Confessions of a Designated Driver

Cheers!The following account represents a work of non-fiction; any semblance to fictional characters, unreal or imagined, is purely coincidental. And while the author assures us of the tale’s veracity, some of those involved wish to remain anonymous – lest some stubborn brain cells that survived the flood of alcohol happen to remember any details the author has the decency to forget.

“Party foul!”

“Explain to me why we’re not leaving yet?” I sigh, quickly mopping the spilt fluid from the table. My uncle had suggested some minutes ago after Ryan had dribbled a large quantity of beer onto his shirt that ‘no drop of precious ale shall go to waste,’ to which my brother responded by sucking the errant liquid from his clothing. Thus, I offered to clean any spills before either uncle or brother could lap these escaped droplets from the warped and peeling tabletop. Tongue-splinters I did not need. Continue reading

Advertisements

The Fool’s Guide to Wine-Tasting

wine_bottle_glassThe first skill of any successful wine connoisseur necessitates the ability to speak the lingo or at least French. I reason that people are more likely to tell you what you’re suppose to taste if can correctly pronounce the label. This in turn allows the fake connoisseur to easily impress his or her friends while still having little to no idea about which you are talking. Take for instance Saturday’s wine tasting party at one of the local colleges, a lavish affair full of wine merchants and connoisseurs alike, the perfect setting to test my use of the vernacular:

“Yes, this particular white possesses a good finish with an oaky flavor, cultured for years by the French who as you well know, know wine,” the attendant laughed, after I had correctly pronounced Viognier. Vee-oh-nay.

“Oh yes, that is oaky,” I tell Mom and Tiff with a sip.  “I can taste the oak.”

“Can you?” Mom asks.  “Is that the sharp bitter taste?  Is that the oak?”

“Uh . . . sure,” I shrug.

“I don’t know about trees,” Tiff scowls, “but this definitely tastes like unwashed Frenchmen. Next table!”

Tiffany’s aim for the evening – apart from making goo-goo eyes at the chocolate fountain – which I had seen first and thus claim dibs – was to locate a brand of white wine as sweet and drinkable as Linganorre’s Mountain White.  In her efforts to locate said brand the countless sampling had induced a fit of intense giggling, which Mom echoed, much like a mother loon cooing over her child’s first manic dive into the water.

Station 5 featured two white wines and a Merlot, which Mom sampled.  Tiff chose the cabernet, while I sought the subtlety of the Pinot Grigio.

“And you sir?”

“Yes, can I have a bit of the Grigio, please?”  I said this nonchalantly, well-practiced in my wine-merchant slang, certain that the attending seller would immediately sense that cultured air – or at least the reek of wino.  Possibly he would proffer a full glass instead of the usual sampling to reward me.

“Excuse me?”

“The Grigio.  The Pinot Grigio,” My use of the vernacular was perfect.  I ordered my wine with suave charm, a Yankee-born Sean Connery introducing himself as the world’s foremost secret agent.  In true Bond style, I tried to straighten my tie but, upon finding none, feigned a neck rash.

“Uh . . . we don’t have any Pinot Grigio here.  Only a Pinot Noir . . . Um, sir, do you need some ointment?”

“Oh no, no, I’m.fine.  Just a bug bite.  You say pinot noir?”

“Yes, would you like a sample?”

“Um, sure,” I fumble.  My eyes glazed a little, refocusing on a spot just to the right of the man’s ear. “Musta’ve read the label . . . wrong.  That’s red, right?”

“Yes, sir,” the server smiled.  “Dry but an excellent wine.  This particular winery has been growing grapes for nearly fifty years in Napa Valley.”  He poured me a hearty glass – perhaps out of pity – and turned his attention to another taster.

Humbled, my feet shuffle me over to the girls, who naively – and effectively – decided their next selection solely on the color.

“What is that you’re have, Murph?” Mom asked while Tiff finished off her sample, coughing.

wine_basket“Oh some pinot noir,” I shrugged sipping slowly, rinsing away the unpleasant taste of humble pie.  “It’s not bad.  Dry though, not a lot of taste.”  That guy in the movie Sideways waxed poetry about pinot noir; therefore, until inspired or drunk, I would uncover its secrets.

“Ugh . . .” Tiff moaned.  “Like sandpaper in the throat.  I think I need a chocolate fountain to wash this down.  If only we had one near . . . oh, there she blows!*”  [NOTE: This last phrase was in truth not uttered at all but is merely the product of interpreting the speaker’s squeals (Kyaaa!) and the author’s latest literary excursion through the works of Herman Melville.]

