Vino

Bob fumed silently as he stood next to the cloth-covered table and waited for the pair of pretentious douche bags seated there to make up their minds.

The woman, who was ridiculously over-dressed in a red, off-the-shoulder evening gown and whose hair had been chemically blasted into crunchy blonde straw, squinted at the wine list in her hand as if it was written in cuneiform.  “What about the Pinot Gris?” she asked.

Her equally over-dressed, dark-haired companion shook his head.  “No,” he replied, lifting one hand in a dismissive gesture.  “Not with the salmon.”

Bob briefly closed his eyes and entertained a fantasy of taking the napkin draped over his forearm and strangling them both.  He had been waiting for more than ten minutes.

A soft ‘hmm’ rattled the blonde’s throat, and her brow furrowed deeply as all nine of her functional neurons struggled to fire in unison.  ”Perhaps a red?” she asked.  “Something fruity?”

Dark-hair pursed his lips over the collar of his grey silk dress-shirt and nodded slowly.  “The Chateau Angelus would be quite splendid in that respect.”

“Oh yes,” Blondie agreed eagerly.  “That would be absolutely perfect.”

The divot in her forehead relaxed, and she smiled tentatively as she turned and handed her wine list to Bob.  “We’ll have a bottle of the Angelus, then.  The ’96, I think, to start.”  Her eyes flickered toward Dark-hair as she spoke, seeking his approval, and she wriggled like a stroked puppy when he responded with a tiny nod.

Bob wanted nothing more than to plant his fist squarely in her stupid, lipstick-smeared mouth, but he suppressed the urge and bowed slightly instead.  “An excellent choice,” he offered in a neutral tone.  She grinned vapidly, and Bob spun on his heel and headed for the kitchen before his clenched fists and jaw betrayed his disgust.

People like these were the reason he hated his job.

Bob was, at least ostensibly, the maître’ d at an Italian restaurant called Fazzetti’s.  Several months ago, however, a local color magazine had run an article praising Fazzetti’s wine selection, and since then the place had become a favorite destination for wine snobs and other self-styled sophisticates.  As a result, Bob now spent most of his time in the cellar shuffling bottles or standing idly by while pompous idiots argued about whether they should have a white or a red with the bolognaise, and he utterly despised it.

He supposed the change in clientele might annoy him less if he liked wine, but even after sampling hundreds of vintages, Bob had yet to encounter one that he found tolerable.  They all tasted the same to him:  white or red, expensive or cheap, they were still the foul, soured runoff from a vat of moldy grapes.  Listening to a group of adults debate which type of swill was worth $100 a bottle was like being in an asylum full of lunatics arguing the merits of lobotomy versus electroshock.  And after eight months of forced exposure to such asinine conversation, Bob was fairly certain that it was only a matter of time until his picture wound up on the evening news above a caption reading: “Spree killer still at large.”

The idea made Bob chuckle, and he amused himself by imagining the broadcast in his head as he crossed the dining room.  By the time he reached the kitchen’s swinging door, he was smiling like a madman.

He stuck out his fist and let it lead the way through the door, enjoying the sound and sensation of his knuckles impacting the smooth stainless steel.  It flew open, and Lizzie, the chef, took one look at Bob’s face before swiftly setting down the saucepan she was holding and stepping out of his path.   She had seen him punch his way into the kitchen wearing a maniac’s grin before, and she knew that when he did, it was best to give him a wide berth.

Her reaction fueled Bob’s mirth, and his smile grew wide enough to hurt.

He marched through the kitchen without a word and headed down the stairs, sweeping a small orange box-cutter from a magnetic strip on the wall as he went:  the Chateau Angelus was a new acquisition, and Bob was going to have to open a case.  He ignored the racks of cheap slop near the stairs when he reached the floor of the cellar, heading instead for the expensive slop at the back where half-a-dozen cases of the Angelus sat stacked on a hand-cart.  He stepped up to the boxes, flicked open his blade, and proceeded to efficiently gut the topmost container.  His knife-work exposed a dozen neatly arranged bottles, and Bob’s demented grin faded as he scooped one up.

The two pricks upstairs were about to pay $120 for this bottle of trash, and Bob shook his head in disbelief at the absurdity of the sum.  The restaurant had paid just over $200 for the entire case, and anyone without Down’s syndrome could find it on-line for less than $30 per bottle.  Paying such a crazily inflated price was conspicuous consumption at its most egregious.

“A fool and his money,” Bob muttered, thinking to himself that whoever coined the phrase had probably meant ‘asshole.’

He headed back up the stairs with the Angelus in hand and stomped through the kitchen, flinging the box-cutter at its magnetized strip, where it stuck with a thwack.  He paused before walking back out of the swinging door, taking a deep breath to steel himself for the most bullshit part of his bullshit job.

It was time for a sampling.

Sampling wine in a restaurant is a well-established and time-honored routine, and despite the solemn air of ritual ascribed to the process, is a fairly straightforward affair.  When done by a professional for a patron who is not a mannerless slob with aristocratic pretentions, the entire procedure can be completed swiftly, without fuss, and only requires the server or patron to speak if the bottle has been damaged or the wine has soured.

