Grapes, Pervs, and Angry Vets
This past weekend, a group of us drove out to wine country to celebrate the birthday of a close friend. The plan was to do a tasting at a vineyard-slash-winery in Temecula, then eat an early dinner at a fancy-pants restaurant on the premises.
Now, I realize in writing “the plan was“, it may appear as if I’m setting the story up to take some sort of calamitous turn: We got lost. We got attacked by a hitchhiker. We got shellfish poisoning, and spent the rest of the weekend shitting our guts out in a Best Western. This actually isn’t the case. Rest assured, everything went exactly as planned.
A winery tasting is, after all, a fairly uncomplicated process: you tell your “Pourers” what you want to try, and after correcting anything you’ve mispronounced, they dutifully fill your glass with their multifarious vintages, all the while filling your head with a trillion wine-related facts.
Did you know that fermentation is a thing that happens?
Were you aware that the ideal temperature for blah-de-blah is something-something degrees?
You should always hold your glass by the stem, because if you don’t, the wine goblins will come to you in the night-time and yank out your bones.
This routine is repeated ad infinitum with the understanding that by the end of the day, you will have forgotten everything you’ve tasted and everything you’ve been told.
We each tried at least six different wines in the tasting room, then sat down to a delicious meal overlooking a lush, hilly morsel of electric green countryside, sharing another four-to-six bottles between us.
After a brief stopover at our hotel to check in (and have a few more quick drinks), we walked the half mile to Old Town Temecula: a touristy, Wild-Westy little district flush with century-old red brick and hardwood storefronts– whimsical shops selling locally-made candies and soaps, olive oils and cheeses, knick-knacks and works of art– and of course, dozens and dozens of bars.
Wandering around town, three things became very clear:
- This was a place for advanced drinkers; there was no sign of the New Orleans- or Fort Lauderdale-style shrieking whoo-hooers that high-five and make devil signs while staggering down the streets red-eyed and shirtless. People were definitely drunk, but they all held it together like champions.
- The locals are extremely friendly; they delight in giving advice and recommendations, and are eager to start up conversations. This is partially because they are genuinely nice people, but mostly because…
- Temecula is filled with ‘Swingers’: swollen, middle-aged couples looking to ramp up their sex lives by trading partners the way others might trade recipes or Pokemon cards. After a few awkward interactions, I was shocked that people didn’t just carry around goldfish bowls filled with keys, or swizzle their drinks with tiny dildos.
Our first destination was a small tasting room the birthday girl had wanted to check out. Huddled together on a cushioned bench, we sampled seven different wines in about fifteen minutes, while an aging hipster played Band of Horses songs on a massive, mysterious twelve-stringed instrument that looked like a cross between a sitar and a rocket launcher. Then we headed to another bar where, notably, we started drinking full glasses of wine.
The place was pretty packed, and I ended up cramped in a corner, guarding coats and purses while trying not to wobble off my stool. At this point, I had lost track of everything I’d had to drink, but was certainly nearing that threshold of intoxication in which clumsy, emotional outpourings become a real possibility. Naturally, it was in this moment that I was approached by an unhappy Giant.
Even sitting on the stool, I could tell that he was as least 6’4″. He was in his late 60’s, and wore an old army jacket and a Vietnam Veteran’s hat covered in silvery pins.
“Where you from?” he asked.
“Los Angeles. We’re just here for a few days.”
Silence. The Giant took a swig of beer. I noticed he was missing a finger.
“Are you local?” I asked.
“Oh, yeah. Been living here ever since I got back from the war in Vietnam. Killed thirty, maybe forty a’ them sons a’ bitches over there. I don’t know. Kinda lost track.”
This was bound to be a one-sided conversation. Anyone who initiates a discussion by telling you how many people they’ve murdered probably isn’t looking for lively banter. Not that I could have obliged; remember, this is who this Giant was trying to communicate with:
Next, he pulled at a chain around his neck, coaxing a dense, brassy pendant from under his jacket. He held it up with the hand missing the finger, revealing a shell casing from a 50-calibur machine gun.
“I keep this as a reminder,” the Giant said.
“Of what?” I asked, perhaps unwisely.
“Of how soft a human being’s skull really is.”
More silence. For the life of me, I couldn’t figure out what to say to this truly scary man, who had “lost track” of all the people he had killed in much the same way that I had “lost track” of all the wine I’d had to drink.
Just then, a woman stepped in between us and extended her hand to the Giant.
“Thank you for your service,” she said.
“You’re welcome,” he said, and walked away.
That’s all there was to it. Just one little “thank you for your service”, and the Giant was off to frighten somebody else with his horrifying death count. This woman was a genius.
She introduced herself, and then introduced her husband, who hugged her very tightly from behind and rested his chin on her shoulder. Clad in cashmere and leather, they seemed like a friendly, if not slightly swollen middle-aged couple. She asked where I was from, and recommended a few bars close by.
Her husband hugged her tighter and smiled.
She took my phone, and typed in the names of a few lesser-known vineyards that she had enjoyed, along with directions.
And her phone number.
Her husband pressed his groin deep into her buttocks and smiled again, so wide I could see the sweat sparkle on his upper lip.
And here I was: Out of the frying pan, and into the Temecula Swinger’s Club.
Thank God for my friends, who swooped in with an abrupt “it’s gettin’ on, we gotta go”. We high-tailed it away from that place (and from those nice, puffy, horny people), then found an open-air night club and danced. Soon afterwards, I ordered what I can only refer to as a “forget-me-whiskey”, and the rest of the evening is lost to me. I remember nothing.
But my friends do. Because it was my friends who made sure I got back to the hotel, and who forced water down my throat and put me to bed. It was my friends that saved me from the kindly perverts itching for a three-way, and best of all, it was my very, very good friends who invited me out to this wine-lovers paradise. What can I say to such perfect friends? What words are the perfect words? I don’t know. The best I can do is this:
I love you.
I am grateful.
Thank you for your service.