Be careful what you wish for


After taking down the crumbling top of our chimney and fixing some hidden gas and plumbing issues, it was finally time to replace the cracked tiles on the fireplace. We originally thought we’d use Heath tiles, being big fans of Edith Heath (and a Batchelder tile fireplace being completely out of the budget).


One of the guys we talked to about setting tiles told us “Heath tiles suck,” and we knew the original company had been bought out by a pair of hipsters in 2003, who turned it into a “holistic business model, one that integrated designing, making and selling.” But we went to the showroom anyway. I think the tile guy was talking about the quality of the actual clay, since he agreed that the glazes were beautiful, but we also found out they have minimums for each size of tile in each color, and this minimum is 25 square feet, much larger than the average-sized fireplace + hearth. This means you have to use the same size tile with the same glaze, and then you’ll have shitloads of this same-sameness tile leftover when you’re done.

Not only that, but the really stiff and aggressive showroom lady said to us, repeatedly: “You really ought to try the Our Modern Basics collection. It’s an in-stock offering of two sizes in a carefully edited palette of six matte and glossy glazes. The depth and character of the glazes are classic Heath—refined and contemporary, yet timeless.”
OK. She didn’t actually say that. But that’s what I heard. Whenever someone says they think/know their “carefully edited” selections are perfect for your project (having never seen the house or the fireplace), it’s time to get the hell out of the store.

Lamenting on the way home, I said, “I wish we could just buy from someone who makes their own tiles.” And what do you know, we found her in Pasadena.


Now that we could have any color in any size in any pattern we pulled out the graph paper and colored pencils. We started with Batchelder designs, and then quickly lost our minds.


The cost was going to be less than if we had gone with Heath so we bought a few Batchelder and other colored tiles as accents. Even though the blue monster tile (Mosaic Tile Co., Zanesville, OH) didn’t fit the program I couldn’t leave it behind, because you never know when you’ll come across a blue monster tile again.


Here’s our final design. Not exactly final because we soon realized that the guys who built the firebox enlarged the box by a couple inches (they were being nice), and we had to move a row of 2×2’s from the top to the middle. Nothing too major. Phew.



After quite a bit of back and forth about color variations and the unpredictability of glazes, and testing the infinite patience of Cha-Rie, we laid out the entire thing in front of the fireplace, and were ready to have Miguel and his amazing group of guys glue the suckers in.





Yes those penciled X’s on the top right of each tile meant that the tile was to be set with the X on the top right. Anal retentive we may be, but the tile guys sure appreciated it. I’d rather have them think about how the tiles meet at the corners rather than which way to turn the tile.


Just in time for a lazy summer in L.A. lounging by the fire.


Rainbows vs. Trumpians


The Velodrome down in Carson is the only indoor world class cycling facility in the country. Some people say “too bad it’s all the way down there in Carson,” but after you ride the 45 degree banked Siberian pine boards in its perfectly temperature controlled environment, you might think “we’re so lucky that Carson is so close.”

Lately, the thing about the Velodrome being in Carson is its proximity to Orange County, which seems to be the bastion of Trumpians and they are out in force, shouting loudly as cyclists tend to do, and man-spreading without even having to be present. Yes, that’s their shorts, turned inside out, in the foreground.


And when one Trumpian (with a gut so large we call it “the baby”) decides to make one too many jokes about missing female parts and nuts as he asks for help in putting an old bike together, and concludes the conversation by claiming Clinton killed some of his army buddies, the solution is to make a rainbow tool roll based on Eddie Van Halen’s guitar for my old Trek, which we converted to a fixed gear awhile ago for riding to museums and ice cream runs. Why convert? It was impossible to ride. I rode that thing every day when I was in college, happy as a clam. But times do change.

Here’s how it was, original parts from 1984.


Not only was that saddle unbearable, the handlebars were too far away, the brakes too stiff and the gears auto-shifted themselves when going uphill. So we did a little makeover.


And here comes the tool roll, which has been named the “Eddie Van Halen.”


I know I’m going to be so happy the next time I get a flat, and see this when I unroll.




Mars rover, Mars rover, let C#41 on over


When the sign in the parking lot shows the speed limit in KM/HR, you know you’re in for some serious science. Last weekend was the Open House at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, and the freeway signs near Pasadena were bubbling over with excitement like it was beaujolais season. “Hurrah! It’s here! A Ticket to Explore JPL – this way!”