My sister-in-law scampered off to cavort among the strawberries and pound cake, piled near the fountain.  Pat had joined us again when she returned, her cheeks full with chocolate-dunked fruit, her chin adorned with a chocolate-goatee.

“They turned the fountain off.  It’s just a chocolate pool now.  I had trouble dipping the pound cake without causing any to crumble,” Tiff said, stabbing a piece of chocolate-coated cake with her skewer.  “But if you pierce it lengthwise, directly in the center, all is good . . .”

Pat and I discovered the entrance to the kitchen and positioned ourselves appropriately in front, like roadside bandits lying in ambush.  Quickly we relieved our servers of their dainties: barbequed pineapple-chicken, steamed shrimp and peppers, spinach pasties, and warm asparagus wrapped in prosciutto.  Using complimentary glass clips, we attached our wine glasses to our plates as we walked around, giving Dad the opportunity to talk to some clients.  Mom sampled some cheeses that supposedly enhanced the taste of her merlot.

clip“Hey hon,” Pat said turning to Tiff.  “Do you want some che . . . uh, what are you doing?”  My sister-in-law was sucking on her glass clip.

“Awhaaa,” she laughed, re-attaching her clip.  “Some chocolate fell on it.  I was just cleaning it off.  Hey, Ms. Patty, we should try the other room again.”

Mom walked home with nearly twelve-hundred dollars worth of wine, procured with the wine god’s blessing in raffle.  The prize proved a double-edged sword though as upon discovering the one-hundred dollar per bottle price tag, she vowed to never open any of it.

Humbled I walked out, my head full of wine and empty of all pretension . . . or my precious jargon.

On the way to the car, lumbering under the weight of six bottles of wine and one faux copper-green fiberglass bowls each, Pat and I pleaded with our claustrophobic mother to take the elevator in lieu of walking down the required four flights of stairs.  Under the influence and fearing the safety of her swag she relented, confident that if the machine should fail ample rations – of the liquid variety – would be available until help arrive.

wine_grabAs the doors swung shut, sealing her inside, Mom’s eyes bulged with terror.  Wildly scanning our cell, she screamed: “Oh no!  Does anyone have a corkscrew?!”

We of course did not, but Tiff eased Mom’s panic with a little MacGuyver-ism.  “Don’t worry Ms. Patty, if we need to, we can just break off the neck and drink it that way.  You know, like pirates.”

Somehow this seemed to work, though honestly how she intended to break off the neck without breaking the bottle or worse spilling the wine is beyond me.  Still Mom calmly stood (or wobbled) while the elevator continued its ride down, choosing to breathe again only when the doors opened.  Laughing the girls met the cool night air, and discussed their favorite brands as we walked to the car.  Half-way home I managed to glance back at Mom, as she fallen fast asleep her arms gently embracing the two large tubs of wine, cuddled beside her.

Pished

Any other day, my family drives me to drink – an expression here which means “seek out escape through madness or perversion” – yet last night proved quite literally the reverse. As of midnight Tuesday morning, my brother Sean turned twenty-one and, like an Irish Cinderella, morphs from an innocent to a drunkard by the twelfth strike of the clock. Responsible adults that we are, we surprised Sean late in the evening while ignoring his protests of sleep and “work early next morning.” Covering his face with a black windbreaker, Katie, Mom, and I stuffed him into the back of my car like a kidnapped POW and drove off to the nearest redneck/biker bar in the county.

As I understand it, Sean loves this place, a surprisingly well-furnished roadhouse near the railroad tracks. The bar had been rebuilt years ago, reinforced now with new wood, fresh paint, and even poorer lighting than before, which I understand suits its patrons well. Many of my brother’s colleagues, fellow farmers and cattle showmen, frequent this roadhouse as a second home; thus Sean is no stranger to the sticky wet tables and peanut-blanketed floor. Whether he ever imbibed illegally at this establishment, I cannot say. I will say with certainty that tonight is not his first drink in the past five years. Everyone knows this, even Mom although she is quick to catch him admitting it:

My Pint“I want a Miller Chill,” Sean shouts through the windbreaker, his voice muffled yet clearly excited. “I’ve heard they are good.”

