It is the beginning of another month and thus time for another installment of the Ohmygod saga (the previous installments: Part One, Part Two, Part Three, Part Four, Part Five, and Part Five ‘B’, Part Six, Part Seven or you can check them out in the menu up top). As you will recall, I used to be a cycling tour guide in Europe for several years. Through that job (yes, it is a bit difficult to call it a ‘job’) I met countless interesting people and have a few compelling stories to tell, but most of them pale to the story of Ohmygod, one of the clients that I had for two weeks. Some may wonder about the moniker, but the name chose itself really; it is what I uttered repeatedly during just about every interaction with him.
In the previous installment, we were at our hotel in Chenonceaux, where we had just finished up a pre-dinner drink and were getting ready to move into the dining room for dinner.
We transitioned over to the hotel’s dining room where I am normally a bit apprehensive—the room is set up as a classic dining room: white linen, real china, real silver. Say what you want about the French, but they really know how to do classic dining. One may disagree with its place in “modern” cuisine, but few can argue the influence that France has had. And they have it down pat.
I am always nervous bringing a group of Americans into a room like this since they often treat it like the bar at a TGIF—they ramble in and tend to be rather loud, no subtlety whatsoever.
Tonight was different, however. Ohmygod. No sooner was I contemplating checking on him, than I notice that every head in the place was looking at our group—specifically the tail end. I turned slowly to look at Ohmygod. I imagined that I would see him sprawled out on the floor, having tripped. Or perhaps he had veered off in another direction and had collided with the cheese and/or dessert cart. Maybe he pilfered all or part of somebody’s dinner and was eating it en route.
None of the above.
In fact, there was no evidence of Ohmygod having done anything remotely worthy of scorn other than having his perpetual dopey look on his face—one that makes you think that he did not have a single tooth in his head and he recently had a lobotomy. (As far as I could tell, he still had most of his teeth, which was surprising given his aversion to personal hygiene. As for the lobotomy, all bets are off). No, at first glance there was no indication that anything absurd had happened. I looked around the room, actually ready to come to Ohmygod’s defense or at least urge the other diners to wait until he started eating to be horrified.
Then I took a second glance.
Perhaps over the last few days I had become anesthetized, not realizing the spectacle that was Ohmygod: He was wearing black lycra cycling shorts and a bright yellow cycling jersey that was two sizes too small (or his gut was two sizes too big), and had what I assumed to be food stains from countless meals down the front. His mostly gray, beyond shoulder length hair was newly washed (my requirement for the evening), which, depending on your perspective, looked either like a bad Elton John wig from the 80’s or the result of a mishap with an electrical outlet. His cycling shoes were making an audible “click” as he moseyed across the floor, and I was pretty sure he was humming the Canadian National Anthem (but that could have just been my mind groggily waking up from the anesthesia).
Most citizens of the free world would be horrified.
The rest of the evening was going to be trying—I feel like part of my job is to be a cultural liaison of sorts, bridging the gaps between American and European culture. Most of the work is with the clients, but some is also with the innkeepers and restaurateurs that we come across. Usually these “cultural conversations” end up in a laugh and another glass of wine.
Tonight, with Ohmygod, I decided on a different tack.
I also decided to drink many, many glasses of wine. Even if I got sloppy drunk, all the attention would be on Ohmygod, so I basically had a get out of jail free card for the night. Besides, the restaurant has one of the best Loire Valley wine lists I’ve ever seen, the wines are fantastic, and they are pretty darn cheap.
Even though there were only four of us and there was no real way to escape any contact with Ohmygod at the table, clearly the least desirable position was the seat adjacent to him. The fear was real: Given his inability to keep food off his own clothing, there was a legitimate possibility of ancillary damage. At any point, shrapnel could be heading your way. He also usually reeked like a middle school locker room (although that was hopefully mitigated by his first shower of the fortnight) and perpetually ate with his mouth agape, creating sounds that few have heard away from a farm.
It was clear that my relatively modest “bank” of good karma had long been spent and I was clearly staring at a rather significant negative balance: Right before dinner, the three of us performed a quick game of roshambo to see who got to ride out the meal “shotgun” to Ohmygod.
I lost, much to the delight of Grumpy and Mr. Personality.
My only option was to take the evening in stages since thinking about the entire 2-3 hour ordeal in its entirety would probably cause me to pass out or break down crying. First, I needed to get through the apéritif.
I decided to start with a sparkling wine from Vouvray (just a few kilometers away and a town we would ride through the next day) since everyone likes sparkling wine and I thought I could convince Ohmygod that it was the region’s equivalent of beer. I also felt we should toast the last night that the company was to stay at the hotel—I figured there was no way in hell that we were going to be allowed back.
I don’t know if I was ever happier to see a bottle of wine in my life. I was done praying and well beyond hoping for the best, it was time to get down to some serious drinking in order to produce a numbing effect as quickly as possible. Granted, nothing yet had happened, but there was a certain “calm before the storm” feeling permeating the environs. I also could feel all of the eyes in the room hopelessly drawn to the train wreck that was seated immediately to my left.
Sophie presented the bottle of one of my favorite producers, the Cave des Producteurs de Vouvray. They are certainly not the best producer in Vouvray, but I have been taking people to their tasting room for years and they always take very good care of me. After she finished pouring the wine, I started to explain to the others a bit about the winery (it’s a co-op) and that if they were interested, I could set up a tasting the following day. Both Grumpy and Mr. Personality genuinely seemed interested with what I had to say, but no sooner were the last words out of my mouth and I was reaching for my flute that their attention quickly turned to Ohmygod. In one rather fluid (almost graceful) motion that repudiated (temporarily) his general ethos, he downed the contents of the flute in one gulp while simultaneously reaching for the bottle that was resting peacefully in the ice bucket next to the table (why Sophie placed the wine in a precarious ice bucket stand anywhere near the human catastrophe is mind-blowing).
As the last drop of the fine nectar went tumbling into his cavernous gullet, he quickly returned the glass to the table as if it were a shot of whiskey and he was now ready for a gunfight. Then, now holding the bottle as if it were a live chicken headed to slaughter, he quickly attempted to refill his glass.
Not surprisingly, he did not seem to anticipate either the effects of his brusque treatment of the bottle or the shape and volume of the miniscule flute. As he poured, the wine quickly began to froth and then bubble over. His dumbfounded look told me that he had rarely, if ever, poured even a beer into a glass. After losing most of the remaining contents to the formerly pristine white tablecloth, he snapped out of his trance and just as quickly tried to return the bottle to the ice bucket.
The bottom of the bottle caught the edge of the bucket, and the force of the thrust knocked the pedestal style ice bucket off-balance and slowly falling toward the floor. Once again, Ohmygod just stared, making no attempt to mitigate the damage. Grumpy, however, jumped to action, trying to prevent the bucket from crashing to the floor. Unfortunately, Grumpy is neither very coördinated nor svelte: As he rose, his considerable belly made contact with the table. Frozen for the briefest of moments as he tried to stabilize the table, the bucket spilled all over the floor. Dejected, Grumpy quickly returned to his seat.
On his way back to the chair, he made contact with the table again, this time with a much greater impact. All four glasses (three of them still full) teetered and then fell. Mine landed in my lap. My khaki pants lap.
Sophie quickly made her way over with three others and they cleared the table and tablecloth, righted the ice bucket, swept up the ice, and reset the table in a matter of seconds. It was very impressive.
I looked over at Ohmygod, attempting to see any signs of remorse.
Instead, he took the bottle, which had never left his hand, held it up to eye level, surveyed the amount of wine that remained, and proceeded to drink it.
From the bottle.