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TALES OF THE TOWN: Part 32

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Flambé Figures out a Breast Plan; Nick Gets a Crush

If you Google “sex reassignment surgery” you’ll find nearly three million results, each with links within links. Flambé must have gone through them all; or so it seemed to her. Even after—especially after—Esther’s tutelage, Flambé’s brain was filled with questions. Supposing she could come up with the money (a huge supposition, but a necessary one; everything depended on that), where should she go for the surgery? Which doctor? Would she be alone? What if there were complications? She’d never been particularly good at handling pain. With all this talk of opioid abuse, it was possible she’d return from the operation with a neo-vagina and a drug addiction.

Well, in the meanwhile, there were things Flambé could do without the surgery: breast augmentation was something she’d thought of for years. So was voice feminization. She’d long mastered registering her speaking voice a bit higher than her normal baritone, and she often accompanied this with a breathiness she’d learned from old Marilyn Monroe films. When Flambé had been Franklin, she considered herself lucky to have a naturally slim waist, broad shoulders and a tight, hard butt, physical attributes inherited no doubt from her father, whom her mother, JoAnne, had said was an athlete. But when Franklin eased into Flambé, those masculine features—once so attractive—no longer were plusses. Flambé didn’t want to be the type of woman often described as Rubensesque. But she did want curves!

Somehow, the relationship with Devon was giving her more courage and ambition than she’d ever had. He, himself, was so assured, so adroit in seizing opportunities and moving forward to achieve them. She watched him, at a distance, adroitly handle people: like a violinist playing a rare Stradivarius, she thought at one point, or, at another, like a gambler playing his cards with utmost skill, reading every weakness in his opponents and turning it to his advantage. When two people are close (and Flambé and Devon at that point were very close), each borrows usable, admirable traits from the other. Flambé borrowed Devon’s vaunting fearlessness. What Devon obtained from her (besides her body and her love), she wasn’t sure. If she had asked him what he got from her, he would have replied, “Your devotion,” because there was nothing Devon was devoted to, except himself and the ideal of political power. But she didn’t ask him, and so did not know.

So she plowed ahead with her research. But always the same hindrance hung over her: the lack of money. Even a double breast enhancement was expensive: at least $4,000 per breast, and likely more than that, when all the long-term costs were factored in. Call it ten grand, Flambé thought—not an impossible amount, all things considered. But where could she get it? Not from JoAnne, who’d been broke all her life and probably (unless she’d won the lottery) still was. From her friends? Nick did all right at Pandora; Danny was making money at Creava. Flambé didn’t like the thought of borrowing money from them, but at the very least it was an option not to be despised. And then there was Devon. A City Councilmember’s yearly salary, she learned online, was $76,000. It was more than Flambé ever had made in her life, but it was, she knew, a paltry amount. Devon was forever scrambling to pay his bills (she’d watch him sometimes at night, groaning over them), and he was constantly complaining that he had to pick up so many of his political expenses on his own dime: taking a constituent to lunch, hiring an Uber to get to a meeting, or his clothing—why, did Flambé have any idea how much a damn tie cost?

Still, she reasoned, ten thousand bucks was not impossible if she could raise it in increments spread among the base of her friends. So she developed this plan:

$2,500 from Danny

$2,500 from Nick

$1,500 from Devon

And then there was Esther. Hadn’t she mentioned something about the East Bay Transgender Alliance having a charity fund that could help pre-ops with expenses? Yes, she had; Flambé remembered it quite well. In fact, Esther had told her she—Esther—had been given a $2,500 grant for her own procedures; the Alliance benefitted from contributions from liberal-minded corporations. Flambé went to their website, clicked on the link called “Our Benefactors” and found, along with Apple Computer and Wells Fargo, “Creava Software Inc.,” of Oakland: Danny’s employer. Flambé smiled: funny how it happens that, when something seems impossible, once you really start looking into it, a way opens up.

