The Most Navel Gazing, Self Important Post I Have Ever Written

29 January 2010

While some of you may debate the accuracy of the title, I am certain that an entire post about the fact that I have finally succumbed to the gravitational force that is Twitter qualifies for the slightly hyperbolic statement.

My opposition was first rooted in the inanity and drivel that were the limited tweets that made it into my Twitter-free world.  That line of thought was muted when a friend boxed me into admitting that if I consider haiku the most difficult poetic form, it was illogical to not consider tweeting or micro-blogging the most difficult blogging form.

The more lasting opposition was born of just not finding a purpose to it.  Whenever the subject was broached I would simply state “I’ve yet to have someone make a convincing case on why I should.”  I would sit and listen and I was not swayed… until last night.

My friend, LiLu and I were talking and she was, yet again, trying to convince me to just make the step.  After a few minutes, she gave up trying to penetrate my too thick skull.  Forty minutes later the subject had changed multiple times, another round of drinks had been ordered, and she handed me her phone with the simple preface “This is what you’re missing with Twitter.”

brandyismagic: HAD’s having his first radiation treatment tonight.  Then I’m going to make him watch The Bachelor. I think he’d prefer more radiation.

For those of you not familiar with Brandy and her Hot Awesome Dude, she and her manfriend are dealing with his recent diagnosis of multiple myeloma.  They are the reason that a great number of bloggers loaned our corners of the internet to Brandy to tell their story and ask for positive thoughts.  They are the reason that even more bloggers gave their time and, ahem, singing to create the Love Harder video.  They are the reason that people all over the world have donated thousands of dollars to research a cure for this disease through the Love Harder Project.

Through all of this and against a backdrop of serious medical hardship, Brandy found a way to be funny, and poignant, and encouraging, and it made me a little misty.  And that’s what I was missing with Twitter.

While Lilu still needs to teach me the ways of Twitter, you can now follow me @restrntrefugee.


A Couple of Endorsements and a Few Not So Much

27 January 2010

Not Exactly an Endorsement – It was barely four years ago that Mel Gibson revealed himself to be an Anti-Semitic jackhole.  His lunatic rants were all over the entertainment news wires.  TMZ published his arrest report, Gibson went on the typical apology tour, about which I am calling bullshit (Booze will lower inhibitions and allow one to say things that are already in his/her heart, but it won’t plant the most vile of thoughts there.)

Now about 40 months later (less than half the amount of time it took for the Holocaust… you know just to add some perspective) this filth spewing, ignorant racist (I know: redundant,) Holocaust Denier has a big budget movie from a major studio.  The trailers are all over the television and the net and I can’t look at his repugnant mug without wanting to change the channel.

An Endorsement – The Wet Martini, also known by its proper name, Martini, is a beautiful drink when well made.  Sadly, we got sold on the notion that a dry martini has virtue as opposed to being what it is: a big glass of cold gin.  Go to a good bar and ask the bartender for a real martini (you’ll know it’s a good bar if the bartender smiles with delight at the prospect) with Hendricks, or Bluecoat American Dry and a dash of Fee Brothers’ Bitters.

Not Exactly an Endorsement – Television Commercials for Anti-Depressants are clearly designed by some people who’ve never dealt with clinical depression.  Attempting to make someone who suffers from this disease feel even worse in an effort to sell more of your drugs may not be equivalent to emotional blackmail but it’s not far behind it.

An Endorsement – Buying the Suit/Dress/Whatever and then find the event later.  Maybe you host a cocktail party yourself and invite your friends to drink in all of their semi-formal finery.  Maybe you gather your friends for a night of fancy drinking just cause, or maybe you just attend one of the hundreds of charity galas held in every metropolitan area every year.  Get the threads, the event will come or you can make your own.

Not Exactly an Endorsement – Professional Football Quarterbacks who consistently blame their teammates when things go wrong.  I’m not naming any names, cough, cough, Peyton Manning, but I am pretty sure that every time it happens butterflies lose their wings, puppies get stomach aches, and maybe a large woman gets ready to sing.


Visiting an Old Love – The Rest of the Story

26 January 2010

Easy banter and casual flirtation became the tangible, the inevitable on the night of my going away party.  It wasn’t my speech about why I am a horrible person to date, or YALIUD asking me why I never asked her on a date.  It became inevitable the moment the she and I caught eyes as the band started to play Besame Mucho.  It was the look of mutual agreement, of adult coconspirators acknowledging a carnal pact.

A few hours later we were a collapsed mass of tangled bodies and damp skin.  Spent but thirsty from drink and activity, I fetched two glasses of water from YALIUD’s kitchen.

“You know that I work as much as you do, right?” was the question YALIUD gently asked when I got back to the bed.

She was right, our schedules were different but the volume of hours was roughly the same.  We made a go of it for a couple of months.  Drinks after my shift, or dinner at the bar of the restaurant one or two nights a week, and most Sunday mornings – that was the routine.  And like most routines, it grew old fast.  We had lost the light, the breezy, the banter that made it so pleasurable in the first place.

When we first ended the unnamed thing that we were doing, we both had difficulty not using the other as a stress relieving crutch.  It made her career driven move to New York City easier.

We traded emails over the ensuing years, had drinks together if we were in the same city (unless one of us was dating someone else,) and somehow kept a very weak but very real tether to each other.

