Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Get fired up!

There are certain injustices in society that get me FIRED UP! Without beating a dead horse, the trials and tribulations of Carl Romanelli are examples of what makes me ANGRY!

I was recently looking for ways to finance my own television show and learned about the wonders of public access television. As of 2008, Los Angeles has one of the best public access programs in the country, enabling thousands of people to produce their own shows. However, I am LIVID because this is all going to change come January 1st, 2009 because of the combined efforts of sleezy Los Angeles politicians and Time-Warner Cable.

Please read this LA WEEKLY ARTICLE about the ongoing problems and let me know of any ways you think that these injustices can be fought!

*In my first move as Citizen Morsels of Los Angeles, I made an emphatic request for a meeting with my local City Councilman...if he doesn't help me out, I WILL run against him in next year's election!

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Nader's Raiders

I just finished reading Nader: Crusader, Spoiler, Icon by Justin Martin and I was extremely impressed. Americans can thank Nader for improved safety involving automobiles, planes, radiation, clean water, and hundreds (if not thousands) of other issues. The man has lived his whole life in completely ascetic surroundings, still maintaining a room in a DuPont Circle boarding house in D.C. Nader has shunned socializing and women to simply get his work done. He works 24/7. This book chronicles Nader's successes and failures. At the end of the day, I believe that Ralph Nader has done more for the American people than any Senator and potentially more than some Presidents.

Two cool things I learned from this book:

I learned that after Thomas Eagleton was dropped from George McGovern's ticket as Vice President in 1972, McGovern offered the #2 slot to Nader.

On a more personal note, I was pleasantly surprised to learn that Nader grew up in Winstead, Connecticut, the closest town to my beloved Camp Wah-Nee. The book explained how a flood in the 1950s made it necessary for the army to build dams around rivers in the area. I always heard that Shadow Lake, where I spent some of the best times of my childhood, was created when the army widened a river. This book inadvertently explained everything.


In my sincere attempts to maintain a hard-line of frugality, I must inform you of deals to be had:

1. Goodwill: I purchased a pair of NEW (with the tag on) H&M jeans for exactly $7.99. They fit perfectly, and my only complaint is that they've got a button-fly.

2. Local Produce: For the past couple of months, I regularly heard a funny horn on an almost daily basis from outside my window. I never knew what this sound symbolized. This sentiment changed when I happened to be entering my residence as a "produce truck" parked in front of my building. As the horn rang, local residents emerged from their enclaves to purchase everything from avocados to eggs to grapes to onions to strawberries. And the prices (ostensibly because Miguel, the proprietor doesn't pay taxes....but that's another story) are significantly cheaper than the supermarkets. Supporting the little man makes me feel good.

3. I'll save the best for last. There are certain secrets in life that you don't want to let out easily. So, if you live in Southern California and are reading this, think of this as my holiday present to you (for the next five yeas), because it will surely save you tons of money in the future. The One Dollar Book Store has been one of my secrets for the past couple of months. Every single book inside these stores costs $1...!!! It still amazes me how DOZENS of people ask the cashier, "Is this book only a dollar?" when dozens of signs are posted around the store indicating that EVERYTHING costs a dollar....sure the store could be more organized and requires some good eyes to spot exactly what you're looking for, but truth be told, there's no better deal on earth.

Requiem for my beloved Jansport backpack

Before setting off to Cornell in the summer of 2003, my dad was on a mission: To find the perfect laptop bag for my new 15" Powerbook.

He returned home without the traditional laptop bag that I'd been expecting, instead carrying a red and grey Jansport backpack that had a secret compartment to smuggle my computer. It was claimed that the bag was made of bulletproof material, and the secret compartment could surely deter most thieves from gaining access to my most prized possession.

In the following years, that bag waltzed down Bourbon Street, road-tripped to Miami for Spring Break, sat in the White House biefing room, felt the effects of second-hand smoke in Amsterdam, passed through the Arc de Triomphe on the Champes Elysees, stared at the Sistine Chapel, climbed the steps of Gaudi's Sagrada Famiglia, drank at every decent pub in Dublin, witnessed the remnants of the Berlin Wall, trekked through markets in Northern Africa, learned about the history of Malta, slept on the beach in Tel Aviv, sipped wine in a rural Czech castle, frollicked around on the Sound of Music tour in Salzburg, drove a Landrover through Belize, ate jerk chicken in Negril, cycled across coastal England, visited Tapas bars in Northern Spain, crept up a mountain in Sicily, and road-tripped from Los Angeles to Washington state - just to name a few of our best shared experiences...

And then a zipper broke on the way from Boston back to New York before Thanksgiving. With yesterday's purchase of a new North Face backpack, the Jansport era has officially come to a close. May the next 5.5 years be a wonderful as the last...

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Back from hiatus...

It's been a real whirlwind month that included a 2+ week trip to New York, New Hampshire, and the District of I am firmly back in Los Angeles, at least for now.

Cliche Cliche Cliche: It was great to be back in New York and see everyone, but yes, it really was. However, the economy really does depress me and I feel like in New York it is discussed and felt every three seconds.

Washington was a blast as I hung out with many old friends, learned about political philosophy and successfully completed quite a bit of research for "Capitol Punishment." The artful Wonkette operative Jim Newell sums up my stay most eloquently in this post.

For now, I have an untitled celebrity "project" to complete within the next week...that and writing, writing, writing, should take up most of my time.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Parking Wars: A World of Warmth

I'm usually not one to watch reality television, especially not voluntarily. However, when flipping through the TV Guide, back to back to back to back episodes of a show called Parking Wars on A&E caught my attention. For a person who misses all things Philadelphia, Parking Wars is a great remedy. I figured that this show would be as smut-filled as everything else on the air, but wow was I wrong. There are heartwarming personal stories coming from all angles, and I have honestly developed a new respect for Meter Maids, especially those on the mean streets of Philly. I am a changed man-child.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Overnight Sensation

I chuckled to myself as I read this NYTimes article about America becoming more enlightened than Europe on the issue of race. I still believe that Europe is a much more progressive place than America, and one election can't counteract all of Americas flaws. Neither Europe nor America is perfect, but how can the world's supposed opinion of a country change so drastically overnight? Two words: THE MEDIA!

During my extensive European travels (all during the George W. Bush Administration, except for a family trip to Italy during the Clinton Administration) it was very difficult to get laid because so many European women had a negative view of America and Americans.

I'm sure that Italian women will continue to be notoriously difficult to hook up with, but maybe the generation slightly younger than me won't have to work as hard as I did in countries like England, Ireland, Germany, and Holland. I'd be very interested to see how kids studying abroad this semester fared with the ladies pre and post election.

*And for those who think I am being sexist by not mentioning women, American females can get ANY GUY they want in Europe, because American women have a reputation (that is in many cases rightfully deserved because they are so easily wooed by accents) for being "easy!"

The Final Word

It's time for me to make an admission for those who were unaware. I am the voice/camera operator behind the million-hit YouTube classic about Black Panthers guarding polling places in Philly. After I was tipped off by a voter, I raced to the scene, camera in hand. However, Rick Leventhal of FoxNews, who I must now declare an IDIOT, arrived at the scene thirty minutes after me, and tried to start a fight with the unarmed New Black Panther who remained on the scene. Rick completely MISSED the story and then tried to cover up his sloppy/late journalism by harassing people.

Though my second video about this incident garnered more than 250,000 hits on YouTube, it wasn't as poignant as the first video. Let me clarify a few things:

1. I said that I was a student at Penn in the video because I was SCARED OUT OF MY MIND and didn't know what to say, as I was standing three feet away from a dude brandishing a weapon.

2. This dude with a club is not a "regular black panther" but rather the leader of a splinter group based in Philly. I realized this only after my video was released and I began searching the Internet for more information about the individuals "protecting" the polling place.

The person I am most disappointed with as a result of this incident is Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter whom I formerly supported, but I will also now declare an IDIOT! Why would I be hating on a fellow Penn alum? The answer is very clear. When asked by NBC news about the incident, he said that these fellows were ALLOWED to stand outside the polling place. Nobody should be allowed to walk down ANY street brandishing a weapon! If this guy was openly carrying a billy club, who knows what weapons he had in his pocket? This is a man who wants to kill ALL white people, why did the police just let this guy go? Way to keep the streets clean Mayor Nutter!

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

The Analysis

For the many critics out there, I am aware that there will be spelling and grammatical errors throughout the following post, but I don't really give a shit, because I've got some pretty important things to say.

The first class I took as an undergraduate at Penn was "History of the South" taught by Sheldon Hackney, a brilliant scholar and former President of the University of Pennsylvania. From day one, Hackney's thesis for the class was essentially that race relations have been the most defining, ubiquitous trait of the history of the American South.


