Things I Don’t Understand – A Very Abbreviated List

9 September 2010


I don’t understand the people who use their horn to vent non-specific frustration with traffic at the expense of their fellow urbanites.

I literally don’t understand people who willfully misuse the word “literally.”

I don’t understand the use of abbreviations for the already short names (see: Sophia to Soph, Kathy to Kath, Lisa to Lis, Jason to Jas, Connie to Conn, and those were just a few amongst the most glaring examples and solely from the two syllable names truncated to a single.)

I don’t understand the people who prefer drip coffee to french press.

I don’t understand the guy who just walked by my coffeeshop table; either he’s a late 30something who willfully wears skinny jeans or he’s an appropriately aged hipster who’s just done so much blow that he looks really old… or he’s auditioning costumes for the next holiday. Whatever it is, I don’t understand it.

Speaking of Halloween, let me get started on bashing this poor excuse for women to indulge their inner [choose whatever appropriate and dismissive word that won't get me in trouble.] I don’t understand why perfectly reasonable women use that evening to simultaneously exercise so little imagination (really, throw the word sexy before any common/proper noun and call it a costume?) and leave so little to the imagination.

I don’t understand why Josh choose Donna over Amy.

I don’t understand why television producers can’t at least put some water in those empty Starbucks cups that their characters routinely carry in a way that lets everyone know that this detail is unimportant.

I don’t understand the people who spend hours listening to political talk radio but don’t vote.

I don’t understand the gravitational pull of reality television, but I really don’t understand why the shows set in DC seem to represent the worst in class (yes, I’m looking at you Real Word, Top Chef, and Housewives.)

I don’t understand the people who pay a premium to drive a convertible yet leave their top up on gorgeous days like today.

I don’t understand the people who proclaim (to anyone within earshot) their disdain for DC yet never leave their tiny and provincial comfort zones, or go to museums.

I don’t understand the nearly universal human desire to pick at wounds both physical and emotional.

I don’t understand how I can think myself so good with words yet be such a poor communicator when it comes to certain people.

There are many things of which a wise man would wish to be ignorant” Mr. Emerson once wrote; I don’t understand why I am so bad at making those choices.


I Asked, You Answered, I Dated, and I…

10 August 2010

I was looking forward to my date with the Conservative Nutter in the way that I anticipate an ultra deep tissue massage – you know it’s gonna hurt like hell but the results (a good blog post at worst) are worth it.

I prefer to arrive at first dates (especially online dates) early. Call it a function of my anal-retentive punctuality, or a tactical decision to get the seat with the best vantage points, either way twenty minutes before the appointed hour, I was seated on the courtyard patio of one of my favorite winebars.

CN was on time but underwhelming. From fifteen yards away, I could tell that her pictures were 30 pounds out of date. Five yards out, I could tell the pictures were 5 years old too. It’s not that she was suddenly unattractive or that she was outside of the rather broad range of women I find appealing, rather it’s the feeling of being duped. Bait-and-Switch is not a phrase that should apply to dating and I’m also not thrilled about the self-image issues associated with clearly deceptive images. The thoughts bounced through my head but weren’t given display on my face or in deed.

We seemed to have a certain instant comfort – there was no awkward “is that really you” moment, no hug-oops-handshake-oops-hug – and we jumped quickly into typical first-date conversations.

I wish I could you write that there were some particularly blog-juicy moments, or some grand manifestation of our political differences, but they just weren’t there. CN was about as conservative as she seemed but she wasn’t really a nutter as much as she was grossly uniformed. While there wasn’t overt flirting (at least from my side of the table) there was some casual curiosity if not a very low flame of chemistry. But that was it. No great stories to be told, or lines to be relived.

The woman I met at the bar after I left my brief date, yeah, about her there are stories to be told and a night to be relived… and I’ll tell that story tomorrow.


So I Need to be Careful What I Ask You For

6 August 2010

I am man enough to admit that I haven’t been a very good blogger lately (yeah, yeah, I know some of you are thinking “lately?”) I haven’t posted much this summer, I bailed on doing NaBloPoMo in July, I’ve abandoned a few stories without finishing, and I’ve been terrible about responding to the comments left by the lovely half-dozen readers that are still here.

Thus, when a few people suggested that I go on a date with a woman who may or may not be a complete nutter, I decided I had to do it. Not just because, as the Foggy Dew noted, being hot can overcome a multitude of failures (yes, my friend, I paraphrased you; get over it.) But really because as my favourite blonde wrote “if [I] realllly loved [you]…[my] loyal readers..[I] would court her for sport… and record it here for our enjoyment.”

I am not a fan of dating for sport. It’s cruel, objectifying, demeaning, and I know Suicide Blonde didn’t mean it that way. I am no more a fan of the fade-away technique, slow, fast or intermediate speed, it just doesn’t work for me. As my favorite Yogi noted, I “don’t want to be one of THOSE guys who just disappears, further adding to the cynicism and doubt that’s now inherent in online dating.”

So I’m going on a date tonight. I’m gonna dress in a first date suit and wear a particular shade of optimism. I will keep my mind open… but yeah, I’ll be twittering during bathroom breaks… assuming that it lasts that long.


