Our Greatest Fears - Anxiety & Booze
I've really been in a funk since the New Year hit and, as much as I've chalked it up to the January blahs, I really had to do some soul searching to determine why I felt so down. Part of it is that my adrenaline has finally run out - that extra little kick that got me through the holidays has been exhausted and now I'm finally coming down. The other piece of this puzzle is the fact that my body internalizes the anxiety of the customers I help, regardless of whether it's justified or not. The stress that surrounds the holidays therefore becomes something larger than just running around the sales floor in a mad panic. Every fear that someone has about a blown dinner party or imperfect gift becomes another ulcer for my sleepless mind. That's not a healthy way to live and I'm now dealing with the after effects.
Two themes in human nature made themselves ever present to me this week. The first is our desire for others to know we're more special than we may come off. I can think of a million examples from my past where I went out of my way to let someone know that I was actually smarter, more talented, or more interesting than I was leading on. It's that chip on our shoulder that cares so much about what society thinks, even if they weren't thinking anything until we put ourselves out there to be judged. I was talking to a friend's mother this week and she told me a story about how a now-famous San Francisco rocker did some construction work at her house many years ago. She remembered him so well because he was adamant about telling her he wasn't really a carpenter, but rather a musician up in the city. Like waiters who are really actors, or unemployed college grads who are really future business leaders, the anxiety surrounding who we think we really are is rampant in the booze world. Every bottle says something about the people we strive to be whether we're actually aware of it or not. Customers are sometimes apologetic at the counter while ringing up everyday bottles of wine, saying things like "I just need something easy for dinner tonight," as if not buying bottles of Pichon Baron made them feel less than. "Normally I'd get something better." I need to do something about alieving this pressure because no one is assessing one's character by scanning the goods at K&L's checkout counter.
The second theme that reared its head this week concerns the subject of worth. Not self worth, but rather the value of a transaction and the validation of its worth by others. Making sure to get some much-needed rest this weekend, I perused a few newspapers on the couch while keeping an eye on Boogie Nights. In the film, after Dirk Diggler finally cashs in on his talent, there's a sequence of jump cuts where he talks up his new house, furniture, and wardrobe to his friends. The whole scene would become the template for the future MTV Cribs. The brilliance of the dialogue is the gut-wrenching naiveté from Dirk as he talks about Italian prints, leather upholstry, and asian art-deco with the authority of a six year old. It's clear he hasn't a clue why his new acquisitions are so luxurious, but they're still important to him and he wants others to understand why they're expensive. PT Anderson captures a quintessential piece of humanity in that sequence. There are reasons why certain whiskies, wines, or tequilas are expensive, but if no one understands but us, then can we really enjoy them?
There's a book on the window ledge in the K&L public bathroom about becoming a wine expert in an hour. The book advertises on the cover "how to avoid getting ripped off" as one of its main attributes. The fear of purchasing a pricey bottle, only to discover that it's not all we thought it would be is ever-present in the booze world. People want assurance that a wine or whisky will be a guaranteed hit, but how can one guarantee personal taste? Sometimes it isn't about the quality - it's more about the specs. Like Dirk Diggler lets Rollergirl know while dancing at the disco, "this shirt is a limited edition print made by a really famous Italian designer who only imports a few of them a year." The irony of that moment is the fact that Rollergirl really couldn't care less - her eyes glossed over as she acknowledges Dirk's comments out of politeness. I've been in that situation so many times on the sales floor.
My other goal for 2012, along with making K&L a place where we can all feel at ease, is to erase the need for quality justification. If you can't taste why our new single cask whisky, bourbon, Cognac, or tequila is amazing, then I'm not going to fill you in on boring details. Explaining that something is made by hand, on a small farm, in the middle of Easter Island isn't going to be enough to make it on our shelves. Booze needs to speak for itself, so that people can taste the quality upon first sip, thereby removing the need to explain further. I love a good story, and I love telling one even more, but I want our customers to say, "Taste this - it's amazing," rather than "taste this - it's made by a bio-dynamic farmer in Malaysia."
Let's make 2012 the year we live outside of fear and anxiety. Let's drink $5 wine and be happy with it. Let's drink whisky alone sometimes and keep it to ourselves - satisfied with the knowledge that we think it's good.