Wednesday, December 19, 2012

The Hammer: San Leonardo Gonzaga 1999

This wine was so good. It was meant for greatness.

He was always shy, quiet, introverted. But when he got a guitar in his hands, he bent the world to his will in the garages of Jackson, Mississippi. You watched a small dose of fame twist lesser musicians into blowhards who would rest on their laurels (or their parents couches) for the rest of their lives. Not this guy. He got more critical of himself the more accolades he collected. He pushed forward. You thought maybe this was going to be a happy story. The girls finally noticed him, record companies wanted to talk to him. The last thing you saw coming was drugs. You watched him waste away. You begged him to stop. To eat. To sleep. He wouldn't. That night, he started wobbling on stage at The Feenicks, and as he finished the second to last song, he pukes on stage. You knew he was drunk, but it was blood. Drunk people don't puke blood. The applause dies abruptly, people are gasping and waiting for him to collapse. But he doesn't. In slow motion you see him raise his arm to his face and wipe blood away from his mouth.

"The show isn't over."

The crowd explodes with screaming and thunderous applause. He steadies the guitar and looks at you, his eyes are watering. You know the truth. He is dying in front of you. They fire up the last song, and the whole building is shaking, he's screaming, with red teeth, into the microphone, into oblivion. You aren't sure if its real or not, but he's turning white, even as he finishes. You call 911. He throws the guitar on the ground and staggers backstage in huge exaggerated steps. You found him in the bathroom, sitting down, with an unlit cigarette in his mouth. The toxicology report might as well've just said, "Yes."

It was the best show anyone ever saw at The Feenicks or anywhere.

San Leonardo is a Bordeaux-style red made in Trentino, Italy. It will blow your mind with its humble brilliance- you'll drink Milwaukee's Best with it on the roof till the sun comes up. You'll bring it subway meatball subs after it plays its heart out in shitty dive bars. You'll burst into tears when the paramedics look up at you and say, "I'm so sorry." You will remember it long after it is gone.

Monday, December 17, 2012


Tell me gang, have you heard of my friend, Tanger Zest?

Tanger has a pinstripe suit. It looks like a regular suit, but when you get really close, you can see that the stripes say "TANGER TANGER TANGER TANGER"

He didn't buy the suit. It was given to him as a gift. It would have cost ten thousand dollars. Tanger kicked the door into that nice apartment complex that that was burning down on 41st and Leewood. The fire trucks pulled up to see Tanger, holding a toddler in his jacket. "He's got mild first degree burns and needs oxygen." Tanger says, handing off the kid, wrapped in his sport coat. He walks away wordlessly as a sports car pulls up, a suited man is on a cell phone, shouting and cursing, who the fuck is this asshole, what the fuck did he do to my son. The fireman secures the oxygen mask on the little boy, and a card falls out of the jacket. Its a tag from getting the suit tailored, with his buisness card stapled to it:

"That asshole saved your son's life."

What did Tanger do? He never answered the question the same way twice. Tanger was not a doctor.

"I run a charity called Hats for Dogs. Did you know 94% of dogs don't or can't wear hats??"

"I design weapons. Cool weapons that only attractive people use. They use them and they say cool things. Just like in James Bond, but for real. They make cool noises like BIEW BIEW BIEW." 
"I'm a toothpaste expert. Or consultant rather. But its not just how I pay the bills, I LOVE toothpaste. I'm an avid collector of fine toothpastes. You should see my collection." This seemed like a potential truth- Tanger always smelled faintly of mint and orange.

Nothing Tanger did quite made sense. He was always one standard deviation away from sane. He would put mustard on peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. He ironed his clothes again after having them pressed at the drycleaner. When asked why, he would just smile and say, "I like em CRISP!" Tanger would volunteer at the local animal shelter, and give the dogs grandiose names names like Sebastiano Quintanilla (a west highland white terrier that was somehow permanently dyed neon green), Elisabeth Scheherazade (a three legged labradoodle that smelled like peanuts), and Lieutenant Dietrich Momotegi (a pitbull that was kicked out of police training for not biting people). They noticed the dogs with goofy names always got adopted. He penned a massive list of names. He put ice in his beer. He drank his orange juice piping hot. He only slept on his couch. He always carried an unshuffled deck of cards- in case anyone wanted to play, which they usually did. Half the fun, he said, was shuffling a fresh desk of cards.

Tanger was powered by some otherworldly energy that kept him going long after other people would have gotten tired or given up. Some people speculated that Tanger wasn't actually a man at all, but perhaps an angel. People that knew him better would describe him as perhaps a mischievous sub-deity. He wasn't nice to everyone, just people he felt deserved it. His favorite thing was to pester the wicked while doing something nice for someone he wanted to help. He stole happiness from the ungrateful and doled it out to those in desperate need. One time when I met him for lunch he plucked a flower from the vase of a couple on their cellphones at the table, begrudgingly celebrating something, and gave it to the woman sitting alone- a large awkward hat concealing her hair loss from chemotherapy. She asked why, Tanger said, "Why not? Ladies should get flowers all the time." She was laughing, as he moonwalked away. The busy couple never noticed. 

Tanger had all the obscure tools you needed to fix all the little stupid things that broke, ever. Tanger knew things. Tanger spoke languages, and had connections. He walked into restaurants he'd never been in, and the room lit up,

"Welcome back, Dr. Zest!"

Tanger would bring you the junk food you found irresistible when you were too upset to eat. He would listen if you ever had anything to say, or he would just meet you up if you needed to silently kill a bottle of wine. If he thought it would help, he'd start spouting off nonsense. He would shout the name of the wine in a singsong voice, especially if it was Italian: "CODA DI VOLPE! THE TAIL OF THE FOX.

Tanger put sugar on his pizza. He said that's how they eat it "back home". One time you tried it and maybe you were drunk, but it tasted pretty good. 

Tanger would be doing something stupid, like putting glitter in a return envelope to a credit card company, and someone would say something like, "Tanger, that doesn't make any sense."

"It doesn't have to make sense."

"Why are you putting glitter in an envelope??"

"No. The question is why aren't you putting glitter in an envelope?!" 

"Goddamit Tanger." This is how all attempts to discern his motives ended.

It was useless arguing with Tanger. He always got his way, mostly because nobody cared to stop him. To this day, he is always doing something mildly nuts to ensure the world moves forward in a zanier, more colorful, and happy direction. And really, who would want to stop that?

Tanger is a force of good in the universe

Saturday, November 10, 2012

Los Angeles

You sent Los Angeles a text: a heads up to let it know you were on your way. Los Angeles already knew. It tracked the GPS unit in your car. It paired the signal with the receiver in your cell phones. It monitored data from your car engine like temperature, quality of intake air, and fluid levels. It mined information about your average speed, the songs you listened to the most, and a list of suggestions about other artists you might like. Los Angeles found a way to welcome you and let you know you were being watched. It texts you back,

LA: I can’t wait to see you! By the way, I think you need an oil change.