Red Flags, Red Dresses, & Recriminations

3 July 2010

For more years than I can recall, I have consistently made two jokes about my ex-wife:

The last time I saw my ex we weren’t able to speak… I was too busy crossing the street and she was too busy speeding up.
Before we got married I ignored every red flag even the really obvious ones. When I passed a bank, instead of the sign flashing the date and time it would say “Refugee, don’t do it.”

Like most jokes, there is some element of truth that under-girds both of those two jokes. The simplest distillation of the truth is that I married the wrong woman. The simple distillation of the reason why I married the wrong woman is that she was a rebound relationship that lasted too long (don’t scoff; that sentence took tons of cash in therapy to produce. I now use it frequently in an attempt to metaphorically amortize the cost over multiple usages.)

It is the rare day that she crosses my mind more than a decade since divorce did us part; but a confluence of coincidence brought her to mind today.

A newspaper advice column was the first with its discussion of compatibility. Then an obscure reference (two mental jumps, and a cerebral leap that only make sense in my mind) while watching Friday Night Lights on Hulu became the second. The final coincidence occurred while watching the ladies final at Wimbledon.

When my ex and I had bad times in our marriage, which is to say about a cup of coffee after vows were exchanged, the tennis court was the one place we always got along.

One random afternoon I went to the racquet shop to get one of my racquets re-gripped. While I waited, I saw a crimson tennis dress that I thought my then wife would look great wearing. Without much forethought, I grabbed the dress and plunked down a credit card. I was so pleased with myself for having done something nice for my wife just because. It never occurred to me that she preferred to play in old gym shorts and ratty t-shirts. Later that evening I gave her the dress and she feigned appreciation for it.

The following night we met at the tennis courts near our house for a few after-work sets. She wore her usual shorts and old t-shirt. I made the critical mistake of asking her about the dress and if she liked it. An argument ensued in which she accused me of trying to change her (maybe a kernel of truth,) that I didn’t think she was good enough for me (patently false,) and that I was being selfish when I bought the dress (true but only in the way that a man who randomly buys lingerie for his partner is being selfish.)

That was the last time we ever played tennis together.

About a year later, I ran into my ex-wife on the tennis court. She was with her new boyfriend and wearing that crimson tennis dress. At that moment, I concluded that it wasn’t that she didn’t like the dress, she just didn’t want to wear it for me. The lesson was at least as valuable as all of the therapy to explain all of the others.


Insomnia Friday – Thoroughly Random Thoughts

2 July 2010

Insomnia’s been intermittently kicking my ass for the better part of the last 20 years. I cannot recall a stretch that has been as bad as the last few months.

…in other news, Netflix on Demand has been a friendly and faithful companion lately.

…in still other news, the movie TAPS somehow has endured the years quite well.

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My Week in Bars…

To the lovely barmaid with the pixie cut who kept me in good beer at Fat Heads in Pittsburgh, you’re the kind of restaurant professional who makes me wish that I still ran a restaurant just so I could hire you.

To the blowhards sitting next to me at The Uptown in Chicago, I appreciate the very strong feelings you so loudly expressed about illegal immigration. By the by, I wonder who picked the avocados for that five dollar guacamole you were eating?

_______

So here’s a question for you all…

Recently I found myself in the company of a woman whose professional acquaintance I had just formally made after several email exchanges. After the business portion of the evening, she invited me to join her and several others for cocktails. The preponderance of the others were men, and it was evident that most of them had a more substantive social relationship with her than I, and I also suspect that most of them were quietly interested in her. At a certain point in the evening, this woman began to be less than delicate in concealing her knickers given the length of her skirt. I presume that the booze was the primary factor.

How does one discreetly tell a woman that she is being less than discreet?

How does one discreetly tell a woman he does not know well that it might be time for her to go home… especially given that she is surrounded by closet suitors who have known her longer?

_______

Get well soon, Tracee Hamilton. You are my favorite WaPo sports columnist these days, and I will miss your voice.

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The One Question Meme: if you could create a version of Netflix that would enable you to have short term rentals of something on a revolving basis, what would it be?

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Something you should know about drinks…

If you’ve ever had a Bellini, chances are you’ve not had a good one. The Bellini is perhaps the simplest of all classic cocktails with only two ingredients, prosecco and white peach puree. It is also one of the most commonly mishandled where people substitute fresh peach puree with something from a can or even worse – fucking wretched Peach Schnapps. Invented by Giuseppi Cipriani in 1948 at Harry’s Bar in Venice, Italy, the Bellini, when made with fresh and honest ingredients and poured into a proper champagne flute, immediately evokes elegance and sophistication.

  • 3 white peaches peeled and diced
  • 1 bottle of champagne
  • In a blender, puree the peaches. (If you’re like me and sensitive to pulp then run the peach puree through cheese cloth after blending.) Pour 1 ounce of pureed peach into a flute and top with 4 ounces of champagne.

I have also made variations on the Bellini with pears, green apples, and mangoes. The most import thing is to get good and in-season fruit.

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This post is tacit acknowledgement that there is a small chance that I am going to participate in NaBloPoMo for July… I gotta do something to get myself above my non-writing / non-blogging rut.


Enough

17 June 2010

WARNING: I’ve had a craptacular couple of days and needed to vent about a couple of things.