There were also cops in extra-large and extra-darkly-tinted vehicles at every major intersection, and IDs required for entry (tickets were free but had to be reserved in advance). It occurred to me as we drove in that there was going to be enough people at this event to warrant a terrorist threat. In space, if we detected an asteroid that might hit us, JPL would probably launch something to swing the asteroid off its path or actually collide with it (depending on who’s president). But here on the surface of Earth, if something’s going to hit us, we have to rely on good old-fashioned bag searches and vapor-waking dogs. But then again, some of my friends used to joke that as kids in Los Alamos during the cold war we were safe from getting bombed because wouldn’t the Russians want to keep all our scientist parents alive?


Having attended a few “Family Days” at the Lab in Los Alamos I’m always wishing for a little less hype and more day to day stuff at these types of events. For example, the real JPL mission control room pales in comparison to a “Control Center” fabricated for the movies, but there is nothing like seeing the ID-activated vending machines that track the use of special machining drill bits and tools, the safety glasses overflow storage, or old soap dispensers from the 60’s.

NASA’s mission control (the red LED lights don’t actually do anything):

NORAD Control Center from the movie WarGames (when that red light starts to wail, well…):

Plus, all the obtuse illustrations and charts of data that are scientifically significant but don’t look good on social media are hanging in the hallways you can’t get to, and you can only put your nose to the glass to look into the labs with nano-technology experiments sitting on top of Laminar Flow Isolating table supports (awesome for playing air hockey).



But there’s nothing more fun than watching the real Mars rover crawl over some Southern Californian rock, and then laying down and getting rolled over by its little cousin. Apparently each wheel has its own engine. Felt like some little kid next to me kept elbowing me to move over.



They sure have tire tread all figured out.


We skipped the long wait for the Spacecraft Assembly Facility, after hearing the guy say, “If you can hear my voice you’re looking at a 45 minute wait for about a 5 minute visit,” opting instead for the guy who lured everyone with a: “Welcome to the solar system where we’ve got AC.”



My story about an asteroid named C#41 who crashes into the moon was just published at Entropy so we paused in the middle of the solar system and had a wake for the little guy.


A visit to the Fabrication Facility AKA the machine shop put any resemblance to Disneyland out of my mind, but the ice cold water bottles that cost $1 (A BUCK!) probably did the trick as well. At the shop there were 3-D printers, vending machines for bits and gadgets, rolls and rolls of thermal fabric. We were told the next big thing was going to be 3D printing using metal, namely powdered aluminum, which is so explosive the technician must remain completely free of charge, as a single spark will send the whole building into space. No party tricks like rubbing a balloon back and forth across the top of your head to get it to stick to a wall…

We got to meet the guy who’s idea it was to add the star to the top of this postmark. His friend designed JPL’s postmarks for years, and he told us anyone can suggest a design to the post office and they decide whether to create a stamp for the occasion. Hm…


Very unlike “Family Day” at the Los Alamos Lab, there were plenty of stickers to go around, and JPL bags being given away by the dozen at the end of the day.


Devil in a Blue Dress Easter egg hunt


We didn’t mean to go on an egg hunt, or even a bike ride on Easter. It was simply Sunday and we’ve been on a Don Cheadle kick, and just saw Devil in a Blue Dress, and thought some of the houses looked awfully familiar. The Internet told us that some of the houses where the movie was shot were still around and very close by. A movie about Los Angeles in the 40’s that was shot in the 90’s still looks the same in the 2010’s.

Last week there was something on the radio about half-marathon-ers who curated routes which explored different parts of the city, ending their runs at some gastronomical treat. I am for any kind of gastronomical treat at any time but I’m not that excited about sitting down all sweaty, mowing something like a “Porno Burrito” and then getting up and running/cycling home. Crafting a ride to movie locations, and picking up a new seat post clamp for my track bike seemed like a more reasonable thing to do.

Club Finale:
Club Finale


Easy Rawlin’s house:
Easy House 1


Frank Green’s apartment:
Other House 2


The first couple of locations were all within a mile or so of our house but since we were on a theme, we decided to check out where Easy Rawlins gets harassed by some white punks at the Malibu pier, which extended the ride to over 50 miles. (The pier is quite close to where Mr. Blandings Builds His Dream House, something for next time.)


Pier 2

On the way, we stopped by a bike shop, then a second one, then a third, in search of one that was open. Turns out, it was Easter, and for some reason this meant bike shops all across town were closed. All. Except. One. Owned by an Israeli. Thank God.


