Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Nurse the Hate: The Desert Island Wine



I was recently asked by a group of wine professionals what was my “desert island wine”.  This is, of course, a sucker question.  The answer is used to judge me based on some criterion that were not being shared with me, much like asking someone in a job interview asking “where do you see yourself in five years?” or asking a record geek “what’s your favorite album of all time?’.  This is a way to pass judgment, a parlor game with unspoken winning answers.  Not having met these people before, I had no idea what they were looking for.  My favorite wine?  What I think is “the best”?  The rarest and most treasured?  What do you want from me damn you!?!

I always think of these things from a strictly logical standpoint, so if asked what I would want on a desert island, I am assuming it is going to be hot and tropical, so I should have truthfully answered “a session IPA kept really cold” or “an endless stream of Budweiser from a tap carved of ice”.  I really flamed out and gave a safe answer I thought they would want to hear, and named Lafite Rothschild, a ludicrously high priced Bordeaux.  It is the blue chip of blue chips. It is also not only the last thing you would want on a desert island, it’s a cop out of an answer.  (“I like what you like!  Love me!”, groveled the little sissy.)  Really I should have named some insanely obscure white Burgundy from an under appreciated vintage or maybe even a crazy Riesling, but that would have been a lie too.

When you get down to brass tacks, one of the best wines I ever had was something I don’t even know the name of or even the type of grape.  I was in the Cinque Terre, a group of five remote villages on the Ligurian Sea in Italy.  These little villages are connected by a commuter train, but the real way to go between them is by a path that was originally made by the Romans that winds along the rocky coast line.  These towns were once very under the radar, so much so that my familiarity with the region once made a beautiful woman remark “Who are you?” when I said it was one of the best places I had ever traveled. 

I remember at the end of a day walking between the villages with a group of friends.  We had met in the morning in an even smaller village named Deva, where I had started the day by bobbing in the ocean after traversing the tiny pebbles that made up the beach.  The locals stared at the American with ridiculously long surf trunks that clumsily walked on the rocks as they gracefully hopped in wearing their micro speedos without a care.  Afterwards I was unable to withdraw money from the bank for some Italian reason like “It is Tuesday.  Come back tomorrow.” offered as the only explanation.  I borrowed some lire from a friend who then walked around the entire day telling befuddled locals, “You see this guy?  He’s into me for about FIFTY FIVE THOUSAND lire!”.  I don’t know if they didn’t understand English or if they couldn’t understand what the big deal was of spotting $28 to someone.  (The exchange rate was a little out of whack.  It was tough to figure out of a shirt for $173,000 was a ripoff or the deal of a lifetime when you had to figure the 17,862 lire to dollar exchange rate.)

We spent the entire day walking village to village.  It seemed like something Disney had built for a set.  It was so authentic it couldn’t be real.  Leather skinned fisherman smoking hand rolled cigarettes repairing nets.  Little old women with scarves on their heads talking in the church square.  Old silent men sitting in cafes nursing tiny glasses of red wine.  Dark eyed packs of girls chattering furiously in Italian while boys with slicked hair tried to get their attention walking around them.  Ancient churches.  Lazy cats flicking their tales waiting for the fish to be cleaned.  Beautiful coastline that had been walked by people like me since the Romans.  It’s a great place.

As the sun began to weaken we sat at a small café.  A cover of grape vines woven through a portico gave shade.  The waitress brought chilled bottles of the local white wine, perfect for the food they pulled from the sea.  Above us on the terraced ledges were those grape vines just as there had been for centuries.  That same wine, if poured in Ohio at a non-descript restaurant today, would have probably been awful.  Yet on that day with the smell of the olive trees and the sea, it was the best wine I had ever had and one I remember to this day.

That’s the answer I should have given.

Thursday, August 20, 2015

Nurse the Hate: The Necklace Part 2




I was a damn fool.  There is no other conclusion that can be drawn.  Sometimes truth hits like some sort of rogue wave, a powerful force that appears from nowhere and washes away all that stood before it.  There are those that contend that perception is reality, and that can be true much of the time.  However when a force greater than the imagined world in which you dwell decides to exert itself, there is nothing else to do but hold on with white knuckles and weather the storm.  False gods wither in the presence of true power.
I am, of course, referring to The Necklace.

