California, there I went…

June 25th, 2011

As the jazz pianist and composer Bobby Troupe wrote, “…won’t you get hip to this timely tip; when you make that California trip, get your kicks on Route 66.”

It wasn’t exactly the way Troupe told it, but the Amtrak train that took me home from Los Angeles through the Southwest to Chicago and then to New York, followed a great deal of the old Route 66, even made stops at some of the places mentioned in the song. The return trip was delightful.

On the way to the West Coast, however, the story is not so pretty. In fact, it was a nightmare, thanks to the floods and fires that caused Amtrak to cancel all trains.
In any case, I got to where I was headed in one piece and then Wednesday, June 15 came and it was time to meet some new friends.

That evening, I reconnected with Tom Wark and Jack Everitt, two guys that I first met online and then came to meet in person on a couple of past trips to the West Coast. That was a blast. But the real treat for the evening was to meet other Internet friends that I had yet to meet face-to-face: Samantha Dugan, John Kelly, Ron Washam, Charlie Olken, and Marcia (whose last name I didn’t get) plus Wark’s new wife, Charlie’s long-standing wife, John’s winemaking assistant, all of whom I was introduced to by name, but in my oncoming dotage have not held in memory. I apologize for that gap, and should have taken notes.

What I do remember of that evening wholeheartedly was conviviality. We ate good food served at Harvest Moon in Sonoma (oh, those sardines), drank fabulous wines brought by each of us, and talked trash as well as serious. (Have you ever sat at a table of nearly a dozen self-confident people with opinions? If not, don’t try it without some practice.)

I was especially pleased with the overall good reception of the Finger Lakes wines that I brought to the dinner.

The memorable evening fell in the middle of my trip, and that made it all the more wonderful, as it was a fine break from the combination work and scouting that I was doing while on the West Coast (in seven days, I racked up 1800 miles on a rented car). The work was to interview a few people for research pertaining to my next book, which is under contract. The scouting was to satisfy a sense that I had that it is time for me to move on, to relocate.

Unfortunately or not, the places I had planned to visit in southern Oregon as candidates for that relocation did not live up to expectations. Or maybe it is simply that I am not ready. Whatever, I have decided to stay put for the time being. It didn’t help that, despite a proliferation of coffee kiosks throughout the region, or maybe because of them, I could not find a decent cup of unadulterated espresso in southern Oregon.

People who deal with and survive cancer are also faced with our mortality, and that often makes us believe either that what we have may not be enough or it may not be the right thing for us. In the past few months, while facing mortality, and although I’d like to claim exceptionality, I proved to myself that I am as ordinary as any man. But after searching on this trip, and doing a lot of thinking as well, I have come to the conclusion that what I have is enough and it is right for me.

The only thing that I need to do to make comfortable the time that I have left on this earth is for me to escape the deep winters that often afflict this part of the country. For that, I don’t need to go to a warmer place; I need to be in a place that provides me with access to things that I cannot have while hibernating in my rural community, and that includes a good unadulterated double espresso—daily.

My latest thought, then, is to find a temporary apartment each winter in Manhattan. There, I can indulge in what truly makes me happy—cultural events. To do that in the Finger Lakes in winter it takes clearing the driveway of snow and ice, warming the car, driving in snow and ice for a minimum of 35 miles one way, and then trying to enjoy the evening while thinking of the energy-draining drive home in the dead of night and winter.
In Manhattan, all it takes to enjoy cultural events is to get dressed, go downstairs and either walk or take a taxi, whatever the weather is.

I am so glad to have reached a stage in my life where I get to enjoy conviviality more often and to also make decisions mostly on my terms. So, fuck cancer. It has nothing on freedom, friends, and conviviality.

I think I’ll need another conviviality trip to the West Coast soon—better still, maybe some of my new friends would like to see how green is our valley during a Finger Lakes summer here in the East.