And just to be completely non-denominational I opted against buying the clamp made by the company called “Guru.” Besides, the Guru was 5 grams heavier.


You can’t pick your neighbors like you can’t pick your family

This being Los Angeles, a home is not a home without a fireplace. I’ve been told that a working fireplace bumps up a home’s value more than a working garage. That’s great because we have neither. Our house is over 100 years old and has a firebox that’s out of code (made for little people who wore the clothes that can fit inside our little closets) and topped with old sandy mortar and bricks which any small wind, pale fire, or decent earthquake could bring down… on top of our neighbor’s driveway, and their cars, and their tenant’s cars, and their tenant’s whatever’s cars.

When we first bought the house the guys from Boston Brick and Stone (of all places) told us that to rebuild the entire chimney to code would require use of the neighbor’s driveway for 2-3 weeks. Ha! We don’t need a stinking fireplace, we said.

Since then, the owner-lady next door has called David a bitch for asking her to remove a dirty mattress she leaned against our house, her ex-gang-banger son has gotten out of jail and moved in, occasionally launching into vile and manic threats interspersed with Trump-fueled immigrant bashing, Spanish love song crooning (he’s not half bad), and the magic car alarm that goes off like a timer. My favorite incident was the night he screamed at another neighbor who just happened to be walking by to call the police because he saw some sketchy people go by. This reminded me of my favorite childhood book called The Monster at the End of this Book, starring Lovable, Furry Old Grover.


Basically, Grover is terrified to learn that there’s a monster at the end of the book and tries to keep the reader from turning the pages. Turns out… you can probably guess.

The idea of that slight wind, pale fire or decent earthquake bringing down the bricks was weighing on us, so recently we decided to take the easy way out: remove the top part of the chimney (being mindful of the house value, ahem), keep the old firebox, and install an Eco-Smart fire, since we are certainly both Eco and Smart. The chimney guys said they still needed permission for two full days of scaffolding in the neighbor’s driveway. We sighed. We fretted. We considered moving to Topanga.

Finally I asked a man next door who turns out to be the current husband of the owner-lady for permission and he said, “No problem, feel free to knock on the door and let us know which days you need the driveway. Any time.”

I almost shit my pants in surprise. I couldn’t believe it. In fact, I didn’t. The first day we needed access to cut some trees they forgot to move the cars. I don’t know how the gardener got around the situation but he managed.

Day 1.
I wake up early to see five cars in their driveway, including one that is usually always parked on the street, and I think about putting on my heart rate monitor to stay calm. I try not to take it personally, take a deep breath, and try to be grateful for the small things, like, I just got my new night guard from my dentist. Sometimes a certain behavior is not necessarily a declaration of war.

Just before the agreed upon time they come out in their cute P.J.’s, and slowly the cars move out, into the street.



The chimney is half taken down (and it’s an easy job, just a slight tap with what looks like a toy hammer and the brick comes loose) when who should come by but our neighbor’s neighbor, who we call the hoarder. Because he is one. He’s got his little wheelbarrow filled with our bricks and he’s carting them back to his safe little place next to his house. Last year he got rid of all his crap and told us “No more! What was I thinking?”


Day 2.


Things are going well so I decide to make some lemon bars for the neighbor. I know they like lemons. How do I know? Apparently they used to take them from the tree in the back yard when the previous owners lived here. That’s before the previous owners put up a fence in the back. Last summer our bamboo sent a shoot underneath this fence and up into their yard. The owner-lady hacked it down and sent it flying back at us like a spear.


They’re not as pretty as they could be, but hey, I’m building bridges, not walls.

I pack the lemon bars up and bang on the door. And get thoroughly rejected. REJECTED! She says, without even opening the screen, that she doesn’t want anything. Nothing.

This being Tuesday there’s no place a lemon bar feels more at home than dog agility class, and there’s something very funny about Lemon Bars in Cars.



Next project: the fireplace itself. Stay tuned. The tile guy says, “Heath tiles suck.”


The smell of steel – MIG welding class


Before taking the Intro to MIG Welding class at Molten Metal Works I thought the only similarity between welding and riding at the track was that in welding you move circularly in a straight line, and at the track you ride a straight line in circles.

Turns out there’s so much more connecting the two (too bad the technique used to build a bike is usually brazing or TIG welding, more on this later), beyond the specialized equipment, footwear, head protection, and complete opposite needs in clothing (lycra = flammable as f**k, but I certainly would enjoy seeing a bib short pad go up in flames).

