Listen to THIS job: My friend Walter gets paid to go to restaurants, eat their best meals, and then write about his experiences in the paper the next day. He calls this journalism; I call it injustice. Can you imagine what life would be like if you were PAID to eat?
You: "I'll have the filet mignon, lobster tail, a bottle of your best Merlot, and chocolate cheesecake for dessert."
Waiter: "Very well, here's seven hundred dollars."
Walter's stories always drive me a little nuts--how many synonyms are there for the word "chew?" Once to be funny I sent Walter a story about my own lunch; it went something like this: "The bag was exquisitely wrapped, with just the right amount of delicate grease leaking through the paper to let me know this was no ordinary Whopper, but a Whopper whose gusty application of cheese added so many grams of delectable fat, the entire meal was the equivalent of eating a barrel of whale blubber." Walter never even acknowledged receiving it.
Anyway, Walter found himself in a real bind one day, and called to ask me to substitute for him at a wine festival so he could fly with his girlfriend to Aspen for the opening of a restaurant by Ted Turner or Tina Turner or Bachman Turner Overdrive or somebody. All I had to do was pretend to be Walter and give my impression of a few glasses of wine--how hard could it be?
My fellow judge at this festival thing looked like Abe Lincoln, only short and without a beard. He seemed very impressed to be meeting someone as famous as Walter the Guy Who Eats For A Living, and then the two of us sat at a table with a white linen cloth and a crowd of maybe twenty very wealthy-looking people gathered around, while an old guy in a tuxedo struggled with a bottle of wine, maybe as unfamiliar with how to use a cork screw as I would be. When he finally got the stopper out he handed it to me.
"Good job," I told him encouragingly.
Old Abe grabbed it and pushed it into his considerable nose and sniffed it, which I thought was pretty funny. To kind of go with the flow, when he put it down I stuck it in my mouth and crossed my eyes, though none of the snobs in the audience laughed.
Abe's glass was poured first. He held it up to the light to make sure he got enough, seeming to be fascinated with the way the liquid ran down the sides. Then, like he had never heard of sexual harassment, he said "nice legs."
I was flabbergasted. To stall, I held the glass up to the light like he did, wondering who in the audience he was talking about. When I realized everyone was looking at me, I panicked. "Nice butt," I blurted.
Abe took a thoughtful sip, so I did the same. I thought it was pretty good, but he must have hated it, because he immediately spat it out in a bowl and then took a swish of water, which he also expectorated, like it was a dentist's office or something! Some people are so rude, you wonder if they were raised by wolves.
"Sensational," Abe declared. "A mild hint of raspberry. Young oak. A fruity, lively character, spirited and carefree."
Everyone turned and looked at me. I froze: raspberry? Oak trees? Was the guy insane? All I could taste was wine. "Uh, like he said," I finally agreed. The audience didn't seem particularly satisfied.
The old guy in the tuxedo snatched Abe's glass before he could finish it, so I made sure I swallowed the rest of my own portion before he got to me.
The next entry came from a different bottle. Abe did the same tired trick with the cork, but I had already decided there was no more comedy to be found messing around with that, and I ignored it even when the old guy in the tux gave me another shot at cork humor. Abe repeated his boorish behavior, spitting out every drop --how can you get to be a wine judge if you don't even like wine?
"Ah. Chocolate and smoke. A hint of a dry and mysterious nut flavor. Perfect with cheese," Abe pronounced.
So the maybe the guy abused LSD when he was in college. I cleared my throat. "Well, I don't taste the smoke," I finally stated. "More like a... wine, some kinda red wine."
This drew a lot of severe looks from the people in the audience, but don't actions speak louder than words? I DRANK my glass, while mister Smoked Chocolate Nuts couldn't even swallow a sip.
Another bottle. I felt myself beginning to lose interest.
"Ah, elderflowers and peaches, with a hint of honey and spice. A sweet and delicious composition of sun and sparkling air," Abe spouted.
I took a breath. "Chevrolets freshly waxed. Small earlobes. A new television," I announced.
Clearly, the audience was far more impressed by my analysis than they were by Abe's. They regarded me with their mouths open.
The next bottle glugged into my glass with amazing clarity. I found myself preparing my analysis before I even drank it. "Linoleum basements!" I shouted joyfully. "Uncle Jim's underwear. The people who have never said 'cree!' Changing your mayonnaise. Sore thumbs!"
Few in the audience could deny that my proclamation was more original than my fellow judge's.
The guy in the tuxedo seemed reluctant to pour me another glass, but I was empowered. I grabbed the bottle out of his hand and swigged it down. Here was one wine judge who knew how to enjoy the stuff!
"Okay." I stood, feeling very affectionate toward everybody. "First, to my fellow judge, my good buddy, I have to say, I think you should grow the beard back. And I know what everyone says now about how the Civil War wasn't actually fought to free the slaves, and blah blah blah, but really. Really. What matters most is that we are all here tonight to honor you, sir, and to salute the brave men and women who would be alive today except for the sacrifices they made. And, well, also because they'd be really, really old." I wiped my eyes, hoping to keep my emotions in check. "And as I stand here, thinking to myself, 'Bruce, these are your best friends in the world,' except," I added hurriedly, realizing my mistake, "that my name is Walter, and I wonder, why can't we get along. Is it because of fresh chocolate nuts? Because of elderberries in a newly-waxed Chevrolet? I think not, my bunnies, for the sad truth here is that we need more Americans who are not afraid to stick a cork up their nose and say, 'Hey. I'm ugly and I don't like wine.'" I raised my glass. "Everyone," I commanded, "let's drink a toast to Abraham Lincoln, long may he wave." I looked around and realized that only the judges had been given anything to drink. "Well, just pretend," I instructed.
So ever since that night Walter has been leaving me these really rude messages on my answering machine, like he thought he was up for a Pulitzer and I spoiled his chances or something. For a guy who eats food for a living, Walter can be pretty ungrateful.
Copyright W. Bruce Cameron 1998
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