A Few Open Letters

23 February 2011

Dear Pretty Pretty Princess, P3 for short*,

You asked me why I lose my poker face and can’t hide my disdain when I am around your bloviating boyfriend or his name is mentioned in discussion. First, we’ve known each other for more than a couple of years, so you know that I know from bloviation. Second, it is not his useless rhetoric or constant need to insert himself and his perceived trump card into any unoccupied corner of a conversation. Third, you have to know that it has nothing to do with your unfounded suspicion that I still want to be in your bed.

No, P3 , my allergic reaction to him has everything to do with the fact that he is about as secure as a puppy that marks every part of his territory at every opportunity. It has to do with the fact that any man who has compulsive need to have a hand on his partner’s ass for the entirety of an evening is small, petty, and ungentlemanly. It has everything to do with the fact that you not only accept this unacceptably possessive, and unseemly behavior, but you seem to embrace it like a woman who thinks she can do no better. My problem with him is the P3 that you’ve become with him. You cannot expect your friends to watch you dissolve yourself into him and then want to drink the weak tea that results.

Sincerely,

A Man Missing a Friend

*****

Dear Bartender at the Ebbit,

When a guest asks you for a “Basil Hayden Manhattan, 75-25, extra-cold and skip the cherry and the bitters unless you have some Orange Bitters around” the proper response is something in the affirmative. You may also be inclined to think that the orderer might know a thing or two about cocktails, might even be Industry. The absolutely improper response would be to, wrongly, insist that Manhattan’s don’t contain bitters. You really should not belabor the point – especially because your lack of preparation is showing – thrice more.

Who did you bang to get that job?

Sincerely,

The Industry Guy Who Went to Another Bar after that Cocktail

*****

Dear Family,

Life is complicated. I get that. You know that I get that better than most. Please stop taking me for granted; I am not your foregone conclusion.

Sincerely,

The Emotionally Exhausted Son, Sibling, Uncle, and Cousin

*****

Dear Woman Who Would Prefer Not to be Named,

That suede kitchen apron might be the most thoughtful gift anyone has ever given me… up there with the book of Neruda Love Poems from another woman who would rather not be named. It means the world to me – you will forever be my lesbian soulmate.

Sincerely,

A Man Who Ain’t Easy to Shop for

*Charmed reference for those of you who don’t think I have ever consumed absent minded pop culture,


Introductions – The Good, The Bad, and The Fraudulent

8 October 2010

When I got to one of my favorite watering holes, the only seat at the small bar was next to two guys (deliberate use of the term.) Both were more than a couple of drinks into their evening – a red flag given the fact that it was barely after 6pm on a Thursday. They were annoying but affable. Their conversation was two notches louder than polite society dictates but they were discussing the relative merits of various Sinatra songs.

I was content to try and ignore them and work on my computer until they were consternating about the meaning of “I wanna wake up in a city that never sleeps.” The line from the classic and iconic song New York, NY didn’t make sense to either – “how can one wake in a city that rejects sleep” they kept asking the other. As a bit of a Sinatra Nerd and a man that has a problem with not answering questions when I know the answer, I finally interrupted to explain that “It’s metaphorical; he wants his life to begin – to wake up – in NYC.” After a couple of added and explanatory comments I returned to my computer and they returned to the loud, the singing, the annoying but affable.

Eventually the guy two stools to my left departed, and the one hard next to me asked for his tab. I was convinced that my evening was about to be free of them, until an attractive 30something blonde walked in and took the seat of the first of this duo to depart.

The next part of this story is as predictable as a sunrise – the remaining guy delayed his departure to try his best to find a reason to stay and talk with the pretty lady. He was still drunk and still annoying, but the lady was too polite to dismiss him. I kept an ear and eye on the evolution of their conversation (probably because I have a low grade savior complex when it comes to women in these kinds of situations.) When I heard the tell-tale sign of eroding civility, “we’ll have to agree to disagree,” I suspected that the interaction was nearing the tipping point. It took me another ten seconds to catch her gaze; at which point, she looked at me and gave him an eye-roll.

I took a deep pull from my beer, hoped that I correctly read the situation, and proceeded to intercede.

“Pardon me for interrupting; I saw you when you walked in but I wasn’t sure it was you from your pictures… I hope you’re here to meet me. I’m Refugee.”

She took just a beat too long (if the rouse was to fool a sober person, but fine for this moment) to recognize and respond to the play, but once she got it, she went with it.

“So nice to meet you; I kinda thought that was you too, I was just about to call you. I’m Hazel, so nice to finally meet you after all of the emails we traded… let me just wrap up this conversation and I’ll come over.”

The drunk dude left (but not before slurring gin too close to her one more time.) Hazel moved a seat over for appearances. “Thank you for helping me out there, I’m never any good at getting out of those situations… you said your name’s Refugee, right?”

“Yes, Refugee, and it’s nice to meet you.”

We chatted for a while after our introduction. I gave her some advice about avoiding the type of conversation that precipitated our meeting – little white lies are helpful. She gave me some advice about the date I had later – a woman would rather be captivating than engaging. We parted with a hug and good luck wishes all around.



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.

_______

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.

_______

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?

_______

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.

______

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.


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.


How to Lose a Client in 10 Sentences or Less

12 March 2010

The Players in the Room:

Steve – Big shot attorney who is also an investor in a couple of restaurants, the man who writes the big checks to make things happen, insisted on my participation in the deal as a consultant before he wrote one of those really big checks, doesn’t mind people who lose money doing the right things, but detests wasting it.

Damian – professional dilettante turned interior design consultant, happens to be the nephew of Steve’s wife, and has been largely tasked with identifying the space, thinks that he is capable of doing my job, and is technically my client too.

Chef – the relatively young, relatively bright culinary mind who knows enough to know that he is ready for his own place, but also knows enough to listen to people who know more than he in their areas of expertise.

Your Friendly Neighborhood Restaurant Refugee – professional restaurant consultant who’s spent more time in Chicago than DC the past several weeks, is also getting a little impatient with the process at the moment.

Angela – Commercial Real Estate Agent with a permanently painted smile, a mix of “I-want-this-deal” happiness and some flinty Chicago toughness which is betraying a bit of that happiness with the frustration of showing so many places to the same client group.

The Room: yet another empty commercial space that doesn’t really work as a restaurant for reasons that people who know the restaurant business from the inside can understand.

This is our third building of the day.  I didn’t quite judge it from the cover, but as we approached I was silently hoping that this wasn’t it.  After 30 dusty seconds inside, Damian exclaimed “I love the lines in this place; Refugee, doesn’t it have great bones?”

It was a deep-breath-before-responding moment and I took one.  “It does have lovely lines,” I began; “for a ground floor condo space or high-end retail shop, but pros can tell you that there are unmanageable choke-points there, there, there, and there.”  I knew that my tone was about half a degree sharper than I consciously intended – can’t speak for my subconscious.

Damian turned his attention from the windows to me and asked “are you inferring that I’m somehow not a professional?”

I wasn’t sure if this was a line in the sand moment, but I thought it best that we have the conversation internally.  “Angela, would you mind giving us the room so we can walk around and talk about it freely,” I mostly declared.  She and I have had a few off-line conversations about this so she knew the situation.

“Damian, I am just suggesting that there are problems with the space that people who’ve spent a lot of time in restaurants can see but you might be missing.”

“You know, Refugee, I think that’s the second time you inferred that I don’t know what I am doing… and I’m a little tired of you being so fucking smug, you do know that you work for me right?!?!”

Steve may have wanted to enter this fray to mediate, but I had reached my limit and spoke a little too quickly.  The look on Chef’s face indicated that he wanted no part of this.

