Category:Not wine related

Louie Canelakes, 1955-2013

Louie Canelakes, 1955-2013I’ve met bankers and ballplayers, business and political types, and even a few reasonably well-known actors and musicians over the course of my writing career. But none of them were larger than life the way Louie Canelakes was larger than life.

Louie died over the weekend, news that was as unexpected as it was unbelievable. Institutions don’t die; they last forever, and they give the rest of us the strength and the wherewithal to get through the day. Once, when I was enduring about as rough a patch as someone like me can go through, one of the things that kept me going each week was that if I made it to Friday, I could drink beer at Louie’s. Most of the time, that worked.

Louie ran a bar in Dallas (called Louie’s, of course), which doesn’t sound like much. But in this town, most of which was dry in one form or another until a couple of years ago, that speaks volumes. And that he did it for almost 30 years is even more telling, given that Dallas churns out bars, restaurants, and clubs the way teenage girls get band crushes.

Louie had one rule — if you had the money to drink at his bar, you could drink at his bar. Otherwise, he didn’t care who you were. It was a neighborhood place, but the neighborhood was all encompassing. The rich drank there (the mother of Cowboys owner Jerry Jones, who came in her limo, was at the bar next to me one night), as did assorted newspapermen and TV reporters, and even the powerful and famous, including former Dallas mayor Laura Miller.

One of Louie’s customers was one of the most despicable human beings I’ve ever known, the kind of guy who gets into trouble with people who hurt other people for a living. One day, a couple of leg breakers showed up looking for the guy, and Louie sent them away. I asked him about it, knowing that Louie didn’t much like the guy, either. “Siegel,” he said, because he called everyone by their last name in that Midwestern high school way he had, “he’s my customer. You tell me what I’m supposed to do.”

Louie and I didn’t meet until we got to Dallas, but the joke was that we had grown up together. He was from Waukegan, north of Chicago, and I’m from nearby Deerfield. We were in high school at about the same time, and my mom worked for the Waukegan school district and ate at his father’s Waukegan restaurant. That meant we shared an affliction for the Chicago Cubs and saw politics as a spectator sport, which gave us plenty of giggles in Dallas.

Louie is the only person I’ve ever lost a cheap wine argument to, which should tell you everything you need to know about how much he loved to argue and how he ran the business. Louie’s, for all its strengths — some of the best food in Dallas, bar or no, and easily the best-made drinks in town — serves crappy wine. Once, when I was feeling adventurous or stupid or both, because Louie was famous for ignoring customer advice, I offered to help re-do the list so he could serve better — but still cheap — wine. “Siegel,” he said, and I can hear him growling at me as I write this, “why would I want to to do that? What I’m doing is working. Why should I change?”

I am not a sentimental man, and rarely nostalgic. But I can’t imagine Dallas without Louie, and I don’t want to. So I’ll play this, and see if I can find an Old Style or two, and remember. Because people still live on earth in the acts of goodness they performed, and Louie performed enough to put the rest of us to shame.

Windows 8 is like a bottle of crappy wine

The Wine Curmudgeon, proving just how fallible he really is, left his computer at home last week during a media tour of the Texas Hill Country. This meant I had to make do with periodic access to a computer, and one of them ran Windows 8.

Is there any way to be polite about this? Nope. Windows 8 is not only bad, but worse than Vista, Millennium, and Windows 98. And I didn ?t think anything could be worse than Windows 98. Windows 8 is not only counter-intuitive, even for those of us who are kind of geeky, but slow and crash-y.

Think of Windows 8 as an overpriced bottle of wine that is not only corked, but oxidized. And did I mention that it ?s overpriced?

Roger Ebert, 1942-2013

?You have to realize you’re not writing for the filmmakers, you’re writing for the potential film audience. And I would much rather hurt somebody’s feelings who made the picture then send somebody to see a movie and spend two hours of their life seeing a movie that I don’t think is worth seeing. ?

                                                                     — Roger Ebert

What better credo could a critic ? any kind of critic ? live by? Would that more wine writers kept it in mind.

I never met Ebert, though he did decline to write the introduction for my book about the movie ?Casablanca, ? written for its 50th anniversary. My editor, who knew him a little, thought she could talk him into it, but without success.