Tonight, I cried. I didn't plan to cry, and as I watched the returns with Lisa, I thought it crazy that she was so emotional. After we watched the McCain concession speech and the Obama victory speech within the confines of the Friedman/Apostolides residence at 9th and Lombard I did some serious thinking. But it wasn't until Lisa and I walked to Broad Street that it all hit me like a ton of bricks. I missed the creme de la creme (sp? I don't give a shit!) of Philadelphia celebrations last week as I was three thousand miles away from an athletic championship that brought this city so much pride.

But, tonight was the most magical night I've ever lived through, at least for an hour. I'm no jingoist. I'm hardly a nationalist, and as of late I've been prone to question ALL predisposed beliefs, no matter how simple. Thus, post-Obama victory, at the corner of Broad & Chestnut, giving high-fives to everyone in sight ("that's what we do in Philly," says Lisa), I realized that the hundreds of young African-Americans around me really do have something to strive for and to believe in. The leaders of our country surely will have a tough road ahead of them economically, but when I heard countless chants of USA, USA, USA, like never before, I realized that maybe the American hegemony that is now in question will carry on for quite some time longer.

It was beautiful. I wanted to buy every bling bling Obama rhinestone studded t-shirt that was being hawkwed on the street. But I resisted temptations...that's the benefit of this economy.

Will Obama make due on all of his campaign promises? Probably not.

Will Obama radically change our world? Probably not.

But, as a frequent globetrotter, I must admit, that an Obama presidency makes ALL Americans seem more enlightened. America HAS lost respect around the world, and we must regain it.

We are giving Barack Obama a chance. That's what we decided. We hope that he won't be financially or morally corrupt, but if he is, we must know that the people have spoken.

And I forgot my camera tonight, which made me reminisce of the John Mayer song "No More 3X5s." This song has always been so personal to me, usually at times when I forget my camera. In such situations, I try to take mental notes that will make up for my lack of technology.

Future posts: 1. The divisiveness/failure of the GOP. 2. The abysmal failure of the American mainstream media. 3. Why America must recalibrate politically. 4. Failure of two-party democracies.

To be continued...

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Due to Increased Demand Additional East Coast Tour Dates Added

Philadelphia: Monday, Nov. 4 through Wednesday, Nov. 6
New York: Wednesday, Nov. 6 through Sunday, Nov. 9

Saturday, November 1, 2008

What you haven't heard and what you didn't see

When you have a chance, go to, and then head over to Notice that NONE of the headlines or top stories are the same. This, more than ever, shows that the news is not news. It is all slanted, just like it was in the early days of print journalism when people read newspapers that extolled their choice of communist/leftist/rightist/conservative/liberal/socialist/nihilist/plutocratic beliefs.

It's sad.

Note this absurd quote from one of today's CNN headlines:

"Of 23,298,564 total in-person and mail-in ballots in 25 states, at least 6,057,527 -- or 26 percent -- were cast by Democrats or Republicans, according to election officials. Of that 6 million, 57.8 percent were Democrats, and 42.2 percent were Republicans."


Remember the "estate tax" known to some as the "death tax" and those little things called stem cells that the rest of the world is currently using for research purposes while we let them wither away in laboratory freezers? These were both HUGE issues in the 2004 election cycle that have all but vanished today. Thanks American Media for screwing up priorities and forgetting about issues that used to be considered very important.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Launch Party:

A joint venture between me and a few Philadelphia and New York based entrepreneurs has resulted in a product that is not only recessionproof, but waterproof as well:

Gallstones and Milestones: 100th Post

Hi, this is the 100th Post of this blog. We've come a long way since the beginning...

I'm looking forward to watching Worst Week, my favorite new show of the year. I think this show has a Curb Your Enthusiasm-esque appeal to it. And it helps that it airs on the heels of Two and a Half Men.

Peace, Love, and Seashells,


Sunday, October 19, 2008

The New York Question...and potentially the New York Answer

During senior year at Penn it became clear to me that the next step, regardless of what trail I wanted to blaze in life, would likely lead to New York as my next place of residence. At the time, to rebel against this notion, I decided that if there was one place I didn't want to be upon graduation, it was New York. My reasons were as follows:

1. Because I grew up in the New York vicinity I wouldn't have the same sense of adventure that so many others have had post-college when coming to New York for the first time.

2. I wanted to be independent of others so I could follow my dreams rather than follow my social calendar.

3. I feared that despite my love of my experiences at Penn, New York would essentially be Penn Volume 2. Locust Walk would be Murray Hill, Smokes and Blarneys would be any number of bars that cater to the just-out-of-college crowd, etc. etc.

4. I know that to have fun in New York it takes money. And I knew that any job in a creative industry I had wouldn't afford me to do much more than pay the rent, eat some decent ethnic food, and occasionally splurge on cab rides when it's raining.

My thoughts on these issues were so strong at the time that I justified them by writing a novel, The Age of Me (from which this blog owes its title) about life in New York post-college-graduation. In my mind, I had experienced New York in my 20s through the characters I created and the experiences they went through. I thought I was done and done with that.

And now, 1.5 years after leaving Philadelphia, New York is back on my radar. With the American entertainment industry, you have two choices: New York or LA. Admittedly, the "industry" in Los Angeles would provide me with a more direct path to acheiving my ultimate entertainment career goals, but at the same time Los Angeles lacks much of what rounds out New York as a better overall place to live. For instance, a love-to-hate intelligencia, literati, and overall sophistication that goes beyond the scholarly cinema studies that are ubiquitous in LA.

In New York, everything may still be "Who do you know?" and "Where do you work?" like it is out here (My current answer to that is "I'm a comedy writer and I sell assbrellas.") but in Los Angeles, when it's all revolving around such a seemingly-large-but-in-reality-small industry, this chatter and quest to befriend people on the most superficial of levels gets old very quickly.

The big thing missing from my Los Angeles experience thus far is fulfillment - and I don't mean career fulfillment. I mean changing the world fulfillment, because though I can admittedly be going to soup kitchens or partaking in any number of volunteer programs to help troubled youth that this city has to offer, I want to make a difference on the macro level. (And come on, would a 12-year-old really want to get advice from me anyway?)

Would these feelings change if I lived in New York? I'm not sure. Probably not. But as they say, "The grass is always greener..."

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Announcing the Sidney Morsels East Coast Tour

Since leaving for England on September 2, 2007, I have spent less than 10 full days on the United States East Coast. That's about to change. From November 20 through December 6 I will be in town....Here's my tentative itinerary:

Thursday, November 20-Sunday, November 23: New York & Long Island

Monday, November 24-Wednesday, November 26: New England

Wednesday, November 26-Saturday, November 29: New York & Long Island

Sunday, November 30: New England

Monday, December 1 to Tuesday, December 2: Philadelphia

Wednesday, December 3 to Saturday, December 6: Washington, D.C.*

*If you have any connections at Washington, D.C. Congressional offices, please let me know as I am looking to do research for my sitcom during the days that I am in Washington!

I'd like to Meet Virginia

Having just checked the analytics on this blog, I've noticed a significant following of readers in Northern Virginia...I'm wondering how you came to read the blog or whether this is DC blog traffic being merged with Virginian traffic since DC usually doesn't have any rights anyway...I certainly hope this isn't the CIA, FBI, NSA, or some other clandestine organization spying on me, but if it is I want to give you a hearty hello!

Monday, October 13, 2008

Must-See Cinema for this side of the Atlantic...

I really wanted to see Mike Leigh's film Happy-Go-Lucky at the 2008 Berlinale in February. However, because of some debaucherous nights and journalistic commitments during the day, I never made it to a single film during this festival. I was really happy to hear that it was playing in LA, and last night, DTC and I made it over to the Landmark, and after paying out a hefty $12, we saw the film. It was amazing. Without sounding like an arrogant prick, I felt like my knowledge of Briticisms definitely heightened my experience with this film, as I seemed to be laughing at parts when the rest of the audience was stone cold silent. Long and short of it: This film is a MUST-SEE.

In other news...

Foods I've been eating: Pesto, Gnocchi, Hummus, Swiss Chard, canned smoked Herring & Sardines, Mahi Mahi

Stuff I've been drinking: Water and my enormous stash of wine

Shows I've tried watching: The Shield, Friday Night Lights, Dirty Sexy Money, Army Wives

Show I am most disappointed with: Entourage

Music I have secretly been obsessed with in the past month: Top 40 Pop

Song I have listened to on repeat 1000 times: Coldplay's Viva La Vida

Some musings from the city of hells angels...

Ryan, my dear friend and former co-slave at Endeavor, always told me that moving near the beach was the only way he could keep his sanity in LA. As I've just made this relocation, I now wholeheartedly agree. For the past week, I've spent most of my time in Santa Monica, appreciating everything that Beverly Hills, Hollywood, West Hollywood, The Valley, Downtown LA, and everywhere else in this mostly terrible city lacks.