Los Angeles is smiling at you impossibly hard. It is looking at a picture of itself on the cover of a fitness magazine, pulling up its expensive t-shirt to reveal washboard abs. Turn to page 37 to find out how Los Angeles did it. To see what Los Angeles eats to keep looking young. Los Angeles is smiling so hard it seems like its teeth might slice through its own lips. Its grin makes your skin crawl.

Los Angeles is being waved past the security checkpoint. The security team is more interested in you than Los Angeles. As you walk forward, their body language reveals that they are preparing to stop you.

Do you have any fruits or vegetables? “No.” You do.

Do you have any weapons or explosives? “No.” You do.

What is your relationship with Los Angeles? “We’re good friends.” You’ve never met.

Security doesn't believe you. They look at Los Angeles, who confirms "I know them, they're with me."

Los Angeles clasps its hands around yours for an assertive handshake and says, “Don’t forget about me when you’re famous!” You can never really tell if LA takes you seriously or not. Los Angeles is looking through you, trying to catch the attention of the graphic designer sitting at the sushi counter. Los Angeles is nodding its head and saying “uh huh” at everything in regular intervals, enough to make you question if it understands or cares. Los Angeles is asking for the fresh grated wasabi, for the savory egg custard that isn't on the menu.

Have you seen LA’s new tattoo? What language is it in? It looks like Cyrillic.

Have you seen LA’s new apartment? They shot scenes from Inception in it.

Have you seen LA’s red Tibetan Mastiff? The dog is literally red. When pressed on what it paid for the dog, Los Angeles smiles, and looks off camera “a lot.”

In the airport you’re freezing. Rubbing your arms to stay warm. Los Angeles is contemplating its jacket options. It taps you on the shoulder, holding up two options: military-esque green jacket or black peacoat? You gesture towards the peacoat. Listening to a cellphone poised between its shoulder and cheek, LA mouths “thank you” and stuffs the military jacket back in its suitcase.

Los Angeles can see that you’re hurt. That you are slowly losing it. A carefully calculated expression of concern overtakes LA’s face. It tilts its eyebrows in just the right way, leans forward, and asks in a hushed tone, “Are you ok?”

“No, LA. I’m not.”

“It’s ok to be sad that she’s gone. Don’t worry, I’ll take care of her.”

“It’s more than the girl, Los Angeles.”

“The restaurant? You’re not going to make it back in time for service are you?”

“I’m going to try, but it’s not looking good. It’s eating me alive.”

“Is that all? You’re gonna be late for work? Relax dude.” Los Angeles begins reaching for the intercom, “I can totally have Kit bring you a Kombucha-” You cut LA off.

“It’s you LA. You creep me out. I think you’re really cool, but I can’t shake the feeling that you’re pure evil.”

LA sighs. It closes the script and sets it aside. Its about to break character and tell you how it really feels. But you’re putting on your backpack. You’re leaving because you don’t care to hear it out.

You’re walking to the gate, and you allow yourself to feel like you’ve won. You needn’t look behind you to know that LA is smiling daggers into the back of your head. Los Angeles is a master tactician, one of the deadliest foes you’ve ever encountered. You merely bumped into Los Angeles, and felt the electric crackle of its horrifying power. You haven't won, because you didn't really attempt to engage Los Angeles. You were afraid to.

Los Angeles clears its throat, you turn to face it- a huge mistake. Los Angeles is thinking at the speed of light, sizing you up, and is going to send you home with a paper cut:

“Thanks for getting her here safely.”

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Smaller Words

We’re all sitting very still in a massive Blackhawk helicopter tearing across the jungle. “Five minutes until lineup.” Nobody’s eyes move, “Yes, chef.” The canopy below us is dark green and shiny from the rain. Jason is wrapping bandages around his hands. Chef is texting on his phone. Everyone is armed to the teeth with rifles, grenades, pistols. I reach to my side, to feel for a gun. The drop down holster is empty. I am completely unarmed. Kelly asks, “How many hostages is it again?” Chef doesn’t look up from his phone. “Fifty-three.” In unison, we all quietly swear in disbelief. How are we supposed to pull this off? A sense of mild panic washes over me, not just because I have no idea how we’re supposed to recuse fifty three hostages, but also because it is becoming obvious to me that I’m dreaming. And that’s usually when things get ugly.

Its finally cold outside, so instinctively, I go to get whiskey. I see a bottle of my favorite Japanese whiskey on the bar, forgotten behind some other bottles and I ask for it neat. It tastes so good I want to get up and smash my chair to pieces. This is a reaction I have to good alcohol that I first observed maybe six years ago at a steakhouse. I was drinking a Zinfandel, and I think my exact words we, “Emily… this wine is so good… It kind of makes me want to get into a fight.” Perhaps in the same way a really good punk show might make you want to punch someone in the moshpit in the face, really good alcohol makes me want to brawl.

Of course, I’m not just here for whiskey.

She materializes out of nowhere and spots me, “Oh I see you already have a drink, fine.” She snatches the tumbler away and noses it. She puts it down and as she’s walking away asks, “Is that 12 year Yamazaki?”

It is.


If you want me to leave you alone, do not walk up and identify what whiskey I am drinking by simply smelling it. Do not do this if the idea of me wanting to hang out with you bothers you. At all costs, do not demonstrate an expert-level understanding of my favorite spirit.

I’m more or less speechless, and she’s back. She’s working, moving quickly and not making eye contact. “I was struggling with Japanese whiskies, then I realized they kind of smell like rum. Plus, a lot of them use this very distinctive type of Japanese oak that they typically use for building temples.”

STOP STOP STOP SAYING INTERESTING THINGS GODDAMMIT. I mean, my heart and my mind are fully prepared for not ever seeing her again. However I just have to laugh, because every time I start successfully deprioritizing her, she says or does something remarkable, and I’m like, do you want to go drive around listening to music in the car until 5 am sometime? Just one last time, Bird?

I close my eyes and I see bits and pieces. Fake electronic candles flickering behind bottles, a huge pile of crumpled up money that she is counting. A shot glass full of cigarette ash. A text message: I’m still here deck brushing but I got some wine for when we get out.

I told myself that writing would be a healthy, cathartic exercise. I’m afraid it’s just not the case. I find myself stepping outside of my comfort zone as often as possible for the sake of good stories to write about. What’s worse, I end up using the truth and fiction interchangeably- and leaving everything up to the reader, probably not the best idea. But I do love a good story, so I continue to push.

“You’re staying with your goddamn ex girlfriend in New York City? Not to mention her new boyfriend is your friend and was your mentor?? Are you insane?”

She’s pushing a meatball around her plate, incredulously.

“More or less.” I say. Other times my general response to this kind of question is, “I’m trying to make my life more like a Woody Allen movie.”

