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The Great Yuppie Wine Caper

Posted by acdtest on December 13, 2003

The Great Yuppie Wine Caper

ne afternoon, way back when I was an up-and-coming yuppie (yes, I played the yuppie game for about a decade or so) and therefore did the de rigueur wine-expert thing, I walked into a New Jersey liquor store to purchase three bottles of wine for an elegant dinner my then-wife and I were giving that evening. I sauntered over to the French section (natch) looking every inch the knowledgeable wine buyer, or so I imagined, and began scrutinizingly looking through the racks. There was the usual selection of big-name chateaux bottled wines, but I saw nothing particularly interesting in my price range, and was about to settle for three bottles of a middling vintage at $5 per (about $30 per in today’s dollars) when my eye caught the top of a rack that was half-hidden behind what looked like a makeshift partition. On the top row of the rack I struck the mother lode: five bottles of Chateaux Lafite, all the same sterling vintage year, and every one bearing a mis-priced price sticker.

Bottles of this stuff were going for some $60 per ($350 per), and these particular bottles were each marked at $8. Truly, God is good, I thought to myself, ecstatic. Coming back down to earth, however, I didn’t really think I’d get away with it. Playing dumb, I grabbed all five bottles, brought them up to the checkout counter, and nonchalantly, and with straight face, handed them to the clerk. He looked at the stickers with typical hired-help, clerk disinterest, rang up the bottles without a word, and cradling my ill-gotten loot in my larcenous arms, I stole away like a thief in the night, feeling mildly guilty, but otherwise hugely pleased with myself.

Evening arrived, and with it our guests, and while my wife served pre-dinner canapés, I began opening the bottles intending to let the wine breathe for an hour or so. The breath each exhaled on opening was appalling. The wine in every bottle was badly “corked”. Chagrined, I headed back to the liquor store. Behind the counter now, in place of the clerk, there stood the store’s owner. With a faint show of annoyance, I presented him the bottles, and quietly lodged my complaint, at which, without opening a single bottle, and with the beginnings of a Jack-Nicholson-wicked smile playing about his lips, he just as quietly replied, “Do you mean to tell me you actually expected to get a bottle of vintage Lafite for drinking at eight bucks a pop?”

Was I embarrassed? Only about $100 worth ($600) as I sheepishly purchased five bottles of a good vintage Margaux to replace the five bottles of sterling vintage Lafite which, having gone drinking-bad, had been marked down to sell for use as a vinegar base.

A just punishment, I had to admit to myself, to repay attempted larceny, and typically clueless yuppie pretension.

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Mysteries Of The Universe

Posted by acdtest on January 21, 2003

Mysteries Of The Universe, Part I

don’t think it inordinately immodest of me when I say I’m a fairly bright guy. So how come on those rare occasions when I’m forced to deal with things involving physical labor I transform into a moron? And not your regular old garden variety moron either, but one prone to any number of multiple wounding accidents.

My new bookcase arrived yesterday. It of course has to be assembled (what else is new?). I look at the instructions, which, mercifully, are clear and straightforward, and see immediately that the design of the bookcase is so clever that anyone with the IQ of a rabbit could put the thing together in less than half an hour, and without more than a moment’s thought. There is, however, one thing those clever designers of this cleverly designed bookcase haven’t anticipated.

Me.

I start by preparing the various pieces for assembly, and note they’re really heavy. Six three-foot by one-foot by one-inch thick particle board shelves with woodgrained veneer both sides and front. Ditto the two six-foot by one-foot by one-inch thick side panels. I don’t like the weight of them. Not while I have to work with them, that is.

Putting this misgiving aside, I next begin screwing the 12 so-named cam bolts into the 12 thoughtfully pre-drilled holes in the side panels. Piece of cake. When I finish, I proudly survey my handiwork. The work part is just dandy. The hand part, however, isn’t. In wielding that lethal weapon that cunningly goes by the benign name of Phillips screwdriver, I’ve managed to tear a round, quarter-sized strip of skin right off the palm of my hand in the process of applying pressure to the instrument’s handle.

This is a less than salutary omen.