* * *

And what of Nick? So far in this narrative he’s been a relatively minor character. Things had long since cooled between him and Flambé, a development both were comfortable with. Flambé continued, on a formal basis, to be Nick’s tenant on Perkins, but she was staying more and more at Devon’s place, and had actually moved much of her clothing and other personal possessions there.

Nick was still smarting over the breakup with Angel. He was in no rush to find another boyfriend, that was for sure. Devon, now City Councilmember Camber, grew increasingly impressed with the young man’s intelligence and personal skills, and had elevated him from website development and social media to a more active role, involving scheduling and issues research. Nick thrived on it. Many days, he would leave work at Pandora and walk the six blocks to City Hall, to put in another two or three hours of work.

He and Camber grew close. There were times, after darkness fell and only the two of them were in the office, that Nick became intensely aware of Devon’s presence: this comely, handsome Black man, with his air of mystery. Nick could hear him breathe; sometimes, he would glance up from his paperwork or computer screen and secretly watch Devon, just feet away at his desk, head inclined in thought, working out the phrasing of a speech. Such a noble head, Nick thought: the sharp line of the jaw, the integrity of the brow, authority and an almost regal aura surrounding his body, the long legs stretched out, the way his pants fit so deftly around his muscled quads.

Whenever this happened, Nick had to force himself to look away. It was dangerous. His friend, Flambé, was involved with this man. Besides, Devon was Nick’s boss, and a public figure. There were a million reasons not to go too far down that path, Nick realized. And yet, he did. He couldn’t help himself. Devon had the same pull on Nick as he’d had on Flambé, on almost everyone he’d ever met. Nick, who’d been without sex (aside from beating off) for weeks, had to admit the obvious: he was hot for Devon Camber.


TALES OF THE TOWN: Part 31

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Mrs. Wu and the Little Gun

Mrs. Wu, who knew nothing of her husband’s nocturnal proclivities, led a very social life, with her bridge games, volunteering and entertaining, but Gladys Wu was fundamentally a lonely woman. Like her own daughter, Cindy, she’d been an only child. Fantasy and imagination were her playmates, not real children. Her parents had been Catholic, but Gladys exceeded even them in piety; at one point in her teens, she’d convinced herself to become a Nun. Her parents had talked her out of that, but Mrs. Wu still took refuge in her Bible; and there were many times when, sad and depressed, she walked the three blocks to St. Leo’s Church, on Ridgeway, to find a quiet pew, pray, and stare admiringly at the great bedizened statue of the Madonna, who loomed just below the great rose window.

She identified with the Mother of Jesus. Gladys too had suffered much. She had subjugated her will to that of, first, her father and then to her husband, to the extent that her will barely existed, except as a quiet seething within her. Sometimes, she felt close to exploding, but she had learned to hold it deep inside. Like the Holy Madonna, Gladys Wu looked out over a world of pain and suffering with infinite compassion. It was not always easy for her to express this compassion in tangible ways, of course; but she felt it, and wished that, with the flick of a finger, she could heal cripples, restore sight to the blind, raise up the feeble.

* * *

Edwin had shown her his gun. It was a Smith & Wesson .22 Mag, small enough to keep handy in a drawer or even a pocket, yet powerful enough to take down a menacing mugger or home invader. The doctor had taken a National Rifle Association course in gun safety. Mrs. Wu hadn’t, but her husband demonstrated the rudiments. They had practiced target shooting in the back yard, using a coffee can on a tree stump, until the neighbors complained, resulting in a visit by the police, who informed the Wu’s that their behavior was illegal. No charges eventually were filed. But Mrs. Wu had never forgotten the sensation of holding a gun, pointing it, squeezing the trigger, and the violent pleasure she felt when the bullet smashed into its target.

Rosey discovered the record of that backyard incident after he had already interviewed both Dr. Wu and Mrs. Wu. He decided on a second round. Partly this was because his investigation into the homeless murders was getting nowhere; and while no new victims had been found in six weeks, the public still clamored for an arrest. Chief Kirkpatrick told him to send her at least two reports a week on his progress, if any, and just the other day, the East Bay Times newspaper had run a scathing editorial critical of the Mayor, the Police Chief and, by extension, Rosey himself. He had to come up with something; no stone must be left unturned.