I have the easiest job in the restaurant, as a server-sommelier. However, that doesn’t prevent it front sinking its teeth into the delicate flesh of my dreams, and populating them with the most realistic nightmares I have ever experienced.

I dream of the restaurant, every night. I see diners sitting in the seats. They have been waiting for their food. For 20 minutes. For hours. For years. I am running to the kitchen to fire their next course. I’m looking for chef. Where in the fuck is my chef? I have to fire their course. They have been waiting for decades. They are looking at me, and they are furious. The restaurant is empty, save for their table. I have no excuse to fall back on. This is unquestionably my fault.

In another nightmare, the restaurant is full. Everything is going normally, then I look back at the kitchen: and everyone is gone. The grill is still on, the food is all out, but the entire Back of House has blinked out of existence. Horror. Nobody in the dining room notices, and as time stretches on, people start getting upset that their food isn’t coming out.

Did you have less than stellar service from me at some point? Trust me that it is more upsetting for me. As my brain will not let me live down a single gaffe.

These are fairly mundane nightmares, but they are so vivid and real. They are so real that I will be aware of lying in my bed, in my pajamas, and I am still gripped by a sense of life-or-death urgency to push my tables forward. There is always another turn coming. A thousand turns. We have seven thousand on the books tonight. I need two hands to count the number of times I have finally fully woken up to find my thumb hovering over my chef’s phone number. Because I was going to call him. To fire tables. If I weren’t utterly terrified by my flimsy grasp on reality, I would laugh at this scene.

Never before in my life have my conscious and subconscious mind become so dangerously intermingled. And really, it isn’t just that, but my sense of a timeline in my life has become blurry. Old memories are rising to the surface, and current ones seem like they happened eons ago.

The one thing that has remained constant is that every night I have a nightmare about the restaurant, that is punctuated by other, more topical nightmares.

I take it to mean that there are a lot of things in my life that mean a lot to me right now. The success of the restaurant seems to be the big one. One thing I can’t explain the increasing presence of the girl from the facility.

I’m sitting outside the psychologist’s office, which is located inside the facility. This is the first memory I have of listening to other people talk about me and learning something from it.

“Your son has been an… extremely unusual addition to the community here.”

My parents are naturally horrified by the vagueness of this statement coming from a mental health professional. “Is he getting worse? What is so unusual about him??”

“No ma’am, we actually took him off suicide watch after the first day. I can assure you that your son is not a danger to himself or others. I don’t think he ever was.”

“Well then what?!”

She’s excitedly searching for words. “He’s uh, trying to help all of his peers. At group therapy, he is actually helping the other kids resolve their conflicts. His roommate Tony has a history of… violence. He turned in a sharpened toothbrush to us yesterday. His explanation was that Justin talked him out of using it.”

I’m instantly transported to that moment when Tony asked me, “Hey man, you got a quarter? I want to call my girlfriend and tell her I love her before I go kill one of the orderlies.”

I’m 13, and really grateful Tony listened to me. My Dad, still upset, interjects, “Make sure the kids you make my son sleep next to don’t have fucking weapons. That’s your job.”

I fast-forward 14 years to New York. I’ve got maybe six hours left before I have to get to the airport. I’m in the bathroom, washing my hands, applying lotion to my still-fresh tattoo that is weeping blood onto my shirt. With out even trying, I overhear “So what’s he been like this whole time?”

I move closer to the door. Adrienne projects, even as she is attempting to talk more quietly, “He’s a completely different person. He used to be really loud and animated. Now he’s just… silent. It’s bizarre. I don’t recognize him anymore.”

I’m trying not to laugh, not just because I’m a voyeur at heart, but because I’m looking in the mirror, and maybe I can’t recognize myself anymore either.

I’m back in the facility, and I can barely recognize this girls face. I started seeing her more and more in the last three months of my nightmare diet. I remember her being gorgeous, her black eye doing nothing to discourage me. I’m eating fish with her and some friends in the cafeteria and saying, “This is so gross, its funny how gross it is. Like they’re trying to kill us.”

She’s ignoring my banter because she has something important to say.

“Hey. I kind of like you. It really meant a lot that you stuck up for me the other day at group.” She slides a piece of paper across the table and walks away wordlessly. I open it up, and it’s a phone number. It says:

For when we get out.

Wendy reaches across me for the paper, and I can see her two-week-old scars from slashing her wrists with a box cutter. “Dude. You just got a hit on in a mental hospital.” I am grinning so hard I’m afraid my teeth are going to fall out. Wendy stuffs the number into my shirt pocket. “What’s she in for again?”

While I’m watching her walk away, she turns back to look at me, and winks, with flawless execution. This is the first time this has ever happened to me. Did it set a precedent?

“Anger issues and violence.” I wave at her.

I’m walking on gravel covered in fallen cherry blossoms. This place is unreasonably pretty, just like in the pictures.

I’m in the Ibaraki prefecture in Japan. I feel like I walked here. Obviously I’m looking for Hitachino. Specifically I’m hunting for the No Shizuku brandy, but my goal here is to get whatever I can find. Then my sense of smell kicks in. It smells like someone is burning a vanilla bean with a blowtorch. I rotate on my heels to face a massive Japanese temple, with a faint light glowing inside. I walk in to investigate.

I’m inside and the burning vanilla bean smell is getting stronger. I’m sweating, and as I wipe sweat off my forehead I can see the temple bursting into flames. Someone was waiting for me to get here. I’m vaguely scared, but the fire pouring up massive wooden support beams mesmerizes me. The wood has been burning for a long time, and is now black and shiny. Paper walls are turning beige, then brown, then black, and finally vanishing in a puff off smoke.

I rarely see her make an entrance, she just kind of suddenly appears. And here she is. She knows I’m here, but she’s not looking at me. She’s spinning a bar blade on her finger. I’m relieved at this clue that I’m dreaming, because she never spins the blade in real life. I’m the one who is obsessed with spinning bar blades. She’s talking, but the sound of the fire and the temple starting to collapse is really loud. I can hear her say, “I’m annoyed at myself that we ever crossed the friend boundary line.”

“I’m playing it cool, Bird. It’s not like I expected you to be my girlfriend or something. It was nice getting to know you.”

I read the words CO-RECT INDIA on the bar blade.

I can barely see her, the air is shimmering from the heat, and everything is starting to turn grey-black from smoke gushing in every direction. I can hear an ear-splitting snapping noise: the ceiling is collapsing. Sweat and smoke are stinging my eyes.

She thinks I’m more upset than I am, “You’ll be fine. I’m just a girl.” I roll my eyes.

I’m trying to form words as the whole temple comes down on my head. I sit up in bed, a red light from the window unit means I forgot to turn the A/C on.

Note to self: going to bed and leaving the A/C off causes fire death.

Note to self: going to bed drunk causes falling death.

