Monday, October 31, 2016

Wine Critics in Hell Act 5


Hell, recognizable as a natural wine bar in Lodi, is crawling with dead wine critics. Much like an editorial meeting at Wine Enthusiast. Parker is at a table in the corner, a 97 on the Marlon Brando scale. Laube is at the bar passed out, mustache-deep in the peanut shells. Suckling sits alone, contentedly staring at his image in the large mirror behind the bar. Matt Kramer is pacing, agitated about something. Feiring is sitting at the bar upset that no one is paying attention to her—it’s as if Hell is her life on endless replay. Galloni, who has just entered Hell, is looking around, taking his measure of the place. There is also a Bartender, who only observes and never speaks, and a Stranger, who is at a table by himself, and now seems to be playing with a Ouija board.

Kramer: I need to get out of here. I don’t understand this place. What am I doing in Hell with a bunch of wine critics? Where’s everybody else? I thought Hell would be full of all kinds of people, people from all walks of life. Not just wine critics. I hate wine critics. I have to spend eternity with other wine critics? I mean, I was an asshole and everything, but even I don’t deserve this. What are we doing here?

Stranger: You may as well sit down, Kramer. You’re not going anywhere. You’re never going anywhere. It’s been decided.

Kramer: What do you mean, “It’s been decided?”

Stranger: (he looks up from his Ouija board and takes a deep, contemplative breath) I mean, it’s been decided. It’s done. There’s no appeal. OK, look at it this way. All of you here made snap judgments about wines. It’s what you did for a living. You tasted them, you maybe sat with them for an hour or so; or maybe you just Sucklinged them, gave them an off-the-cuff rating. No matter. You made a judgment, and you moved on. The wine was forever stuck with your rating, with your pronouncement. It would be, eternally, an 89-Point wine. You know what an 89-Point wine smells like? It smells like failure, my friends. And now all of you have been rated. You’re stuck with the pronouncement. There’s no changing the reviews. You’ve suffered the same fate as the wines you wrote about, the wines you rated. You’re in 89-Point Hell. Where all decisions are final.

Kramer: But why put us all together? And why here?

(The Stranger just stares at his Ouija board, his hands following the planchette as it moves over the board’s letters. He occasionally smiles.)

Galloni: (standing over the Ouija board, following the movements) The real question, Kramer, is what am I doing here? It’s pretty obvious what all of you are doing here. You’re old. The only thing you could smell at the end was your reputations decaying. Notes of forest floor and hubris. Your scores were starting to creep up annually, just like your old-man-pants. Your subscribers were dying off like polar bears—lumbering old white creatures, living fossils of a different age, destined for extinction in a world not meant for their kind anymore. The whole wine business was focused on selling wine to Millennials, and using wine critics a thousand years old. Perfect. But, still, what the Hell am I doing here?

Parker: Oh, doing what you always do, Antonio. Following me.

Feiring: (rather meekly) I didn’t rate wines. Why am I here? I saved the world from Parkerization.  I was the antithesis of what these…gentlemen…stood for. I championed the little guys, the natural winemakers, the men and women who strove to make honest wines, wines that spoke of terroir, wines made with minimal intervention. How is that the same as what these men were doing? Assigning numbers to an endless parade of wines that essentially taste exactly the same. Wines made by formula. CBS sit-com wines. Parker’s numbers were just the laugh track. Laugh tracks exist to convince you the sit-com is actually funny when you know better. Scores are there to convince you the wine is great when, really, you know better. Ratings are canned, just like more and more wines will be. (On the verge of tears) I can’t believe I’m stuck here with these human laugh tracks.

Suckling: Oh, get over it, Alice. The truth is, you should feel honored to be here. We’re all more powerful and influential critics than you ever were. We don’t know why you’re here either. Although it occurs to me that maybe we’re not actually here.

Kramer: If only.

Suckling: (excitedly) No, listen, Matt, what if this is not Hell? I mean, what if this isn’t our Hell? What if we’re just in Parker’s Hell?