“Damian, I am not inferring, I am implying; and since it seems that the implication is too opaque, let me be fully clear – your suggestions and ideas indicate that you are thoroughly, completely, and unquestionably out of your depth.  You look at this room and see all of these lovely angles and attractive lines.  I look at it and see all of these load bearing columns which mean that you couldn’t possibly construct a kitchen large enough to accommodate a dining room of this size.  I see impossible corners and walls that can’t be moved.  Damian, you’re tired of me being smug, huh? I find that pretty damn laughable because for the last few weeks, I’ve been going out of my way to include you in conversations, to twist my mind into pretzel-like contortions to find something, anything, nice to say about your ideas and opinions.  All of that was made even more difficult because I generally think your contributions have been about as valuable as a warm bucket of spit.”

There was a stunned silence in the room as I took a breath and… well, I guess I reloaded.

“Other than some sort of random genetic good fortune, I have no idea why you’re here, because you looked at this room and thought it could be a restaurant.  I looked at this room, just like any pro would look at this room, and thought it a waste of time… and I look at you and see a feckless automatron who’s wasted enough of my time and other people’s money.”

More stunned silence, but this was a moment when reloading would have been cruel, so I just left.  Half a block away, I lit a cigar for the calming effect.  That and I was pretty sure that unleashing a verbal barrage on my largest client’s nephew qualifies as a “smoke a cigar moment.”  I walked around the city for a bit, finishing my cigar, contemplating the shithole I had just dug, wondering if I wanted a rope.

When I got back to my hotel room (one more cigar, and a couple of cocktails later) there was a bucket of champagne on the credenza.  The note read:

Refugee, if you could say all of that to a client, I suppose I can have a difficult conversation with my wife.  That was a lot of fun to watch.  See ya next week.

-Steve

p.s. the feckless automatron won’t be joining us.


Dating Advice from Me and LiLu

8 March 2010

My Dear Restaurant Refugee,

I am that cliché, long time reader but first time commenter (or emailer is more accurate) and I was wondering if you’d give me your opinion on something.

I work with a guy that seems to be a lot like you – smart, good looking, well dressed, and pretty comfortable around women.  I wanted to use International Crush Day to tell him that I’ve been crushing on him for a while, but he was out sick that day.  I’ve kind of lost my nerve since then.  What’s the best way to approach him?  Our office goes out sometimes for happy hour and such but I would never make a move in front of other people.  I’m pretty sure that he’s single and straight but don’t know what to do next.  Help me.

Afraid of Unrequited

p.s. I also wrote to Carolyn Hax, but I am pretty sure I have a better shot at getting a response from you.  If she responds too, I am probably going to ditch your advice in favor of hers.

Dear Afraid of Unrequited,

First, I thank you for reading and taking the time to write me this email and for your very kind words (ed. note: I did ask AU’s permission before using this as a blog post.) I am always flattered and humbled by the notion that people would ask my advice on anything.  As always, it should be noted that free advice is frequently worth exactly what you pay for it.

You don’t indicate how directly you work with this gentleman and that matters a great deal.  You also don’t indicate how big your organization is.  I am going to assume that this chap is neither your direct boss nor one of your reports – sexual harassment is never sexy.  If he is either, you need to put the crush down and back away… quickly.  The same thing applies if you two work in a really small organization or small office of a larger organization.

Your fear and hesitation is rooted in an aversion to rejection.  Everyone has it, men have just gotten more accustomed to dealing with it than women because of societal mores that have men deluded into believing that we almost always make the first move*.  The larger and more realistic question is what are you afraid of?  If you invite someone for drinks and they say no, what’s the big deal?  They have done their worst and said no, but what does that no really mean?

If the worst case scenario is a poor reaction followed by gossiping to coworkers, is that a guy that you would want to date?  From what you wrote, that seems an unlikely outcome, but if it did occur I would consider it a dodged bullet.

Some might consider a public and messy break-up that creates an untenable work environment the worst case.  I consider that situation the cautionary consideration to other questions: should I have sex with him, should I get serious with him, as those are two questions that can not occur without a first date.

