The Sybarite

Justify your existence
Make a case for a pittance
Mothers worry in Cameroon
I got cherry macaroons

Twenty years on the mountain
Shouting down
But who’s counting
Let it go
I’m not there
Give the byline to someone who cares

Anything you imagine is probably gonna happen
I can see for miles where the antelope play
When will they take it away?

Twenty miles north of Napa
Crank it up gangsta rapper
Parties at Bohemian Grove
Balls are splashing in the cove

I make nothing
Only scandal
I give all you can handle
Rain don’t fall on a dream
I’m as guilty as I seem

Anything you imagine is probably gonna happen
Somewhere out of sight the global armies array
When will they take it away?

Could it really get better?

I’ve been driven to these ends
I’ve got time
Who needs friends
When will they take it away?

Thanks for Visiting


Tris McCall recommends:

  • A Bike Ride

    The Pacific Northwest comes close. But I don’t think there’s any manmade landscape anywhere in America that’s as beautiful as Northern California. Alston Park in Napa gives you all the colors at once: the chartreuse of cultivated hillsides, the dark leafy greens of the vineyards and the crisp beige of straw, the terra-cotta hills and brown-red bark of the giant trees, and a little water to catch the sun, too. Dogs are everywhere here, and they’re often off-leash. As long as you don’t resemble a bone, you’ll be okay.

  • Vegetarian Option

    All the hype you’ve heard about food in the Napa Valley is justified. The Oxbow Public Market (610 First St.) is a good spot to start eating, as it’s something of a landslide of attractive options, but finding non-animals to munch on can be a challenge. I’m partial to C Casa’s vegetarian tacos, especially the ones with the white beans and the fingerling potatoes. In Napa, you’re only fifteen minutes south of Yountville, an absurd concentration of Michelin starred restaurants (including the French Laundry) and giant rosemary bushes. The whole town is like one big herb salad. For the Yountville experience that won’t divest you of your entire wallet, try Redd Wood (6755 Washington St.), a pizzeria from Michael Reddington, chef of the outstanding — and steep — Redd Restaurant. Hope he’s making arancini that day.

  • House of Worship

    To get to Shree Maa Devi Mandir (5950 CA-18), you’ll have to travel for a half hour on the Monticello Road in the general direction of Vacaville. You won’t mind: the ride is so peaceful that it is itself a kind of meditation. Once you arrive, you’ll find a decorated ranch house in a bucolic, quintessentially Californian setting in the hills with a pretty Hindu house of devotion inside. Shree Maa herself is a spiritual teacher who came to the United States from India in 1984 and is now considered a saint; the Devi Mandir is her temple.

Spread the word about this Musical Almanac:


Mario thought about the Resurrection. People talked about it like it was a good thing. Maybe it was. But when he came back, would he still be under indictment? Because if so, it wasn’t worth it at all. He’d be better off… well, not dead exactly, but in a place beyond any traditional jurisdiction.

No, a complete restoration was what he was after. Restoration in the fullness of time, like they wrote about in — what was it, Ephesians? One of the epistles. All of the graves opening on Judgment Day, when there were no seconds left to tick, and Mario, bouncing up from the coffin at about twenty-one, healthy and springy and uncompromised. Before success, which had certainly been a big waste of time now had it not. He could get used to that. Twenty-one, when it was all possibilities and he hadn’t done much yet, and it was still possible to think of himself as one of the good guys.

Mario looked out of the window from the passenger’s side. It was his very favorite landscape: the soft orange hills of Napa county and the long rows of growing things on stakes. Were they grapes? Could be. Here and there a very tall tree. A healing landscape, he thought it was, everything claylike, molded into approachable shapes by the gentle hand of a Creator who was also an amicable host. Mario my child, come in and be welcome to the bounty of the Napa Valley. Nothing here to cut your fingers on. Not like the sharp, flat, knifelike horizon of the district he represented.