Dr. Wu put him off for a few days, citing the pressures of work at Kaiser. Rosey visited Mrs. Wu in their home on an afternoon when Dr. Wu was away. The first thing he inquired about, after she offered him coffee which he declined, was the backyard shooting incident. Mrs. Wu seemed embarrassed. “Oh, that?” she laughed nervously. “It was nothing, really, Detective Brown. The doctor was teaching me to shoot. Yes, we have a little gun, for safety reasons. I didn’t like it.” She added, “I am a person who abhors violence.”

“So did you have occasion to shoot the gun again after that?”

“No, never.”

“Or any other gun?”

“Certainly not.”

“And your husband—does he use the gun frequently?”

“Well, you’d have to ask him about that, but no, I don’t believe he does. I’d certainly know if he was running around shooting things.”

Rosey had a thought. “Would you mind, Mrs. Wu, if I took a look at the gun? I’m assuming you know where it is.”

There was something in Mrs. Wu’s face that seemed to twitch. After the briefest pause, she replied, “Of course,” and led him to a small wall safe, hidden behind a painting of a Parisian boulevard at night in the rain. Rosey turned his back while Mrs. Wu jiggered the combination lock. She was about to reach for the weapon when the Detective stopped her. “Better not, Mrs. Wu—fingerprints, you know. Let me.” And he removed it himself using a handkerchief.

Rosey sniffed the gun; it had not recently been fired. “Would you mind if I took this downtown to have it dusted for prints? If you’d like to ask your husband first, by all means…” She did. She called him on his mobile phone and had a few brief words. Then: “Of course, Detective Brown. My husband asks only that you return it in a reasonable amount of time. Both of us feel so much safer knowing that it’s in the house.”

Rosey tucked the gun, still wrapped in the handkerchief, into his suit pocket. “Will do, Mrs. Wu. Thank you very much for letting me come.”

“Oh, it’s my pleasure. The doctor and I are most anxious that this perpetrator be caught.”

Rosey looked forward to having the gun fingerprinted. What he had not told Mrs. Wu, or the public for that matter, was that the gun that had killed the fourteen homeless men had fired .22 caliber bullets.


TALES OF THE TOWN: Part 30

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Dr. Wu’s Secret

Dr. Wu’s struggles with his anger reflected a deeper disorientation in his mental makeup. He had always been conservative in his thinking—“Confucian,” in the Chinese sense of a deep and profound respect for authority and obedience to long-held traditions that had evolved over thousands of years—traditions, moreover, that worked, and ought not to be changed lightly. But in recent years, he had veered sharply towards the rightwing end of the political spectrum.

He realized he had to keep his newfound beliefs to himself in deep-blue Oakland. Most of his fellow physicians at Kaiser were liberals, to judge from their remarks. His neighbors, the storekeepers where he shopped, all seemed to be of liberal inclination. With them, Dr. Wu dared not to divulge some of his opinions, such as that the law was too soft on criminals, or that taxes were too high, or that gays were necessarily entitled to protection, or that homeless people were victims, not of an unjust social system or lopsided rents, but of their own laziness and self-destructive behavior. Many times each day, when conversations arose, he was forced to bite his tongue, hard. A Kaiser physician knew how to read the signs.

People assumed that Dr. Wu was more liberal than in fact he was. The contributions to the ACLU, which the Wu’s proudly boasted of, and the Obama-Biden sticker on his Volvo certainly suggested a leftward political bent. But the sticker hailed from 2008—years previously—and the ACLU donation was chiefly at Cindy’s urging. The election of Donald Trump as President both signified Dr. Wu’s formal self-identification with the right, and marked him as a certified outsider in Oakland and Bay Area politics. Dr. Wu rather admired Trump: his strength, his candor, his ability to put down his political enemies with smart one-liners, his law-and-order policies and even, to some extent, his anti-immigrant stance appealed increasingly to a Dr. Wu angry with the direction his city, State and country had taken.

