After class last week, a student and I somehow got to talking about wine.
"Ya know," he said, "the most expensive bottle of wine sold for like two million dollars."
"No, I didn't know," I said. "And I don't believe it, either."
"Well, I read it," he said.
I asked him where, but knew the answer before he replied.
"On the Internet," he said.
"Yeah?" I said. "But where on the Internet? What website?"
I knew that answwer as well.
"I dunno," he said. "Somewhere."
Ah yes, somewhere. Can't really be wrong with that, since to quote the punch line of an old joke, everything's gotta be somewhere.
Sadly, even though I knew he had no idea what he was talking about, given my obsessive curiosity, I now had to find out how much the most expensive bottle of wine cost.
It would seem this is a simple question to answer, but it's not.
$49,990 too much
For example, at Dubai International Airport, there's a bottle of something called Chateau Margaux that's priced at $195,000. But the bottle itself is a Balthazar, which means it holds 12 liters. Besides that, no one knows if anyone has ever bought one. But I suspect if they did, we'd know about it. I mean, why else would you spend that much money for some Sneaky Pete if you weren't going to tell the world?
In 2010, someone actually paid $205,000 for a bottle of wine, but this one held 9 liters.
From what I can figure, the most expensive bottle of wine came in a 6-liter bottle, and some schlemiel poneyed up $310,000 for it. Just FYI, that's $8,600 a glass! And to think people complain about paying six bucks for a glass at Little Italy.
But none of this makes no never-mind to me. Far as I'm concerned, anyone who pays more than a sawbuck for a bottle of plonk - any plonk - is either a desperate status seeker or a damned fool.
I mean, you hoist a glass of the stuff, offer up a witty toast (my favorite being, "Down with the Kaiser"), and you drink it. And that's that.
At least that should be that. All the soliloquizing and rhapsodizing over wine is total blather, and the blatherers have no more idea what they're talking about than do the talking heads on the 11 o'clock news.
So if I think wine connoisseurship is hokum at its worst, why did I ever mention it?
Simple. There's one thing about wine that everyone knows: It gets better with age. And thus wine is my polar opposite.
Let's face it: If you're my age and you're improving, then you were really wretched before.
Without going into a litany of geriatric woes, I'll say only one thing about me has not gotten worse - my eyesight.
It's some kind of genetic fluke. Neither of my parents was myopic, nor are my brother and me. My eyesight is 20-30 - not perfect, but good enough to pass the DMV test. I do need reading glasses but don't have a strong prescription for them. But just to hedge my bets, a bunch of years ago I got bifocals.
I got them for two reasons. One was night driving, when lights tend to blur and I didn't want to risk making any mistakes. The other was a writing teacher's number-one occupational hazard - eye strain. Correct enough papers, and after a while, things get fuzzy. Reading glasses prevent this. Or at least they did till quite recently.
I'd just gotten done correcting a bunch of essays when I looked up at a poster on the wall and it looked blurry. That could've happened if I'd corrected papers without wearing glasses, but certainly not with them, which I'd done.
I looked at a bookshelf on my left. It was also blurry.
I took off my glasses, rubbed my eyes and blinked a few times, and when I looked at the poster, it was clearer.
Clearer without my glasses? Could that be?
I put on my glasses, and sure enough, the poster was a bit blurrier. I took them off, and the poster was clear.
I had no idea what was going on; I only knew I needed to get my eyes examined - something I hadn't done in a few years.
Clearing up the mystery
The appointment was with Dr. Catton at Eye Care for the Adirondacks. The techs gave me this test and that, and after a short wait for my drops to kick in, I was examined by the good doc himself.
He asked me if I was having any visual problems. Figuring it was his job to find out, I was deliberately vague.
"Oh," I said, breezily, "just wanted to have an exam, see if there are any changes and that sorta thing, dontcha know."
He nodded and then got down to it.
When the exam was over, he told me to look at a line of small letters on the chart. Then he held one lens over my right eye, then another lens, then kept switching them back and forth.
"OK," he said. "Now is it clearer with the first one or the second?"
He switched a few more times, and it was obvious I could see better with one of the lenses.
"All right," he said, holding up one up to my eye. "This one is your current prescription." Then he held up another and said, "This is a weaker lens. Now, which one is clearer?"
"The weaker one," I said. "But how-"
"How is that possible?" he said, cutting me off.
"Well, it's a bit strange," he said.
And it was.
It turns out I have some cataracts. They were noted on my chart three years ago, but because they were so tiny, they were no threat to my vision. Since then, they've grown a bit but are still no threat. In fact, they're the exact opposite: They're making my eyesight better!
If that confounds you, don't feel alone - I was completely vermischt.
It turns out the cataracts grew just enough to change the lens structure of my eye so my eyesight improved. And that's why I saw worse with my glasses on than when they were off - at least with my right eye. My left eye saw better with the glasses on, and worse with it off. And thus my confusion after correcting those papers.
So in reality I can say that until I get my new prescription, I can see better with my glasses off, and worse with them on. But I can also say I see better with my glasses on, and worse with them off.
Or I can say none of those things and instead state the most obvious conclusion: Like a fine wine, I, too, am getting better with age.