Note to self: going to bed hungry causes starvation death.

Note to self: going to sleep at all will result in service nightmares. Put the phone out of arms reach so I don’t accidentally call chef. At one point before I went to bed this week I actually said aloud to myself, “There are no more guests in the restaurant. You will not have to wait on anybody until you get back.” It super didn’t work. Maybe stop sleeping?

I’m at the restaurant, and we’re in the thick of it. The fever pitch of service is happening, and I’m one step behind everything. I’m rushing to catch up. Need to fire table B. I look back at the kitchen, and everyone is gone. No. No. No no no. This is not happening. I rush into the kitchen, and to my complete terror, it is actually happening. I’m looking for signs that I’m dreaming, and I can’t find them. Some zany mistake my subconscious makes when writing my dreams is missing here. This is goddamn fucking reality, and the entire kitchen has disappeared. I am so fucked. Then I see Mark pop up from behind the line, and I realize what was happening. Five cooks simultaneously dropped down to their knees to plate the stone crab and kombu aspic dish, and I cannot see them when they do this. I swear I almost ran away in terror.

That weekend, I’m confidently pouring whiskey into my flask, and the opening is very small. I feel cool because there is a 2-millimeter margin of error between me filling this flask up with delicious whiskey, and spilling it all over the ground. Right as I begin mentally patting myself on the back, I feel a cold wet sensation on my feet. Goddammit. Don’t look down. Bad enough that my dreams are coming to get me while I’m awake. I walk out the door, my sandals wet.

The helicopter is vibrating, shaking all of us inside. The sun is setting over the Jungle, and I am paralyzed with fear: I do not have any guns. We are somehow supposed to rescue 53 hostages from a military prison complex. How am I supposed to do that without weapons? “Willet? Can I borrow a gun?” He doesn’t hear me.

This is a common dream problem for me: being unarmed in a situation where I need a lot of guns, usually a zombie apocalypse situation or an Escape from New York type deal. However I went to bed drunk, and I’m in a helicopter, so I know exactly what’s going to happen next. I see an enormous rainbow macaw gliding along side the chopper. I say to myself and point at it, “Jungle Bird.”

The helicopter starts turning and the pilot is cursing shit shit fuck shit DRONES. We hear an air raid siren go off below us, suddenly there are glowing lights turning on beneath the canopy for hundreds of yards beneath us. The mist reveals a dozen targeting lasers from SAM sites, fixating on us. Austin closes his eyes hard, “Oh… no.” Gunfire erupts. Explosions and the crackle of machine gun fire begin in the distance and then resonate with a tink tink tink on the side of the chopper. Chef looks up from his phone and stares at me.

“You know how I can tell when you’re telling the truth on your blog?”

Suddenly the tinks increase in frequency, and an explosion causes the Blackhawk to lurch forward violently, and I feel my intestines fly up into my chest. We are spinning in a free fall. Alarms are going off in the cabin, and as we spin the front of the cockpit catches a stream of gunfire. Bullets explode through the cockpit and tear the pilot apart, spraying dark blood on everything. His arms flail in death like a ragdoll as we plummet towards the ground.

I’m falling, we’re all falling. Clutching onto the side of the helicopter, bracing for impact. Everyone is hanging on for dear life except my chef, who is sitting calmly, as if the forces trying to throw us out of the cabin are not affecting him. He leans forward.

“You use big words and flowery language to entertain yourself when you lie, because lying doesn’t excite you the same way the truth does.” He looks out the door. Everything is a blur. We’re no longer over the jungle canopy. We’re about to crash into the prison. Men and women with rifles run to avoid the impending crash of our helicopter. The ground is rushing to meet us.

“When you’re telling the truth, you use smaller words.”

We collide with the earth like a meteor. And as I’m thrown from the chopper and through the ground I begin to wake up. I fall out of bed and stumble to the bathroom, where I puke my guts out. I look out the open door into the living room. There are damp whiskey footprints on the ground. I need to take it easy, I think to myself. Once I’ve unburdened myself of my stomach full of poison, I stumble back to my bedroom.

I should be working harder to find balance. I should be trying to do whatever everybody thinks it is I’m supposed to do. But this path just feels right. I’ll be more responsible when the Bird is gone, I say to myself, unconvincingly. I want to call her, but I need to sleep. I decide to split the difference.

I raise up the remote to my window unit, and turn the A/C off.

Friday, September 28, 2012

The Most Interesting Wine in The World

As much as I love the “Most Interesting Man in the World” ad campaign, it’s maddening to me. Its like, look at this guy, who makes Hemmingway look like some kind of loser wallflower. What is he selling? Ubiquitous Mexican lager.


It’s insidiously clever, because the qualifier “I don’t always drink beer…” actually answer my first complaint which is IF HE WAS INTERESTING HE WOULD DRINK FUCKING INTERESTING THINGS LIKE ABSINTHE AND SPARKLING WINE AND WHISKY AND COCKTAILS THAT REQUIRE CRUSHED ICE.


But you see that’s the thing: the most interesting man in the world would actually have a need for a lame session beer. I still don’t believe it would be Dos Equis. It would be the most popular adjunct lager that originated from the country his hijinks were occurring in. So, Quilmes in Argentina while he ran a casino on the president’s yacht, Estrella Daam in Spain when he had to fly an emergency shipment of tomatoes to the Tomatina festival, Chang in Thailand where he spent a summer courting the illusive jewel thief the CIA can only identify by her alias “Grey Fox”, and so forth.

But really, you know what I think of when I think of the most interesting man in the world? I think of sherry. When we talk about a timeless sense of unimpeachable class that sets the bar for a life worth remembering, it is always sherry.

Sherry is not for everyone. The first time you try it, it will probably comes as a shock. Just like the first time you tasted coffee. Just like the first time you ate your steak cooked a proper medium rare. Just like your first shot of Fernet Branca. Just like the first time you fired a gun. Just like the first piece of sushi you ate. Like the first time you got hit in the face. Like your first kiss, the first time you try sherry you may not be sure exactly how to proceed- but if you’re fearless, you have a really good idea.

Sherry is not old school. Sherry has been around before your great grandparents were knee-high to a toadstool. But make no mistake: sherry has always been cutting edge. You got the album? Sherry has it on vinyl. You directed the movie? Sherry wrote the book it’s based off of. You got a case? Sherry tasted barrel samples- at the distillery. You think that sherry is old and antiquated, for the elderly to sip on while playing bridge. You are wrong: sherry is sleeping with the lead singer of your favorite band. Sherry is watching the sunrise at café du Monde in a dirty tuxedo. Sherry is cutting the blue wire- at random, because sherry doesn’t know how to disarm bombs. Sherry got lucky, and was called a hero. He got a key to the city.

