Monday, December 10, 2007

Drink Wine: Make Friends, Destroy Yourself

One time, in Barcelona, I drink about five bottles of $1 red wine. Here's what happens:

Karen and I are looking for a place to live. I see an ad at the university.

I still have a copy so I'll quote verbatim:

For Rent!
Luxury rooms in share flat.

Free breakfasts and dinners.

Vinos and champagne.

Game room.
Dancing room.
TV’s, telephones, heatings.

Maid server very morning.

English, Catalan, Spanish speaking.

Much Respect. 20.000 PTAS!!!
Call Javier.

20.000 pesetas is shockingly cheap. Is this guy Javier fucking with me? Of course, he's fucking with me. But Karen and I have already spent a month looking for a flat. We're living in a room in a pensión. It's cold, our funds are disastrously low, and we're starting to hate each other.

So I call Javier.

That night, he shows up on the street outside the pensión. He’s standing perfectly still in the rain, smoking a cigarette, and staring at the pensión door. Smoke curls up, hovers over his face. The look is suggestive of menace. But clear the smoke, he’s no menace. In fact, he seems downright giddy, his eyes glued to the pensión door as if he were awaiting the emergence of The Utterly Fantastic.

Which, judging by what happens next, would be Karen.

We go down and meet him.

"Please," he says. "Please. I am very sorry."

He bows and breaks into a shrill giggle. It’s disturbing, highly infectious. I try not to laugh, but the giggle is so addictive. I bite my lip, take a good look at him. He’s Peruvian; no, he’s Moroccan; no, maybe, Egyptian. The giggling is obscene, but beyond this, there’s a certain inappropriateness in his gestures. The best I can say, he’s incredibly foreign. I imagine him wandering the streets, peddling Kleenex.

So I shake his hand.

Then he takes a look at Karen. The giggle hits a crescendo. It’s absurd. He puts his hand on his heart. He swoons.

I burst into laughter.

So now we’re both hysterical, Javier and I. We’re standing in the rain, looking at Karen, and giggling.

And Karen?

Well, clearly, she's freaked.

Still, we go to Javier's flat.

There's no dancing room, no game room.

I ask, "Where's the dancing room?"

He says, "All the beautiful people!"

So I walk down the hallway, poke my head in the kitchen. They're two people, sitting at a table. I'm astonished. There's Aimee. She's from Long Beach, she's ridiculously cool, and she actually lives in Javier's flat. And there's Pablo. He's from Buenos Aires, he's probably my doppelgänger, and he too lives in Javier's flat.

So we sit down. Javier puts wine on the table. It’s called Vinya Del Fadrí. I’ve seen it before in the supermarket, Champion, for 150 pesetas (one US dollar, more or less.)

I recall having said to Karen, “Let’s buy ten bottles.”

And now I think of this moment with disbelief, because Javier has done just that: he has bought ten bottles, perhaps more, and on top of each unopened bottle he is placing a tall, burning candle. He lights a candle, melts the other end, and affixes it on a bottle. He repeats this gesture with five or six more bottles.

Then he puts tumblers on the table, opens a bottle, and pours each glass to the brim. One more drop, the glass overflows. I put my head down, slurp from the top. No sooner do I sip than Javier refills the glass. I bend to sip, he pours more. I sip again, he pours more.

This happens three or four times.

Finally, I put my hand over the glass.

Javier waits until I remove it and pours more.

"Please drink," Javier says. "In my flat, is normal."

So I sip. And Javier pours more wine. I sip because I want to drink. And Javier pours more because, well, I assume he wants me to drink.

Another thirty minutes, I’m drunk.

Meanwhile, Javier makes food. He makes a huge, composed salad. He makes pasta with a spicy red sauce. He serves it in large bowls, with a fried egg on top. It’s odd, addictive. I devour mine. I finish Karen's. I lick Pablo and Aimee's plates clean.

What am I doing?

I don’t care. I've hit that red-wine plateau when the evening is full of possibility, when everything promises benevolence and hope. I’m fabulously happy. I go to the bathroom. On my way, I drop to the floor, do fifty push-ups.

Alone, in the bathroom, I amuse myself with visions of large numbers.

“One billion,” I say. “One trillion!”

I come back and there's Pablo, sipping from a full glass of wine, there's Aimee, clearly amused, and there's Karen, talking to Javier, still clearly freaked.

And there's Javier making more food.

Next comes the fish, a huge sizzling platter of fried onion and flesh.

I eat so much I need to drink wine. I drink so much I need to quote several lines from the Chinese poets.

“Everywhere I go I owe money for wine,” I say.

“Everyday I am drunk all day long,” I say.

