The Root of All Evil

(Originally published November 2000)

Every once in awhile something happens that helps Hanes actually gain some perspective on life and place his various enthusiasms into some sort of realistic life framework. The past year has been an interesting and exciting one for Hanes, as his immersion in the world of wine has enabled him to experience a very broad array of wines and come to understand more of the wine industry as a whole. Along the way, Hanes has had access to many wines of stellar quality that any collector would have been hard-pressed not to buy for their cellar and future consumption. The result has been two-fold: first, a rapidly growing personal cellar of excellent wine for swilling at future dinner parties and special occasions; second, a staggering amount of debt accrued to pay for these innumerous "once in a lifetime" purchases.

Now, what is this cataclysmic event that has shocked Hanes and provided this newfound perspective on life? Well, last week Hanes had to have an emergency root canal procedure performed. While extremely painful, this in-and-of-itself was not that jarring -- Hanes has had a root canal before. What was most sobering (in both its metaphorical and literal senses) though was the bill -- $1,200 for the root canal! And this does not include the hefty costs of the filling or crown to finish the job in the coming weeks. Now, realize that Hanes only works two part-time jobs and as a result has no health insurance, which places this bill squarely on his lap (or, to be precise, Visa card statement). Needless to say, unexpectedly spending $1,200 on removing dead nerve endings in one's mouth has a decided negative impact on one's fine wine budget.

OK, so now everyone feels sorry for Hanes. As they should -- poor Hanes! While Hanes enjoys sympathy as much, if not more, than the next person, eliciting such reactions is not the point here. It is, after all, "only money" and somewhere down the road Hanes's finances will recover (once again, he is accepting applicants from rich socialites or supermodels to be awarded "kept man" status). The point is... Err, what was the point? Oh, yes! The point is that being exposed daily to the finest wines available, from famous centuries-old wineries to undiscovered new boutique wineries fills one with such an acquisitive lust that one develops a low-grade fever from it all, with it becoming impossible to even contemplate not buying one bottle for immediate consumption and at least two or three for down the road. But now Hanes cannot afford to do this. And, who woulda thunk it, it almost feels good, as if a real fever had finally broken. Upon seeing a newly released Californian Cult Cabernet or Burgundian Grand Cru, the words "I cannot afford to buy this wine" slowly tumble from Hanes's lips and float in space before his eyes, as if suspended by wispy gossamer threads from the heavens. And these words, they ring true! Hanes cannot afford this wine! But, from the vantage point of living a full and rich life, one overflowing with the joy that only good wine may provide, can Hanes afford not to buy these delectable treats before they disappear for all time from the shelves or backrooms of NYC's finest wine emporiums?

Again, Hanes must audibly sigh and answer yes. For these recent circumstances have forced him to think deeply on just what wine is and what it should mean in his life. After much "deprogramming" with resultant gnashing of teeth and late night sweats, Hanes has admitted to himself that wine is only a "luxury item," a flourish of color in the corner of a sultry summer sunset, a sprig of thyme garnishing a tenderly braised leg of lamb. The thought that a whole excellent vintage may come and go without purchasing of it makes most wine geeks start to shiver and moan in agonizing pain. But when one cannot afford to buy, one simply cannot afford to buy, and internalizing this fact eventually brings a sense of freedom perhaps not experienced for some time. Will the meal with loved ones or long-lost friends be less joyful because a $12 Cabernet was opened rather than a well-aged Pride Mountain Reserve? Will the moment of seduction by candlelight prove futile if fueled by a $12 wine from Sancerre rather than a $50 Meursault? Can or should fine wine become so constitutive of whom one is that one could not exist happily without it? For those who are not slavishly devoted to wine the answer is "duh," yes! But for the rest of us losers it is never quite so clear. What appears to be a luxury to many is a necessity to the wine geek, but to go so far down such a road is to court a life of imbalance and weakness of will (what the ancient Greeks called "akrasia") and perhaps even dishonesty regarding what truly fills life with joy and satisfaction -- the breath of a lover on your neck, a squeal of happiness from a child's mouth, warm sunlight overhead during an afternoon walk, having many friends who volunteer to help with a move or painting job, the Yankees winning the World Series...

Thus, it is with gratitude that Hanes remembers the recent searing pain in tooth #15 and the $1,200 of which it has unburdened him. He is now capable of looking with the same relish as always at a newly released mega-priced Rioja Gran Reserva or small production boutique Australian Shiraz and imagine how good it must be without being driven into paroxysms of lust and longing. Sure, it's probably quite tasty but no wine tastes good in debtor's prison and there now exists the challenge of finding inexpensive wines to quaff while whittling away Hanes's Visa card balance to a figure less than the operating budget of many Third World countries.

So, while in the future you will read the reviews of a saner and more balanced Hanes, one who now better realizes the finitude of life and credit limits, let us hope for but one single thing. No more damn root canals! After all, the 2002 vintage isn't that far off and if Hanes can only get his balance down to...