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

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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.

Southeast of Disorder

A Tale from Margarittaville (A True Fiction)

“Ok, Scott, it’s your job to protect your brothers. Make sure they don’t drink or smoke or go near any topless girls, ok?” His mother gives me the speech between swigs of Corona. Aubrey sits beside her on large fold-out chairs munching grapes; their eyes bore into Scott’s like lasers.

“We trust you, ok? Don’t let us down,” Aubrey added, popping another grape. She had not released him from her gaze yet. Scott stood as one transfixed.

“Paul and Mr. Don are walking with us too s-so . . .” Stammering like a child, I mutter a few excuses, trying to pawn off or at least share my impending failure.

“My husband and my father,” Aubrey began with a frown, “will not watch your brothers. They are already too busy drinking as it is, to keep an eye on teenage boys. Dad alone has had six beers already. Meanwhile you’re . . .”

“Sober,” Scott said with a sigh.

“Responsible,” his mother countered. “We can trust you to do what is right.”

Ouch, he thought.

"Particularly the red ones!  They're quite potent."

"Particularly the red ones! They're quite potent!"

The two women released Scott from their grasp and returned to talk of pools and the upcoming school year. He turned around and walks off like a whipped dog, his shoulders heavy. His brother, Matthew’s head had already disappeared through the rows of parked cars, colorful tents, and margarita machines. Scott sped up to catch the group. A few of his father’s friends offered him a drink, in passing, which he declined politely, feigning a headache which he discovered as he sprint to be quite authentic.

“Oh, and keep your brothers away from those syringes,” his mother shouted from under our tent. “Particularly the red ones! They’re quite potent!”

Scott nearly chuckled at the futility of my mission. Avoiding temptation? Preventing the occasional libation? A necrophiliac in a funeral parlor stood better chances of learning temperance than his brothers did of avoiding alcohol at this concert.

He did some basic chemistry in his head:

— Mix together:

1. Our 2008 Jimmy Buffett concert.

2. One bus full of friends, family, beer and booze.

3. One cooler of syringe-packed Jello shooters.

4. Several football fields of tailgating Parrotheads, beautiful co-eds, and drunken cowboys, all eager to intoxicate anyone regardless of age or state law.

5. My three under-age brothers.

— Now buffer the solution with the following:

1. Mom’s orders. NOTE: this step is easily dismissed and forgotten.

2. One non-drinking older brother bestowed with the mission of keeping them all alcohol-free . . . or else.

— Finally stir in my fellow chaperons:

1. Paul and his father-in-law, Don, both buzzed and ready to displace the blame:

“Whatever you guys do, I didn’t see it. I wasn’t there. Ok?”

— The product: a slightly alcoholic solution producing mass euphoria or headaches, depending on blood-alcohol levels. Mixing the products with volatile mothers can result in severe burns or lacerations . . . for us all.

. . . like a refugee camp for gypsies.

. . . a refugee camp for gypsies.

Nevertheless, Scott caught up to boys as they plotted our course through the menagerie of camps and people. Tailgating at a Jimmy Buffett concert is much like watching a circus pitch tent or a first-grader finger-paint, he thought.   You start with something dull and lifeless and simply add a bit of color and spectacle. Originally much of the land surrounding the concert pavilion is desolate and dead, covered in dusty asphalt or loose apocalyptic-gray earth, the kind that easily kicks into clouds when trampled. Scott remembered a raucous punk festival held at the same pavilion one year. Afterwards everyone including Paul and himself walked back to car covered in dirt like mutated dust bunnies.

The Buffett fans – festively called Parrotheads – typically arrive early to unfold large blue or green picnic tents, portable barbeques, and several coolers-worth of beer and snacks. Their campsite sprouts colorful leis, tropic music, and even kiddie pools. Some load sand in the back of their truck beds for makeshift beaches. The odor of generator exhaust and gas grills perfumes the air, mixing with sizzling cheeseburgers, steamed shrimp, and succulent pork barbeque. Scott spied carven ice sculptures for drinking games and paper-mache volcanoes fitted over port-a-potties – appropriately entitled “Wastin’ Away.”  Tropical birds from nearby pet shops and zoos squawk from chalk-colored campers. Cars and vans were fitted with plywood shark fins, biplanes, and palm trees; hammocks stretched out between bumpers. It was like passing through a refugee camp for gypsies, and Scott and his brothers soaked in every sight, sound, and skimpy bikini.