I had an opportunity to rid myself of this evil thing a few weeks ago at a tiki party in Columbus.  While a tiki party in Columbus seems like an ill-conceived place to rid oneself of a dangerous voodoo necklace, a fact to consider is that a window opened in which I could have tossed the necklace into “George”, the legendary monkey fountain from the original Kahiki restaurant in Columbus.  With the glowing red light on the flowing water, George practically begged me to toss the curse into his waiting mouth.  Unfortunately a consistent crowd milled around the fountain.  I felt self-conscious; the sin of pride, and that alone prevented me from offering the necklace to George.  This was not only a bad decision; it was weakness on my part.  

My issue was that I felt like the Hawaiian clad party revelers would have called attention to me and then I would have been ridiculed.  Granted, a cowboy throwing a 1970s medallion into a tiki fountain is worthy of some ridicule, but I certainly have been through worse.  There was an incident of an ill-timed puberty erection during a reading in front of a 9th grade classroom that was much worse in comparison.  I could have easily weathered the tiki storm after that fiasco.  I hesitated.  I hesitated and I was lost.

I have been wearing this thing consistently and have managed to return physically from the depths to which The Necklace had taken me.  There is a consistent feeling of fear and respect that I have for The Necklace.  Yet, I cannot deny that all I want to do is be rid of this thing.  Last week I thought an opportunity might have arisen when we played with Jayke Orvis at a festival outside of Erie.  I had never seen Jayke, .357 String Band, or the Goddamn Gallows play before, but I was aware of his/their reputation as a great band and road warriors.  (By the way, Jayke is a hell of a mandolin player and his set was really good.)   I have the belief that I can only truly be rid of The Necklace by passing it to someone the same way I received it, while performing on stage.  This sets up a bit of a conundrum.  Do I pass it to a friend, who would naturally accept me handing them a “gift” in mid performance?  Or do I give it to a relative stranger that fits the bill for The Curse of the Necklace.  On the one hand, I don’t want to saddle a friend with this thing, but on the other at least I could warn them of what to expect from an angry Necklace.  Conversely if I give it to a stranger I don’t have the same type of guilt in passing along a curse to a friend, but the concern is there to someone that might disregard or be completely unaware of the horrible power of The Necklace.  It’s a real situation.

So as I watched Jayke perform the idea floated into my head that he might be a good person to receive The Necklace.  He has a whole bunch of tattoos all over the place, most of them pretty scary.  I naively believe that this places him at an advantage in dealing with The Black Arts.  Of course, not knowing him at all, it would certainly be weird for both of us to have me in full cowboy regalia wordlessly walk up to the front of the stage, parting the crowd, and then hand him a piece of jewelry.  He doesn’t appear like the kind of guy that would think, “How nice of that cowboy fella to give me this horrible looking necklace.  I think I’ll put it on and wear it forever!”.  No, he would toss it out and think “what’s with the gay cowboy giving me a creepy necklace?”.  How could he know to respect and fear The Necklace?  He might have just tossed it into a field, bringing great calamity on himself.  The next thing I know I’ll read on social media how the The Broken Band had to cancel their tour because Jayke Orvis has developed an extremely advanced case of irritable bowel syndrome and is involved in experimental medical procedures to try to nurse him back to “a state of some limited quality of life”.  No, I just couldn’t do it.  It wouldn’t have been right.  He had done nothing to receive a curse like this. 

The mistake I made was then putting the necklace away.  Cursed necklace?  That's a stupid idea!  Sure, I felt OK early this week.  Then yesterday my Achilles started to tighten.  Oh, I will just stretch and be fine…  Then I woke this morning completely engulfed in pain and limited mobility.  I hobbled over to get my walking boot and my necklace.  I wisely put on The Necklace first.  I will never doubt you again O Mighty Necklace.  With the necklace back on, I’m probably going to be fine in a couple of days.  Well… A couple of days unless The Necklace wants to teach me a real lesson, in which case I will be having my lower leg amputated.      

