The first time I ever went wine tasting I was only 18 yet I was making my way through all the wineries and tasting anything they would pour my way. I would pretend to appreciate the oak or chocolate or paint … whatever, it was all about getting an underage buzz courtesy of them. I was with Eugene, my first real boyfriend out of high school and he was seven years older than me. He was just so alluring with his cutting edge Levi 501’s, top-sider shoes, and pink IZOD shirt. Only three months previous I was attending Old Milwaukee keg parties and lying to my mom to stay out late. Now I was cruising with my older boyfriend in wine country and drinking fine wines. It was intoxicating, really.
Eugene had a flair for socializing, or he was unconscious of ridicule and immune to shame. So when the wineries closed and we weren’t ready to stop the fun, he parked his canary yellow station wagon outside the liquor store and sauntered inside in search of a party. He emerged with a bottle of rum, six-pack of beer, and a smile. He found a party for us to crash.
We drove up a dark curvy mountain road out of town, the kind of location two tourists could get strangled with their souvenir t-shirts and left for road kill. I was dressed in my coolest 80’s fashion, tight purple striped jeans with zippers on the ankles, matching vest, and four inch pink stilettos. Eugene was dressed in his latest effeminate regalia. His hair slicked back on both sides with lots of gel, the top in full puffiness, a hint of ringlet curls cascading down his forehead. He had a diamond stud earring in his left ear that screamed “Its fun to go to the YMCA”.
Toward the top of the mountain, on the side of the road, there were beefy muscle cars, hot rods, and 4-wheel drive pick-ups with those big hunting lights on top that look like eyeballs. I began to sense peril, not physically but socially and that is more painful when you’re a teenager. Eugene’s little station wagon was missing its muffler so our approach was loud and embarrassing. It was just like walking up to a group of rock stars and laying down an atomic fart.
Ten guys who looked like they had just finished a shift at the John Deere Factory Outlet were standing there with Budweisers in their hands and disbelief on their faces. Eugene pulled the car over with a quick jerk, like we were in a race car doing a pit stop. I knew he was trying to make his wagon look like a sporty little ricer burner, but it would never work and I did not want to get out of the car.
We were not blending but that didn’t stop Eugene from trying to mingle. He and I had met at the mall the previous summer, he sold jewelry and I sold cheese and sausages whilst wearing a Swiss girl costume. So he threw on his very best jewelry salesman smile and thrust himself upon the crowd of locals like a manicurist at a rodeo. I held back behind him and secretly tried to give the Good Ole’ Boys a glance that said “Geez, what’s this guy’s problem? What a weirdo!” and I cursed myself for my Flock of Seagull’s hair-do.
Eugene was completely unaware of our non-conformity. He had this childish enthusiasm of hope that made me want to slap him, but he was obviously slightly daft so I restrained my hands under my elbows. Shortly after our landing on mars, a beer a fight ensued between two farm boys. Everyone backed up and gave them lots of room to shove each other around. One of them was thrown onto the hood of Eugene’s little wagon and with a loud thud Eugene’s fog of denial finally lifted enough to see that this was not our crowd and he would have a permanent dent on his hood. He was terrified of fighting, a dance off would have been more his style, so he gave me the look that said “Get in!” and I we escaped.
A few months later, I decided to break up with him. I was driving on a busy freeway and he burst into tears after I dropped the bomb. He claimed he could not go on and crumbled to the floorboard, resting his head on the seat and sobbing. I knew right then that I had made the correct decision. Four years later, after my first marriage and consecutive divorce, I called him up. I was curious and plus I owed him an apology for being such a bitch. I could hardly recognize him at the door. He was 25 pounds heavier (in the belly and face), his lovely curly locks were slicked back and thin. He presented a 4-pack of Bartles and James for the sake of good old times. He was selling used cars in the worst part of town.
There was a look of anger and hope on his face, a strange mix that I did not know what to do with, I knew instinctively that he was not my crowd anymore. I got him to leave while he still had two bottles left in the cardboard holder.
In writing this essay, I researched him on the internet and there were two people with his unusual full name; one was a doctor and the other was a convicted felon with multiple convictions. I have my vote locked in. Although this is a sad story for him, it’s a great lesson for you … follow your gut, its never wrong. Case closed.