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Old critics never die, they just retire to Cloudy Lees


Dec. 18, 2039 – It’s a pleasant day here at the Cloudy Lees Home for Retired Wine Writers, or, as one of my less reverent pals (Jim Gordon, actually) dubs it, The Last Bastion of the Over the Hill Gang.

As far as senior citizen communities go, it’s not bad. We have morning swirling sessions to keep our wrists limber, and every Thursday afternoon there’s a distance-spitting contest that Wilfred Wong always wins, damn him. Then, at night, we gather around the electric heater to reminisce. Dan Berger tends to tell the same story every time, about when he tasted 2,000 Merlots in a single afternoon at the Riverside International Wine Competition, but then, he’s the oldest, so we cut him some slack.

Karen MacNeil just waddled by and said to say “Hi” to you all. She’s still her well-tailored self, although the red hair is now snowy white. She cackles more than she used to, although nobody knows quite why. We celebrated her 80th birthday the other day with a cake the kitchen made in the image of The Wine Bible. It was, needless to say, very rich and heavy.

Of course, not everybody is in good shape. You can’t expect that at this age! Poor Jim Laube, we almost never see him, except when Helen Turley drops by. Then Jim emerges from his penthouse suite—the most expensive in the place—on his walker, accompanied by Jancis Robinson. She’s a little dotty, and under the impression people still read the Purple Pages. But she’s awfully perky in that candy striper’s outfit. I never did find out how Jim and Jancis hooked up. Memo to self: Ask Jo Diaz. She knows everything.

One of my favorite times is when the volunteers visit to amuse us. Joe Roberts comes on Sunday afternoons (that is, if he’s not on some junket) for his weekly Wine Quiz. Now that he’s become a mime, he’ll describe a wine non-verbally, like in charades, and we’re supposed to guess what it is. He’s hysterical with words like “bubbly” and “tart” but really outdid himself with a Naked Chardonnay.

Then there’s Eric Asimov. Sadly, since his stroke, he thinks he’s Mimi Sheraton. He writes a daily column in our newsletter on the dining room. For example, yesterday he said the scrambled eggs “lacked clarity,” although he did like the cream of wheat for its “balanced hedonism.” Don’t get him started on the chicken a la king.

Every retirement community has a curmudgeon, of course, and you just know that here, it’s Paul Gregutt. He’s always muttering under his breath, scowling and fuming like Clint Eastwood about to shoot someone, but underneath all that, Paul’s a teddy bear. He leads us on our Wednesday night singalongs, playing old rock standards on the guitar. And if you ever need a doobie, Paul’s room is #203. (I didn’t tell you that!)

Jordan Mackay moved in last week. I think he’s the youngest resident. It’s nice to have new blood in the hood. All the old ladies lust after Jordan. It’s a little unseemly, if you ask me, to see Meredith May asking him every 5 minutes if he’d like “a little something from the pantry,” which I take to be a metaphor. But I have to admit, Jordan’s a cutie, even with the lobotomy scar.

Our Dean, if you will, is Pierce Carson. He’s been here since longer than anyone can remember. They say at first he was his usual funny self, cracking wry jokes and pinching the nurses’ tushes. But lately, he’s been kind of quiet. Every morning, the attendants wheel him over by the fern in the rec room, where he stays pretty much alone except for Gary Vaynerchuk, who replays episodes of “Wine Library T.V.” all day, which nobody else wants to watch.

The classiest retired critic in Cloudy Lees is Roger Voss. With his tweed sport jacket and elbow patches, not to mention that British accent, he’s our own royalty. Roger likes to preside over the Port service, where he insists the decanter be passed counter-clockwise, and gets quite cross if it’s not. He almost came to blows once with Matt Kramer. Matt, who unfortunately has bladder problems, said the counter-clockwise thing was “a myth” and tried to pass the Port clockwise. It was tense for a while, but Ron Washam told a few jokes and the next thing you know, everyone fell asleep, so all ended well.

  1. Jake Fetzer says:


  2. STEVE!
    Don’t let Karen MacNeil fool you, she’s just wearing her James Suckling fright wig. He’s not at Cloudy Lees yet–he insists they pay him to show up.

    Terrific conceit, STEVE! I wet my Depends.

  3. Age does take a toll and it looks like memory is the first thing to go. Steve, old man, she spells her name Meridith.

  4. george kaplan says:

    Seems to me you could have done more justice to the Hosemaster, especially while stealing his act . Furthermore you’ve left him an opening, not that he’d need one, by not including yourself in the portrait of decrepitude .I”d be wary of a whack in the head by a club made from an old primitivo vine. Still, good fruit from a gnarly old vine.

  5. Thanks for including me in this notorious group…i am so honored. Next time you are in town, remind me to get you something from the pantry.

  6. that was fantastic

  7. I hope this doesn’t mean you’re actually retiring in the very near future, my man!

  8. David Rossi says:

    How many false teeth are floating in the spitoon?

  9. STEVE! I am honored to be the designated curmudgeon here at Cloudy Lees. But if I am expected to be scowling and fuming like Clint Eastwood, you must at least provide me a chair to talk to. I’d speak directly to you, but I’m obliged to mention that you never leave your room, except to go to the gym, where you stare misty-eyed at the barbells, stacked taller than your shrinking self, as if to will them into your shriveled arms (by the way, those tattoos still look mah-velous!). As for my Wednesday night singalongs, I am quite certain you meant to say “if you ever need a doobie BROTHER, Paul’s room is #203.” Hope to see you there next Wednesday!

  10. LOL… How Jancis and Jim hooked up. Too funny!

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