Saturday, June 2, 2012

Gotta Love 'Em

So things have been a little harried round these parts as of late. Had multiple staff members on vacation, at the same time (insert “Oh Goddamn it” face here), a bunch of tasting appointments, (and can I just say, I’ve tasted more great wines in the past month than I have in the first half of the year, combined), classes, customer tastings, husband traveling for work thus leaving me to all the little bits of life that he usually handles and to top it off, newsletter deadline. My plate has been so full, my arms so weary from trying to balance it, that I have fallen behind here and that right there drives me batshit. Felt so bad the other night that after a bottle and a half of Rose and 2 ½ hours of sleep I somehow drug myself to this here laptop and cranked out the last post, found pictures, and published with no recollection of doing it whatsoever. None. How's that for “functioning”? I still haven’t read it and don’t plan on it. I like to think of this blog as a live journal, you know, what they were intended to be, so I don’t like to change or delete things, not very often anyway. I pounded through a wine and sleep deprivation induced post, that happened and leave it I shall.

Newsletter is done, staff somewhat back in place and there is a light flickering at the end of this tunnel, which is to say I have two glorious days off coming and no work, so far as I can tell anyway…someone for the love of Gawd knock some wood for me. I am in dire need of down time, time to collect all these remnants of thoughts and attempt to click them together…put the puzzle that is this brain of mine back together. I just know that saying that out loud is going to doom me but as of this morning, I’m feeling excited, rested, ready to pour sparkling wines for the masses and damn it, I’m hopeful that I will find the time to indulge myself with my most beloved task….well aside from drinking, arguing, laughing and sex…writing. Until then I thought I would share some of my favorite customer exchanges from the past couple months. 

I think my absolute favorite moment has to go to Edgar. Edgar is the husband of a very regular wine tasting customer of ours. He is in his eighties, small, always dressed handsomely, matter of fact I don’t think I’ve ever seen him not in a sport coat, thick eastern European accent, brilliant and wears the most adorable impish grin. He doesn’t come as often as his wife does, turns out in retirement he has discovered sculpture, as in making them, so he is often too busy to chaperon his wife to our events. Edgar is a wonderfully terrible flirt and has never failed to put a giant grin on this ugly mug of mine, but there have been two times lately that he has left me speechless and in a fit of giggles.

A couple of months ago I was teaching one of my evening classes, standing before the seated crowd, awkward and riding the roller coaster of “Please don’t let me barf” that I do when I am the center of attention like that. I am mid-sentence when my eyes fall upon a man rising from his chair and walking towards me, Edgar. My heart is pounding away in my chest, words that I had just formed in my head now lost as I, and several others might I just add, watch Edgar make his way to the front to the class, right to me. “Saman-ta” Edgar said, his tone almost mocking, mouth curled into a mischievous smirk, wagging his finger at me. I could feel the heat rising in my neck, the roller coaster now completely off the track sending me into not just nausea but to light headed, “I might faint” panic. “Yes Edgar” I managed, his face now very close to mine, my shoulders and head dipped a little bringing us closer in height, waiting to hear how I had screwed some factoid up or he was displeased with my performance. “I know what people see when they look at you” he said, arms making a sweeping gesture from my head to my toes, emphasis on my mane of wildly curled hair, “They look at you and see Vamp, but I can see”, his finger once again wagging at me, “I know, you are a good girl” I broke out into an almost manic howl. Could not stop laughing as Edgar made his way back to his seat, stopping only once to look back over his shoulder and give me a wink. Had to gather my composure to finish my class but I did so with a much lighter heart.

