Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Manuel and the Wine Magnate

Manuel and I met during the first couple months we were both working at a restaurant called Aziza. It was my first-ever bartending job and they only had a couple shifts per week for me behind the bar, so I ended up running food out of the kitchen sometimes to make extra money and Manuel was back there as an expo, calling the dishes as servers asked the prep line to fire them, and telling me where to run the food.

It was pretty braindead work for both of us, so mostly we stood around at the line joking around and telling each other stories. Add some good times after work doing shots and drinking beers at the Irish pub across the street, and boom, we were pals.

But I remember specifically a story he told me early on when I thought, “I’m gonna be friends with this guy for sure.” And here’s that story.

So, back in the day Manuel was dating a girl named Gina, whose grandfather was Old Man Maroncelli, the California wine magnate. Manuel and Gina had met working at another restaurant where Manuel was serving and Gina got hired on as the new host.

“We were like, ‘New host!’ Every time there was a new host, there was a finite amount of time before someone was gonna make a move, and then you had to back off and give him a fair shake,” Manuel told me. “So I jumped first.”

Manuel made it happen and they’d dated for two or three months when she invited him up to the vineyard in Napa for a big family barbecue. Old Man Maroncelli was hosting and when Manuel arrived, he wanted to be a gracious guest, so he walked right up and held out his hand and said, “Hello, it’s a pleasure to meet you,” and thanked him for the invitation.

The old man turned around. No eye contact, no handshake, nothing. Just a complete and brutal snub.

“And nobody noticed!” Manuel said. “Nobody noticed but me! Like because he’s the patriarch he gets to get away with being an asshole. And I figured, I’m the new guy, so I tried to make some excuse for the man, like maybe he didn’t see me. Whatever.”

So, Manuel’s still eating a nice meal and drinking good wine in a beautiful vineyard with this hot girl he’s dating, so what the hell. He can still have a good time. And he goes about the party enjoying himself and giving the old man some berth, because the dude obviously doesn’t want to talk to this strange Mexican his granddaughter dragged in.

But as the old man is walking around hosting and checking in on everybody, time after time the guy makes a point of talking through Manuel.

“It was like I was literally a ghost. I’d answer somebody’s question and the old guy would just talk right past me, to the guy who was behind me. I wanted to kick him in the balls.”

As the night wound down, everyone got ready to go, and just as Manuel was putting on his jacket and heading for the door the old man came rushing up and took Manuel aside.

The old man put a hand on his shoulder and looked him in the eye.

He said, “I want to know what your intentions are with my granddaughter.”

Manuel smiled, and looked the old man right back in the eye, and said:

“I’m gonna get her pregnant and steal ALL of your money.”

By the time the old man recovered from his near-heart attack and started looking around for a gun, Manuel and Gina had left. To go spend some Maroncelli money and screw in the car.

When Manuel told me the story, I laughed so hard the chef almost kicked me out of the kitchen. And that, as the fella said, was the beginning of a beautiful friendship.

Post-Script: As Manuel was researching this story and looking for the old man on Google to find a photo reference, he made an interesting discovery. The guy died in 2008. So, in a weird sort of way, consider this a tribute. The guy might have been a dick, but at least he left us with a story to tell.

Words: Sean Murray
Art: Manuel Martinez