One of the reasons I enjoy wine is that it allows me to travel in time and space without leaving my chair.
Tonight, I polished off a bottle of Cabernet Sauvignon with chicken wings in Jack Daniels barbecue sauce for supper. For dessert, I chilled a bottle of Les Hauts De Lagarde Bordeaux Blanc and was chopping ups bits of cheese and ham, crackers and olives when one of those time travel moments kicked in.
Bear with me on this because it gets complicated. The wine had that scent of sunshine and citrus that always reminds me of home. Home, when I was growing up, was wind chimes, sunlight and lemon pledge. Cheryl Riserdoused the house with it. If you want me to feel safe and happy, citrus and sunshine with a jingle of wind chimes is the way to go.
It was the olives, however, that took me all the way back to 1986. I was just leaving college. My brain wasn’t fully formed and my personality was a work in progress. I found myself in a restaurant in Ruston, La., with a woman who … well, she was so far out of my class that I was amazed she was having dinner with me.
She was from New York, cultured and worldly in a way I desperately wanted to be but was pretty sure I’d never pull off. Let’s face it, I was a skinny hayseed from Crowville. When I’d hang out with Howard Warren and Susan Pierce. it was blatantly clear this was my eternal fate.
Howard was always the Porthos to my D’Artagnan, In spite of the fact, he and Susan were from Fordyce, Ark., and he had an actual working still in our dorm room. Howard always came across as the educated aristocrat while I was somewhat less wordly. (I was the guy who couldn’t figure out why the phones didn’t work because in Crowville, you only had to dial the last four digits to make a call if you were calling someone else in Crowville.)
If Howard and I were D’Artagnan and Porthos, Susan was Dorothy Parker. Which made me Buck Owens. Or Stringbean.
Howard could make puns of words I’d never even heard and Susan was ethereal and intellectual and beyond the ken of mortal men. I got up the nerve to ask her out once and I’m pretty sure she never realized it was a date. Which is a good thing. It was a disaster.
But I learned from them both. So on this most magical of nights, I was in a really nice pizza place in Ruston (you had to be there) with an erudite New York intellectually advanced coed who was slumming by going out with a big ‘ol redneck like me.
The waitress asked what kind of pizza we wanted and I said Canadian bacon and olive. Playing it safe with the ham, but showing I was willing to take a risk with the olive, all suave like, ya’ know?
Then the waitress asked, “What kind of olives?”
I blanked. Forgot how to speak English. The girl, spoke up, saying “We have a choice? Manzanilla? Unless you have gaeta. That hint of rosemary would go really well with Canadian bacon. What do you think, Darryl? Gaeta or picholine olives?”
I blinked, grinned and said, “I think she meant black or green. We’ll take green.”
The girl grinned back. I had this one.
The the waitress said, “What kind of beer? We have Bud, Bud Light, Heineken …”
Before I could say a word, my girl slammed a tiny fist onto the table, and stated in her most authoritative manner, “Heineken? F*** that s***. Pabst. BLUE. RIBBON!!!!!!!”
As the waitress scurried away, the girl batted her eyes at me, grinned and in the worst fake Southern accent I have ever heard said, “Did I do that right, sugar?”
That was the night I discovered the best advice I’ve ever been able to give my own daughter. “To hell with the world and who you think you should be. Be who you are and anyone who doesn’t love you for that isn’t worth grieving over.”
From the first girls I had crushes on in elementary school like Donna M. Savage, Kristin Burdine Fulton and Jane Cummins, through the people like Howard and Susan. Alethea Jean Lexington and Jerry McLeod who became my second family in college, all my ex wives and everyone who’s bothered to take the time to offer their hand in friendship over the past 50 years, right up to my current wife, Sandy Beaches Riser, I haven’t forgotten a single one of you.
And if you don’t like me, too freakin’ bad. You people made me this way and I love you all for it …. even if I wanted to throttle you the last time we were together.