Or used to. He wasn’t totally clear on that. Nobody was. There would be a special election at some point. The governor did not want to call one. He believed the Democrats could still hold the seat. At the moment emotions were too raw. Mario was the subject of bipartisan rage. He’d stained the brand. Get out of town, just go away, the governor had said to Mario. So he had. The stone walls and blue skies and high yellow grass of Napa Soda Springs had chased away the memory of who he’d been only a week ago. Mario was surprised by how quickly a simple change in location could alter his identity. Though that hadn’t happened in Washington. Perhaps Northern California was different. It did seem very much like a place a man could submerge himself in.

Robin held the steering wheel gingerly from the underside, like a kid with a frisbee too big for her hands. It was his car but he’d let her drive it: from Yountville down through Napa and Sonoma to the weekend market in Larkspur to buy walnuts and olives and macadamia nuts and then back north. Mario had been pleased to visit pretty Larkspur until he saw the ferry to San Francisco. That reminded him of financial workers, and business, and white collar industry, and politics, too — the part of the world he’d been straining not to follow. In the hills of Sonoma he could hide from it; plug his eyes and ears and see and hear and speak no evil. Over the Bay was just evil.

She photographed farms, that much he’d gotten. Vineyards, vegetable patches, spots where the kids could hop on ponies, that sort of thing; she’d show up with a camera and make sure the fields looked idyllic in the brochures. Robin was shooting a wedding barn when Mario first saw her. He’d stopped the car and put on the moves. He could appear friendly to strangers: he had a big round non-threatening face and a pleasantly bumbling demeanor. He looked in fact like a big baby and women treated him accordingly. Girls liked infants. He’d already begun to grow out his hair and attempt the beard that would serve as a disguise. But with Robin it didn’t matter. She had neither a television nor any interest in following the news on the Internet. Her exposure to current events came from a few leftish websites that were too disorganized to post file pictures.

Just then she was hungry, not for the handfuls of berries and macadamia nuts they’d been shoveling into their faces on the drive, but for a meal more substantial. Okay, he would feed her. He’d been paying for everything — dinners, jewelry, gasoline for long drives, trips to the zoo, whatever she wanted. He liked the idea of taxpayer money funneled from the Midwest to this one particular white woman in California. Mario imagined a huge hose siphoning dollars from the pockets of his humorless constituents — former constituents, anyway — and raining greenbacks down on Robin in a great ejaculation of gain. The fruits of corruption. She looked very neat behind the wheel in the cream-white dress he’d snagged for her in a Sonoma shop. He’d told her he was a lawyer recuperating from a psychic bruise he’d gotten during the course of his work, which was technically not false. One thing he’d learned in Washington: there was a truthful facet of every lie that could be flashed in the direction of the home audience.

Also truthful: when Robin asked him what he was hungry for, he said experience. She laughed. She thought he was making a dirty joke. Well, he was and he wasn’t.

“Do you ever try to create an indelible moment? I mean really try to force one?”

“Why, what do you mean?” She kept her eyes ahead. There were bends in the road.

“Yeah. I find the memories that are most alive to me are ones from very long ago. Frighteningly long ago. Like thirty years. And they all have some adventure element to them — something transgressive. Like the night we broke into the local quarry — this was freshman year in high school — and horsed around on the cranes. I can remember every bit of that, down to what everyone was wearing, full conversations, mostly about what would happen to us. If we got caught, if we didn’t. Or when we hopped the fence at a construction project over on the hill, the rich man’s hill as they called it. Looking out at the town lights from above. The view that was meant to be the exclusive provenance of the wealthy. So often there is a fence, a barrier to jump. And once on the other side there is something tantalizing: the promise of a journey, of the beginning of a voyage into some vast and mysterious country. A place dense with character and event.”

That voyage, he felt now, had never really happened. Was it too late?

“Nostalgia,” said Robin. “It’s a killer.” He’d been surprised to discover she was in her mid-forties — just a few years younger than he was. Not that she looked like a kid, necessarily. Mario had always had trouble estimating ages.

