Conversations For Transformation: Essays Inspired By The Ideas Of Werner Erhard

Conversations For Transformation

Essays By Laurence Platt

Inspired By The Ideas Of Werner Erhard

And More

Dirty Clothes, Clean Hands:

A Stand

Napa Valley, California, USA

August 1, 2019

"His clothes are dirty but his hands are clean, and you're the best thing that he's ever seen." ... Robert Allen Zimmerman aka Bob Dylan, Lay Lady Lay

This essay, Dirty Clothes, Clean Hands: A Stand, is the companion piece to Incident: Inspired Accident.

It is also the sequel to
  1. The Land Baroness And The Cowhand
  2. Thank You For Voting
in that order.

It was written at the same time as What Are You Going To Do Today?.

I am indebted to Laura Swanton who contributed material for this conversation.

Photography by Julie Caine

Courtesy KALW, San Francisco local public radio
Vineyard workers harvesting Cabernet Sauvignon grapes in
Napa Valley

Here in Napa Valley, California's wine country  which has been my home since 1989, there's a lot to do. I've purposefully sought out and done most of the jobs which producing fine wine requires. Not as a career move. No, simply as an experience to be had, to be immersed in, and to learn from (and about) the process. I've worked so-called bottling lines  which start with barreled wine and empty bottles, and end with wine in labeled, sealed bottles, all in labeled, sealed cases. Bottling lines require a lot of (no, endless)  heavy-weight repetitive lifting motions which won't be suitable for everyone, and which if you're not careful, will stress your body. I've done a course in wine blending, a creative process which blends varietals to produce a desired taste - in the same way as an artist mixes acrylics to produce a desired visual patina. I've served wine in tasting rooms, pouring Napa Valley's finest juice for visitors and locals to sip and savor. There's a certain conversation that goeswith  wine tasting (as Alan Watts may have said). I've learned to be in it. I'm now a wine expert - based on I know what wines I like  (that's all it takes to be a wine expert). I've dropped in on the fabled Napa Valley wine auction  in time to hear a guy offer $450,000.00  for a 750ml bottle of Screaming Eagle  (it wasn't even the winning bid).

I've driven visitors around the valley on winery tours. If you come here, it's pointless choosing your itinerary based on whether the wine at each place is considered to be any good or not. Listen: here, it's all  the good stuff. Given what's at stake, if a winery is open for business, it means it's making good wine ie it means it's making wine that people like enough to buy enough to keep the doors open. If you want to give winery tour guides an impossible task, tell them to take you to places where the wine isn't  any good (I say it can't be done). I've produced and hosted dinners where wineries showcase their premium products complemented by haute cuisine. I've assembled packages to be distributed quarterly to "wine club" members. I've worked the phones taking reservations from people requesting private cave tours.

There's still one thing I haven't done here: I've never worked a harvest. I did once ask a friend of mine who owns a winery and a vineyard if I could work the harvest with her (I told her she didn't have to pay me - to the contrary, I would pay her  just for the experience) so I could add harvest to the feathers already in my cap. She said "Laurence, you can join us if you really want to. But I suggest you don't. If you don't already have the muscles for it, it can kill you.". And I don't. So I didn't.

Which brings me to the people who do  work the harvest, the ones who do have the muscles for it, the proud, the dignified hard-working migrants who may show up for work with slightly dirty clothes, yet whose hands (at least at the start of the day) are clean. That's my metaphor for how they occur for me as people who have integrity, how they occur for me as real  people, how they occur for me as people who epitomize "working  for a living" (what  a concept ...), how they occur for me as courageous and brave and willing to travel many, many miles in search of work to support themselves and their families. I'm speaking about both women and men who have worked the harvest for years starting at the break of day, working through dusk and even later (in which case the vineyards are lit by artificial lighting which accompanies them through the rows of vine trellises, towed by tractors) after which they must still allocate time to being great parents and home-makers. You try it!

I've never heard them complain - not once. I've always been taken with their warm, beaming smiles whenever I've greeted them. "¿Cómo está, señora?". "Muy bien, ¿y tú?". ("How are you, ma'am?". "Very good, and you?"). Listen: there are very, very few resident non-migrants who would be willing to do what they do (no, who have the guts, the stamina, and the physical strength to do what they do) at the wages for which they're willing to do it. It's a political hot potato in these parts. One side says "Deport them! They take up affordable housing, schools, and emergency room services", to which I say "Are you kidding  me? Let's be very clear about this: if it weren't for them being here, you and I wouldn't have the Napa Valley as we know it, nor it's world-revered fine wines for our enjoyment.". And that is the truth.

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© Laurence Platt - 2019 Permission