Pablo observes this spectacle with a certain look of pleasure. I can tell, he finds me petulant and rowdy. I already like him. In fact, from the moment I see him, I sense my life is about to become more interesting, in the sense that Pablo seems like the kind of guy who I can sit down and share a few bottles of wine with and later part with a handshake, a few good laughs, and a jab in the ribs.

So I look at him, give him a triumphant arm-raising gesture.

In this way, quoting the Chinese poets, pumping my arm into the air, and happily eating, I drink five bottles of $1 wine.

And in this way, over the course of six or seven ridiculous hours, I cement a few life-long friendships.


We all have similar experiences. We share a fabulous occasion with someone and we become fabulous friends. Some might say it's the occasion that inspires friendship. Some might say, obviously, that people inspire friendship. Of course, I agree.

But when I look back to the birth of my greatest friendships, I also see a lot of wine. I see that moment when the evening is full of possibility, when everything promises benevolence and hope, and I look at my new friend and think: I fuckin' love this person!

I edited Steve's last post on beer. Foolishly, I inserted one of my most treasured lines: "There's nothing quite as unifying as sharing horrid beer." I'm taking that line back and restoring its proper meaning. That line should read: "There's nothing quite as unifying as sharing wine."

Beer, of course, creates unity. But beer is for the frat-boy, the guy who needs to create elaborate rituals and games (beer bong, circle of death, etc...) to induce "brotherhood" and friendship. These games strike me as weirdly competitive: Like frat boys, they're full of anger and shouts. I never made a friend over beer pong, although I certainly made a few enemies.

I've never really played a wine game. What's the point? I don't drink wine to get drunk. I drink wine to talk. The only wine "game" I know is this one: Let's see how much we can fall in love by the end of this bottle of wine.


In Greek mythology there's this guy Dionysus. You know he's kick-ass because he's the son of Zeus--The King of Gods. Here's what happens:

Zeus makes love to Persophone, The Queen of the Underworld. She gives birth to Dionysus. Zeus' wife, Hera, discovers the baby. Of course, she's full of jealous rage. So she sends the goddamn Titans (of all people!) to eat the baby.

The Titans are mushroom cloud-laying motherfuckers. They don't mess around.

Here's what they do:

They give Dionysus a mirror. He's mesmerized. He's so mesmerized, in fact, that he totally misses the bum rush. The Titans sneak up on him, tear him up, boil him in a cauldron, and eat him.

Only thing, Rhea, the mother of Zeus, saves Dionysus' heart. She gives it to Zeus.

Imagine this: Your Mom gives you the beating heart of your child. Somebody's devoured the rest of him. The heart is all that's left.

So you're Zeus, what do you do?

You hide the heart in your thigh.Sometime later, your son bursts out, reborn. Then, to shelter the newly re-born Dionysus from the recriminations of the Titans, you leave him in the care of a band of nymphs. The nymphs hide him in a cave, feed him honey, and raise him with tigers.

Soon, though, that jealous nut Hera finds Dionysus. Showing no mercy, she twists his brain, leaving him outrageous. So Dionysus suddenly rejects the gentle nymphs and instead chooses as his companions the satyrs (see below) and the maenads, wild women with wicked, gleaming eyes.

A bald, bearded, horse-tailed satyr balances a winecup on his erect penis. In Greek mythology Satyrs are often associated with sex and vase-painters often portray them with uncontrollable erections.

He travels abroad. He fights battles. He subdues entire continents. Here and there, he plants vines. He discovers wine. He invents the wild party.

Upon his return to Greece, Rhea drives the madness from his brain, but it's too late. Though calmed, Dionysus never gives up his former life. He's too attached to his companions and the common bond they shared: their love of revelry and wine.

This is the early life of Dionysus, the God of Wine.



In his book
Iron John Robert Bly writes:

Dionysus is the Greek god most connected with wounds and woundedness...Some of the other Greek gods, Apollo and Zeus, for example, stand for wholeness, radiance, and sun-like integrity; but Dionysus stands for the ecstasy that can come from tearing and being torn apart.

Dionysus is the clump of grapes that hands tore apart in the Greek villages and threw into the wine vat. When the men and women were trampling on those grapes, it is known that they would sing: 'O Dionysus, I did not know, I did not know.' When cattle culture came to Greece, the village people ritually killed a bull in the spring, and as they ate the raw flesh, spoke the name 'Dionysus' over and over.

We tend to think of wine as a sophisticated drink, but when we do we neglect its wild origins. Other drinks might represent wholeness and purity (distilled vodka, for example) but wine represents the ecstasy of tearing and being torn apart. Wine is the drink of the wounded god Dionysus and his wild community, where self-obliteration is a way of life.