“But it’s the same feeling now as it was then. The threshold of something.” The first chapter of a book he’d never gotten very far into. Robin mmmmed. And he admitted that recent years hadn’t delivered much that had stuck in his mind: the past decade was a blur of faces and handshakes and various routines that wound down in synchronicity, clocklike, so smooth that he didn’t have to think about them. And so he hadn’t.

You just weren’t having any fun, she suggested. Dreary old day job. Probably stuck in an office. Mario smiled at her. It certainly had not been like that. But he knew that he had come to Napa because he felt that the red clay would stick with him — that the days here might not fall through him without a trace. This had become intolerable.

“You’re reminding me of that Bruce Springsteen song,” said Robin.

“What? ‘Glory Days’?” That came out more bitter than he’d intended.

“No, not that one. That other one. The one about the kid who pushes his friend. Off of the top of the crane. And then the rocks fall on his head.”

Mario nodded in recognition, even though he knew of no Bruce Springsteen song that fit the description. He’d gotten good at that, too — ending conversations with those he didn’t understand, or who didn’t agree with him or recognize him, through tacit acceptance of alternative facts.

There were no restaurants on the Silverado Trail — only wineries serving picnic lunches. Robin directed the car to Route 29 and a bar and grill she knew. After ordering Mario spent some time in the dank bathroom, studying his face in the mirror as he often had when he’d first entered politics, trying on different expressions and assessing their efficacy. An indoor cat that still practices hunting birds, that’s what he was. When he left the bathroom, he noticed to his irritation that the bartender had turned on the television. He flicked around. Any moment he might land on a news channel. Oh boy. Might they be discussing him?

Mario tried to occlude Robin’s view of the screen. She told him to stop with the fidgeting. The bartender clicked from station to station, never settling in. Unnerved, Mario raced through lunch, paid the tab with a large bill and didn’t ask for change, and hustled them both back to the cabriolet. The squad car in the parking lot was not there to pick him up. Bugged him out anyway.

“You sure sprinted through lunch.” She was laughing at him.

“I couldn’t wait to get back. To kiss your belly.”

“It was like you saw an old girlfriend or something. Did you see an old girlfriend at the bar?”

“You’re the only California girl I know.” Mario pressed his shoulders against the backboard. It was good firm red wood, very pretty and polished to a gleam. Much more handsome than his bed had been in Washington. But that one had been upholstered. Comfier for sitting up and reading.

“I’ll bet. I’d guess you were running from a creditor but I think I know better.”

Then she called him Moneybags. Not his preferred term of endearment but also not one he was in any position to dispute. Just that morning Mario had received by electronic transfer the sum of twenty two thousand dollars. A nice dividend from one of the companies he’d been caught doing favors for. He didn’t understand it. Wasn’t the money frozen? Or hadn’t the investigation advanced that far? He had lawyers he could consult, but he didn’t want to bother them. Or himself. Instead he commenced the shell game he’d been taught by other, more experienced hands in Washington: overseas banks and parallel accounts in funny names, anything to make the sum difficult to trace.

As he showered, it occurred to Mario, and not for the first time, that he might be in the afterlife. Because this was how heaven was teased to him, just exactly, when he was a young person: an endless procession of sybaritic pursuits in a place as lovely as the Napa Valley. An infinity of warm and beautiful days and the constant steady murmur of money into his account. Wine and song and a friendly woman and a strange stillness. Lots of room between his house and his neighbor’s, who did, what exactly?, probably something in tech, something ineffable, magical, afterlifey. No contact with the earth he’d left behind, no press of possible futures, no forward momentum at all, no need for any promises now that all had been provided. And call him detached, but maybe it really was a reward for good behavior, a life well lived in the orbit of his district. He’d done a lot for them. The job, as he understood it, and as it had been explained to him by the voters in his district, was to bring home the bacon, which he had done quite well, hadn’t he? What he had learned was that it was impossible to handle the bacon without getting his hands all greasy.