Among its many fine attributes, Santa Monica has:

1. A great public transportation system.
2. Ample parking.
3. An unpretentious atmosphere while still keeping it classy.
4. A ton of great shops, eateries and bars within a close distance to one another, preventing the need to step into a vehicle to get from Point A to Point B.
5. An ocean breeze.

I've actually gotten to the point where I dread having to go East of the 405 freeway. I liken the West LA/Santa Monica area to Tel Aviv. In my opinion, this is the most lively and fun part of Israel, and once you go too far East, you're in hell. LA is the same way. Maybe that's why so many Israelis have moved here.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008


I gave myself 24 hours before I quit using CNN and read this article about middle-class Americans shopping in thrift stores. I have always shopped in thrift stores simply because you can find better items at 5% of their retail price. My mother hates this habit because I've brought home loads and loads of junk over the years, but I can't resist irresistible bargains.

Advertisement: An ad came up on Facebook looking for sperm donors. I am considering partaking in this activity because I will be getting paid to masturbate three times a week. It pays nearly as much as Endeavor and is infinitely more pleasurable and infinitely less time consuming. However, there are some moral implications that I may have to deal with...I am contemplating such implications at this time. By donating sperm would I be performing a good deed or will I always wonder who these little Morsels of Morsels are running around LA?

Monday, October 6, 2008

The Decline of the Creative Class: A Generation Lost?

Some time in the past few years it dawned on me that my desired career choice would be in the creative arts: Journalism, writing, comedy - or teaching some or all of the above. I now am fairly certain that I was born at least ten years too late because so many of the opportunities that were abundant as hell during the second half of the twentieth century have seemingly disappeared.

As a member of Generation Y, I was too young to capitalize on the 1990s tech boom. And arriving at a working age in the post-dot-com era meant that while Internet journalism grew, print journalism (one of my passions) has rapidly disintegrated.

And then there's that terrible force known as Reality TV. I need not explain the proliferation of this phenomenon (but first and foremost DAMN THE BRITS for exporting that crap to us), but all who know me know that I can't stand the thought of it, as it has replaced much of the more intelligent scripted fare that I am most passionate about. One needs only to look at the poor ratings of 30 Rock and the tragic fate of Arrested Development to know that America has become a nation of dummies!

Books, books, books. Americans don't read like they used to. They barely read at all. And when Americans do read, it's mostly grocery store/beach read kitsch that raises as many philosophical/life altering questions as one would experience in watching an episode of Flava of Love.* And if it's not fiction nonsense, it's books written by celebrities/pundits giving some type of scandalously selfish views about their lives...

And music. Today musicians must compete with everyone else on MySpace and such because the leaders of this arrogant and greedy sector chose to screw themselves forever (by not lowering CD prices and such) rather than sacrifice small chunks of change. It is a sad truth that many brilliant modern artists will never make it big or have their work shared with the mainstream...I-tunes and the remnants of Napster may be the world's last hope...

As we enter an uncertain age of economic downturn, essentially capitulating to forecasts that the Chinese will surpass us as the next great world power, I wonder if my generation (our generation) will become lost in the throngs of history and contribute next to nothing to the creative world.

*I have never watched Flava of Love. but I can only imagine how mind-numbing it is!

Hatred of CNN reaching all-time highs...

My hatred of CNN has reached astronomic often do I click on this "mainstream news" web site to find polls that are idiotic, irrelevant, and using scare tactics to create hysteria. Today's headline about a poll prognosticating from the American public that a "depression" is epitomizes my concerns about the validity of CNN's data. I certainly wonder who the individuals are who answer CNN polls...Are these individuals employed? Retirees? Students? Race? Religion? Or are they simply invented by the pollsters...

I remember hearing some time ago that telemarketers and pollsters have a very difficult time reaching out to young Americans because mobile phone numbers are not generally used to gather survey information. CNN's goal of creating mass hysteria and to perpetuate the current financial crisis seems to be working well because the human race is generally gullible and uneducated.

Putting my own political affiliations aside, I found CNN's post-presidential debate poll to be utterly idiotic in its wording and results...Surprise Surprise: Obama was declared a winner...but the polling data itself is sketchy.

All too often CNN will feature a poll that says "An alarming 40% of college professors feel that XYZ...." However, it never mentions that 60% of college professors disagree with the statement...

And the final dagger in my news-loving heart is that I cringe when I read that CNN has written stories about CNN....Yes, this narcissistic beast of a news agency regular features sycophantic stories about its own reporters, charitable accomplishments, or controversies...

CNN, you've lost me. When you start providing relevant media, maybe you'll get me back.

Sunday, October 5, 2008

How to not get a major ticket from a state trooper and other worldly advice...

With enough wine knowledge to write a guidebook about the Yakima Valley & Columbia Valley, I departed from my beloved Tri-Cities on Wednesday morning. I dropped El Glinerifico off at work and said my final goodbyes. Upon my departure, I was blessed with a bottle of our finest high end single vineyard Reisling. Perhaps I will save this gift for my wedding or funeral, whichever comes first.

Along the drive I encountered many wonderful radio stations that made me further my appreciation for this wonderful medium...A special thanks to 98.3 The Key FM (Tri-Cities Washington), 89.9 Classical (Portland, Oregon), and the unnamed Southern Oregon classic rock station and the Bay Area oldies station that Ashley Steinberg insisted I turn off because it was "annoying"...


The I-5 is not a fun road to drive on because of the plethora of 18-wheelers that populate this two-lane inland route that runs from Canada to Mexico. As a non-truck driver, one needs to stay in the left lane because every five seconds another slow truck crawls along in the right lane...As it was completely dark by 8:48PM, the roads were becoming more and more treacherous at 75 miles per hour. This is due to sharp curves through the mountains and a seemingly endless amount of on-again off-again highway repairs. At one point, I made a brief appearance in the right lane (I was being tailgated) just as a huge truck entered the highway and seemed like he was going to enter right into my car, so I quickly maneuvered (read: swerved) into the left lane. Two seconds after unleashing my inner Andretti I was pulled over by an Oregon State Trooper. Certainly my out of state plates weren't going to be of much help in this situation...

Trooper Man came over to my window and asked me if I knew what I did wrong. Though Gliner has trained me well to answer "I didn't do anything wrong," Trooper Man said that I swerved. I quickly explained to him the multitude of factors that led to my potential swerve: "Sir, the glare is terrible from the lights in the surrounding town so I just removed my glasses. (At this point I reached to my passenger seat and picked up my glasses.) There was also a large truck that recklessly entered the highway. These roads are particularly dark and windy, and I am unfamiliar with them as I am returning to California from Washington and took the coastal route on my drive North. And last but not least, these construction signs that turn the I-5 into a one-lane road at a moments notice are poorly placed and create extremely dangerous traffic patterns."

He ran my plates and license number, and tacitly agreed with my explaination...and within a few minutes I was back on the closed.

Back in LA, back to reality. Unemployment (for the most part) is facilitating tons of vegetation and contemplation...Besides an obligatory trip to Trader Joes and a visit to a dive bar to say hey to a friend who was in town, I haven't left the house. I'm trying to figure out my life, ASAP.

It rained yesterday, which for LA is rare, and I found it extremely pleasant.

I've done an interest inventory:

Likes: Adventure, food, writing, reading, sleeping, sex, smart television, indy movies, and the Internet.

Dislikes: More of the same, monotony, lack of adventure, "day in day out" mentalities, repetition, terrible people, wannabes, ostentatious individuals, insecurity, bullshit artists.

Sunday, September 28, 2008


As my wine venture comes to an end in less than 72 hours, I now realize that the lifestyle I thought would be akin to SIDEWAYS meets A GOOD YEAR is much more similar to O BROTHER WHERE ART THOU meets THE SIMPLE LIFE. I came to wine country to be recharged, revitalized, and reinvigorated. I have accomplished all of these goals.

Throughout my college years and my time abroad following graduation from Penn, I felt that I could do anything – change the world, build the world, create a new world. Upon arrival in Hollywood, I quickly saw my optimistic spirit crushed by the realities of the entertainment business and the omnipotence of lifestyles that simply don’t agree with me.

I’ve concluded that being a writer in Hollywood is a great gig. Being a wannabe writer is not, and these people far outnumber the legitimate scribes in Los Angeles. I have concluded that I would rather shovel shit at a winery than work as someone’s assistant, unless working for that “someone” for a fixed amount of time will immediately result in additional opportunities to write.

