Peeling back the foil

Cheap champagne, crack pipe roses and artistic objectivity.

click to enlarge DOWNTIME: Some time on the couch with Milo and a bottle of champagne takes an unexpected turn. - Scott Harrell
Scott Harrell
DOWNTIME: Some time on the couch with Milo and a bottle of champagne takes an unexpected turn.

So, this is why I don't smoke pot anymore.

I'm sitting out in the well-lit humidity of the Seaside Shack's enclosed front porch, a little while after sundown. I'm mellow. I'm tired. I'm watching Milo The White Trash Terrordog go back and forth underneath my sofa-propped legs. Into the house, where the window-mounted air-conditioning unit rattles. Out onto the porch, where one of those kamikaze summer beetles out-rattles the A.C. unit. Under my legs, out into the yard. Under my legs again, back onto the porch and up onto the sofa to fart, look out the window and whine at something I can't see, hear or smell.

Actually, Milo The White Trash Terrordog is acting more than a little stoned.

I peel back the foil covering the neck of an extremely inexpensive bottle of champagne, and pop the cork.

I like cheap champagne quite a lot. I don't drink it very often — asking the owner of your favorite bar if he or she will start stocking the cheapest champagne available, and pretending it isn't some goofy new affectation, is like walking into the same bar one night wearing a hat topped with a full-size stuffed macaw and pretending there's not a fucking parrot on your head. But I had spied this particular bottle a few hours earlier, while wandering the aisles of a CVS Pharmacy and wondering why CVS Pharmacy doesn't stock Florida Sportsman magazine, and had remembered that I love cheap champagne. It was the last one on the shelf, and it just looked so ... very ... tasty.

Now, I let that wisp of chilled smoke waft up and away from the bottle's neck and drink straight from it.

It tastes awful.

Not awful in the cloyingly oversweet way I expect, and appreciate. Awful in a vinegary, fruit-sugars-turning-to-acid way.

I hold up the bottle and look at its label. I'm sure I've had this particular brand before. Then I go inside and retrieve one of the pair of glass champagne flutes the Shack's previous inhabitants left behind. (The flutes have gold-foil stars and the number "2005" on them, and are, in my experience, pretty much indestructible.) I pour three or four inches of cheap champagne into it. The cheap champagne bubbles nicely, glows warmly golden.

I drink again.

It doesn't taste any better.

I am inordinately, unbelievably, perhaps inconsolably bummed that my $8 bottle of champagne has gone bad.

And sitting here on the porch, flute in my hand, I think about cheap champagne.

I wonder if this particular brand of cheap champagne is issued by a large, familiar winery as its bargain-basement line, or if it's the product of a company that produces only cheap champagne.

I start to get a little angry at the people who make the cheap champagne — I mean, they have to know they're cranking out a product with a target market that consists largely of underage prom attendees and the almost-homeless, right?

I try to guess how the employees of Cheap Champagne Inc. surround themselves with the half-truths and pathetic rationalizations they surely need in order to do their jobs and still look at themselves in their mirrors.

I imagine blowups of magazine ads hanging in the office halls, showing scenes like a couple of kids barely out of their teens toasting over a newborn baby in a hand-me-down bassinet — with taglines like "Because You're Saving The Good Stuff for Her Graduation."

I hear them tell one another that the guy in the pay-by-the-week apartment who just won 10 bucks on a scratch-off ticket deserves to celebrate as much as the quarterback who just won the Super Bowl.

But what if they don't even go to such superficial lengths? What if they know their product is just something half-assed and unhealthy that separates those with very little money from what little money they have? What if they just don't care? What if it's all just about keeping their heads down and getting their paycheck?

Holy shit — what if the people that made those miniature roses that come in the glass tube that's a perfect crack pipe knew it all along? What if it was never about the roses at all? What if those people just needed a way to disguise the crack pipe they knew a bunch of people would buy, and roses just happened to be it?

This line of thinking naturally — at least, it feels natural to me — leads to the subject of art.

I begin to ponder exactly how aware some people are that they're making horrible movies, albums, books. I mean, on some level, they've got to be. John Grisham has to have read a book by Hemingway, or Melville, or even Stephen King; logically, you'd assume he'd have to know that his novels are bad. Paul W. S. Anderson can't possibly believe the two Resident Evil movies he directed are compelling, or involving, or peopled with characters that aren't a mockery of the human condition — he knew he was making crap, but he needed the money to buy his family manor back from the bank that was going to turn it into a wax museum, right? The members of Nickelback must be conscious, on some level, that they're pissing on the rock 'n' roll canon by writing, recording and performing their music.

But what if they're not?

What if they're all unfathomably ignorant, at best, or completely delusional, at worst?

What if no person who at some point was led to believe he or she was creative, is capable of looking at his or her own work with anything even remotely approaching objectivity?

OhmyGodIcompletelysuck!I'vebeenwritingshit alltheseyearsthatcreativewritingprofessorwascrazyoreverybody'sjustbeentryingtomakemelooklikea completeassholeIshouldtotallydrivetoMexico tonightIcanstopandgetagyrobeforeIleavetown—

I look around, and realize I'm still sitting on my porch. The champagne flute is still in my hand; bubbles continue to rise to the surface of the cheap champagne in it.

Maybe a minute has gone by since I drank some.

I can't remember exactly what I was thinking about in the first place. That thought makes me laugh uneasily as I get up to pour the rest of the cheap champagne into the sink. On the way to the sink, I forget I was going to the sink, and catch myself putting the open, undrinkable bottle of cheap champagne in the fridge.

So, this is why I don't smoke pot anymore.

I don't need it.

If I want to be paranoid, unmotivated, scatterbrained, overly imaginative and self-amused, all I need is a chair and a couple of minutes to kill.

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