Copyright Thomas Pellechia
June 2011. All rights reserved

 

Lifting a blog entry without the author’s permission (and without recompense) is a copyright infringement–period.

Explanation

May 16th, 2011

Within the past two weeks, a few people have asked about or commented on my absence. Being a man of insistent “responsible genes,” I’ve decided to pass along this explanation, feeble as some may think it is.

First, radiation for prostate cancer ended April 25. Now, I wait, get checked periodically, and take shots that I hate having to take.

Over the nine weeks during radiation, the round trip drive of almost three hours each day, five days a week, plus the fifteen minutes of radiation saw to it that I had great amounts of time in which to think—always a dangerous thing for a guy like me, who never stops thinking to begin with (I listened to books on CD, but still managed to think).

When I began this blog, my intent was to pass along to consumers some of what really goes on in the wine world as opposed to what others want consumers to think goes on. I also had a decided bent against ever becoming a wine critic, as my view of aesthetic criticism is not the mainstream view of that occupation.

If I am to be honest with myself, the secondary intent for vinofictions was to gain access to people who might be in a position to buy my writing services.

In truth, neither of the intents seems to have panned out much.

After initial interest from some important online bloggers who sent readers my way, my lack of flashy, some might say sensationalistic writing ultimately relegated vinofictions to the low end of the readability scale. I have no idea how many people read or have read the blog (I have tracked the hits, but that baloney isn’t as telling as some believe—hits are not necessarily readers).

In addition, others have pointed out, and I have come to agree that the majority of wine blog readers are either in the business, wannabes in the business, or hard geeks. And in addition to that, I’ve learned that few want to read a blog for information beyond the opinions concerning the drinkability of this or that wine; in some cases, telling the truth behind the many myths that continue to circulate concerning myriad subjects connected to wine has gotten me into more trouble than the blog is worth.

Speaking of worth, the blog did manage to pull off a few incidents concerning my second intent—to attract an editor or two—but not nearly enough when I compare what my print writings (including books) have garnered for me when it comes to getting future writing gigs. Either not enough editors read wine blogs or I’m a poor excuse for a writer–or both. Still, in spite of the possibility concerning my talents, the fact that I have had the good fortune over the years to become a professional writer, who needs the time to write so that I meet my deadlines, often came into conflict with trying to maintain a blog that brought no direct revenue at all.

In sum, vinofictions may or may not be around much longer. I haven’t made a definitive decision about it. I know only these two things: right now, I am not inspired to write anything on the blog; and I have just received a contract to write what will be my fourth book, a project that requires much research and that will take up much of my time. The new book, plus the three columns I continually bang out on a regularly scheduled basis, the wines.com blog entries that I produce twice each month, and the scattered magazine articles that diminishingly, but still come my way will conspire to lessen the energy if not the ideas necessary to maintain regularly scheduled vinofictions blog entries.

Finally, not only have I faced a health ordeal, I’m getting older and less inclined to spend as much energy on speculative concepts as I once had.

To my four or five die-hard readers, I say thanks for reading, commenting, and overall support under the radar through emails. Vinofictions will remain online and maybe one day soon I’ll actually have something worthwhile to post to it.

Copyright Thomas Pellechia
May 2011. All rights reserved

Lifting a blog entry without the author’s permission (and without recompense) is a copyright infringement–period.

Blogging comment contest–everybody’s doing it, why not I?

March 30th, 2011

If you are really into wine, you must have heard of the MS, MW, and WSET certificate programs that teach all you need to know about the subject—I think.

Because some of us, including me, aren’t sure whether or not those few wine education programs really do the job, a small group of divorced moms who receive large alimony checks came up with a solution at one of their afternoon drunkfests; they call their endeavor the Perspicacious, Pretentious, Presumptuous School of Wine (PPP).

The women sought to bring wine education to the people, more specifically, to people like us. In other words, they want to educate fools, and take it from this fool, the single moms with a two-ton drinking problem have come up with a foolproof wine education program…and now, vinofiction readers have a chance at benefiting from it.

