I boarded Delta Flight 80 from New York to Amsterdam in First Class thanks to a gifted buddy pass from an ex-girlfriend-gone-lesbian that keeps me on procreatory, sperm-willing retainer. The overtly kind flight attendant sat me in the front row beside a grumpy, white haired Dutchman who was like a raw nerve the moment I hoisted my carry-on luggage above his head. His demeanor made it clear that he expected two seats to himself on this flight. “I'll be napping on this flight and I hope it's more quiet than it is now,” was the first thing he said to me. He was gyrating his Leslie Nielsen hairstyle left to right, looking around for empty double seat pockets in the cabin. There was one available in row four, and shortly after takeoff he asked the flight attendant if he could move.
“Once we reach cruising altitude, sir,” that shaguar in the red outfit and stockings patronized him. He eventually resolved himself to sticking it out next to me, right when I was enjoying the thought of having two to myself. I feared that my armpits were stinking off that futile Jason's Organics bullshit, but chiefly, this was my first time being in the secret pampered world of the sky traipsing elite. I was in first class to party, not be shushed at a mere 10,000 feet.
The attendants knew he was a jaded, crabby passenger even before he declined his flute of Champagne and barked for a Dutch newspaper. Me on the other hand snagged that Delta Wine Menu in great thirst, and opened it up to reveal not verticals of Opus One but a corporately white washed Southern California-styled array of bulkish wines. From the Guenoc Sauvignon Blanc California appellation to the heavy hitter of the bunch being the Wente Livermore Valley Merlot, I was baffled by the absence of enological treasures up here in first class. Where's the Krug Champagne? The Roederer Cristal? The Chateau Beaucastel? Silver Oak at least? The only worthy wines on the list were the lone Champagne and the sticky desserts. Celebrity food and wine writer Andrea Immer threw this bland portfolio together, and Delta in turn makes a first class killing off pouring schwag. Bravo. I'm sure Immer got a solid payout.
The poor tired bastard with those puffy tan eyelids was outnumbered. People were socializing and drinking up in this joint! A giggly woman and two flashy young businessmen were forming the condiments of an MMF sky-high sandwich in the center aisle and corks were popping! The Dutchman waved his personal white flag in the form of grabbing one of the attendants by the arm. “I'd like that Argentina white wine you have,” he said in a weathered voice of resolution. It was the Torrontes I'd chosen; the indigenous Argentine varietal that a winemaker friend in Oregon told me about. Delta stocked a cheap one from French negociant J&F Lurton and it was good.
We sipped in silence at first. I skipped around the movie offerings on hand and then wrote a bit. It was soon time to order dinner. I asked for the tenderloin but the attendant came back and said my co-passenger scored the last one. Opting for the fish, I wisely went in for another glass of the Torrontes.
We talked standoffishly about the white wine we were drinking. Maybe this was one of those marketed moments where wine brings people and cultures together. I was feeling it, or maybe it was the space cake devoured pre-flight, till I got a whiff off his broken wind. He falsely told me in that contaminated airspace that “Torrontes is a blend of Sauvignon Blanc and Chardonnay.”
“Really?” I knew the answer but didn't want to give him a ticket back to grumpsville.
He grabbed another attendant's arm and asked to see the bottle to prove his point. The grabbing irked her, as it should, but she humored him as she'd been trained and paid to do, and brought the bottle over. He hurriedly spied the front label then flipped it around to prove the blend. “Well, I can't read Spanish,” he surrendered.
The attendant looked to me wondering herself what grape the white wine was made from. “I usually just stick with red,” she said, smartly defusing the situation.
“Yeah, Torrontes is an indigenous white wine grape in Argentina,” I said. I couldn't help myself. I am a winemaker, after all. I couldn't let respecting-my-elder get in the way of the truth. He threw half of his glass back with that newsflash. Within minutes he had that toasted, distinguished Dutchman look on. The reddened tan cheeks, the glossy eyeballs, and now he was mellow to everyone on the plane and in the world. He told me how Spain had invaded Holland in the 16th century and how the rivers and waterflow defeated them, but still how South Holland was Roman Catholic and the North was Protestant as a result.
“Amsterdam is a very tolerant city,” he offered. “In Rotterdam people earn. In Amsterdam they spend.” He lived in Harlaam, ten minutes west of the city, and he told me how New York City was originally named and modeled after the city. We crushed two bottles of Torrontes easy, and he passed out between courses. The attendant woke him up and served him his steak. He said he'd worked in the wine business over the past 30 years for two Chateaus in Bordeaux.
“What region would you pick out of your cellar to open for a special occasion?” I asked.
“I get very excited about wines like this,” he replied, pointing to his glass of bright Argentinean wine. “But with friends or family, or something special, yah? It's always Bordeaux.”
With all that, he proceeded to request and kill off the synthetically-corked schwag Chianti they had going. I felt some acid igniting in the stomach and stopped eating. The flight attendant cleared our plates and the Dutchman next to me reclined and blanketed himself up to the jowls. “And now I will nap, yah? Good night.”
Meanwhile, I'd just been served a three cheese platter with strawberries and a full glass of Chambers Rutherglen Muscat from Australia. I still intended to taste that tawny port on the list before I passed the fuck out. I annihilated that cheese plate like a six foot mouse with a bottle of mineral oil on standby. The thick Aussie stickie showed its true colors in my total retardation in trying to twist and tuck the meal tray away, and further struggle in the basic opening of the bathroom door, all under the amused eyes of the same flight attendant. Passing on the Port, I killed the overhead light, propped a pillow beneath my skull, and dreamed of New York City.