My advice:

  • As with any dating issue, consider the potential risks and rewards.  The risk here is relatively low, so just ask him already.
  • Choose an activity of mutual interest (gallery opening, new bar, billiards, whatever) and issue the invitation.  More than a week in advance can lead to heightened expectations, over-thinking and the like; two days or less can seriously reduce the likelihood of his availability.  Four days feels juuuusst right.
  • If he says no, don’t over-analyze** his answer.  Do pay attention to what he does.  You’ve made it clear that you’d like to socialize with him outside of the office.  Even if he is among the breed of men who needs to be bashed about the head with a flirtatious club before he understands that someone is interested, you extended an invitation.  If he wishes to see you in a non-working context but cannot on this date, he will reciprocate the offer.  Whether or not he reciprocates your affections, is another question.
  • Do not allow or initiate any physical contact (kissing counts) until you have an all-caps NEED for it, until you cannot imagine the earth rotating even one more degree without it.  It is throwing your cap over the wall in an office environment and you better NEED it before you go flinging it.
  • Don’t create an evidence trail.  Email might be an easier way to ask but resist that urge.  If you do make plans / start dating / get serious / whatever, do not send flirty emails via the office network.  This applies to office cell phones, voicemail too.  You must erect an emotional firewall between your professional interaction and your personal.

However you choose to proceed, please let us know what happens.

Best of luck to you,

-rr

* 96.34% of the times a man “makes the first move” it’s a reaction to something subtle and deliberate that a woman has done to give us permission to make the nominally inaccurate but perceived first move.

** notice a pattern developing here?

For a woman’s perspective on this question, I turned to my dear friend, LiLu for her thoughts…

Dear Afraid of Unrequited:

I must admit, my first response is NO, BACK AWAY FROM THE COWORKER, DO NOT PASS GO, DO NOT COLLECT $200.

This reaction may or may not come from personal experience. *cough*

That said, it sounds like you want to go through with this, one way or another. So, (sigh), let’s figure out the best way to do it.

Eons ago, back when I occasionally exercised my own feminine wiles, my Plan of Action probably would have looked a little something like this.

Let’s call it…

The “SCORE” System, a la LiLu.

Step 1: “S” is for Stalk.

Stalk the hell out of him. Facebook, Twitter, Google- do what you have to to find out that he is IN FACT straight ‘n single. (A little research never hurt the cause, neither.) There is nothing worse than batting your eyelashes at the Christmas party only to have his less-than-approving girlfriend- or boyfriend, for that matter- take his arm and proceed to kill you dead with eye lasers.

Trust me. They burn.

Step 2: “C” is for Corner.

Corner him at an office happy hour. Get some alone time! Wait until he goes up to the bar, and “remember” that your own drink is empty, too. (After you down it. Duh.) Finagle the seating so you’re both on the end of the table, affording you some privacy. Last ditch move: arrange for some friends to be at a bar next door, and casually suggest he come with you for “one more” when the office group breaks up. Do what it takes, my friend. Get Creative. (Oh, look! Another “C”!)

Step 3: “O” is for Obvious.

Look. Dudes are dumb. I’ve said it, Refugee’s said it… while we have to consider the possibility that this may be a case of He’sJustNotThatIntoYou-itis, because the workplace is involved, there’s no way to know for sure. He could be reluctant to date a coworker; he could be your average dude who is completely effing clueless that you’re interested. So, once you’ve cornered him, make your affections obvious… while leaving him a “Get Out of Jail Free” card all the while. That way, you can both pretend it never happened.

You know, after those first five or so awkward meetings at the copier.

Step 4: “R” is for Read.

Read his response. For the love, try to be objective. Do keep in mind that you are trying to save yourself from having to suffer through eight hours of utter humiliation EVERY. DAMN. DAY. Look for encouragement, watch for disinterest. Pay attention to whether he asks about and listens toyou, or whether he talks about work or {insert other purely platonic subject here} the whole time. Huge, red flag signs of interest are the following:

  • Any on-purpose touching. At all. This clearly crosses a boundary between coworkers. You win. (Well, halfway. He at least wants to get in your pants.)
  • Insisting on paying for your drinks. This is an easy way for him to show interest/make your interaction more date-y, especially without alerting other coworkers.
  • Inviting you to a future anything. See phrases like: “This was fun, we should do it again.” “Have you ever been to XYZ Bar? We should go sometime.” “Want to go to a Pants Party next Friday?”

