Everyone knows that the least embarrassing way to get a red wine stain on your clothing is if a woman in an evening gown throws a glass of it in your face at a cocktail party. Onlookers will gasp. Some will assume you deserved it, and it’s probably true that you did. But regardless, everyone will be impressed, and talk about it the day after the party, and recognize you as someone who excites passions.
At the opposite extreme, there are a variety of humiliating ways for this situation to occur, most of them having to do with drunkenness. In between, there are situations involving cooking. There is not necessarily anything embarrassing about spilling cooking ingredients on your shirt. However, consider the context. There is no way you opened a bottle of wine to cook with unless you’re hosting a dinner date. Your date is probably waiting in the next room. So after the accident occurs, you will have to go put on a different shirt, without walking through the living room where you have a lavender-scented candle burning and a Chet Baker record on. On your return, you will need to give an explanation of why you did a costume change in the middle of a dinner date like you were doing a Vegas revue of your greatest hits. If dinner is at your place, this is probably the third date, and we all know the stakes are high.
My own personal most embarrassing red wine stain was acquired in an unusual environment. It took place on an airplane. I’m not sure where I was going. Most flights I have taken in my life have gone to Pakistan, but there is no alcohol served on Pakistan International Airways. (The food is not bad though.) A variety of online forums claim that British Airways offers the best selection of wine. It is indeed possible that I was either going to or returning from England, where I once spent a year abroad in college. But wherever I was going or from whence I came, the wine on this flight was not impressive. I’ve done some research on wines usually served on flights, though this was many years ago, so the selection may have changed since then. These days, American Airlines serves a wine called “Noble Vines.” Let’s say it was that. But let’s also pause and imagine naming your winery “Noble Vines,” and then a number of people saying “that idea is fine.”
Anyway let’s say I was sitting on an American Airlines plane during a flight. I hate flights. I know that’s not a noteworthy quality in a person. But I don’t hate them because I fear them. I mean, I do fear them. Every time I’m on one I assume it is going to crash. When the plane takes off, I think to myself, “this can’t be right.” But I am actually relatively okay with the prospect of my imminent death. What I really hate is being trapped in that little space where there is not much to do other than notice the things other people are doing that bother me. Children are not much of a problem. It’s the adults who are obnoxious. Once, when I was a child, I noticed a passenger in front of me saying to a stewardess, “I’m known as a great lover.” I have never forgotten this phrase, though I have not used it in my own life. The right moment just hasn’t come along.
Don’t even get me started on getting onto the plane in the first place. Airport security is not a convenient process for people with my particular skin tone. Once, I was pulled out of a line for having bulging pockets. The security guy who nabbed me was pretty excited about it. He was ready to be a hero. He seemed to believe he was going to find, I don’t know, napalm in my pants. As he patted me down, I could see the excitement building in his face.
“Empty your pockets,” he commanded, quivering.
Presumably he believed that I had been coached by an Al-Qaeda training camp in Central Pennsylvania to carry weapons of mass destruction in the pockets of my jeans. In reality, the bulges were clusters of ginger candies, which I believed would cure motion sickness. (I don’t think it works, in retrospect.) On another flight, it seemed as though the only reason I was stopped was that I had a beard at the time. The agents were eager to inspect my heaviest bag, which turned out to be full of funk and soul records I had found at European record stores. I have never grown a beard again since.
Anyway, on this flight, I ordered a bottle of red wine. This is where I admit I was already wasted in some way. Because flights are so unpleasant, I never turn down the opportunity to consume drugs of any kind beforehand. Sometimes a doctor will be generous enough to prescribe you a drug of this sort, designed to reduce anxiety for those who fear flying. But my problem is not anxiety, it is boredom. So this particular drug could have been anything. It’s possible I had consumed a mildly powerful painkiller of the variety you can buy over the counter in any European country, as long as you are able to name a symptom. I had this conversation a few times in England, which went something like this.
Miscreant American Youth [not sure he will get away with this]: Can I uh, have some codeine?
British Pharmacist: What for?
Miscreant American Youth: I’ve been having some, uh, pain. It’s in like, different places. It’s a headache? But also soreness. In my body parts. I looked it up online and—
British Pharmacist [already put several boxes of codeine in a bag]: Six shillings please, cheerio!
So it might have been one of those. It might also have been Ambien, which I may have taken in order to try to sleep through the flight, a feat I have never achieved. It is of some consolation that the medication has psychedelic effects on me.
Anyway, at this point you probably see what’s coming: I proceeded to accidentally pour the entire bottle of red wine onto myself. If you’ve seen Airplane!, you will know that this is the clearest sign of a drinking problem. The worst part was, I had poured it in exactly the most inopportune place. It looked not only like I had wet my pants, but that I had a potentially serious genital infection. This was a crisis of similar proportions to those depicted in Air Force One or Die Hard 2. But I had not given up hope. Fortunately, the woman sitting next to me was asleep at this time; perhaps I could avoid embarrassment altogether. Surely there was something I could do. (Go ahead.)
At that moment I had an insight. I remembered the most surefire way to get red wine stains out of fabric. It was a method with such perfect narrative symmetry that it had to work. You get red wine stains out with white wine. How great is that? Dionysus may have known how to party, but he also knew how to do the laundry.
The thing is, it’s not true. I don’t know where I got the idea. Some googling shows that other people have the same idea, but I think they just got it from the same place I did—literally nowhere. As much sense it would make, there appears to be no basis for it. One California winery addresses the question directly:
We’re not sure who started this silly rumor, but don’t believe it. White wine is not a cleaning agent, nor will it counteract the dyeing agents in red wine. In fact, white wine may just cause your red wine stain to spread out even further. For your own sanity, and to avoid wasting precious white wine on a red wine stain, seek better, alternative methods.
It is true that you can get red wine stains out with club soda, to limited effect, as depicted on an episode of Curb Your Enthusiasm. Either I had never known about this, or I forgot. In any case, I proceeded to nonchalantly place my hand over the stain, which probably looked creepier than the stain itself, and waited for the stewardess to pass by again. Doing my best to keep my cool, I ordered a bottle of white wine. If she suspected it would be one bottle too many for me, she was probably beyond caring.
It was time to put my plan into action. I was right there out in the open, so I would have to do it secretly. Every few seconds, when I thought no one was watching, I unscrewed the bottle of white wine and poured it, drop by drop, onto my lap. I spent about half an hour engaged in this process, dismayed by the lack of stain removal, but still hoping for eventual success.
At some point, I passed out.
When I came to, a few things were different. First of all, the bottle of white wine was empty. It’s possible I had used all of it for my attempt at stain removal, but it’s also possible I drank some in the process, Julia Child-style. Second, the woman who had been sitting next to me was nowhere to be found. Apparently, she had requested a relocation of seats. I would not see her again until exiting the plane, at which point she conspicuously avoided eye contact with me. Third, I was extremely dizzy.
One thing, however, had not changed. I passed through customs with a deep red stain in the crotch of my pants. It caused me less trouble than the beard.
Popula is 100% ad-free, reader-supported journalism accountable only to you. Every dollar of your subscription goes straight to our work. Thank you for supporting Popula.