Mario shampooed, scrubbed his armpits, towel-dried his bosom and slipped into his bathrobe. Robin was already dressed and ready to go, sipping her coffee from a Heath Ceramics mug they’d bought the day before. Sage green with the glaze. She had a late-day shoot at a winery near Vichy Springs, a new place, just getting established as a destination for tourists who liked vineyards. Some of these visiting characters could hit three or four wineries in a day. This amazed Mario: they all seemed the same to him. No, no, corrected Robin, each had its own distinctive features, its own way of presenting its unique methods to the public, and if it didn’t, it was her job to manufacture a visual identity for the winery. Personally she liked artful shadows and sunsets. Most of the time this was a difficult sell: the Napa style leaned more toward high noon and direct sun. Full probing illumination.

No traffic at all on the road to Vichy Springs, eighty degrees and dry, afternoon light flooding the interior of the cabriolet. Mario had discovered he liked to see Robin work. He’d shade himself under a tree twenty yards away or so, far enough that she wouldn’t feel hovered over, and watch her as she circled her target, adjusting her camera, thinking, reconsidering, catching the angle of the sun, knocking mud off of her heavy shoes. It had pained him to see her exchange the pale green ballerina flats he’d bought her for thick-soled clodhoppers, but that was the business and she couldn’t be getting her nice pairs filthy.

At the tiny Swann Winery he ingratiated himself to the staff with smiles and handshakes and funny stories; it turned out the owner, who bristled with first-venture nervousness, was a Midwesterner, too. He’d done well in the farm machinery trade and was keen to transition to a gentleman’s game. Mario knew his prior company well. It was one he’d negotiated a hefty federal subsidy for. How odd, he thought; legislation that had passed his desk had created the wealth that had made these vineyards possible. While in Washington, he often felt powerless. Since his ouster, he’d been reminded again and again that every gesture of his hand had affected the lives of thousands, and not merely in his district. He’d had the power of a god and he’d thrown it away. For a moment he was tempted to tear off the mask he’d made, just to get some thanks and hugs and handshakes. On hard days those had sure kept him going. Then he reconsidered.

Naturally, Mr. Swann wanted to talk politics. It was all anybody was interested in. On a beautiful day like today, in this glorious California sunshine, said Mario, how on earth do we dare turn our conversation to a place as dreary as Washington. Swann wanted to forget about it, sure, but how could he get his mind off those rat bastards. Sucking money from everybody and for what. Once he’d been a Democrat and did as Democrats do, and then he’d become a Republican and put Democratic things away. Now he didn’t know what to think. Only he did, and what he thought was that both parties were the same. Money machines, set up to grind against each other. Well. Mario had some small experience in politics, and he’d learned that there was indeed a difference between the parties. The Republicans, he said grandly, won’t listen to you. Luckily, they won’t listen to anybody else, either. The Democrats, on the other hand, will listen to you. Unfortunately, they’re going to listen to everybody else, too.

This was a practice laugh line, good for a giggle and a few nods of recognition, one he’d used on the stump many times. His was one of the few swing districts in the state, and it had nearly been gerrymandered out of existence after the last census. The area was shrinking, aging, everybody had moved south and something had to give. Only a little quick thinking and concessions and promises of future considerations had saved Mario’s seat. Others in the House couldn’t understand exactly: they were protected. Every day was not about fundraising. Maybe every other day.

Mario wandered into the courtyard. Robin tickled the high stone walls with the edge of her viewfinder, searching for balance between earth and wood and sky. She knelt in the aperture between rows of planted grapes, catching the rhythm of the planters with a sweep of her lens. With a flick she flattered the faux-medieval architecture of the wine house, jumped up to resemble a tired Italian castle, and graced the antiseptic patio furniture and the half-empty carafes with the gift of afternoon light. The sun peeked through the holes in the wicker mesh of the chairs. Mario plopped down and admired his exciting new girlfriend. It was a kind of prayer, what she was up to: highlighting the touches of magic amidst a great field of nondescript blah, calling the eye’s attention to the significators of promise. You and yours could have a wonderful afternoon here. This is the life you deserve to lead: this luxury, this slow, easy slide into Roman decadence. It was bullshit, of course, beautiful bullshit; prayer was bullshit and bullshit was prayer.

