The Carpet Bagger's Journal — moving from NYC to Mississippi

August 3, 2010

Wine without the Snooty

drink the very best -- but expect no social distinction from the Schlitz crowd

This Mississippi heat will slap the snooty right off your face.  I could have steamed broccoli outside yesterday.  Even the habitues have rushed indoors where it’s cool.  Some of them grabbed a beer.  Others of them decanted a glass of fine wine, but the bouquet did not waft upwards with a snooty inflection.

In fact, Mississippi seems to be in the snooty-slapping-off-your-face business, especially when it comes to things that New Yorkers do with an air of smugness.

Wine is my example.  The best wine dealer near Vicksburg, Mississippi is across the Louisiana State line.  They carry the finest and best French wines, the most palatable Italian bottles, the trendiest Australian and Californian wines out there, truly, but don’t expect them to make you feel like a connoisseur as you sip.  Let me tell you about this store — Delta Discount Wines & Spirits.

You see, in 2007, Big Al and Little Al Kitchens, who had owned a small grocery in nearby Bovina, decided to open  up a fine wine store, so they did the locally logical thing — they crossed to Louisiana, where the laws regarding many things — pornography, lottery, and alcohol, to name a few — were less Baptist than Catholic, and they bought the convenience store at a highway Chevron station.  Here it is:

The only place for miles and miles to get the just-shipped Beaujolais Nouveau

They hired a guy who knew something about wine, but who Big Al and Little Al could relate to — you know, a good ol’ boy who looked like  a trucker more than a sommelier.  That would be K. Chris Barkley, a fabulous (by New York snooty standards as well as good ol’ boy standards) Director of Wine & Spirits.  He was the kind of guy who could tell whether the Shiraz  had had a good year or a bad one without making the guy in overalls who got off his tractor to buy lottery tickets feel funny.

They let Chris (or K. Chris?  Like K. Fed?) make the choices — he purchases what the market will bear, but he pushes the envelope, too.

At a recent social function where Chris was promoting the store, he told me that he thought the palate of Southerners was sweeter in general than Northerners, but it is clear from the wine he stocks and decants that he is an educated man in his profession.  He understands the best marriages between various wines and various foods, and he has probably read every page of Wine Spectator for years.

He has started a mailing list for Big Al and Little Al that he has called The Blue Jean Wine Society.  I joined it.

Big and Little Al Kitchens own the best darn wine shop in the Delta.

He seems to sell plenty of the good stuff, too, but the store website says, “Delta Discount is truly a one stop shop offering Louisiana Lottery tickets, gas, diesel, ice, groceries, Subway sandwiches, beer, wine, and spirits!”

This is the way that things happen down here, I am learning.  You can have your fine wine, but you can’t have your snooty, not even snooty on the side, not even a snooty chaser.

In New York, fine wine is snooty because so much is snooty.  The velvet rope makes the dive bar appear like a phenomenon, not a roach motel.  New Yorkers not only like what they like, they like to have what other people want but can’t have.  I was pleased, I remember, when I had floor seats for Ricky Martin at the Garden at the height of his fame, not because I loved Ricky Martin, but because I had better seats than Donald Trump and Barbara Walters that night, and I had gotten them for free.  That is a New York state of mind.

In the South, that would be rude.  Competition is veiled.  Sharing is neighborly.  Hospitality is more important than snob appeal.  Why would one want to alienate a guest who did not appreciate an oaky white wine from Sancerre with a smirk at his glass of Jim Beam?

In fact, Delta Discount is currently offering its Jim Beam drinkers a special — purchasers receive a concert download of Kid Rock songs with every bottle.

It’s odd, in fact, that New Yorkers find fine wine snooty.  I visited a winery — not one with group tours, but a working private winery in France — with my friend Jean Levielle years ago.  New Yorkers have forgotten, perhaps, that wine growers are farmers.  I met the owner, who was very gracious, but he was covered with grape stains and dirt clods.  People down here, in this agricultural country, they, too, get covered with juice and mud.