I refuse to attempt to explain sherry. The idea disgusts me. That you would want to know sherry’s life story. No. When you meet sherry, he will be in the middle of a story. Of a heist. Of a party. He will invite you, as all congenial hosts would, to join in the madness. I implore you to accept the invitation. I cannot emphasize how much you have to gain from hanging out with Sherry.

One of the greatest mistakes I feel like we (sommeliers) make when trying to get someone to try sherry is attempting to explain how it is made. In general, we forget that the details that we find fascinating in wine sometimes bore the living hell out of our guests. They want to know why it’s important to them. This is fino. It’s going to taste like this, and it’s going to taste like this with your soup. It’s going to be so delicious you’re going to weep. If you want to know more, I’ll tell you. However, I feel like the most interesting wine in the world does not and should not dwell on his resume. He is living here and now, and he doesn’t have time to explain: he needs a 9-volt battery and lighter, and he needs you to trust him. Sherry is wearing a parachute, and as the cargo bay doors to the airplane slowly open, depressurizing the cabin, he looks back at you and says cryptically, “If you never ask, the answer will always be no.” 

I’m not even going to try to tell you what sherry tastes like. I want you to go to a restaurant, or a wine shop, and I want you to find out for yourself. The most interesting wine in the world isn’t going to wait for you, but he loves company. Sherry cannot guarantee your safety. Maybe you have no reason to trust him, but you should.

There is a lot of good sherry readily available in Houston. My wine geek friends and I are doing everything in our power to make sure that more arrives. We are seizing the shipments on the docks at gunpoint. We are hacking the importer’s mainframe, and rerouting palets of En Rama to be sent to the streets of Westheimer. We are draining the drinking water reservoir, and replacing it with sherry. That’s not rusty water coming out of the showerhead, its Oloroso. Good morning!

If you let him into your life, Sherry will burn your drinking routines to the ground. Maybe that wasn’t what you were looking for, but you will be glad you let chaos into your life. You can both walk away from the fire in slow motion, and not flinch when it blows up behind you. Light a good cigar on the flames, it goes well with Pedro Ximenez.

I don't always drink wine, but when I do, I prefer the most interesting wine in the world. 

Drink sherry.

Friday, September 14, 2012

The Diary of an Angry Bird

It is sometimes an appropriate response to reality to go insane. – Phillip K. Dick
The Abyss doesn't blink when it stares back.

I’m driving a few mixologists to the airport, and I drive past Arnie’s Party warehouse. I see a huge LCD sign lit up in the early morning light that shows grown men and women wearing poorly made, baggy Angry Birds costumes. The tagline almost causes me to swerve off the road:

“Get these angry birds costumes for your next angry birds party!”

Fire ants are crawling on the surface of my brain. The whole world is vibrating, and I feel like space and time are going to split ways and catapult myself and the rest of the universe into oblivion.

Get these costumes for your angry bird party? NO. We live in a world where it is not absurd for this sign to assume that I have already thrown an angry bird party and that I must have these costumes for my  N  E  X  T  Angry Bird party. I need these costumes so I can step my game up for what is, at the very least, the second angry bird party I have hosted.

This is real. It happened to me. This sign looked into me and said, “I know you’ve already attempted to throw an Angry Birds party. That party was a fucking farce. It’s time to move up to the big leagues and get Angry Birds costumes for next time. For next time. FOR NEXT TIME.”

My mixologists haven’t slept and are chatting boisterously, but I can’t hear them. I’m in another world entirely. This is the second time I have seen this sign in this context. I didn’t notice it the first time. Now it is standing between me and my mental stability, like a thug blocking me in an alleyway. “Going somewhere?” it asks, leering.

I can smell menthol cigarettes and badly madeirized sherry in the cabin of the truck, and the visions are crushing me like a cartoon piano being dropped on my head.

Can you see it?

A soldier in Afghanistan use a laser to designate a children’s hospital as a target for an angry bird predator drone strike. He lights up an Angry Bird cigarette as the drone flies overhead (painted like the red bird). It launches an Angry Bird Hellfire missile that causes half of the hospital to collapse. Hundreds of innocents are killed along with the target of interest, a heroin dealer who was selling the purest smack in the Arab world, in tiny little Angry Bird baggies. This is how the United States avoids the political ugliness of straight up assassinating people: by having drones do the killing that real humans used to. Politicians defend our use of drone attacks during a televised debate on The Angry Bird News Network. They wear tiny, carefully placed Angry Bird pins on their lapels.
On the other side of the world, on a happier note: Yoni Maltzman has an Angry Birds Bar Mitzvah in Brooklyn.  His parents served Angry Birds Chardonnay (from Brda in Solvenia, fermented with wild yeasts) and Angry Birds Berliner Weisse, (a special bottling from Kindl). He received and Angry Bird Mont Blanc and an angry Bird Rolex Submariner from his grandparents. His parents were somewhat wealthy from selling Angry Birds cellphone GPS receivers. They gave out Yarmulkes that said “The Bar Mitzvah of Yoni Maltzman 08.24.12” with different Angry Birds on them. You visited Brooklyn last month, and you found one of the Yarmulkes in the street.

I’m forced to go back to reality at work. I think I’m safe. We have a great night at the restaurant. We deck brush, we do all the closing sidework, and I leave. Dreaming of the impending pasta Tuesday.

I show up at Paulie’s on Tuesday morning. I say hi to all my friends, and out of the corner of my eye, I notice colorful new cookies in the cookie case. I’m not a huge fan of sugar cookies in general, but I love that Paulie’s cranks them out like crazy and always has some kind of design that has something to do with current events, usually a holiday. If I had to eat a sugar cookie, the only one I can imagine enjoying is from Paulie’s.

I look in the case. The cookies are Angry Birds. The blue one. The Green one. The red one. I feel like my jaw can’t drop hard enough. If my lower jaw just fell off, that would convey how the cookies made me feel. Paulie and The Birds have declared war on my sanity, and I can’t help but laugh, hard. During lunch I do my best to pretend that I don’t feel like the target of a massive Angry Birds conspiracy. Paulie’s is my oasis from the madness of everyday life and the service industry. And I’m slightly disturbed the Birds have found it.

Later, at a wine tasting, I ask a friend: What is your favorite Angry Bird? They answer immediately and sincerely, and I weigh the pros and cons of making a giant scene. I decide against it. I’m the one being unreasonable by freaking out about The Angry Birds, I tell myself.

Time passes, and I find myself sitting at the counter of Greenway coffee. I’m googling persimmons. Chef might do a persimmon dish, and even though I tasted one at the restaurant, I’m completely out of ideas for an interesting pairing. Sparkling rose just sounds too easy. I wish someone would make a persimmon lambic. Could I call Cantillon and beg them to make me a persimmon lambic? Nope, for a lot of reasons. I picture myself in the dining room of Oxheart:

“With your first course, the persimmon dish, we’re pouring Angry Birds lambic. This one is flavored like the red one, with notes of tart cherries, raspberries, red currants, lemon, and some sweet baking spices from barrel maturation. Please enjoy.”

