BACKGROUND: 750 feet in the air, on the top floor of One Atlantic Center in Midtown Atlanta for Alston and Byrd, LLP’s hosting of the Atlanta Volunteer Lawyers Foundation Winetasting and Silent Auction fundraiser. The Judge stood about five-foot-six to my six feet. His wine sloshed in its glass, his caviar-smeared cracker half-bitten. I had two martinis before any wine, and nothing to eat.
DISCOVERY: My wife is an Associate at Alston and Byrd, LLP, in the environmental and land use group, and we met on eHarmony; otherwise she’d never have dated me. Education: BA: Brown University: International Relations and Russian Studies; JD: Emory Law. We are textbook liberals. I grew up in California, a bike’s ride from the beach at Monterey Bay. Science Camp in the Santa Cruz Mountains. Later: MA in Literature and Environment from the University of Nevada, Reno. The value of the vote was built into our brains like the native dendrites. But contrary to my wife (a rule-follower, as a good lawyer ought to be) I’ve always been a rebel, working construction and at bars during my undergrad, smoking cigarettes, a beer bottle in my fist’s grip. I quit the cigarettes, though, for my wife, because she loves me, but would never have married me otherwise.
MOTIONS FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT: I harbor no illusions about the American political system. The floor shined in The Judge’s shoes, the shoes reflected in this floor’s shininess. This shininess is accomplished by a high-gloss concrete sealer on one side (which includes among its hazardous materials: water, ester alcohol, Dipropylene Glycol Monobutyl Ether, Proprietary Resin, Propylene Glycol, and Dibenzoate Ester Mixture, and on the other end, Kiwi black shoe polish (the company began in Australia in 1906, created by “William Ramsay who named it Kiwi after the flightless bird endemic to New Zealand, the home country of his wife, Annie Elizabeth Meek Ramsay”).
TRIAL: My family owns a small Napa Valley vineyard. I mean small. I mean if this vineyard were a nation it would be a nation of ants. I mean, this vineyard is small. But I know a thing or two about grapes and wine and the making and tasting thereof (although the degree to which people claim to know about wine is astounding. In an experiment conducted at the University of Bordeaux, 57 wine experts, in two separate studies, misinterpreted their “tasting” of wines, favoring their expectations. In other words, wine tasting is entirely subjective and this you should think about when next you find yourself scouring the shelves at the grocery or liquor store for just the right bottle to round out the meal you’ve prepared for your dinner guests. Or, it’s okay if you really like the two-buck-Chuck). Also, I have a beard.
What happened: As I said, I was a couple martinis and perhaps a glass or two of wine in. I will say, “I was feeling the alcohol.” I said nothing stupid. The bartender made a mistake. He pointed to the Shiraz, calling it a Petite Syrah, the latter of these two not appearing in this winetasting’s menu at all. It so happens, that this miniscule vineyard of my family’s houses hundred-year-old vines: petite syrah.
The Judge: He wore gabardine slacks, gray with his navy blazer. Casual, but still elegant. This guy was at work. He as well sported a beard, though his was neatly trimmed as opposed to my ragged goatee. His glasses were rimmed with gold and stamped Dolce & Gabbana (frames alone start at around $170.00). His dress shirt’s cuffs were held together with links, oddly at odds with his otherwise casually sporty getup. I’d not had time to change out of the Ben Davis cotton chino workpants covering my legs, nor the cotton chino collared shirt (untucked), also Ben Davis (I have worn Ben Davis clothing since middle school, but not because I still work construction, which I do not. By virtue of one’s reading this, it is obvious what I spend my time doing, and sitting at a computer typing out words all day hardly requires tough woven blends that hold their shape and wear forever. Being a Northern Californian, and one who grew up amongst Chicanos in a small rural coastal town, the prevailing culture of my youth necessitated fitting in with these “others,” as defined by various postmodern critical and philosophical camps, due to my post-colonial angst and white man’s burden. According to Wikipedia, Ben Davis with “absolutely no advertising” became popular with this subculture, along with West Coast rappers who influence East Coast rappers, hence the mention of Ben Davis in the lyrics of Beastie Boys songs). This guy was dressed nicely, compared to me (Gabardine’s a heavier weave of worsted wool than, say, a chino weave, which was what I sported. To wit: gabardines are more expensive than chinos, hence cotton chino pants do not drape as well and tend to leave a wrinkled look and are considered more casual than wool gabardine slacks. See: Cumming, Valerie, C. W. Cunnington and P. E. Cunnington, The Dictionary of Fashion History, Berg, 2010, for a thorough discussion of different twill weaves and their representative fabrics). His hair was combed through, slightly curly so it held its place and if he used hairspray he had the kind of hair that wouldn’t let you know it. He did not look greasy. He had the politician’s easy smile.
