Sunday, November 28, 2010
I REMEMBER - The Champagne Toast
This was the first time I had met my new brother-in-law and we were both anxious to make good first impressions. This was 30 years ago. Before you get to end of the tale, you should know that we still speak today.
So, being a good host, my brother-in-law takes my sister and me to their favorite restaurant for dinner to celebrate the holiday season and New Year. We ordered dinner and also a bottle of champagne just for the occasion.
Having been an apprentice Wine Steward (busboy) at the Marine World, Marriott in California, I knew a thing or two about opening wine and champagne (mostly from watching).
The restaurant was so crowded you could barely make your way to your table. The champagne is delivered to the table and I tell the waiter that I wish to open it myself as I know what I am doing. More than one person is watching by now and I am enjoying the spotlight.
I proclaim to my entourage that the "trick" to opening champagne safely and professionally (meaning not in the locker room after you won the Super Bowl or on the racetrack after the Daytona 500) is to engage your customer (audience by now) in conversation as you place your hand firmly around the neck of the bottle and gripping tightly, rub your hand back and forth, thereby warming up the glass neck of the champagne bottle. This allows the cork to be released under less pressure and offers a nice "pop" instead of taking somebody's eye out across the room.
Things were going well, almost too well. I had great confidence, although I had never "actually" done this before. Sort of like reading a book about Olympic downhill skiing and the taking the Black Diamond run live on ESPN for your first try.
So, as you can guess, things deteriorated rapidly from my initial rush of fame. The cork was coming out. Fast. Far too fast. I could not hold it back. My Champagne bottle opening theory was turning out to be just that - theory. I realized that in a few short seconds I was going to have a fermented grape juice Vesuvius in my face.
Did I mention that the room was packed? Did I mention that my showmanship far exceeded my skill and I had a fairly large group of diners watching? The look of panic and impending doom on my face caused everyone near me to back up as far as they could in the crowded area. We all knew the Apocalypse was drawing near.
Being exposed as an obviously unskilled wine steward, I still had a grasp of my manly warrior honor and decided to throw myself on the grenade (figuratively). The cork would no longer be contained. It blew out despite my heroic efforts to stuff it back in. There was only a nanosecond to react.
I did the right thing. I plunged the open top of the exploding champagne bottle into my mouth and sacrificed myself for the good of the many. The screams around me turned to "Oh, my God" and groans.
I am not a chemist, but I did drink myself through college like most poor young students and so, was not unfamiliar with the techniques necessary to get buzzed on just a few beers, if you had no money. This moment far exceeded any of my prior drinking experiences. Approximately one half of the contents of the champagne bottle forced itself down my throat and into my stomach in about two seconds (probably some kind of undocumented record for power drinking).
For a fleeting moment, I once again had the favor of the awed crowd. It wasn't the way I had intended, but since I had saved the moment in a spectacularly showy way, I was pleased with the outcome. For a very fleeting moment.
I was reeling drunk, totally unstable on my feet (not one of my prouder moments). Eyes bulging, barely holding back the impending overflow, mumbling something about "I'm going to blow", I stumbled towards the front door. Or so I thought. Since, on a perfectly sober, clear day with all my wits about me, I have no sense of direction and thus foraged instead into the deep middle of the restaurant, where it was even more crowded.
I had this momentary vision that I was Charlton Heston and this was what it must have felt like to be Moses and part the Red Sea. People were scattering like crazy, as best as they could with nowhere to go.
Like the saying "That's it, there just isn't anymore", I reached the moment of no return. I flopped onto a dining table occupied by two horrified looking people wishing themselves off the face of the earth. Trying to express my sincere and deepest apology with my bloodshot eyes, I opened my mouth.
Oddly, I didn't throw up. The carbonation had turned my stomach into a giant gas balloon and a belch, equal to a rock band's loudest bass note, burst forth. Stunned, appalled, but relieved, the shocked couple ran from their table. I felt much better.
My sister grabbed me by the arm and guided me out the front door towards their car. Then I threw up. A lot. I mumbled something about we had not gotten our dinner yet. They threw me into the car. As I thankfully proceeded to pass out in the back seat of their speeding vehicle, I thought I heard my just-met-today new brother-n-law say something to the effective that they would never be able to go there for dinner ever again, and perhaps something derogatory about our family's ancestry.
They moved out of town soon after. Then they moved out of the state. I am sure it was just a coincidence. However, it was years before I got their new address.