Wednesday, September 9, 2015

Rocket Man

“There he is Sam! You see that spot way up there, just to the right of the power line and left of the sun? That’s Mikey on his jetpack.” My mother’s hand firmly holding mine, her other arm pointing high into the warm San Diego sky, to the right of the power line as my white blonde head popped back and forth dodging searing beams of sunlight as I desperately searched the sky to catch a glimpse of my older brother Michael who was coming to visit. Mike and I were separated by just four years but for the majority of our lives we were worlds apart.

 Michael Shawn, Mikey, was born in 1967 a couple months shy of 9 months after his parents married. His young and beautiful 23 year old mother finally settling, or literally settling into the life she had been primed for and promised. To be a mother and a wife. No matter how rebellious inside, no matter how talented or wanting, no matter what she could have been she was assured that pretty was all one needed to make all your dreams come true. Of course not all dreams are of the pleasant variety. This my mother came to realize in a way that would only pick deeper at that growing wound that was her festering and utter disappointment. 

The man she married, Chuck, was small, thin, a drop out from the seminary that was raised in Iowa and couldn’t get the fuck out of there fast enough. He moved west for a successful job and after starting to acquire a fair amount of wealth, at least to the standards that impressed himself, he set about looking for the Christmas card photo, a family. He wooed my mother with expensive gifts, fancy dinners, and rambling promises of things to come. She never had a passion for him, his small freckled hands poking about dutifully at the flesh that many had wished they could have. She’d had lovers before and Chuck was never to be her lover, not in any way that would feed her, but he would be able to provide her with a life that could afford her the landscape she had envisioned. Her own Holiday card of sorts, a pretty lady, lovely children, a nice home and a man that seemed to crave spoiling her. Passion and open sexuality she could, and did find elsewhere, if that elsewhere helped speed along a marriage decision no one really knows. It was a bit after my brother was christened that the late nights started. Oh, not hers, his. She made up and waiting, the baby tucked away in bed and sweetly sleeping. The crack of the front door, two drunk men, one of which her husband the other a complete stranger. Clumsy introductions, ones so thick with lies she felt like she were being fed spoonful after spoonful of literal shit. Wifely offers to make a drink, awkward glances back and forth and then came, “Don’t you think it’s time for you to go to bed Nance?”….and so it began. 

Chuck ran to the church to “fix” his gay and then he ran into marriage trying to cover it up. My mother left with the shame of living that big a lie or ending a marriage in a family that would likely never let her forget or live it down. Would have been easy enough to stay actually. Many women did, still do, but my mother, for as many wonky and poorly made decisions, she opted to save less face and more of herself.  She left and took my brother with her. There were threats of legal recourse, on both sides and there are about 20 stories as to how what happened ended up happening. Bottom, line, my mother found herself in San Diego, wildly in love, broke and pregnant with her second child, at some point my brother was “elevated” to Long Beach living with a man that could, and did, afford him the very best that money can buy. Thing is, well we all know what money can’t buy….

I saw Mikey emerge from the Greyhound station with a backpack slung over his shoulder, his jet pack cleverly concealed from the general public. His mass of thick wavy hair that looked exactly like my mothers. Same color, same texture, same kinks and random bends. His smile broad and eyes the same shade of brilliant blue as the woman that was my everything. I ran to him, wrapped my skinny brown arms around his waist and rested my head upon his shoulder. “You really got here in a jet pack Mikey?!” my belief that my brother was the coolest kid alive and all, “Sure did Sam. Maybe one day I’ll let you take a ride with me” he said before slipping my arms from around his frame and running full speed into my mother’s arms. Her tears always assuring me they shared a story I couldn’t yet read. Wasn’t invited to read in fact. I just knew my brother The Rocket Man was here for another visit and I couldn’t be happier, until. 