I’ve got a few shows coming up next week.  I wonder if Barrence Whitfield would like a gift…          

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Nurse the Hate: NFL 2015 Season Win Totals



 
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The German idea of schadenfreude is to take pleasure in other’s misfortune.  Our German tour manger and driver extraordinaire has demonstrated this idea in action as he takes so much more pleasure in terrible gig situations we find ourselves in than in triumphant ones.  He loves to see disaster and thanks to his influence, now so do I.  It is like a true gift from The Old Country, like a Swiss watch. It is for this reason that I enjoy betting against win totals in the NFL season.

The concept of the bet is simple.  Vegas sets an over/under total number of wins for a team.  All I need to do is correctly predict if the team will actually win more or les than that number.  With the NFL being a savage and violent game, it’s often prudent to bet against a team with thin depth as it can only help your chances as players are hauled away on gurneys.  While it might seem ghoulish at first to relish in a star running back losing all mobility in his legs, the feeling passes quickly when you realize a tidy profit.

The Buffalo Bills made headlines when they hired Rex Ryan.  It is odd for Buffalo to make headlines as most people only think of Buffalo when brutal snowstorms snuff the life out of the region or when a national news service pops in to get a comment from an ugly out of work laborer that is somehow convinced that his job that went to China will one day come back.  “Though he hasn’t worked for two years, he still has hope the plant will open up again one day soon… Back to you Connie.”

This is also the same guy that has season tickets to the Bills, a team that will reliably rip his heart out.  Vegas has the win total set at 8.5 for some unknown reason.  Most teams that are going to have winning records have two things.  1) A good quarterback and 2) a good coach.  The Bills have neither.  While Rex Ryan is entertaining as hell in a press conference, he doesn’t actually coach football very well.  As far as I can tell, the only difference between the shitty Jets teams he failed to win with and the shitty Bills teams he won’t win with are the uniforms.  He still doesn’t have a quarterback.  Go ahead and tell me what the difference is between Geno Smith and Ryan Fitzpatrick, or Eli Manual and Matt Cassel. I’ll take under .500 all day long…

Buffalo UNDER 8.5

I had to look twice when I saw the San Francisco 49ers at 7.5.  The only thing the 49ers of 2015 have in common with the team of two years ago is the gear and Colin Kaepernick, who may be suffering from blunt head trauma in deciding to stay.  From my vantage point, the owners ran off coach Jim Harbaugh for being far too successful and then proceeded to watch every quality player they had on defense do anything they had to do to get out of there.  They had three guys retire rather than have to play on the team this year.  Three of their five offensive linemen bailed out.  “Hey, do you want to make $1,000,000 playing football this year?”  Here?  Umm… No thanks.  I think I will try something else.  Is Amazon hiring?

The 49ers have to play Seattle/Arizona/St Louis twice next year.  They go 0-6 or at best 1-5 when Carson Palmer departs for his annual season ending injury.  So they go 8-2 on the rest of their schedule?  Against the AFC and NFC North?  I think the phrase “no fucking way” fits here, no matter how bluntly.  The 49ers will be a team that won’t even have their games televised by the end of November.  This is a team that should consider forfeiting 2015 and coming back in 2016 when they’ve had a chance to really think long and hard about what they’ve done.

San Francisco UNDER 7.5

I knew I was getting old not when I hurt my Achilles tendon doing nothing in particular.  It also wasn’t when I realized that in the same space of time as when Nirvana’s “Nevermind” album came out to today is the same as when Chubby Checker’s “The Twist” came out as to when I was a high school senior.  Ye Gods.  No, I realized I was old when I was the only one in a room that remembered the Washington Redskins being a reliably good football team. 

Robert Griffin III has a Gatorade commercial and a bunch of other endorsements, which is odd because he is one of the worst quarterbacks in professional sports.  It’s like me having a deal shucking The Apple Watch.  The Redskins have no chance to win with Griffin, as he has reliably proven over the last few years.  The team management runs player acquisition like ten year olds in a playground fantasy football league.  The only chance the Redskins appear to have this season is if they could play the 49ers and Giants every week. 

The win total in Washington is 6.5, which is preposterous.  The Redskins have won seven or more games once in the last six years.  They have won more than six games four times in the last 13 years.  The Redskins being crappy is something to depend on in Washington like corruption and white-collar crime.  Everything turns to dogshit as soon as it hits the nation’s capital.  Normal people immediately become pathological liars after spending more than 15 minutes in town.  Savvy gamblers will want to pray like hell that Griffin stays healthy for at least 10 games so they can settle in at a comfortable 3-7 for the stretch run with the illusionary Kirk Cousins at QB.

