Tetter and Kibes

“She works at St. Veronica’s hospital, lives nearby at the home of a Mrs. Quoad, a lady widowed long ago and since suffering a series of antiquated diseases: greensickness, tetter, kibes, purples, imposthumes and almonds in the ears, most recently a touch of scurvy.”

–Thomas Pynchon, Gravity’s Rainbow, 1973

Thomas Pynchon...Portrait of the Reclusive Literary Genius as a Young Man

The quote from the inimitable Mr. Pynchon is by way of support for a thesis implicit in several of my posts: health issues, whether they relate to diseases or cures thereof, are subject to human fashions.

Anyone who disputes this point a) obviously, does not count even one hypochondriac among his friends, and b) is likely too young to remember the great Red Wine Allergy scare of the 1980s.

Yes, red wine, like caffeine before it and gluten today, took its turn as the great ingestible villain. During that period, I personally knew at least half-a-dozen people who claimed to have this affliction. Frankly, I would have given this whole thing a lot more credit if any two of them presented with the same set of symptoms. Nope, they were all over the road: flushing faces, nasal congestion, racing heartbeat, a loosening of the kneecaps, a flaming sensation in the eyebrows…

A good friend of mine finally took this craze to what I firmly believe to be its logical conclusion. After much thought and experimentation, she came to the realization that it wasn’t the color of the wine she was sensitive to, but the quality of it. Her circle of acquaintances was put on notice that it was fine to serve her red wine—as long as it was good expensive red wine, not a cheap, inferior version.

I often wonder what would have happened had she had the chance to meet another friend of mine, the late Art Poulos. Art was a wine connoisseur, an enthusiast of music and audio systems, an ailurophile, and most of all, an original thinker.

I once gave Art a bottle of wine as a gift. On a subsequent visit, I casually inquired “How was the wine?”

“That depends,” replied Art. “How much did you pay for it?”


“It’s really pretty simple. Given what that wine was like, I think it was comparable to wines for which I’ve paid about $10 a bottle, and come away satisfied. Now, though it was a good $10 wine, it was a terrible $20 wine. Conversely, if you got it for $5, then it was a great wine!”

World's Best Wine? By the logic of Art Poulos, maybe so...

Art was merely applying the well-known concept of “price-performance ratio” to a product, which, for whatever reason, has been largely immune to it. Once someone like Art has pointed it out, it’s hard to understand why the thinking is not more widely applied. In Silicon Valley, “price-performance ratio” is a very basic concept in the computer industry. Yet, other products—at least in their high-end, luxury market sub-segments—are constantly spared being subject to this kind of reasoning. Think watches and handbags.

Following Art’s logic, then the world’s best wines may be those made by Charles Shaw and sold at (among other places) Trader Joe’s for $2 a bottle (whence the affectionately ironic nickname “Two-Buck Chuck”.)

Well, more on cheap/good wines, loss leaders, supermarkets, distribution, etc. in upcoming posts. In the meantime, I’ve got to take a break from the PC—my kibes are acting up, and I’ve got impostumes the size of a—

–Greg Marus

P.S. In case you’re wondering:

“Actually, Art, I shelled out $7 for it.”

“In that case, Greg, I enjoyed a really good wine!”


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