One time a guest said, “I would just love to be a fly on the wall for when you and chef talk about how to do your pairings.” What I didn’t mention is how boring the scene would actually be. We exchange fewer words than usual when it comes to pairing. Mostly because chef trusts me to pair whatever I want, and he only really protests when he thinks what I’m doing is completely nuts. People will be angry if you have a pairing with no red wines in it, Vann. They will be angry birds. So I yield. He's usually right about these things, and is good at helping me reign myself in, wine pairing-wise.

I’m back at Paulie’s, and I’m drinking more wine, perhaps slightly overindulging. My friends and I are probably being slightly obnoxious. I’m glowering at the cookies. I remember that I have a wine tasting to go to at 10pm. It was 2pm at the time. Later that evening we’re finishing some Lillet rouge and soda, and I’m bummed because I want to do an aromatized wine pairing with Karen’s mousse cake, and this won’t do it justice.

I ask my friend to give me a ride to the tasting, which is just down the street. As a joke I sit on the hood of the car. She starts driving, and suddenly I’m possessed by the desire to ride on the hood of the car. I dig my hands into the cover of the hood and yell, “DRIVE”. The best thing that happened all weekend was her humoring me, and driving me to a very fancy Burgundy tasting on the hood of the car.

LCD Soundsystem’s “Losing My Edge” is playing in the car, and I love that goddamn song. It is all too easy to replace the lyrics with my own world:

I used to work in the wine store.

I had everything, before anyone.

I was there, drinking champagne with the masters in the lazy river of The Four Seasons at Los Colinas, for TEXSOM.

I was there, buying cowboy boots with Serge Hochar.

I was there, at the first Hospice de Beaune auction.

I was there, for the first Summer of Riesling. 

I was there, watching the forklift drop a pallet of Velvet Glove, and laughing psychotically.

I hear that you and your chef have sold your liquid nitrogen tanks, and bought a pacojet.

I hear that you and your chef have sold your pacojet, and bought liquid nitrogen tanks.

I hear everybody you know is more relevant than everybody that I know.

She’s doing a good job of braking gently, and I honestly wish she’d gun it. I wish she’d power slide out onto Montrose, and floor it. I wish she’d accelerate to over 100 miles an hour and slam on the brakes. I’m sure I’d be gruesomely killed, but I could experience the impossible dream of flight, of being an angry bird. I look up at the moon, see the trees whizzing past, and even though I feel a sense of peace, I am still nervous about what I’m going to pair with the persimmons. A sweet potato dish might even happen. I’m not sure, but if it does I’m moderately sure I could pull off a Gewurztraminer with it.

I picture the funeral. Justin Vann lived as he died: an Angry Bird full of wine. That would be the story of me. An open casket, my face painted like the yellow one, my favorite bird. The wake? An Angry Bird party. Obviously.

I wish Paulie would make scary cookies, like the poison skull and crossbones. Perhaps a cookie mushroom cloud. A cookie AK-47. How many bowls of Canestri alla fungi would I have to order to have the clout to request a cookie chainsaw, speckled with raspberry jam?

I wish I slept more.

I wish I knew what to do with the persimmons. I’ll figure it out when I taste the dish. Until then I will panic.

I wish I could talk about what things are really bothering me. But it doesn’t matter because I can’t do anything about them. I am expressing myself the only way I know how, given the circumstances. I am selling my turntables, and buying guitars. I am baring my soul the same way one might dump a pillowcase full of Halloween candy on the ground. I'm proud and happy initially, but soon I'm going to feel sick.

So tell me…

What’s your favorite Angry Bird?

Thursday, September 6, 2012

The City

You can barely stand in the subway. You didn’t sleep before your red eye flight, but you had made it. The chaos of the station gave you your second wind, you felt electrified by the swirling maelstrom of people. You needed to go downtown. You remember being acutely aware of how much of a tourist you looked like, carrying your luggage. The tall foreigner walked up to you with an enormous camping backpack.

“You look like you just landed, friend!” He’s holding his hand out to shake yours, and before you can register that you need to extend your arm to shake his hand, you’re startled by a bell and a booming voice announcing the arrival of the R train.

“Are you trying to go uptown or downtown? This train is going downtown.”

The train ground to a halt and the doors swung open. “Uh yeah, thanks, I’m headed downtown.” You picked up your bags and followed him into the car. He sits down across from you and continues to be oddly friendly.

“So where you from brother?” He is grinning so hard and it is upsetting you immensely.

“The south.”

“Oh the south huh? They still ride horses there right?” He laughs. You were using every ounce of your concentration to be friendly and not fall asleep.

“That’s the crazy thing about the city. We’re all immigrants. We’re all strangers here. Sometimes the best option is to just try to make friends wherever you can. Like right here on the train!”

You just nod. He continues, “My girlfriend is studying finance at the university. Do you want to see a picture? I’m staying at a hostel so I can have enough money to take her to dinner at Bleeding Edge. They hired a geneticist, and they’re splicing different vegetables together in these crazy ways. They made a tomato that has twice the natural MSG as a normal one! I can’t wait to show her.”

Next stop: central terminal. He’s fiddling with the giant backpack at his feet. “You got a girlfriend?’

As you pull up to the massive terminal platform you see droves of people. They’re running from your train. Then you spot soldiers. They’re sprinting with weapons towards you. The friendly foreigner's enormous smile has faded into terror. He's trembling. He unzips the backpack as the train stops. The doors explode open and three soldiers have guns on him, others are swarming towards the other doors.


He’s not listening. His hand darts into the bag.


Three deafeningly loud gunshots blow an enormous dark splash of gore across the back of the car. The foreigner’s chest is torn open; bewildered he stares wild eyed at you. With his dying breath he’s choking on blood with tears in his eyes, “I’m running late.”

The bag falls over, three milk jugs full of black liquid spill out. The caps have wires and radio antennae sticking out of them. One splits open as it lands, and the thick black substance begins oozing onto the floor. You hear a hissing sound as the substance begins boiling and eating through the floor of the train car. It smells like gasoline and rotten meat, smoke is starting to rise from the hole. You’re already on your feet, holding your bags, shaking from adrenaline. You help a businessman kick out a window, while the soldiers are yelling “SEAL TERMINAL EIGHT WE NEED AN IMMEDIATE LEVEL 4 QUARANTINE”

You’re running. Soldiers are tackling people left and right, you and the businessman slam through the emergency exit next to the turnstiles. Your lungs are burning as you sprint up the stairs with your luggage. Finally you exit the subway, the sunlight is blinding. You didn’t plan it, but you were standing in Central Square. Back home people told you, “It looks just like it does in the movies, so big and bright and full of activity.” You’re about to vomit. The buildings are all lit up and moving, the streets are choked with people dodging you and the business man, and you can feel vertigo setting in as the whole city begins to tilt forward. You sit down on your bag and try to concentrate on your breathing. The businessman looks at you, and wipes blood off of his shirt with a handkerchief, “I JUST fucking had this suit dry cleaned. Fuck.”