Many of the patients he treated at Kaiser were homeless; Dr. Wu felt that he understood them fairly well. He was increasingly irritated at them for bringing onto themselves their armadas of ill health, both physical and emotional. Sometimes, when he stitched up a wound on a drunk or intubated someone found unconscious due to a likely drug overdose, he felt that these people would be better off dead, and society, too, would benefit if they were gone. He had worked hard to get where he was, and overcome innumerable obstacles; at any point he might have given up. But he was raised right by his parents, and when he surveyed the rampant ill effects that homeless people and drug addicts had inflicted on Oakland—a city he rather liked—he grew resentful.

This was Dr. Wu’s secret, even from his conservative wife; but it wasn’t his only one. His other concerned his sex life. The term “DL,” short for “down low,” applied perfectly to Edwin Wu. He was captivated by sexuality. As a physician, he was aware of the extensive literature concerning sexual addiction, but the way he thought about it, he wasn’t an “addict,” in the way that, say, a heroin user was, but merely a man who thoroughly enjoyed sexual activity, and saw no reason not to indulge in it as often as he could. Gladys, his wife—a rather frigid woman–had been his concession to the norms of conventionality, but even at his wedding, while he was taking the Christian vows of marriage, he was thinking of the woman he’d paid for sexual favors the night before, and whom he was looking forward to seeing again as soon as he possibly could.

The specific sexual practices he enjoyed were of the exotic variety. Dr. Wu enjoyed being dominated. In his public life, Edwin Wu clearly was used to being in a position of power and authority, issuing medical orders, running his family’s finances and making the major decisions. Privately, when in the company of the women he paid, it was quite the opposite. Humiliation and even pain were things he expected from these leather-clad mistresses, with their whips and cudgels. Being disgraced was deeply gratifying to Dr. Wu. But all this had to be done in the utmost secrecy; in fact, that was part of its allure: the risk, the shame, the fact that no one who knew the charming Dr. Wu would possibly suspect that he had a private life that was so opposite to the one he publicly displayed.

That this private life hovered on the perimeter of violence made it even more arousing. In that underground relationship between vassal and dominatrix, the possibility of something going wrong never could be discounted. Safe words went only so far; the “popper” or “cracker” that inflicted raw pain on, say, a rear end also could draw blood, and the hot wax dripped insolently on a nipple also could inflict severe damage to a cornea. A man in chains, his wrists and ankles bound by rope, had no hope of fending off such incidents.

And so Dr. Wu wended his merry and complicated way between these various stations of his life’s cross. And when he needed time alone—to think, to feel, to allow fate to tempt him even further—he always had the option of those midnight walks under the freeway underpasses, where the homeless people made their tents.


TALES OF THE TOWN: Part 29

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Rosey’s Persons of Interest

In Rosey’s long experience as a cop and detective, he’d figured out that there are basically two types of people: Those are have committed crimes but haven’t been caught, and those who have committed crimes and have been caught. Everyone, in other words, in Rosey’s opinion was a criminal.

This gave him a rather gloomy picture of human nature, which is perhaps why he tried to compensate for this dark side by doing many acts of goodness. Rosey was a volunteer coach for a local after-school kids’ basketball group. He was active in his church. He routinely represented OPD at charitable events, and he and Mrs. Brown had organized an effort in their Dimond District neighborhood to pick up litter and trash and plant wildflowers.

Still, Rosey had seen enough of life’s sinister side to realize that every tenth person he randomly saw on the streets had probably killed someone at some point. Maybe it had been a sanctioned killing, as in the U.S. military. Maybe it had not. Secrets made the world go ‘round, Rosey had long ago decided, and this included him: for Rosey, too, had secrets.

He’d been a troubled kid. By twelve, Roosevelt Wilson Brown—named after two American Presidents—had been in and out of Youth Authority in Oakland. At the age of fifteen, he was sentenced to a term of eight months at the Alameda County Detention Center, a youth camp in the Hayward hills, for breaking into cars. He smoked pot, sniffed cocaine, and drank to excess. Rosey seemed headed towards a lengthy period in prison, until a significant event turned him in a new direction.