For a brief time only—about twenty-five minutes—PPP offers my readers a chance to gain their highest-level wine education certificate.

Yes indeed, my readers have a chance at bypassing levels 1 through 4, which cover such mundane topics as grape growing, wine production, grape variety identification, sensory analysis, and winemaking as well as wine marketing to skip right straight through to the real meat of the program, the Pusillanimous Wine Professional Level 5 certificate (PWP5), the one that guarantees the world of your vacuous credentials as a talker rather than a doer.

You won’t have to memorize dates, smells, vintages, names, or even alcohol levels. Plus, to enter this contest you don’t have to hold either a WSET, MS, or MW, but it helps to hold very high self-regard, even if you are a fool—especially if you are a fool.

To enter this contest all you have to do is be the 53rd person to comment on this blog entry. Using fewer than 140 characters, tell us all that you know about wine.

Your entry will be printed out and dumped with other entries into a large red hat with a feather boa that sits on the table where the drunken ladies meet. The first lady who manages to grab an entry, and can focus her eyes enough to read it aloud, will pick the winner.

Fool that you are, you probably already have thought that to win this contest all you’ll have to do is wait until the 52nd comment is made and then dump your vanity on us. But think about this: right now, hundreds of people have read this blog entry (maybe thousands). Surely only one or two readers are smart enough to fully comprehend its contents. The rest are already clamoring to show what fools we mortals be, so hitting the 53rd comment mark will be quite random with high odds against you, and that means that only a lucky fool can win. Are you that lucky fool?

Disclaimer: I have absolutely no affiliation with PPP, although I do hold a PWP5 which I gained fair and square. In addition, I have received no compensation from PPP to post this contest and promote their brand, unless you count the check and two cases of wine PPP sent me for the wallboard work I did to remodel their ugly office, which was in fact a truly ostentatious living room of one of the ladies whose ex-husband had no taste.

Copyright Thomas Pellechia
March 2011. All rights reserved.

 

Lifting a blog entry without the author’s permission (and without recompense) is a copyright infringement–period.

Compulsion

March 23rd, 2011

It’s been a while since my last post. I have an excuse, but I don’t want to take time making excuses. Truth is, I haven’t much to say right now about the subject of wine. In fact, I haven’t much to say about anything these days. That’s part of my excuse.

Still, almost without fail, at least once each day, the thought of me ignoring vinofictions crept into my mind. It bothered me almost the way a nagging control freak bothers us.

For days, thoughts of finally abandoning this blog for good gave me guilt feelings. The idea that I could walk away from something that I had created made me feel almost ill. This deep sense of responsibility has always haunted my psyche. Every dog or cat I have ever had as a pet figured that out about me and used that knowledge to mold my habits to suit their needs.

For the past three days, the compulsion to write in vinofictions tugged at my sense of responsibility until, today, I could no longer take it, and so I decided to write something, anything, to get this drag on my day to ease up.

Many years ago, I learned that the best way to face writer’s block was a combination of keep writing and keep taking breaks. It’s a contradiction, but it often works. You spend time each day, the same time of day, too, writing whatever pops into your feeble mind until, “voila,” you often find that you have begun to write something if not important at least intelligible. After each session, you do something that you truly enjoy doing—walking, running, biking, shopping, dining out, meeting friends, etc.

With that in mind, and noticing that I have yet to come up with anything either important or intelligible, I think I will go do something that I enjoy, expecting that tomorrow I’ll come up with a real vinofictions entry.

Oh wait: I have to drive over an hour one way for my daily radiation treatment.

Now you know my excuse for having not been writing in the blog.

Copyright Thomas Pellechia
March 2011. All rights reserved.

 

Lifting a blog entry without the author’s permission (and without recompense) is a copyright infringement–period.