After surveying the damage, I wash and bandage my wound. Hurts like hell, but John Wayne-like, I courageously soldier on.

Next, I go about inserting the 12 cams into their 12 pre-drilled holes in the three fixed shelves (bottom, middle, and top). This requires no tools except, at times, a light tap with the butt of the aforementioned lethal weapon. I complete the operation, and escape unscathed and proud as punch at how neatly I accomplished the job.

Now comes the fitting of the cam bolts into the cams. I position all the pieces — the three fixed shelves and two side panels — in their proper alignment by the slick expedient of balancing them on their edges against various pieces of furniture which I’ve moved, and pressed into service for the duration. I then proceed to go about inserting the cam bolts of the side panels into the cams of the shelves, a maneuver vaguely akin to the aloft refueling of a fighter jet by a flying tanker.

Instant catastrophe. All the nicely edge-balanced pieces clatter hard and noisily to the floor, one of the side panels smashing down on my stockinged foot, right on that top part the name for which at present eludes me, but the pain of which when struck is all too vivid.

Nursing my wounded and fast-swelling foot, I commence hurling manifold curses at the offending piece and all its brethren, and continue the litany of curses until it strikes me I’m hurling curses at inanimate objects, at which point I decide it’s time for a break.

A cigarette and two scotches later, I’m stoked for battle. I reposition all the pieces, confident now I’ve got their number, and know just how to deal with them. And — mirabile dictu! — all the cam bolts slide into their respective cams neat as can be, and without so much as a whimper. I give each cam the required half-turn necessary to lock it, and, Voila!, a structure resembling a bookcase emerges. Only something about it doesn’t look quite right. Seems one of the side panels has managed to turn its rear, unfinished edge forward.

Bloody side panel! Not only did it get me again, but there it sits, mocking me.

I, however, remain perfectly cool. I’m not going to give it the satisfaction. I patiently unlock all the cams on that side, flip the side panel, reinsert the cam bolts, and relock the cams.

Now everything looks right.

Well, almost.

I check the picture of the finished bookcase. The kick panel, the bloody kick panel! I forgot to fit in the bloody kick panel at the bloody bottom of the bloody bookcase! And, no, it can’t just be sort of slid in. The whole bloody bookcase has to come apart, the bloody kick panel inserted with its bloody dowels positioned to fit into the bloody pre-drilled holes in the bloody side panels, and the whole bloody thing again put together.

I begin to get the sinking feeling it’s not merely the battle I’m losing, but the whole damn war. Like Monty Python’s Black Knight, however, I refuse to admit defeat. With a stoicism that would have done Zeno proud, I patiently and methodically unlock all the cams, pull apart all the pieces, insert the kick panel with its dowels in place, reassemble the whole thing, and again lock all the cams.

Now I’ve surely got it right.

Not in this life, Bunky. Now that the kick panel is in place, I can see at a glance which end is the bottom of the bookcase. It would have been better had I seen that before I positioned the shelves. As it is, I’ve positioned them with the cam side facing up, and the cams plainly visible in all their not-intended-to-be-seen glory.

You of course know what that means, right? That’s right. Everything has to come apart again, the shelves flipped, and the whole bloody thing again reassembled.

About this time I’m thinking some yogic breathing exercises would be just the ticket.

No help. Should have paid more attention back in the ’60s. All I can manage now is a bout of seriously involuntary hyperventilation, and make a dash for the kitchen to locate a paper bag to breath into. Five minutes later I’m again breathing normally, and again set about doing the dance I’ve by now learned so well, and after another ten minutes I’m done, and the bookcase completed.

Except for the back.

This, it turns out, is a thin sheet of black Masonite, finished on one side, the side intended to face in, with a woodgrain pattern to match the rest of the bookcase. The sheet gets nailed to the rear edges of the side panels and fixed shelves with about ten gazillion little nails. Nails, of course, require a hammer, another lethal weapon. But I’m determined and obdurate. I will use the hammer, and I will make it submit docilely to my purpose.

Uh-huh. You guessed it.