That significant event was meeting his future wife, Ceci. He adored her from the moment he set eyes on her, at his cousin’s wedding, where Ceci was a bridesmaid. She was tall for a woman, pretty and vivacious. They dated, fell in love, and married after knowing each other for only six months. Ceci’s Dad, Cecil, Rosey’s father-in-law to be, was a minister in the Jeremiah Baptist Church, and it was he who had turned Rosey around.

They called him Reverend Cecil, “Rev” for short. He was one of those guys whom everyone likes; no one had ever heard or spoken a bad word against him. Cheerful of disposition, eternally optimistic, he also had the gift of gab. “I swear, Daddy could sell ice to eskimos,” Ceci remarked. It was true: his Sunday sermons were among the best- attended in town. A few fiery words from the Rev could inspire an audience to rise to its feet and sing.

The Rev saw in the young Rosey the potential for a good man. Yes, he’d done some bad things, but hadn’t Jesus told the world He would forgive all sins for the asking? The Rev took this seriously. As the instrument of God, he saw his task as nurturing the qualities in perplexed young people that would someday blossom into beauty, kindness and love.

Once Rosey and Ceci started dating, he and the Rev grew closer. They went to the Rev’s favorite fishing spots, bowled at the Academy Lanes in Alameda, and had long talks at night, over a few beers, in the course of which the Rev delicately pried open the closely-clustered petals enclosing Rosey’s heart. The Rev—a big supporter of the police, whom he viewed as indispensable in providing safety to Oakland’s poorest residents—encouraged this respect in Rosey too—a big leap for a young man whose street life had inclined him to view cops as the enemy. That was Rosey’s first step towards becoming a cop himself.

He started Cal State Hayward rather late, graduated with a B.S. in criminal justice, and immediately applied to OPD, which accepted him with alacrity. It was evident to his superiors that he was being fast-tracked within the department; and indeed, at the early age of 35, he was promoted to the Criminal Investigations Department, which entitled him to the rank of Detective. There were many who knew him professionally who thought that, in Roosevelt Wilson Brown, they were seeing a future Chief of Police, in Oakland or someplace else.

Rosey wasn’t enamored of the bureaucratic side of police work. He liked working the streets: wearing out shoe leather chasing down leads, turning up clues, following his nose and arresting the bad guys, to prevent them from harassing the great majority of Oaklanders who were law-abiding citizens. It was exactly that nose for sleuthing that prompted Chief Kirkpatrick to appoint Rosey to head up the Homeless Killings Task Force.

The way Rosey saw the emerging investigation, there were no suspects at this point, but there were persons of interest. Such individuals are often identified in the early stages of investigations; the majority turn out to be innocent. But an investigation has to start someplace, if it is to start at all, and there were three persons of interest on Rosey’s list so far: Devon Camber and the Wu’s, both the doctor and his wife. All of them, in all likelihood, were completely innocent of any crimes related to the murders. But the statistical probability, plain and simple, was that one or more of them knew something that could lead, however indirectly, to the apprehension of the real killer. It was Detective Brown’s task to crack the puzzle and find out what that something was.


TALES OF THE TOWN: Part 28

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A Wedding!

Danny finally gave up and agreed to have the baby.

“Well, you’re making good money, you have that nice little house, and Cindy’ll make a great mom,” Nick told him encouragingly. I’ll be 28 in a few weeks, Danny thought; although he was freaked out by the thought of marriage, he figured it was probably time to start a family. Cindy was ecstatic. She would have had the baby anyway, even if Danny strongly disagreed, even (she thought) if she lost him: that’s how much she wanted this child. But now, he was onboard. Relief! But that led to another issue.

“Let’s get married,” she told Danny one night.

“Aww, Cin,” he frowned. “Really?”

“Really. Haven’t you always dreamed of a wedding? Church bells, bridesmaids, best man, tuxedo, wedding cake?”