Don’t wait for me Argentina

March 3rd, 2011

Sung to the tune from the Broadway play of the 1970s, “Don’t wait for me, Argentina…”

Thanks to the “Wines of Argentina team” I can plainly state that more than three read this blog. Also thanks to the “team” I can plainly state that marketers are sometimes funny, if not downright unscrupulous—or maybe they think that bloggers are unscrupulous—or maybe some bloggers are.

Here’s one way to calculate the scruples of a blogger: if a blogger writes this month about the white wines of Torrontes, be careful. You see, the blogger may be writing about that subject for the chance to win a free trip to Argentina, courtesy of the “Wines of Argentina team.”

Get it?

No?

Here’s how it works. The “Wines of Argentina team” sends the following email to bloggers:

“We’ve seen your wine blog and would like to invite you to write a post about Argentine Torrontes and participate in our Blogger of the Month contest. You will have the chance to win a free trip to Argentina! Here is a link for more info http://www.winesofargentina.org/en/bloggerofthemonth
Looking forward to reading your blog post!”

The email is signed by the Wines of Argentina team.

If the “team” made an effort to read my blog it would know that I am a rather cantankerous old journalist who takes ethics extremely seriously, and that I would likely consider this “contest” a breach in ethics.

Here’s why: a journalist neither writes a story for a marketing entity nor does a journalist write a story to enter a contest for freebies.

I know that the official Argentine language is Spanish, and I know that there’s a large Italian contingency in Argentina that speaks a kind of SpanItalian.

Still, every member of the team should know what this means: quid pro quo.

This situation reminds me of an offer made to bloggers concerning a wine refrigerator and how to get yourself one. In my view, that, too, was an ethical breach in the waiting.

Now I know that there are some in the blogosphere who consider my attitude “old school.” I know because some bloggers have told me so after I’ve pointed out what I consider their actions as skirting on thin ethical ice. But I refuse to back down, and so I repeat to my three other readers: if you read a blog entry this month about Torrontes, remember that old “grain of salt.”

Copyright Thomas Pellechia
March 2011. All rights reserved.

Lifting a blog entry without the author’s permission (and without recompense) is a copyright infringement–period.

Goings on

February 19th, 2011

Alcohol by any other name

The Distilled Spirits Council of the United States (DISCUS) wants us to know that the federal government releases its 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans, and there’s good news for imbibers.

First, the guidelines define a drink as 1.5 ounces of 80-proof distilled spirits, that’s 40% alcohol by volume; 5 ounces of wine at 12% alcohol by volume; and 12 ounces of regular beer at 5% alcohol by volume.

In each of the above, you will take in 0.6 fluid ounces of ethanol.

According to the DISCUS press release, the government has “scientifically” determined that a standard drink of wine, beer, or spirits equals the same fluid ounces of alcohol.

Maybe so, but this is not news. We knew this information 30 years ago.

We also knew then, and know now, that the spirits industry is rabid about making sure that people understand that alcohol is alcohol—the industry gets annoyed that wine benefits from the hype about moderate alcohol consumption being good for our health, leaving spirits behind.

The press release goes on to talk about what constitutes moderation: one drink each day for women and two drinks each day for men, of any standard drink of alcohol.

Then, the Wine Institute issued its press release on the matter; here’s a portion of what that California organization said:

“…we agree with the time-tested definition of a serving as being 12 fl. oz. of regular beer, 5 fl. oz. of wine, or 1.5 fl. oz. of 80-proof distilled spirits but are concerned about the additional statement that each of the drinks contains the same amount of alcohol…in reality, alcohol content varies widely from drink to drink. Consumers should not be misled into believing there is such a thing as a ‘standard drink.’ In fact, the term ‘standard drink’ does not appear in the Dietary Guidelines.”

Wow. It appears there’s a drinks war going on.

If the Wine Institute had asked me I would have advised this response:

A drink may be a drink, but it’s not nearly as easy to pair a shot of spirits with a meal as it is to pair a glass of wine with a meal—and leave it at that.

Sabbath? What Sabbath?