(The bartender laughs loudly. Everyone turns to look at him. He grins sheepishly and goes back to polishing the Riedels, most of which break off at the stem“Riedel: The Official Stemware of Eternal Damnation”®.)

Kramer: So, Suckling, you’re saying we’re not dead, we’re just here in this stinking natural wine bar because we’re in Parker’s Hell?

Suckling: Oh, we’re dead alright. Doesn’t take a genius to know that. We’re dead as a Samsung smartphone. But maybe this is Parker’s personal Hell, and he’s summoned us up, or someone has summoned us up, because our presence here makes this his personal Hell.

Parker: (laughing) I like it! Christ, Suckling, that might be the only smart thing you’ve ever said. I was kind of thinking along the same lines when Antonio walked in here. “What fresh Hell can this be?” That’s a quote from another Parker.

Suckling: Somewhere there’s a personal wine Hell for all of Us! If this were my Hell, for sure Shanken would be here. And the guy who does my hair. But look around. Feiring, Kramer, Suckling, Laube, Galloni—enemies and impersonators. This isn’t our Hell, Matt, it’s Bob’s Hell!

Stranger: (still fiddling with his Ouija board) That’s an interesting theory, Suckling. I have to say, it makes a certain amount of sense. And I’ve just finished consulting with my office (he nods towards the Ouija board). Guess who’s coming to dinner?

(The Stranger hands the piece of paper he’s been using to write down the letters transcribed from the Ouija board to Suckling. Suckling reads the letters one at a time.) 

Suckling: J-A-Y M-I-L-L-E-R

Parker: Shit.


Mike Dunne said...

Who is filling in for the HoseMaster this week, Samuel Beckett or Leonard Cohen? At once, dark and brilliant.

Paul in St. Augustine said...

"Your subscribers were dying off like polar bears—lumbering old white creatures, living fossils of a different age, destined for extinction in a world not meant for their kind anymore." Trump voters?

Marcia Macomber said...

Bwah ha ha ha ha! Happy Halloweeeeeeeeeenie! Jay Miller. Love it!

Ron Washam, HMW said...

Dark and brilliant? Like Michelle Obama? I wasn't aiming at a famous playwright in this act, I was just trying to improvise and see where my subconscious was going to take me. It might be dark enough for Beckett, but not vaudevillian enough. Leonard Cohen? Maybe. Did he win a Nobel Prize? For Chemistry?

The polar bear analogy was a stretch. I got stuck in the middle of that little speech and settled for it. But in a way, you're right. Trump represents an idealized America to the downtrodden, an America that never existed. Maybe wine critics kind of do the same, selling an image of wine that is idealized and fake. Though what the hell polar bears have to do with it is anyone's guess.

Marcia Love,
Once I decided it might be just Parker's Hell, then I knew why the Ouija board snuck into the script. That's the fun of writing--finding out as you go what's actually going on. The mind is an amazing, and scary, place. Happy Halloween, indeed.

Charlie Olken said...

I sometimes wonder if I am now older than my polar bears, but both they and I keep lumbering onward. All those guys in Hell. I have outlasted all of them and Heimoff who no longer exists. He just went poof--although I realize that here in SF, there may be another meaning to that experience.

Aaron said...

Nice dig at current events with the Samsung phone, lol.

Samantha Dugan said...

Ron My Love,

I'm with Mike here, I get a darker vibe from this piece than any of the others so far and for that I loved this one. Does have me wondering whom might show up in your personal hell, and got me making a list for mine. Dug it Baby!
I love you

Ron Washam, HMW said...

My Gorgeous Samantha,

It's not intentionally darker, just following where my twisted mind takes me. It's a dark piece to begin with, it's about, I guess, the death of our current set of wine critics. Every great comedy has a bit of darkness to it, and scenes that are very dark. I guess Act 5 is one of those.

I'm glad you liked it, Love. It's been a lot of fun, and very interesting, to write.

I love you, too.

Unknown said...

To quote one of my British instructors of many years ago...'you, sir, are having entirely too much fun...". Keep it coming. I'm jealous!