We hadn’t seen Edgar is some time and he was in a couple weeks ago for one of our Thursday afternoon tastings. He was cutting up, as he does, at the register while another staff member rang up his purchases. I was working the far register and after watching him smile and make everyone else do so as well, I yelled out, “We’ve missed you Edgar!” His head now cocked in my direction, smile reaching nearly to his earlobes, eyes narrowing in a sharkly manner, “Saman-ta, coming from you” big pause and I felt my cheeks go flush, blushing, I was blushing. I quickly got back to scanning my customer’s wines and that was when I heard, in a singsong tone, “Sa-man-ta” I look over to see Edgar’s face still grinning but now his eyes were big and his eyebrows were raising up and down, up and down, like a character from The Little Rascals. Once again the flush of embarrassment ran up my neck and across my cheeks and once again I broke out in hysterical laughter, as did the customer I was helping and the rest of my staff. Me, the tough, scary one, brought down to a blushing mass, hands on my face trying to cover it, in a fit of uncontrollable laughter. ‘Edgar, you’re making me blush” I tossed his direction as he and his wife made their way to the front door, “That’s part of the charm” he replied, another wink and out the door. Loves me some Edgar, he keeps me young. 

A see a lady milling about the cheese case, picking things up and dropping them back down in their spot, looking somewhat dismayed. “Can I help you find anything?” I ask, both to help her out and get her to stop fondling my cheeses. “Yes, I’m looking for that really good cheese” and this is where I wait for the next sentence, you know the one that might give me a fucking clue….nothing, just her staring back at me. “Um, might need a little more help here” I replied with a playful grin, “It was the really, really good one” she says while I bite my tongue to keep from saying, “Oh the really, really good one? We’re out of that” and waited for something resembling a clue as to what she’s talking about, that’s when I get, “It was really, really good and I got it here a couple of years ago”…sigh.

A gentleman perusing our stacks of Cabernet Sauvignon, I walk up and give my standard, “Can I help you with anything?” to which he responds, “Where are your Kendall Jackson wines?” when I explain that we don’t carry Kendall Jackson he, with a slightly “Ah ha” face says, “So you can only really get those at their tasting room and specialty stores then right?” Um….where’s the camera? 

Me- “Good afternoon The Wine Country”
Voice on the Phone- “Yes, I had a couple questions about your Thursday afternoon tastings”
Me- “Sure, what would you like to know?”
Voice on the Phone- “What day are they on?”
Me- Crickets

In a discussion with a sales rep about scores, ratings, medals from various fairs and the very idea that wine should be rated, he stops, rests his wine bag on the floor and says, “Competitive wine tasting is like competitive sex….counterintuitive” I thought that was as true and honest a saying about wine judging as I had ever heard. And I’m going to be stealing it. 

“Oh good, Samantha, I need your help with a wine and cheese pairing” a somewhat frantic looking woman standing at the front desk. I love that shit, I really do, I am a total dork and love that people seek me out to exploit my dork-dom. “Alright lady, what have we got?” I said with a dork smile, “Okay so my friend already got the cheeses” this is where I struggle to keep my eyes from rolling, buy your damn cheese here! Please. “Okay…..” I reply, “But I did call her to see what kind of cheese she will be serving” she mumbles while digging away in her over-stuffed purse, look of relief on her face as she finds the folded sheet with the name of the cheese she needed my help with. Without opening it she hands me the folded slip and I open it to find two words scrawled in rustic script, “Artisan Cheeses”….useful that. 

“Where’s your rotgut?! C’mon, where’s your rotgut?!” a Napoleonic gentleman using his big demanding voice to command attention. I quickly scurried over to try and quiet the roaring and somewhat uncouth guy. “I’m sorry sir, what is it you are looking for?” I said trying my best not to look as horrified as I felt. “Your rotgut!” the big voice from the wee man once again ripping through the rather tranquil space of our store. Now maybe I just came to wine too late to understand but I didn’t really know what he was talking about. I assumed he was asking for our inexpensive wines but I wasn’t 100% positive. “I’m not quite sure what you mean? Are you looking for our value wines?” I asked, “What kind of wine store is this? You don’t have rotgut?!” each time the unsavory term flew from his bellowing pie hole I flinched. “The cheap stuff” he responded, this time with  a little less yelling, “Okay well we have these wines from Crane Lake” I said ushering him to our stacks of value wines, hoping to Gawd he would just grab something and leave. “I only drink Cabernet, I like big badass bold wines!” me wincing with each word, “Well here’s the Crane Lake Cabernet, it’s only $3.99, is that what you’re looking for?” with a, “Please for the sake of all that is good and holy, let this be it so you can leave” face. His gaping hole once again opening, me standing in fear of what might fly out of that awful thing this time, “What is this?! It doesn’t even say Napa on it and it’s a 2010, way too young to drink!” Unbelievable.