“Why are we doing this again?” my face puckered, brown forearm stretched out across my forehead shielding my light green eyes from the sun. “I want to show you a trick” Mikey’s response as he propped up the packets of catsup and hot sauce on the curb. “You look like Mommy. Like a boy version of Mommy. You think I will look like you guys too?” standing there as my brother built his little contraption. “Nope” his response. My heart was racing and my eyes began to fill when I stretched out my pointy chin, lifted the narrow nose that I hated because it wasn’t cute and upturned like theirs, “Why not?!” the tears rolling like rain on a windshield down my face. Just then Mikey picked up a brick and balanced it atop the sauce packets before standing on the curb, shooting me one of those looks that both he and my mother wore that let me know I was in trouble and just before he jumped on top of the brick he said calmly, “because you’re adopted” the words landing sharper and messier than the colorful splash of fast food condiments that exploded all over my special outfit, the one I’d worn specifically to welcome my brother.

There are tons of evil tricks that siblings do to one another. Just hurtful and mean but in the end there is some core of love, a foundation of family that makes those things sting less and maybe years later the very kind of remembrance that you can laugh about…..apologize for over the Thanksgiving table. That wasn’t Mikey and me. I think we both tried at various points but they were never at the same time and the fact of the matter was, there was no real core of, anything really. We lived apart for most of our lives and the few years we were under the same roof were some of the most torturous and nightmarish I can remember. From having to live with he and his evil fuck of a father, to when we were all, my mother, baby sister, my son and at some point the boyfriend that would become my husband and Mikey, living in a 2 bedroom tiny apartment where he ruled the roost via fear and drunken/drug addicted threats, thefts and raging. My brother made sure I was aware how unhappy he was, made sure we all knew but he always has some extra venom for me.  

After years of having things stolen, loaning money and being lied to over and over again, it was one night that I went to make a transfer from my savings account to my checking and I was standing at the bank machine looking at all my hours of hard work and pride that I never took welfare or child support to care for my son, to see my bank account had been drained, dry, by my brother, still The Rocket Man but now his rocket snorted right up his nose, the meth his pilot taking him away from me as I begged the bank machine for $20 to buy milk for my son…it was that night that I knew I could and would never forgive him. Not in the conventional way anyway.

“They don’t have anywhere else to go Sam!” my mother screaming at me when I was in tears because she had invited Chuck and Mikey to Christmas Eve at our apartment. “Why the fuck do you think that is Mom?!” I screamed back as I grabbed my bag and son and attempted to find any hole anywhere in the world that was not that place. It took me years to really see that night. To feel what she must have felt. What he might have felt. They were all alone in their strange little story and all of them were guilty of some pretty egregious and seemingly unforgivable stuff, and they were all suffering in one way or another because of it.

My mother for having sent her son, her first born to live with a rich monster that had all the funds to buy his son all the things he could ever need and want. The motorcycles, the drum sets, the go carts and super expensive private school education, The thing was, he could never buy Mikey the touch of a mother’s hand. The way it feels to be tugged tight into her breasts, the smell of her skin wrapping around you like and extra set of arms. Standing beside her in the kitchen as she cooked for you. He could never wear Nancy’s beaming smile as he watched Mikey at some sporting event, and he could never love his son as much as he loved himself and his need to devour every man he could, heart, body and soul. He threw money at the young man that looked like his ex-wife, mostly in the hopes that he would be successful and something else for Chuck to brag about. My brother, the one that looked most like Mom, was her first and in the end probably needed her most, he had to live in that big hollow home, the only real comfort in the piles of stuff and promise of more. His life knowing, or thinking really, that my mother gave him up, to make room for me. No wonder the venom and extra rage. Top that with the fact that I finally refused to deal with him at all, well in his addled sense of reality I must have been just as awful as I found him to be. 

I ignored repeated Facebook friend request, didn’t respond to voicemails and just barely acknowledged the emails he would always send me on my birthday, well the ones when he wasn’t living on the streets or in some random person’s storage unit. I saw my brother a couple years ago, he was barely 100 pounds and I was sure he was days from passing. I went to the hospital to be there, more for my baby sister who took on our mother’s role of caregiver for Mikey. I heard in her voice that she needed support and I will not lie and say I was there for any other reason than her. He and I were done and I didn’t even want to see him, but I did. I walked in and saw that hollow house all over him, sunk in cheeks, writhing in pain trying to breathe, suffering the decades of drugs and alcohol….but there was this set of brilliant blue eyes. They were hers and it took everything I had not to fall apart then and there, but I was there for my little sister and not to hash out, or even bring up old wounds. 

