Lee Pitts: Umbrellas and long necks (Best of)
April 29, 2011
Back in the days when there were a lot more snakes people drank their whiskey straight. It used to be a test of manhood to take your “snake bite medicine” without water. Now days that test of manhood has been reduced to one’s knowledge of a wine list or multicolored beer bottles from foreign lands.
My buddy Del Monte (we called him that because his first name was Del and he mostly ate out of cans) never was one to look at life through the long neck of a bottle. He just never cared for the stuff or what it did. It had been Del’s experience that liquor made a person see double and act single, and that was a bad combination for a happily married man. Oh, Del had chased his water with whiskey on occasion on some rough country outfits in the past but that was because the water was so bad. In his waning years he pretty much stuck to coffee so thick you could cut it with a fork.
Del owned a one section ranch he had pieced together that was rapidly being overtaken by a nearby city. And as anybody who ever chased a cow realizes, a city is no place for a cowpoke. So Del had decided to sell.
He’d been invited by a big “money man” to dinner to discuss the possible sale of the ranch and Del invited me along for moral support. It was one of those restaurants where you must wear a coat, there are no prices on the menu, you are given a choice of forks, and there is no place to hang your hat. And Del never liked to be too far from his hat because it made him feel like a horse after his mane was roached.
The money man had invited an entourage and they were enjoying before-dinner-drinks in the bar when we arrived. Mostly they were exotic frosted drinks with umbrellas in them. When asked what he’d like Del didn’t quite know how to respond. He vaguely remembered a libation he rather enjoyed at his niece’s wedding and he thought it was called a “grasshopper.” So that’s what he ordered… a grasshopper. But when the bartender brought the drink Del took a sip and proceeded to turn green.
“Something wrong?” asked the bar keep.
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“That drink would make a muley cow grow horns. It’s not what I ordered.”
I assured Del that it was, and everyone else agreed. “Well,” said Del, “that may have been what I ordered but it was not what I wanted.”
Who could argue with that logic? And so we settled down to dinner. Del was hungry enough to eat a saddle blanket but he barely touched the first of five courses, gas-pacho or something like that. Basically, it was cold soup that tasted like it had been strained through dirty socks. Del ordered his steak well done but the restaurant was so busy they didn’t have time to cook anything past rare. Del made the comment that he’d seen calves scorched worse than that at branding time.
Mr. Money Man had asked for a wine list and with big fanfare he ordered a bottle. Then he asked an associate to do the tasting. Del watched in amazement as the associate examined the cork, smelled the wine, held it up to the light and then tasted it, oh, so delicately before approving it “fit” for the rest of us.
Del ordered coffee but he got one of those cafe latte deals that was topped with calf slobber. The evening came to a close none too soon and on the way back home in the car I asked Del his impression of the evening.
“Sorriest grub I ever flopped my lip over. I’ve eaten crumbs in a line shack that tasted better. I’ll tell you one thing,” said Dell, “I’m not going to sell that man my ranch.”
“Why not?” I asked in disbelief.
Del replied, “Any man who has to carry along someone to test his wine for poison before he drinks it has obviously made somebody very mad in the past. I don’t trust him.”