What’s that? Which digit was it? The crucial one, of course. The ol’ opposable thumb. It, too, now hurts like hell, but I think the thumbnail will eventually grow back good as new. Or so I’ve been told.

And so, at the end of the day (you should pardon the expression), I stand bruised and broken but not beaten. For there proudly stands my new bookcase in its assigned place against my living room wall, doing precisely what respectable bookcases have done for ages. So what if the back panel facing me is black instead of woodgrained. No-one would notice anything amiss except you and I, and I, for one, am not telling.

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Words To Kill For

Posted by acdtest on June 18, 2002

Words To Kill For — And Get Away With It

emes are relentless. In ways most mysterious, they propagate indiscriminately whatever they can manage to assimilate whether culturally enriching or withering. Pop or trendy alterations of the forms and nuance of perfectly respectable English words, written and spoken, are especially susceptible to memetic propagation, and as a consequence those once perfectly respectable words can no longer be used freely by the respectable, or if risked being used, can be done so only with the greatest care taken to ensure they’re understood in their pre-altered form and sense.

Following, we present a Top Ten List of such words which when written or uttered are cause sufficient for the murder of the writer or utterer, and the immediate establishment of a prima facie case of justifiable homicide with the consequent full exoneration of the murderer. We present these words as a Top Ten List merely for reasons of economy, and convenient and familiar unit of presentation, not because there are but ten candidates deserving of listing. Feel free to add to this list candidates of your own choosing as the spirit may move you.

Now, without further prelude, we give you our

Top Ten List of Words To Kill For

#10: Input (as in, We would value your input on our new chemical process.)
#9: Process (as in, Learning process; Grieving process; Peace process.)
#8: Scripted (as in, He scripted last year’s three highest-grossing box office hits whose profits were of awesome proportions.)
#7: Awesome (as in, Leonard DiCaprio is one awesome dude!)
#6: Grow (as in, He needs more capital in order to grow his business.)
#5: Needs (as in, He needs to be less judgmental in his dealings with others.)
#4: Partner (as in, His company partnered with its archenemy as it made the transition from a private to a public company.)
#3: Transition (as in, We’re transitioning to a paperless office as part of our restructuring.)
#2: Closure (as in, The slow and horrible death of the drunk-driver who killed our dog gave us closure.)

For the #1 entry in our list, we have an anomaly: not one word, but six, each harmless, unobjectionable and innocent in itself, but when strung together not only cause sufficient for murder of the stringer-togetherer, and exoneration of the murderer on grounds of justifiable homicide, but cause for hailing said murderer as a Genuine Hero, and someone fully worthy of our utmost admiration and respect.

And now, our

#1: At the end of the day (as in, At the end of the day our view of the matter will prevail.)

That is all — and for a single sitting, quite enough.

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A New Breed

Posted by acdtest on March 24, 2002

A New Breed

[Column originally published (print) March 1999]

like TV wildlife films. Truly I do. And I’m grateful for them as well. How else would I experience all those natural wonders? Without TV wildlife films I’d have to go out there, wouldn’t I. Out there where the animals live. Out there in steamy jungles, fetid swamps, dank forests and bone-chilling waters. Out there tramping through pouring rain and blazing sun; through sandstorms and blizzards. And when I wanted to rest I’d have to make do with makeshift shelter: no air conditioning, no running water, no toilets, no Seinfeld reruns. It’s enough to make a civilized man shudder and slop his café brűlot about.

So, you see, TV wildlife films really are a favorite of mine. But something odd has happened to them. Not all of them, of course. Just the new breed of them.

Consider, for instance, that particularly irksome sort of TV wildlife film where predator animals who hunt mammal prey larger than field mice seem to get their food ready-killed as if by magic.

Here’s the predator stalking his prey (there’s always lots of stalking). Then he leaps, and before one can say, Grub’s up!, quick-cut to predator contentedly enjoying his meal. Apparently, the prey, rewarding the predator for all that assiduous stalking, has considerately dropped dead of its own volition, thereby saving the predator the trouble of having to kill it.