I felt like a fraud being there. Like some sick ass voyeur ogling his weakness and fragility and I hated myself for walking in that room. He didn’t deserve more per se but I had no right, as someone that had turned him away when he was literally living under an upturned dumpster because of his addiction. I did what I did to protect myself and my family from the only life I’d known with Mikey, a brutal one filled with lies and anger. I let The Rocket Man fly far, far away, seeing him that frail was too personal. I hadn’t earned it. I walked out of that room, only after silently slipping my hand over his skinny hospital sheet covered foot, I gave it a squeeze and in my own way hoped he would this time forgive me this intrusion on his life. I said goodbye that day and I knew I would never see Mikey again.

“I wish you would just accept my friendship over on Facebook Sam. I’m not the same juvenile asshole I used to be” Mikey reaching out once again, his sense of family something very different than mine. His persistence one I didn’t understand. I told him once again that seeing as my account is also public I couldn’t really have him making his snide remarks about me be a snob for being into French wine and our, both radical, politics on other sides of the fence were a recipe for disaster. All true but I just couldn’t find a place in my world where Mikey made sense. His life started with everything and he gave it all away, my life starting with nothing and I’ve been given so much. I fought harder than he did but…..I knew her scent and how it felt to curl up next to her when it was dark and I was afraid. He didn’t and this is only now sitting heavy on my heart.

“I’m doing a wellness check on Mikey” my sister messaging me a week ago today. “Say huh? What’s that?” I replied. Turns out Mikey, who was now living in Pennsylvania near his daughter and 3 tiny granddaughters, had been having some health issues again and he asked our little sister, his true caregiver, to keep an eye on him and if he didn’t respond to texts after like 24 hours, maybe have someone go check on him. I thought the gesture sweet and found myself even more in love with my baby sister, (her name is Tessa by the way and she was the first real love of my life….she makes me proud every single day and she is about to give me a tiny niece that I cannot wait to pull close and wrap in my scent. I don’t have the brilliant blue eyes but I have a big waiting heart)  as I wriggled into a swimsuit and waddled out to the hot tub to work my newly busted back and drink wine with the husband that adores me. Bottle of Bandol Rose gone, fingers pruney and saturated with chlorine I tossed my wet swimwear over the shower door and made my way to the living room. That was when my phone started ringing, fuck. 

Her warbled voice streaming through the tiny holes of my cell phone, “Well, I guess you know why I’m calling” my heart leaping to the base of my throat as I held back every urge I had to yell, scream and gag, “Oh sweetheart what happened?” all I could muster before slapping my hands over my mouth, looking over at my husband, eyes huge and roaring with tears. I made it through the call before falling into a sobbing heap. He was gone. In a way he always was but, never like this….

My brother’s name was Michael Shawn

He was at one time unbearably handsome

He used to draw and design motocross gear, including helmets when he was like 12

He had all the Star Wars ships suspended from his bedroom ceiling

His taste in music was awful but I think it was because he couldn’t dance, with that gawd awful noise you didn’t need to

All my friends when I was little had a massive crush on The Rocket Man

He used to try and get me to do drugs too…hated that and never did with him

He too had a passion for food and cooking

He was so very proud of the young man my son Jeremy turned out to be, and he always said it

He was too smart for the life he gave himself

He was madly in love with his daughter and granddaughters

He ruined more relationships than he succeeded in

He must have seen things and done things that he would rather die than tell me

He fought in Desert Storm and his entire team was lost when he was home while our mother was sick. This is something I’m sure was with him every single second of every day

He loved me even though I shunned him over and over again…..

He told our little sister that he knew I might not ever forgive him

He never once apologized for stealing from me or my son

He was a sad soul….

He was working, living in an apartment and clean for the first time in like 25 years and when they found him. There was a bowl of food he made for dinner, one he and our sister had been texting back and forth about, and there were no drugs or alcohol in his apartment….his alarm was going off for him to go to work the next day. 