Enough with you, Albert Haynesworth owner of the largest contract for a defensive player in the history of the NFL.  Having played a mere 12 games, much of which you sat on the sidelines sucking on oxygen because you were comically out of shape, and already pocketed $32 million, you decided to demand a trade?!?!? Are you fucking nuts?  I’ve long ago surrendered the notion that the modern (and highly paid) athlete owes the public at large anything, but when you bail on your teammates after all of this, you have earned a new station in the pantheon of sports pathetics… sure, you may not be in the OJ, Rae Carruth room, but you’re now keeping Tonya Harding company.

Enough with you Michaela Salahi, and your Bravo TV pimps too.  You, Mrs. Salahi give vapid a bad name.  You are a giant sack of [mostly purchased] hair, and your surface cannot be scratched lest it reveal more surface underneath.  Enough with you and your swarm of sycophants.  You are a liar, a fraud, and a common criminal in a designer dress that probably still has the tag tucked somewhere so it can be returned later.

Enough with you Washington Post.  I’m tired of defending you against the displaced NewYawkers who constantly deride you as not being the NY Times.  I’m tired of attempting to uphold your honor as a world class newspaper when you devote dozens of column inches to the aforementioned Salahi.   Have you abandoned the journalist’s purpose – to paraphrase the great Walter Cronkite, the job of a newsman is not to tell people what they want to hear but what they need to hear – in favor of the notion that “every one else is doing it”?  Mrs. Salahi and her ilk are publicity whores of the proletariat, weeds in society’s garden, thus any journalistic water you give them (good or bad) only makes the weed grow stronger.

Enough with you CEOs / Titans of the World and your conservative defenders (do you buy them buy the hour or the event?)  When leaders of the Big Three automakers testified before Congress, I thought I would never hear a more culturally tone deaf group as they staunchly defended their fiefdoms while still extending hands into America’s pockets … and then the bankers came to town and were even more brazen in public masturbation about their rigged casino successes, average citizen be damned… but now there are new claimants to that ignoble throne; Oil Company execs, you’ve lined your pockets with untold riches while feeding your government lap dog and the public lies about the all too real dangers for catastrophic destruction, and somehow, someway sit before the public, shrug your shoulders and claim risk v. reward? If there is a Hell below, you’ve got a very special place reserved for you.


Second Blogiversary – Welcome to the Virtual Party Part II

1 June 2010

In celebration of the 2 year blogiversary, I decided to open the phone lines for all questions… apparently I also decided to start writing like a talk-radio host.  I wish to thank everyone for their kind wishes and thoughtful questions.  The answers, which have been split into two posts for better readability (part I is here,) follow.

  1. From Carla of Whip My Assets: What is one question nobody asked that you wish somebody had? It’s really funny that you should ask me that question because I have long used that question as the last query when I am interviewing.  I think it is a terrific question to really get inside someone’s head.  I would have loved for someone to have asked “what happens when the immovable object meets the irresistible force?”
  2. From another reader without a blog: What food would you cook for a non foodie father for father’s day? The trick to cooking for non foodie people is to do something that combines classical flavors with techniques and ingredients that will keep you interested.  Braised Short Ribs with Truffled French Fries satisfies those needs to my way of thinking.
  3. From my favorite Bah-stan Blogg-ahr, Megabrooke of Skrinkering Hearts: Here’s kind of a silly one, because my head is a bit in the clouds this week.  What TV shows do you regularly tune in to? The only appointment television I watch, via the internet machine and generally the following day, is The Rachel Maddow Show, The Daily Show, Friday Night Lights, Weeds, Real Time with Bill Maher, and Southland.  I am also a big fan of, but won’t be terribly disappointed if I miss, the following: Modern Family, Burn Notice, and In Plain Sight.
  4. From a reader who has a blog but never leaves the link in her comments so I will omit it here in an abundance of caution: At what point in a dating relationship do you throw caution into the wind? I think that on some level the mere act of dating, in the face of all contrary evidence, is an exercise in optimism that throws caution to the wind just by inviting and accepting.  That was a more philosophical answer; the pragmatic version is probably “too often, too early, and I really wouldn’t have it any other way.”
  5. From a Florida blogger you should be reading, Planet Dan-E: Simple, but kind of dumb, question: What is it exactly that you do? Restaurant consultant? Private chef? Event planner? Some combination of the above? Yes.
  6. The lovely Rahree has a couple of questions: what’s your summer go-to home dinner, when you want something tasty but with little effort? And The meaning of life? Clue me in, please? If it’s just me, I am happy to slice a couple of the tomatoes I always keep in the house during the summer, pair them with some mozzarella and basil and call it a day… after drizzles of olive oil balsamic, and sprinkles of sea salt and fresh black pepper.  If I have guest(s), I am going to the grill with whatever proteins I have around.