It’s not that I don’t like the idea of the television/film business anymore, it’s that I don’t like the culture surrounding it, nor do I care for the attitudes of many of the people involved in this business. If I wanted to live out my days in Los Angeles, I guarantee that I’d hit it big eventually. From what I’ve gathered, most of the go-getters with some education (rather than the scrubs who move to LA on a whim to be “actors” or “writers” with little more experience than participating in a high school play) WILL make it. So if you’re ready to sacrifice five, ten, or fifteen years of your life as a nobody in order to be a somebody, than Hollywood is a great place to be.

I’m still itching to find fulfillment on a daily basis. I’ve realized that fulfillment is a large chunk of what’s missing from my life. Yes, I will continue to work on film/television scripts, as I am committed to doing this for the next year to doing so, but will I forever remain in Los Angeles, a city plagued by more evils and less good than one can imagine? I’d like to think that I won’t. Especially in this age where telecommuting is only growing more and more popular, I believe that once foundations are laid in LA, one can work from anywhere. Woody Allen would be my ideal mentor to further expand these thoughts.

In a short amount of time, I’ve learned all there is to know about the wine business. I’ve been blessed with great co-workers who are different than the people I’ve come in contact with for most of my life, but just as interesting. But I’ve concluded that the process of making wine cannot be my career. I lack the passion that is needed for this work. Buying wine on the open market and slapping on my own label to it and selling the wine as my own product is another story, but I’ll leave the art of turning grapes into fermented goodness to others who are more focused and driven to succeed in this part of the business.

In general, I’ve been too tired from working to read for pleausre during the past month. Only this weekend, since we were granted two consecutive days off due to a lack of grape deliveries, have I had the chance to catch up on my reading list.

I picked up John Irving’s The Cider House Rules prior to making this journey, because I knew the film adapted from this novel and its accompanying Oscar-winning script are two of the brilliant works that inspired me to leave urban life and take a chance on committing to a rural adventure. I’m racing through this novel at rapid speed and loving every second of it. If you get a chance, pick up a copy, as the characters are given much more depth than they are in the film.

Gliner Update: I dropped Gliner off at the casino yesterday evening with a hefty chunk of cash (the rent money I owed him). Though he’s still asleep and I didn’t receive any updates in the form of text messages last night, I pray that he hasn’t lost it all. Don’t you just love those signs in casinos that say, “Please let us know if you have a gambling problem!” The underlying message is clearly, “After we take ALL of your money, please let us know if you have a gambling problem!”

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Worst Buffet EVER!

All true friends of mine know that I have a penchant for all-you-can-eat restaurants. Yesterday, I was pleased to learn that two of my co-workers (Scott & Jeff) planned to go to a pizza buffet for lunch. Gliner and I immediately hopped on board. When we arrived at Sahara Pizza I was a bit skeptical as only one person was eating at the height of lunch hour. When I saw the “buffet” I was less than impressed. The equivalent of half of a pizza pie stood before us: two slices of “meat lovers,” two slices of mushroom/olive, and two slices of “veggie.” And keep in mind that in this region pizza slices are tiny, meaning that three slices are the equivalent of a standard New York slice. There was also a bowl of grease-covered garlic knots and a baked linguini Alfredo. There were also four plates (one for each of us) that could barely hold teacups due to their miniscule size, let alone slices of pizza. Immediately I concluded that this was the WORST BUFFET EVER.

This assumption was quickly proven correct when a trip to the “salad bar” revealed that the lettuce was gone and other essentials were running in the single digits (three cherry tomatoes, a handful of olives, two pickles, etc)…

Since Scott and Jeff are kindly Pacific Northwesterners, they asked the mustached dude at the counter to cook us a Hawaiaan pizza...after some fuss the man agreed. It then turned out that the lone man eating at the restaurant was the chef, operating incognito of course. Looking upset that he had to cook during prime lunch hour, he lethargically headed into the kitchen.

When I asked for an additional meat lovers pie, I was told that this pie was already available – and if 1/8 of a pie is a full pie, then it was. I immediately devoured one slice of this variety and Gliner devoured the other. Then there was none available but the mustached Lord of the Buffet wouldn’t budge. I also asked for some additional pasta. Rather than comply with my request, the “chef” scraped the nasty remnants of the Alfredo dish onto a dirty plate. What was presented to me as pasta looked more like pickled herring. We watched El Chefarino as he SLOWLY made our Hawaiaan pie…this took ten minutes to make, and an additional ten minutes in the oven, followed by an additional five minutes just sitting there in the kitchen waiting for someone to cut…

(Gotta love the Pacific Northwest’s unhealthy obsession with open kitchens…nothing slips past the watchful customer eye in this neck of the woods.)

At this point, even the nice folks I was with were PISSED OFF. Being non-New Yorkers, they went back to the car, as we’d already overextended our 30-minute lunch break. Just as the others were exiting, I felt compelled to steal the remaining two slices of pizza just so I could check them at the restaurant’s exterior window in protest. As I barehanded the slices, the Mr. Mustache said, “Have a good day.” This was the perfect opportunity to inform the mustached counterman/manager that this was “the worst buffet ever.” He asked me why and I told him that the lack of food was the primary reason. He then asked why I didn’t eat any salad (yes, this man was trying to choose what foods I would eat at the buffet…). I informed him that the lack of lettuce was a primary culprit. I then informed him that he had permanently lost our business and the business of anyone who ever came in contact with in the Tri-Cities. I asked for our money back, citing the menu that read, “If you are unsatisfied, we will give you your money back.” He counter-offered a pizza that was already in the oven…Due to my lack of time I took his offer and provided my co-workers with a late-afternoon snack. I wish I could bash this establishment on Yelp or Citysearch, but the Tri-Cities haven’t yet reached that level of technological aptitude.

Note: This blog post will be forwarded to the parent company as Sahara Pizza is a chain in the Pacific Northwest.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Here comes the sun...

Despite initial negative impressions of Seattle, we lucked out on Sunday as the sun made a rare guest appearance over the whole city. We enjoyed tourist activities galore, includin gorging ourselves with Clam Chowder at the Pike’s Place Market and taking a ferry to Bainbridge Island. Sunday made the trip worth it, but at the same time, I’ve resolved only to visit Seattle (and I’d also really like to visit the neighboring San Juan Islands) during the summer to make the most my time in this most interesting region.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Space Needle Sham

On our first go-round of Downtown Seattle, Gliner and I failed to see the epic Space Needle that graces each and every postcard of The Rainy City. Only on our way out to a bar did we notice that this World’s Fair monolith was merely a midget in disguise…

Going to Seattle on a whim meant that we didn’t making lodging arrangements prior to our departure. Because the Seahawks had a big game on Sunday, our Saturday arrival meant that most downtown hotels were booked solid and the few rooms that remained vacant were being priced at ridiculous rates. After some quick in-car Googling, I found the Marco Polo Motel located a mere three miles from downtown at the rate of $89 per night. We rolled up and the place seemed as legitimate as a motel can be, and within minutes we were checked in. Upon learning of the motel’s free wireless internet (Password: Coffee1234 – we probably could have guessed that one in this brew-obsessed metropolis) Gliner and I whipped out our laptops and promptly vegetated for four straight hours, catching up on e-mail and surfing the web like we haven’t done in weeks because we lack home internet and head to Kennewick’s Espresso World for all of our internet needs.

This high-tech session, featuring man and his best friend (computer) was most necessary and felt as good and relaxing as any activity I can think of.

When 8:30 rolled around we headed to The Boathouse Café, a restaurant that occupies the upper floor of the famed Boathouse restaurant. The cafe features menu items at half the price of its sister-restaurant located below. While the service was good (and the staff didn’t forcefully change my portion sizes) the food was lacking (an overcooked salmon burger and New England style clam chowder that was plentiful in clams but lacked any flavor). I left disappointed that the highlight of my meal was the authentic German dobbelbock I drank while waiting for the food to arrive.

Post-dinner and looking for an interesting Saturday night, Gliner and I headed to the Belltown District, which we were told was the epicenter of Seattle’s trendy bars. We found the scene completely lacking with many grungy and grimy folks roaming the streets. There was one semi-decent bar with suit and tie clad doormen, so we gave it a shot. The clientele were well dressed and it seemed as if we were in Anybar, Manhattan. Only when we scored some seats at the bar and the drunken man to my left began singing along to “Don’t Stop Believing” at obnoxiously annoying decibel levels did the night almost get interesting. I gave this out of control drunk man a dirty look…he knew he was being obnoxious. But the first words that came out of his mouth were a snide, “What? Is it a Jewish holiday or something?” I replied, “Excuse me?” He proceeded to make a second anti-Semitic comment. I told him to “shut your racist mouth.” Some folks he was with apologized for him and called him an inappropriate drunken douchebag, but the guy didn’t stop. I guess I looked particularly Jewish wearing my new(ish) glasses (I now see five times better, especially at night). Nonetheless, the guy said to me, “Look at me, how can I be a racist?” (because he wasn't Caucasian and minorities can't be racists in this idiot's world...) I know I was verbally arguing with a drunken idiot at this point, but yes, minorities can be racists too, and this asshole certainly was one. Gliner said to me, “Morse, either ignore him or take it outside.” Good advice indeed. I chose the former option because I didn’t want my glasses to break nor did I know how much “back” this 40ish guy had at the bar…Thus, we left the bar without the drama I was secretly hoping for, as I genuinely have lacked in the drama department as of late.