After the shoot they’d wandered into the hills as the sun set. They sat down right on the brown earth and were quiet for awhile. Affectionately Mario stuck a hand up her skirt. Robin moved accordingly.

Later she draped her leg over his and lolled her head back onto his shoulder. Her shoes were off now. It was a big improvement.

“I loved the way you schooled the Swann. On politics. When he was talking nonsense. Put him right in his place.”

“And what place do you suppose that is.”

“I don’t know. Where do you go when you don’t know what you’re talking about?” Her kindergarten teacher, she said, used to put kids in the dummy corner for speaking out of turn.

Aw, mumbled Mario, we were just shooting the breeze. But what about you, he asked, you disagree with what Mr. Swann was saying, huh.

“I just agree with you,” said Robin. “With whatever you say.”

“Oh, I don’t know if it’s such a good idea to agree with whatever I say.”

“Well, you obviously know what you’re talking about. And he just as obviously doesn’t. It’s just there, in the way you both hold yourselves. One is the teacher and one is the taught.”

“I’d be more grateful to Swann if I were you.”

“Heck no. No really, why?”

Mario told her. He’d gotten along so well with Mister Swann that he’d coaxed a referral out of him. Next week Robin would be shooting at the biggest and most glorious winery in Yountville and a main supplier to the French Laundry. They needed a photographer to capture the luster of their stacked-up bottles and Robin was it. He’d been right there when Swann made the call. You’re kidding she said. You’re not kidding. Amazing! You’re amazing! My gosh, who are you? You’re like my agent. Half agent half angel that’s just what you are.

Over the hills, the sun dropped the last few inches like a stone. Mario heard it clink somewhere on the floor of America. Well, that’s it, this is the far left side of the country. Show’s over. No more light until tomorrow. Nothing to do now but return to the rental and let the next day go fluttering by.

Was he forming new memories though? Was this the adventure he’d been after? Or were these idyllic days in Napa making no more permanent marks on his life than his years in D.C. did? It was hard for him to know. Check in later, leave a note with the receptionist, he’d have an answer for the lobbyists soon. It was a simple up-or-down vote but it could be tabled until the committee collected more data. At the house he discovered that another one of his arrangements had paid off. Nine grand richer and quite guilty, Mario took a bicycle ride through the hills. At the first big incline he gave up and turned around. Could not ram it up there. He didn’t have the thigh power he once did.

But even this — even this failure of his skeletomuscular engine to engage — should be indelible. The colors were brighter, the days richer, the time spent with Robin: all of that ought to stick like gum to his cerebellum. So why did Mario keep returning to the same image today? Eight years old, on a filthy rug, each thread counted as an individual fact in his memory, in the cold den of a small house on the ugly edge of a third-rate Midwestern city, the television snowy and the antennas held together with tinfoil, a few boardgames on a pine shelf stained black, Clue, Monopoly, Obsession, Othello, a history text by a man named Muzzey leaning against a cracked bookend in the shape of a chess knight. TV tuned in to the Christian broadcasting channel and a priest intoning a sermon on the resurrection, and the incorruptibility of the body, and the bread of Christ, and the blood of Christ, and the goblet of wine that he swished around and drained, and young Mario, kneeling on the rug, listening but not listening, running over a plastic miniature space alien with a toy truck.