You finally wake up in the dining room.  The sommelier was pouring sparkling Nerello Mascalese and complimenting you on your choice. You had landed almost 36 hours ago. You pick up your phone, the battery is low. A text from your chef. You drank a lot last night. Were you hungover? How did you get to the apartment?

Your phone beeped again.

Chef: Make sure you don’t look down.

Your friends are talking about their jobs. You’re barely listening, instead relishing all the sensory input creeping into your periphery now that you were finally cognizant. The dining room was chilly, white, and sterile. A team of servers swoop in, and drop plates in unison. The sunlight felt good against your face in the cold dining room.

“Sweetbreads with pickled peaches. Please enjoy.” You noticed the clear squiggle of a concealed earpiece. The cute one in the glasses places two fingers on her earpiece, befuddled by a message she just received. Behind you, you hear a server quietly swearing into a concealed microphone in his cufflink.

“Confirm hold fire on table eight, they are eating slow as fuck… What do you mean how slow? There will be peace in the Middle East before this asshole is done with his sea urchin. Sorry.” He glides in front of you to face your table, and smiles warmly.

“How is everything tasting, ladies and gentlemen?”

You can barely contain yourself as you search your mind for the most pretentious reply. “Tremendous. Decadent. Exquisite.”

Later, the mignardises were presented. A weary server pulled a rope of fresh marshmallow out of a crystal jar with sterling silver tongs, and cut them with a pair of thick, polished scissors. He meticulously placed them on a tiny dish, and put them on the table. You joked, “I really want to steal those scissors from you.” He looked at you like he was about to burst into tears, and you wonder if perhaps he would prefer you stab him with them instead. The thought grew in your head as you chewed: how many of these people could I take out with the marshmallow scissors before I’m subdued?

Your visions of blood-spattered marshmallows were interrupted by another conversation, “I heard they hired a magician for their front of house.”

On the subway you stared at the wall of the tunnel through the window. You thought you saw something. Movement. Human figures in the darkness. Staring back at you through the pillars as they rushed by. You heard someone ask, “How many calories are in a hit of DMT?”

At night you went to the bars. You went to Death & Co, Callsign, and Wetwork. You walked to them, using navigation software on your phone. A gorgeous woman at Wetwork was wearing a white t-shirt and had a tattoo on her shoulder of a skull vomiting blood. She ordered a wild weasel and a bouncing betty. “You can just close me out. I’m going to a party after this in the garden district. Takashi Murakami will be there.”

In the city everything lit up, everything moved. Advertisements, political ideologies, and art crawled on everything. Not like at home, they were aware of you. They scurried away when you flicked on the lights. They followed you to the train. They read your texts when you held your phone too far from your body. As you stared into them, they watched you back, more closely. They studied you.

Your phone beeped:

David: Don’t look down.

You: What does that even mean?

David: There is reality to that place that you have to absorb while you’re visiting. Don’t look down, you’ll miss it. Tell Kitsune I said hi.

Past the cellphone, you see the sidewalk beneath your feet light up with an advertisement for diapers:


You board the subway, wasted. You sit down and look to your left. A SWAT team in full combat gear, assault rifles and all, is sitting and chatting. The young one takes off his earpiece and reaches in his pocket. He pulls out a box, opens it: a diamond ring. “You think she’ll like it?” The older one smiles weakly, “It’s one hell of a beautiful coffin nail, son.”

As you walk off the train, you notice it’s 4am. You pivot on your heels to face the other side of the track and see construction workers and soldiers working around on the other side of the tracks. You see a construction worker throwing something in a wheelbarrow: bones. On of the soldiers looks at you sternly and motions for you to move on, explaining curtly, “Repairs.”

On the patio at Box Nasty the next morning, Kitsune is smoking like a chimney. “I’m leaving early. You’re more than welcome to crash in the suite, it’s all paid for.” She takes her sunglasses off and rubs her eyes, perpetually hung over, “On one condition!”

“You have to bang some hot girls in the suite. It’s got a rad balcony. For banging.” You rolled your eyes.

“That’s what I need. Some hotties. I need to go get some chicks. Just get them, like at the store. You’ve always got the answers Kit. You’re a genius.”

“I swear to god you better! I’m gonna have the bellhop go check on you. I’m gonna be like ‘If you don’t hear fucking, kick him out!’” A family eating in the next booth was visibly annoyed at Kitsune’s candid request.

“I don’t do that. I’m not here for that. This is my vacation.”

“Oh you’re going to a bunch of restaurants and bars huh? Doing a little research and development are we? When you’re dead from working too hard, you will look back on your life and think; I should have devoted more time to getting laid. I should have been more like Kit.” Kitsune has a tattoo of an AK-47 on her forearm.

“Look, this is your first time here. I don’t know what the hell’s going on with you. You’re dealing with some shit clearly. You need some good old-fashioned sex with a stranger to clear your mind. I know you haven’t done that before.” The dad from the family is getting up, presumably to tell Kitsune to stop yelling about fucking. She holds her arms out to the sides like a TV prophet, “What better place to do it than your first visit to the center of the world?”

Outside you see a telephone pole light up. Rolling text in glowing blue lights drips down the pole with an advertisement for bottled water:


Your eyes follow the lights to a storm drain. You saw fingers interlaced into the mesh that disappeared as quickly as you spotted them.

“I can get you a reso at Fulcrum if you want. I ate there last night. 75 courses. Did you hear they hired a theoretical physicist? They’re the first restaurant to use a particle accelerator. ”

“I’m sorry Kit, but I think all my funds are tied up in getting hot bitches now.”

“That’s the spirit! My flight leaves in 4 hours. Make me proud by Tuesday or I’m disowning you.”

In the city everyone has a phone. To play music, to read books, to play games. The tourists and the locals both use their phones to find directions. When there were fewer satellites, they would triangulate the position of the receiver. Now, there are over 500 at any given moment hovering over the city. Navigation service is slower from a glut of conflicting data.

The people who remember life before phones are getting old.

On the subway, a man who smells terrible tells you, “The first Predator program just read emails. The newest one is called Predator X. It reads everything. It pulls information out of the air, and maps out reality. From cameras on the street, satellites, radios. And of course cell phones. It goes way beyond facial recognition software. It tracks the forces acting on most molecules on the planet.” He pauses, “The military sold it to a soda company for a trillion dollars.”

More bars. You went to The Stanford Prison Experiment, Rikki Tik, and Stop-Loss. Outside, the bouncer spots you immediately, “You’re with Kit. Come in, any friend of hers is a friend of ours.” Inside, the bartender hands you a menu. “You just missed Damien Hirst.” Next to you, a man in a suit asks “How many calories are in a Colombian Necktie? Can you make a low-calorie version?”