My track certification was taught by Andrew the Vietnam vet with a belly the size of a bike helmet, and the MIG class was led by Zach, 40 years younger than Andrew, with biceps the size of the argon tank, yet graceful like a true ex-Marine. Both classes spend a huge percentage of time on The Safety Lecture: at the track it’s all about being aware of where the other riders are, and your mantra is: “If in doubt, go faster.” In the shop it’s all about being aware of where your own body is, the process being electrical, if you’re not paying attention you can and will complete the circuit. “If in doubt, unplug.”

The acronym for how to move the wand for MIG welding is D.A.S.H. – don’t know what the H stands for, but the other letters stand for Distance, Angle and Speed.


Sound familiar?

Our project for the class was to weld a metal pillow. 2 flat squares of metal in a lap join, grind the welds, then fillet join a plate (which we got to cut on a hydraulic band saw – with Zach watching like a hawk) and a bolt in order to use an awesome drill/tool I forget the name of to blow up the pillow, giving your work a stress test, to see if your welds bonk. FUN!

First we had to practice taking out and installing the “consumable” filler wire, which is fed through the welder to the gun at a controlled rate, to be mixed and melted with the steel to create the join. The cord from the welder to the gun is quite long, so when we pulled out the wire Zach said we could either toss the wire in their recycling or take it home. It’s steel wrapped in bright shiny copper so of course I wanted to take mine home, and David let me have his too. I placed my coils of wire at my station as we convened at the demo table to watch Zach clean his metal sheets with isopropyl alcohol (cleans bike tires too!). Next thing I notice is the two ladies also in the class roving around everyone’s station collecting their coils of wire. The nerve!*

When I said “Hey, they’re kyping my filler!” they mumbled something and tried to give one coil back. I had to demand that I originally had two pieces, and they conceded.

My wire. MINE!

Some practice beads:

Some tack welds:

Attachment of the plate and bolt using a fillet weld:


All the helmets had different pictures of bands on them. I used the Iron Maiden one, here’s David with his Justin Bieber sticker:

Courtesy to other people is to say “Welding” before you pull the trigger, in case they don’t have eye protection on. Courtesy at the track is to say “Stay” before you pass them, in case they forget that thing about riding in a straight line.

The final product! Sealed nice and tight. Not that I’m going to attempt a balcony or a trailer hitch any time soon.


Here’s the video that started all of this obsession with steel.

In addition to the fact that my Italian is as full of agricultural expletives as Dario Pegoretti’s, he and I have the same joke about Parmesan cheese (“Next time at least buy the Grana Padano”) and drink wine by “going up the mountain backwards,” meaning, we drink the good bottle before we drink the crappy bottle, so we can be sober for the first. MIG welding is the first step towards learning TIG or brazing, so someday I will become Dario Pegoretti.

*I confess to doing a similar type of move in Japan, when the people I was traveling with didn’t eat their kinome leaves, thinking it was a branch of cheap garnish. But at least I asked!

Only floss the ones you want to keep

“They’ve got cars big as bars
They’ve got rivers of gold
But the wind goes right through you
It’s no place for the old”

(From “Fairytale of New York” by the Pogues)

Corn nuts, grilled toast, ice cubes, lemon slices here we come!


Implants are amazing things. They’re made of titanium, which apparently is the material closest in electrical charge to human bone, so it has the best chance in fooling your body’s stem cells to fuse with it.

But bone growth is a slow process so after the posts go in there’s a lot of gap-toothed waiting around, and staring at the little screws that cover the post for so many months makes you wonder what options there are to implants other than plain old boring white.

Other than my having ingested way less alcohol and drugs, and my needing only one seventh of his total implants, Shane MacGowan and I are like implant BFFs. We got our implants on the same week, just in time for the holidays, only he got one in gold, but I got one with a photo of him with his gold tooth.




I’ve managed to keep most of my teeth, just in a jar rather than in my mouth.


Apparently the new set of teeth will help Shane enunciate better when he’s singing. This is very exciting.


Thank GOD for In n’ Out


Every weird family wedding is weird in its own way. We attended one last weekend up in San Simeon, and apparently we were not the only ones starving by the end of the night. So we took a few people, including the daughter of a baroness in stunning baroness jewelry who I later found out chose to ignore some “go with moderation” advice from Dennis Hopper, and two nephews of the bride, who deserved their animal style fries by being champions earlier at escorting the bride for her entrance. She had to descend a spiral staircase with her bum knee and tight dress, and with each incremental turn of the staircase the train of her dress twisted and crawled more and more underfoot.