“How do you know?” Mom whips her head around to stare at him (which may seem absurd through his covering, but I swear that her eyes can burn holes through adamantium).

“Oh . . . um, well . . . it just looks good.”

Right. None of us buy that excuse. Neither does Mom, but at this point I suppose any argument is moot. A few more minutes and his past deceit will be wiped clean, purified with a laugh to simple childhood shenanigans and teenage memories. Her silence therefore is almost congratulatory, a vindication to crime, a medal of honor to duplicity.

We arrive at the bar, where we meet my aunt and uncle, the big partiers of my family and my godparents. Ironically enough considering how much my aunt and uncle drank and caroused in their youth, you would have thought that I would develop into more of a drinker, a pished product of my environment, instead of what I am: weekend chauffeur and designated driver. Somewhere in my education, they must have failed . . . or succeeded, depending on how you look at it.

Apart from our two cars, the parking lot is empty when we remove Sean’s shroud. He laughs, but of course, I believe that he had a good idea where we were going. Driving over the railroad tracks (with feet lifted of course, lest you never find true love – old superstition) was a big clue.

We advance to the door but find the place locked tight. Now someone – not me thank goodness – was suppose to have called the bar and made arrangements for our party at midnight. A big burly bartender sporting a colorful pair of boxers – and nothing else – informed us the bar was closed. About the time that we saw the sweat glistening off his rotund gut and his hand reach down to his nether regions for a scratch, I think Mom and my aunt decided not to argue. I for one was not going to touch anything that this hairy exhibitionist served me.

The three-toed sloth.  Thus we left deciding on another bar, an Irish pub a little further down the road, to toast and roast Sean until two in the morning. Now to me, the true joy of celebrating a twenty-first at a bar is in discovering what type of drunk my siblings were. My mom and aunt after a few shots become quite giggly and talkative: happy drunks. Alcohol however can twist and contort my sister, Katie, into a mean drunk at times. Once she stapled me a “Green Gremlin” when I offered to help her to her room, dismissing me with a wave of her hand and instructions to return to my cave. Apparently she had made other plans, you see. Choosing to grip the banister with both her hands and feet like a giant sloth, she shimmied and slid up the railing until falling on the – thankfully – carpeted stairs. She denies this, of course, but luckily I have witnesses . . . as well as a few pictures which I am saving for when she gets married.

Meanwhile, on the very few occasions when I have imbibed more than is sensible, I become a very analytical drunk, talking loudly, citing Coolidge, and inspecting my own state of delirium.

Once after four or so glasses of Jagermeister and Red Bull (a very dangerous combination, I have since learned), I discovered a shot of electricity shot along my arm whenever I stretched. This being my very first bout with alcohol, I spent the remainder of the night, trying to reason out the biology behind my condition – much to Patrick’s frustration:

“Murphey, don’t think! Just drink!” Pat rhymes when he drinks, and thus represents the poet drunk, an egregious teller of bad jokes.

“But Pat . . . Pat my arm gets so tingly when I straighten it. Like blood is suddenly surging across to my fingers. Or perhaps I am the son of Zeus. Is that normal?” I ask, flinging my arm out into several different directions to demonstrate.

My bane!Another instance – probably the worst – I had asked Pat to help me construct a few CDs, when he and I started talking about this girl I fancied who within days would be leaving for India. Distraught and foolish, we opened a cask of Crown Royal and finished off the whole bottle within a few hours. My exploits for the remainder of the night are lost in a cloud of bitter sensations, but I am told that I slid noisily down the stairs shouting “Bump!” as I rolled over each step, expressed my wonderment to my sleeping parents at this unique state of mind, and woke up Katie to discuss my love problems while citing Shakespearean sonnets, which I have since forgotten. The morning after was not pretty, but if I had won the Noble Prize for Chemistry Mom could not have been prouder.

“It’s good to break out every once in a while,” she said. I agreed, but as my head rattled and shook like a martini decanter, I promised never to find myself in that state again. Or more importantly allow anyone else to find me in such a state again.

Now Sean . . . as a blossoming lawyer, he enjoys arguing and irritating others. Drunken Sean is no different only he argues and irritates at a high volume . . . oh and he likes to sing too. Katie and Sean regaled us with several off-key refrains of Annie Lennox’s “Walking on Broken Glass.” Later they joyously shouted out some imaginative lyrics to Journey and let loosed some water in the driveway. Ah . . . the memories. That in itself made the night well worthwhile.