Robin put the phone face down on the carved oak table. She’d been talking while he was gone; he heard her from the street. If Mario had been a man who got annoyed with others, rather than one who curved and swayed and bobbed in time with the changes of people around him like a twig in a stream, he might have said that in the week since the visit to Mr. Swann, Robin had gotten annoying. Instead, he merely found her a tad disappointing. This was a big job, far bigger than she’d ever done before — for the first time, she’d have a team of production assistants working under her — and she was determined to let everyone know. A note of imperiousness had wafted into her speech. She was a photographer going places. With luck and Mario’s assistance, she could parlay this shoot into a series of high-profile gigs, maybe even some in San Francisco. He had to admit he preferred the version of Robin that had no apparent ambition. But she’d been playing a role. He was in no position to complain about that.

One thing he really disliked: she’d been referring to him, and quite often, as her guardian angel. Angels, he knew, were not sexy. Mario could already feel Robin sliding him over to an avuncular position in her taxonomy of affections. And here she was doing it again, as he drove her to the vineyard on another spectacular day in Northern California. So excited! Couldn’t have done this without my guardian angel looking out for me.

“I don’t know if I’d really call myself an angel,” said Mario. The smell of the redwood groves blanketed the highway. He grimaced as he turned the wheel.

“I would. And I will.”

Mario looked down at her feet. Robin had split the difference between flats and ugly boots. They’d gone to every shoe store from Napa to Calistoga in search of the perfect pair, and found them: soles thick enough for outdoor work, but still stylish with a nice chunky heel — a bug-squashing heel.

“I just mean you don’t really know anything about me. About my past. Who I was in the many years I spent on earth before I came to California.”

“Ooh man of mystery. You want to share something?”

“I just think it’s funny. It’s been three weeks now. More than three weeks. I just think your incuriousness is noteworthy, that’s all.”

“Well. Are you a serial killer?”

“What if I was?”

“Okay, you’re scaring me now. I’d jump out of the car.”

“We’re going fifty miles an hour.”

“I’d damn well still jump out of the car. Somebody would come along and splint my broken bones.”

“Well you can relax. I’m probably the most nonviolent person you’ve ever met.”

“I believe that. You’re a very gentle lay.”

Again he didn’t like her tone. I mean what was she implying here?: too gentle? Not rough enough for her money? God he’d always hated that brutal stuff, those whips and chains and fifty shades of who knows what. Mario gave her an eyebrow. I’m just saying, she continued, that you don’t have to treat me like I’m made of glass. I can take it. Well excuse me, thought Mario, now thoroughly offended, I was under the impression that you enjoyed sex with me. Now it was Robin’s turn to act miffed. She crossed her legs and glared. Of course I enjoy it. I don’t do things that I don’t want to do Mario, what do you take me for. Then silence in the little car; silence as it sped past the terraced hillsides, and the red barns, and the orange hills nearly stripped of trees.

It’s not untrue, he thought as he drove, he was nonviolent, and maybe to a fault. He’d never backed a war, or voted for an invasion, even when jingoism was running high in his district, even when the whips had called and the President had called and the Governor warned that he’d look unpatriotic and lose his seat. Not when opportunities for military graft had dollar signs popping out of the eyeballs of his colleagues. Let somebody else spill the blood — it wasn’t going to be him. He didn’t want to fight, not for principles or for anything else. Politics, for him, had been about greasing the gears and pressing the flesh and making people happy. Spreading the love around. A little for you, a little for me, a little more for Peter and Paul and maybe even Mary, and then a little more for me for my troubles. Favors traded and secrets shared and corners cut: who was he to stand in the way of American tradition.

He thought back to the first rallies when he was fresh out of college and a comer — not as sharp in his memory as those scenes of teenage transgression, but certainly in there somewhere, faded at the corners, somewhat painful to revisit. The balloon drops and the confetti and the happy faces, and most of all Mario himself, happy they were happy, determined to keep them happy, radiating love and asking only for love back. Money, sure, if it represents friendship and esteem and strengthens the social bond. And what an idiot system we have devised!, how foolish we are to entrust leadership to the victors of popularity contests, a horrid guarantee that we will be governed, in perpetuity, by those wankers who crave approval and adventure. Wankers like me, Mario, disgraced Congressman on the loose, criminal by incipient conviction, waiting in the Napa hills for the other shoe to drop.