No matter what we went though I will forever picture Mikey, that backpack over his shoulder, the idea that he sailed through the air on a jet pack to come visit us….that wavy Mom colored hair and a heart that was broken before I really got a chance to know it.

I’m sorry Mikey….and no matter how late and seemingly stupid, I just accepted your friend request. Seems like this might have been the first time in our lives apart that we could have maybe been friends. Or tried to be.

Letting you be away was always easy

Letting you go, for good, this one hurts Mikey….but I’ve earned it. 

The Rocket Man, I hope you are heading to the home you always dreamed of and I hope she is there to cook you something, give you that look and tell you all the reasons she loved you.

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

How To Be Less Of A Wank At Wine Classes

The other night after some milling about here at home I sprung to my cell phone and fired off a text to my opening coworker, “Please get another bottle of each of the Blanc de Blancs in the fridge when you get there in the morning”. Knew I had just enough in the fridge chilling overnight but what if something was corked or off in some other fashion? Wouldn’t have enough wine to pour the sold out crowd and as much as I firmly believe you should never serve great Champagne icy cold, room temp bubbles are hugely unpleasant.  I then began the mind fuck that is trying to piece together a, well a peaceful, seating chart for my Blanc de Blancs Champagne class taking place the following evening. 

This is something I find, along with order and staging, consumes the hallows of my oft empty brain right before I drift off to sleep the night before an event, and happens to be the thing that wakes me from my slumber the following morning, way too early by making laps round and round and back again. The maybes slamming like clumsy twins wrestling and thudding along the hall. My, “Shush you!” howl just loud enough to ensure I am not getting back to sleep again. Frankly I obsess a little. These classes are wicked important to me and to the shop I love. I need them to be as successful as possible, in terms of sales and customer satisfaction so trying to balance that along with making sure my wines show their absolute best, and keeping in mind the…um, delicate nature of dealing with humans and their…erm, fragility or perceptions, well it might explain why I drink so damn much, and why I drive myself, (not to mention my trying to sleep coworkers) batshit crazy in the wee hours before my events.

I’m normally quite confident in the wines. Call it ego if you will, but I am pretty dogmatic about the quality level of the wines I acquire for the shop and our customers. They may not, (are often not in fact) always my style, or things I’d take home but I almost never bring in a wine that I don’t stand behind 100% and know that is worth what we are charging. I’ve done a favor here or there and once or twice been coaxed into bringing in a branded item, always under the guise that it will make the consumer feel comfortable and almost every damn time I end up staring at a row or stack of wine I cannot in good faith recommend, or worse, talk people out of. I don’t for one second think I’m a big deal in the world of wine so all I really have is my word, if I misrepresent, pawn off or start bullshitting our customers it is a lose-lose. I lose customers, and the one thing I am proud of myself for, my integrity. So walking into these events other than the proper order and temperature of the wines, I’m pretty damn sure they are going to be wickedly delicious. In the case of my Champagne nights I am exceedingly assured they will be…and insanely excited to taste them again too. Not everyone will love everything, least not every time, but the wines themselves will be solid and there will be something for everyone. So like I said, the wines tend to be the least of my concern. The people however…..oy. 

Working retail as long as I have I’ve been privy to some pretty remarkable behavior. Not as bad as restaurants or bars I’d assume but people are nothing if not magical to watch at times. For the most part our customers are a freaking cakewalk. We’ve built up enough trust in the community and it’s not like people are there shopping for like crunders or rash cream, we sell wine so people, for the most part, are already in a great mood when they walk through the door. Sure we get the rude folks from time to time. The snap their fingers types that demand to be “serviced” in whichever way they see fit. We also get the other side of that, the ones so afraid that we are going to be snooty that they walk through the door with a giant ass boulder on their shoulders and anything we say can, or will be taken as a slight. Both kind of suck but they happen, luckily, pretty infrequently for us. It’s not those kind of people I am talking about. No, I’m talking about the ones that don’t, can’t or won’t see the whole picture and focus so tightly on their little tunnel of vision that they kind of lose sight of the rest of the folks in attendance, not to mention the poor nervous chick standing on trembling legs, trying to croak out information over a jumble of tummy quakes and flop sweats. The Unitended Peevers I like to call them. 