Disappointed with the “scene,” we decided to eat the twelve bucks we paid for parking and headed back to the hotel to re-energize ourselves and make up for the sleep that we’ve lacked for the past three weeks.

Monday, September 22, 2008

Sleepful in Seattle: Rumors, Rain, and Restaurants

So, about those rumors that Seattle is the most rainy/grey city ever…they’re all completely true.

When Gliner and I found out that we were given the ENTIRE weekend off (a rarity during harvest season) because no grapes were ripe enough to be picked for a few days, Road Trip Seattle became our #1 priority.

Gliner, only up $40 from Friday night casino play (due in part to a lack of participation in Hold ‘Em, forcing him to turn to his less artful pastime of Blackjack), didn’t “pay for everything” as would have been the case had he been a winner…

With Garmin in hand, we took off to Seattle. As we departed, for the first time since we’ve been in the Tri-Cities we experienced rain, providing the RSX with a much-needed wash from Mother Nature. After an absolutely dull drive through the flat brown-grassed terrain of the Yakima Valley, we entered the Cascade Mountains. Evergreen Trees soon surrounded us, and it finally made sense to me why Washington insisted on being called “The Evergreen State” rather than “The Boring Flatlands Dotted With Wineries State” or “The Columbia River Runs Through It State.”

However, just as quickly as the Evergreen Trees found a fond place in my heart, they disappeared. They were the metaphorical “ones that got away.” This was not due to red-necked Oregonian lumberjacks crossing state-lines to wreak the havoc of their chainsaws upon our CO2-friendly friends, but due to an intense wave of fog that overtook the entire region making it so we couldn’t even see the trees on the side of the road, let alone Mount Rainier and the rest of the supposedly majestic Cascades.

Upon arrival to Seattle, we ate at Wild Ginger, a restaurant recommended to us both by my guidebook and our boss. Though the food impressed me, Gliner was unsatisfied, as both his soup and entrée were “more salty than the Pacific.” Now, at this restaurant, most entrees hover around $10. Famished from not eating all day, Gliner and I each ordered two entrees – a bowl of soup and a meat dish. While ordering, our waiter informed us that the soups were entrée-sized. I responded, “I know. If there’s leftover food, I’ll take a doggie bag, no worries.” I thought my intentions to devour everything from my two plates (and potentially the petite hostess if I had room in my stomach) were clear. Only when the waiter returned with our soups, authoritatively stating, “I knew two entrees for each of you was a lot of food, so I took it upon myself to reduce your portions to a smaller size” did I become mildly agitated. This anger peaked when I mowed through both portions like The Black Widow at Wing Bowl and still had plenty of room for additional food.

Note to our Overconfident Waiter: If people order large portions, let them have a field day (and your tips will be larger). You need not be a crusader against America’s obesity pandemic. Your job is to serve food and occasionally help me decide whether to eat the Seven Elements Soup (recommendations were your strong point) or the sub-par Crab Wan-Tan Bowl that Gliner was stuck with because he didn’t listen to your advice…

Friday, September 19, 2008

It's all in the marketing...

99.5% of the population can’t tell high-end estate vintage wines from boxes of Franzia. There should in theory be differences in these products, but studies have proven time and time again that people pay loads of money for wine based on preconceptions, hence why the cork vs. screw-top debate still exists in an era where corks should be a thing of the past…

From working in the winery, I now know that I would love to one day have my own Sidney Morsels wine label (and potentially an exclusive wine club available only through but there are way too many labor/equipment intensive costs in wine production for me to ever want to have my own winemaking facility. Thus, I plan to buy surplus wine on the open market and bottle it with my own label. Most likely the artwork on the bottle will feature me half naked.

For further information about disparities in wine knowledge and perceptions of “good wine,” read this article sent to me last week by Snider, courtesy of

In today's excerpt--there are many reasons to question the validity of various wine rating systems, such as the Parker ratings, which uses a scale to 100, and where the difference between a rating of 89 and 90 can make a huge difference in the sales of a given wine:

"Expectations affect your perception of taste. In 1963 three researchers secretly added a bit of red food color to a white wine to give it the blush of a rose. Then they asked a group of experts to rate its sweetness in comparison with the untinted wine. The experts perceived the fake rose as sweeter than the white, according to their expectation. Another group of researchers gave a group of oenology students two wine samples. Both samples contained the same white wine, but to one was added a tasteless grape anthocyanin dye that made it appear to be red wine. The students also perceived differences between the red and white corresponding to their expectations. And in a 2008 study a group of volunteers asked to rate five wines rated a bottle labeled $90 higher than another bottle labeled $10, even though the sneaky researchers had filled both bottles with the same wine. ...'

"Given all these reasons for skepticism, scientists designed ways to measure wine experts' taste discrimination directly. One method is to use a wine triangle. It is not a physical triangle but a metaphor: each expert is given three wines, two of which are identical. The mission, to choose the odd sample. In a 1990 study, the experts identified the odd sample only two-thirds of the time....

"Wine critics are conscious of all these difficulties. 'On many levels ... [the ratings system] is nonsensical,' says the editor of Wine and Spirits Magazine. And according to the former editor of Wine Enthusiast, 'The deeper you get into this the more you realize how misguided and misleading this all is.' Yet the ratings system thrives. Why? The critics found that when they attempted to encapsulate wine quality with a system of stars or simple verbal descriptors such as good or bad their opinions were unconvincing. But when they used numbers, shoppers worshipped their pronouncements. Numerical ratings, though dubious, make buyers confident."

Leonard Mlodinow, The Drunkard's Walk, How Randomness Rules Our Lives, Pantheon, Copyright 2008 by Leonard Mlodinow, 2001, pp. 132-133.

Forklift Nation!

There has been a lack of updates this week for two reasons:
1. I have fallen into a routine, and I don’t like it one bit. The first three days of work this week were so predictable. There were no surprises, only more of the same! Days consist of (in no specific order) Gliner swatting no less than three dozen yellow jackets to their immediate demise, sanitizing 20,000 gallon tanks before we place the grape juice in them, eating lunch at SUBWAY and complaining about the service, taking a long break in the “break room”, squeegeeing floors, spraying down equipment, checking how quickly tanks are filling, unclogging drains filled with grapeseeds, taking out trash, and cleaning everything in sight…
2. We are working hardcore, intense 13-hour days (with a 6:00AM arrival time…) and this leaves very little time for pleasure.

However, things were spiced up a little bit today due to a couple of factors. First, our auger - the device that takes all of the crappy parts of the grape that we don’t need and after the grapes are pressed/crushed this machine shoots this leftover stuff out of a long tube and into a massive dump truck…well, today white smoke started pouring out of this device around 9AM. I was overjoyed. I knew this would mean that it wasn’t just another day at the office…within seconds I was the head of a one-man bucket brigade to prevent thousands of gallons of Frambois remnants (raspberries mixed with water that creates something akin to a slushie) from spilling out around the winery’s exterior…this went on for a while and shut down production for a few hours.

All day I was anticipating one thing: FORKLIFT CERTIFICATION TRAINING

Now, if there’s one vehicle I never thought I’d drive in my lifetime, it is probably a forklift. This morning, the boss let me know that I was selected (admission: we were all selected) to be trained to use the forklift, just in case we’d ever need one in the line of duty.

The four of us from Pac-Rim, along with our comrades from Double Canyon Winery (a startup winery that uses about 10% of our space) were huddled into the break room where we encountered a mustached cowboy with a passion for forklift safety. I soon learned that this great American was the indefatigable Jack Robertson of Mid-Columbia Forklift. In passing, Jack quickly mentioned in his harsh Midwestern drawl that he started driving a tractor at age six. Within seconds he was encouraging all of us newbies to hone our forklifting skills, so that maybe, we would be able to win the Super Bowl of the warehouse world – the annual FORKLIFT RODEO held in none other than our very own Tri-Cities, Washington. If the mere thought of a forklift rodeo doesn’t get you superbly excited, imagine Jack's glee when he informed us of the prize money, which ranges from $250 for 1st place to $50 for 7th place.

Within seconds, my mind was racing. Jack Robertson was one of the best characters I’d ever met in my LIFE. (He also said to call him whenever I had a forklift question.) I already imagined the documentary (that would unintentionally appear like a mockumentary) starring Jack – The Tale of the Forklift Rodeo. Think Best in Show meets Napoleon Dynamite.