VERDICT: The Judge was up for reelection. He shook other well-dressed men’s hands and said, “I’m hoping I can count on you for your support,” toothy grin, “next Thursday.” November. I explained to this bartender his faux pas (though, admittedly, when one talks of Shiraz and Syrah they are literally the same wine; however, petite syrah is a different grape altogether), pointing to the bottle on display, which was leaving a slight burgundy ring on the white tablecloth. It only then occurred to me that this bartender was of course a college student (hair moussed into a faux hawk, slacks pressed, eyes rimmed from sleeplessness) working for minimum wage with hope for tips. He didn’t give a damn what varietal he poured. He did not know the definition of varietal (va•ri•e•tal [vuh-rahy-i-tl]. Adjective. 1. of, pertaining to, designating, or characteristic of a variety. 2. constituting a variety. 3. (in U.S. winemaking) designating a wine made entirely or chiefly from one variety of grape). Our politician eyed me, literally toe-to-head, and turned on his way to the next potential supporter (fiscal, vote, both).
POST-TRIAL MOTIONS: I told my wife I wanted to leave. I said, “I’m never voting again.” She said, “What happened? What are you talking about.” I was slamming wine glasses onto the “used” table. I said, “Everyone in this room is what’s wrong with America.” My wife said, “Jamie, you’re overreacting, being hyperbolic, as usual.” (Overreacting, sure. But I maintain that my emotional point goes not without merit. To compare the current state of American politics with socio-political conditions precipitating the fall of the Roman Republic illuminates stark similarities despite the 1,970-odd years separating the fall of said Empire and the present. According to part of Purdue University’s Dr. Nicholas K. Rauh’s lecture on the fall of the Roman Republic: “Economic and Social Changes Consequent to Imperialism”: “1. Booty and profits of war. Roman overseas conquest resulted in too much wealth coming into Italy too quickly to enable equitable distribution throughout society. In general, wealthier elements benefited while lower elements failed to keep pace. In addition, rising expectations of profits from war led to abuses and illegal behavior by governors and generals in the field. The lex Calpurnia of 149 BC established a permanent court for extortion in the provinces. The prospect of profiting from war led to heightened competition for high office as well and extensive electoral bribery. 2. Heightened Status of Roman Senators. The Roman aristocracy were now recognized as important world leaders. Senators and wealthy knights engaged in extensive practices of conspicuous consumption, creating palatial town houses and monumental ‘art villas’ to demonstrate their high rank in society”). I held my wife’s hand as we left, her lips pursed. Her forehead’s wrinkles told me everything.
APPEAL: That was one politician acting like a jerk. I cannot say that I’ve cavorted with many. I bet most of them search out the “right people” for “support,” meaning they’ll talk to the folks with the money, and care about their needs. This guy’s eyes were brown and beady, rat’s eyes. I sometimes have wished that all politicians’ eyes were those of rodents, but they’re not. Eyes I have seen damasked blue and brown and green. In the end, and in the interests of maintaining a healthy marriage, I’m still willing to vote, to believe in democracy. On that Thursday, the election, the wife voted, and—later—she told me that she did not vote for The Judge, because of how he treated me. It was totally worth it, quitting all those cigarettes. Come next election cycle you’ll still find me in line at the polling place, because I believe in my wife, and she believes in this system. And, in the future, I’ll know now to eat before I drink.