Not bad people in the least, (well, mostly) but not so much mindful of the entirety of a wine class. Classes being a whole other thing than tastings and or wine bars, please keep that in mind. My staff and I have talked about these people and the series of events that follow in their wake. So hard to be mad at people that fork over cash and show up to an event like the classes we do but….there might be a thing or two to keep in mind. Not for us, we can recover and rally like champs. This is for you, your guests and sea of faces that are now glaring at you and you can’t quite figure out why.

Lemme help you out. 

Samantha’s Wine Class Pet Peeves 

The Dusters- These are people that either don’t believe or forget that your neighbor, they can smell your odor, be it a pretty or an un-pretty one. They didn’t pay a bunch of money to learn how Blanc de Blancs smells as it melds with your Eau de Tacosnack/Floweryjunk/Yogasweats. We have one guy that even applies his, very pungent man perfume in the bathroom before he walks over and plops his stink down at the table. Dude. I mean, dude. It smells, maybe nice to you but it is a smell and no one wants it when they are trying to evaluate wine. Not as bad in a bar, even a wine bar but in a class, I implore you, “Stop crop dusting us!”

The Players of Musical Chairs- We assign seating at the majority of our events. This goes down for several reasons. It started because it is simply human nature for people to leave a seat empty between them and the person next to them. Happens at bars, movie theaters and at our classes, I started the seating chart thing for precisely that reason. There are few things that will ruffle my feathers more than having to rearrange, everything that we’ve spent an hour setting up, than having to shift, slide and ask people to move down so a couple or party of three can sit together. We often have groups and to ensure they were accommodated, (part of that making sure they are satisfied thing) I began assigning seating.

 I also like to have my husband, should he be attending, right up front and at my side. It isn’t a treat for him I assure you, it is to settle my nerves, that some folks saw/see being seated near him as a reward, I sleep next to the man, I promise you, that closeness in often NOT a reward, seeing it as such was a mistake in their thinking and I’ve given up worrying about that noise. There is NOTHING personal in where you are placed at a table, (unless of course, you are a known Duster) it is numbers and now putting groups of friends together, as per their request. 

Which brings me to, Please stop playing musical chairs, you don’t know the playlist. We get people that come in and freaking move the place cards, all the damn time. Quit that. Just because you see a setting for a 2 here and figure it can’t hurt to swap them as you’d prefer to sit in that spot, there are a series of things that may have attributed as to why that party of 2 was there, like they are joining another party and have pre-requested to be seated next to their group. You don’t know these things and I shan’t assume you’re plucking up this name and replacing it with yours is malicious or mean spirited, you just don’t have all the information, which is why I ask again, Please stop playing musical chairs. If you are meeting people let us know when you sign up, we will do our best to make sure that happens. We want all our guests to be as happy as possible. 

The Court Tester- This is the person that is feverishly fingering their apps checking and double checking our information, as if in some way it would behoove us to try bullshit you. If we say it it’s because it is what we were either told or what we believed. Not purposely trying to give you the wrong information. 

The Tortoise & Or The Hare- The one or two people among a group of 45-50 that are trying to control the pace or timing of the pours. This is where I would like to once again remind folks, you aren’t alone here. Nor is this a bar for doing shots or a wine bar where you can sip and savor as long as you like. We are here to taste and learn, experience these wines in a studious setting, not a party or lounging on your couch one. This is where the inexperience of having so many plates spinning isn’t one that the average customer even thinks of….another reason to write this post. We, the teachers and pouring support, have more than your one pour or pours on our mind. We have to keep the crowd engaged, be two steps ahead and working our behind the scenes dance of having the next flight ready and the next, and the next. Having to wait or being snapped at to move along is simply a distraction for us, thus a stumble in the flow of how the event goes for everyone else.  

The Then Again Maybe I Won’ts- These are the people that sign up, confirm and then no-show. This may not sound like a big deal to you but I assure you, you have just given a fairly good sized blow to your local wine shop. If you can’t make it just give them/us a call and let us know, no harm no foul, but if you tell us you are coming chances are we have not only turned away a guest that would have happily attended, we’ve opened wines in accordance with the number of people we have paying to come. If your three party no show has set us into a second or third bottle, we’ve lost money and are wasting wine. Tough pill swallowing that. 