All of the following questions are from email and shall be anonymous

  1. What was the weirdest thing you did in high school? It’s a jump ball.  I once didn’t wash the socks I wore for an entire football season because we were going undefeated and I didn’t want to change the karma/luck associated with them.  In my freshman year, all students had to take a typing class in which we would select various periodicals to use as text to type.  Everyone tried to get there early to grab a Sports Illustrated; I was happy with the New Yorker. On dress-down Fridays and during the warm weather months, I would frequently wear a pair of shockingly yellow linen trousers because my senior big brother often did.
  2. How many cigars do you smoke a day, a week? I usually smoke about a cigar a day, though sometimes I will go days without, and other times I have smoked several in day.  A week usually averages 8 give or take a couple.
  3. What do you suck at doing but wish that you could do well? I cannot carry a note with the help of a forklift.  I do pretty well at self-diagnosis, but I suck at self repairs.  I cannot for the life of me consistently make a good pot of rice.  I am a terrible shortstop.  Though I think I give good email, I am frequently terrible at the prompt reply.  Given that last sentence, I am not so good at discussing my faults without couching them in a more favorable context.
  4. What is your biggest pet peeve in restaurants? If you force me to narrow it down to one, it is bad management – all bad outcomes in the front of the house extend from bad management.
  5. Who would play you in a movie about your life? Larenz Tate, a younger Andre Brougher, Don Cheadle if I am really lucky.

Second Blogiversary – Welcome to the Virtual Party Part I

1 June 2010

In celebration of the 2 year blogiversary, I decided to open the phone lines for all questions… apparently I also decided to start writing like a talk-radio host.  I wish to thank everyone for their kind wishes and thoughtful questions.  The answers, which have been split into two posts for better readability, follow.

  1. Amalgam of three questions from anonymous email: How much of the bullshit that you write about yourself is true / to what degree do you think people believe the idealized version of yourself that you portray? As there is no virtue in responding to rudeness in kind, I will keep my initial thoughts to myself.  In answer to your questions, there may be some minor elements of stories that I alter/augment/omit, but only for the purpose of literary cohesion / continuity.  I have never omitted a substantive element of a story or made adjustment for the purposes of self-aggrandizement.  The degree to which other people assign truth… I will not pretend to give voice to that which exists in the minds of other people.  As a general note, what Jon Stewart said.
  2. From Christina of Musings, Graces, and Fate: Here is my question, what food did you not like when you were younger but can’t get enough of now? Tomatoes.  I was always an adventurous eater as a child but for some reason tomatoes were anathema to me.  Now, just give me an heirloom tomato and some sea salt and I am a happy kid.
  3. From Foilwoman: as someone who played the cello as a youth, did you practice because your mother made you practice or because you wanted to practice?  And if it was the former, how did your mother achieve that? I started playing the cello because I knew it was different and I believed it to be more difficult than most instruments.  It was an effort to stand apart from the crowd and with the clarity of hindsight, I can state that the effort was inspired, at least in part, by some insecurity from being the only black male in the school.  I needed no inspiration to practice because I had an internal desire to prove something.
  4. From an anonymous email: can you recommend a good vegetarian restaurant (needn’t be purely vegetarian — so long as there are some interesting vegetarian dishes — most place have a dish or two as an afterthought. CityZen, Palena, and Restaurant Eve, Passage to India, all do an excellent job with vegetarian dishes and treat non-meat eaters with high regard.  On the more casual side, I am a big fan of Regent Thai, and Hollywood East/
  5. From the blogger most likely to make me blush, City Girl asks: What inspires you to write? To cook? I wish that I had a better answer, but the inelegant truth is that I have no idea what would happen to me if I stopped cooking or writing.  I write to help me stay sane and almost exclusively for me.  I cook to express art, love for friends, and because I believe on some level that it is what I was born to do.
  6. From an anonymous email: Why did you leave me in a gentleman’s club last week? First, the strip joint was your idea.  Second, I didn’t leave you alone; the Only Slightly Sleazy Lobbyist was there with you. Third, I got a phone call from a woman who wanted to remove her clothes for me without the explicit exchange of cash… oh and I I’d been drinking just long enough to think that was a good idea.
  7. From an anonymous email: What was the first moment the light bulb went on? I love questions that are pointed yet sufficiently ambiguous that how the respondent chooses to answer tells one at least as much as the answer itself.  My advanced writing instructor (junior year of high school) once gave me an F on an essay.  It was lazily and sloppily written but probably didn’t deserve a failing grade, so I went to ask him about it. Dr. M laced into me with a lightly profanity laced tirade about his fatigue with my unfulfilled potential. He told me that “writers don’t have a choice, they just are, and you’re a Writer. Writers get an F on that dribble you scribbled the night before it was due, other people might get a C. I decided that I need to treat you like a Writer.” It got a lot brighter in my head right then.
  8. From C of Hilarity in Shoes: It’s spring and I’m going to the farmers market on Sunday.  What should I cook with my haul that is seasonal and delicious? The beauty of this time of year is that the fruits and vegetables straddle the line between spring and summer.  I am a big fan of stinging nettle risotto with sweet corn and crispy shallots… and yes, I will work on writing that recipe down for you.
  9. From the irascible LiLu: Why on earth haven’t you started a dictionary for all the words we’ve invented over the years? I wish that I could say that I’ve been waiting on you so we could collaborate on the effort, but alas, the true reason is #Fail.
  10. From the eponymous and generally awesome Lemon Gloria: Could you recommend a couple bottles of red wine in the $10-20 price range? I generally try to avoid making specific recommendations as that would limit me to the world of wines that are most commonly available.  Since my personal preferences are for boutique wines which by definition have small productions, that is particularly limiting.  That being said, I am a big fan of Sipino Pinot Noir, Andrew Murray Tour Les Jour Syrah, Alto Moncaya Veraton Garnacha (a little more than $20 but often on sale,) and even though this is a sparkling rosé, I am going to include the La Torderra Prosecco Rosato because it is one of my favorite summertime quaffs.
  11. From a reader without a blog: What does one have to do to have a drink with you? Generally speaking it’s pretty easy – just ask.  Additionally, there is always the option of attending one of the Blogger Happy Hours.