Last week, after the happiness and the hugs, after a cocktail or two, after the conversations about making partner and her buying her flat, after eyelashes were lowered slowly and legs crossed carefully, the question finally came.

“Refugee, why didn’t we try harder?  Why didn’t you try harder?”

“YALIUD, you know if we try to hold too tight we’ll find a way to choke it, not make it more secure.”

“Yeah, I know, but I like knowing that you’ve thought about the question too.”


Moths Have Candles – Apparently I Have Hot Attorneys… or How YALIUD and I met – the Full Story

24 January 2010

YALIUD and I met back in 2004.  Close to eleven and a few times a week, she would arrive at the bar of the restaurant I was running at the time.  Three years removed from law school, she was a mid-level and fast-tracked associate at a white shoe law firm.  Most nights she would have a single malt while perusing the menu (for no good reason as she only ordered a pair of the same four things) and scribbling on a yellow legal pad.  When her appetizer arrived, she would move to a glass of red wine – whatever we recommended – and continue scribbling.  By the time the entrée arrived, she was ready to nurse her second glass and put away her work.

We were a convenient anesthetic for her as we were only a block away from her condo and we had a habit of sending her a complimentary dessert, and always ensured that someone walked her home if she had enough for that to be prudent.  The nights of her visits fluctuated, but she was always there on Tuesdays – the night that I chose to keep my bartending skills sharp.  We would always do the three drink, 45 minutes of work, maybe one more dance.  After a few weeks of regular patronage, she asked me for “a last drink of the night.”

After a few moderately successful but far from spectacular attempts, we settled on the Long Kiss Goodnight as her valedictory drink.  It was the right balance of soft, and spice, and cream and subtle for her.  She and I had the casual flirtation that is a tool a bartender’s uses more frequently than any jigger or shaker, but nothing further.

YALIUD had been coming to the restaurant for several months when I invited her to my private “Going Away” party for my last night there.  I was headed to another, higher end, restaurant.  One of the my favorite bands was going to play, one of my favorite distributors donated plenty of booze for the open bar, one of my favorite bartenders from another bar was kind enough to “guest” that night so all of the staff could attend.

“Have you ever seen the movie Good Will Hunting” YALIUD asked me as soon as she arrived at the party and before I could even say hello.

“It’s one of my favorites… according to my definition of favorites which is movies I have seen at least seven times and would watch again tonight” I replied.

“Ferfuckssaake, do you have to use every question as an excuse to pontificate?” YALIUD stated testily.

I wanted to give some variation of the “have you met me” defense but I have learned enough to know that sarcasm’s most receptive audience is not an angry woman – even more so when you don’t know why she’s angry.  I went with “Sorry – bad habit” instead.

“You know that scene in the Will and Skylar first meet in the bar?”  YALIUD said in what was only partly a question.

“Yeah” was my very cautious reply, you know the kind of “yeah” that takes almost three syllables to articulate because you’re not sure where things are going and don’t think you’ll like the destination.

“As she’s leaving she walks over to Will and says ‘You’re an idiot’”

“Right.”

“Yeah, well, you’re an idiot.  Why have you never asked me out?”

Mission Control to Mouth, Mission Control to Mouth, come in Mouth.

Mouth here, go ahead Mission Control.

Mouth, you are instructed to proceed with extreme caution.  The very attractive, and slightly annoyed woman is a notoriously dangerous creature – move forward with great care and godspeed, Mouth…. Mission Control out.

“May I get you a drink while I think of the best way to explain my obvious stupidity?”

I went behind the bar and grabbed the hidden bottle of scotch, Glen Garioch 21 year old, that I reserved for really great or really craptastic nights.   I poured two fingers into a heavy bottom rocks glass and returned to YALIUD.

“The explanation for my idiocy is more complicated than you might think” I said while placing the rich and complex single malt in her hand.  “You asked, so you’re going to get the full answer.  You are a stunning woman with a rapier wit and intelligence that you wear so gracefully.  Only a moron wouldn’t find you incredibly attractive.  But I’m in the restaurant business, which means that I generally avoid dating my guests because it’s most often bad for business.  Of course, I have made exceptions and I would be lying if I said I never thought about dating you.  The real problem is that despite the light flexibility of the aforementioned rule, there is no flexibility about staff asking out a guest.  I have fired people for doing that, so certainly couldn’t do it myself.”

YALIUD’s look made it clear that she understood my point, but I sensed a need to preempt the next question, now that I am leaving…

“And as much as I’d love to take you to dinner sometime, now that I am going to another restaurant, you should know what it’s like to date someone who runs a restaurant:

  • I will break plans with you at the last minute a minimum of three times before we actually have dinner
  • Most frequently we would only see each other after midnight
  • We would never get together on a Friday or Saturday night because I will always work those nights
  • When we do, finally, go to dinner, I will be interrupted by phone calls at least twice and leave you sitting at the table while I attempt to resolve the crisis du jour over the phone
  • I will never get to meet any of your friends unless you bring them to the restaurant, and even then I will have severely limited amounts of time to spend with you
  • Our social life will exist, by necessity, based on my schedule and there won’t be much that I can do to change that
  • I will be constantly distracted and preoccupied with thoughts of the restaurant.

“You still want to go on a date with me?”

“Wow, that was like a bad romantic comedy all condensed into forty seconds there” YALIUD replied snarkastically.  “You’re right, I probably don’t want to date you any more… taking you home is a different story though.”