The Picnicers- This is where I once again point out, this is a class, one that people have paid to come and learn from, you brining out your picnic dinner, complete with the distractions of flailing forks, napkin ruffling and the cacophony of competing food aromas, it’s rude. Both to the event givers and to the people sitting next to you. No sir, we don’t wish to smell your cologne soaked fingers as they plunge into an oily container of rosemary sous vide poached sardines. I personally won’t allow it at my classes. With a few exceptions, one being a long time couple that comes to most my Champagne events, have for over a decade, that learned Champagne and fried chicken is a thing. Like a really good fucking thing and not only do they practice this time honored pairing at home monthly, they are once in a while compelled to stop and surprise the entire group, (the last time over 50!) with the treat of dinner, (a pre-ordained marvelous and not too disruptive one)  

You buy some snacks and pick at those along with the bread and cheeses we provide, that’s fine but full on meals? No way. Plus if you are busy dining you aren’t paying attention and then I have to wonder, why are you signed up for a class in the first place? Go to a wine bar and snack, munch, chat and sip and leave a nice tip for the kind people that are there to pick up your emptied plates as that is exactly what those places are made for. Food stinks are just another form of Dusting, believe that. 

The It’s My Party & I’ll Wine If/When I Want To Set- These folks tend to come in groups, often of five, six or more. They have compiled a large collection of buddies to spend a Friday night with. I love that. I honestly do and if your whole group is into taking a moderated wine class, sign them all up! Find more.  We’d love to have them, we do it all the time and those are the folks we are looking to share our hearts, stories and passion with. No, I’m talking about the ones that have to cajole and call around looking for a way to fill their party, often with people that use words like “ are there going to be lots of soury ones” as I sweat turning people that would give anything to be there away for lack of seating. This one makes my tummy all wiggy as I wish there were a way to explain, diplomatically, that we need those seats filled with people that are interested in learning, sharing and being there.

Filling seats with your pals that don’t really want to be there, the ones that munch milk chocolate bars through my white Burgundy or Champagne events, and make fun of me when I coo and wax rhapsodic, mock my enthusiasm with eye rolls and blustery laughter? You have any idea how hard it is for this, diplomatic class leader to not snarl and threaten nut sack removal much like that of ripping off of a paper towel? The guy who challenges my comparison to Camille Saves as, “A librarian in fishnets, both sexy as hell and smart as fuck” with, “So what did you say? This is a pilot in high heels?” which inevitability causes me to cup his sweaty chin in the crux of my bent finger as I bend down and purr in his face, “Dude, whatever gets you off” in a way that I fear doesn’t encourage him to drop his milk chocolate bar as much as make him want to flee…and that is never, ever my intent.

 How standing over a cheesy toothed pack of gossipers, my own nerves knocking my innards against my ribcage, heart crawling up my throat as I try and stretch my raspy voice over decibels far louder and deeper than mine as you notice….through the bulging veins ripping up my neck like the splitting of a freeway on the San Andreas fault, that I’ve had about enough of trying to screech over your Friday night party and one of you try and soothe the situation by trying to ask a question, the one I just unsuccessfully bleated out the answer to, or tried to but no one could hear it over your unruly and uncompassionate sloppery of a “fun night”? Dude. Call 1 800 Wine Dude or something. And do this at your house. These people came to hear us not you and at the end of the night they want to walk out that door with a little more wine information in their back pocket, maybe a few bottles of their new favorite wine and not the gab on your coworker that is fucking the human resources guy in your office. 

Tastings are always fun and we encourage the same of our Friday classes. Tasting wine is a rare an lovely treat, one that 99.9% of our consumers get. We spend our days finding these wines and sharing them with you is what fires us up and pushes our weary legs forward. Our jobs rely on your involvement and engagement and we never ever forget that….just please, that 1%, could you please hold back on the douchery a little? Makes this planning, staging, arranging and trying to make the best for everyone thing just a little easier.