Reader Question: What to Think When a Night Goes Sideways

25 May 2010

I recently received an email from a reader who wondered if I had seen a New York Times blog post about a sticky situation at a restaurant.

Short version of the story: Chef/Owner of an upscale Italian place in NYC’s TriBeCa neighborhood twice dressed-down an employee.  In full view of an awkward dining room, the chef’s volume was so high and tirade so vituperative and long that one guest, the author of the blog post, eventually went into the open kitchen to tell the chef that the yelling was ruining his experience.  Shortly thereafter, the chef went to guest’s table to apologize and explain that the yelling was in service of “maintaining quality.”  The guest dismissed this excuse because it was still “ruining [his] dinner.”  The party of four is asked/told to leave the restaurant.

The author of the blog post, Ron Lieber, went on to discuss the way he wished that he had handled the situation, the chef’s response when contacted for comment – no further apology was forthcoming – and asked about who was right, and how the readers would have behaved in either party’s shoes.

I’d really like to be unequivocally on Mr. Lieber’s side, but neither man has any claim to moral high ground.   The author stood up to a bully but only because that bully’s behavior had an impact on the author’s ability to enjoy a meal.  Yes, Mr. Lieber does belatedly acknowledge that the affair “conjured up the particular type of nausea that results from watching people yank their misbehaving kids around on the subway” but he does so almost as an aside to the repeated references to the fact that he “was paying to eat there” and that the abusive behavior was “ruining [his] dinner.”  Chef Forgione, for his part, was primarily angry because he felt disrespected in the presence of his employees.

When the essence of the debate pits “Please stop being emotionally abusive to your staff, it’s fucking with the taste of my fois gras” against “How dare you challenge my ability to emotionally abuse someone who depends upon me for his livelihood?” both parties share blame in the erosion of moral framework of restaurants in particular and society in general.

If we, as a society, cannot agree that this is emotional abuse and therefore categorically wrong* then my faith in our world is fundamentally misplaced.  When will we cease giving a pass to certain people because of their talent in culinary arts, or coaching football, or producing prodigious amounts of money?

Emotional terrorism is a poor excuse for leadership, ignoring it is to condone it, and celebrating it is nothing short of profane.  Abusive chefs aren’t charming, their tirades and assaults are not reasonable prices to be paid for their “genius,” and applauding or rewarding that behavior with more fame, more restaurants simply makes us all complicit in the whole sordid mess.

* potentially a reasonable case might be made for the intellectual and emotional manipulation in the armed services but I do not believe that it consistently rises to the point of abusive.


Sunday Morning Mashup

23 May 2010

I ran into the worst clients and most awful couple ever the other day.

I was taking advantage of a lovely afternoon and spent a few hours on the patio of one of my favorite swanky hotels.  My only table companions were a cigar, an open bottle of champagne, and Todd Kliman’s new book The Wild Vine.  Sam and Toni breezed by me on the way to their own table on the opposite side of the courtyard.  My first thoughts of gratitude for having gone unnoticed were soon eclipsed by dread when I saw them waving at me and beckoning me to come join them.

I knew I should have just ignored them, but I try to be civil even with people this obnoxious when they used to be clients.  There was mindless chitchat that lasted about two excruciatingly long minutes.  There was a request for me to check my schedule for availability to do a dinner party for them.  There was general obfuscating on my part.  Just after we were said our perfunctory and worthless goodbyes but before I had actually turned my body to walk away, Sam said “Say Refugee, Toni has allergy problems, you mind putting out your cigar.”

It was all statement, there was no trace of request or favor, and it was said through that smug and entitled smile.

I had no pithy comeback, no well timed soliloquy on their pernicious sense of privilege, I just stood for a pregnant moment, returned the entitled smile and said “Absofuckinglutely I would mind, have a good day.”

******

Artie Shaw would be celebrating his 100th birthday today.  He was a brilliant player of several reed instruments, a prolific composer and big band leader, and by just about every historical account, a really stand-up guy.  He also happened to be the first musician to put a black singer, Billie Holiday, in front of a white band… and toured the South no less.

His most famous recording is Begin the Beguine and is considered by anyone worth their dancing shoes to be among the greatest big band songs ever.  Go ahead and listen… I dare ya not to bop your head.


In Which I Maybe Should Have Gotten Punched for Saying the Wrong Thing

19 May 2010


If you get four wine people together and ask them one question, you’re likely to get at least seven different answers.  That’s half the fun of wine discussions – the nuance, the context, the arguments – I love it all.  The gratis wine and food certainly don’t hurt either.  Thus when I get invited to speak on panels or judge competitions, it takes very little to convince me to attend.

That is unless a particular pretend-journalist is also an invitee.  Teddy and I have known each other since we were both low level restaurant managers meeting after shifts to bitch about our tyrannical owners.  I got Teddy into my wine tasting group – his talent was experiential rather than academic but he had a natural facility with descriptions.