Having a Long Kiss Goodnight to/in NYC

21 January 2010

Dinner at Le Bernadin was as exquisite as you would expect (and yes, I just name dropped a four star restaurant, because what the hell, it was sublime.)  It was the first time I dined by myself at a restaurant of this caliber since I was making a strategic effort to drink some of the best bottles in my wine cellar.  This put me in a mildly reflective mood, so the cab driver had to alert me when we arrived at my hotel.

I walked into the hotel bar where I was meeting Yet Another Lawyer I Used to Date for a quick drink and maybe a trip uptown to her favorite latin-jazz joint.  It was just before 10pm, and true to her exceedingly busy form, YALIUD had already sent one message about being almost unstuck from the office.

My hotel was of the classical variety thus the bar was blissfully absent the tragically hip elements that are too popular these days.  Barely half a minute after choosing a seat at the not quite crowded bar, the bartender slides a cloth napkin in front of me and asks for my drink order.

“Good evening, perhaps you would indulge me; I’d like equal parts cognac, frangelico, and bailey’s shaken heavily and served straight up, please.”

A few moments later, as the bartender sat the drink before me, she said “OK, I’ll bite, does this thing have a name?”

“There’s enough left in that shaker for you to pour yourself a dram; why don’t you taste it first” I implored.  The bartender gave me a look that instantly indicated that drinking was against company policy, so I continued “I understand if it’s against the rules, but how can you learn a new drink without tasting it?  It would seem a waste to do otherwise.”

I have never claimed to be a good influence on anyone.

She gave furtive glances to each corner of the room before pouring the remnants into a small rocks glass and taking a sip.  Her smile of delight was balanced by a slightly furrowed brow that I interpreted as consternation.

“I’m Wendy, and you need to tell me about this drink” she said while extending her hand.

“Hi Wendy, I’m Refugee.  That drink is a Long Kiss Goodnight…”

“Oh my god, that name makes perfect sense” Wendy interrupted.  “Where did you have it or learn it?”

“Actually, I invented it for a woman who used to come to my restaurant on the one night of the week I was bartending.  Just before she’d leave she always said ‘Refugee, make me my last drink of the night.’  It took about four weeks but this is what we settled on as her last drink of the night.”

“Hang on a second, I’ll be right back” Wendy said before tending to a group of suits in the middle of the bar.  Three Amstel Lights later Wendy was back and as many bartenders are wont to do, she continued the conversation right where she left it without segue.  “So, you used to be in the business, and invented this drink made with three standard ingredients that had never been put together before?”

I laughed a bit at the question because I understood the incredulity that inspired it before answering “Yeah, it sounds a little strange, but it was more than a few years ago, and I did some research before declaring it a creation.  There are more than a few other recipes with the really different ingredients with the same name, but this is the only one with this combination.”

“Well, it’s really good, and the flavors are really clean… and this one’s on me.  Thank you for teaching me something new” Wendy said at the same time that YALIUD finally arrived.

After the hug, the kisses on the cheek, YALIUD just looked at the bar and then to Wendy and said with a huge smile “Did he teach you MY drink?”


Love Harder

20 January 2010

A month ago I, along with a host of other blogs, loaned our space to share the story of Brandy and her “Hot Awesome Dude” who was recently diagnosed with multiple myeloma.  We did so because she and he are virtual friends for many of use and real friends for some.  Wed did so because our hearts ached for people who don’t deserve this (I know, who does?)  We did so because we felt pretty helpless and this was one small thing that we could do.

And we still felt pretty fucking helpless. LiLu then had the brilliant, elegantly simple idea for something we could do.  I was just fortunate to have an invitation to participate.

The quandaryWe feel terrible. Just horrible. And oh so helpless… if only there was something we could DO for them.

The answer: Ummmm. Did you forget that WE ARE THE INTERNET?!?!!??! And also, Yes We Can!!!

The result: Brandy and your Hot Awesome Dude… this one’s for you. Love, The Internet.

Our Plea

We are raising money for the Multiple Myeloma Research Fund in his name.  For the price of a cinnamon dolce latte, half-caf, hold the whip, you can be part of an effort to cure a disease that affects approximately 750,000 people worldwide.

Every dollar brings us a dollar closer to a cure.  And every donation brings a sliver of hope to a girl who needs all the hope she can get.

Love Harder,
Restaurant Refugee

What You Can Do

  • Give. Be part of a worldwide effort to cure a disease that affects approximately 750,000 people worldwide.  Every dollar helps.
  • Pass it on. Forward this story to five people.  Share this blog post.  Become our fan on Facebook.
  • Love harder. Life is short, love is unbending, and no one knows what could happen next. Tell someone you love them today.

Where Your Money Goes

  • The American Institute of Philanthropy recently named The Multiple Myeloma Research Foundation one of the best organizations to give to in terms of their accountability and use of resources.
  • By working closely with researchers, clinicians and partners in the biotech and pharmaceutical industry, the MMRF has helped bring multiple myeloma patients four new treatments that are extending lives around the globe.
  • The MMRF has advanced twenty Phase I and Phase II clinical trials. They need your support to advance these clinical research programs and accelerate the development of better, more effective treatments.
  • The MMRF’s Multiple Myeloma Genomics Initiative recently became the first to sequence the multiple myeloma whole genome in its entirety.
  • A whopping 98% of your donation to the MMRF will be used immediately to support high-priority multiple myeloma research.
  • With diminishing funding for early stage drug development and the next myeloma treatments not expected to be approved until 2011, the MMRF desperately needs your help.