Hubris and hypocrisy can be funny.

Georgia is one of three states remaining that does not allow alcohol sales on Sunday, but the legislature is addressing the issue and the law likely will change, if it hasn’t already.

Last January Connecticut, Indiana, and Texas became the 45th, 46th, and 47th states to lift the Sunday alcohol sales ban.

Why?

Because state coffers are empty and by adding one more day of alcohol sales to the week each state brings in one more day of tax revenue.

Follow the money–always.

Aahh, Love New York!

February 11th, 2011

Most of my two readers know that I reside in the Finger Lakes, where I also once produced wine. Because of that relationship, and because some truly outstanding wines are produced here, I try to keep abreast of what’s going on in the region and in the state.

I recently joined a teleconference that was arranged to fill the media in on the latest findings concerning the wine in grocery store issue that has fermented in New York for about 30 years.

The closest the state ever came to legislating to allow grocery stores to sell wine was in the state’s 2010 budget, when a compromise bill was introduced to answer all the objections of the retail liquor lobby. Alas, when push came to shove, the lobbyists’ response was simple: we don’t want any changes at all in the present system. Essentially, they never negotiated in good faith and have no plans to do so in the future.

Now, with a new governor and a new budget, the issue seems to be dead as a budgetary item, but it is not quite dead as an issue.

The teleconference was set up by Archstone Consulting, a division of The Hackett Group, which bills itself as “a global strategic business advisory, operations consulting and finance transformation firm.

The New Yorkers for Economic Growth and Open Markets (NYEGOM) funded Archstone’s study. According to Matt Tepper, spokesman for Artchstone, NYGEOM is, “a statewide coalition of family farms, liquor stores, supermarket chains, independent food stores, grocery wholesalers and small businesses.

Archstone investigated last year’s proposed legislation and budget and determined that if enacted, allowing wine to be sold in grocery stores would have generated for New York State almost $347 million during the first year in license fees, and about $71 million annually for the next five years through licenses and excise taxes.

State revenue is, however, a small part of the benefits.

First, 35 states out of 50 allow wine sales in grocery stores, and of the top ten wine-producing states, New York is in fourth place but it is the only one of the ten states that does not allow wine sales in grocery stores, and in of the other nine states small retailers operate along with large grocery store chains.

More important, according to the study, if passed, last year’s proposal could have produced a net job gain at wineries, wholesalers, plus all retail outlets of almost 6,400 jobs in the first year and more than 7,600 over five years.

The study looked in depth at four other states—Washington, Virginia, Florida, and Michigan—where wine is sold in grocery stores and pharmacies as well as in retail liquor stores. The findings included double-digit growth in the number of liquor stores between 2002-2007 in each state.

Conversely, in New York, where wine is not sold in grocery stores, there were about 8,000 liquor retailers just 20 years ago; there are about 2,500 today.

Finally, the study found that in states where wine is sold in grocery stores, liquor retailers must keep up with the market. The result is better choices for consumers as well as better prices, thanks to entrepreneurial competition (as opposed to the static, protected turfs that New York State provides to liquor retailers).

The newly elected State Senator for our region, Thomas O’Mara, was in on the teleconference. He voiced concern that everyone involved needs to have an open and frank dialog and also to recognize that change is difficult and it offers a potential negative impact to retailers.

The following is for the senator’s benefit: during the last go-round with proposed legislation on this issue in 2010, the retail lobbyists, Laststoreonmainstreet.com, turned down changes, including some that liquor retailers have been clamoring for years to achieve: the ability of liquor retailers to sell mixers and food items; the chance for liquor retailers to form cooperatives to buy products to gain access to large volume discounts; the chance for liquor store retailers not only to sell their licenses at fair market value, but also to hold more than the one license which they are presently confined to owning; the chance for relaxing stringent rules that force retailers into negative relationships with wholesalers; and the chance to change shop owner/order takers into free market entrepreneurs (I believe this is the one that gives most of the retailers the jitters).