. . . every sight, sound, and skimpy bikini.

. . . every sight, sound, and skimpy bikini.

The girls were the least of his problems. As long as all the important parts were covered, the boys could stare at bikini-clad beauties all day long, Scott thought. My worries rested on the cup of Corona they are carrying.

Of course the concert pavilion does maintain cops and security, watching for drunken brawls, passed-out party-goers, and underage drinking; however, the general rule was that while yellow bottles of Corona attracted attention (not to mention had potential use as a weapon) the ubiquitous red drinking cups did not. Most Parrotheads learned to pour their beers into cups before consuming – or at least before walking around in plain view of the authorities or their mothers.

His one younger cousin, Jessica, was even ingenious enough to spike her orange Gatorade bottle, from which she casually sipped with no fear of discovery.

“I drank only half of it,” she confessed to him as they walked with a giggle. “Then I added one of orange Jello shooters to it. You swirl it around and no one notices.”

Scott’s brother Brian emerged from among a beer pong game, still celebrating his twenty-first from a few months ago. He had snuck a few bottles of Corona from the bus and filled his siblings’ empty cups – after a stern word from Paul – once the group had traveled well out of range.

“Believe me, guys,” Paul whispered scanning from side to side. “You don’t think Mom’s listening, but she is. Women have spies everywhere. It’s best to wait until we turn the corner here . . .”

By this juncture as the sole non-drinker and solitary voice of maternal authority, Scott had few options. Simply asking his teenage brothers to stop drinking and give the beer to him could not succeed. They would kill him. Politely requesting them to pour the beer out onto the ground and replace it with non-alcoholic iced tea or sparkling mineral water from Greenland was not going to work either. A party foul of that stature would ignite a mob. Nonetheless for the sake of futility, he tried both anyway.

“Hey guys, why don’t you stop drinking and give your beer to me?”

“Come on Scott. It’s just one,” they smiled.

“Yeah, but wouldn’t you like to try some delicious iced tea that I made before we left or this sparkling glacier water which they collected from the melting ice caps? Just think, until global warming, these water molecules had stayed frozen since the last ice age . . .”

“Scott, it’s just one beer, and it’s a Jimmy Buffett concert. It’s almost a law to drink.”

Paul ambled over with his father-in-law, who looked severely buzzed. Brian had injected green Jello into his mouth seconds before and Mr. Don now seemed to stumble over blades of grass. Paul wrapped his arm around me and smiled a big goofy drunken smile.

“Scott, you worry too much,” he said. “This is a rite of passage. I remember years ago when I was just a young pup, a wee lad inexperienced with the world, parties, and beer. My godfather changed all that one weekend at a Jimmy Buffett concert. Yes, it was true religious experience.

“Your problem is that you need to relax more.  Mom won’t know. I’ll see to that . . . though if she does happen to know (somehow she and Aubrey always find out . . . eventually) let us be clear that I did not know what was in those cups.”

“Wha-what cu-cup-ups,” hiccupped Mr. Don.

“Right,” Paul smiled. “Let them walk around. One beer won’t even give them a buzz, man.”

“Ok, but just one beer and tell Brian to hold off on syringes. They get no more from this point on. Mom will kill me if she smells beer or Jello on their bodies.” This was Scott’s idea of compromise, the middle path between prudish authority and youthful hedonism.

Drinking games

. . . take a shot, kiss a girl, howl at the moon, get lei'd . . .

They continued walking through the maze of stalls, passing a bevy of partiers playing various drinking games: beer pong, quarters, ice luge, and flip cups. On the other side of the avenue, a girl in skimpy pirate gear spun a large wheel with various instructions: take a shot, kiss a girl, howl at the moon, get lei’d, etc . . . Crowds of men, women, and old ladies crowded around the wheel and laughed, occasionally whooping as two of the younger ladies French kissed. The boys momentarily ignored the beer and stared, rather curious about these provocative rituals.

A few Parrotheads lounging under a plastic palm tree cheered Scott and the group as they passed. Each of Scott’s younger brothers had donned a grass skirt and walked through the parking lot bare-chested adorning matching pairs of coconut bras – all except the youngest, Chris, who sported a colorful A-cup, festooned with plastic blossoms. Every now and then, the boys would stop to take pictures with someone or coyly lift their man-ziers to flash their cheering fans.