Oh I have more, trust me but I am now running terribly late for my big Sparkling Wine event…..wonder how many “gems” I’ll have after this?! The erroneous use of the word Champagne that will be applied to everything…only one Champagne dammit, and pouring a dry Lambrusco?! Ought to be a treasure trove of stories after this one. I really do adore our customers, even the ones that challenge me, could have done without the barking gasbag rotgut guy but, even the hard ones can make me smile. Gotta love ‘em...and I do. 


John M. Kelly said...

Wow. Just. Wow...

This is why I suck at retail. You are a better man than I to be so kind to people who are so utterly clueless.

But I do have some compassion - I realize that you can't fix stupid, so these folks generally get a pass. Just don't expect me to talk with them.

webb said...

Sam, i am so very sorry. I took the last chunk of that really good cheese and the last estate bottled rotgut the last time I was in ... you know, a couple of years ago. i didn't mean to leave you short! (the cheese was really, really good ... the vinegar, not so much.)

At least there is Edgar, who appreciates you and lifts your spirits.... as you lift mine.

Samantha Dugan said...

Not always easy and I wasn't always as forgiving, or....mellow as I am now. Honest not knowing and confusion I can take all day but that "rotgut" guy, I swear it was the first time I'd wanted to punch a customer in for-ev-er. Least I get the Edgars to balance it out.

Can you believe that? "The really, really good cheese" come on now. I am quite good at remembering what people got and liked but I need just a little more help than that...sheesh. That loud-mouth dude, he was almost more than I could take. Had to walk in the back, with my staff chuckling under their breath, just to cool off. I'm guessing he was uncomfortable before he walked in, tried to make it up by being Mr. Know It All Funny Guy, didn't work and he ended up looking like an enormous asshole, not just to me but to everyone within earshot....which was everyone. Damn, he bugged me, can ya tell?! Edgar is a joy, makes me blush like no other but I adore him...and You.

middle child said...

Oh. You do have fun, don't you?! I'd love me some Edgar right about now. Relax and turn off your phones. It certainly sounds like you need a break. Peace.

Samantha Dugan said...

Middle Child,
For the most part, yes, yes I do but there are times when I swear I'm being tested. I shall enjoy the weekend, tis my birthday one so I need to just chill the hell out and do what I want and need to do. Cheers to you lady.

Ron Washam, HMW said...

My Love,

All these stories make me recall all the ones I have from years of being a sommelier, working with the unwashed masses.

I had a couple who ordered a bottle of Grgich Hills Sauvignon Blanc. Seemed like a pleasant couple. I went back to their table about fifteen minutes after I'd first served them the wine to pour them a bit more...and the bottle was already empty. As were their glasses. Wow. I was impressed. So I politely asked, "Would you like another bottle?" The woman smiled at me and said, "Yes, that would be nice."

The guy stared at her and then said to her, slowly and deliberately, "Shut

Lovely. It got worse from there.

Then there was the woman who told me, loud and clear, that "If I consume too many sulfites, I have serious rectal issues."

Seems she drank a lot of sulfites.

I loved all those customers too.

Thanks for the laughs, My Love. And what was that really, really good wine I liked? You know, the one I told you about last year. Starts with an "r" I think...

I love you so!

chris said...

Happy Birthday, Sam.

Feel love from your faithful fans on your special day.

Samantha Dugan said...

Ron My Love,
The one with the white label and black writing? Can't remember. I know you have some fantastic stories from your years in the restaurant business, the beefsteak tomato salad being a personal favorite of mine by the way. I think anyone who has worked with the public, especially in the food and beverage industry is in a Special Club of sorts and we can "feel" each other when these stories are shared. People are nothing if not magic at times and just like you I've found it's best just to laugh. I love you so much!