DONATE: http://www.loveharder.org
CONTACT: theloveharderfund@gmail.com
FACEBOOK: http://facebook.loveharder.org
MORE INFO: http://www.themmrf.org


Visiting an Old Love – See You in a Few Days

18 January 2010


It starts with the Acela train that lets me arrive moments before departure, allows me to use the phone and internet for the whole ride, has adult sized chairs and actual legroom, and then deposits me in midtown without so much as a wrinkle in my shirt.

There are so many things I love about visiting New York City, though I don’t think there is much I would enjoy about living here.  For the next few days, however, I am going to walk her streets, dine in her restaurants, drink in her bars, and, yes, take a meeting or three.

I’m going to hit the BlueNote, the Vanguard and the Algonquin for a little hot & cool swing.

I’ll roll through Circa Tabac, a place that was speakeasy cool years before that trend got annoying, for a cigar and a proper cocktail.

The aforementioned cigar will be purchased from the Davidoff store which, as the best cigar shop in the country, is like Mecca for cigar smokers.

There will be dinners at four stars, pizza at corner joints, very serious sushi, some uptown soulfood, and probably the most amazing dumplings I’ve ever tasted.

In truth, I am not sure I will get to all of the things I want to do as this is still a work trip, but I am looking forward to trying.  I’ve rarely been grateful for my insomnia, but this is one of those times.

************

By the by, I know that I owe you another installment of the Second Chances with New Vintages Series, I am working on it.

On another note, there is still time to nominate someone for the Valentine’s Contest


A Few Short & Open Letters from the Week

17 January 2010

To the older gentleman & your impossibly good looking wife who sat across from me at the coffeeshop, watching you help your wife with her coat was the sweetest gesture I had seen all day, and made me just a touch sad because so few young men know (or bother) to do such gracious things.

To the 20 something couple from Philly who asked me about restaurants (oddly enough without knowing that this is my area of expertise,) I hope you had a good time at Cashion’s and thank you for helping your fiancée with her coat – it restored a little faith.

To the Arizona Cardinals, Baltimore Ravens, and Dallas Cowboys, somehow you all conspired to convert a great football weekend with really intriguing match-ups into a complete snoozefest.   Have fun this off-season.

To the very good looking Ginger who sat next to me at the cigar bar, complained about the smell of my La Aroma de Cuba while chain smoking Camel Lights, I would have happily moved to another seat sooner had you asked me politely instead of rudely grumbling about it to the bartender.  Perhaps that tramp-stamp tattoo should have read “Chutzpah for Days” not “too sexy 4 U*”

To the car-service driver, Tony, when your passenger would rather fake a phone call instead of talking to you, that might be a good indication that you talk just a wee bit too much.

To the Ritz Carlton bartender, flirting with my date is a pretty sure way to get me to leave your bar, leave you a mediocre tip, and give a call to your F&B director… after I have calmed down enough to not spit nails into the phone.

To the woman who used to be a friend, when I told you that “you need to stop trying to fuck away your problems one random cock at a time” I really was trying to be helpful.  Contrary to your expressed belief, taking a different guy home every night is not “owning your sexuality” it is expressing your insecurity and rubbing salt in those emotional wounds.

To the baby who kept trying to give me his pacifier in the subway, I really appreciated your generosity but I was pretty certain that you were going to need it later, your smile was gift enough for me.

* I really wish I was making that up.


To Teddy with Love

15 January 2010

Teddy Pendergrass was the soundtrack for seduction for young people of color from the late 70s and through most of the 80s.  Stevie Wonder was more prolific and versatile, Rick James most assuredly had more funk, Bill Whithers was more lyrically gifted, but there was no man with a sweeter baritone than Teddy P – as he was affectionately known then.  Some of you may be protesting “But, Refugee, what about Barry White?”  I am not going to dis Barry White and all of the grooves that he laid down during that period but the two were so different.  Barry White was over the top, post-ironic (before there was an irony movement,) dripping in conspicuous effort and saccharine.  Teddy P was just a cool, what-are-you-doing-later, don’t-you-want-to-dance-with-me kinda hip all wrapped in a cashmere soft baritone that always seemed to be whispering.

In 1982, he suffered a traumatic spinal injury that left him paralyzed from the waist down.  After rehab, he continued to record music but never approached the dizzying heights of the earlier part of his career.  He died yesterday – complications from colon cancer.  His legacy will live in the voices of so many singers who have paid tribute to him and in a permanent spot on my playlist when I am feeling wistful, hopeful, or when my spirits are running free.


Please Repost This

14 January 2010

My friend Shannon, aka The Disaffected Scanner Jockey, has the coolest gChat status message going right now.  It reads:
I wish that every time somebody is tempted to use Haiti to make a political point, they would instead use that energy to kick $10 over to the Red Cross. Just text “HAITI” to 90999 and the $10 charge shows up on your cell phone bill, no self-righteousness required.

So go do it, it’s a really easy way to help the people of Haiti who are dealing with unimaginable tragedy.


Bricks on the Path to Hell

12 January 2010

Before we begin, I just want to remind everyone that the Valentine’s Day Dinner Contest is still accepting nominations.  Please nominate your favorite do-gooders for the chance to win V-Day weekend dinner from a personal chef.