Wastin' away again

. . . paper-mache volcanoes fitted over port-a-potties . . .

Brian and his girlfriend walked ahead, pockets brimming with spare Jello syringes. Every now and then he would offer a ‘shot’ to some reclining partygoers or a fellow tailgate-traveler. The band of brothers stopped near a group of older ladies, who whooped and hollered at our arrival, shouting “Ooo . . . here comes the party boys!”

The ladies, made-up in tropical war-paint, stood with open mouths as Brian dribbled the alcohol-infused goo into their mouths, like baby birds eager for their next meal. The shots as his mother had promised were strong, and the old girls settled back into their lawn chairs with a raucous cackle, teasing their benefactors as they continued their trek:

“Hey, fairy-chest, next time bring some more of the red shooters. Try stuffin’ your chest next time too!”

Chris blushed and removed his floral bra, clearly hurt by the women’s savage mockery of his cross-dressing talents.

“I think your chest looks very nice,” Tony – a high school senior and Scott’s fifth younger brother – teased Chris. “Very seductive.”

“Thanks,” sighed Christ. “But it doesn’t help.”

By now, Scott had relaxed a bit, noticing that the boys’ had finished their beers. They could return to the bus now, and his mother would not be any wiser. Suddenly strange girls ambushed Scott and his brothers from a nearby stall and offered the young boys drinks from plastic flamingos (actual lawn ornaments transformed into ersatz beer bongs). Chris smiled and accepted the long draught, kissing the flamingo’s lips and lifting its body high in the air. Within moments, the beer raced down through the creature’s neck, surprising Chris who dribbled foam and beer onto the ground. The girls cheered. Another young lady appeared, wielding a large squirt gun and a wet T-shirt.

and my license to fly

They continued walking through the maze of stalls . . .

“Would you like a little squirt?” she asked laughing. Matthew opened his mouth wide in response. The others only stared at the young lady’s white T-shirt. The girl pumped the gun and room-temp vodka shot into his mouth like those water pistol games at carnivals. “Was that good for you?” the girl asked, giggling. Matthew grinned foolishly, and the girls gamboled off, leaving the boys smiling ear from ear and Scott feeling quite anxious.

The brothers walked back to bus, passing close to the entrance to the pavilion. Surprisingly enough, Scott spied a Starbucks tent near the ticket counters and strode over for a free sample of their newest Chocolate Banana smoothie. Thank the gods of industry for the ubiquity of coffee shops.

Paul strode up behind him, and slapped his elder brother on the back. The other boys had spied the bus, and weaved quickly through the growing crowds to grab their tickets. Nearby Mr. Don danced between the crowd, wobbling from side to side and laugh, his shirt wet with room-temp vodka and green Jello.

“I love you, Scott,” he said, finally finding a solid RV to lean against. “I’m glad some-somebody here knows where he’s . . . er, we are going.”

Scott could not help smiling. “That’s why I’m followin’ you, sir.”

“Oh no!” the old man laughed. “Oh no, don’t do that! Ha, we’ll never get to . . . to . . . wait, where do we go again?”

“Yeah, man,” Paul said. “Don’t worry about it. Mom won’t notice a thing, if the kids don’t say anything. And they’re not stupid.”

“I love both of you,” Mr. Don cheered. “And that guy over there with the tattoo on his chest too . . . he’s great.”

“Mom will never know. Just don’t write your blog about any of this stuff, ok? If we agree to that, no one will ever know.”

“Sure . . . just don’t tell Aubrey I got coffee without her.”

“Agreed,” Paul laughed, offering him his last Jello syringe. “Come on, let’s hurry up. We only have a half-hour before the concert.”

“Wait, do I even know that tattooed guy?” Mr. Don whispered. “Anyway he has some nice tits . . . er, tats. Good tit-tats. HA!”

Scott sucked down the Jello and strode off after his brothers. As Jimmy sings it’ll end up on the “coconut telegraph” eventually, he thought. Hopefully long after Mom’s forgotten her death threats.

THE END OF THIS PURELY FICTIONAL ACCOUNT

Club Thumping

Night clubs are peculiar organisms, stimulating intense physical exercise at the cost of its patron’s health. For example, inside a club music pulsates like an electronic heart pumping remixed tunes through every shadowy corner, wet bathroom, and cluttered kitchen. Arriving from the cold, patrons placing their hands against the glass windows or doors can literally check the pulse of the party. Boom boom boom ba-boom. The music draws in dancers like a diver draws a breath before the plunge, opening doors occasionally to exhale swirling wisps of smoke, odors of beer, and evaporated sweat. Yet the health of the dance hall demands a high cost: the accumulation of large tab deposits, the death of alcohol-depressed brain cells, and great pain and disorientation the following morning.