Washington UNDER 6.5     

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Nurse the Hate: Hemingway Weekend






Summer is drawing to a close.  I find it odd that a season that took a hundred centuries when you are age ten now takes roughly 26 minutes as an adult.  I can recall with perfect clarity waking up as a child on any random morning in July, filled with expectation and unlimited promise.  Absolutely anything could happen and there was no end in sight to the adventure.  August and the creeping fear of returning to school would never arrive.  Now I wake up and do a quick inventory in my head trying to figure out what day it is to discover it is always later than I think.  I should probably take today off and do something constructive like build a fort, but I am concerned that if an authority figure of some type discovered a middle aged man building a fort by himself in the woods even more authorities would be called.  What I would be building as a simple indulgence would most likely be considered a Unabomber Lair.  I think my fort would be difficult to defend on a Tuesday afternoon.

Obviously something needs to be done.  I feel as if I need to commit to some sort of adventure.  A manly adventure.  Maybe it was the steel cut oatmeal I had this morning.  Perhaps it was the green drink smoothie.  Regardless, it was plain to even a casual observer that I really need to toughen up and embrace something a bit more rugged than a Skinny Vanilla Latte at Starbucks.  It is time to launch a hastily thought out Hemingway Weekend.

My game plan is sort of fluid at this point.  This is due mainly to the fact that I have done absolutely no pre-planning.  However, pulling the trigger compulsively on travel is generally a good idea, especially on a Hemingway Weekend.  The destination has to be Key West.  I have never been there, but I am reasonably sure that Hemingway’s house is still standing (and probably outfitted with a cringe worthy gift shop).   I will obviously have to drink some rum and stumble around in there.  That should be easy enough.  While I hope to have some sort of Moveable Feast, I recognize the possible pitfalls of falling into a horrible Jimmy Buffet tourist trap doomsday spiral.  I will need to be vigilant to stay on point on this thing.  Yet, a visit to this mecca will be paramount.

I have considered the idea of big game fishing.  On the one hand, I have a vision of myself sunburned in a trusty fishing cap yanking on an enormous marlin, my sinewy forearms straining with the effort, huge tackle attached to a bent rod.  My faithful Cuban guide Manuel will pour water on the screaming reel as the powerful fish goes on a run, my shoulders aching as I mutter “He’s a strong god damn fish” or something to that effect.  Hours later as I finally pull the beast to the side of the boat I will look down into his eye, clip the wire lead, and let him go back to his place in the sea.  “Senor Greg!  You released him?”  Yes Manuel.  He was a strong fish.  A noble fish.  He fought with courage.  More courage than any man I have known since the troubles in Catalonia.  Let us drink rum to his spirit.  (Then the boat begins a long graceful cruise back to port with the sun setting dramatically in the background.  Our laughter rises occasionally over the sturdy chug of the engines.)

My fear of course is that I will be on some group charter with some guys from Wisconsin named “Brad” or “Devin”.  They will be yelling across the boat with each sentence beginning with “Bro!”.  Meanwhile I will have gotten horribly seasick and will spend the majority of the charter either barfing over the side or in the cabin below in the fetal position.  As I lie in the fetal position I will hear Brad and Devin laugh it up saying things like “Bro!  Did you see that dude hurl over the side?  He was like Blahhhhhh!!! HAHAHAHAHA!’.  Later towards the end of the trip, the dismissive captain will fetch me from below, hand me a rod after they have hooked a small grouper and I will be told to reel it in like I was a child.  I will meekly pose for photos by the fish on the dock.  This photo will later be sold to me for $40, my day with Brad and Devin immortalized forever with the web address of the charter business prominently across the frame.  This is a real possibility.  I will really need to look into the particulars of big game fishing.  I will have to really open my checkbook on this one.

