We all have people in our past that have made an impression upon us in one way or another, some for the good and some for the not so good. I’ve never been close to those who went on the fame or glory but I( have know a couple of individuals who had run ins with authority in one way or another. I was in my early thirties when I met Marshal Fields, no, no that that Fields of retail fame, possibly a very distant relation but we shall leave it at that. The circle I traveled in was wine oriented at that time. I worked a great deal of overtime and I could afford very excellent wines, mostly the older French, German, Italian, Spanish, and Portuguese. At the time the American dollar was very strong and could buy a lot of classic wine. I was holding an informal wine tasting at my apartment one Saturday night and one of my friends brought along a young man of twenty two. That was the first time I met Marshall and he made quite the impression on me. I had collected half a dozen third and fifth growth Bordeaux for the evening’s fare, the vintage was 1964. I am always astounded that in the mediocre and poor rated vintages the lesser growths seem to invariably make some very excellent wines.
There were eight of us, nine with Marshall, and we held semi regular wine tastings, opportunities to open a couple of bottles, sit back and examine the wines and generally socialize. Usually I provide some imported cheeses since on of my friends managed a franchise retail establishment called The Cheese Shop. His brother in law owned the property and John found himself with a profession by way of family appointment. I met his brother many times, a very nice man. The shop also sold wine, hence the connection. You know how it is, you pick up friends from your interests of hobbies. Paul was the assistant manager of a corner delicatessen and small wine shop. He and Marshall had been childhood friends, so Paul asked if I wouldn’t mind the extra. He promised to bring a bottle of something interesting, which meant it would be very good or not so good. Alan Bilter was there, holding court, as usual. He was a wine salesman for one of the major wholesalers and had many years of training in wine. I mean, the man was damn good, as good as any of the illustrious wine critics, maybe better. He was our teacher, our instructor, and our friend. This circle of friends ever expands and I have come into contact with many in the industry of the older days, before wine became a religion in California. But that is neither here nor there.
Marshall was an impressive young man. He rated at the master’s level in chess. He regularly practiced with a professional soccer team who was always after him to join their team. He was taking a degree in mathematics at the local university and had a wide knowlege on many subjects. His nose and palate were very good and he knew food as well as wine. Most of all, he was charismatic. By that I mean that when you and he held a conversation you felt that you two were the only ones in the room. His focus was that damn good. If ever there was a young man destine to great things, Marshall was that young man. And to top it off, he could exude a sense of humility, common man stuff. I’ve met only one other man who came halfway near to Marshall’s abilities. But to continue our party, we all sat around and did our swirling of wine in the glass, sniffing the bouquet, and tasting in sips each wine throughout the night. Ah, the joys of a good wine. Opening the bottle, letting breathe a bit, the initial contact and examination, and then carefully the wine develop over the course of an evening. It is truly a thing of beauty and we all loved beauty. Of course we seldom had women to our tastings. Nothing is worse than a woman who wears more than a hit of perfume. The wine virtually suffocates in her presence, DOA, as it were. For centuries the French had banned all women from their cellars to keep the wine safe from being hijacked by odors not natural to wine. And that goes for men who wear more than a hint of aftershave or cologne. Now if you have before you some two buck chuck in gallon jugs then any addition of foreign aroma is bound to be an improvement, but better wine deserves respect.
So we imbibe and talk. Not just sealing wax and things. No, we talk of wine and wineries and vineyards and business and politics and art and literature and , well almost everything except sports or television. Towards the end of the evening I pull out from my cellar, such as it is, a couple of bottles of a German riesling and finally a bottle of vintage port complete with the Stilton, the slices of pippin apple and walnuts. Maybe some cognac as a nightcap for those who wish to sleep over and the evening ends about two am. Wimps are not welcome to these affairs. Before I remarried I had a more enjoyable seven years of contentment. To this day I wondered what happened to it. No use crying over spilt wine unless it’s 52 La Tache. That the second marriage was not. Shame, I had such high hopes. But I digress. Yes, wine appreciation is sometimes considered a competitive sport for non athletic men but I have seen not a few women bent on catching up to the “old boys” and bully for them. They earn their scars the hard way, just as we did.