For about an hour, Jack told us tall tales of forklift mishaps - and there have been many...from people losing limbs to blinding themselves to severing their heads (he demonstrated the latter on me). This was all to prepare for our big written test that would precede our actual vehicular training...

The low point of this otherwise amazing afternoon was the video presentation from Toyota (who makes our forklift, though I am now certified to operate ANY forklift) and OSHA which I'm pretty sure is some bureaucratic government agency that determines if human fingers found in Wendy's Kids Meals are real or not.

Sadly, the woman’s voice on the forklift instructional safety video (length 1.5 hours) was soooo soothing that I fell asleep for half of it. Only a barrage of text messages from Gliner (who was sitting three seats down) woke me up. Jack had previously warned that falling asleep during the video was one of only two ways he would fail someone in the course...the other being causing bodily injury to another while taking the practical driving "exam."

Then, Jack presented the written test. This test was given to us as a group as there were nine of us were in a room. Jack went down the test in order and we all answered the questions together. (I assure you that many of our sarcastic answers to Jack's basic questions provided for more fodder than I can ever remember to relay back to the blogosphere). Jack’s assistant, Maria, somehow managed to make and laminate bona fide certificates for each of us giving us each 3-year forklift licenses that were ready by the time we finished the group-oral exam. Home Depot, here I come!

We then moved onto the practical part of the exam, and after I made a seemingly funny comment (that we could flash our forklift licenses to state troopers when we were pulled over to get let off of speeding tickets) which prompted Jack to select me, the most uncoordinated individual to ever attempt forkliftery to go first. In short, I was terrible at driving this vehicle and now have a new respect for forklift drivers everywhere...Jack Robertson was screaming at each of us (especially me) to turn left, turn right, bring the fork up - no further to the left, etc… By the end of the day, I was convinced that he’d murdered someone with a forklift and was sentenced to a billion hours of community service to teach all of mankind forklift safety.

For all my feminist readers, I leave you with this:

“Norma Davis was one of the best forklift drivers I’ve ever seen, and she weighed in at barely 100 pounds. You know why women are better than men at driving forklifts? Because they pay attention to detail. One time a truck driver wanted Norma to load some boxes into his truck, but Norma, had a hunch that this truck was unsafe, and she didn't want her forklift falling through the floor, so she refused. The trucker flipped his lid on her. But do you know what? Norma Davis was right! That truck was unsafe. How about that?”

- The indefatigable Jack Robertson of Mid-Columbia Forklift

Sunday, September 14, 2008

On the seventh day they rested...

A six-day workweek is extremely tiring, and I now have a major respect for anyone who works this often on a regular basis. Whereas most wineries force their employees to work seven days per week during the harvest, the owners of our facility (perhaps for religious reasons) believe in giving ALL employees off on Sunday, so Gliner and I had today to relax. After a night stopping at all of the Tri-Cities bars (Read: All of the bars are filled with “locals” and we get awkward stares so we tried to avoid trouble, and after quickly stopping inside each of downtown Kennewick’s hotspots headed straight for our local casino…) I used Gliner’s “players’ points” at the casino to get a free dinner (eggs, bacon, hash browns, and toast) and promptly came home to pass out leaving Jeff “Billy Ocean” Gliner to work his magic until 3AM.

Around eleven this morning, we headed to Walla Walla, Washington, a city that my guidebook claims is “a picture perfect New England town dropped in the middle of Washington.” On the way into town we stopped at a few wineries. I have to admit that I love talking shop - winemaking- with the tasting room workers that we encounter. I also enjoy that we don’t pay the approximately $5 tasting room fees because we work in the industry. Within minutes of stopping at our first winery it was obvious that Gliner, a white wine snob, would be driving for the remainder of the afternoon, because each of the Walla Walla area wineries carries only one white wine and five to eight reds. We stopped in the heart of Little New England and found the only “downtown” restaurant that was open where I was treated to an appetizer of Sweet Onion Soup (sweet onions are Walla Walla’s local specialty) and a delicious rare ahi tuna sandwich. Dining with Gliner is always enjoyable because he knows the restaurant business so well. He points out both the good and bad aspects of each eatery we visit with great accuracy. And yes, because the Tri-Cities is not really a college town, everyone presumes we are a gay couple when we go on man-dates…

After a few more wineries south of Walla Walla proper (the area is surrounded by desert bluffs that look like fjords along the might Columbia River) we headed home listening to Top 40 music the whole way. I admit that it’s been years since I’ve listened to pop, but I’ve fallen in love with the Tri-Cities’ radio station WKEY 98.3 that gives me the best of the 80s, 90s, and today.

Update: After Gliner successfully managed to EARN money during each of his trips to the casino, he just called to inform me that he is $300 dollars in the hole from poker...

Guns, Germs & Stainless Steel

GUNS: In this neck of the woods, the general consensus is that people have the right to own guns. I was only somewhat surprised to learn that EVERYONE on staff at the winery owns at least one of them, if only on principle. These guys are by no means card-carrying members of the NRA and our winemaker is even a vegetarian (most of the time he believes its okay to eat fish that have a healthy sustainable population and venison from overpopulated deer that are hunted down). My colleagues enjoy going to shooting ranges and occasionally they hunt. From my winemaker, I learned about Seafood Watch, a non-profit organization that constantly tracks which fish are okay to be eaten due to changing fish populations.

GERMS: Brian, our cellar master, said to us that 80% of winemaking is janitorial. How right he is! Now that the grapes are flowing in (more on that later) much of our day is spent hosing down outdoor areas of the winery, sanitizing the tanks that hold our wine, and cleaning out the hoses that transport the grape juice between any two points. By the end of this adventure, I will surely be a master plumber and I will be able to rival any school janitor in terms of my abilities to clean.

STAINLESS STEEL: We have now received our first shipments of Sauvignon Blanc and Chardonnay. Grapes arrived in the form of an 18-wheeler hauling four gondolas rolling up to the winery. The vehicle is weighed on a massive truck scale and then dumps each of the gondolas one at a time into our massive press.

Though injecting various types of yeast into the grape juice ferments most of our wine, we are using “wild fermentation” for select wines including our new Sparkling Riesling. Technically this sounds boring. In reality, this means that we are using our bare feet to crush the grapes so that fermentation can take place naturally, as it has for thousands of years. Understandably this may disgust many of you, but despite Gliner’s numerous blisters, all germs and non-wine will be killed off by the alcohol that is a by-product of the fermentation process. (Please check out photos that our winemaker took of us stomping grapes. As Gliner rightfully said, the camera adds ten pounds. I agree and also believe the camera adds ten inches of receding hairline. I assure you I am NOT balding and my hairline is in check, but I removed my baseball cap only seconds before these photos were taken, resulting in a terrible case of hat hair.)

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Cellar Rats

Fact: I learned more about wine today than most people will learn about wine in their entire lives.

Though we haven’t yet started the official harvest process, we learned that the first batch of grapes (and by batch I mean delivery on a four-ton truck) is due to arrive tomorrow rather than Monday. From this point on, things are going to be insane.

I love being the bottom man on the totem pole, but working as a “cellar rat” is very different than starting in the Endeavor mailroom. This is because at Endeavor, most agents (an even some assistants) do not speak to those below them or have any human contact with their underlings at all. At the winery I learn from the winemaker and every other employee. I am shocked at how much knowledge each individual in our small crew has. Our Laboratory Assistant is one of the most articulate people I’ve ever met. He’s fully answered hundreds of questions that I’ve asked him with detailed explanations. Maybe that’s because he was a teacher for seven years before jumping into the wine world four years ago.

Our winery experiences a trickle-up effect. Our Laboratory Assistant says that our Laboratory Manager knows 10,000 times as much as he does about wine. Our Lab Manager says that your Cellar Master knows 10,000 more than he does about wine. And though these guys are all brilliant, our Cellar Master says that our Winemaker knows a ton more about wine than he does! Apparently there’s a crazy learning curve in the wine industry. And though I’m sure all of these guys have more wine knowledge than 99.99 percent of the population, I’ll be happy to leave this place with more knowledge than 99 percent of people.

A big analogy: A winemaker is like a screenwriter. In the movie business, the screenwriter turns in his/her product and then gets critiqued and bashed by any number of influencing forces – the production company, the studio executives, the marketing department, the director, etc, etc. This is because at the end of the day, all people care about is the amount of money a film can bring in, not the creative vision of the writer. This generally results in sub-par films created for widespread audiences. In wine, unfortunately, there is a very similar process. The winemaker has a complex, artistic vision for each wine that he/she hopes to create. However, sales managers, owners, distribution firms, hired consultants, and others force the winemaker to change his/her final product by dumbing it down and making it less complex and more sweet to match the more simple tastes of the plebeian masses

Today, while crushing some grape samples that arrived from the vineyards, we spotted a beautiful ladybug mixed in with the grapes. We immediately stopped to release this bug. However, if this were any other type of less aesthetically pleasing creature, we surely would have just crushed it in with the mixture. Beetles gross most people out, and though ladybugs are beetles, their colors change the way people look at them. How many times have you treated a person differently because they were hot?