I love cigar shops, the camaraderie, conversations, arguments, and certainly the professional connections. I love it all.  They exist across all manner of societal lines, and my regular shop is no exception.  When I left a really big deal meeting  recently (I wish I could tell you about it but I cannot) the cigar shop was a logical choice for a celebratory repast of coffee cake and a smoke.

There’s a Romeo y Juielta Cask Aged Lonsdale in my left hand and a Café Americano in my right.  I’m talking politics with Spoon, a nickname that I gave him because of his enjoyment in stirrin’ shit up, when a tall fella’ ambles over from the other side of the store.  He’s looking for a particular cigar but in a smaller size.  As is so common in cigar shops, this gentleman falls into our conversation or we fall into his.

“Yeah, I know you have the churchills but I need the robusto size… any longer and my wife starts yelling at me” the tall fella says to the tobacconist and in our general direction.

We are men which means our problem response is standard –fix it, buy it, or kill it.

Spoon offers one of his typical conversation grenades with “You just need to let her know who’s in charge!”  This is the kill it option.

“Maybe you should consider getting one of those propane heaters for your patio, that way you can smoke on the patio and maybe she won’t complain as much” suggests the tobacconist who happens to be a good friend as well as a shopkeeper.  That is the buy it option.

The tall fella laughs a bit at the first suggestion; it was the uncomfortable laugh of someone who hopes what was said was a joke.  The rest of us, who regularly smoke with Spoon, laugh too.  Our laughs are mostly directed at him because we know, despite the scrapes he gets on his knuckles while walking, that Spoon is a largely harmless anachronism of a different era.  We’ve also seen him with his wife and know that she most certainly doesn’t allow him to practice what he preaches.

Maybe because of academic training, or restaurant and sommelier experience, the inclination of the better part of me runs towards asking questions to better understand a problem.  (I am more than occasionally prone towards other responses, too.) “Where do you smoke?” I ask the tall fella.

“My wife lets me smoke in the basement… as long as the vents are open, the door is closed, and the smoke-eater is running.”

“Let’s you! She LET’S you smoke in the…” Spoon mocks before I interrupt and keep talking.

“Does she not like the smell of cigar smoke, or is it something else that triggers her anger?” I ask.

“Ya, know, she actually doesn’t mind the smoke – I wouldn’t say that she enjoys it; but it’s not a major problem for her.  It’s more like she doesn’t want me spending an hour in the basement a few nights a week after dinner.”

I take a pull from my cigar and say “Even with the understanding that free advice is normally worth exactly what you pay for it, I think your real issue is the disconnect while you’re down there.”

Tall fella nods a bit which I take as a signal to keep talking.

“You need to find a way to make your cigar time a communal time, to involve her.  Suppose that you two do the dishes after dinner and then you ask her to play some Scrabble with you, or backgammon, or chess, or maybe read together, or even read to her.  The point is to change it from something you do, to just a cigar that you smoke while you two do something together.”

The tall fella was effusive in his thanks; “That’s a really good idea, dude, I mean, that’s really good advice.”

“Yeah, Refugee, you should write a book or something” Spoon teases.

A couple of months have passed since that random exchange and when I ran into the tall fella at the cigar shop yesterday, I didn’t recognize him.  He saw me and crossed the shop to say hello.

“Hey, dude, I just wanna thank you for that advice you gave me a while back.  You were exactly right; her problem was more me being in the basement by myself.  Since then, we’ve played a bunch of board games, and read a coupe of books together and I get to smoke a cigar.  But it just goes to show that you need to be careful what you wish for, because I kinda learned I was going down there to escape her.”

“Sorry, my friend, I warned you it might only be worth what you paid for it.”


Second Chances with New Vintages – Part III

11 January 2010

This is Part III of a series of short fiction that may become a regular feature here.  Subsequent installments will post on Wednesday or the following Monday.  This will not make much sense without reading Part I and Part II first.

Cynthia never understood the appeal of roller coasters, couldn’t understand the enjoyment of building anxiety in the pit of your stomach, refused to find pleasure in the subsequent crashing fear.  At this moment, having been on this strange ride – talking in unfamiliar ways, saying uncharacteristic things, drinking champagne in a hotel bar on a school night, and speaking to a stranger in a language she never learned – for several hours, suddenly Cynthia made the connection to roller coasters.

She was shaken by the surrealism of it all, and now she found herself in the Ladies Room of the Fairway Hotel, having rushed from the bar without excusing herself.  She splashed some cold water on her face, and tried to steady her legs.  Uncertainty reigned in a disquieted mind as Cynthia alternated between staring at this mirror image which she only loosely recognized, and looking for proof that this was some sort of dream.  She was more than a bit afraid by it all… and kinda liked it.  Her enjoyment scared her even more.  It took almost ten minutes of water splashing and starring before she convinced herself that she should go back to the bar, that she needed to go back to the bar.

Cynthia dried her face, touched up her make up (another first for her,) swallowed as much air as her lungs could hold, and made her way back to her champagne and the stranger who was next to it.  She ignored the little extra sway in her hips.   The tall Frenchman at the bar did not as he eyed her from the moment  she stepped out of the bathroom door.

He stood as she took her seat and said “I hope I did not offend you to have you run off so suddenly?”

“No, no, it wasn’t you, I felt a little light-headed and needed to get some air” Cynthia replied.

“If you are lightheaded, perhaps I should not have ordered you a fresh glass of champagne.”

