A man looks at the table before him. There are plates, forks, knives, glasses. Also, a few ceremonial items one doesn’t normally encounter: a couple of burned eggs, a shank bone or two, an explosion of parsley. The man looks at the centerpiece skeptically. He thinks, “Where I grew up, we used flowers.” But the meal’s pretty good, and there’s good conversation. Job opportunities are discussed, and the woman to his left is apparently single. When he’s asked if he wants wine, he nods his head yes. He chooses the Pinot Noir; he knows the vineyard. His glass fills to the top, then flows past the rim, cascading down the stem and swooshing over the tablecloth like the waters of the Red Sea reuniting. Guests jump up from the table, stumbling over their chairs. The tablecloth is removed and left to soak in Woolite. Everyone sits on the living-room floor. Actually, it’s more comfortable there. People kick off their shoes. It’s a miracle no one has a hole in his socks.
A man considers the glass of wine before him. You know what he’s going to do. He’s going to drink it. But he drinks it greedily. He gulps it down. He rams the rim of the glass against his mouth, with such startling ferocity that the crystal breaks into shards. His dinner companions look at him, flabbergasted. They want to know if he is all right. He swishes his tongue across his teeth and to the front and back of his palate. That’s chancy business. It’s a miracle he hasn’t cut his mouth. Later on, when everyone’s singing “Dayenu,” the enormous glass chandelier in the living room comes detached from the ceiling and drops onto the soft cushions of the overstuffed couch, sounding, surprisingly, like the chirping of sparrows.
Imagine a roomful of locusts, with frogs in the cupboards. Scratchy scalps and bad complexions. Bad ventilation. Also, bad light. Cattle disease: mad cows, mad bulls, mad farmers. The 79th Street Boat Basin filled up with blood. At all hours of the night, wild beasts stampede down the major avenues, denting cars with their hooves and smashing windshields. This is worse than Sodom and Gomorrah: tax returns are due every month, the radiator’s noisy, and all the firstborn sons are dropping like flies. Plus, there are new car-insurance issues. But now imagine that all of that’s gone and, instead, you find yourself at a long table, surrounded by friends, good food, singing, and easy conversation. A bottle of wine is slowly passed around, and then another. People are clearly enjoying themselves. It’s pretty much a miracle. All you can think of is, “Wow, this is the life!”
God’s in the Details
Its makers call it Miracle Wine, and it’s pretty incredible. It polishes silver. It powers lawn mowers. It only gets you drunk when you want, and don’t even think about hangovers. On your birthday, Miracle Wine tastes like the best Bordeaux, but at barbecues you’d swear it was a fancy Portland microbrew. During Hanukkah, one bottle lasts for all eight days, no matter how much of it you pour. On December 31, its contents turn to champagne at 7 p.m., and the cork never hits anyone in the eye. On Passover, there’s exactly enough for four hearty cups, plus one for Elijah, who finally arrives after all these years, throws himself into an open chair, sees the bottle, and says, “This is what I’ve been waiting for!” He stays for hours, telling funny stories and dirty jokes, and the next morning all of the hostess’s friends telephone her, saying, “That was really some party you put on,” and “That Elijah is an absolute hoot. Do you think he’s single?”