Aww, thanks lady. Not actually until Tuesday but seeing as I was handed a 9 hour shift that day, (grumble) I am going whoop it up this weekend. Not much of a birthday person generally and 41 isn't really a big deal so by whoop it up I mean drinking lots of rose and doing nothing. And yes, I will be feeling the love from my amazingly sweet friends here, especially seeing as one of them is flying out to celebrate with me because my husband will be gone. Isn't that something?! All my friends and family here never cease to astonish me with their kindness and palpable support. Feels amazing and thank you for being part of that.

Thomas said...

Yeah, I have many similar stories, and, I suppose, thinner skin for it than you, Sam.

Among my best memories: after a long day of serving tourists at a wine event, one lady who just finished giving me half an hour of grief through stupidity and was leaving without having made a purchase (tourist, I said), eyes a jar of Chardonnay jelly that I produced and sold at the tasting room.

Woman: "Oooh, Chardonnay jelly. That sounds interesting. What do you put in the jelly?"

Me: "Urine."

My wife: "Time for you to take a break, Thomas."

Samantha Dugan said...

One good thing about being elephant like...thick skin. Great story but I think your wife was wise to step in!

Thomas said...


By the time I became a retailer I had developed thicker skin, except for one time, when a man came into the store for the first time, refused to let me explain our wine selection by telling me that he would look around; then, after looking around, he came up to me to say, "You should have more California wine on your shelves."

His attitude was so snippy that I could not resist.

"Are you planning to invest in my store?"

"No. Why do you ask that?"

"Because you just told me what I should do. Only my partner gets away with that."

The conversation kept sliding after that, until he picked up a bottle of the cheapest wine that we had on the shelf, just to show that he was a buyer.

Quickly figuring that I'd never see this idiot again, I decided not to accept his offer to buy the bottle from me. I took it out of his hand, told him he would not like it (it was from Spain) and also asked him to make as speedy an exit as he possibly could, and I did that using just four one-syllable words, each of three letters except the one that had four letters.

I swear that was the only time I ever did such a thing--and it felt great!

Sara Louise said...

I would definitely have a crush on Edgar :)
Now I'm off to find some Kendall Jackson and artisan cheeses.

Winey the Elder said...

Happy Birthday, S'mantha.
Clearly you were the inspiration for Lowell George, when he wrote "eloquent profanity rolled right off my tongue."

May a million tiny grower champagne bubbles tug the corners of your perfect lips in an ever higher arc of delight. A virtual toast and hug your way sweet muse.


Samantha Dugan said...

Man, wish I could see the look on that guy's face. We only had one time when we refused selling a wine to someone, (other than the time we had a young man that was very clearly either drunk or on drugs, had to go get Randy for that one) and that was probably 14 years ago now. He and his wife came in to buy a case of Bonny Doon something or other. He was reading one of Randy's shelf talkers and found a particular comment offensive. He starts in on me and our then manager, (another woman by the way) and will not let up no matter how many times we tried to explain what was meant and apologized. He kept telling us, each time louder and more red-faced, how racially loaded the talker was.....then he starts dropping the "N" word all over as example, so of course now he had my feathers ruffled. This goes on a good fifteen minutes and I said, "Sir, it's really easy to accidentally offend someone, you've been standing here screaming the "N" word for five minutes to the mother of a biracial child". This is where he lost his shit. He screams at me, "Would you shut the fuck up!!!" and takes a lunge at me from across the counter. My manager tore up the check the man's wife had just written, demanded that they leave and we were both so terrified that she even closed the store twenty minutes early. Have to say I do feel he deserved to be asked to leave...

Dude, you should see him. Simply adorable. Good luck finding that KJ, the cheeses I'm sure you've got covered.

That right there, took my breath away, and waking up way early and terribly alone on my birthday I must confess, made me cry big, heavy crocodile a good way. Thank you, both for your birthday wishes and for a string of words and emotion that felt like a much needed hug. I think I shall buy myself some grower Champagne tonight, celebrate and sip in my quiet apartment, raise my glass to you and know that thanks to all of you lovely people, I'm never really alone. Hugs to you sweet man.