“That is very kind of you and I don’t think I’ll ever have my fill of champagne.”

“I am Nicolas Cousteau, and no I am not related to Jacques” the tall Frenchman said with a devilish grin.

“Cynthia, Cynthia Trueblood” she said while extending her hand to meet his.  She continued “Oh, this must go over big when you’re in the States.”

“Excuse me?”

“The French, the tall, the good looking, the smile, the accent – it must be very easy for you to meet women here.”

“Mademoiselle Trueblood, that may be the case for some, but I am gay” Nicolas replied to Cynthia’s surprise.

“Oh, I’m… forgive me, I just assumed… I didn’t mean… I just…” an obviously flustered Cynthia stammered.

“You just thought I was flirting with you?” Nicolas asked with a wink.

“Yes.”

“I was flirting with you, I am flirting with you.  I just thought it would be funny.  Not… how do you Americans say… ‘not that there is anything wrong with it’”

The two strangers shared a smile if not an outright laugh as Cynthia wasn’t sure she actually found Nicolas’ joke funny, though she was charmed by it.  They continued their conversation for more than an hour, and another glass of champagne when they were interrupted by one of the hotel’s managers.

“Excuse me, Mr. Cousteau, you’re suite is ready.  We apologize again for the delay.”

The manager placed a key envelope on the table and said “I’ve spoken with the bartender and told him that your champagne is compliments of the Fairway this evening.”

Nicolas thanked the manager before he redirected his attention to Cynthia and asked “Would you like to finish this champagne in my suite?”

“Aimer à n’est pas pertinent comme je ne serai pas. Le fait de vous voir n’a pas appris beaucoup de patience depuis que vous êtes d’abord arrivés au bar (Would I like to is not relevant as I will not be.  I see you have not learned much patience since you first got to the bar)” Cynthia replied firmly through her smile.

“I suppose not” Nicolas sheepishly said with the tone of a man who knew that he had moved too aggressively.  “Peut-être vous pourriez m’enseigner certains sur le dîner demain (Perhaps you could teach me some over dinner tomorrow?”)

Cynthia looked the tall Frenchman in the eye, took a final sip of champagne and said “Au revoir, Monsieur Cousteau.”  She gave him a kiss on the cheek – just long enough for him to feel the heat of her skin – and left the bar.

She felt his gaze as she walked away but did not turn around for confirmation.

Nicolas stopped watching when the doorman opened the oversized door for Cynthia.  When he finally turned his gaze back to the bar, Cynthia’s business card sat next to his glass.


Dancing with Your Own Devils in the Pale Moonlight

10 January 2010

For a man who gets paid to notice things in restaurants, I can be horrifically unobservant when I am really into something else – book, newspaper, conversation, or even my own thoughts.  Thiswas the case one recent evening when I was enjoying a cigar, a bourbon, and the editorial section of the New York Times at one of my usual haunts.  I didn’t notice the striking woman in the winter white pant suit until she was standing at my bar table.

“Hi there” she opened; “I need you to settle a bet for me” she continued without giving me opportunity to return her salutation.

“Good evening” I said while rising from my chair.  “How may I help you settle this bet; and would you care to have a seat while we resolve this?”

“Thank you, I would like to sit… and I’m Jessica”

“Jessica, I’m Refugee; it’s a pleasure to meet you.  Now what is the bet?”

“Well, my girlfriends and I” she said while pointing to two women sitting at the far end of the bar “saw your wedding ring…”

“Not  a wedding ring as I am wearing it on my right hand ring finger” I corrected.

“Exactly.  That’s the question.  We have it narrowed down to: you’re from some country where they wear wedding bands on that hand but I think your lack of an accent eliminates that, or you’re actually married but shift the ring to the other hand when you go to bars, or you’re gay and wear that ring to let other men know you’re available.”

I snickered a bit at the options before replying “There are a couple of flaws in your logic.  If I was the kind of married man who switched his ring in bars, why would I ever admit to it?  Also, I am not positive about this, but I am fairly sure that gay people, especially gay women wear rings on the thumb to indicate such – though that may just be an old wives tale.”

“OK, let’s check your left ring finger for tan lines then” Jessica said with a bit of a smile.

She inspected my hand and declared my hands tan-line free.  “You didn’t answer the question about being gay” Jessica noted.

“No, I didn’t… I am straight” I acknowledged and answered.

“So why the ring?” she pressed.

“It’s a long story, but the short version is that I bought it as a gift to myself and a reminder of the lessons I tried to learn when I took a yearlong sabbatical from women several years ago.”

Just as I finished, Jessica’s two girlfriends arrived at the table demanding to know the verdict on the bet.

“Well, none of us were right.  Apparently, Refugee here has another reason having to do with a ‘sabbatical from women’”

I stood and formerly introduced myself to Stephanie and Maria.  They sat down and we ordered another round of drinks.  Before the cocktails arrived, Maria asked “So tell us more about this sabbatical.”

I laughed to myself before answering “You know, I am normally much more of an open book type of guy, but that’s just a bit more than I am willing to discuss this evening.”

I hadn’t meant for that to be a conversational grenade, but the table was silent for an uncomfortable moment.  Stefanie broke the quiet with “Well then, Mr.-Normally-An-Open-Book-Refugee, what would you be doing if we hadn’t crashed your table?”