Just kidding on that last one. Don’t answer that.

Step 5: “E” is for Execute.

Now, depending on how Step 4 goes, you might be “executing” your future forever Entanglement as lovers… or making an entirely mortifying tail-between-the-legs Escape.

I warned you.

Good luck!

~LiLu

ood luck!

~LiLu


Missing My Mentor, Drinking to My Mentor

7 March 2010
I’ve never done any research on this, but I suspect that anyone who bothers to keep a journal could lose an entire afternoon reading through a randomly found old one.
X
Earlier today I was perusing an old OpenTable database looking for the aliases a prominent food critic to pass them to a friend who is about to open a restaurant.  All of the notes that we recorded about our guests read like the well worn pages of a journal chronicling a particularly lovely, enthralling, and more than occasionally difficult part of my life.
X
My jaw landed on the table when I reached the note about one of my wine mentors who happened to be a regular.  The grief I felt the day I learned of his death two years ago came rushing back.  Then I began to think of his incredible generosity  - with his time, knowledge, experience, and, yes, his wine too.
X
TJ would call me the mornings of his reservations and in an almost conspiratorial tone, he would tell me about some spectacular bottle with an impossible to find combination of vintage and winery.  He would drop it off before the opera and give me precise instructions on its opening – “OK, Refugee, crack it about 3; at 5, give it a taste and decant it if you think it’s ready; you’re gonna wanna taste it again ’round 8 and maybe double-decant it then but probably no later than 9:30 or so.”
X
He would arrive about 10:30 adorned with a smile as big as a Pagliacci grin… but real.  “Did ya like that wine, Refugee” he would ask despite knowing that it was nothing short of sublime; and we would talk wine in the bar for a few minutes before taking him to a table.  I always learned more during his 90 minute meal than I did in any 90 minutes of my sommelier courses and that was only from the random two minute bursts of conversation peppered with wine talk.
X
One night he walked into the restaurant – solo and without reservation as he often did during the week – and placed a winicorn* bottle on the bar.
X
“Refugee, it’s been a really shitty day, you know what we do on really great or really crappy days right” he asked with his usual ebullience  - it was classic MT; he loved life so much that even bad days were reason to be happy.
X
I replied with the philosophy learned from him, “Exceptional wines are for days that are exceptionally good or exceptionally shitty.”
X
“Damn right! Get a coupla glasses and have a drink with an old man.”
X
We were about halfway through our glasses when TJ rhetorically asked “Do you know why I come here, why we do this?”
X
Knowing him well enough to know that he would answer his own question, I just took another sip to fill the beat before he continued.
X
“There’s enough crappy sommeliers ‘round here with enough hoity-toity pretentious bullshit to fill every Tastevin** in the world.  You’re not like that, your staff’s isn’t like that, and I figure if I can help a young somm be better, and have some fun in the process, well… well, that just makes the wine world a better place.”
X
With that, he drained the rest of his glass and said “I gotta run, a few more bartenders*** to say hello to tonight; share the rest with your guys at the end of the night.”
X
The night TJ died I went to one of my favorite restaurants with one of the best bottles in my cellar.  I had a glass with my friend, the manager; I told him about MT.  I asked him to share the rest of the bottle with his staff.
X
I am pretty sure that someone bartender will be hearing a few TJ stories this evening… and drinking really well later.
X
X
X
* refers to some impossible to find bottle, usually very small production and about as much cash as a mortgage payment.
X
** refers to the ceremonial cup awarded to people who have been admitted to the International Court of Sommeliers
X
*** in TJ vernacular, “every time a great bartender becomes a manager a little piece of [his] soul dies.”  There is no higher compliment that he gave to managers than to call him/her a bartender.

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 – 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.


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.”


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.