To drive home their point, Laststoreonmainstreet.com stated flatly and plainly that it didn’t want anything to change in the way wine is sold in New York State—nothing.

Mr. Senator, can the dialog be any more frank or open that that?

Copyright Thomas Pellechia
February 2011. All rights reserved.

Lifting a blog entry without the author’s permission (and without recompense) is a copyright infringement–period.

Surf and turf

January 28th, 2011

The unusual lentil/mussels soup that I ate at Savore in New York City was on my mind ever since that night. Last night, I decided to do something about it.

I’m one of those nuts who try to deconstruct the ingredients that go into a restaurant dish, especially when the dish sparks my appetite and my interest. Mussels with lentils was such an unusual pairing—at least I’ve never done it before—that it was a natural for me to think about deconstructing…and if that fails, I simply construct my own!

I believe that I have captured much of what was in that bowl at Savore, whether I did it with the proper ingredients is not the issue for me. To my taste, the earthiness of the lentils and the fishy-ness of the mussels (and broth) was truly an interesting version of “surf and turf” dining, and that is all I sought to duplicate.

The other day, my wife and I ate trout for dinner. As we usually do in our home, the bones from the trout did not get thrown out; they rested in the fridge overnight and waited for their appointment in the morning to simmer on the stove in water to make a fish stock. (We seem to have a stock pot simmering almost every day, from fish to chicken to vegetable.)

My aim for the trout stock was to use it as part of the base for my experiment with lentils and mussels soup, which we had at dinner last night, and for lunch as leftovers today. Here’s how I made the soup.

I steamed a bag of mussels until they just popped open their shells, and put the mussels aside; then, I added the water from the mussel-steaming plus the trout stock (total of six cups) into a pot, cleaned and screened one and one half cups of lentils and put them into the pot, added a teaspoon of cumin, three large bay leaves (we have two laurel trees), and a chopped cayenne pepper (we grow and then freeze them), brought everything to a boil and then simmered it for about 20 minutes.

While the lentils simmered, I chopped two large carrots, one large fennel stalk (in place of celery, which to me tastes like kerosene) two garlic cloves, one onion and put them aside.

After they simmered to tender, I took half the lentils out of the pot with a slotted spoon, pureed them, mixed the lentil puree back into the pot and added the chopped vegetables. Everything simmered until the vegetables cooked to tender.

At the last minute, I stirred into the pot the juice of one lemon and two tablespoons of olive oil; then, I added the mussels (in their shells), lowered the flame to below low, covered, and let the mussels get hot in the pot.

The result was close to Savore’s but not exact. It was, however, quite a nice soup—both times that we ate it.

At Savore, I drank Morellino di Scansano with the soup. At home, we tried it with a Heron Hill Cabernet Franc. The wine is clean and crisp, very much in the Chinon style, but it was not the best pairing for the mussels and lentils soup.I’ll have to try it again with another wine–any suggestions?

NOTE:
Some have asked about my prostate cancer situation. I don’t care to go into too much detail, but I am feeling fine. I’ve been given a hormone shot to shrink and make brittle the cancer cells in preparation for radiating them. The shot produces potential side effects; in my case, the side effects have been minimal, almost to undetectable.

According to the doc, my overall good health (and the fact that I take no medications, nor have I ever been a habitual smoker) should benefit me during this process. But I do not fool myself; I know that when radiation begins I will suffer fatigue and who knows what else! Until then, I will exercise daily, eat healthy, drink some wine, and keep on writing.

Copyright Thomas Pellechia
January 2011. All rights reserved.

Lifting a blog entry without the author’s permission (and without recompense) is a copyright infringement–period.

Energize me

January 25th, 2011

New York City is energizing. For me, being there is like being plugged in to recharge, and recharge I did. The weekend was filled with goings on but nothing compared with dining with my old friends.