The winery was nothing like Mario expected it to be. It looked more like a movie set than a vineyard. Light kits fed into large laptops with video and photo editing capabilities. Tall slats of redwood reached up to a glorious gabled ceiling. A team of sparky young assistants worked the keyboards, fluffed up the displays, and checked their social network feeds on the screens. The main room was lined to the ceiling with redwood shelves, each one carrying wines, single-file, elegantly backlit with the hint of a candlelight flicker. In the middle of the floor, poised for Robin’s camera, stood a great tower of bottles, positioned to catch the warm gleam of the noon sun as it traversed the skylights. Robin had to capture this abundance, this torrent of wine, wine, vino, pouring straight from the grape to the tank to the palate of the discriminating consumer, here in this nascent stage, this in-between realm of the winery, a nursery of experience, exclusive to the Napa hills. She readied her camera and pointed.

“Hey, who’s the old Marin hippie?”

Mario looked around for a few seconds before he realized the production assistant was lobbing the question in his direction. He was the offensive party. He’d let his beard and hair grow and dispensed with the suit as part of his disguise, but perhaps it really had become him. An eager girl with a clipboard and an apologetic look hustled up to him. Did he have a laminate? Well, no, no he didn’t, he was just here to accompany the photographer, see, it was actually he who… well, never mind. Sorry sir, but without a laminate you are not allowed on the shooting set. You’re free to wait in the tasting area or stroll the grounds until we’re all done in here. Shouldn’t be long. This photographer, she’s a pro.

He began to protest. He could feel the sweet talk welling up in the back of his throat like a hairball. She was just a kid, she’d be an easy mark for his charm even if he did look unkempt. But then Mario realized: this was for keeps now. He was no longer the Congressman, the VIP who commanded the room. He was a shlub like any other. He’d never had any illusions about the love he’d gotten — he knew it was the office and its powers that the people blew kisses at. He believed he was the possessor of genuine personal magnetism. It stung, he had to admit it, that the only thing that distinguished him now was his money. Mario reached for his fat wallet, thought better of it, and turned toward the door.

But then he saw something. A news bumper on the bottom of one of the laptop screens. White letters on a red field: POLITICAL CORRUPTION EXPOSED, all in heavy caps. Blood drained from his hands and feet. It was about Mario, and it was about to be broadcast; he’d be told on, called out, stripped naked. He knew: at all costs he needed to interpose himself between that screen and Robin’s eyes. Swerve, shimmy, drop the shoulder, slide over into the blank space and squat, do whatever he could do to make himself an obstacle to revelation.

Once Mario was on the move, and there was no good way for him to stop, he had five realizations in quick succession. These came to him in a fraction of a sliver of a moment, so fast that they would have been impossible to articulate in real time, but there they were in full, right in the middle of his head as if they’d been dropped there from a great height by a crane. First Mario understood that the bumper on the news screen did not in fact have anything to do with him — that the picture that accompanied the banner was of a man who didn’t even look like him; who was not even an American. Mario cursed his impulsiveness. There were lots of corrupt politicians around. He was not so original.

His next realization was re: resurrection, the theology thereof. What he’d been missing all along was a more subtle reading of Thessalonians which allowed for two separate resurrections. The first, overseen by Jesus himself, would elevate the righteous and merciful to the presence of the master. Then would come the resurrection of the condemned. Not until the bugle blew, so to speak, and the big guy came in glory, would the dead person understand which way he was going. Mario’s condition, then, was very much like that of the afterlife — not eternity, which would begin with resurrection in the flesh, but that peculiar limbo that would come while waiting, snug in the comfort of the grave, for judgment to arrive. Or at least that was his understanding of an admittedly knotty question in the split second after his understanding that he was not in fact the man in the news segment.

