There’s a pizza place in San Francisco called Pauline’s, and it turns out they produce their own wine on their property in the Sierra foothills and don’t even make a big deal out of it. L and I ate there a lot when we were first dating, and also during our engagement, when we lived in a tiny apartment a few blocks away.
L’s old friend Anton lived closer still to Pauline’s, and so we often met him there with his tiny daughter. He and his wife had split up very soon after the birth of their child, and he was being terrifically brave in his determination to share custody and be a father to this little girl. To be honest, it didn’t look good to me at the time; it looked very difficult, and he seemed very much adrift. He was going through things I could only imagine, because I not only hadn’t been there, I hadn’t even been close. Worse still, relative to the empathy question, I was positively giddy over my impending marriage, and the fact that I’d actually found lasting love with a stable, wholesome, gentle woman who shared my vision of life. So I often sat across the table from Anton and his sweet little girl, at Pauline’s, wondering how it was all going to work out for him.
Well, now it’s 10 years later, and when we met Anton at Pauline’s a few nights ago—the night I noticed their private-label wines, and inquired about them—he once again had a little kid with him. But this time it was his son from his second marriage, and as we all revisited those early days, he said he hadn’t considered them a difficult time at all. In fact, he thought of that period as a terrific one, when he’d begun playing music again and working on his dissertation to complete a doctorate in neuroscience at UCSF. He’s a man of improbable talents: He was also singing with the San Francisco Bach Choir, and doing the solo-piano-jazz-crooner thing in San Francisco piano bars, on the nights when his daughter was with her mother. And yet he could find time to lie around his apartment for hours on end, reading Shakespeare.
Anyway, I ordered a glass of what Pauline’s was calling, in an unpromising way, Pizza Red. According to the waiter, the grapes were grown entirely on a property owned by the restaurateurs—a property where some of the produce came from as well. The winemaking happened there too, apparently, and when the glass came it was at first unprepossessing, in part because of the stemware. If you’re used to swirling wine, to bring up its aroma, an unswirlable glass can feel like a pair of handcuffs, or like somebody pinching your nose to inhibit your enjoyment of your wine. But then the pizza came, and this homey house-made Zinfandel had plenty of spice to handle the red pepper flakes liberally applied, and the simplicity of that fact—of a not-at-all-bad Zin offered so unpretentiously at a decent pizza joint—was the big news of the night. That Anton’s changed life was not—and that our eating together wasn’t either—was a good sign, a calm sign, an indication that everything is as it should be, with life simply rolling on by in the relative absence of tragedy.