Date: Sun, 28 Jan 1996 01:58:55 -0600
From: Tushar Samant
Subject: The Great Corkscrew Hunt
To: Multiple recipients of list WORDS-L
Just thought I would post a "human interest" story with no plot
development whatsoever, and no excitement except a fascinating
glimpse of my engaging personality. This happened about a month
ago, but telling any human interest story around Christmas time
has several disadvantages, the major one being that it practically
amounts to what could generically be called Brad-baiting. Whatever
the story is, it always sounds vulgarly life-affirming. It turns
a dignified character--as might be yours truly--into a nincompoop,
a jactitating playshape out of "It's A Wonderful Life", as if trans-
formed merely by constant exposure to animated Santas in the mall.
It's stupid and discreditable, and it pisses me off. This needs to
be kept in mind before imagining that the firm I have newly joined
is about to celebrate pre-Christmas by opening bottles of wine in
the workplace. It is snowing hard and it is suddenly realized that
there is no corkscrew to be found. In these circumstances, and since
I was running out for some cheap garlic chicken out of Union Station,
I offered to acquire a corkscrew. But Osco didn't have any, and
that in retrospect was where the trouble started.
I swear I even looked in the damn gift shop. My nature abhors a vacuum,
and I needed to consume the rapidly cooling Kung Pao chicken fast, which
could only be done upon successful return to the office, and here I was
staring at pocket-knives, pens, paper-weights, keychains, all in the
shape of goddamned Sears Tower, bottle openers for god's sake, but a
vast gaping absence of corkscrews. This was the one time of the year
bottles would be popping all over the place, and no corkscrew while my
teriyaki chicken congealed. I cursed and ran upto the news stall outside,
to see if I could borrow a corkscrew. I had forgotten this wasn't New
York. That's to say, if it was he would have been Bangladeshi and under-
stood what I was trying to say, but this being Chicago, the newspaper
man was only bloody Indian, and betrayed no knowledge whatsoever of the
meaning of "corkscrew", and after long and fatiguing deliberations, said
"NO", I said, while the pork fried rice got cryogenically preserved
under my arm. He was most understanding and did the corkscrew action
with his hand to signify he understood, adding "champagne?" with a
smug heh-heh, before regretfully saying "no", that he didn't have one,
but I was out of there already, toying with the plan of running a few
blocks down to Walgreens, home of the hot goth chick, daughter of Devon.
When Mayuri stands serenely at her checkout post the store is dark with
the silence of night, whenever she smiles the stars open up to grace
the unworthy place with their light. Or at least, I was on the verge
of delirium, with an order of beef tripes having undergone irreversible
heat death emphasizing to my ribs the fact of the cold without, and
mocking the fiction of the hunger within. And that's when I got the
insane idea of soliciting, when I faced that octagonal building which
makes an almost-closed arch with Sears Tower when you stand between
them. The immense lantern on its top was lighting up, and I remembered
the basement had a swanky restaurant my boss Sean sometimes went to.
I walked in, escalatored down and was at the doors of Yvette's Winter-
I had felt like a similar dweeb on my first day of college, thrown
from the backwaters of civilization to the frontiers of hipness. That
part of my being which wasn't crying out for food was pleading with me
to get out of there. The plastic surgeries on all faces I saw sneered
at me, the kinder faces demanded I change from my Gold Coast Dog attire
to a more formal one, and take a shave before I offered myself for
bussing services. The gracious grey-moustached host asked in his damn
foreign accent what sort of table I needed, and whether I smoked. "I
work for...with...for...Sean, who is a patron of yours," I said in my
damn foreign accent. "He can't find a corkscrew, and he wants to open
a champagne bottle. I was wondering if you could lend him one for an
"Sean?" he said.
"He comes here regularly."
"I am sorry, I don't have a corkscrew."
"I know this is an unusual request." The woman at the nearest table,
the one sipping some sort of martini, was fidgeting with some phone
sort of contraption, about to call the authorities to remove me from
The grey man sighed, and tried to say no. "All your waiters definitely
know Sean," I said desperately. He looked up and saw my sunken, hungry
eyes, and just for that moment, perhaps, humanity returned to him. I
will never understand what made him consult a waiter, and come back
saying, "Oh, Sean." "Yes, Sean," said I. The waiter took charge of me.
"I know Sean," he said. "So do I," said I. "I hope *Sean* doesn't want
a corkscrew for a whole day," he said snidely. I told him *Sean* just
wanted to open a few bottles. I longed to ask if he, the waiter, had
a fucking problem with that... but he had produced a corkscrew. There
it was. My enchanted eyes ascended on its line and spiralled through
the tapering end into a heaven of joy. The cold and the hunger was
bearable once again, and the world beautiful anew. "Goodbye, Lucien,"
said the waiter in a tear-drenched voice.
People have called me "Jeff" before, and I am prepared to ignore that,
but he was in any case addressing the corkscrew. "Don't forget all the
days we worked together," wept the waiter, "O Lucien, all that you and
I have been witness to. The pop, the bottle giving the quick sigh of
relief. The vaulting ribbon of wine, leaping into the glass, so impatient
to rise to a beautiful lady's lips, the tips. Remember it always, Gerard."
Or whatever the name was; touched, I stood a distance away. He finally
delivered it into my hand, sniffing but brave. "And if I don't get him
back, I will track you down wherever you are." "You know Sean's address,"
I said. "Of course," said he, and took a last longing look at the cork-
There isn't much to be added. The bottles did open, and everyone drank
to everyone's health, including Sean. The microwave brought the garlic
chicken to life, and soon I was hungry no more. I dipped into the hogs-
head from time to time, long after everyone went home, and the Polish
janitrix Jeannie came around, and we drank some more, and she went home
too. Yes, I did return "Martin" to the grey man, who at first did not
believe his eyes, then grabbed the corkscrew and weighed it in his hand,
and then said "Anything for Sean!" in such a jolly voice, there were
seventeen invisible ho-hos tacked on to it. And my greatest triumph was
that all the while I acted not once like a hick, but clasped my hands
and smiled cheerily and cocked my head like a right classy motherfucker,
having magically learned in one evening that to behave like that without
shame, all you need is several measures of the malmsey inside you.