I drained the last of my bourbon as our server had just brought the next round and said “Literally just having a drink, smoking a cigar, reading and waiting for a phone call that I don’t expect to come… metaphorically, I’d be running towards the football and foolishly thinking that Lucy won’t snatch it away again… maybe starting another sabbatical.”


An Idea, A Notion, Some Inspiration, A Contest, and Dinner?

8 January 2010

If I can’t use this blog to do something for others, then what is the point of having it?  That was the question, the notion that was in my head when I was having a beer and a burger with the irrepressibly funny LiLu and her boyfriend B.

I told them of a rough idea I had about offering my private chef service to a couple who couldn’t ordinarily afford to hire me.  Valentine’s Day weekend is a very busy and profitable period for me and I explained that I was feeling this desire to reserve that Friday night, 12 February, for some teacher, or social worker, or Hill Staffer, or really anyone who has a heart of gold but not the bank account to match.  I just didn’t know the best way to find that person.

B gave me the perfect idea: have people nominate someone besides themselves and then do it as a raffle.

And with that, the RR Valentines Personal Chef Raffle begins.

The Rules:

  • You cannot nominate yourself.
  • You can nominate as many people as you want.
  • Nominations can be made via a comment in this post, or by sending me an email (restaurantrefugee at gmail dot com.)
  • All nominees must reside in the DC metropolitan area.
  • Nominations must include your email, a brief description of why your nominee should be included (i.e. My friend John is a really terrific teacher who would never do this for himself but really deserves it.)  You should also feel free to be as verbose as you deem necessary to fully elucidate your reasoning.
  • Nominees should not be fully identified to protect their privacy.
  • Nominees do not need to be a couple in the romantic sense (i.e. if you have two good friends who are meritorious and they don’t have plans for Valentines Day.)
  • Due to other commitments, the date is largely inflexible, but some reasonable accommodations can be made.
  • You may nominate vegetarians – you may not nominate vegans.
  • I may reject any nominee if the reason for nomination trips my bullshit sensor or seems otherwise insufficient.
  • Each nominee will be assigned a number.  All numbers will be placed in a bowl and one will be pulled at random by a third party – someone with a webcam and a penchant for making videos (LiLu, thanks for volunteering) and will be posted on the web.
  • Nominations will be accepted until 26 January.  The drawing will take place within 48 hours of the close of the nominating process.

p.s. in case you’re wondering what type of dinners I prepare for my clients (and don’t have the inclination to sift through the archives to find them,) the following menus are my favorites of the past year:

A Summer Anniversary Dinner for Six:

Canapés

  • Big Eye Tuna Tartar in corn tortilla cups
  • Caprese Salad Skewers drizzled with 10 year aged Balsamic
  • Mini Grilled Cheese: gorgonzola, prosciutto, and tomato on grilled baguette

Amuse Bouche: Sweet Corn Velute with olive oil poached lobster and Parmesan Beignet

First Course: Pork Cigars

Slow cooked pork and mascarpone cheese in a tissue paper potato shell with a spiced apple cream sauce and petite arugula and micro green salad

Soup Course: Shrimp Bisque

North Atlantic Prawns in a tomato based bisque with a six hour roux

Third Course: Beef and Potatoes

Braised Beef Short Ribs with a spinach and artichoke cassoulet, truffled French fries, and reduction of braising jus

Sweet Course: Apple Slapple Sweet

Cinnamon and sugar glazed apples in a deep fried spring roll with cognac & caramel sauce.

Cheese Course: Cheese and Accoutrements

Selection of Cowgirl Creamery Cheese with slivered almonds, wildberry compote, and truffled honey.

Cajun Themed Holiday Dinner for Ten:

Amuse Bouche: Shot of Guacamole Soup with essence of Black Forest Bacon

Canapés

  • Cajun Sushi Roll with Andouille Sausage, Pimento Cheese and Anaheim Peppers
  • Blue Cheese Gourgeres
  • Shrimp and Jalapeño Hush Puppies

First Course

Seafood Gumbo Or Chicken and Sausage Gumbo

Entrée Course

Tagliatelle Pasta with Jambalaya style Sauce Or Red Snapper with Heirloom Tomato and Basil Sauce

Dessert Course

Mint Chocolate Mouse topped with frozen and crumbled Peppermint Patty Pieces

Fall Dinner for Four*

Salad of Asparagus “Linguini” with Wild Mushrooms, Pancetta and Poached Quail Egg

Pumpkin and Roasted Pine Nut Bisque with Garlic and Truffle Au Jus

Lamb Tenderloin Medallions with Lamb Shank Confit Spring Rolls and Spinach & Artichoke Cassoulet

Cheese Course: Cheese and Accoutrements

* they didn’t get an amuse bouche because it was this couple


Second Chance with New Vintages – Part II

6 January 2010

This is Part II of a short fiction project on which I have been working.  I had planned to post continuing pieces on Mondays but… well I changed my mind.  For this to make complete sense, you should read Part I first.

Cynthia had all of her legs firmly underneath her but still couldn’t understand that voice she just heard from her own mouth, or process the mélange of unfamiliar emotions in her head.  She took the glass of champagne that Mini offered her, and took a seat on what appeared to her to be an antique chaise lounge – fitting since she was dress shopping in Second Chance Vintage shop.

“Freddie was born around the turn of the century – the prior turn of the century, I mean” Mini began by way of explaining the story of the former owner of the blue halter cocktail dress that Cynthia was wearing more comfortably with each passing second.