Second Chance with New Vintages – Part I*

4 January 2010

Since the first humans capable of having feelings walked the earth, empaths have walked among them.   Cynthia never knew that she was one…

For most of her painfully shy 29 years, Cynthia lived in an introspective house of mirrors in her mind.  Maybe it was the mother who showed love through back-handed compliments, or the father who only showed emotion to a bottle of Ballentine scotch, but Cynthia always seemed to be looking into the mirrors that distorted her slender frame and middle class life.  She never developed many social skills.

The cum laude graduate from a small state school found happiness and professional success in balance sheets and accounting formulas.  Had Cynthia been more outgoing, friendlier with her colleagues, or in possession of the people skills necessary for management her accounting acumen might have moved her past the lowest associate level at her firm.  In her seven years at the office, one of the administrative assistants was her only “work” friend.

When Katie got engaged to her attorney boyfriend, the invitation to the engagement cocktail party felt more like a burden to Cynthia than an opportunity to celebrate.  It’s not that she wasn’t happy for Katie, or disliked her fiancée; rather, Cynthia disliked the social tumult of parties, the awkwardness she felt around strangers, and was terrified with the prospect of flirting with men.  There was also the matter of finding a dress on her condo-poor budget.

Her discomfort and credit phobia aside, she was going to attend because despite not having many, Cynthia was a good friend.  She went to a fancy department store in hopes of finding a dress, but the sales staff was off-putting in their over eagerness.  A trip to their rivals on the other side of the mall didn’t bear fruit because they were too busy with customers who looked like they already shopped there.

Despite her increasingly lowered spirits, Cynthia went into a swanky couture shop on the way to her car.  Once inside she was immediately comforted by a late 40s woman with a very soothing voice and incredible accessories.  The sales woman offered champagne and a gentle ear.  Cynthia took advice, tried on dresses but declined the champagne – she was a very light drinker.

After four dresses, Cynthia found a black A-line that flattered her shape and made her smile… until she looked at the price tag.  It was four times what she had planned to put on her credit card.  The sales woman seemed to be able to read Cynthia’s mind – not that she had much of a poker face – and struck a pitch perfect tone in saying “You know dear, you have one of those faces and frames that would look great in vintage.  I’m going to give a call to a friend of mine who runs a vintage shop around the corner.  Give her my card and tell her I sent you… I think that you find exactly what you need there.”

Cynthia thanked her for all of her courtesy and went back to her car.  It only took a few minutes for her to arrive at the parking lot of Second Chance Vintage; a time spent dwelling on the words “I think you’ll find exactly what you need.”  Why need; why not want she wondered.  There was not much time for that question because as soon as she opened the door and before she could even introduce herself, a 50-something woman who could have been the sales woman’s cousin or aunt gave a cheery “You must be Cynthia; I’m Mini… it’s short for Minerva but nobody calls me that.”

Something about these two women placed Cynthia at ease despite their slightly outsized introductions.

“So we had a long discussion – well not really long because it only took you a few minutes to get here – about you, and I am pretty sure that I have two dresses that would look lovely on you.  Would you like some champagne?”

Once again Cynthia declined the champagne but was really eager to try the dresses.  She went into the dressing lounge and saw the first dress, a Navy Blue Halter dress just below the knee.  She felt just a touch lightheaded as she stepped out to have Mini close the zipper.

Mini held a steadying hand as she brought the zipper to its close.

“You look stunning in that dress dear, are you sure you wouldn’t like a glass of champagne, that dress really deserves champagne” Mini encouraged.

For some reason and despite a strange feeling about her head, Cynthia suddenly heard herself saying “Looking in the mirror, it seems that a glass of champagne wouldn’t just be prudent, it’s downright required at the moment, thank you.”

Champagne in the afternoon was out of character for Cynthia, but so was the phrasing.  This was a different Cynthia.  As Cynthia removed her spectacles, Mini handed her a glass of champagne and said “Now let me tell you about the woman who once owned that dress…”

________________

* This is the first part of a series of short fiction that may become my regular Monday posts.


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