I find it oddly disorienting, nonetheless, to recognize that I can drink whatever  I want around here, but I won’t impress anyone.  Some people in New York used to find it a bit surprising that I drank Jack Daniels — not a very ladylike or pretentious drink at all — as well as Kirs Royales.  I have always liked plebeian as well as patrician libations.   I’ll take a glass of chilled Gewurztraminer with my chicken tonight, in this steamy heat, and nobody will care one way or the other.

December 13, 2009

New York, baby, this is the kiss-off

New York, we have to talk.

My ex, for whom I will always hold a certain sentimental je ne sais quoi

You and I have been living together now for twenty years, and that’s common-law, but I know you were always double-booking with eight million other people.  You never wanted to get hitched, not with me, anyway, because Manhattan is not the marrying kind.

You were always sexy, even when you smelled like sulphur and ash, and your sky scrapers — well, they say size doesn’t matter, but with all that concrete-hard loving, I beg to differ.  Your muscle and your attitude, even when I wanted to hate you, well, you always got the best of me, and I found myself seduced again by you.

But see, now, I have found someone who really understands my tender side, my need for permanence — with you, the fashion always changes, but with him — he loves me no matter what the hemline.  I always felt like you were edging me out the door with your increasing rents and your perpetual gentrification of the neighborhoods where we would sleep together,  not that you ever sleep, New York.  And I began to think about how I gave you the best years of my life, how many people I knew who are now sleeping in your cemeteries too young, and I realize — you don’t like growing old with people.  You’ve replaced me a million times with the latest “it” girl, I know it.  I’ve seen your telephone directory, and it’s filled with others!  I see the younger women with the impossibly short dresses this season — again with the hemlines — and I know it’s time to end it here and now.

New York, we’ll always have Paris.

I know that we’ve shared some amazing moments together, and here’s a list of the ones I know I’ll remember you by, knowing that we were lovers:

  • I once gave a passionate speech in Times Square with over ten thousand people watching me, and I made them cry and cheer with my words.
  • I ate elegant cake on Park Avenue with a Czech duchess in exile.
  • I was an honorary docent in the Egyptian collection at the Metropolitan Museum of Art one morning.
  • One evening at Merkin hall,  a Chinese woman with a British accent screamed words I wrote over an atonal brass orchestra.
  • I got tipsy one evening on champagne with the US poet laureate.
  • I made out one night in a club with a man who had beaten up a movie star who got mouthy with him.
  • I once shouted at an angry NYPD captain, “You want to arrest us?  Go ahead!  Make our day!”  and got away with it.
  • Jackie Mason once called me a “yenta.”
  • George Plimpton once wished me a good evening.
  • Quentin Crisp once told me I was very kind.
  • I once broke up a fight in a project school between two tough boys.
  • I went to cocktail party after cocktail party.
  • I attended a world debut at the Metropolitan Opera.
  • I saw the ring at Madison Square Garden, all deflated and folded up backstage.
  • I performed a mock-exorcism on the steps of Saint Patrick’s Cathedral with drag queens.
  • I saw Aretha Franklin after a concert at Radio City Music Hall get in a limo and watched the paparazzi chase alongside her block after block.
  • I did tequila shots with a professional dominatrix, who explained her professional techniques to me.
  • I have marched down your streets in nothing but leather and lingerie.
  • I held an altar call at a drag bar poetry reading.
  • I once made Rudolph Giuliani grimace.

New York, I have written about you as if our affections were always mutual, but you are fickle beyond belief.  I have finally found someone who will never change his mind about me, so I am leaving you.  See me packing in my apartment?  It’s over.

New York, I’ll never stop loving you, player, but I’m a player hater.  Talk to the hand, the one with which I used to hail your cabs.

Here’s looking at you kid.  And so, New York, as Plimpton did, I wish you a good evening.

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