“She was one part socialite, heiress type, but two parts scholar, rabble rouser, philanthropist, and ingénue.  She graduated from Smith at 19, owned a Speakeasy during prohibition, was a patron saint to half the artists of a generation, and was also one hell of a dancer.”

Cynthia just sat slightly wide eyed while Mini continued with the story.

“There’s a rumor that Picasso painted a nude of her from memory… and then gave it to her as thanks for the memory.  She would dance all night at some Harlem juke joint, and then lead board meetings of the family trust in the morning.  Gentleman chased her and women wanted to keep their husbands away from her even as they wanted to be closer.”

“Did she ever marry” Cynthia asked despite suspecting not.

“The rumor was that she and a sax player in Duke Ellington’s orchestra fell in love; but that was a bridge to far for her father who was generally tolerant of Freddie’s habit of painting outside the lines.  Their courtship was a partially open secret in Harlem, and a closely held one in lower Manhattan.  When he died in a car accident, Freddie was devastated – devastated because she couldn’t attend the funeral, devastated because theirs was an unordinary kind of love – and though she was with other men… and a couple of women too, she never was with anyone else long term.”

“That’s so sad” Cynthia remarked while finishing the champagne in her glass.

Without asking, Mini began pouring another glass of champagne and one for herself this time too.  “I don’t think Freddie would have thought it sad.  She lived the life she wanted, the life she could live, and helped a generation of artists along the way.”

Cynthia paused for a moment before raising her glass.  “Then to Freddie” she said.

Mini and Cynthia toasted and then chatted for a good while on all manner of subjects.  After some time and a few glasses of champagne had elapsed, Cynthia took her feet and announced “Mini, it has been a delight to meet you and chat all this time, but I am afraid I have monopolized your evening.  I’d love to buy Freddie’s dress, and take my leave of you.”  Once again, Cynthia was struck by the phrasing which was so unusual for her.

Cynthia changed back into her Khakis and sweater.  She noted how silly the heels, worn only to try dresses, look with this outfit.  When she emerged from the changing lounge, Mini had her dress wrapped in plastic at the small desk she used as a counter.  Cynthia placed her credit card on the desk… still not knowing and mostly not caring how much she would be charged.  To her surprise and delight the dress was 20% under her budget.  She hugged Mini and promised to stay in touch as she walked out the door.

Twenty five minutes later, just before eight o’clock, Cynthia was sitting on her couch absently trying to read some work report.  She just couldn’t stop thinking about the dress still wrapped in the light grey plastic with Second Chance Vintage scripted on the front.  She pushed some formerly frozen food around the plate sitting on the coffee table… and thought about the dress.  She read the same paragraph three times… and thought about the dress.  She made a deal with herself: try the dress on one more time and then get back to work.

She undid the knot at the bottom carefully because she fully intended to place the dress back under the plastic.  Once she got the plastic over the shoulders of the hanger, Cynthia saw it.  There was a small satchel dangling from the metal part of the hanger; there was Mini’s card with a handwritten “just in case” on it.  The other side of the card read:

Dearest Cynthia,

I thought you should have these earrings as they look lovely with the dress and they were part of Freddie’s estate too.  Bring them back after your party, or just send me a check sometime.

Love,

Mini

Inside the satchel there were a set of gorgeous sapphire and diamond teardrop earrings.  “Surely they’re costume” Cynthia reasoned.

She kicked off her slippers, removed her sweater like it was woven with poison ivy, and wiggled the pants past her hips.

“This bra will not do” Cynthia said to her image in the mirror.  She rummaged through her panties drawer for one of her two strapless bras.  Neither of which got much use.  As she slid the dress over her head, she knew instantly that she had to see it with stockings too, and the heels… and earrings as well.

Cynthia stood in the mirror for a pregnant moment and thought “Just a little make-up maybe” before wondering “Where is this voice coming from?”  She didn’t spend much time on the notion before applying the very conservative shade of lipstick that is the only one she wore, and running a brush across her cheeks and eyelids.

Back in front of the full length mirror, Cynthia loved everything about this dress and the way she looked in it, and then she was overcome with an irresistible urge to have a glass of champagne.  There was none to be had in her one bedroom midtown condo.

“Let’s go to The Fairway Hotel” she told her slightly unfamiliar mirror image.

Cynthia paused for just a moment to contemplate this voice that sounds like her own but keeps saying these unfamiliar things.  The pause didn’t stop her from grabbing the smallest purse she owned, which still wasn’t quite small enough for Freddie’s dress, and shoving a few essentials in it before walking out the door.

A cab ride, a few turned heads in the lobby, and Cynthia was sitting at the terrifically elegant bar at the Fairway Hotel.  The bartender smiled and offered her a glass of water and a cocktail list.  She couldn’t read it without her glasses and it didn’t matter because she knew she wanted “a glass of Pierre Jouet, rosé if you have it, please.”

A few minutes later, a tall gentleman made his way to the bar mumbling in a mix of French and English.   “I cahhnnot behlieve zhat my room iz noht readie” the tall gentleman murmured loud enough for Cynthia to hear.

“Il y a des choses pires qu’est forcé à avoir une boisson, peut-être vous devriez trouver quelque patience (there are worse things than being forced to have a drink, perhaps you should find some patience)” Cynthia said.

“Your Franch is very good, whar did jou learn?” the tall gentleman asked.

Cynthia turned a particular shade of lobster red… she doesn’t know French.


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