Some questions aren’t seeking answers

‘WHAT WINE WOULD you recommend?” asked the woman who had already attempted to squeeze in front of two other groups of people who were waiting to order.

“What wines do you like?”

“I like them all.”

“How about the chardonnay?”

She wrinkled her nose.

“The viognier?”

Another wrinkled nose.

“The sauvignon blanc?”

Another wrinkle.

“The Albarino?”

Wrinkle, wrinkle.

“Well, that is all the white wines we have.”

“I don’t really like white wine,” she said finally.

Perhaps she should have mentioned that upfront. Time to attack this from a different angle.

“I like the syrah or the petite sirah, the zin and the cab,” I said, resorting to common shorthanded vernacular in order to speed things up.

Wrinkle, wrinkle, wrinkle.

“How about the merlot or the sangiovese?” I ventured, leaving only one wine on the list unmentioned.

She looked at the wine list for a second longer, and then selected the only wine on the entire list that I had not recommended.

I wasn’t the only one who noticed.

“You chose the only wine he didn’t mention,” said her friend, voicing the very thought bouncing around in my head.

“What does he know, he’s just a bartender,” she said, which made me wonder why she had asked in the first place.

“Questions are a burden to others; answers a prison for oneself,” according to the late ’60s British TV show “The Prisoner.”

I find that sentiment to be true because, sometimes, people ask questions but they’re not really interested in the answers. The question itself serves as a type of manipulation. It can be an interruption, like asking an inappropriate question at a crucial moment of a story, which only serves to derail the story itself. Or asking question after question with the sole purpose of disrupting the rhythm of the other person speaking. And, sometimes, people ask questions that are actually thinly concealed insults; “Does anyone else here know what they are talking about?” is a perfect example.

A few minutes later a waitress asked if I could recommend a wine to a table, a minute after that some regulars asked me to sign a copy of my book, and still later two liquor sales reps both handed me their business cards. All of which the nose-wrinkler and her friend watched with increasing interest.

“Hey Jeff,” an arriving couple said, “what’s drinking well tonight in reds?”

“If you like deep reds, go with the petite sirah,” I said. “If you are in the mood for something lighter, go with the regular syrah.”

“Aren’t they the same grape?”

“They are related. Petite sirah is also called Durif, and is a cross between peloursin and syrah that originally found its name in the Rhone Valley, when discovered by Francois Durif in 1880.”

Nose-wrinkler and her friend simply stared.

“Ninety percent of the wine labeled petite sirah in California is Durif. The rest is a combination of peloursin, syrah, grenache or mourvedre,” I said. “It wasn’t until 1997 that DNA testing confirmed those facts.”

I paused.

“Why do these people ask for your advice?” the nose-wrinkler asked.

I smiled, a thinly veiled insult. I now knew she wasn’t seeking any actual information.

“I dunno,” I shrugged.

“Hey Jeff …”

On and on it went. Any good bartender will get his or her name called many, many times on any given night. And any bartender (good or bad) will get asked questions. Lots of them. Sometimes, people will even listen to the answers.

“Who are you?” nose-wrinkler finally asked me after a particularly intricate description of the differences between two other wines.

“Me? I am just the bartender.”

All of which left me with a few thoughts:

• Nobody is “just” anything. We are all more than what we do for a living.

• Bruce Lee once said, “A wise man can learn more from a foolish question than a fool can learn from a wise answer,” and no one ever called Lee a fool. At least not to his face.

• Questions are sometimes not questions at all, but rather a set up to be dismissive. And being dismissive answers an awful lot of questions about the person asking the questions.

• Euripides said, “Question everything. Learn something. Answer nothing,” which either made him a terrible bartender or a great customer. Or vice versa.