Eventually he parlayed that ability into starting his own website. His small but loyal following grew when he got a mention from a mid-major publication.  It was a “for fun project” that Teddy decided to make a for profit escape from restaurant life… he never really loved restaurants.  A few sponsors came and then he made the decision to get in bed with a consortium of wineries.

He began taking monies from questionable sources and giving great press to those sources… and making a living and a name for himself in the process.

It was a souring experience for me, Teddy knew it, and it functionally ended our acquaintanceship.  We would still see each other when he would occasional post at the late night places.  I may not have been the most cordial to him.

A couple of years ago we found ourselves on the same panel discussion about something obscure that might only matter to 0.2 people who read this.  It didn’t take long before the other people on the dais were just kind of watching us ping-pong increasingly personal points of disagreement.  At one point, I might have accused him of “possessing analysis that has all of the depth of a hair-root.”

Teddy may have retorted something along the lines of “At least people know who I am and what I stand for unlike you and your shaky credibility and flighty career moves.”

I am fairly certain that I responded with “Yes, Teddy, we all know exactly what you are; the only debate is about the price.”

Surprisingly, there were no punches thrown.  Not surprisingly, we have never appeared together since.


In Which I Almost Get into a Fight with a 15 Year Old

18 May 2010


One of the best parts of running my own business is that I rarely have to commute during the busiest time periods.  I generally avoid the trains packed with commuters or too loud with teenagers.  A recent Thursday was an exception.

A couple of stations after I boarded three high school boys entered the train.  They sat in a manner that selfishly occupied more space than they needed, and conversed in a volume that selfishly included everyone in their profanity laced conversation.  F-Bombs and N-Bombs flowed like some of the crap that passes for hip hop these days.

Had I been listening to my mp3 player, I might have just cranked the volume, and swallowed my tongue for the next four stops.  Had they not been wearing gear from my high school alma mater, I might have tried harder to ignore them.

From my position, I only had to rotate a few degrees to face the “Alpha” of the group.

“I know you” I began in a tone that older black men get to use with younger versions of ourselves when they’re “acting-up” and know it.  “Yeah, I know exactly who you are.  You’re fake-tough.  You see, I can tell by the way you speak – pronouncing your G’s a little too carefully, dropping an SAT word here and there – I know you’re not really tough. I know that you sprinkle your expletives from some desire to sound how you think tough kids sound.  It rings especially fake considering your private school uniforms… from a place where I was a student 20 years ago.

“I went to school with guys like you, hell I even tried that fake-tough language once or twice.  But now’s the time you really need to stop, not just because you embarrass yourself and our school with all this phony and foul language around little kids and women.  By the by, it might fool some of the people into thinking you’re not fake-tough, but not me.  Nah, you need to stop now because fake-tough only leads to two things: trouble at home and school, and getting your ass kicked because you tried your fake-tough routine with someone who’s actually tough.

“So let’s just quit this whole farcical charade, shall we.”

I could see the adrenaline and decision making in his eyes – his pride was wounded and he possessed no easy retorts.  I had no regrets about my message or its tone, I do wish I had said all of it in a more private manner, giving him the option of a more graceful surrender before his friends.  To make his decision easier, I finished with “You know I’m right, and you should also know that I have your football coach and principal on my speed dial.”

The trio exited two stops later.  On their way off the train, the “Alpha” made some vaguely insulting comment about my suit being “busted.”

A woman who was standing not too far from me and had witnessed the whole interaction leaned towards me and said “some lessons are hard to learn.”

I laughed a bit before replying “He learned the lesson alright; he might have said my suit was busted, but notice that he didn’t curse when he said it?”


Why Is Truth to Power Easier than Truth to Fools?

20 April 2010

If you’re a gentleman of a certain age and bring a so-young-we-ought-to-look-at-her-ID-twice woman to your local, you are going to get the blues from the rest of the crew next time you come in.  And so it was when I greeted my buddy, The Law Professor, with “It was bad enough when you were dating law students, but when did you start dating undergrads?”

The crew laughed and a few others added their smart-ass comments to the mix.  One cat who was a semi-regular but whom I’d not met was the lone dissenting voice.

“I don’t see nothing wrong with it” the mid 40’s guy said (it will become clear why I don’t refer to him as a gentleman in a moment.)  “The bitch I’m dating now is 25 or 26, and I haven’t dated a bitch over 30 in ten years.”

I bit my tongue.  He continued: “Older broads got too much drama, it’s all about their careers, and they’re too fucking difficult.  You take an old bitch to dinner someplace and she’s thinking ‘it could have been a nicer restaurant.’ You take a 25 year old bitch to dinner and she’s just grateful not to be eating fucking Ramen noodles.”

Perhaps my mistake was engaging him at all, perhaps it was failing to call him on his woman-hating language, but either way my response was a mistake.  “You and I are different” I grossly understated.  “I want a woman who is my conversational, emotional, and intellectual equal, and while it is possible in substantively younger women, I find that more frequently in women closer to my own age.”

“Dude, that’s bullshit” he replied, “There’s thousands of years of history that’ll tell you that bitches mature faster than men.  It only makes sense to date young bitches, history will tell you that.”

Reclaiming a teeny bit of my spine, I answered “Ignoring the intellectual inconsistency of suggesting that women mature faster than men and therefore younger women are a better suited to be the equal you profess that you don’t seek, your statement is really just more evidence that history, like anything powerful, is exceptionally dangerous when people fail to understand it.”