Or a common variation on this: The prey escapes, thereby assuring us the predator is only rarely successful, and most of the time most of those sweet little prey animals will get to go home to their sweet little families. In this variation the predator is either shown prey-less, or shown eating prey we’ve not met previously that has expired by one means or another at some location well out of our predator’s reach. Our predator wouldn’t think of actually killing anything. No indeed. He’s the Immaculate Conception of his species; totally without stain; a Disney character incarnate.

Now, I ask you: Is this in any way reasonable?

Well, I suspect a reasonable portrayal wasn’t a major consideration here. After all, these are new breed TV wildlife films, and we must keep our impressionable kiddies from seeing killing of any sort, mustn’t we? I mean, it’s so…so…, well, violent.

Consider another irksome bit: The penchant with this new breed of TV wildlife film for chronicling animals who live in herds, pods, groups or colonies. Aloof, rugged, animal individualism is out. Team and group animal cooperation is in.

Like with penguins. I don’t know about you, but I don’t want to see any more bloody penguins. You’ve seen one penguin, you’ve seen ’em all. And no more seals, either. Except, that is, when they’re shown being made dinner for sharks. Or killer whales.

I like killer whales, actually. They’re neat. Even though they do their killing and traveling in pods. Killer whale wildlife films are neat, too. Come to think of it, most whale wildlife films are neat. Except, of course, the new breed sort where whales are invariably shown in the company of wonder-struck humans, whose awe-laden expressions of wonder are meant to show their deep and abiding fellowship with whales in particular, and with wildlife and Nature in general. In the company of these the whales are invariably reduced to objects, and despite what the enthralled humans may imagine, there’s no fellowship at work here at all. Whales, believe it or not, have no time for humans. We’re useless to them as food, and they don’t need or want us for companions.

Trust me. You can take my word on this.

And I want to say here as well, and in no uncertain terms, I’ve about had it with the simian crowd, too. The whole lot of them, along with their disgusting habits. They look and act too much like us, if you ask me. Putting them on display is nothing short of a direct rebuke. There’s no need to remind us that not very long ago we were up in the canopy doing our thing hanging from some tree branch or other, all the while gesticulating and gibbering away mindlessly. We don’t need reminding. We may have done away with scrambling up trees and hanging about on tree branches, but all the rest of it is still firmly intact. Just look around you if you doubt my word.

And there’s even more irksome. Piling fresh insult upon insult sufficient, there’s a seemingly endless array of new breed TV wildlife films featuring lions. You know about lions, right? They’re the branch of the cat family where the pride females, acting in community, not only birth and care for litters of cubs, but do all the hunting as well, while the solitary and shiftless male lounges about being generally useless until he’s needed for stud service.

Now, what’s the deal with that? Thinly veiled neo-feminist polemic ŕ la Dworkin, McKinnon and Walker?

Spare us. Save it for the gang up in academia where it might be appreciated.

Lastly, as if all these irksome bits weren’t irksome enough, there’s that final bit of irksome that’s perhaps the most irksome bit of all: The terminally annoying and ineluctable filmmaker’s environmentalist message that comes at the end of the new breed TV wildlife film much like the prayer meeting comes after the soup at a Salvation Army soup kitchen.

The animals, it seems, are disappearing. Not of their own accord, nor by Darwinian imperative either. No sir. They’re disappearing because of us. It’s all our fault, rapacious cretins that we are. We shoot them dead for fun and profit. We maim and destroy their habitats. And we do it all wantonly and sans even a trace of conscience.

Listen up!, New Breed TV Wildlife Film Fella. I’ve some urgent news for you. You’re making your pitch in the wrong venue and to the wrong person. The guy you need to talk to doesn’t watch TV wildlife films. He’s too busy. Out there. Shooting the animals. Screwing-up the habitats. Despoiling the rain forests. You need to confront him mano a mano and convince him of his unconscionable behavior, not me. I’m one of the good guys.

So here’s the deal: You put some good, honest killing back into those TV wildlife films, knock off the thinly veiled PC/New Age propaganda, and deep-six the sermon, and I swear to never shoot another tiger or cut down another tree.

How’s that for fair?

Sounds more than fair to me.

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