Follow the metaphor of the grape: Sooner or later, youthful sweetness is trampled, torn apart. And then we make wine. Wine improves with age. Wine gets richer, fuller. Imagine, you're Dionysus. Or maybe you're young and living in Barcelona. You're still one big nerve with a mouth at one end and a wing at the other. But your heart will get bigger. A glass of wine, really, might just be the perfect metaphor for what you might become: mature, bold, intoxicating.

So you got out, seeking obliteration. This is not nearly the same as getting drunk. In fact, it's the thing most opposite of getting drunk. When you get drunk, you destroy unintentionally: you foolishly break things, you haphazardly fuck things.

When you self-obliterate, though, you break with intention: You destroy in order to create.

You're Picasso (an avid wine-drinker) painting the
Les Demoiselles d'Avignon; you're Rimbaud (an avid wine drinker) fucking around Paris, writing ridiculous lines:

Once, if my memory serves me well, my life was a banquet where every heart revealed itself, where every wine flowed.

One evening I took Beauty in my arms--and I thought her bitter--and I insulted her.

Possibly, though, you're just You, drinking wine. You're pumping your fist, getting into strange encounters, loving, and, yes, getting drunk. But when you wake up the next day, after five $1 bottles of wine, don't you feel a little bit re-vivified?
Sure, you wake up, your head hurts, and you feel a little sick, but your heart--Oh, your heart feels fantastic!

You're light, giddy.

Sometimes you want to feel like this--utterly destroyed, each part of you throbbing with pain, but your heart.

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

Beer becomes me

I like beer. I’ve always liked beer. A lot.

It’s taste? Exciting, provocative.

The feeling of drinking a glass on a hot summer day? Exhilarating, refreshing.

The alcohol content? An added bonus.

Sometimes my love of beer causes awkward social situations.

Take the time we were invited to lunch by some new friends. It was Rosh Hashanah. It was humid and muggy. I was wearing a suit and a too-tight necktie. We walked thirty minutes to the house. When we arrived I was sweating, profusely, and feeling very uncomfortable. I loosened my tie. We sat down for lunch. There was no water on the table. Instead, my friend offered me an ice-cold bottle of beer. In desperate need of refreshment and forgetting that we were in polite company, I tipped my head back and drained the entire bottle.

This would have raised nary an eyebrow had it been water or iced tea. But to do it with beer is to put yourself in an altogether different category of being: the drinker. Persona non grata.

When I put down the empty bottle, the look on our host’s face was amused shock. My wife’s expression was the stolid, stone-faced picture of mortification and embarrassment.

I brought my hand to my mouth to suppress the inevitable belch.

What could I say? I love beer, especially on hot days. Which is exactly what I did say.


I make no pretense. I am not a beer connoisseur. I’ve always had a hard time taking beer connoisseurs seriously. I see the beer connoisseur as a middle-aged guy with a big gut and a red nose who has managed to turn a drinking problem and a slight penchant for writing into a career. You can't blame him, really. That might just be my personal dream.

Anyway, I drink it all: Bud, Corona, Heineken, Yuengling, Stella, Miller, Pabst, even the occasional forty-ounce malt liquor.

When it comes to forties, my favorite has always been Olde English 800. I love the pure malt flavor, the rich golden hue. Actually, forget that, I really just love the memories I have, late teenage memories: wild laughter, a hot garage transformed into a party palace, and a few friends jumping around, yelling: "forty, forty, forty!"


Wine has its special allure, its great mythological progeny, but beer--we create our own beer myths and often these myths begin ridiculously, with something like a bottle of Olde E.

Other beers I might drink: Natural Light, Schlitz, and, of course "Beast"--Milwaukee's Best Ice.

These are the type of beers that must be shared. There's nothing quite as unifying as sharing horrid beer. I've cemented friendships over a case of "Beast".

We used to buy something called American which was about five dollars a case, no kidding. If you got it nearly freezing and drank it very fast it almost, as our friend Cogan said, tasted like beer. But it was perfect after we'd come back from doing something stupid in the 90 degree sun. We'd throw back about eight each and almost, as Cogan said, get a buzz.

Yeah, beer--I like it best shared, without pretense, on a warm summer's day, on a corner, in a closet, in a bar, on my couch, on the beach, with a few buddies, on a plaza...whatever.

There's nothing as unifying as sharing beer


Occasionally I find myself at bar with an excellent beer selection. If I have a little extra cash in my pocket, I might order a high-end French beer that comes in what looks like a wine bottle. It usually costs about $18 and is delicious.

In an Irish bar, it's always a Guinness. My neighborhood in The Bronx has a large Irish immigrant population. It also has several authentic Irish bars, filled with Irish people in their derby caps, sweaters and flannel pants. When I'm at the bar, I love to listen to the lilt of their accents and the cheeriness with which they greet a common stranger. It's a nice thing to behold in New York, a city where most strangers are treated with instant suspicion. In an Irish bar, nobody orders wine. It's all about the beer and warm, light hearted bar-stool philosophy. Every man is a sage. I like that.