For those familiar with the city’s layout, you might find it impressive that on my way to meet my friends for that Friday night dinner, I walked from 92nd Street and 3rd Avenue to 42nd Street and 12th Avenue, through Central Park, inside of one hour and ten minutes. Like I said, the city is energizing!

I met one of my friends, John, who I’ve known since fourth grade and who is just fifteen minutes older than I, at his apartment on 42nd Street and then we drove in his car to the restaurant, Savore, located at the southeast corner of Spring and Sullivan Streets, in Soho.

Savore has been at that location since 1995. I discovered the restaurant in 1996, and loved it from the start. Both menu and wine list offered a healthy dose of Northeastern Italy.

When I first ate at Savore, it was populated with Italians. These days, the front of the house, the wait staff, and probably the kitchen staff too, represent places like Mexico, Honduras, and Guatamala. The place has changed a little, with a wider offering that includes more universal dishes. But the influence is, as it should be, simplicity in preparation and mainly Italian. I can tell that the wait staff loves to work there, too, by the way that they serve and by the fact that a few of them have been serving for many years.

There were eight of us at the table, each planning to order a separate meal. Once again, I had to call upon my appeasing instincts as the wine list made its way to my spot in the group. It was a bitterly cold night in the city and because of that no one felt like drinking white wine. A good look at the list and then in a flash I decided on a Caldaro Pinot Nero (Alto Adige) and il Puntone Morellino di Scansano Riserva (Maremma).

I didn’t take wine notes that night—no geeks around—but as I remember them, the Pinot Nero was beautifully round and fruity with a velvety finish. The Morellino (which is the Maremma’s version of the Sangiovese grape, or is it?) was solidly leathery, lean but flavorful, with truly integrated acidity.

I could tell that everyone liked the wine because no one complained and we ordered more bottles.

The dishes at our table represented quite a range, from artichoke stuffed pasta to branzino over root vegetables and all kinds in between. Mine was an order of lentils and mussels soup to start, a soup so unusual that it called to me, and I was glad that I answered the call. Hard to explain how the salty sea-like flavor of mussels offset the earthy lushness of lentils, but it happened. I followed with a seared salmon over crisp vegetables on a soft bed of pureed cauliflower (I’m eating more omega3 foods these days).

The evening went long—four hours—and the conversation went even longer. Once again, we talked of our youthful indiscretions, like the time we broke into the basement of a neighborhood bar and stole two kegs of beer.

We broke the kegs open with a screwdriver and a hammer in a hallway without thinking about the consequences of having just finished rolling them more than two blocks—the beer spray and foam filled three floors of hallway.

The caper was such a spur-of-the-moment thing that we also didn’t consider what we would serve the beer in. A few of us wound up with a case of trench mouth from the old coffee cans that we used as beer glasses.

Ours was a mobster neighborhood. Tough guys were everywhere, as was violence. One of them was a particularly nasty prick, a loan shark that we knew was responsible for breaking a few legs.

A long time ago, there was such a thing as a small kitchen table with a metal top. On one snowy night, after we had downed pints of T’bird and were feeling mischievous, one of my friends saw such a tabletop lying in a pile of garbage. He wondered aloud: what would happen if we buried that tabletop in snow right in someone’s walking path?

That someone turned out to be the loan shark, and it was such fun to watch him unknowingly walk onto the slick, wet metal top, glide up into the air and then come down with a pleasingly, to us, hard thump, cursing all the way up and all the way down.

It was all we could do to hold in our laughter from our perch behind a car across the street.

Finally, there was the teacher whose arm we broke—inadvertently, of course.

It was a Friday afternoon fire drill. The class was made to line up along one wall before filing out. The wall happened to be the one that included the coat closets, which were fronted with sliding doors. It so happened that the chairs in the classroom fit snugly in the closets and so we stacked a bunch of them in there and slid the doors closed.

The following Monday, as the teacher prepared the classroom she opened one of the closets and out came a stack of chairs right on her!

