results...

Unknown,
Ahh! The Pousse-Cafe! Haven't thought about that for a long time. I'm pretty sure most of the newborn "mixologists" would be unable to assemble one. Though I can't say I ever ordered one or consumed one. They look disgusting.

Don,
If you think that was good, you should have read mine in the original German.

Aaron said...

Is that a photo of you as a young somm...err...sales rep? :P

Very creepy tale. Could almost be from a classic Sci-Fi novelist. Say, L. Ron Hubbard.

Ron Washam, HMW said...

Aaron,
I always think Kafka looks like the young Frankie Valli.

And fuck that Ol' Mutha Hubbard.

Thanks for being a reliable common tater, Aaron!

Aaron said...

Mmm... 'taters... Nice and bland and goes perfect with that commercial Pinot Grigio. You can actually taste the lovely delicate bouquet. =D

Dave Miner said...

And for my next trick. Decanterbury Tales! Sehr gut herr Hose!

Ron Washam, HMW said...

Dave,
Hey, that's good--Decanterbury Tales. Catchy title. But I'm too lazy to brush up on my Chaucer to write it. Thanks for chiming in.

Falco Peregrinus said...

Truly brilliant HoseMaster, it reminds me of whoever it was said that Humor is Despair's way of being polite.