You ordered a Diplomatic Solution. “We don’t have the ingredients for that.”

On your way out through the patio at Sleeper Cell, you run into one of the bartenders on accident. You pull back and notice she is gorgeous. She smells like burnt matches and you can smell absinthe on her breath. She has a tattoo on her neck of a switchblade. Slowly she looks up at you and blinks, drunk.

“You’re tall.”

“You smell good.”

Back at your suite, she’s annoyed. “You’ve never done this before?”

She’s just wearing a tank top, and you’re just wearing jeans. You’re both smoking on the patio. It looks out into the city, which goes on as far as you can see, a nightmare kaleidoscope of lights and movement. There’s a cool breeze that carries the smell of a match to you as she lights another cigarette.

“I have a boyfriend.” She seems pleased with herself. “You don’t talk very much.” Why do her matches smell so good?

You collected yourself, “I actually talk all the time, for my job and otherwise. Its just that I’ve never been to the city before, and I guess I’m trying to shut up and pay attention.”

She gets up and walks inside, “fair enough.”

“But don’t worry, I have a boyfriend too, so I’m certainly not judging you.”

She jumps back outside “Really??”

“Just kidding. Sorry to disappoint.” She was definitely disappointed.

“I’ve always wanted to fuck a gay guy. Lame.” She’s back inside, rooting around in the bathroom. “So what do you mean you’ve never done this before? Do you have a girlfri-“ she pauses, “Why is there a steak knife in the bathroom?”

You were washing your face that morning when you accidently pressed the stopper into the sink. It wouldn’t come out. The sink was almost full of water, and you thought to yourself, it’ll drain slowly. But it didn’t. The hotel had a “pillow menu” of different sizes, covers and fillings. But it didn’t have properly functioning sink drains. In a fit, you took a steak knife from the dining room and stabbed it into the drain, and it actually worked. For the first time since you arrived you felt in control of something.

“Oh uh, I was going murder you, but you seem nice so I’m going let you live.”

“That’s not funny.”

“It’s a joke!”

 Your phone beeped:

Kitsune: Fuck or get out.

You: I don’t like girls. Just alcohol.

Kitsune: DO NOT SQUANDER THAT SUITE. Be a man. That’s an order.

You: “Be a man” always means, “do something stupid or reckless”.

She’s back on the patio, wearing all of her clothes this time. “So you’ve got a girlfriend then?” You pause for a long time.

“Not really.”

“Well it sounds like you have something.”

“She is definitely not my girlfriend. I think I’m done with girlfriends for a while.”

“Am I the first woman you’ve ever slept with that you weren’t dating?”

“Yep.” Her eyes widen, “Oh wow. You really are new at this.”

“Do you feel bad about cheating on your boyfriend?” She wrinkles her nose.

“He cheats on me too, so no. I guess we have an open relationship. It’s complicated, as they say.”

You look at your phone:

Kitsune: That is exactly how I meant it. Be stupid and reckless. You might learn something.

When you look back up, she is sitting on the edge of the balcony. Your stomach turns as you remember vertigo in Central Square and the smell of that poison on the subway. She looks over her shoulder at you, “How do I look?” She put her hands in her lap and pouts dramatically.

“You look like a pinup. You look like you’d be a painting on the side of a fighter jet.”

She looks genuinely flattered. She pats the edge next to her, “Come sit out here with me.”

“Not a chance in hell. I haven’t been sleeping, and I’m really uncoordinated. If I look down I’ll probably fall.”

She looks out into the city. The streets are groaning with yellow cabs, police cruisers, and sports cars. The streets are full of people, and it is 530AM. You can smell hot dogs cooking from rows of food carts, even from 30 floors up. She strikes a match on the bricks, and lights another cigarette. “A pretty stranger is asking you to sit with her on the end of your fancy balcony in the largest city on the planet. I’m visiting too. We’re never going to see each other again. Come sit out on the goddamn ledge with me.” She inhales deeply, and as she blows smoke, you can smell her, plus the cigarettes and those matches. You imagine that this must be what hell smells like, and you want to live there. She whips her head back around,

“It’s simple, just don’t look down.”

The next day you went to the park. You walked for hours. It was beautiful, and the people were great to watch. A kid eating a soggy sandwich in a fountain. A sweet old lady walked a massive wolf with horrible grey eyes. It seemed happy, content with the knowledge that it could kill just about anything around it. It must have weighed 250 pounds. You watched strangers kiss, and you watched one guy pick three different peoples pockets, he was really impressive. You counted a dozen musicians, hundreds of people jogging in stylish workout clothes. You walked past a beggar who pleaded, “I need tickets to the 530 seating at Access Granted. Please.”

You saw soldiers relaxing in the park. Overhead you spotted an Apache helicopter hovering over the lake. You overhead a conversation between some teenagers still in their school uniforms, “Beer doesn’t make sense in a tasting menu format, plus it just has so many calories, why do sommeliers keep trying to sneak it in?”

You went to the last bar on the list, Texas Sunrise. It was a mezcal bar modeled after a fallout shelter. The doorman told you smugly, “I’m good friends with Mark Rothko. No big deal.”

In the city everyone has to work harder just to stay alive. They have to move quickly, and stay focused or they will be trampled underfoot. They have to keep up with the latest trends in fashion, food, drink, and music. The city gets everything first before the rest of the world. People in the city have suspicions about what really happens below the surface, but they are too busy to really look for the answers. This is how the city keeps it’s secrets: by dazzling you, and drowning you with work.

When people visit they feel obligated to fit in. You walked as fast as the people you assumed to be locals, even after you had blisters on your feet. You felt charmed by the easy individualism the city promised you at every turn.

On the terminal platform, an advertisement for toothpaste lights up:


You rummaged through the suite for your stuff. You took the steak knife.

As you walk down the street with your luggage, you admire the enormous rats perched on the endless piles of garbage in the street. They looked healthy and confident. Back home the rats were smaller, and they feared you. Not these rats, they meant business. You hung your head, weary from everything. You had just enough money to catch a cab to the airport.

Your eyes met a grate in the street. You thought, if this thing collapses, I will fall 12 feet and probably break both my legs. Then you saw her, a little girl staring back up at you from the sewer. She was filthy and covered in rags. You panicked. She was standing in black water full of garbage.

“Oh my god, do you need help? Do you need me to get you out of there?”

She stared back, emotionless. She stood perfectly still, the streetlamp barely illuminating her. What were you supposed to do? What could you say? She wasn’t looking for help. You were both watching each other, bewildered by what you saw.

You calmed down, and took a deep breath, “I’m sorry.”

She raised her hand and pointed at you. She spoke clearly, enunciating each word.

“Don’t. Look. Down.”