I did, however, have a great moment with Gene Siskel, who was Ebert ?s original co-host on their TV movie review show. I was a 17-year-old phone clerk in the sports department at a newspaper in suburban Chicago in 1975. One evening, I answered the phone, expecting to talk to a high school basketball coach.

?Is Temple Pouncey there Pouncey was one of the writers, and was hosting a party that was legendary at the paper.

?No, he ?s not. Can I take a message

?Yes, this is Gene Siskel, Can you tell him that I ?m coming to the party

I almost dropped the phone. Siskel was the film critic at the Chicago Tribune, and this particular 17-year-old phone clerk wanted nothing more than to one day work for a big city newspaper like the Tribune. I idolized reporters the way others did rock stars.

?Yes sir, Mr. Siskel. I ?ll give him the message. ?

?OK. Now, that ?s Gene Siskel, ? and then he spelled his name for me, ?S-I-S-K-E-L. ?

Which is another lesson wine writers should learn ? no matter how famous you think you are, you probably aren ?t. Humility never goes out of style.

A sip of dandelion wine

Anyone who grew up in the Midwest and cared about books and reading always had Ray Bradbury. He didn ?t seem all that different from us ? a Chicago-area boy whose books were full of awkward characters who always seemed out of place, and whose places were somehow both familiar and strange. How many 16-year-olds know how that feels?

Bradbury died Tuesday at the age of 91, and if it seems odd to write about him on a wine blog, then it ?s no odder than the fireman who started fires in ?Fahrenheit 451 ? or the colonists from Earth who made over Mars in their own horribly flawed image in ?The Martian Chronicles. ? And ?Dandelion Wine ? was his autobiographical novel, set in a fictionalized version of Waukegan, Ill., about a half hour from where I grew up and where my mom worked for the school district.

There ?s a scene at the end of Fahrenheit, something that ?s stuck with me for more than 30 years. The outcasts who took in the fireman return to the society that shunned them after a nuclear attack. ?They ?ll need us now, ? says their leader, and he says it not with revenge, but with grace and redemption and forgiveness. Such is the power of books.

So a glass held high tonight for Ray Bradbury, and let ?s all have a sip of dandelion wine.

So long, Ron Santo

The great Louie Canelakas, a very wise man, said that being a Chicago Cubs fan prepares one for life. Life, ultimately, no matter how successful, is about disappointment, and those of us who follow the Cubs — a team that has not really won anything for more than a century — know disappointment all too well.

Ron Santo, who played third base for the Cubs in the 1960s and early 1970s, embodied that ethos. He was a great player on great teams that never won anything; and, to add insult to injury, was regularly voted down for the Baseball Hall of Fame. Santo died yesterday, and his passing is worth noting here — not just because I'm a Cubs fan, but because Santo stood for everything that matters. He worked hard and he kept trying, even though he was repeatedly disappointed. What better approach is there to life?

Enjoy this effort from YouTube, courtesy of TerminalShockRecords, featuring Santo and several of his teammates from the 1969 Cubs.

Say goodbye to Gourmet

I'm in there, with Charlie Trotter and banana desserts, in the March 1997 issue. The Wine Curmudgeon has always enjoyed Gourmet magazine, and not just because it had good recipes. One of the most pleasant experiences I have had in my 20-some years of freelancing came when I sold a story to the magazine: The Not so Thin Man: Food and the Detective Novel. (The link is a bit iffy ? my Web site is having technical problems.)

I mention this not to plug myself; the story is 10 years old. I mention it to wish the magazine a fond farewell. Its publisher, Conde Nast, announced today that it ?s closing the book after 69 years, a victim of the recession that is gutting print media.

Freelancers always — and I mean always ? complain about editors, the editing process and anything that has to do with getting a story in print. To hear us tell it, there are three evils in the world, and magazine editors are first and second. I ?m as bad as anyone, and I ?ve got the whining to prove it.

But that didn ?t happen with Gourmet. It paid promptly, and if the story got held for six months, at least the editors kept me apprised of what was going on. Most importantly, it ?s a better story for the editing process. Few writers like to admit that editing can improve their work, because we ?re perfect and our prose is untouchable. But the Gourmet editors were tops, using a sure hand and good sense. It was a fine story when I wrote it, and it is a great story now.

So long, Gourmet. You will be missed.

Technorati Tags: