Chapter 5 – The Woodcock’s Reserve

Shortly after breakfast in Santa Barbara, Kanish and I flew up the 101 to San Francisco. He wanted to find some Gangstah rappers there, and while it’s true one can find MCs in every US city, San Francisco didn’t make a whole lot of sense as the place to start. Ever since Silicon Valley began moving their operations into San Francisco, the Middle Class has been absolutely priced out. San Francisco is pretty much only available to the über-rich now.

Of course, Oakland is just ten minutes over the bridge. And if you want to find Gangstah MCs, Raider Nation would seem the better place to look. I didn’t want to find Gangstahs at all, certainly not in Oakland, particularly since I live in Los Angeles. Even with the Dishwashing Sikh Bodyguard at our disposal, I felt it would be ill-conceived to comb the streets of Oakland in a Bentley and a Stingray looking for Gangstah rappers.

Kanish and I stayed at the Waldorf Astoria in San Francisco and the staff elsewhere. I don’t really know where they went, and I found myself wondering just who paid the bills. From what I could see, it wasn’t Kanish. Besides, I felt it was a bit early in our relationship to pry about finances. Clearly, someone was paying the bills, and it wasn’t me. This is really all I cared about in that regard.

Kanish loved San Francisco, but it was getting quite cold in the city, and he came down with a case of the shivers. As did I. After all, there is no place on earth colder than San Francisco.

Oh, I can hear the snorts and guffaws now, particularly from those of you who live near glaciers. But there is a chill by coastal California capable of penetrating the bone regardless of outerwear. There’s a reason why Mark Twain wrote, “The coldest winter I ever spent was a summer in San Francisco.” It’s deceptively fucking cold here, and the temperature gauge doesn’t tell the whole story. The best way that I know to beat the cold ocean air is to head inland. Next stop—wine country.

There are wineries up and down the coast of California, but there are only two counties that make up the area we refer to as wine country—Sonoma and Napa, and they are quite different from one another in culture. Sonomaans like to portray themselves as the ruddy, earthy types, and Napaans are proud to be the highfalutin society types, but when you get right down to it, they’re all the same—they cater to tourists.

What most people don’t realize is that wineries sell you their stock for the suggested retail price, which is at least twice the margin they get selling it wholesale. This is one of the major ways that wineries eke out a profit—tourists with too much money and an inability to do a simple Google search. Frankly, you’re far better off going to the local grocery store for California wines, and will pay considerably less than you would at the winery itself. But then, that wouldn’t be nearly as sentimentally satisfying. It would also cause the price of wine to increase.

Kanish and I were starting to get a little tipsy as we vineyard-hopped our way through Sonoma. As it turned out, the wineries were all kicking off their big tourist season and there were special events everywhere, all of which were quite predictably sold out. Under normal circumstances, a sold-out Sonoma would be problematic. We were far from normal circumstances.

Given our level of inebriation, Sevaka was now driving Kanish and me in the Bentley as the Dishwashing Sikh and Annapurna led the charge in the Stingray. Let me tell you, when you drive up to parties unannounced in this particular configuration, strange things happen. They just let you in.

This was especially evident when we decided to join the Woodcock family at their yearly season opening extravaganza—touted in the local Sonoma rag as “the hottest ticket in town.” Somehow, Kanish took this as an invitation.

The event was being held on the picturesque terrace of the main estate, and upon our arrival, the party was already in full swing. Of course, I’ve always found it best to be fashionably late when crashing a party such as this, if for no other reason than you don’t have to fight traffic. Sevaka drove through the magnificent iron gates, up the paved driveway to the valet. Much to my surprise, Sevaka rolled down his window to address him.

“Announcing the Prince of Rajkot, India. As expected.”

The first thought that flashed across my mind was, Kanish is a prince? But that was the Medicine talking. This was just a ruse, of course, one they’d clearly played before.

The Mexican valet clearly didn’t understand a word. The short Caucasian man with the clipboard, on the other hand, understood him just fine, and he ran at full gait up to the house. Let me put it this way—the commotion that ensued post Sevaka’s announcement was nothing short of entertaining.

The Woodcock family was so taken by the fact that their gala dinner was being attended by Indian Royalty, they cleared a spot for Kanish and me at the family table. The fact that we were both dressed so casually only seemed to make our story all the more believable. Only a prince would attend a black-tie event wearing a Budweiser T-shirt and well-worn jeans.

The Sikh was following close behind, as if Kanish’s life might be in danger. This was a good touch, as it made the whole royalty scam all the more believable. Who comes to wine country staffed with a driver, a chef, and a Dishwashing Sikh Bodyguard without a reservation? Royalty was the only logical explanation.

“This is great!” I announced as the staff cleared our places.

“Wait until I tell my father of your remarkable hospitality!” Kanish agreed.

As enjoyable as all this was for us, the same could not be said about the couple we’d managed to displace, who were now seated in the corner at a small table erected just for them.

Kathleen Woodcock—our hostess, perched at the head of the table—was beaming with pride, and was just dying to ask Kanish a question. The moment the waiter placed a napkin into her lap, she nearly burst.

“Tell me about the Taj Mahal! Do you live there?”

“Goodness, no. Do you wish death upon me?”

There was an awkward pause as Kathleen froze in horror at her obvious blunder. Kanish was quick to let her off the hook.

“The Taj Mahal is a mausoleum, and I vehdy much hope I don’t live there for many years to come.”

The entire table broke out in laughter.

“Long live the prince!” Edward Woodcock, Kathleen’s brother, announced as he raised a glass of Cabernet.

Kanish took a big swig of wine and then continued to spin a tale that only someone who grew up in India could muster. He described in detail the palace in Ranjit Villa. He talked about the opulent weddings they would have there, featuring “a parade of diamond-adorned Elephants” and “Princes in full regalia” marching through the town of destitute onlookers. Of course, Kanish didn’t bother to mention the destitute onlookers. I just added that.

“Tell us about your bedroom in the palace, Kanish,” Kathleen said with great excitement, which I found rather forward, particularly coming from a woman three times his age.

“My bedroom is covered with gold wallpaper. My chandelier with rubies.”

I couldn’t help but wonder whether that was true. Clearly, he didn’t live in the palace—he wasn’t royalty, he was Brahman—but everything else he spouted on about seemed at the very least plausible. Kanish continued with what I felt was a rather brilliant touch to the story. He held up his glass such that the rays of the setting sun passed through the wine onto the white tablecloth.

“My whole room turns a spectacular shade of Zinfandel as the sun shines through the rubies.”

It was sickeningly overdramatic, what with Zinfandel not actually being a color. It also worked like a charm. Kathleen, who had nearly choked on her own Zin, was clearly enamored by the idea of a ruby chandelier in her bedroom.

“A ruby chandelier!” Kathleen marveled. “Where would one get such a thing?”

“Needless Markups,” I said jokingly. And it really was meant as a joke. Why would royalty purchase their chandeliers from a department store? Isn’t that a custom item?

“Really! Neiman Marcus carries ruby chandeliers?” Kathleen screeched with delight.

“And flying cars too,” I said.

“Yes, yes, yes. This is where I purchased mine,” Kanish said casually.

This caught the fancy of Edward, who blurted, “You have a flying car?”

“But of course I do!”

One of the first rules of bullshit is, make sure there is at least a kernel of truth in anything that you say, and when the whole truth works, use it. Otherwise, you risk blowing the charade. I happened to remember a Neiman Marcus catalog sporting a flying car on the cover many years back. The way I figured it, Kanish must have seen the same catalog.

Meanwhile, the displaced couple was stewing at their corner table. I actually felt bad for a bit, until I found out the guy was a Billionaire. I would have felt terrible had the couple scrimped their pennies to achieve a lifelong dream of dinner with the Woodcocks. In retrospect, given the exclusivity of the event, that scenario seemed unlikely.

According to the chatty lady to my right, the guy was a newly minted Billionaire from Silicon Valley. Apparently, he was rather new to the club, and his net worth was listed at a paltry billion. That’s right a billion. By all rights, my Assistant’s future many billions should have priority in these matters. I mean, that’s how this shit works, right?

It never ceases to amaze me the perks one gets just from being rich. Especially when you bring fame into the equation. I was at the NAMM Show (National Association of Music Merchants) in Anaheim last January, and I watched as CeeLo Green ordered a sandwich. Wouldn’t you know it? The manager comped his meal. I paid ten bucks for my shitty fucking sandwich, and the millionaire among us gets his for free. Surely, were the manager to actually means-test this decision, CeeLo wouldn’t make the cut. Yet he got a free sandwich.

If you’re a celebrity of any kind, you’re comped all the time by the Serfs who wish to make an impression upon you. Of course, when the Serfs are all comping everything, everywhere you go, you have to wonder whether any of it impacts anyone other than the peasants who offer the comp in the first place.

The pissed-off Barely Billionaire was starting to make a pest of himself, much to the chagrin of his wife, as he dramatically threw down his napkin and stood up to address Kanish.

“What did you say your name was again?” he slurred.

The Barely Billionaire waved his phone in what I would call a rather taunting manner, and which I must admit, had me a bit concerned. Getting into details like names was going to be trouble, as these sorts of things can be researched on the spot. Kathleen and Edward were visibly upset by this line of questioning, yet they stopped short of doing anything about it. Their eyes darted between the irate Barely Billionaire and Kanish. They were clearly interested in the answer to that question themselves and would live with the embarrassment of their guest verifying the information.

This is the problem with instant and perpetual access to information. One can no longer get away with outlandish bullshit, not without some measure of backup on the Internet. Unfortunately, this was an impromptu visit, and as such, there was no time to properly research our story. Fortunately, Kanish, being Indian, was an expert in such matters.

Kanish announced his princely name, and immediately spelled it for the Barely Billionaire, who frantically entered the information into his phone. I was hit with a stiff shot of adrenaline at that moment, and I began to concoct various exit strategies should our ruse go awry.

The Barely Billionaire stared at his phone as the entire table awaited the results with marked anticipation. After several swipes with his thumb, he turned his phone and held up a picture of a young Indian prince.

“This is you?”

“It certainly looks like me!” Kanish exclaimed in glee.

The table broke out in laughter.

“Thanks, Jim, but we verified him already,” Edward lied. Dejected, the Barely Billionaire returned to the Baby Billionaire table where he belonged.

I certainly wouldn’t describe the prince as a dead ringer, but Kanish was so confident that no one at the table dared question him. Besides, nearly everyone at this party was white and most certainly couldn’t tell the difference between the young Indian prince in the picture and the young Indian Billionaire at the table. That said, the resemblance was quite remarkable.

Edward couldn’t contain himself any longer. “Tell me about your flying car!”

Much to my surprise, Kanish did one better than just tell him about it. He actually began to show the entire table selfies that he’d taken in his flying car in London. And were there any hint of a doubt remaining in the minds of the guests as to the veracity of our story, those had now been fully put to rest.

Course after fabulous gourmet course was brought to the table, each with a new tasting of wine, seven courses in all. And although this was the Woodcocks’ affair, the outside observer wouldn’t have known it by watching it. Kanish was holding court, and had managed to capture the fancy and imagination of every guest there.

Kanish introduced me as his Producer, which made my part easy. I didn’t have to make anything up, for which I was quite thankful, as it’s not in my nature to do such things. I did, however, have to pretend that I was producing a Vanity album for the Prince of Rajkot, which I found quite demeaning.

Kathleen and Edward were the most wonderful hosts you could imagine, and once the after-party had concluded, Edward helped to load the front seat of the Bentley with three cases of, as he put it, “our most cherished wines.” A cursory search of the Internet revealed that the Woodcocks had gifted Kanish thousands of dollars in wine. That said, there’s really no telling the true value of the gift, since we would have had to search wine cellars all over the state to find some of these particular vintages. And once again, the person who least needed to be comped was.

“Where are you staying?” Edward asked as he loaded the last case of wine into the Bentley.

“I’m not sure,” I replied.

“You don’t have a reservation anywhere? You’re never going to find a place in the Valley. Everything’s booked up! Even the campsites are full.”

“I guess we’ll have to go back to the City,” I said.

“Nonsense! You should stay here tonight, as our guests. We’ll provide you a room, Prince,” he offered.

Edward then looked down his nose at me and pronounced, “The staff can sleep in the barn.”

“Yeah, I’m his Producer, not staff. And I can assure you that I’m not staying in a barn,” I replied.

Kathleen apologized profusely for the faux pas and brought Kanish and me up to our respective rooms. The staff were provided with sleeping bags and cots and didn’t seem to have a problem with crashing in a barn. After brushing my teeth, I met Kanish in the hall. We faced each other, both of us fully clad in plaid flannel pajamas provided to us by the Woodcocks.

“What is today’s lesson?” Kanish asked.

“I can tell you today’s lesson, but based on the events of this evening, you already have a firm grasp of it.”

“It is never a bad thing to relearn a lesson, my Guru. This is how it remains knowledge.”

“Playing the flute to a buffalo is a waste,” I said.

“Ah, yes. A vehdy good lesson indeed!”

I couldn’t help but chuckle to myself as I replayed the events of that evening. The seemingly exotic and ultra-risky careers of Producers, whether of wine or of music, can become downright mundane given enough time. Kanish played a serenade that Kathleen and Edward desperately required. Me as well.

The kid has a gift.


Chapter 6 – The Blessed Donkey