Egos are like balloons, fragile, overinflated and susceptible to little pricks. Some egos are as small as water balloons, others rival the dirigibles seen hovering over wine country and come with as much hot air. My own ego has resembled the Hindenburg at times, not just in size, but in outcome. Though my ego hasn’t directly caused 97 people to be engulfed in flame, I’ve surely burned as many people, figuratively speaking, with my outsized sense of self-worth.
As I’ve matured, I’ve endeavored to keep my ego in check. Besides the myriad books I’ve read to create an altered state of self-consciousness, by far the best way I’ve found to keep humble is passing through Sonoma on any given day.
Besides the monument-like winery signage that’s emblazoned with everybody’s name but my own, there’s the fact that the frontline staff of our local restaurants turn over so frequently it’s necessary to wear a “Hello My Name Is ...” sticker to feel like a regular. If I enjoyed being unknown, my byline would read “Anonymous.” Perhaps it’s sad to admit, but a modicum of local fame provides for me a kind of psychic fuel and is one of the perks that make my wee fee acceptable.
“First time in Sonoma?” some kid asked. He was buoyed by the confidence that comes when one first wears a white shirt with a big-boy collar (though he still couldn’t get the buttons right). I sighed. I would carry around a copy of the Index-Tribune to show the kid my mug shot and prove my (over) familiarity with Sonoma, but then I’d have to explain to him what a newspaper is.
Where do these kids come from and, even more importantly, what happens to the ones they replaced? It’s like “The Children of the Corn” and “Logan’s Run” are staffing the service industry. It’s “The Hunger Games” but they’re fighting for tips, if fighting for tips means competitively staring into space. My money’s on the wall-eyed kid.
Besides being unrecognized by children waiters, there’s also the self-righteous indignation those with bruised egos channel into my rhetorical question, “Do you know who I am?” Naturally, one’s interlocutor usually doesn’t, lest the question be both rhetorical and redundant. What’s worse is when you look into the blank eyes of the teen angst helming the podium and you come to the realization that neither of you know who you are. This has happened to me after a day of wine tasting. The awkward silence was deafening.
Then there was Aaron. A friend of mine from Hollywood called as he cruised into town. He wanted to know where to go for an early dinner. I suggested the Girl and the Fig. I should have stopped there but I felt compelled to show off how I had wired the town. I said, “They get pretty booked – let me call ahead and get you set up.”
I called. The girl (but not the Girl) who answered the phone was quite polite but not only had no idea who I was but couldn’t fathom the reason I’d bother even bringing it up. I asked to speak to her manager to make my case, which was something to the effect of, “Please make my Hollywood friend feel like the celebrity he isn’t and put his first round of drinks on me.” She delivered Aaron, who, despite me mistakenly calling him “Andrew,” heard me out.
“I kind of know who you are,” he said. I waited a moment and let it sink in. I weighed my years in the biz (approaching 20), my time in this market (I’ve seen 8 crushes) and all the other psychic, emotional and financial investment I’ve made in Sonoma against the creeping notion of irrelevance that marks anyone of a certain age. That’s when I realized that Aaron “kind of” knowing who I was must mean I’ve finally made it. Release the balloons.