We’re not in Kansas anymore…or maybe we are: When I asked Brian, our cellar master, what type of group he hung out with in high school, he explained to me that he was just a chill guy who could be a part of any of the major high school cliques: the nerds, the jocks, or hicks, or the COWBOYS! How cool is that? A clique of cowboys!

Since we arrived at the winery, fresh raspberries have been idling inside of two large tanks soaking up Bacardi 151 so we can make Brandy Liquor. Yesterday, they were ready to be transferred to other tanks for fermenting, so we had a field day crushing the berries inside our massive crushers. After crushing, we sampled the raspberries in their current form, which is something akin to Jungle Juice. As it stands now, the beverage is super sweet and you can’t even taste the 151 at all. Yum.

The guys at work are very big on safety. I’m sure we follow more safety regulations than 99% of other wineries. They LOVE to tell horror stories of machine/winery accidents. I’ve already heard about a cellar manager and winemaker who fell into a vat of wine and drowned, a farmer who accidentally chopped off his arms, a cellar rat who was diced to shreds in a crushing machine, and people who died of CO2 poisoning (the most common cause of injury/death in wineries).

At this point, the crew at the winery consists of seven dudes. It’s funny to work in a woman-less environment as we can talk about pretty much anything without the fear of “sexual harassment.” A female lab assistant will start coming in two days a week. I’m interested to see how this will change the social dynamics of the winery.

Knowing that I don’t need to live in the Tri-Cities forever, the town is slightly growing on me. However, it seems like every other storefront here is either a dentist’s office or a chiropractor’s office. I guess people make their teeth and backs priorities around here.

In the entertainment business, all people talk about is entertainment 24/7, even when they are out of work. I’d imagine that this general trend is prevalent in other industries as well. In the wine business, everyone talks about wine all the time. I’m sure it would get old after a while, but for now, just like my pre=fermentation raspberries, I’m soaking up as much as I can.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

East meets West - A quick political analysis...

Politically, Oregon and Washington are very interesting states. In the Eastern portions of both states, cities like Seattle, Tacoma, Portland, and Eugene consistently vote with Democrats and are some of the most liberal places in America. However, across the Cascade Mountain Range, things are quite different. Here in the Tri-Cities, I haven’t seen a single piece of Obama flair, whereas on our trek up the coast I saw a total of one anti-Obama bumper sticker and a plethora of pro-Obama wears. This political divide can best be illustrated in Washington’s 2004 gubernatorial election where the counties in and around Seattle voted overwhelmingly for Democrat Christine Gregoire and everywhere else in the state voted overwhelmingly for Republican Dino Rossi. The final vote (after legal flights reminiscent of the 2000 Presidential Recount) was 1,373,361 to 1,373,232 in favor of Gregoire, a difference of merely 129 votes. Since we arrived in the Tri-Cities, I’ve heard a ton of anti-Seattle (and Eastern Washington) propaganda which contrasts the hoopla we heard about this part of Washington as pure hick-ville from those we met in Eastern Oregon on our way up here.

Music to my earphones...

When we arrived ten minutes late to work, Gliner and I were verbally warned in a most cordial way to be on time in the future. We quickly learned that our tardiness was holding up the start of the assembly line. Yes, today, both of us were needed to complete the most holy of tasks at the winery, finishing the bottling of our 2007 vintage so we could continue our preparations for the 2008 harvest that is scheduled to begin on Monday with the arrival of tons upon tons of grapes.

As a worker, no matter where I work, I tend to I circumvent inane rules and throw stupid traditions out the window. Being a rebel is simply in my nature. It is a safety requirement for everyone in the bottling area of the winery to wear foam earplugs while the bottling machine is working, a completely valid rule. Given that these plugs are supposed to block out 99% of noise, I rebelled by wearing my XXL headphones over the earplugs. This was the best decision I ever made, and luckily the boss didn’t care at all.

Listening to Sondheim’s Company followed by Simon’s Graceland made loading boxes onto a palate a much more contemplative and though-provoking experience than yesterday when my only music was the drone of the bottling machine. Time still went slowly today, but it wasn’t miserable. I also enjoyed working up a solid sweat and I appreciated knowing that I don’t need to hit the gym for a while because I burn more than enough calories at work.

I remember one of my favorite professors at Penn, Antonio Feros, telling me that after he graduated from college he worked in a glove factory in his native Galicia, Spain trying to figure out what to do next in his life. By the end of his time as a laborer, he knew that he wanted to study and teach history.

As I’ve recently discovered in LA, 99% of advice I receive from people is bullshit. However, my dad has always told me to find something that I would do for free and do that as my job. I’ve always been writing for free. And now that I’m a year out of college and no longer officially doing journalism/blogging (though I still contribute to Scriptwriter Magazine on occasion), I realize that I love the work and lifestyle of journalists. I know the hours are long, the pay is shit, the respect is minimal, and the rewards are few and far between, but creative journalism (read: opinion pieces, feature articles, political stories, food reviews, and entertainment stories) has always been my thing. Unless I am being paid to write a feature film or I am staffed on a television series full time, I would rather be involved in some aspect of creative journalism than doing any other job, especially within the entertainment industry.

After five straight hours of loading boxes at the rate of 8 per minute, we finished bottling. Luckily our boss rewarded our labor (read: the white people who work at the winery – not the Mexicans) by giving us money for a grandiose lunch at “the best pizza place in the Tri-Cities.” I almost ate my own arm because I was so hungry by the time we arrived at the Brick House Pizzeria. I was given a salad bar plate and informed that I was only allowed one trip to the salad bar. Thus, I filled my plate with pepperoni, shredded bacon, olives, and mozzarella cheese to the point where my concoction was literally overflowing. I simply could not wait for the pizza to be cooked and promptly gorged myself until I was full from my meat-cheese-based salad. By the time our two supreme-o XL pizzas arrived, I had little space left in my stomach. Gliner and I knew going into this situation that the best “pizza” in bumblefuck Washington would be similar to chucking some veggies and low quality meat on a piece of toast, and sure enough we were right. After a few bites of the pizza, I realized I wasn’t missing out on much because I was already overly satiated.

I’m willing to bet that sociologists galore have studied a certain phenomenon in the American workplace but the impact of this phenomenon has likely never been properly quantified. I’m talking about the post-lunch CRASH and BURN! Since my days of elementary school, I associate the hours after lunch with lethargy and laziness. I am also aware that carbohydrates significantly slow down brain functions. While working at Endeavor, I intentionally avoided carbs in my lunches, thanks to the enormity of Judi’s Deli salads that were both delicious and filling. Outside of major cities, such salad options are few and far between. Thus, the crash is almost inevitable in my current workplace due to limited food options. I can only imagine how many bajillions of dollars the world’s economy loses each year because of lunch-time carbo-loading.

Perhaps the daily siestas in Spain and other nations aren’t so bad after all? I know I’d certainly be in favor of having one.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

How the other half of the winery lives: Blame Henry Ford!

When Gliner and I arrived at work at 7:08AM this morning, 8 minutes after we were supposed to arrive. (Two days ago Gliner said to me, “I hate when my hourly employees come late to work. We will be at the winery fifteen minutes early every day.” That philosophy is already out the window...) Upon arrival, our boss told me that one of the Mexican laborers was out for the day and I would be replacing him doing “bottling” in the back of the winery/warehouse.

I need to make it clear. Hollywood’s portrayal of wineries is completely inaccurate. They are essentially large open spaces with ginormous steel tanks in one section and bottling/storage areas in another section. That’s it.

While I headed toward the “bottling department.” Gliner was asked to continue a project that he had spearheaded yesterday (I only assisted him for a couple of hours), which was to clean the drains in and around the winery. Today, this monumental task brought him outside. Cleaning drains translates to shoveling year-old shit that’s accumulated from any number of organic beings into a ditch beside the winery.

Coming as a writer to a small town, in some sick sense, I pray that something big happens. I don’t need it to be a multiple kidnapping-homicide in the fashion of Truman Capote’s experience with In Cold Blood, but it would be nice for these Tri-Cities to be put on the map, if only for defeating Napa Valley for a Wine of the Year award. The current news headlines like “Local High School Hires Three New Teachers” just isn’t cutting it.