This In n’ Out had a fantastic person manning the grilling station. I’ll admit it was the best double double I’ve ever had, and I was ready for a second one when I was done. But I restrained myself. It may be true that In n’ Outs don’t have freezers, but this one had an arctic themed dining area that could’ve easily stored the patties. And no napkins! So stingy with the napkins. The nephews removed their ties and untucked their white shirts, revealing the bar code stitched to their rented outfits. The shirts stayed white for the duration, proving that only when you care about the clothes will the sauce dribble.

We returned to our warm and dimly lit hotel room around 3 in the morning, which led us the following day to take the easiest route to dinner, the Mexican place not twenty feet from our hotel, with a nice garden and view of the ocean and bad reviews on Yelp.

Turns out our host with awesome pomaded hair was just the beginning. Here, in the middle of nowhere was a place offering New Mexican fare: flat enchiladas, sopapillas, menudo with posole, and a spicy salsa with tons of cilantro. Next to us were two ladies with a mishmash of kids, including a set of twins and a dwarf with no lower legs. One of these twins did not like something (he was maybe 8) and one lady asked the waitress to take it off their bill. When the waitress hesitated, the lady said she didn’t like her taco either. The bill arrived and the two ladies went over each item discussing whether the dish had been worth the amount they were being charged. After deciding they had been over-charged, they agreed not to leave a tip and very slowly started to count their cash, the children watching over their shoulder.

This made me nervous enough to really want dessert, as I watched them leave the table, and the waitress picked up the folder and carried it, loose coins and all, to the register.

Next came the part of the evening where some guy starts to pontificate, and it’s always the guy with the bluetooth still in his ear, and the camera still around his neck. Our man was going on and on in Chinese, about Costco, mostly, and about how important it was to understand what he was saying, and then repeating himself because his friends were not getting it. I really wanted to go over and tell him next time to order the menudo.


The following morning at the free hotel breakfast he was still at it, enjoying the hard-boiled eggs, weird bagels with Down’s syndrome, and orange juice. His friends said that they still didn’t get it, and he said, it was because it had been so late when he was explaining it last night, that they’d get it, eventually, because it was so important.


Pu’er tea harvest season taste test

For those interested, 1001plateaus and Bana Tea Company will be presenting a focused tea tasting on Pu’er at the Huntington Gardens, on Saturday, November 14, 2015 at 9:00AM.


There’s been a backlash recently about the fuss and puffery used to describe flavor profiles, so in going “totally layman,” I’m going to stick with these three phrases: Great, pretty OK, and no good.

Tasting, of course is a relative thing. Given several teas/coffee/wines to choose from, the goal is to look for characteristics that stand out from the others: least acidic, most creamy, etc. but it only makes sense compared to what else is at the table. In addition, flavors are subjective, so it’s best to focus on characteristics that don’t rely on flavors. In terms of Pu’er, the look of the brewed leaves, bitterness on the finish, the presence of gan (a returning sweetness in the mouth), viscosity of the tea, and how it feels in the mouth and throat are indicators of quality whether or not the tea has dried-plum or orchid flavors.

It’s common knowledge that harvest season greatly affects the quality of tea, but I have not found anyone who has actually done a harvest season taste test. It’s quite a feat to get real Pu’er from Yi Wu in the first place, so we were super happy to get three pucks of 2015 raw Pu’er from San He Chun, picked from old trees in the spring, summer, and fall.


The color difference is interesting. From left to right is spring, summer, and fall. Since these teas are all from 2015, the spring is actually the oldest, and yet the lightest in color.

Tasting the three teas initially blind, it was obvious which one was spring. It was clean, complex, and very thick. Out of the remaining two, one of them was like drinking a brick, bitter, dull, and funky smelling. This turned out to be summer. Summer is the time of the monsoon, and when it’s raining, trees are focused on growing (trunk, branches), and the minerals absorbed by the roots go toward that end. During the rainy season the tree is not interested in producing leaves, and those that are produced are weak in mineral content (flavor).

The third one, fall, was OK. There is no better word. It was slightly bitter, had a little flavor, but didn’t make me want to dump the cup out.

After this first brewing we had some plain water, and since this is Yi Wu Pu’er from old trees, there was a lot of gan, resulting in sweet, fabulous water, and honestly I’m not sure whether the gan came from all three teas or just the spring. (Next tasting!)