Bob knew, however, that he had zero chance of getting through a sampling with Dark-hair and Blondie without speaking.  Blondie would probably lick, sniff, or chew on the cork if he presented it to her (which he would avoid doing, if at all possible), and Bob was certain—absolutely certain—that Dark-hair was going to force him to listen to a connoisseur’s description of the flavor, which Bob would doubtlessly enjoy about as much as having a telephone pole jammed up his ass.

Ostentatious fuckwads like Dark-hair could never seem to resist the chance to use flowery, overly-elaborate language.   They would say things like “It’s earthy, reminiscent of chewing a barley stalk, but with subtle hints of rose hip and lilac,” or “It’s well-blended and fruity, but with a touch of bitterness, like watching your ex-girlfriend marry your brother.”  Bob had even once heard a man claim that he could taste the putrefying corpses buried in a cemetery near the vineyard.  It was fucking ridiculous.

Resigned to his fate, Bob exhaled sharply, tried to force himself into a state of relative calm, and stepped through the kitchen door.  He adopted his standard, politely neutral expression as he crossed the dining room and approached the table where Blondie and Dark-hair were seated.  When he reached them, he bowed slightly, the bottle held across the napkin on his forearm, the label clearly displayed, and said, “Your selection, Ma’am.”

Since Blondie had ordered, it was technically her responsibility to approve the vintage, but she ignored Bob completely, staring instead at a couple seated nearby in an obvious effort to overhear their conversation.  Dark-hair frowned in her direction and gave the bottle a brisk nod, rescuing Bob from another ten-minute wait.  Sensing an opportunity to avoid watching Blondie try to cram a cork up her nose, Bob nodded in return and took the corkscrew from the pocket of his apron.  He opened the bottle, placed the cork on the table in front of Dark-hair, and poured a small amount of the Angelus.

“The color is wonderful,” Dark-hair cooed as he lifted his glass and gently swirled the contents.

“Quite,” Blondie acknowledged, abandoning her eavesdropping just long enough to flash a vacant smile in Dark-hair’s direction.

Bob fantasized about taking the fish knife beside her plate and stabbing it through her windpipe.

Dark-hair, meanwhile, finished swirling and placed his nose over the rim of his glass.  He inhaled lightly and sipped, holding the wine in his mouth briefly before swallowing.

“Magnificent,” he said.  “It’s nearly perfect.  Fiercely pungent, but with a delicately sweet aftertaste, like the tender rosebud of a beautiful woman, exhausted from her lover’s violent passions and lightly dusted with powdered cocoa.”

“The fuck…?” Bob said, too taken-aback by Dark-hair’s evaluation to formulate an actual question.

Dark-hair bristled in response.  “I beg your pardon?”

“You have no idea what just came out of your mouth, do you?” Bob asked.  Heads had begun to turn in the direction of the table—even Blondie was paying attention.

“I was merely describing the—“

“That’s what I thought,” Bob interrupted.  He set the bottle on the table and reached behind his back to untie his apron.  Once it was free, he laid it on the table, pulled the napkin from his forearm, and bounced it off Dark-hair’s chest with a contemptuous toss.

“What are you doing?” spluttered Dark-hair.

“Quitting,” Bob said.  “What’s it look like I’m doing?”

“What?  Why?” Dark-hair asked, his expression nearly identical to the one Blondie had worn while straining to select a wine.

“Because either you just said the single stupidest thing I’ve ever fucking heard, or I’ve completely lost my God-damned mind,” Bob replied.  “And after eight months of listening to idiots with too much money describe bottle after bottle of shitty, over-priced wine, I honestly can’t tell which one it is any more.”

Every person in the restaurant was staring now, and Bob turned to address them.  “And don’t think that any of you are any different,” he said, sweeping his hand in a gesture that included the rest of the guests.  “The only reason any of you fucking morons are here is because you read the article in STL Magazine that said we had some of the best wine in St. Louis.”

“And the truly hilarious thing about that article,” Bob added with a grin, “is that the guy who wrote it only talked up our wine because I slipped him a hundred bucks and comped his meal.  He didn’t even order anything from the cellar.  The only wine he drank while he was here was the house Merlot, and that came from a box under the bar.”

Bob chuckled softly.  “And now, because of one drunken, greedy asshole, you fucking retards will happily blow a hundred and twenty dollars on a twenty-five dollar bottle of wine, and then poetically advertise the fact that you think it tastes like a well-fucked chocolate asshole.”

A roomful of surprised and appalled faces stared silently at Bob, and he began to laugh in earnest as he stared back.  His hilarity seemed to amplify the diner’s distress, which in turn made him laugh even harder, until, laughing so hard he could barely stand, he spun, snatched the bottle of Chateau Angelus from the table, and staggered for the entrance.  Tears streamed from his eyes as he kicked open the restaurant’s heavy wooden doors, and as he stepped out into the humid evening air, he took a swig of the Angelus straight from the bottle.

It was the sweetest thing he had ever tasted.


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