Back to my life on the job…So, by 7:15 this morning, I, along with seven Mexican laborers was “bottling.” There’s no other way to say this: I was working on an assembly line.

My first job was at the end of the line. I took the closed and sealed cases of wine and placed them on a large palate in a specific stacked formation at the rate of about one every fifteen seconds. This proved not to be as physically demanding as I feared because some part of the large, expensive, start-to-finish bottling machine broke down within twenty minutes of our start, affording me a quick break to recover.

However, within ten minutes the machine was up and running as normal. My Mexican partner and I were reassigned to the first position on the assembly line. He took boxes (cases of wine) filled with empty bottles off of a never-ending stack (a hundred more boxes were carted over via forklift every time I thought we were about to finish our task) and placed each one in front of me in an upside-down form. My job was to take the upside-down box and lift it with enough gentle force that the dozen wine bottles would spew out onto a conveyor belt in upright form to be fed to the bottling machine. After the bottles were sent on their merry way, I took each empty box and tossed it onto a second conveyor belt that sent it to a later point in the assembly line where already bottled and labeled wine would be re-placed back into the box by female Mexican laborers.

I completed my task thousands and thousands of times, over and over again, with no break. In reality, I had to feed 90 bottles to the machine per minute. This equals 7.5 cases per minute, meaning (so long that my math is correct, and it could be fuzzy at this late hour) that I completed my task eight times per minute, averaging 7.5 seconds from the time the full box was placed in front of me to the time I did it all over again.

My first two hours of working “the line” seemed like two years. The fact that my Mexican counterparts spoke not a single word of English didn’t make matters easier. I tried to shove an I-Pod headphone into one ear, but this proved to be logistically impossible as it fell out every minute because of my constant back-twisting movements. It is utterly scary to think that people work on assembly lines for their entire lives, or any length more than one day. I pray tomorrow that the laborer whom I replaced will be back at work. Remember kids: Stay In School and Don’t Do Drugs or you could be forced to work the entirety of your life on an assembly line.

I know there is a disparity between my wages and the wages of the workers around me. I make $11 an hour while the Mexicans make $8. I justify this by saying that I have additional skills (I speak English and I’m funny – I don’t think degrees in History or Creative Writing really help me on a day to day basis) that they don’t have, but I’m still not 100% okay with making more money than people who work way harder than me. Nonetheless, I still make $1.60 more per hour than I did while working at Endeavor. A future blog post will certainly focus on “people who earn more money per hour than me.”

At the very least, I burned a few thousand calories this morning and insisted to Gliner on our way to Subway for lunch that I was going to eat two foot-longs. However, when we arrived at this terrible chain-deli the line was out the door. It soon became clear that joining the Woman With The Mustache who awkwardly hit on me yesterday and the Old Crabby Bitch was a new employee receiving on-the-job training and holding up the line. This young man was soon anointed Know-Nothing Idiot, as with zero Subway training whatsoever I could have grabbed the proper ingredients and made better sandwiches than him.

In the interest of time, I was reduced to the sloppiest Meatball Marinara I’ve ever seen, and three cookies. Fortunately, this hit the spot. Gliner and I also did quite well on Subway’s Scrabble game which consists of peeling off pieces of plastic from Subway wrappers much like McDonald’s Monopoly game. We won a total of three free 21-ounce fountain drinks (none of which I will use as a I strictly consume H20) and the letters H, O, B and B. These accompany the letters S, M, and E we won yesterday. I don’t know if this is coincidence or conspiracy but I can easily spell the name Hobbes (see previous post) with these acquired letters.

*Note: The content/tone of this last paragraph sounds eerily similar to my first ever series of blogs from 2002/2003 when I wrote about my fast food adventures around Oceanside, New York while I suffered from a serious case of Senioritis.

I wish I could say that the Ivy Leaguer on the Assembly Line would make a good documentary or feature film, but it wouldn’t. The results would be aesthetically unpleasing and editorially terrible. At best, I can hope to turn my experiences into a feature article for “Men’s Health” or “Wine Spectator,” which I plan to some how, some way, do. This may happen more easily when Gliner goes to task and has our home internet installed, which he has failed to arrange thus far. I will have to return to the Smoovie (smoothie + movie rental store) parking lot again this evening to “borrow” some wireless internet to post this blog.

Analogy: Gliner and I are like a married couple…a couple who jumped the Southern border fence illegally last week. Now I work “the line” and he cleans…ah, it’s the life.

PS – I crashed for four hours immediately after arriving home from work while listening to “This American Life.” Ironic choice? Perhaps.

PPS – When I woke up an hour ago, Gliner was snoring on his air-bed. I forgot to mention earlier that he was out at the casino down the street until 2:00AM yesterday. He finished up $210. This may sound good, but when I stopped by the casino at 10:30PM he was up $240 and refused to come home with me as he mistakenly thought he had a lucky streak on tap…In total he is now up $735 in the past 72 hours but taking tonight off from his second-shift job.

Monday, September 8, 2008

Blue Collar Dreamz

With an Ivy League diploma sitting figuratively in my back pocket, it is logical to ask why I would want to give up the glories of office work to be laboring on my hands and knees. After one day of winery work, I concur that this question is 100% valid.

Since I read The Great Gatsby in high school, I’ve been chasing The American Dream. What I’ve quickly come to realize is that there’s no “green light” in Tri-Cities, Washington, unless pickup trucks, pregnant women and legalized gambling are signs of something.

For this adventure I wanted it all: A picture perfect road trip done “the American way” followed by hearty labor and the reward of drinking cold brewskies by the sunset as I watched my grapes ferment. Ahhhhh.

In reality, what I got was a giant warehouse on the edge of town, with not a single batch of grapes for miles. (They all get unglamorously trucked in.) Though the winery I’m working for uses some cutting edge (these days I do not dare to use the McCainian word “maverick”) technologies, the place lacks beauty. There are no pleasant odors emanating from oak barrels, just 18,000 gallon stainless steel tanks. There are no cellars, just skylights. There are aren’t even corks, as its been proven in recent years that despite how unfashionable screw-tops are, corks are infested with microbes 5-7% of the time, permanently damaging the wine they conceal.

I loved exploring the Pacific Northwest on our road trip to get here, but I quickly realized that The American Dream was DEAD when I witnessed Gliner’s ability to continuously check his Blackberry every three seconds (despite my demands that he throw it in the goddamn Pacific) and forget about the management job he quit two weeks ago. (Truth be told, the Blackberry came in handy a few times for practical purposes like settling disputes about The Celine Dion Theatre and The Air Force Academy, but overall, I still want the device to vanish.) At times I wanted to kick myself because though it is a gas and time saver, my purchase of a GPS a few weeks back only further contributed to the demise of old-fashioned road trippin’. Some elements of “the dream” were still there: Discovering gorgeous beaches, eating omelets at authentic non-chain waffle houses, rolling into towns with no place to stay and leaving it to fate to decide for us where we would lay our heads for the evening, getting pulled over for speeding in a small town…but these positive elements were too and far between.

Nonetheless, we arrived in Tri-Cities, Washington, a place that feels more fake than L.A. (a huge accomplishment indeed). The people don’t feel fake, only the “little boxes on the hillside” structures, strip malls, chain restaurants, etc.

Another aspect of town that is kind of sad reminds me of my days in Norwich, England: A disproportionate number of late teen/early 20s women are walking around with XXL pregnant bellies or already have a full litter in tow. While getting haircuts yesterday, Gliner and I were informed that there’s not much else to do in the Tri-Cities other than have hardcore sex…these may be cities, but they have ZERO culture.

Back to laboring…At 7:30 this morning, Gliner and I arrived to our new Winetastic home. Our boss is super-chill, and Gliner, previously a restaurant manager, predicted that I would ultimately hate him, not because he’s a bad person, which he’s not, but because we would be completing low-level manual tasks while he sat in his office all day, clean as a whistle.

Gliner hates the hourly wage laborers who formerly worked under him because all they would do is take long breaks and return from high-carb lunches with about as much energy as a 98-year-old in a coma. Now he’s on the other side of the table, but he refused to take a break…As per my usual stance against hard labor, I suggested to Gliner that the two of us form a union, and he quickly rejected my proposal.

In recent months, I’ve come to think that maybe Hobbes hit the nail on the head…”Life is solitary, nasty, poor, brutish and short” – at least for the majority of the population…

The best thing about spending three hours alone this morning washing out 18,000 gallon tanks with a hose was that I had some MAJOR thinking time, and I was able to put my life in focus and think up a few new snazzy ideas…More notes from the not so simple “simple life” coming in full force tomorrow.

PS – Gliner just texted me and he is up $125 at the casino at this moment…will his winning streak continue?

PPS – The title Blue Collar Dreamz is a parody of a spoof blog my buddy Ryan used to write for: