I was standing in line at customer service yesterday in our HyVee grocery store, an overstuffed bag of dry cleaning in my hand. The line was lengthier than I’d expected for early afternoon on a weekday, but I wasn’t in a hurry. From behind me a woman approached, perhaps in her mid-sixties. She walked past me, close enough to have brushed my shoulder, then stopped abruptly, placing herself immediately between me and the person who was in line in front of me. In elementary school, I would have called it “cutting” and surely I would have told the teacher. Yesterday, I furrowed my brow.
I was certain beyond reason that there had to be a reason for this woman to be so brazenly disregarding our known social contract. Ineffably, she turned and talked, not to, almost through me, to another woman of similar age. Loudly, seemingly unaware of me, she told the woman to go get Fancy Feast. I was, by this time, engaged in our dance. I didn’t dare say anything to her, but more than that, I tried to be even more inconspicuous, a move that was clearly in retrospect unnecessary. I didn’t even clear my throat. It was like one of those good dreams you start to wake up out of, then roll over and cling to your pillow — no no no — attempting desperately to remain slumbering lest the dream world burst. This wasn’t a good dream, but merely an odd phenomenon. This woman clearly had no regard for social norms. I had to see how this played out.
Disappointingly, the woman did little else of interest. She got to the counter and ordered three money orders, $19 each, which was certainly curious but not all that remarkable. She was in the midst of paying for them when a second checker arrived. I handed him my large, bright orange sack of dress shirts and trousers, thanked him, gave the bizarre, aging woman one last glance, and walked away to buy ingredients for tacos.
I don’t admire the old woman’s strange behavior of course, but I found it quite intriguing. More intriguing than her behavior, however, I found mine. I was utterly gobsmacked by the notion of an adult person committing a cardinal sin of the playground — had not we all grown up? It reminded me just how seriously we take our social norms, how important to us our structures seem to be — and are. Society functions in large part because we all agree that it takes only a red light and not a concrete barrier for us to stop our cars, and because we generally understand that we do not take what is not ours. Our social contracts, our traditions, these make up the order of things as we know them. When those are challenged, well, it gets me thinking.
I went home and curled up in my armchair by the fire where I finished Watchmen, a Christmas present from a new, good friend. For the uninitiated, a brief synopsis would tell you that the book is a graphic novel that was written in the 80’s and set in New York City in the Cold War era. The characters, all retired masked heroes, ultimately raise and answer the timeless question of whether or not the ends justify the means — a fitting question to wrestle with when considering whether or not getting a money order faster justifies slowing down a dry cleaning drop off. Ultimately, upon concluding the book, I remain staunch in my understandings and belief that the ends do not justify the means because, as one character in the book puts it, “Nothing ends. Nothing ever ends.” It is all means, and the means are all that matters. The means are all we get.
Wine is an excellent place to challenge established norms and to challenge the order of things. I believe it was Robert Parker, that most famous of wine critics, who destroyed the entire 2011 vintage of wines with a casual stroke of the pen. He sullied hundreds of thousands of bottles of wine simply by suggesting the vintage was inferior, and what is most intriguing of course is that so many people bought into it. Sure sure, bad growing conditions, too much or too little rain, early freezes, Jupiter in an odd position, whatever. I know that temperature and terroir have much to do with grapes and their production, but this analysis of the situation fails desperately to take into consideration that very thing which makes us love wine: the artistry. With this in mind, I opened a 2011 last night, by a winemaker I know to be an artist, and I was well-rewarded.
The thing about the 2011’s is that, like every other vintage, it matters who made them. Great winemakers took less than ideal circumstances in 2011 and produced some killer wines; to judge an entire vintage based on — hopefully the French will forgive me for this, but based on weather, well it’s frankly ridiculous. And the proof is in wines like this one.
Last night, Sonja and I shared the 2011 Euclid Cabernet Sauvignon. Winemakers Mike and Lucas Farmer have been in the industry for a long time. Mike, the father, worked for Mondavi, later Opus One, for more than three decades, while Lucas most recently worked at Palmaz, the most technologically sophisticated winery I’ve ever been inside of. These two experienced artisans seemingly had littler difficulty with the 2011 vintage, their Cabernet being extremely expressive. A beautiful deep purple hue, it has an herbaceous nose laced in dark purple fruits. On the palate, I got raspberry, bing cherry, and blackberry for fruits, graced by more subtle hints of leather, further herbs, and gentle spices. Nice structure, it is cellar-worthy for sure, and boasts terrific acidity and mellow, long-chain tannins to balance it out. The finish lingers.
Titus and Zooey hung out in the kitchen with me while I cooked our tacos. It was Mike Farmer who originally suggested to me, by way of a delicious demonstration, that fine wine be paired with tacos, and I still use methods he taught me while preparing them. Yesterday, I added Himalayan rock salt to the olive oil as I fried up our corn tortillas, and Sonja and I enjoyed the result. Of course, a more traditional pairing for Cabernet would be red meat, but hell, that wouldn’t disrupt the order now, would it? Much as I do love steak, we put chicken in our tacos last night, and it turned out great.
There are social norms that I respect, understandings that we all benefit from and arguably need in order to stay safe and sane. Then there are those which should perhaps be challenged. As the cost of Opus One has crept over the past decade from $150 a bottle to nearly twice that, I think it’s worth knowing that you can get a bottle of Cabernet made by the guy who made that wine for twenty years, for $100/bottle. And disrupting a New-York based corporation’s bottom line on overpriced wine by seeking out alternatives and supporting small independent producers is something I think we all should do.
This morning, I find myself wondering about the lady with the cat — how many cats? — I wonder. Is it possible she didn’t see me? My best guess is that somehow she truly didn’t realize I was there, and would likely have been apologetic had I made myself known. I could quite possibly have restored the social order with little effort. Then again, maybe she did know, and just didn’t care. Hell, maybe it was even personal and I just didn’t recognize her. And yet despite all of it, this morning my dry cleaning is still where it needs to be, and I have a satisfied belly full of tacos and Cabernet. And she has three money orders, $19 each, and I assume her cats, however many there may be, have food. It’s almost as if our social norms weren’t all that important. In the end… nothing ends. Nothing ever ends.
Cheers to disrupting the oder of things,