“To be honest? No. I always thought it was weird.”

“We don’t have to have a huge wedding. It can be whatever we both want. Maybe just a few friends.”

“And your parents?”

That stopped Cindy cold. “I’m not sure they would come, even if we invited them.”

After much conversation, they planned a small, simple outdoor wedding. The location (for which Danny applied and was given a permit) was the circular old Lakeside Park Bandstand, in back of Children’s Fairyland, with a pretty view of the Lake. They would be married by a woman, a friend of Flambé’s, a Wiccan priestess, in the ancient pagan manner. The music was played by other friends: flute, electric keyboard and chimes. Cindy and Danny invited Nick and Flambé, of course; Flambé asked if she might bring her friend, the new councilmember, Devon Camber. The Wu’s were invited; Dr. Wu refused to come, and despite initially agreeing to give her daughter away, Mrs. Wu decided otherwise when she learned Cindy was to be married in a religious ceremony she—devout Catholic—found blasphemous. The guest list was rounded out by a dozen other friends of the happy couple.

It was a sweet and dignified party. Afterwards, everyone snacked on sushi (with a vegan option), sweet pastries from Tao Yuen, and Prosecco for the imbibers, bottled water and Kombucha for the teetotalers. By 5 p.m. things were breaking up; the guests kissed and hugged the newlyweds, who for their one-night “honeymoon” stayed at the East Brother Lighthouse B&B, on the Bay in Richmond.

That night they toasted each other. “To Mrs. Eagleton,” Danny smiled at his bride, lifting his glass. “To Mr. Wu,” she replied, with an impish grin. They decided that their mutual last name would be a hyphenated Wu-Eagleton. Then, with their baby, barely four months old, slumbering inside Cindy, they made love, while the lighthouse horn moaned mournfully over a foggy Bay.


“Parkerization” is not a myth or a lie

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Lisa Perrotti-Brown surprised no one with her glowing defense of her “greatest mentor,” Robert M. Parker Jr., which she published the other day, on the occasion of Parker’s “immediate” retirement from The Wine Advocate, the periodical he founded in 1978.

That Parker was the most famous and influential wine critic of the last 35 years, as Perrotti-Brown writes, cannot be disputed. In making the following arguments, I cite my own position: as the lead California critic for Wine Enthusiast Magazine for many years, I had a privileged seat at the high table of wine criticism—a seat that enables me to make these observations with some degree of eye-witness veracity.

I would not challenge a single word of Ms. Perrotti-Brown’s encomium. Bob Parker absolutely was “the father of modern wine criticism”; he did indeed “raise the bar” for all of us who followed. But where I part ways with Perrotti-Brown is in her unfettered denial that Parker created an “international style” of ripe, high-alcohol wines. This is not a “big lie,” as she asserts, but the pure, unadulterated truth—and everybody in the wine industry knows it.

Perrotti-Brown has been trying to undo or obfuscate this truth about the “Parkerization of wine” for years. Last June, she wrote her piece de résistance on the topic, a robust rebuttal that does not stand up to scrutiny. Parkerization is “a myth,” she says. It is “a lie.” Its effect on wine is “purported.” Yes, Parker’s reign, she admits, coincided with a time when “wineries…developed styles that fit the trend” of riper, fruitier wines. But “it was not Parker who created the trend, consumers did.” Those who continue to decry Parkerization and the international style, she states, are merely seeking “a villain.” Wine writers who dare to suggest that Parkerization is real are just “looking for something to write about that attracts more viewers.”

These are patronizing, insulting remarks that Perrotti-Brown did not have to make. But she did, and they need to be addressed. I’m certainly not looking to “attract more viewers” by writing these words, and I never thought Parker was a “villain.” I admire the man tremendously. But I was there, in the front row, watching this whole phenomenon unroll, from the early 1980s until I formally retired from wine criticism in 2013 (and even since then I’ve kept my eye on the scene). And I can state with clear conscience that Parkerization was and is real.

We all know that alcohol levels in wine rose drastically during Parker’s era. Bordeaux, Burgundy and California in particular, as well as the Rhône, saw these increases—all regions Parker specialized in. During my heyday (and Parker’s as well), alcohol levels in California Cabernet Sauvignon, especially from Napa Valley, soared. Frequently, levels of more than 15% were seen, and many of us—aware of the fudge factor the Federal government allows in wine labeling—suspected that a Cabernet of official 15.5% strength might in reality be in excess of 16%. This is not a “myth” but a fact.

Why did it happen? Perrotti-Brown says that “consumers created the trend.” That is a misstatement. Consumers do not create such trends in wine; they respond to them. Consumers enjoyed wine before the Parker era when alcohol levels were between 11% and 13%. There is no evidence that a consumer uprising occurred in the 1980s, in which these consumers demanded riper, higher-alcohol wines. Talk about “myths”!! It simply didn’t happen.

What did happen was that wine periodicals, like The Wine Advocate and Wine Spectator, assumed a far greater importance than ever before, as a maturing and wealthier Baby Boomer generation realized it needed help figuring out what to buy (and cellar) among the thousands of competing brands. Parker’s Wine Advocate wasn’t the first to fill that market niche, but it was the most successful and influential. The 1982 Bordeaux vintage, which Parker lionized, did indeed cement his reputation. After that, he was golden.

I can’t prove the following assertion but I strongly believe it: wine critics who became well known after Parker’s rise, including James Laube, James Suckling and myself, felt they had to praise the same sorts of wine as did Parker. This may not have been a conscious thought on their part; but wine critics don’t work in a vacuum. The handwriting on the wall was very clear by the late 1980s: Parker was giving huge scores to wines like Groth’s 1985 Reserve (the first California wine to get 100 points from him). With each high score, not only the winery’s reputation was boosted, but Parker’s, as well. Wine writers took note! The concept that big, fruity, high-alcohol Cabernets were better than their thinner, less ripe but often more elegant counterparts became entrenched. No wine critic is immune to his environment; like artists, they are affected by their contemporaries. There has got to be a scale or continuum of hedonism in criticism; otherwise, criticism makes no sense; and what Parker bequeathed the rest of us was to define the upper scale of this continuum.

This is what is meant by “Parkerization.” Parker himself never denied his personal preference for big wines; he simply recoiled from what he felt was the smear of calling them “Parkerized.” And now, his successor at Wine Advocate, Perrotti-Brown, has picked up the mantle of outraged indignation. But I really don’t see why. Why is it so irksome to her (and to her “greatest mentor”) that Parker had this impact on wine? The only reason I can surmise—and it’s just my guess—is because Perrotti-Brown shares to some degree the belief common among younger (and some older) critics and sommeliers that some wines have indeed become too ripe, too alcoholic; and to the extent there’s a reason for this, it’s because of Robert Parker and the Wine Advocate.

History will be the final judge of all this. Does anyone doubt that History will record that Parkerization and the international style he inspired were real and not fake news? Meanwhile, Perrotti-Brown should calm down. The more she denies the reality of Parkerization—the lady doth protest too much–the more defensive she appears. As for Bob Parker, I salute you, sir, and–speaking as one whose retirement preceded yours–I welcome you to our ranks, and wish you peace and health!


TALES OF THE TOWN: Part 27

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Rosey Zooms In On Devon Camber

The morning dawned rainy, windy and cold. Flambé, who had a physical aversion to bad weather, hated the thought of having to walk her clients’ dogs on such a day. But it had to be done.

Her biggest gripe about the rain and wind concerned her appearance. Flambé was a girl who put much store into the way she looked. Her hair was a particular joy; she had dozens of wigs and falls, in every color of the rainbow; no matter what her mood, she could find a hair piece that suited it: curly, flirty, elegant, severe. She loved dressing up; the old flamboyance was still there. A poofy blouse…a cheerleader’s skirt to show off her legs (always one of her best features)…sequined scarves—she had to cover this all up in wet weather with dreary raincoats or hoodies that made her look, she thought, like a trash bag.

She had five dogs today, and not much time to walk them, for she had a rare appointment. A detective Brown had phoned her, asking to see her for some questions, part of an investigation he was conducting. Actually, Rosey had tracked Flambé down easily. Camber’s neighbors verified that the councilmember frequently had a late-night visitor, an attractive woman of color. It wasn’t at all difficult to locate street surveillance videos to identify her. Facial recognition artificial intelligence, owned by OPD, positively identified her as one Frank Wilkerson, which greatly piqued Rosey’s interest. Wasn’t Frank a man’s name? Wasn’t Camber’s friend a woman? But Rosey was used to anomalies, as are all police officers who have been active for any length of time.

Wilkerson’s phone number also was easy enough to obtain. He called, asked if he were speaking with Mr. Frank Wilkerson. Flambé replied that this was she, Ms. Wilkerson. Rosey, momentarily taken aback, adapted. Would, uh, Ms. Wilkerson prefer to visit him in his office at police headquarters? Because he would be glad to come to her, at a location of her choosing. Flambé thought it might be interesting to visit the big station she’d seen so often, on Seventh off Broadway. She said so; the detective even offered to buy her coffee.

What each found in the other surprised them both. Flambé discovered a police detective who might have stepped right out of a movie, a bulky, large man in a rumpled brown suit, with a blue dress shirt that had seen better days and cheap, scuffed laced shoes. With his little mustache, he looked like Stanley Hudson, from “The Office.” Rosey for his part—well, he hadn’t known what to expect after the Frank/Flambé misunderstanding. As an experienced officer he’d long learned to keep his personal reactions well-controlled; he’d seen it all on the streets; nothing threw him. Now, here was a tall “woman” who, after taking off her raincoat, proceeded to brush out her hair and examine her face in a little compact mirror she pulled from her purse. They sized each other up quickly. Flambé did not dislike or fear the burly detective; Rosey was curious, receptive and respectful of this man-woman; this would not be a difficult conversation, he decided.

But when Flambé realized he was asking about her relationship with Devon, she clammed up. At first, she denied even knowing him. Big mistake. “Ms. Wilkerson, this isn’t a good way to earn my trust,” Rosey said. When he showed her surveillance photos of her and the Councilmember, Flambé uttered a simple “Oops.” “You have to understand,” she told him, “that my relationship with Councilmember Camber is very private. He’s asked me to keep it confidential, and I have done so, out of respect for him.”

“I understand,” Rosey replied. “You have my word that anything you tell me will be completely private and between us.”

And so Flambé revealed the story—not, she contemplated, that there was that much to reveal. They were simply two adults seeing each other in a private, consensual relationship, that was all. They were doing nothing wrong, breaking no law. Devon wasn’t married or anything; he wasn’t cheating on anyone. And he wouldn’t be the first public figure to wish to keep his private life out of the public’s view.

The detective seemed uninterested in the details of their relationship. He asked nothing about whether it was sexual. Instead, he wanted to know about other aspects of the councilmember’s life. Did he have friends, besides her? Hobbies? Was he a member of a gym? Any extremist views? Had she ever heard him express anger towards homeless people? Where did he hang out when he wasn’t working? “He’s always working,” Flambé smiled. “That’s part of the problem.” But about his life beyond her, Flambé was afraid she knew very little.

Rosey’s long experience in law enforcement had trained him to be a snoop. It was his conclusion, after decades of cop work, that while most people were not criminals (beyond speeding in their cars, or littering, or other minor infractions), at the same time most had secret lives that were, at the very least, embarrassing. They cheated on their spouses. They violated the canons of their churches. These were not indictable offenses. Rosey realized it was a bad habit that as he went about his life he would notice certain individuals and wonder if they had robbed or murdered. It was the cop’s plague: it was a bad way of thinking, but inevitable. He had no reason at all to suspect Councilmember Camber of anything; he had no reason to suspect anyone. At the same time, he suspected everyone, and that included Devon Camber.


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