The one thing I won’t touch is light beer. To me, light beer has always been the official drink of freshman college girls and cheesy white guys in tight ribbed T-shirts with blond highlighted hair tips, glistening with gel.

Light beer represents everything that is wrong with our American corporate mass culture--that taste, originality, and ultimately experience itself is sacrificed for the projection of a certain image or body type. Light beer offers us an impotent, watered down version of the real thing. As if life itself needs to be neutered, sanitized, and individually wrapped in plastic for our own protection.

Fuck that.

I say drink a real beer. If beer is making you fat, then drink less beer.

Or maybe switch to a good whiskey.

I'll get the next round.

Tuesday, December 04, 2007


I've been eating turkey and mashed potatoes everyday for lunch since Thanksgiving.

I live for leftovers. That is the main reason why I wanted my family to come to our house this year--so that we would we have the pleasure of leftovers.

I need this. There is something deep within me that feels any meal I've cooked is a kind of failure if everything is not consumed.

Even before we had cleared the plates I was stripping the turkey carcass, leaving the choicest chunks of skin and meat on for soup. By the time we served tea, I had put the leftovers in the freezer. The crock pot was on the kitchen counter and filled with water, salt, a bay leaf, some carrots, a few onions. Desert was not even over before I had placed the carcass into the crock pot. The slow-cook process would transform it all into a steaming cauldron of soup overnight.

There is nothing quite like waking to the smell of home cooked soup in morning.

This is Thanksliving.

I bring the soup to work for lunch. I tell my workmates how I made the soup. Many of them are bewildered by the idea of making soup from a turkey carcass. I stand even more bewildered. I think to myself: How can you throw out a turkey carcass without using it?

And then I get angry.

I feel a sense of pride knowing that every single ounce of food from my thanksgiving meal was eaten, albeit slowly, over a period of weeks. I carry with me a sense of social responsibly knowing that even the bones were used for the preparation of another meal. No waste. Never.

Maybe this is part of my Native American heritage manifesting itself (my great grandmother was Cherokee), as they were known for using every part of the animals they hunted. Although I think it has more to do with the way I was raised.


During my childhood in the late 1970's and early 80's my father was in cancer remission. When he was originally diagnosed in 1976 at the age of 29, his doctors gave him a ten percent chance to live beyond one year. Feeling desperate, he agreed to take part in a study to test the effects of a new type of chemotherapy on terminal patients. During his sessions he received experimental, often massive doses of platinum-based drugs, which are now among the most widely used. While the drugs obliterated the cancer, they also obliterated his body, leaving him in a weakened state for the rest of his life.

In the early days of his remission my parents made sure that our house was a citadel of healthy, organic, and contaminate-free food as possible. I remember going to the food co-op with my mother, and the mornings when my father would dare me to join him in shot of bitter aloe-vera juice, his morning elixir. There were thousands of vitamin pills. All candy was made from carob, never chocolate. Sugar free peanut butter? Sugar free everything. Soy burgers instead of beef. Fruit leather. Organic toothpaste. Not any white bread to be seen. Anywhere. Never.

My parents' food attitude was very simple: everything was vital. Food was sacred. Nothing was ever wasted. Our fridge was often bare and lean, stocked with only the essentials. Inside were stacked weeks worth of leftovers in bags and bowls, on dishes and plates. We were always expected to eat all of our food. If I dallied too long at my bowl of soup, my mother would place an egg timer on the table, accompanied by the threat of an early bedtime.

They would take this ethic to the nth degree with other things as well, transforming it into an all consuming lifestyle of thrift. After lunch in school, I was expected to bring home the tin foil that my sandwich was wrapped in. My brown paper lunch bags were also expected to come home. If milk prices were high, we drank powdered milk.

Mom would write out our family's dinner menu three weeks in advance and post it on the refrigerator door. This always amused my friends, who would refuse to eat most of the things in our house.

In a way, this is the epitome of what is called the neurotic. Yet in a way, this is also Thanksliving. Everything is sacred. No waste. Never. Be thankful.


I hate wasting food. It runs against something so basic and primal within me. When I look into some people's refrigerator and see it stocked to the top with all sorts of food, I get offended knowing that most of it will spoil and be thrown out before it gets eaten.

When people come to eat at my house, I stack food on their plate and tell them to eat it or else they're never allowed to come over again.

If I haven't drunk all of the wine, I'll pour it into your glass. Or perhaps I'll just put the whole bottle on your plate instead.

Either way, there won't be anything wasted or leftover.

If there is, I'll know what I'm having for lunch tomorrow.