“Man, I don’t even understand what you just said… but all I’m saying is that young bitches make more sense cause older bitches got that fucking clock ticking, want you to be all perfect for them and they’re just too much damn trouble.”

Finally finding the gumption to address the larger issue I stated “Sir, I am quite sure that nothing I say will change the misogyny that let’s you use the word ‘bitch’ as a pronoun for women, but if we are to continue this conversation and that is a big if because I am not sure it is worth it, I will ask you to not refer to women in that way any longer, or at least not around me.”

We argued for a couple minutes more and every time he used bitch as pronoun for woman he would obnoxiously follow it with “sorry, I mean lady.”  Eventually, I no longer wished to be the bigger fool for continuing a conversation with a another fool.

The foul-mouthed-women-hating guy didn’t stay beyond his first round at the bar (but clearly not his first of the night.)  After he left, the bartender, a professional friend who wasn’t really paying attention, but like all good bartenders could sense tension, asked me “Dude, Refugee, what was that all about?”

“It’s simple” I said without taking my characteristic deep breath that aids in polite conversation, “If you use ‘bitch’ as pronoun for woman once, I will just assume that you’re a product of a misogynist society that mislead you into thinking it’s ok to do that, and let it slide.  If you do it a handful of times, I am going to be rather annoyed but probably let it go.  If you do it a dozen times inside a few minutes, I’m probably going to sack-up, call you on it, and stop talking to you because of it.”

I was on my high horse, I knew it, and I was completely ok with it.

After a pregnant silence, the bartender asked me “It’s still ok if we call a specific woman a bitch right, just not the general… I mean you’re not going to have a problem if I say ‘Ann Coulter’s a bitch, right?”

We all laughed a bit, the tension was loosened.

I laughed too, not because I inherently agreed but because at least he choose a hard  example for me to defend.

******

For the record, an earlier version of this post was published before I had an opportunity to finish my edits.  The earlier version did not tell the very end of this experience but it did close with some questions for you, gentle readers.  I will include them now, just because…

But here are my larger questions:

  • No one in polite society would repeatedly refer to any ethnic group by a pejorative slur, nor would people consistently refer to gay men or women by similarly noxious terms.  So why is it that people feel comfortable referring to women in that way?
  • If someone was consistently referencing any ethnic group that way, I am certain that I would have protested sooner.  What does it say about me that I took so long to declare that unacceptable?
  • What does it say about my “bar friends” that I was the only person who noticed this as others at least claimed to not have taken note of the language?

For Whom Doth The Sexy Bell Toll?

19 April 2010

My very dear friend, The Only Slightly Sleazy Lobbyist, and I deluded ourselves into thinking that we were still athletes one recent Sunday.  We played a couple of hours of “hang-over tennis” on a gorgeous afternoon.  After removing protective knee braces, ankle supports, and our respectively bruised egos, we made our way back across the river to grab some beer and sit on his patio with his neighbor and our friend, The Pistol.

The Pistol earned her nickname because of her fierce mind, liberal politics, staunch feminism, irreverent wit, and more than occasionally profane vocabulary.   She is near the top of both of our lists of favorite people.

As we were leaving the corner store with a few six packs of Bell’s Oberon in tow, OSSL told me that he had recently received an email from Southern Charmer, once a relatively recent college grad who OSSL helped land a job in his field.

“Refresh my memory, which one is the Southern Charmer?” I inquired.

“You met her that night at Cashion’s.”

“OSSL, over the years, I’ve met more than a couple of women with you at Cashion’s, more information please.”

“She was the one with the really see-through shirt and the great rack.”

“Oh, yeah, yeah, I remember her now. How’s she doing?”

“Eh, she’s alright I suppose… she’s just contacting me because she wants to change jobs.”

“Refresh my memory about why you stopped dating her?” I asked.

“We weren’t dating, I was just helping her out.”

“You took her to a nice restaurant, you each dressed for the occasion, you paid the tab, you two flirted.  Call it whatever you want but it still smells like a rose.”

“Fine, whatever, but it stopped that night you two met… it was the hypocrisy that really turned me off” OSSL declared in a partial confirmation of the rosy aroma.

“What hypocrisy?” I asked.

“Well, she wears this see through shirt with her rather large rack on display in some fucking Victoria Secret Wonderbra, and then bitches about how ‘gross’ it was that men always leered at her.  I mean, you can’t have it both ways.  When a woman wears a shirt like that it’s because she wants men to leer at her.”

“Pump your brakes for a second” I replied.  “I’m not saying it’s likely you’re wrong, but it is dangerous to ascribe motivations to the actions of others.  I’ll concede that she might have been foolish not to expect the looks, but it’s not appropriate to suggest that she actively wanted them.”

“I call bullshit on that” OSSL fired back, “Women who dress that way want that kind of attention.”

By this point, we were parking the car. I tried to make my point more clear – “I’m saying that you’re probably right in your assertions about Southern Charmer, as you are probably right about most women who attire themselves that way, however, it is a bridge too far to suggest that all women who wear something revealing or particularly sexy do so for the attentions of men.  Perhaps they dress for themselves, perhaps they wear something like that because it makes them feel sexy.”

We argued for a few moments more before I said “Let’s let The Pistol weigh in on this… and I’ll bet she’ll agree with me.