I feel pretty confident that I can dive some gnarly shipwreck.  There’s some huge Navy ship that was sunk off the coast that offers up plenty of bad ideas for a relative novice diver like myself.  I can see myself sitting on a dive boat running my mouth with shit talk and then getting tangled up deep inside a shipwreck.  I really need to buy some sort of knife.  Not only will it look pretty cool as I strut around the dock with it strapped to my leg, but it will probably be good when I get all tangled up in some wires I didn’t notice in a hallway of a shipwreck.  I really wouldn’t want that picture of me from the doomed fishing charter to be used as my obituary photo.  Diving a shipwreck with a dive knife?  Hopefully I will see a shark I can later claim to have held off with that knife.  Very manly.  I better get that slotted in.  

My concern with Key West is that instead of wise fishermen quietly handling tasks on their weather beaten boats, it is mainly tourists holding chain store coffee cups looking at paintings of seagulls while Jimmy Buffet and Buster Poindexter’s “Hot Hot Hot” blast out of shitty nightclubs.  Florida contains all the silt from the United States that has washed down to the bottom as naturally as sewage.  I don’t want to come into contact with any overweight bleached blondes drinking daiquiris from a yard long plastic cup with wacky souvenir straw.  No, I want to spar on the dock with deckhands with a small circle of fellow pugilists.  We will split each other’s lips and then retire to a small hole-in-the-wall where we have shots and beers with our arms around each other.  When the sun goes down I will have a last drink, pay the bartendress after turning down her offer to return to her funky cottage, and return to my seaside room to write.  My almost empty bottle of scotch next to the typewriter acts as a paperweight on the 40+ pages of searing brilliance I have hammered out.  I shuffle outside into the sunrise to leap into the sea, refreshed, and ready to slowly let the day ease in.

Monday, August 17, 2015

Nurse the Hate: Hate the Merge





The Kia Rio took a cautious right turn onto the ramp.  It sluggishly gained speed onto the section on I-90 around Cleveland known as the Innerbelt.  These on ramps are not for cowards.  The key on this ramp, like any major highway in a large population center, is to rapidly gain speed to match that of the oncoming traffic.  This particular ramp is very short and quickly merges into a lane that shoots off into a split with I-77.  It was becoming obvious that the driver ahead of me was in over their head as the speed of the green Kia was hovering about 35-40 mph.

There is a great myth amongst poor drivers that extremely slow driving=safe driving.  I don’t know why the idea that limping onto the highway like a wounded gazelle is considered “safe”.  It’s as if that by driving slowly the gazelle driver will somehow reduce the speed of everything else around them, creating more time to run the too fast approaching traffic scenarios through their minds.  I could see that this Kia was going to be in trouble.  Big trouble.  Several SUVs were shooting up behind us in traffic towards the point where we would all merge.  It was clear that the Kia wasn’t going nearly fast enough.  Not only was the Kia in trouble, it was leaving me hanging in the breeze as traffic in the neighboring lanes prevented me from shooting across left to safety.  I was trapped behind the Kia, our fates intertwined.  This is when the Kia driver truly set itself apart…

I was quite "surprised" to see the Kia’s brake lights flash on and the car rapidly stopping.  It was probably the worst decision possible.  We were at this point 100% completely committed on the highway and now squarely in front of traffic that was flying into our rear bumpers at 65 mph.  We were not on the ramp any longer.  We were now on I-90 limping along at maybe 35 mph.  Now the exact opposite of what should have happened was happening.  The driver of the Kia must have panicked at seeing the cars coming up behind it, and inexplicably decided to come to a complete stop on I-90.  Not a gradual slow down  A complete stop.  Holy mother of fuck.

I jammed on the gas, flew over to the middle lane left and listened to the cars screech up behind the Kia.  I must have come within 6-8 inches of being rear ended as the cars behind me must have been as shocked as I was to see a Kia throw itself into park on a highway.  As I passed the Kia the weather beaten woman driving it began going crazy, her left arm gesticulating wildly with a middle finger.   She was “full Cleveland” with a questionable dye job, cigarette, enormous discount sunglasses, and skin that could be charitably called “leathery”.  She had almost killed all of us, yet was convinced that somehow all of this was my fault.

Even now I cannot come up with any rationale as to why this woman was upset with me.  She was in complete command of her destiny.  She totally bungled what is a basic driving scenario.  “God damn you!  How dare you pass my completely stopped car on the highway!”  How did she get to this conclusion?  She must literally lose her mind three times a day as she drifts around dangerously like a slow moving obstacle, yet convinced she is a bastion of safety.  She is a slow moving steel construction barrel that moves in random fashion.  How can it be possible she hasn’t noticed the strategy of every other motorist is exactly opposite of hers?  Based on what I saw, this is not the first time something like this has happened.  “Hmmm… the other cars appear to be merging without incident… perhaps I should try that “speed up to everyone else’s speed” gambit…  What I’m doing isn’t working so well.”