His third realization concerned his foot. Which was not, as he’d expected, flat on the stone floor of the winery. It had instead landed atop a bottle, forced it over, and balanced for a second on its curved side. Then it slipped. Mario’s knee and elbow crashed into the great stack of wine bottles, cutting their supports and sending them tumbling to the stone, where they shattered, first one and then five and then ten and then too many to count, each one cracking and spewing contents as effortlessly as a broken egg weeks after Easter, splashing fluid all over the walls, and the floors, and the light kits, and the broad laptop screens, and the hesitant young woman who’d asked him for a laminate and whose dress was suddenly purple indeed. And then there were the glass shards, bouncing and glittering across the floor, tickling the legs of the production assistants and of Mario himself, for it was hot and he was wearing shorts that day.

The fourth realization was more a matter of physics than cognition. As the initial bottle rolled forward, Mario flew backward. He became a bulbous man-shaped projectile, a captive to kinetic energy, thrown off his heels and into the shelves of wine on the back wall. His middle-aged rear end, which had grown flat and pillowlike after years of committee work, struck the nearest shelf with a thwack and knocked it at an angle. One by one, like survivors deplaning on the inflatable chute with which all passenger jet aircraft are equipped, the bottles plunged from the tilted shelf to the stone floor, each one smashing in the wet footprint of the one before it. Then it was the topmost shelves teetering from the reverberations, and from Mario’s flailing limbs, and bottles falling, and people shouting, and hands flung over eyes against the glass fragments, and Mario with his ass on the floor in a puddle.

Then, finally, before all the lights went out, Mario looked up to see Robin, fingers and ten red lacquered nails covering her mouth, eyes wide, camera dangling from a strap around her wrist. He couldn’t quite read the expression in her eyes. He thought he had an inkling, a flash of empathy common to politicians in a crisis, and he was about to riddle it through and it was very important that he did. And he might have gotten it too, if a bottle had not shook loose from the highest shelf, dropped straight and sure and vicious, and, with a gavel bang, thwacked Mario right in the middle of his broad forehead.

– Tris McCall

Pick our next destination:


Pick our next destination:

Ann Arbor, Michigan: “Hopscotch Otters Collegetown Blues”
Atlanta, Georgia: “King of Pops”
Austin, Texas: “Chelsea”
Baltimore, Maryland: “(That’s What I Like About) Baltimore
Billings, Montana: “Tight Times (In the Land of Silence)”
Cambridge, Massachusetts: “You Could Meet Me There”
Camden, Maine: “I Dream Dead Ends”
Charlestown, South Carolina: “He Eats Well”
Chicago, Illinois: “Gurleez”
Columbus, Ohio: “O Columbus”
Dearborn, Michigan: “Unbeliever, Respect the Veil”
Denver, Colorado: “Conspiracy Theory
Houston, Texas: “Houston Calls the Space Cadet
Indianapolis, Indiana: “A Girl With a Bicycle”
Jersey City, New Jersey: “Paul Simon, I Had to Ask”
Las Vegas, Nevada: “All the Money in the World”
Los Angeles, California: “You Needn’t Be So Mean, Baby”
Miami Beach, Florida: “Every Day is Children’s Day”
Monticello, New York: “Sector B”
Nashville, Tennessee: “You’re No Good to Anyone”
New Orleans, Louisiana: “The Unmapped Man”
New York, New York: “The Prince of Daylight
Northampton, Massachusetts: “The Blue Door”
Orlando, Florida: “Nowhere to Go But Down”
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania: “Backstage @ The Hungry Bum”
Phoenix, Arizona: “On Indian School”
Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania: “Kate Beaton
Portland, Oregon: “Turbulence at Night”
Raleigh, North Carolina: “I Like America”
Richmond, Virginia: “American Flag”
San Diego, California: “Route 52
San Francisco, California: “Joe Panik”
San Juan, Puerto Rico: “The Tantrum”
Seattle, Washington: “Take Me to the Waterfall
Washington, D.C.: “You Used to Sing About Manhattan”
Wilmington, North Carolina: “Somewhere Down the Line”
Yountville, California: “The Sybarite”