For someone who feels hung-over after a thirty-second workout, night clubs would not contribute to my overall health, methinks.

In spite of – or perhaps because of – this aversion to movement, Pat, Tiff, and Katie invited me out to listen to a DJ friend at one of the local restaurants/bars two Saturdays ago. It was all very kind and wonderful; although, I do not believe that they realized the scope of how truly dull and boring I actually am. For my defense, I tried to warn them over the weekend that my personality did not lend much to drinking, dancing, or conversation outside the realm of movies, books or Middle Earth. Anime (greatly misrepresented as “Japanese porn” in my family) and black and white movies encompass a large (if sole) percentage of my TV viewing; recent color programs like American Idol, Lost, and the local news are mostly ignored, thus limiting most normal dinner conversations:

“So, did you see E.R. the other night?”

“Uh . . .no, sorry.”

“Oh, . . well you probably heard that Simon . . .”

“American Idol? *cough* . . . no, probably not.”

“Ah . . . um, did you know about the four-alarm fire downtown today?”

“A fire downtown, really? Wow, ‘fraid I missed that too. You see, I was reading an excellent Incredible Hulk graphic novel, when Super Napon Robo came on. The main character started shouting something, which they translated as ‘the answer to life, the universe and everything . . .’ so of course, I had to shout 42!”

“. . . Check please!”

So in the end they ignored my objections and insisted I come along anyway. Apparently my arguments only served to strengthen the general consensus that I required some training in social competency.

Frankly I just do not see the problem. My ideal evening typically involves a Lazyboy, some iced tea, and one or multiple combinations of the following:

a) a good game,

b) a good movie,

c) a good book.

Unless interrupted by an extended trip to some far off locale, a dangerous (though rare) sojourn to a lost continent, or opportune visit to Borders, I prefer a quiet night home with my stories. It is for these reasons that I have maintained a simple, happy life full of wonder, magic, second-hand adventure, tea-stains . . . but sadly no girlfriend. Katie suggests that this is an unconscious cry for help.

Thus the club. Our party was seated directly in front of the DJ, placing us near the large ear-shattering speakers and the large gyrating rear-ends of the dancers. “Hey!” Tiffany shouted as one tall gentleman whipped his leather-encased rear into her head. Patting her head, the dancer apologized and continued to twist, twirl, shimmy, and shuffle around his partner, who in contrast remained rooted to the floor, clapping her hands sporadically to an unknown rhythm. That was more my speed and said so. Patrick, no great dancer himself, laughed and agreed. Katie however only sighed with uniquely sisterly resignation that seemed to say “Worthless. Totally worthless. I’ll never get any nieces or nephews at this rate.”

Not all the evening was absurd, though. To my female readers this may sound chauvinistic but few scenes exceed the beauty of girls dancing. If my readers mistake my thoughts for misogyny or the sex-starved ravings of a closet pervert, you are free to believe such misconceptions. Yet the sight of girls on the dance floor from my perspective is at once sexy, energetic, lovely, gentle, strong, graceful, delicate, and above all beautiful. Through dance, women personify all that men – or at least this man – lack. Even to a song as ribald and asinine as the “Booty Call” – at which I should note all guys empty the dancing arena – women exude dignity, charm, grace, and above all a beauty that far exceeds any age, appearance, or even sense of rhythm.

Nevertheless, I did not stir to enter the dance floor. That was their temple, not mine, and accepted my exclusion with dignity. I ordered another iced tea and asked Pat for the score of the basketball game. He rattled off some numbers, which I failed to hear, long since deaf after the second verse of “Baby Got Back.” Nevertheless, as I sipped my fifth raspberry iced tea, pretending halfheartedly to watch sports while gazing at the electric goddesses gliding around the dance floor, my manhood felt well intact. If a young lady had caught my eye, I might have easily gathered the liquid courage, sauntered over, and with a devilish smile asked “Hey, baby, you up for a little one on one PVP action later tonight near the Ruins of Stonehoard Keep? We can trade mythic armor, if you know what I mean?”

Katie, I would not count on being a aunt anytime soon.