Then we brewed the teas a second time, for a lot longer than we should have, just to draw out some (if any) of the bad qualities. I tasted fall first, and it tasted better, pretty OK. Then I tasted the spring. If the fall was somehow elevated for the second brewing the spring was equally lifted if not more. The second it hit my mouth I could tell the difference in viscosity, and then came the various flavors. Viscosity = mineral content.

Finally I tried the summer again, and, instead of just tasting slightly over-brewed, like the others, the long brew created a bitter fur bomb that stuck in the front of my mouth and on my tongue, like eating an unripe persimmon, or that thin papery skin that surrounds a walnut. A perfect example of unwanted astringency in tea, however.

Like the age of the trees and the terroir, harvest season has a considerable effect of the price of Pu’er. Generally, the price of the fall picking is 2/3 of the cost of spring, and summer is half, but considering those fakers out there, it’s potentially an easy thing for vendors to sell a fall or summer Pu’er for spring prices.


There’s some “hint of wet dog on the nose” for the Scotch drinkers.

You are what you smell


Last year the porcelain bridge I’ve worn in my mouth since high school gave out, so I’ve been spending a lot of time at the dentist lately, preparing for some new teeth. As it turns out, I’ve also been spending a lot of time with my dentist.


He’s the guy that got us into roasting our own coffee beans, so in return we told him about Sean Thackrey wines. Now his new obsession is a gadget called the Coravin, which allows you to “access” a bottle of wine without removing the cork. A needle is inserted into the bottle (“cork strike”) and argon gas is pumped in and the wine comes out. When you pull the needle out, the cork reseals itself, and since argon is an inert gas, the wine will not be oxidized.


All this is theory, so Coravin’s founder, Greg Lambrecht, who’s more like a cool inventor than a sales person, invited a group of wine professionals plus my dentist, who invited me (we’re “fans” I suppose) to a blind tasting (plus a steak lunch at Morton’s). Classy!


We were early, so I got to chat with Greg about the company who produces his argon canisters (same company that provides Starbucks with helium. Go whippets!) and what he’s working on next: screw top wine bottles and champagne. He explained that when you force a gas and a liquid out the same hole you get flat champagne. But he’s very close to figuring out a solution. For those wines that use plastic corks he told me the secret was to always place the needle in the same hole (HA!), store the bottle standing up and it will keep for a month (argon is denser than air), or use *** to seal the hole in the cork. He actually made me promise not to divulge what *** was.


The tasting consisted of 5 glasses of white and 5 glasses of red (of the same wine). Some of the glasses were filled with bottles that were accessed exactly a year ago, and the others were filled with bottles opened that day. We were told not to look at our neighbor’s notes and not to speak. Some thirty people handling ten wine glasses each is actually a loud affair. Then there was a little bit of hubbub regarding how, exactly, we were all supposed to share the spitting buckets. This was soon addressed, and we got to tasting.

Both of the wines that were served were natural, which meant some variation from bottle to bottle was to be expected. Though last year’s wine may taste a little different, the point is that it’s not something anyone would be embarrassed to serve. The Coravin works incredibly well.

Apparently the percentage of people that can taste the difference is 5%, and apparently I fall within that 5%. I’ve got “Smell-o-vision.” I picked the whites correctly and got all the reds except for one. Bastard! I suppose I’ve had a lot of practice. I live with a dog that can vapor wake and I’ve spent a lot of hours tasting tea. Wine is harder than tea. Your palette gets very tired. I did spit most of the wine out, but I felt I had to drink a little from each glass. By the time I got to the reds, I was ready for lunch. Lunch was a three-course affair with some rare wines thrown in for fun, but it wasn’t lunchtime yet.

I went around the room smelling things. I smelled the leatherette sleeve for the wine bottle that comes with the system. It’s supposed to keep you safe if the bottle you are accessing is one of the 1-in-50,000 bottles that break when the needle goes in. I smelled the paper doowahs that went around the base of each glass to assign it a number. I smelled someone’s bad breath, which my dentist later confirmed was the sign of “perio.” I smelled the soap from the bathroom on the ladies that walked by. This was way too much fun for an event that was free.

I asked Greg how one was supposed to get the wine from a very old bottle, and he gave a demonstration of how to get at the bottle sideways while keeping the sediment untouched. He added that when the bottle gets low, like around 5 ounces, you should do yourself a favor and just pull the cork out and drink the damn thing. Now that’s some no-nonsense advice.