We have recounted these and many other stories more than a few times over the years but we never tire of telling them once again and we always seem to find them as funny as they were when the events took place.

I’ll be seeing this group again soon, as each one of my friends has offered to make the 300-mile trip to visit me and to take turns relieving my wife from the responsibility of driving me five days a week for about nine weeks of daily radiation treatments of my prostate cancer.

As I’ve said, the love that binds these friendships is palpable.

Savore

Copyright Thomas Pellechia
January 2011. All rights reserved.

Lifting a blog entry without the author’s permission (and without recompense) is a copyright infringement–period.

Where Everybody Knows Your Name

January 19th, 2011

In this world, we are lucky to maintain a friendship with just one person from our youth or childhood. I consider myself among the luckiest of them all, as I have not one but five close friends, some of whom have been with me from near infancy, others since our teen days.

Many years ago, my close friends and I used to get together at least once a month for dinner in New York City, to stay connected. It’s amazing how many years you can tell and listen to the same stories but find them equally hilarious each time. The love that we six men have for one another is palpable; I know this because my wife tells me that she can feel it when the group gets together with our wives.

The monthly dinners were always sans wives. That way, we could be our childish selves. We spread ourselves around town, dining in many restaurants, but visiting a few of them many times, as they were our favorites. My favorite was named Via Margutta, which used to be located on Minetta Lane in Greenwich Village; it’s veal dishes were superbly done.

Via Margutta had once been the hangout for some of the Village’s mobsters—I believe every seat in the restaurant was situated so that backs were always facing a wall! The mob connection gave me a story to tell over the years.

One time, I carried a brief case from work with me to dinner at Via Margutta and stuck it under the table. After a few hours of wining and dining, and laughing, my friends and I fell out of the restaurant, each to grab a taxi home. No sooner had we stepped outside, however, I remembered the briefcase that I had left under the table.

Back in the restaurant, with two waiters suspiciously eying me, the Maitre d’hotel cautiously asked me if anything was wrong. I told him about the briefcase. He grinned widely and told me to wait; then, he swung around and walked into the kitchen. When he returned, he carried my briefcase, which had some liquid on it as well as the smell of salad.

The man handed me the briefcase and said, quietly, “In this place, we never know what might be inside these things.”

Apparently, the briefcase had been thrown into the dumpster either in case it exploded, or to get rid of the machine gun that might have been inside it.

Over the years, as my friends and I moved to varying distant locations, the regular dinners ceased, but we managed to stay connected, and we gather for various reasons a few times each year. The latest of those reasons has had a lot to do with advancing birthdays. The absolute latest of those reasons is my prostate cancer situation.

On January 20, I’ll be off to New York City for a few days, to meet with a few people. One of the evenings on my trip is reserved for dining with my five wonderful friends. Via Margutta is gone, but we have decided on a place that in the past has been among my favorite restaurants. In a future blog entry, I’ll let you know if the restaurant has held up.

Since the 1980s, after I changed careers and got into the wine business, dinners with my friends have invariably begun with one of them telling the waiter to hand me the wine list. They rely completely on my recommendations. It is both a nice and a frightening experience for me. We’ve known one another for so long that we generally don’t hold anything back. If I pick wine clinkers, these fellows let me know with gusto.

Of course, I’ve had enough time to figure out what each of them likes in a wine, and I can almost tell what each one will order for dinner. Still, I always feel like I am auditioning for a part when the waiter hands me the list.

If I had to make a guess, I’d say that I’ve gotten the part more than not. But that’s probably because I try to go the safest route that I know when in a situation like this: I seek Riesling for white and Pinot Noir for red. If that won’t work in one of the restaurants, I usually go crazy and pick the most outrageous things I can find.

I remember one of those times when a couple of the guys thought I was a genius, and the rest thought I was a jerk.

Par for the course, I’d say.

NOTE: I’ll be offline for the next few days, so comments will remain unanswered until next week.

Copyright Thomas Pellechia
January 2011. All rights reserved.

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