Tag Archives: The West Wing

Getting Drunk Without Drinking

There’s an episode of the old television series The West Wing in which the president’s second inauguration is coming soon and his speechwriter is suffering from severe writer’s block while working on the inaugural address: he’s glum, morose, depressed – totally lost. He’s literally putting a cigarette lighter to his drafts and burning them. He’s introduced to a new writer, someone who’s been sent to help him, and after confessing his problem to the new guy – a pretty surprising act for the speechwriter, who is far from the warm, fuzzy, sharing type – the new guy tells him, “I’ve never met a man in greater need of a night in Atlantic City.”

A few years back, The Curmudgeon was briefly dating someone who was waaaay out of his league and thought her boyfriend was a bit, shall we say, buttoned down. Once, sharing his fluency in Sorkin, she told him that “I’ve never met a man in greater need of a drink.”

Now that was a problem because The Curmudgeon is a complete teetotaler: no hard liquor, no wine, no beer, no wine coolers, no frozen sweet drinks in which the alcohol is barely discernible. Nothing. He didn’t drink the ceremonial wine at his own bar mitzvah, didn’t drink the toast at his own brother’s wedding.

Mind you, he has no moral problems with alcohol. Oh, he can’t stand to be around someone who’s drunk, but really, who can? No, this is just a matter of taste. When confronted with people who can’t comprehend or just refuse to believe it’s just a matter of taste, he asks them, “Do you like liver?” Ninety-nine times out of a hundred the answer is a vehement “no,” accompanied by a disgusted look, to which The Curmudgeon responds, “Well, alcohol is my liver.”

They usually understand, although to be honest, The Curmudgeon suspects that many of them don’t entirely accept his answer. They seem certain, he believes, that there’s more to it, and that the “more” is a moral judgment.

The Curmudgeon remembers well his first encounter with alcohol. It was at a holiday dinner at his grandparents house, he was probably around seven or eight years old, and in mid-meal he needed to excuse himself to go to the bathroom because, well, that’s what little boys do. It was a tiny house, and he’s sure at least three or four people had to get up and move to let him out because he can picture the table as if it were yesterday and he was unquestionably in the seat least accessible to exiting in any direction; sometimes, adults have surprisingly little imagination about such things. In hindsight, the grown-ups should have suggested that he just crawl under the table – can you imagine a seven or eight-year-old who wouldn’t be delighted by such a suggestion, especially coming directly from his parents? When he returned, he took a swig of his orange soda – his grandparents were the only people he’s ever encountered who served orange soda – and immediately spit it out because it didn’t taste right. Everyone laughed: the “fun uncle” had spiked it with whatever alcohol was on the table.

That was a harbinger of things to come, though, because ever since, The Curmudgeon’s barely been able to hold any alcohol in his mouth, let alone swallow it. Does it taste good? Taste bad? He has no idea: all he knows is that it burns. He went through a period of years in his early twenties, in the late 1970s and early 1980s, when it was rare to encounter people who didn’t drink – today, we’re awash in them – and it seemed as if everyone he encountered, and especially the women he encountered, were certain, absolutely, positively certain, that they knew the one drink, the one wine, the one cocktail that was going to change his mind and change his life.

They were all wrong. He’d try to beg off but eventually would give in, take a sip – and it would just burn. No taste, just burn.

These events came to mind recently when The Curmudgeon was in bed, listening to news on the radio and hoping it would bore him to sleep, which is entirely the point of listening to news on the radio at that time of night, when he heard a report about a new product, a powdered alcohol, that’s being reviewed by the Food and Drug Administration. Actually, it’s not the powdered alcohol itself that’s being reviewed: the government is evaluating how the product’s manufacturer intends to label it.

Imagine: powdered alcohol. The mind buzzes with the possibilities.

Does it have any flavor? Would it burn? Could The Curmudgeon finally experience the effects of alcohol without the taste and the burn? Could he get good and drunk on it? Could he dissolve it in his morning oatmeal or put it in his morning chocolate milk (in addition to not drinking alcohol, he also doesn’t drink coffee)? Or maybe put it in what’s become, in recent months, his after-dinner cocktail: pineapple juice in a rocks glass?


Could he…snort it?

The possibilities seem endless! Bring on the powdered alcohol!

Life Imitating Art

Occasional visitors to this space know by now the especially high esteem in which The Curmudgeon holds Aaron Sorkin, who has won Oscars and Emmys for the movies and television series he has written.  At least one person in The Curmudgeon’s life – not to name names, but it’s his sister – rolls her eyes every time he draws an analogy between some real-life situation and something that happened on The West Wing.

But sometimes that life-imitating-art thing happens on a much bigger stage, and that was the case last weekend when President Obama decided to do some Christmas shopping at a bookstore.  You can see his visit hereThe West Wing’s make-believe President Bartlet did the same in 1999, going book-shopping in a scene most memorable for his deputy chief of staff, a former Rhodes Scholar, picking up an obscure book with a ridiculous title and declaring that he’d probably eat that book before he’d read it.  View that scene here.

As much as life imitated art, there were a few differences.  President Bartlet went shopping before the bookstore opened, so he didn’t disrupt business; President Obama apparently went in the middle of the day.  President Bartlet refused to allow his staff to notify photographers of his shopping trip because he wasn’t looking for attention; President Obama was accompanied by cameras.  And while President Bartlet had an aide pay for his purchases, President Obama paid himself and then engaged in an awkward exchange with the clerk because he was surprised there was no carbon for the credit card purchase – shades of another president, Bush the Elder, demonstrating how out of touch he was by marveling at bar code technology at a supermarket and having no idea how much milk and bread cost during a disastrous presidential shopping trip during his four years in office.

Whether it’s real or imaginary presidents, though, The Curmudgeon likes people who give books as gifts.  It requires a lot of thought to find the right book and there’s a good chance the rewards a book offers will far outlast those of a box of candy (even good chocolate), a new shirt, a scarf, or, heaven forbid, a gift card.

The Curmudgeon Video of the Week: Sorkinisms

As a sometime-writer of fiction, The Curmudgeon sometimes worries that he revisits some themes or ideas too often and repeats similar language and grammatical constructions more often than he should.  Whenever he starts thinking along these lines he reminds himself that his favorite writer, Aaron Sorkin, frequently does the same, and that even though you recognize a certain phrase from the past – Sorkin never even made it past the first scene of the first act in the first episode of his HBO series The Newsroom without pulling out his oft-used West Wing line “reach for stars” – if it works, if it fits, if it says what you want it to say, then you shouldn’t sweat it.

In the West Wing episode “20 Hours in America, Part II,” the daughter of the White House chief of staff compliments a White House speech writer on a particular phrase in a speech the president has just delivered.  The writer (played by Rob Lowe) explains, “I think I stole that from Camelot.”  When the woman questions him, the writer elaborates:  “Good writers borrow from other writers.  Great writers steal from them outright.”

So who better to steal from than yourself?

So The Curmudgeon thinks it’s just fine if he steals from his own past work and he especially thinks it’s just fine if Aaron Sorkin steals from his own past work as well.

Now, someone with much too much time on his hands (as if a blogger with about twelve readers should talk) has spliced together a video showcasing some of the language and constructions that Sorkin has used more than once.  It’s entertaining and worth a few minutes of your time if you’re a fan.  See it here.

Mini-Rumination: Red States and Green Money

There’s a scene in the late, great television series The West Wing in which Martin Sheen’s Jed Bartlet, essentially Bill Clinton without the zipper problem, is debating his challenger for re-election, Florida Governor Rob Ritchie, played by James Brolin channeling W at his disengaged worst.  The debate format allows the participants to ask questions of one another – yeah, like that’s ever gonna happen – and after Ritchie complains about the growth of the federal government, Bartlet responds as follows:

There are times when we’re fifty states and there are times when we’re one country, and have national needs.  And the way I know this is that Florida didn’t fight Germany in World War II or establish civil rights.  You think states should do the governing wall-to-wall. That’s a perfectly valid opinion.  But your state of Florida got $12.6 billion in federal money last year – from Nebraskans, and Virginians, and New Yorkers, and Alaskans, with their Eskimo poetry.  12.6 out of a state budget of $50 billion, and I’m supposed to be using this time for a question, so here it is:  Can we have it back, please?

(See a clip of this part of the debate here; the debate itself begins around the two-minute mark in the clip.  Find the screenplay here.)

The Curmudgeon thought of this recently when he read a report in Mother Jones magazine that pointed out that despite all their blustering about the growth of the evil federal government, the red states are not shy about taking that evil federal government’s money.  According to the magazine, the fifty states and the District of Columbia receive an average of $1.29 for every dollar they pay in federal taxes (ah, the insidious benefits of deficit spending).

Red states, though, are big winners in this grab for the federal gold:  of the ten biggest winners, half are pretty much red states that enjoy a handsome haul courtesy of the satan-worshipping communists in Washington:  West Virginia ($2.57), Mississippi ($2.47), Alabama ($2.03), Sarah Palin’s Alaskan welfare state ($1.93), Montana ($1.92), and South Carolina ($1.92).

So in the spirit of Jed Bartlet, The Curmudgeon now asks this of the residents of red states:  In light of how you feel about the growth of the federal budget and the federal government, can we have this money back please?