So a friendship developed between Marshall and myself, including his girlfriend, Bebe. Bebe was an interesting woman, perhaps a year, maybe two, older than Marshall. She had gone to the professional culinary school in a nearby city and was trying to develop her own catering and cooking school business. I come by cooking, or being a chef as I like to call it, in a most natural way. I seem to understand food and seasoning. Bebe helped to perfect my abilities when I hosted dinner for eight at my place. Unofficially my dinners came to be known as the four-thirty club because they rarely ended before four thirty in the morning. It was quite an affair since the wines, all top notch, were paired to the courses, all seven or eight or nine, depending on how you wanted to count them. She and Marshall often attended my dinners. sometimes she even helped in the prep work which would start two or three days in advance. The making of stock takes two days. and Marshall would often invite me to dinner somewhere. It might be local or it might be at some winery or even a California sparkling winery with commercial restaurant. I remember when eight of us helped Bebe buy a table at the Picnic at the Opera charity event. My contribution was a jeroboam of a very good grand mark champagne and a salmanazar of a vintage Pomerol, premier cru, of course. That took a big chunk out of my overtime pay. But hey, just the doing of something grand is worth the effort and even the cost. Bebe had prepared a feast that made the upper class matrons look positively middleclass with their red and white checkered table clothes and hot dogs on a white bread bun. I swear, many of those people have little or no taste. Bebe should have won first prize but she was allowed second for the simple reason that one couldn’t argue with the fare or the decorations. That was a night to remember.
I remember that a good deal of my life was that off the wall living and experience. I suppose I am a walking oxymoron, be that as it may. Marshall came into a bit of inheritance and bought a failing delicatessen and wine shop. Bebe planned to do a cooking school and catering for it had the facilities for such an endeavor. The location was good, upscale clientele and walk in traffic. As I said, Marshall was the kind of guy one expected to make a success of life in a big way. He had millionaire written all over him. Yet, like Achilles, he had a mortal point of weakness. Marshall was afraid of failure. I could never figure that out. Here was a guy whose IQ was above mine, and I am in that fifth deviation from the norm (some people claim I am just a deviate and perhaps they are right) and he has every thing going for him. He’s hansom, athletic, highly intelligent, the list goes on. But he is afraid of failure. I mean, literally afraid of failure to the point that he often withdrew from his university classes for fear of failing the final. I mean, he could do the work but he suffered from that testing paralysis that destroys so many gifted individuals. I think that is why he never turned professional in soccer. He had the talent but was afraid of failing come game time. Now I have that problem of commitment. That is, I take my time before I commit and then I jump in the deep end, sink of swim, do or die. I too, have a fear of failure. But I will take the chance, try to do what I perceive as impossible and then do it. It’s a difficult feeling to convey to others, I assure you. But Marshall would never jump. He would never take that chance to do or die.
We might look at his family and start to see some of the answers. Dear old Dad was successful from what I have been told, amassed a few million in fortune. Older brother John started an electronics company, was one of those geniuses whom the university had little to teach him. Even sister Sarah found a sort of fame in the social sciences. Marshall was the youngest and perhaps that is what made the difference. Marshall turned to drugs and drug dealing. He went through his share of the family fortune is a few years and found his business had gone bankrupt. I wonder why. Eventually Bebe left him. funny that she turned to real estate as her method of supporting herself. She left for another city and I never saw her again. The last I heard of Marshall was that he was on the run from the one of the Colombian cartels, had burned some cartel underlings and was wanted by the feds. After that he was supposedly doing ten years in federal prison and in some informant program and who knows what. the friends, both childhood and adult, have never heard from him since, and that was thirty five years ago. Sad, all one can say is, sad. I am several states removed from that old circle of friends, only a few remain known to me. I live more modestly these days, I am retired and no overtime nor millions in savings. The old day are gone. Would i welcome Marshall back into my life? Perhaps, but I would ever be wary. He burned his closest friend and I was lucky not to be among them. But I don’t expect to see him here, in this state. It’s too far from his memories.