In between gigs, in between boyfriends, in between cities, in between days, I just like to write.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Never Travel Without a Corkscrew: a Twisted Story of Triumph

Sometimes, it’s just nice to have a glass of wine after a hard day. In fact, sometimes it’s just nice to have a glass of wine, period. But today was, well, kind of screwed up.
I’m away from home on business for three weeks, and I haven’t quite settled into my temporary quarters just yet - a small apartment on the upper floor of an elderly couple’s house. It’s in a nice neighborhood a bit far away from the city center, but a bus stops right in front of the house, as well as right in front of the theater where I’m working at the moment. The problem is, the regular buses in this small town stop running at 9pm, and my rehearsals go until 10pm. There is a so-called “night bus” which leaves at 10:30 from a stop a five-minute walk away from the theater, taking me to a bus stop which is about a five-minute walk away from the house. So, all in all, I get back to my makeshift home shortly before 11pm.
Upon arriving in town, I had managed to pick up a few things at the grocery store just to get me through the first day and breakfast the next. I’ve had enough experience with these temporary lodgings to know that they are not always furnished with all the “amenities.” We take for granted the existence of things like toasters, colanders, can openers or dish soap, never giving them a second thought until we’re ready to make some toast, pasta or soup and clean up afterwards. With this in mind, I refrained from buying any bread that needs to be toasted, and chose only canned food with pull-tabs; I bought a few cups of yogurt, some fresh fruit, some cheese and a bottle of wine, because I knew it was going to be one of those days.
After my first day on the job was done, I took the night bus to my new home, and, having walked in the wrong direction for about five minutes, at 11pm I finally trudged up the stairs. It hadn’t been an especially bad day, but I still wasn’t in the best of moods. I recently said goodbye to a budding love interest, life is confusing in general, and despite my current work, new contracts aren’t exactly pouring in. Speaking of pouring, I had not had any alcohol to speak of for the past week, so I was really ready to kick back and have a glass of that wine I’d purchased earlier before hitting the sack.
I panicked for a moment, because I realized I hadn’t packed my trusty corkscrew like I had last time. But never fear, there was a corkscrew here! What a relief, I thought, because lack of corkscrew would’ve increased the suck factor of this day by at least three points.
Oh, but I had no idea...
This “corkscrew” turned out to be a decent bottle opener with some spirally piece of metal attached to it. I inserted the screw into the cork, which was in fact one of those synthetic corks that would prove to be quite the menace on this already taxing evening. I pulled and pulled and pulled with all my might, but getting this piece of rubber out of the bottle by sheer force turned out to be an impossible feat. I had to get creative and think of some other way to reap my fermented reward.
As with many new-fangled kitchen devices and life itself, one only needs to know the secret trick and then everything becomes so simple. So I thought, maybe this is one of those corkscrews like the kind where you just need to keep twisting, and the cork comes out like butter. Not so. While attempting the twisty principle, I ended up breaking the metal spiral off of its plastic housing. Great. Now, not only had I already broken a teacup this morning that doesn’t belong to me, but I’ve also ruined their lame excuse for a corkscrew.
What to do, what to do?
I would have tried just punching the cork down into the bottle, but my host family was quietly slumbering in the house below, so I didn’t want to make a ruckus - it was after 11pm, mind you. Besides, if I had punched the cork down into the bottle, I couldn’t have sealed it up afterwards (and this would be necessary because...??).
The metal spiral stuck in the cork fortunately had a loop on the end, so I started thinking of ways I might be able to thread something through it to pull it out, much like they used to pull out teeth in the olden days - tie a string to your tooth, tie the other end of it to a door, then slam the door. But I was unable to find anything string-like to thread through the loop, nor did I want to slam a door, so I tried my keychain -- a somewhat large, heavy duty keychain that I could get a good grip on. I once again pulled with all my might.  Nothing happened.
At this point, I’m half laughing at myself and half crying. Damn it if I’m going to let the simple lack of a utensil get in my way of winding down!
Then the principle of leverage occurred to me (which is how a decent “sommelier knife” or “waiter’s friend” corkscrew works in the first place). A-ha! If I just find a straight object to put through the loop, leveraging it against the mouth of the bottle, then the cork will certainly give way.
Searching the drawers, I managed to find a sturdy plastic chopstick. It snapped like a toothpick when I tried to pry the cork out of the bottle, and I ended up toppling forward, catching my weight with my hand - precisely in the spot where the broken piece of plastic had landed before. So now I’d broken a tea cup, a corkscrew and a chopstick, and the palm of my hand was slightly punctured.
Like the monkeys at the monolith in the beginning of Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey, I slapped the bottle out of pure frustration, and it was all I could do not to shriek “Eee!!  Eee!! Eee!! Ooo!! Ooo!! Aaaa!!!” But again, I didn’t want to wake the elderly couple sleeping downstairs.
I started snooping through their closets for something that I might pry this damn bottle open with. Amongst tennis racquets, ice skates, baby furniture, various toasters, and clothes from another era, I found a tackle box. I was flooded with memories of my childhood summers at my grandparents, and was even put off the idea of wine for a bit, but I was determined to continue my quest for the right tool.
Nothing was coming to mind, so I went back to trying the keychain solution, thinking of the “I’ve already loosened it” theory. So far, this was the only object I hadn’t broken or bent. I pulled and pulled and pulled again until my fingers were raw, my face was red as the wine I was hoping to soon drink and my eyeballs were popping out of my head. To no avail.
My fingers now pulsating in pain, I thought, if the corkscrew has punctured a hole through the cork, why can’t I just puncture it all the way through and pour some wine out? Maybe the corkscrew wasn’t long enough, or maybe some strange law of physics prevents the liquid from leaking out, but this wasn’t working either. Plus, that rubbery cork substitute just kind of goes back into place after you pull the corkscrew out. 
Ever nearing midnight I may have given up on the glass of wine, but now it was a matter of principle. I was not going to be beaten by a three-euro Bardolino!
So, I got the one remaining chopstick (what’s the use of a single chopstick anyway? Sacrifices must be made) and inserted it into the hole already started by the corkscrew, thinking maybe I could make a bigger hole and then maybe the wine would pour out. It was taking forever. My wrists were tired, my hands were tired, I was tired. I was about to concede.
Then I saw one of my canned food items sitting on the shelf, and decided to try the punch-the-cork-down technique after all. Holding the bottle in my lap, so as not to make a hammering noise and wake my hosts, I whacked the can of pineapple slices on top of the chopstick several times. Whoosh! The cork finally went through, down into the bottle, wine squirting out only slightly onto the luckily dark blue and red Persian rug.
Triumphant, I sliced some cheese, and settled down to enjoy my now midnight snack, watch an episode of some TV show on my laptop and call it a day. I took a well-deserved sip and much to my dismay, the wine was terrible. But the more I drank, the less I seemed to care. I had conquered the cork, and I was happy.