The Pistol was already sitting on OSSL’s porch when we rounded the corner of his building.  We popped three bottle caps and immediately delved into the conversation.

“I gotta say, I am more aligned with OSSL on this one” The Pistol said in a declaration that surprised all three of us.  “For most women, sexy is inter-related with how other people react to us… and I would bet that the same is true for men too.”

“I’m not saying that reaction from women isn’t a part of it for men, and vice versa for women, just that it is only a part of it.  More importantly, I am stating that surely some women, and men too, dress exclusively for how it makes them feel.  She surely would be a fool to expect that with her boobs essentially on display that men wouldn’t look.”  It was another unsuccessful attempt to convince OSSL and The Pistol of my point.

“Refugee, are you seriously telling me that when you wear one of those fancy suits of yours” The Pistol began before pausing briefly and concluding with “You really don’t wear them for how women respond to you in them?”

“Pistol, I have three kinds of suits in my closet: good suits, great suits, and meeting ex-girlfriends suits.  When I wear the latter, there is an extra spring in my step but that spring exists on my way to the Metro before I have seen another person.  I wear those suits for me first, and any extra attention I get from women is just the cherry atop the sartorial sundae.”

We argued for a few more minutes before I admitted the failure of my persuasion and changed the subject to that day’s edition of Meet the Press…. But, Gentle Readers, I pose these questions to you:

  • Does a woman wearing something revealing inherently want the eyes or attention of men, or women if she is so oriented?
  • Is it possible for women to wear something risqué just because of how it makes them feel and not as a cry for that attention?
  • Or does the answer exist in some other explanation?

An “Are You F***ing Kidding Me?” Friday Night

13 April 2010

Three stacked redheads at the end of any bar will tend to get noticed and I certainly took note of them as I passed on my way to the wash closet.  We shared outlier positions for different reasons – three redheads are as common an occurrence as me at this particular dive bar that has none of the dive bar charms of my usual haunts.

An hour or so later I stepped out for some air and one of the three followed me to the sidewalk.

“Can I bum a cigarette” Morgan asked with a smile.

“Of course” I replied while pulling a brushed silver cigarette case from the breast pocket of my suit.

“Oh, so fancy, you make me feel under-dressed or something” she mocked.

“Well if we’re gonna kill ourselves we might as well do it with some style.”

“Ha, indeed… you ever stop a bullet with that thing?”

“I never would have thought you old enough to make a Johnny Dangerously reference” I fired back with more than a bit of a laugh.

“Are you kidding me? That was the movie I went to on my first date!” Morgan exclaimed with a big smile.

Just as she was telling me about the teenager who tried to feel her up in the theater, Morgan’s sister came outside.  She too bummed a smoke.  Introductions were made, a couple of laughs shared, and maybe a passing puppy or two got petted.  At some point, they mentioned the sibling debate about a drive back to Richmond because they couldn’t find a hotel room.

“We really want to stay another night, but, we called everywhere; they’re all sold out” Tracy said.

“If you really want a hotel room, I’d be happy to make a few calls for you – I have a couple of connections in that business.

I made four calls before we went back inside because I needed to relieve myself again.  “I haven’t given up; there are still a couple of chits in my pocket.  I’ll come find you when I find you all a room.”

As I was washing my hands, an old friend came through with a room and at the “friends and family” rate too.  Leaving the restroom, I passed Morgan and Tracy on their way into the ladies room.  I gave them the good news and told them that I would scribble down all of the information for them by the time they returned to the bar.

A couple of minutes later I was transcribing the hotel’s address, phone number, and the manager’s name when I felt a tap on my shoulder.

“Are you the guy that just offered those women a hotel room?” a tallish woman queried without introduction.

“Pardon me” I replied even though I had heard her quite clearly.

“Did you just offer those ladies a hotel room?” the tallish woman repeated still without introduction and two degrees more sharply than acceptable in polite society.

I stood up – an instinctual response to a power move so I could meet her gaze at eye level – before responding “You’re just a bit misinformed, I offered to make some phone calls to try to find them a room; but more importantly how does this concern you?”

“I’m the manager here and this whole thing feels kinda skeevy.”

A quiet smile is the surest sign that I am really angry.  Through that slight smile, I just excused myself and walked right by the tallish woman towards Morgan, Tracy, and their oldest sister who I didn’t meet.  I gave them all of the information for their hotel.  I took one more deep breath before turning my attention back to the manager who curiously was still standing by my empty bar seat.

“Ya know, I’ve done your job, and your boss’s job too; and now I get paid a lot of money to tell people in your position how to do your job.  So I appreciate the fact that you take the safety of your guests seriously.  And I know you work in this popped-collar Georgetown bar where hordes of frat boys descend every weekend night with roofies in the pocket and bad ideas on the brain.  But I am not one of ‘em, I don’t look like one of ‘em and even if I did you don’t talk to your guests like that.  I don’t appreciate your attitude, your condescension, or any part of the way you approached me.  Now, you’re going to bring me my tab, and while you do that I want you to think about whether you owe me an apology.  The short answer is yes, because I’m industry and know how badly you just screwed the pooch, but more importantly you should think about whether you owe me an apology just because I am some random guy who walked into your bar looking for a burger and a beer, and you treated me like shit for no good reason.”


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