Maybe I'm being too tough on her.  Sometimes I am slow on the uptake.  I have been that person that was the last to realize things going on around me.  9th grade algebra comes to mind as I struggled to understand not only 2X-Y=Z, but why I would care about that end result.  In Geometry the next year I said, “What’s the chance I will ever come in contact with a rhombus?  I won’t need this…” as I flamed out.  I was the one that didn’t replace the sump pump prior to a basement flood when the plumber said weeks earlier, “You know, that thing is pretty old… You oughtta replace it.”  I have been slow on such matters of the heart as “she doesn’t really care about you” until presented with concrete proof.   I’m just not that swift.  Yet, even I realize that if everyone else is driving 65 mph, and I’m in front of them, my move is to speed up as fast as possible, not stop and wait it out.
  
I was in Tampa once, being trained in some corporate sales hoodoo voodoo, and I was left with my nights free.  I decided one night to see the Tampa Rays play at their shitbox stadium, which turned out to be across town.   A taxi would have cost me about $569.  I needed a rental car, but I did not want to get too far out of pocket to see a Rays/White Sox game.  I took a comp hotel airport shuttle to the rental car counters.  I went from Hertz to Avis to Alamo looking for the best deal.  “Look, I just need the car for five hours.  I will pay you in cash for anything.  I don’t give a shit what it is either.  How about $20?”  Each drone employee gave me the standard rebuttal.  “We can only blah blah blah…”  This was until I got to Enterprise…

“I’m sorry sir, but the cheapest thing we have is our compacts at $45 a day.  But…”  He turned to his co-worker.  “What about if we?”  The other guy answered him.  “Is that still back there?”  After some back and forth clicking into the terminal they addressed me again.  This was clearly not a standard rental.  “For $20 we can give you something, but you have to have it back here by midnight.”  Deal.  I gave them a twenty and they gave me the key.

The "something" was a Geo Metro two door hatchback, about the size of a leaf pile.  It was purple.  It had manual windows.  The tires were somehow thinner than most emergency spares.  It was really a car only in theory.  I pulled out of the rental car area and hopped on a short on ramp for the highway.  The challenge of merging with the highway traffic was the shortness of the ramp.  Making matters worse was the fact it was uphill, challenging the little lawnmower engine to produce any thrust.  At the time my primary car was a BMW 330ci, a twin turbo beast that could hit 100 mph in an instant.  This was a different animal.  I had my foot to the floor of the car.  The speed didn’t seem to increase but the urgency of the engine’s screaming protest went into a higher register.  I essentially just drifted onto the highway as other drivers urgently swerved around me mouthing “motherfucker”.

The key to driving that vehicle was to realize that control was only an illusion.  It was almost like sailing.  In a sense it was freeing in that I took the car into the lane and totally depended on the other vehicles to let me in. The only option I had was to meekly accelerate into the fray and hope my optimistic attitude would carry me through the absurdly dangerous situation.  To show even the slightest hesitation was akin of showing fear in the jungle.  To have hit the brakes like that woman today?  I would have been tangled in flaming aluminum.  I would have also deserved it.  To ride in a flimsy vehicle like that is to have only one option and that is to accelerate while hoping for victory.

I don't know where that Kia Rio will be tomorrow.  I hope I don't come across its path.  Maybe I will pass a tiny little fire on the side of the highway and smell burnt hairspray and melted plastic sunglasses.  It will be with mixed emotions that I will scream by, not slowing for even an instant.  I will feel badly for the woman's family as they will miss her.  They will feel responsible as I am sure they sat in her passenger seat once (and only once) and realized with a stark cold realization how badly she drove that little Kia.  They will be filled with guilt that instead of telling her to stop driving like a damn fool they instead indulged her stories of everyone else and their wanton recklessness.  They will feel very badly.  Not me though.  I'll know it was operator error.  There's one way to go.  You have to keep moving forward.  You have to accelerate.