Howard Eskin, Sommelier
I was driving home from work last night, listening to the Phillies game, when a commercial came on. A familiar voice was shilling for the Pennsylvania state stores, something about wines and how delightful they are to drink during baseball games, whether you choose Phillies red or white, ha-ha. That’s when I realized: I was listening to Howard Eskin try to sell me wine. [SIGNUP]
It was like being jolted into a weird parallel universe. Why in the name of all that’s holy would anyone, even in the benighted bowels of the bastardization that is the Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board, think Howard Eskin was a suitable spokesman for wine? Or for anything else, for that matter? He’s the definition of obnoxiousness, a slimy, smarmy suckup to the mighty and a bullying braggart to the common man. I despise him and everything associated with him, particularly since that nastiness back in ’97 involving the roses he sent to a woman he’d been trading e-mail smash notes with—the woman whose husband brutally murdered her when he found the flowers. Oh, sure, Howard Eskin—who better to get you in the mood for some nice French bubbly?
But then I got to thinking: It actually makes perfect sense that the LCB would turn to Eskin. Both of the concrete-bunker stores in my hometown are currently sporting plywood over broken glass in the doors, and have been for weeks — what’s the hurry to repair them? The clerks who man them are mostly — not all, but mostly—surly and unpleasant, seeming put-upon by having to come to the cash register. (The only part of the transaction they enjoy is swiping a pen across your bills with a flourish, looking for counterfeits.) The stocking of goods seems based wholly on whim; popular choices remain sold out for a month, and when you ask why, you’re told the truck hasn’t yet arrived. Well, duh. The whole state store system is a big up-yours to consumers, a constant reminder that a tiny cadre of union workers and their cronies have been holding an entire state — the sixth most populous in the nation — hostage for almost 80 years, while they charge exorbitant prices, limit selection, remain impervious to consumer demand, and, in a final affront, crank the air conditioning in their stores to frigid all summer long. Must be nice, guys.
So who better than Eskin to stick it in our faces that when it comes to buying wine and liquor in this state, we’re stuck? I picture the LCB sitting in a bunker somewhere, tittering and rubbing their hands together in glee every time his commercial comes on: You can’t stand Howard Eskin? Tee-hee, Pennsylvania: We know!
SANDY HINGSTON is a Philly Mag senior editor.